“Oh look! Grand Theft Auto 5 has grossed more than any film ever! We made it! Videogames are officially great!”
I don’t very much agree with the narrative surrounding the significance and importance of videogames among other media. Videogames get a bad rap and I think that to a great extent they definitely deserve it. Videogames are not winning. They’re just doing really well at targeting suggestible adolescents and middle aged women with loot boxes and in-app purchases. Videogames aren’t winning because they’ve grossed more than any film, book or article of consumable media in history. If that’s our measure of success then I think we’ve lost already.
I don’t feel the need to prove to anyone the significance of play in our culture, at least I’m pretty confident of how important play is to what makes us human and what impact it has on the zeitgeist. At a very fundamental level, games are a microcosm of our reality and by that logic, everyone is playing games all the time. We are always interfacing with systems around us, providing input and receiving feedback. That system can exist behind a computer screen, in which case we might call it a “Videogame”. Otherwise that system can take many different forms. We can be interfacing with our colleagues at a business meeting, at the dinner table with the family or with our friends at a bar. There’s games everywhere and only a small subset of those exist behind a computer screen. We’re always playing.
We’re severely limited by our definition of what a videogame is, I’ve written about this before. As far as I’m concerned, a particular strain of what we call “videogames” has already hit critical mass. If we’re willing to stretch the definition of a videogame beyond its confines, then I think there are videogames everywhere. We’re always playing a videogame, and we’re inside one right now.
Our nerdy DnD dwelling ancestors called it a Multi User Dungeon. The higher minds of Silicon Valley call it Facebook. Just because it’s not sitting on the shelves at a Gamestop in a cardboard box with the picture of a buff dude on the cover, doesn’t mean it’s not a game. I put pictures of myself being awesome in exchange for points? That’s a really simple game. Not everyone in the world is into demons and dragons, but you can be sure has hell they’re into themselves. If Facebook isn’t the best multiplayer game ever made, then I don’t know what is.
Even if one would insist on comparing Apples and Oranges, I don’t think there’s any competition here. I don’t see why we feel the need to compare our medium to film. Compare our medium to what it was three years ago, and you have GTA 4. Doesn’t look like we’ve moved mountains anymore does it? Just another sequel, with better graphics, a bigger world and more playable characters. Don’t get me wrong, I think GTA 5 is an awesome game, and I’d show it to the world with pride in what our medium is capable of. But I will do that knowing that it’s also at the same time a complete failure, because it was only able to take us one very tiny step forward. I’m not for one second trying to discount the achievement that is GTA 5, or the effort and talent that made it happen. I understand the hard work that went into it, and I can imagine what it takes to make a videogame that size, but I don’t think there’s any reason to pop the champagne just yet.
It’s alright, I was never fun at parties. What was meant to feel like being part of a big happy family, always had me feel like a confused footsoldier of a leaderless army, defending a nation with no name, fighting an enemy that was never hostile. I feel we often come off as a herd of insecure nerds looking for cute ways to find validation and respect for our medium. We spend less time listening to what our medium is trying to tell us, and more time shouting slogans on a loudspeaker to grab people’s attention, handing out flyers on the sidewalk at a busy intersection hoping to earn their respect. I’m not going to pull up numbers that prove some game has grossed more than film in the last quarter, thereby somehow implying its worth. These banal comparisons only go to show how hopelessly misdirected we can be, competing with a medium that has absolutely nothing to do with us, congratulating ourselves over winning battles in a war that never had any meaning to it. It proves how insecure we can be about the significance of our medium in the grand scheme of things, and I think that’s pathetic.
I’ll see myself out.