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4:33 PM on 02.25.2012

Why gaming is worthile, why you're fucking awesome and fuck the cynics

Some of you might remember that I've written, not long ago, a (shitty) blog post called "Gaming isn't worthwhile". There I tried to express how tired I've become of gaming and how for example literature is more fullfilling than video games etc. Well, you probably have already guessed that I've changed my mind a bit and the origin of that was this nice quote from David Foster Wallace:

... Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.

You just gotta love that dude <3.

Anyway, this revived my hope for gaming completely, I know that he is not talking directly about games of course, but I think what he says there can be easily be applied to gaming aswell.

I think it's true that we live in hideously cynical times where a lot of people are like "Ohh well, let's just all have sex and then die or what ever..." and that things like spirituality and values like compassion are just ignored or considered to be meaningless and many other things too.

OK, this cynicism is also present in games I believe, or in entertainment in generell. You know, all the suff out there where a lot of shit blows up and that is just supposed to distract you from the "cruel" real world and so on. You could say that these things have the subliminal message that life isn't worth living, only worth to be distracted from, if you know what I'm saying.

But (!) there are games of which I think do apply CPR to the human and magical elements (as DFW put it). I would like you to post the name of some games of which you think are doing that too, so yeah please do that, would be amazing if we could make a little list! Let me start:

- Braid (yeah sorry, I had to mention it)
- Shadow of the Colossus
- Mass Effect
- Katamari
- Silent Hill
- ehhh...

I'm sorry it's really late right now where I live (Germany), so these were jus the first ones that popped into my head, I hope that you guys can complete this list.

Also, I wanted to thank you guys for the awesome comments on my earlier (and shittier) blog post, there was some good stuff there and yes I wasn't in the best mood, but still, thank you very much guys 'n' gals <3 !

So yea, good day to you, and I hope you compe up with good suggestions for the list!

Also, as usual my question is: What do you think?

Thanks   read

2:12 PM on 02.23.2012

Gaming isn't worthwhile

I used to love video games. I used to defend gaming in any way possible, against anyone who said anything bad about it. I can't do that anymore and I beg you, if you have some time, grab a coup of tee and allow me to be just honest.

I've been playing games since I can remember, some of my earliest memories, that I haven't lost yet, are related to video games - mostly it's me playing video games - and when I look at these games, (I still have them on my shelf) I get overwhelmed by nostalgia.

But I have changed. Sure, I'm just a teenager and I'm not trying to act like an old wise man (because I'm not), but even in the short 15 years of my existence I've been going through a lot of changes and the strange thing is, my interest in playing video games should be larger than ever, but that's just a stereotype - the anxious teenager who plays MW3 all day - and it's not true in my case. In fact, I'm very close to abandon gaming, because I've discovered a world that is far more rich and that is actually worthwhile as opposed to gaming.

That world is literature (authors like David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Don Delilo etc.), but what actually makes literature so much more valuable than gaming? Or why do I consider games to be not worthwhile?

Now I can hear a voice in my head that laughs at me, because of what I'm going to say now, in fact, I imagine that you will laugh at me aswell. I'm going to step into a very difficult position that is easy to misunderstand and to laugh at (I've only chosen such an offending, and seemingly definite, head line to make people read this, because you have to upset people to make them read nowadays).
So here it comes: Gaming is anesthetic. It's merely an acticity that distracts you from your life, that lets you escpae (even Jim Sterling says that in his Jimquisition "Why big dumb shooters are better than art games" which is art for him). It distracts you from what it means to be alive, to be human. It's all easy fun all the time, it has to be loud all the time. There is no room for silence, for introspection and confrontation. Instead we have violence and sex, or some kind of reflex challenge, perhabs in a cute, but in the end empty box.

I'm not pretending that I'm not attracted by violence, sex and entertainment, we consumers as a broad mass are attracted to that kind of stuff and who doesn't like to be entertained? But we are not interesting as a broad mass, we are interesting, special and human as individuals and we are often radically different from each other.

Those games that just entertain are often pretty good games and a small dosis of entertainment is fine, but as a lifestyle? I think it's pretty bad, almost dangerous in a way. We seem to be addicted to having fun, we are afraid of boredom and silence.

It's often very, very lonely to play video games, you sit in front of your monitor/TV, you stare at it, at a flat screen, you pretend you're someone else (preferably someone who kills a lot of enemies) and you press the buttons. You don't communicate with anyone, not with another person, nor with the creator. The communication in multiplayer games mostly consists of insults, bad jokes, smilies and the like. It's terribly lonely once you become aware of that.

Also, there seems to be a very strong reluctance against video games that are not fun, that are difficult in different ways (Braid, Passage, The Void etc.), if you're someone who likes some of those games then you're made fun of immediately, words like "Hipster", "pretentious", "Fag", "Emo" etc. will be thrown at you.

What these people don't realise is, that you can actually benefit tremendously from putting work and thought into a game (this counts for other stuff aswell of course). Yes, you can benefit from hard work! You could become a better person.
The only video game experiences I had that were transcendental for me, were the games Braid and Between. I felt sympathie for the creators, I felt a strong connection, it was a kind of magic. I didn't felt alone.

I can only think of two games that made me really feel like that, the creators behind those games and some other creative people in the medium (Jenova Chen, Chris Hecker, Kellee Santiago etc.) are the only reason why I still give a damm about video games, and those are the people that keep my dream of becoming a game designer alive.

What do you think?

EDIT: I think I have failed once again to make a point. Judging by the comments, this blog post is just shit. I tried to write honestly and from the heart, but I failed. God this is so frustrating, but if you would like to know where I'm coming from, grab another coup of tea and watch this (all parts) :

EDIT 2: Ok, after I've reread some of the comments (I've also replied to a few with PMs), I would like to clarify that I still love games, but I'm simply not interested anymore in the majority of the stuff that's out there, because it all seem to be stuck in a strange kind of loop. There are some people in the industry who do fascinating stuff.
As for the loneliness stuff, it seems everyone looks a little bit different on that, and it's a bit difficult to explain for me, but I still appreciate the comments here. So, I'm still not entirely conviced that I really made a point, but at least I generated some discussion.

So thanks everyone so far for the comments!   read

2:59 PM on 02.20.2012

Endings: Blown away by Mr. Blow

There aren't many video games that blew my mind, made me seriously think and made me feel like I have witnessed something beyond words, something magical. But Braid is one of those, it still hasn't lost it's grib, and I can still see it's geniously shocking ending right before my eyes. A lot of video game endings are pretty shit, they are either disappointing or just a cheap cliffhanger, that the writers pulled out of their hairy asses, so that another cash-in sequel can be made.

Braid's ending is a brilliant exception to this, of course you don't have to like it, but you have to admit that it is certainly something different. First for anyone who has forgotten what Braid is: Braid is a puzzle game in platformer shoes with time manipulation, fantastic music and a gorgeous art-style. Allow me to tell you know why I think the ending was so damm genious, fantastic, brilliant blablabla.

Well, one thing that made the ending so exciting was, that it wasn't easy to get there. Braid isn't a walk in the park, some of the puzzles are really tricky, but all of them are fantastic. I like the way Mr. Blow thinks about puzzles, he said that a puzzle should be something that you have to understand in order to solve, so you shouldn't be able to solve them on accident (but that can happen of course).

The other thing is, if you allow me to be a bit philosophical here, that you can look at Braid as a toy universe (you can look at every video game in that way), the puzzles in there illustrate logical consequences of the rules of the universe (What if certain objects are imune to rewined? What if time is mapped to your position on the X-Axis? et cetera), those are little nuggets of truth. In short: Because Braid is quite a challange, I wanted to see what the pay-off is, of course.

This guy knows how to pull of some crazy shit

So I fought or rather puzzled my way through the first 5 worlds and then I was finally there, the last world, I might get know what this is all about now, I was getting nervous and excited. The last three little puzzles before the ending (which are pretty easy, but that's a good thing, otherwise they would break the flow) take place in a world where everything is going backwards except for you. Two different directions of time clash here and it's quite mind blowing indeed. The music made me more and more excited aswell, also the fact that these levels don't have a name and that their icons show a flower decaying (or blossoming backwards) added to my excitement. I had the feeling that I was about to witness something big.

And so I did. Describing the ending in words won't do it justice, it's something you have to experience, it's something magical and might turn your view of the game on it's head. It fucks with your expectations, also you should note that the ending is actually the beginning, but backwards at first and the epilogue that followed just added to the mystery of it all aswell.

Oh look how pretty!

So what is it all about? I can't really put it into words and I believe I have to think about it more, but the game has affected me more than any other game I've ever played...

Now you could bitch about the vagueness of it all and call it pretentious shit and I won't blame you for that (everyone is entitled to their opinion bla bla), but you should take into account that Jonathan Blow made Braid about something that is impossible to verbalise, he wanted to point at something that he cares about, so being really direct about it is impossible then isn't it? It has something to do with time, quantum physics, mistakes, the nature of human relationships and a lot more. Whatever it is about, this is something that everybody should play and experience and if you are just a little open minded, then it even might change you.

It certainly changed me.   read

12:11 PM on 01.10.2012

The Pretentious Bullshit, Fun Art and why We should take Food instead of Drugs

We all know what a large group of players call pretentious, games like Braid, Passage, or game designers like Jonathan Blow etc. But I have this feeling that the word pretentious has become a very meaningless word in the video game community, I mean, I can kind of see what players mean when they call a game pretentious. They usually call games pretentious if there is some kind of meaning behind it, or a more or less artistic intent. But why do they do that?

Maybe they think the fact that a game tries to have a meaning is pretentious, because video games are a medium where any kind of artistic intentions have no place whatsoever, because....hmmm, why do some people think that actually? I believe because these people incorrectly think that art is the opposite of fun and because they incorrectly think that games should only be fun, whatever that is - no one knows - really, and can't be or rather shouldn't be anything more than that, just little distractions on the side of the road called life.

I now (arrogantly) claim that this way of thinking is actually dangerous and just false. But where should I start? Let's start with the art is the opposite of fun thing, alright? So, why do people think that art is the opposite of fun? Well I believe if some people hear the word art, they have certain, mostly negative, associations, maybe they think of hipster douch bags with sungalsses and a cigarette in the hand, or weird modern paintings (I have to admit that I've seen two or three that, I think, are actually kind of cool... I'm sorry...), or you know, just very boring stuff.

That is simply not true, yes art is often very (maybe sometimes laughably) serious, sometimes you can really get the impression that a lot of artists have forgotten what fun (whatever that is) and enjoyment are, but there is a ton of stuff that is fun, colorful and enjoyable. And I claim now that there are actually not many (or at least not as many as you might think) videogames games that are truly fun, but I will say later why I think that. I bet there is a movie or book that just makes you happy, and that is a lot fun and that is also thought provoking at the same time. You see, you can make a movie with a very bleak basic tone, but you can still make it hilarious and thus more bearable and thus even bleaker. Wittgenstein believed that the most horrific things can only be discussed in the form of jokes, you can see that in satire, but we don't have many satireistic games. The GTA games and also I think the Saints Row games are to a certain point very anarchic and satireistic. I would call these commercial, fun yet serious art.

But what about the pure innocent fun, or is that an oximoron perhabs? You see I'm from Germany and the German translation of the English word "fun" is "Spaß", so we have different words and perhabs also slightly different meanings. So I'm not sure here, but I will ask the question again, what about pure innocent fun? I would argue that this can't really be found in video games, toys are innocent fun, but video games are different. The only innocent fun game I can think of right now is Noby Noby Boy , but people don't really want to call it a game, - we are in a time, where we are actually redifining that word, so maybe in the future we will also call Noby Noby Boy a game, like Robert Yang said: "Don't care about what games are, rather about what they can be."- they rather call it a toy, because there are no goals.

So why exactly can't video games be innocent fun in my opinion? Well video games, by definition, teach you something, - you can't learn how to use a gun through Counter Strike or how to make a good pie through Cooking Mama - because video games are a closed formal system with rules and you have to learn these rules in order to play the game. And learning these rules, or learning how to perfect the game can have an impact on your life and on your character. Video games can directly influence you, often in rather subtle and unconscious ways, thus they can't be innocent fun, because there is always a bit of seriousness inherently to them (not to forget the investment of time and money).

Let's get to the question why I think that there are not that many fun games. I bet you've already seen, or read how thousands and thousands of people say that they're having fun with games like CoD Blops or World of Warcraft. I think that they're actually not having fun, I think that they don't really enjoy themselves while playing stuff/garbage like that. I don't want to criticise the players here, but rather the CEOs of Activision Blizzard, because these guys don't seem to understand what kind of impact their products have on people, or they don't care. Games like WoW and CoD are treadmills, they're designed to keep you hooked for as long as possible, with fake rewards, eye candy and stuff like that. They're just pretty empty and meaningless and just a waist of time, they're like drugs. I would say that there are alot of games like that and the developers and publishers of these games are simply irresponsible. That is a shame.

"What are fun games then?" I hear you ask. The most fun games I've played in my entire life are actually board games, I've never played a game, where I was having so much good fun with my family, like with Galaxy Trucker, designed by Vlaada Chvatil.

Now, why do I think that video games don't always have to be fun ( if there is one that is truly fun)? Well I think that the argument that Anothny Burch (he used to write for Destructoid) made is pretty good, just focusing on fun is limiting the mediums potential and doing that is just plain stupid. Games are going to be big in the future, there is an ever growing audience, the stereotype will disappear, there will be a larger variety of games and it will affect our society and what it means to be a human in the 21st century in a way that we can not imagine at the moment. Again just focusing on fun (even though mostly board games only seem to be able to really reach that at the moment) would be simply retarded. There are so much more concepts and ideas to explore, commercial art like GTA is good but sometimes I also just want to look at a flower or something , if you know what I mean.

Remember how I called games like CoD a drug, because they are so grindy and fake? Well there are people in the industry who are aware of their responsibility and who create food as opposed to drugs. Who is doing that exactly? Jonathan Blow for example, he is offering us delicious food and he puts fucking years into these things just to provide games to us of which he thinks are improving the quality of our fucking lives! And what do some players call him? Pretentious hipster douch.... What the fuck people!?

This guy knows his shit.

Sorry I was getting a bit upset there for a second, I don't want to insult anyone, or tell anyone to like his games, but just show a little respect, alright? Then we can live together in peace and harmony and everything.... And there are more devs like him (most of them indie), Jason Rohrer is a good example, again you don't have to like his stuff, but just appreciate that he is trying to give us food instead of drugs.

Have I forgoten anything? Not sure, but I believe that this is all I have to say for now... Please tell me what you think, am I talking bullshit or do you agree with me?

Thanks for reading!   read

8:42 AM on 01.06.2012

The Loneliness-Paradox in regard to gamers

There is a strange thing I noticed about the behaviour of gamers ( a terrible word by the way), a behaviour that just seems to be unexplainable, just paradoxical. Or maybe it isn't as strange as I think, so let me explain first what the hell I'm even talking about.

Not so long ago I had one of those eye opening moments, you know these moments, where a lightning (metaphorically speaking) strucks you and suddenly you see things with different eyes. The trigger of this lightning was a writer called David Foster Wallace - an american writer who gained first popularity in the year 1996 when he released his second novel Infinite Jest, which is said to be one of the best books of the last century, and who saidly hanged himself about four years ago, because he was unable to defeat his depression from which he suffered for about half of his [short] life- I'm currently reading two of his books and I also gathered some informations about him. I discovered an unedited interview with him on youtube, that almost broke my heart, because he seems to was a very adorable and intellegent person. On a certain point in the interview he describes something you could call "existential loneliness" (I know this is becoming philosphical, but bear with me) and that changed my view on many things.

So what is this loneliness he talks about and what the hell has that do to with video games? Well it's actually quite obvious, but worth thinking about for a moment, it's not the kind of loneliness where you are alone in a room, but the kind of loneliness that is present all the time. We can never know what the other person is thinking, our conscious minds are isolated from each other and there is no such thing as telepathic communication.

So really understanding each other is impossible, but we have methods to fight that loneliness, we can put ourselves in another person's shoes, we can show compassion, but then there is also literature, film etcetera. So now here comes the paradox I was talking about, playing video games is actually a pretty lonely activity and we have actually this fantasy to create games with perfect, dynamic AI that reacts to the actions of the player authentically in order to create non-linear, emergent storys. At first this sounds terrific and amazing, but think about it, this would turn playing video games into an even more lonely activity. We humans hate to be alone, it's just bad, it's against our nature, this is the paradox I was talking about. Why do gamers spent many many ours alone in front of their PC or console - espically teenagers like me (I speak out of my own experience) - instead of spending some time with an activity that is way less lonely? My only explanation for that would be escapism, we live in a difficult age of cynicism and material wealth (in Europe and the US) that only leads to inner emptiness.

"Wait!",you might say "What about the multiplayer games?! And isn't reading a book a pretty lonely thing as well?" Well, I wouldn't call these multiplayer games very social, they might offer escapism, but not much beyond that. The interactions between the players are mostly within the context of the game, that means conversations (for example) between players, especially when they are strangers, go mostly something like "Pwned you, you noob!" or "WTF is this shit?!" or "lol!" in short they are very superficial. I also blame that on the game design, 99% ( I know that this is an abutrary number) of the games out their are about things! You shoot things, you chase things, things chase you, you search things, it's always things, things, things! It never is about people, only things! Chris Crawford, a game design legend, already made that point in his famous dragon speech at the GDC (which he founded) in the year 1992. That was twenty fucking years ago!

Yes it's true that it is required to be alone, when you want to read a book without any distractions. But the thing about books is that they put you in someone else's shoes, or in somone's head, you roughly experience what it's like to be another person, of course there are limits (you can only really describe the outlines...), but it can work quite well. That's something that video games right now are really failing at, there are only a few that focus on player interaction or that put you in someone else's perspective and let you symphasise with them, again, because video games are mostly about things! But I believe that the interactive nature of video games hase some great potential for putting you in another human's perspective, though at the same time they don't, but that's a different issue.

But maybe my view is somewhat flawed, because (more or less) great gaming communites came to existence over time, where people chat and debate about video games. Also big gaming conventions and festivals exist aswell, where people come together and talk.

But I think the problems with the AI-fantasy, the superficial player interaction and the fact that most games are just about things still hold up.
So that is the paradox, gamers (this word is so terrible...) almost seem to want to spent dozens and dozens of hours alone, while we actually don't like to be alone...

So these are just my thoughts, what are yours in regard to this issue? Am I just talking bullshit here or what?

Thanks for reading,
Kiewi   read

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