This isn’t a game review; this is a review of game reviewing
As the world crested over Y2K, nerds everywhere rejoiced in man’s greatest invention to date: the world wide web. This marked the turn of a new age, the Age of Information, where the basis of world currency turned from gold to ones and zeros. The nerd caste, once the universal butt-end of derision and wet towel snappings, found their way to the highest echelons of society and even have one of their own cast as the world’s richest man, Bill Gates. Role-playing, once a dark secret that could derail a presidential candidate, now has gone mainstream and online with a subscription rate that grows exponentially every year. That guy in high school who never spoke or left the computer room is now your boss. The nerd is triumphant.
The popular notion would be to consider the age we live in, what with its information superhighway and Ausperger’s syndrome, to be the most intelligent period of all time. People now have instant access to a wealth of information that would have taken weeks to compile. However, one instead should ask, “Does being truly smart mean you know a great deal of information?”
No. In this day and age people don’t need to know more information, instead they need to be able to process this information. Even though the mother-load of human history and knowledge is available to any and all, people choose to spend their time spouting South Park catch-phrases or quoting whatever the Insane Clown Posse has to say about their imagined enemies. The world wide web is cluttered with completely pointless web sites about ninjas and robots and ninja robots as well as the required slash fiction for said genre. Wikipedia, a brilliant idea in theory in which encyclopedia submissions are edited by its users, offers information that is on the whole unconfirmed and inaccurate. As SomethingAwful.com puts it, and puts it well, “The internet makes you stupid.”
In that case, what is so good about the internet? How can man’s greatest invention be worthy of such praise if all it can do is show you some fat kid pretending to swing a light saber around? Three things: e-mail, porn, and finding opinions that support whatever it is that you are thinking.
That’s right: the internet is not for learning. Or at any rate, nobody ever seems learns from it. If you are some dumb racist misogynist with a hate on, but can’t find anyone who sympathizes with you because they are all well-adjusted humans who don’t have an issue with their penis size, well, you’ll find all the small-penised friends you’ll ever need on the internet. If there is some opinion that proves you wrong, well, you don’t want to hear it.
And that brings us to video gamers, who are already an opinionated set of people without even mentioning “fan boys”. One common way of broadcasting one’s opinion is to write reviews; however, all these reviews posted on the internet serve to do is buttress the experience they had with the game and the justification of the game’s cost. These ordinary reviews will tell how someone feels (for example, “This game rocks!” translates better into “This great game gives me the rocking feeling!” rather than “This is a good game,”) but not any original thought beyond “Too bad you couldn’t carjack anything.” Folks, that isn’t a review: that’s an affirmation of your experience (or the opposite of affirmation if it happens to be Big Rig Racing). Video game reviews on the internet have as little to do with discussion and original thought as Britney Spears’ horrific snatch has to do with underwear when entering or leaving a motor vehicle.
The internet is littered with these testimonials that are all virtually the same: you get a synopsis of the game’s story, a run down on the graphics and sound and gameplay with scores out of ten, a consensus of “rocks” or “sucks”, a comparison to GTA San Andreas, and then the words of either “must-buy”, “rent” or “your time would be better spent masturbating”. This would be fine and all if it was a cuisinart or Astroglide or any other product you purchase, but some gamers go further and insultingly call video games “art”. Games are many things: a hobby, entertainment, a great way to tell a story and waste 100 hours of your life. But not art.
That isn’t to say there haven’t been games that have been so good that they have been “artful” or even “masterpieces”. However, gamers appear to have a limited vocabulary in reviewing games; if something is good but inexplicable falls out of the “rock” range, gamers can not comprehend and thus this becomes a critically acclaimed hit that doesn’t somehow sell many copies.
So, I was over at JazzOleg’s place, the one that has the stuffed grizzly bear that he killed himself with his own bare hands ; he had just bought his brand new computer, one that is made out of gold-pressed platinum and is faster than “Old World” immigrants at an open buffet. (it’s amazing: on top there’s an opening to which you can offer your living sacrifices to appease the angry video card god within) Like a proud poppa, he first popped in “The Witcher” and then “Bioshock”. I was so impressed with “Bioshock” that I had to get my own copy, to which I then found out doesn’t work on my YEAR-old computer. Seeing that I’m not going to get an Xbox 360 anytime soon and the ‘Corn is smart enough not to let me in his home without him, it seems I’ll never finish this game.
So this is not a review. Somebody else will gladly spout off about Ann Rand-whatsherface and quote something from wikipedia, cool. However, playing it through a short while made me think of the discussion above when I made a realization about this game.
Games are not art and gamers don’t have the ability to appreciate art in games. This is apparent in “Bioshock”, because this game succeeds in spite of itself. To be an artist in this modern age is to hide that fact that you are an artist at all.
Absolutely, “Bioshock” is a game that “rocks”, but the reason why it “rocks” is crammed far deep inside the game to save it from being a commercial failure. Daddy Systemshock whatshisface knows full well of this: you give the people only what they want; that which they need you must hide it from them or else they cannot accept. Therefore, “Bioshock” “rocks” because it has cool graphics, cool ragdoll physics, cool game play. People like the Big Daddy (well, like killing him, anyways) but may not know why. People know it’s a good story, but they don’t have to sit through verbose and pedantic exposition (the “talky” parts) before they can start killing.
The opposite of this are games that are genius, but are too good for their own good. Planescape: Torment looked like a novel because it was a novel, and disguised so poorly it flopped like a twenty-pancake belly flop. ICO is a transcendently original platform-puzzler that made a believer out of everyone who played it, but gamers instead held fast to Italian plumbers and their goombas. I’m sure the same could be said of Psychonauts, but I haven’t played it and never will because I’m waiting for the sequel, which is going to be an MMO or FPS. Whichever, it’s not that there’s any difference between the two because they both sh*t green money.
“Bioshock”, besides being a cool-ass linear FPS with a cool-ass story that you’d never ever heard of before, is masterful because it is a perfect blend of art, design and commerce. I haven’t finished it, but that much is clear from playing it for awhile and (hopefully) merits this discussion. It knows its place and being such a genius work, tricks us why we like it.
Can't carjack any cars. Can't punch a dog into outer space. Crowds do not chant my name when I score a hat trick.
The Bottom Line
The real beauty of art is that a true masterpiece will garner our respect, especially if we don’t like it. Great art challenges us.
Meanwhile, videogames have adjustable difficulty levels.