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Ok I’ve touched upon this subject before in numerous other posts I’ve made. However I’m doing this as a separate and very much an opinion piece because I feel the environment around this article is going to be rather different.
There has been a big push to say gaming is art.
Now recently in the media there has been a big push to address certain political issues and their representation in gaming.
Here’s the confusing thing art is not good or bad short of being made deliberately to offend people. At present people are calling art wrong. So I have to ask, how can art designed to provoke thought be wrong unless it’s a deliberate attempt to insult people and even then art like this can be used to make people reflect upon themselves. Is there a limit to art ?
Is having the UK priminister fuck a live pig on TV is that art ?
Shall I show you a highly offensive piece of art in the medium of comedy ?
Are you offended ?
You’re not ?
How strange but the portrayal of darts players as drunks did offend plenty of darts players at the time so much so they decided to improve darts and made a ruling that during a match players may not consume alcohol. A very simple change because of a piece of comedy.
Art should be able make people feel uncomfortable as it is a mirror to reflect society.
The people we are dealing with claiming “The medium needs to change to be art” are the same sneering backroom critics people ignore in film. The same ones who make the kind of comment about oh let’s say Scott Pilgrim vs the World being a hideous piece of misogyny while Dogtooth won numerous awards .
So how many here have watched Dogtooth ? Well if you haven’t I have and well put it this way, I’ve watched the Human Centipede, I watched Saw films while eating my tea before (which was sweet and sour chicken in nice red sauce at the time too), Dogtooth was the only film that not only made me feel sick but actively dry heave. That’s right while I felt ill watching the Human Centipede the film that made me almost actually puke was Dogtooth.
Film is an artform and no-one other than same pseudo intellectual critics are sitting there saying that the Summer Blockbuster releases should include more themes and address more complex issues and people who go to see them are bad horrible people for doing so.
Look at that link for the Scott Pilgrim vs the World review notice the scores?
Now I can’t be the only one who can see a similarity between this as oh lets say Dead Rising 3 getting a 3 on Gamespot recently ?
I’m not against art. I’m against poorly done ham fisted art that tries to drive its point home on a battering ram because whats the point in art there is no need to intepret when it's so blatant that is when it's trying to be serious. Yes you can focus a single issue and still do it well in art and various mediums allow more or less to be expressed with painting allowing only one still images and films allowing so much more potentially. This is the limit of the medium itslef and doesn't make one medium better than another as the static image can also portray multiple ideas too but has the issue of making them distinct and clear.
I wrote before about my take on certain games compared to art and I stick by it.
I can equally appreciate the work of Beksinski as I can appreciate this image called “fluff is mad” by an unknown deviant artist . Sure there are different levels you can appreciate them on but is that wrong ?
It seems the present movement seems to believe they can determine what is and isn’t art and what is and isn’t worthy. I say it’s up to people to decide and those wanting to comment upon it should observe how well the message is delivered without it being shoved down peoples throats or worse still the message being so obvious no other messages can be taken out of it. Good art makes you stop and think about the subject matter or discuss it. Bad art hits you in the face and tells you how just how to take it. If art is so blunt it doesn’t allow people to interpret it then what’s the point ? How is that art any better than having a picture saying “I think this so should you” ?
The present movement is so mad, if this were film, I’d be asking are about to see waves of people condemn Conan next ?
I’ve already shown the result of a thought experiment of how I could read complete nonsense into Broken Age the game. In the past I’ve also offered alternative takes on what Anita has been saying in my Questioning vs Tropes series of articles. If you want to claim it’s art criticism then there is no right or wrong , no game should bend the knee because some pseudo intellectual critic says so or it’s seen as the in thing. If you want to claim art criticism then me on this tiny little relatively low readership blog is under those rules making just as valid a point as those paid professionals. The only difference is scope and readership. Having more people seeing and agreeing with your interpretation of art doesn’t make it more right it just means you reach more people.
What gaming is presently seeing is people essentially Bechdel testing games to prove their worth. There are however OP-ED (opinion piece / Extended discussion pieces) worth reading, I linked to this one before. That is an idea of how to do this right. You can have discussion of a product without calling it a review. Forcing this into a review is trying to force people to care about it, and no I don’t think “There is no neutral on a moving train” is a good message spread, tell people why they should care or let them realise on their own don’t force it in and expect people to then care because “The Greater Good” or some such rubbish.
Gaming at present is seeing critics that are pretentious and are attempting to push the audience to their views rather than letting the audience make a choice. They’re trying to make audiences feel bad for their choices and influence the market that way. These are the people who will tell you your a bad person for wanting to go see Scott Pilgrim or Gaurdians of the Galaxy and should instead see this new obscure French black and white film.
Will changing the very art itself change society when what they see in art has no reflection of society in it ? Should art be being used as some guiding light for society or is it better to stay merely as a reflection of the society that created it ?
To those claiming “But it’s offensive” You will sit there you will be offended and you will understand why it’s important that happens.
Yes Video gaming has a way to go to better reflect society and does have it’s problems I’m not trying to deny that but the movement for change has it’s own issues, such as in this picture.
Notice anything wrong ?
Well let me ask you a simple question, tell me about Chell from Portal ?
That’s right apparently a mute female character is a good role model and well rounded character. You might as well say Gordon Freeman is a good character too then rather than a walking tripod for the player controlled camera. There is also nothing wrong with a character simply being a vessel for the player but calling them something more is baffling.
There is room in this industry for diversity. There is room in this industry for fun.
If fun is no longer enough then this is no longer an entertainment medium and to those who claim fun is not enough, then to them I say I want to part in this industry they want to make. The industry they want is not the diverse marketplace gaming could and should become.
I’m here to enjoy my time and that can mean exploring conceptual ideas or it can mean just kicking back and turning my brain off to enjoy the ride. If I am wrong for wanting to just enjoy the ride sometimes, I don’t want to be right.
There is room in this industry for diversity. There is room in this industry for fun.
So with Gamergate blowing overhead still. I thought I’d take a break from sitting in the storm to write an article. Now obviously I’d love to write an article about gamergate and do plan to but until revelations stop anything I write will be out of date in 3 hours or less.
So while looking round the controversy I stumbled upon this blog post which I believe everyone should read as it shows what well done art critique of gaming can look like even wtalking gender politics, it’s short don’t worry. Now this got me thinking and seeing Tim Schafer no less point out how he knew none of his fans would support gamergate and his recent posting of Anita Sarkeesian’s latest video as must watch material, well I had an idea.
I decided to run a thought experiment myself and I’d ask you dear reader to join me and look over the results.
My thought experiment was simple what if Broken Age (AKA Double fine adventure) was about video gaming and 2nd wave feminism.
Now for the purposes of this experiment I simply had to look for proof of this. I’m taking the art criticism approach rather than the critical analysis approach. The difference between the two is with critical analysis I would try to find and address evidence that disproves the hypothesis and not just evidence that proves it. In art criticism or at least the most recent iterations it's been accepted that peoples interpretation is important and can overrule the creator claiming they’re wrong, however it also doesn’t mean the creator saying it’s about something different is wrong either. It’s a strange concept to get your head round that there is no right or wrong and even the creator can’t control his or her piece it really is in the hands of the public as to the message it portrays.
So I have a mad cap idea to prove and absolutely nothing restricting me, lets go. Once that is I warn you this will contain spoilers from Broken Age Act 1 and this is not a review.
So on the surface Broken Age appears like a very high production point and click adventure about wacky situations and people, you know the classic style. However it is my aim to prove this game is no simple piece of media but infact is a commentary on the games industry and 2nd wave feminism.
So first a quick refresher of the two main stories in part one according to Wikipedia.
Broken Age describes the story of two teenagers with no immediate apparent connection between the two, each "seeking to break the tradition with their lives".
Vella Tartine (voiced by Masasa Moyo) is a young woman in a world that is ravaged by the Mog Chothra, a giant creature that is appeased through the sacrifice of young girls at a number of "Maiden's Feasts" held at various villages. Vella is chosen to be sacrificed at her hometown, Sugar Bunting's Maiden's Feast, but concludes that if Mog Chothra could be killed the rituals could be ended. She finds a way to escape from the beast's attack, ending up in Meriloft, a small colony which rests on a cluster of semi-solid clouds who are dealing with the aftermath of their own Feast.
She then finds her way to the local port town, Shellmound, where they are preparing their own Feast. There she discovers the Dead Eye God's temple, which turns out to be an ancient spaceship half-buried by the sand. She is able to awake its pilot from stasis, who helps her to rig the ship's scanning system to act as a weapon to attack Mog Chothra when he shows up for the Feast. Vella's plan works and she is able to bring down the creature.
Shay Volta (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a young man and seemingly the only passenger on the spaceship Bossa Nostra, an "incubator vessel". The ship's computer acts as a mother figure to Shay, occupying him with infantile games, dubbed "missions", and boring routines while preventing him from learning about or exploring anything outside the ship. The computer asserts he is part of "Project Dandelion", a last-ditch effort by his home planet to protect Shay (the only survivor of his race following the planet's destruction) and try to find a home for him.
When Shay sneaks into the bowels of the ship, he finds a being named Marek who is wearing the disguise of a wolf. Marek asserts that the computer has been telling him lies (showing him that a war rages in the galaxy) before telling Shay that he needs his help to save some innocent creatures who have been imprisoned in different areas of the galaxy as result of the war. Marek guides Shay through various missions against the computer's control, trying to rescue a number of the creatures at each location before their position is discovered by an enemy force. At the end of one mission, the ship is attacked by an enemy force, rendering Marek trapped helplessly under a pile of debris. In the ensuing chaos, Shay is knocked unconscious.
Act 1 ends when Vella finds that Mog Chothra is a mechanical creature and Shay emerges confused from inside, revealing that his belief of being in space was merely a part of an illusion. Vella attempts to punch Shay but misses and ends up trapped inside the mechanical creature while Shay is stuck outside, both uncertain of what to do in their new surroundings.
Ok so here we go.
During Vella’s story there’s exactly 1 guy who really seems to encourage and argue for change or as he sees it a return to how things were. This is who is Vella’s grandfather and is brushed off as merely a nut, except by Vella who is torn between accepting the socially accepted narrative and taking decisive action which would potentially stop her being eaten by a monster.
top row: Left to right Ch't, Vella's Dad, Harm'ny Lightbeard
Bottom row: Curtis, Marhall Dude, Walt'r
So what about the other Male character
Vella’s Father, saying it's youthful nonsense for her suggesting fighting Mog Chothera
Harm'ny Lightbeard = essentially a cult leader
Curtis = slightly mad male woodsman who according to the trees only wants to destroy things.
Marshall dune = Idiot somehow in charge of the comittee to organise the Maiden's feast in shellmound who has the problem that the sea keeps washing away the large sandcastles he’s trying to play to make the Maiden’s feast arena
Walt'r = Moronic father falling for a cult like belief and dragging his family along to Meriloft with it Ch't who goes along with his father.
Left to right: Vella's Mother, Levinia, Meriloft Maiden.
That's not to say the female characters come off all that much better.
Vella's mother & Levinia the maiden's feast organiser just want to go along with the Mog Chotera thing because it’s tradition and heritage.
The Shellmound , Meriloft & Sugar Bunting maidens all of whom feel it's an honour to be sacrificed and or a dishonour to not be chosen.
Left to right: M'ggie, Car'l, Vella, Brommel
So beyond Brommel her grandfather who else see’s sense or the madness in their particular situations ?
Car'l the wife of Walt'r who sees this as just another silly phase he’s going through and is trying to make the best of it.
M'ggie the daughter of Walt'r and Car'l who thinks all this is stupid and thinks maybe she just doesn't get it but feels she can't do anything about it.
So what is Mog Chothera ? Well it’s patriarchal oppression of course. A giant Scary monster that initially at least is some kind of formless legend you hear about until you do finally see it.
Look at it beyond one guy who is passed off as a nutter by his peers all the other male characters are either at best apathetic or at worst actively encouraging belief in the Maiden’s feat approach to Mog Chothera and in the case of those in Merlioft other male figure headed enterprises. While the only female characters who see sense in the madness of some of the beliefs are being forced along with them whilst many other female characters accept the narrative they’re told without questioning it.
So those simply going along with the Maiden’s feast belief are in the women that some would call those corrupted by the patriarchy or puppets of the patriarchy and unable or unwilling to actually go against the beliefs generally held in society.
So onto Shay’s story and how it relate to the game industry. Most of the stories surrounding Shay revolve around him getting fed up of childish things and childish games, then being offered the chance to do something better, something more by a wolf. A wolf that represents the film industry, often decried for it’s macho power fantasies already. So the Wolf convinces Shay to act in what Shay believes to be a noble way trying to make the world better. Shay is the games industry and as is implied in the end of Act 1, Shay might not have been doing the good he thought he was. The people he thought he was saving were the Maidens being sent out not to be saved but to the slaughter, Shay was part of Mog Chothera without knowing. As such it can be interpreted as the Games industry trying to grow up, trying to go beyond being a child and treated as such, leaving behind the more child friendly games of say Nintendo and going to the more mature rated games offered by the likes of Microsoft influenced by the film industry. Rather than making things better the games industry was lead astray.
This concludes me presenting the result of my thought experiment.
Now is Broken Age actually a comment upon feminism in the games industry and community and patriarchal oppression ?
I’m going to guess at no, that’s probably not what the game is about, it may simply be a coming of age story of some kind it may simply be a really cool story about how a spaceship is really a giant monster and how perspectives matter.
All that can be said is it’s quite an enjoyable well made point and click game so far and when part two does come out who knows it might answer a lot of these questions. It might entirely change the interpretation of the narrative entirely.
The reason I’m not writing it as a review is well I’ve only played half the game as Act 2 isn’t out yet. I’m almost certain there’s far more to a lot of the stuff that hasn’t yet been revealed such as what on earth Harm'ny Lightbeard is really up to in Meriloft or shock horror maybe the characters aren’t super deep metaphors and are just you know funny characters, not much more ?
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and while I really don’t see what great deeper meaning Tim Schafer is seeing in Anita Sarkeesian videos such that he’s telling people they are must watch material. I’m also not above ruling out that maybe he might not have seen them pulled apart and maybe like the millions who shared the invisible children Kony 2012 campaign maybe he thought he was just doing some good is his own slightly unfortunate way ?
Again just for clarity this is not my take of Broken Age act 1 this is the result of me running a deliberate thought experiment, if you want to believe it then fine go ahead but don’t expect me to back it up as again thought experiment.
Hope you enjoyed this piece as it's a little outside of what I normally do but I somehow felt in the present climate it felt right to do.