I would first like to point out that this is simply my opinion, and
is not intended to represent anyone else's views here on PlanetQuake. This
is an issue worth discussing openly, and this is simply my attempt to shed
some light on an often overlooked aspect of gaming.
|An Editorial by - Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
A recent survey on The Site asked
the question, "are videogames art?" While most people seemed
to answer, that in fact they are (and I agree, to an extent) many did not.
A more appropriate question may have been, "are videogames masterpieces?"
To which I would have responded for the most part, no.
The Webster Dictionary defines a masterpiece as "a work done with
extrordinary skill". A definition this pigeon-holed certainly applies
to a work such as Quake, but at the same time it is a bit vague. Personally,
I define a masterpiece as a work that brings together the different advantages
of the medium in question and produces a work of unparalelled quality.
This, Quake is not. In fact, no videogame in recent years fits
I love Quake, don't get me wrong. And I love videogames in general.
However, I can't help but think that there is so much untouched territory
in the medium.
Lets begin by looking at the inherant qualities of a videogame. A videogame
is, by its very design, a unique way to involve a person into its story.
When playing a game, the user becomes a character. In the early
days of gaming, this was realized, and games were tailored to take advantage
of this. While technologically minimal, the text based games from Infocom
presented a more immersive, and wholy satisfying experience than 95% of
Ask yourself this: when was the last time you felt an emotion other
than anger or frustration in a videogame? Games like The Lurking Horror
and Suspended, presented a world that was truly terrifying. What
always amazed me about the glory days of Infocom, was the sheer and utter
originality behind them.
Take this summary of Suspended's plot:
You are the Central Mentality on an
advanced semi-automated planet. You were supposed to sleep -- in limited
cryogenic suspension -- for the next 500 years, 20 miles beneath the surface
of the planet, while the great Filtering Computers maintained all surface
systems. But the computers have taken you out of suspension because something
is terribly wrong: the weather has become brutal, food production is dangerously
low, and the Transportation System is malfunctioning, causing unprecedented
accidents and casualties. The planet is in chaos. You yourself cannot move.
But you have six robots at your disposal, and you must manipulate them
strategically to bring the Filtering Computers back into balance. Each
robot has a distinct perception of the world and offers you specific abilities
-- one offers you sight, a second hearing, a third access to information
in the computer memory. Through the robots, you must save the planet from
Suspended was released in March of 1983. More than fourteen years
later, videogames have yet to reach this level of immersion again.
I don't mean to insult the videogame industry as a whole. Again, I love
games. But in recent times, the industry has become stagnant. In the persuit
of "the next big thing" the industry has missed its greatest
asset: its sense of meaning.
Games exist to entertain, yes. And if that's all you're looking for
than any number of games will satisfy you. One might argue that games are
analogous to film, another medium which has been plagued by stagnation.
But in film, there are at least people who strive to create original, and
genuine works of art; movies that do more than simply entertain.
Where are our Kubricks? Our Woody Allens? Today's gaming industry is
driven by technology, or more specifically, mispent good intentions.
The underlying technology for truly great masterpieces of art has existed
in the videogame industry for ages now. It's time to see some real meaning.
Flipping through a gaming magazine, you're likely to stumble upon one
company or another, saying that their upcoming game features, "a storyline
that is truly compelling" or "technology that will blow you away".
At the risk of alienating myself, bullshit.
Look at the companies that claim to be presenting "original, compelling
storylines". These so called "stories" wouldn't make it
past round one in Hollywood for God's sake. I have sat back and
watched as id squabbled with Epic Megagames over the originality of featuring
a woman, or a bald man as their lead character. Reading this, I had visions
of hungry dogs, fighting over the scraps left to them by their masters.
Let's face it. Technology is only as good as the game behind it. In
the end, does anyone really care about colored lighting? I certainly don't.
Sure it's pretty, but come on. What point does it serve? Where is the promised
immersion? A game can be more pretty than its predecessor and still suck.
But why is it that games aren't featuring more stories? Well, because
frankly, you simply can't make a living off of it. Quake, a game we all
know and love, has no story. I love Quake, but it's the truth. Quake
made money. Lots of money. Who in their right mind is going to take
the time to expand on that?
Well, one could argue id is, and that Quake 2 will actually feature
a story. I love Quake, and i'm sure to buy Quake 2, but let's face it.
No matter how good Quake 2 is, it sure as hell won't have a truly compelling
storyline. Good enough to keep my interest? Sure. But I won't be moved
by it. I won't feel any emotion for the characters.
This isn't id's fault of course. They're designers. Not writers. id
is based on technology, so I'll forgive them. But other companies who claim
to be working on games that differ need to stop lying to their customers.
It doesn't benefit any of us to pick up yet another action game promising
a great story only to find a shoestring plot, references to bad action
movies, and no memorable story.
There are games I consider masterpieces. The early Infocom text games
were beyond a shadow of a doubt masterpieces (hell, the recently released
Infocom collection was titled "Masterpieces of Infocom" and rightly
so). These are immortal games, games that I still play more than 10 years
after I first discovered them. Quite suprisingly, I'm not alone in this,
either. Sites like XYZZ strive to
perserve both the classic text games, and help in the creation of new ones.
Today, all it takes to make your own text game is a mild knowledge of the
programming language, and a narrative. Literally hundreds of great
text adventures are availible on the web for every imaginable system, from
Amiga, to UNIX. Infocom even gives Zork
away for free now.
Quake as a single player experience is an ultimately empty exercise.
There are levels I consider to be excellent, but they don't move me. They
don't excite me. A well designed level can only do so much for a game.
But what about multiplayer games? Multiplayer games are great. I love
them, really. Multiplayer games have evolved a great deal over time, and
are starting to stand on their own. A major split is coming between those
of us who want great single player games, and those don't. Games like Ultima
Online basically have all but given up on structure, and are letting people
make their own storylines (attempts have been made, but they really aren't
very large; for the most part, players are on their own). MUDs and MOOs
have managed to maintain a sort of chaotic existance for years like this,
and for some people that's perfectly fine. But for some of us, a videogame
should be like a novel. A single person, compeltely immersed in a compelling
I suppose in the end, it comes down to a matter of taste. Not-very-coincidentaly,
many Quake fans, are also fans of Hollywood blockbuster movies, where the
only plot is "man in trouble. Man kicks ass. Man says funny lines."
I cannot claim myself to be one of those people. I do appreciate
a decent storyline, and I wish more people did.
Gaming technology is amazing. Today, we have the capability to make
games that completely immerse the player. Think of the early days of cinema.
Once sound evolved, films took on a whole new level of artistic quality,
creating masterpieces of astonishing brilliance. The computer industry
has had CD quality sound for several years now, and I'm still waiting for
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