Saturday, April 17, 2010

Video Games, Ebert and Art

I hold a great deal of respect for Roger Ebert. I remember watching At The Movies with my dad late at night, either Saturday or Sunday, my recollection is hazy Later when I began to write reviews I looked at how he reviewed, specifically in At The Movies. Even more recently he has become one of my three main sources for reading movie review, the others being The A.V. Club and Rotten Tomatoes.
He has taken flack for his opinion that video games are not art and I respect the man's opinions in general. Of course this is the Internet and apparently "everyone" wants to defend video games as being art. Frankly, without being a gamer at all, he is simply speculating that a game cannot be art. In a 2007 article where he commented on Clive Barker's opinion on the matter and he stated video games will never be art because:

They tend to involve (1) point and shoot in many variations and plotlines, (2) treasure or scavenger hunts, as in "Myst," and (3) player control of the outcome. I don't think these attributes have much to do with art; they have more in common with sports.

Now I rebut this by saying, "Hey, look at the movie industry! "
1. If you replace "point and shoot" with "romance between two people" for example this creates a giant variation in genres from "From Here to Eternity" to "Grease" to "500 Days of Summer" to I" Love You Man" and so on a so forth.
2. The treasure hunt genre is a classic film trope. if you look at Indiana Jones, National Treasure, etc there are many treasure hunt movies, Ebert seems to be complaining because you have to do the looking.
3. Player control of the outcome is less widely used in the film industry but it is also rarely used, well at least, in the video game industry. While most games end when you beat them or die, you really will continue on till you end. Even then endings rarely vary considering the massive number of games and when they do vary, the endings are barely different between extreme evil and extreme good. The ones that go beyond are classic games. I will submit though that few films did well with multiple endings as well. I can think of Clue though I am certain that Mr. Ebert could name several more.

The points simply mean that three genres of gaming keep all games from being considered art. Therefore I might raise that horrible parody films ala Date Movie, bad acting and linear storytelling in movies keep films from being art. The points make no sense and logically I would consider his arguments moot, though I am not the greatest logician so there might be a fallacy in my statement.

Of course, those points only defend why games cannot be high art. High art is a pretty loaded term. Is it something that cannot be swallowed by the masses and enjoyed by them, only to be reserved for people in berets with cigarettes? If that is the case, I honestly don't care for most high art films. The ideas that come to mind are those much maligned and stereotyped faux-Ingmar Bergman films shot in black and white while pointless symbols float around the screen. Perhaps equating video games to high art is making the wrong case, somewhat. The games that would be made to be considered high art are most likely unpopular so perhaps equating video games to films Ebert likes would make a better argument.

(On a side note, of the three games mentioned in the Ebert's recent post as being art games, I was only familiar with Braid which in some ways over-touted itself as being better than all other video games.)

These are films that moved me deeply in one way or another. The cinema is the greatest art form ever conceived for generating emotions in its audience. That's what it does best. (If you argue instead for dance or music, drama or painting, I will reply that the cinema incorporates all of these arts).

Roger Ebert - Ten Greatest Films of All Time

I rebut video games incorporate all of the arts along with video into itself. Consider the cutscenes of video games - an amazing one is resonant within you. Some games have even turned into hour long cutscenes interspersed with brief moments of games, though I personally am against this movement.
Nonetheless, I see that the best games have a wonderful directorial sense to them. The video game critic Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw has mentioned frequently his love for the opening of the game Bioshock where you are immersed in the world through exploration, though it can be considered linear. I'd put this game as being art. Technically its offspring, a film adaptation, will be art, if all films are considered art, which they are not.

Ebert defines his favorite films of the decade as those which made a "direct emotional impact." I have cried during video games. I have felt betrayed. A creative and immersive story draws you in even more than a film as you take the role of the character, or you should. There are a lot of bad games out there, but there are also a lot of, if not more, bad movies. In those truly immersive games, every time you play through the game, you come back and are awarded again and again, even if you know the ending. Good films are the same way. Good paintings are the same way. Good songs are the same way. All art is the same way.

Art and its definition are generally very sticky subjects. I am an art student. I can barely paint, my drawing skills need work. I study web design and interactive media. I am a web design artist and I don't consider any website "high art" because most sites lack depth and emotional resonance. Depth and emotional resonance are not part of the medium though since they commonly clash with the utility. The content on them might be art. The content might be that point of which all art is reaching where all mediums meet together.

Really though in the end, this is mostly to you readers who are pestering Roger Ebert, if Roger Ebert doesn't want to consider video games art, who needs to care? He reviews films and he is generally very wise on that subject, as he should be. If you are a gamer and you care what his opinion is, unfounded as it may be as he lacks personal experience with video games, move on. There are people who consider video games art and those who do not. It is just the way the world is. Stop worrying about Mr. Ebert and have fun playing some games. Perhaps if you stop being so insistent, he might even be willing to join.

Monday, April 12, 2010

MSPA: Their Problem is Choice

(originally written for the currently in construction MSPA newspaper thingy)

One of the issues that detractors have with MS Paint Adventures is that while readers do submit choices, the author has the final say and as we are (possibly) aware, some ideas have been planned in advance. So does this mean that the readers actually contribute anything? On the surface, the answer for those unfamiliar with the series is a hearty "No!" and yet as a reader and a fan I've given it some thought and I disagree. Instead of being two separate entities, the reader and Andrew are one in the same, part of a zeitgeist.
In this community where we submit actions and commands and art we have a role building the stories. Yes, Andrew could theoretically pick random choices or even the first choice but that is not telling a story or it doesn't work well in the end. In fact, it would be like playing Scrabble blindfolded if anything. Random letters might make up a word but the value and quality of the choice are suspect. As such, if Andrew had just picked random choices , Zoosmell Pooplord would be in his room sending money to a Nigerian prince while his house burns down around him. Or at least it would according to the alternate reality viewer but that is a story for another article.
By planning ahead and framing out story aspects you allow a natural growth to occur. I myself figured this out while working on my own writing project. By building the universe some things solve themselves in a natural way because you are familiar with the characters. And then it become less about Andrew picking what he wants and it becomes him picking what the character might actually do. We help to define the characters though through submissions, posting and so on.
People for the most part will submit ideas to move the story along and to make it progress. I doubt there are really any people who forcibly wish for the comic to die. Actually, I will retract that, but I think there are not enough to alter the zeitgeist who are on the forum. Even if it were so, the community would take action as part of due process because we hold our own stakes in this comic.
MSPA has transcended beyond being a comic. It is also a movie, a game, a musical, an inspiration and a community. It has gathered one of the most friendly online communities that I have seen and I do a decent amount of internet surfing (under assumed identities). People here want to work together. They openly support each other in their endeavors. Writing the comic with Andrew is just another project for us as a group and while we may not always seem to be in full control, it works just as well that way because direct control for any party might take away that magic.
Long live MS Paint Adventures and Andrew Hussie.

Gastrophobia Review

I like GastroPhobia. Read it. You will enjoy it. Enough said. A

That is my poorly written review for Gastrophobia because when it comes to reviewing a comic every once in a while, I get stupid fingers and cannot express what I would like to say. I mean Gastrophobia has its faults. The humor can be hit or miss and it is classic humor which sometimes falls flat in a lot of ways but the art in good, the three color art is inspired and the dialogue is snappy. Wrapping all that up in a Grecco-Roman crust and you have a very enjoyable comic.

Hur. I just got around my writers block. Not going to press my luck though, I've been stuck writing the words on this for a while.I figured you should just read it.

Still, if you need further reason to read it, the creator, David McGuire, also did a guest comic in Scott Pilgrim Vol 3. Look at that if you want to first, and then read Gastrophobia.

My Axe to Grind with Axe Cop

First off, I enjoy Axe Cop. Honestly I do. The first few pages were awesome and I was part of that group that crashed the site. I still enjoy the comic but there is a serious problem with the ultimate power that is apparently going on in the comic. Yes, I am aware it is written by a kid but the adult in me is having problems with it which was bound to eventually happen and I am free to complain. I mean, there is little forethought put into the comic which is fine for a kid writing it. I made comics like he did. The problem though is the issues that will likely never be covered at all.
1. The Wishes
As we've seen in a bunch of Ask Axe Cops, he'd has plans to kill every bad guy in the universe and if he'd do that, then he'd be without a job. He has the tools to do this as well and a team of people available to do it, all without using any wishes. Wishes seem to just complicate things, and not in the generic badly phrased wish trope. "If wishes were horses, poor men would ride" is the old saying though this comes off to me more as if wishes were horses, there'd be a lot of shit going on, which there is. The unlimited powers make Axe Cop and everyone else have an extreme lack of forethought in a lot of ways and the main reason Axe Cop has for not removing all villains seems to be he is greedy. He wants to have something to do. If they wanted to, the Axe Cop Crew could all enemies from the universe and then wish for something else to do that they would enjoy. Problem solved simply. No more killing people which brings me to point two.
2. Lack of Law
Axe Cop is a gigantic antihero. He kills with no regard for the law. He kills other law enforcers. I remember my obsession with violence at that age, sort of. I never really killed people in games, video or real, though. Bad guys vanished or they fell off the screen in video games or they just came back in another episode in tv shows. It is a bit disturbing how Axe Cop and his party simply kill everyone they come across and see as being evil. Malachi even had them accidentially kill innocent people. Not to mention there is the fact that Axe Cop became a law enforcer simply by signing up to be one. Nobody keeps him in check. God is apparently fine with this as well even though the golden rule is "love thy neighbor as thyself." There is also that whole though shalt not kill commandment. I don't see Axe Cop following any law other than his own which is to kill the bad guys.
In the future I have no idea how the comic will grow. Personally I'd like to see it be remade in a decade or so after Malachi has grown up. I think a look back with maturity might make the comic really interesting with him viewing the black and white morality of childhood with more adult eyes. As it is now though, it is rather Frank Miller-esqe except it lacks whores.
I'm going to keep reading the comic for now and I highly suggest taking a look at it but these ideas were just on my mind partially from the other negative critique that was posted and partially because I need to update my own blog more. I still liked the early pages the most because it was fresher. The world was more natural in a lot of ways because we could see it a bit more as our own, there were no wishes and the weirdness wasn't as omnipresent. Now it just seems like attempts to pile ideas on ideas with no format and that feels sloppy like it should in a lot of ways because a kid is writing it. This though is an adult reviewing it and I have issues.

Koltreg vs the Double Down

I am a fan of ostensible pop garbage and food counts as pop garbage for me. A great deal of discussion was made about the double down from KFC which is two chicken filets, deep fried or grilled, as the bread for a sandwich containing bacon, cheese (possibly faux-swiss) and sauce. I decided to set out to eat one.
Upon receiving the sandwich I noticed my filets had the appearance that they had been sitting in the heating ovens for about an hour or so past the limit. As an employee of an unnamed conglomerate dealing with fast food though, I am aware that the storage of food for prolonged periods of time can occur either due to an unwillingness to throw it away or simple laziness. Either way, the chicken was not as fresh as I might have preferred.
Taking a bit, everything sort of muddled together into a big nothingness. No flavors really spoke to me except for the occasional hit of the sauce that reminded me of the quesadilla sauce at Taco Bell. The chicken didn't add as much as it might of had it been fresh and overall the flavor was a big bunch of meh.
About an hour later after buying groceries and returning home I was hit with a sudden head cloud of confusion, a bit of dizziness and some additional nausea. Probably my heart reacting to the damage I just dealt it.
Would I eat one again?
Probably in a few weeks. Right now I need to find if I need to head off to plan my funeral at the Necropolis Litharge.
All in all, it could taste better, it could be better for you and so on and so forth but in the end I'd give it a C.
Still working on the Gastrophobia review.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Still busy for right now, getting into the swing of things again and wasting time on a few random fun projects. Next planned review is Gastrophobia.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

And it is up!

Socialfist is up early, this is not an April Fools gag either.

Check It Out