Speaking of games being juvenile (maybe), Steve Gaynor threw down the gauntlet over at Fullbright with some incendiary comments that were of course going to start a firestorm, and were indeed designed to. His contention? The video games are going to be stuck in the same ghetto as comic books — always marginalized, forever juvenile, doomed to never being 'a relevant cultural medium':
"But comics and video games are alike in another way: they both remain marginalized, infantilized media, where the Wares are the rarest exception and the medium in general holds little to no value outside of very specific circles. The highest ideal of the vast majority of creators is to force the medium into being something it's not, and the largest segment of the audience consists of juveniles, in age or mindset, who haven't "graduated" to more respected forms of entertainment.
Browse the racks of a standard comic shop, and the books on the mainstream shelves will be filled with flashy illustrations depicting laughable actions stories, absurdly-proportioned women, and superheroes. Likewise, browse the racks of an Electronics Boutique and you're bound to find mostly sports stars, Japanese children's cartoons, burly men with guns, and women in shameless, implausible dress. The medium infantalizes itself through its chosen subject matter. Based on surface alone, I can't blame the outside viewer for thinking little of the medium at large."
Bad movies reign at the box office, bad books remain on top of the NYT best seller list for months, bad games get more press than the little gems. Still, no one would accuse cinema or literature at large of being juvenile, infantile, doomed to a ghetto. People like consuming crap, and 'low brow' sells; this is not news, and has caused legions of connoisseurs to throw up their hands in despair.
Borat Pfeiffer fired back at The Plush Apocalypse:
"I've certainly had days where I'd agree with most everything he says. I get where it's coming from. Whether it was a frustrating day at work, or sometimes just going to a particularly rough GDC, I am not immune to that brand of despair. But, overall, I gotta say, games still have much more to achieve as a medium - if I didn't think so, I wouldn't be working on them."
He goes on to refute several points of the original, addressing issues of accessibility, infantilization, and engagement. I think plenty of us have felt frustrated at some point or another with games and gaming culture at large, but the day I feel like we're really stagnant, not going anywhere, and stuck in a juvenile ghetto is the day I give my setup away and walk away.
N'gai Croal spread his rebuttal out over two articles in Level Up; if you're going to read any response to the original, this one is it. As he astutely points out, many of the issues Gaynor is complaining about are simply endemic to mass audiences for all forms of art and culture (how else to explain the wild popularity of an 'artist' like Thomas Kinkade and faux oil paintings?). Do we think that more artistic and independent film makers aren't lamenting the same exact issues, or literary authors don't wish Danielle Steele wasn't ruling the best seller lists?
"The very thing Gaynor decries--a lack of willingness among the audience to work for their entertainment--isn't inherent in to this medium. It's almost intractable among mass audiences no matter what the medium. Popular fiction generally outsells literary fiction. Summer blockbusters generally out-gross arthouse films. Is this any different from, say, Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat out-NPD-ing BioShock last year, or Madden doing the same to Shadow of the Colossus in 2005? Does it truly matter that in aggregate television is more mass a mass medium than videogames, when on an individual level, its practitioners are faced with the same challenges that plague those who work in other media?"
John Walker adds his own take on the issue at Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
"I think there is a missed target in all of this. I think we, the gaming press, and we, the gamers, expect far too little of games. BioShock was a great game, but really, its commentary was a pamphlet. And yet it was heralded as an intellectual goliath. Of course there was a backlash to this - no, most of us won't have read Ayn Rand, and will learn something. But it isn't good enough for the adulation it receives. However, it's a perspective thing, and when compared to the rest, we feel we've no choice but to get excited. "Good grief, this one tried!" I stress again, I thought BioShock was an excellent game, but one with a poor narrative structure, and many failed ambitions.
And at entirely the opposite end, I think we expect far too much of games. We do not lament Scrabble for its lack of Brechtian estrangement. We enjoy playing Mousetrap because the pieces go plonky plonky plonk and then the diver falls in the cup. Games so often should be visceral fun. I think that once we relax and let games be this, we'll perhaps develop the confidence to let other games aim higher, and achieve more, without feeling the need to pretend they're our Citizen Kane."
I think we have more than enough smart and talented people in all sorts of roles to 'aim higher'; that doesn't mean 'visceral fun' is going to be replaced by high brow topics. But diversity is never a bad thing, and I trust that in years to come, there will be an ever increasing array of options, from the high brow to low brow, from the emotional to the emotionless.
The whole debate is interesting to page through, and more people weighed in than listed here; if you've got the time, it's interesting to read how intelligent people are responding to a debate that does get played out over and over again, just usually not with quite this domino-chain reaction.