On Depth and Awards

Designer Nels Anderson tackles the tired subject of depth in games with a somewhat fresh perspective, comparing the games industry to the music industry. I fully agree with his points that there is little reason to begrudge the perceived shallowness of mainstream games when they are in fact intended as an enjoyable consumer product more than a way to convey meaning, that as long as the long tail produces variety we can rest assured that the medium is expanding and that this rings true for other media industries as well. He also mentions that the volume of alternatives is lesser for games, there are a multitude of reasons for this and discussing them is outside of the scope for this post but I would guess the fact that games are largely born from toys and arcades (that is, pinball) as opposed to art or culture makes the “entertainment” part more prevalent.

I am not so sure about the presentation of “shallow” mainstream games, this is more a reflection on the culture surrounding art games than Anderson himself; the point of his article is, after all, that there is nothing wrong with enjoying games with little or no meaning. It does kind of come off as something you deign to do in between meaningful pursuits though, and deciding what has meaning and not in something as complex as games should not be done hastily. Small games often contain only a fraction of the content of mainstream games, and for instance a well-executed multiplayer mode might be immensely profound and enjoyable even if the rest of the game is bland. Even if a game lacks meaning in the narrative theme and presentation it may present aesthetic, technical or design solutions that are deep in themselves (Anderson actually mentions his rant not being about design, I just do not think it cannot be decoupled from meaning). And even if we do stick to the narrative, who is to say what is meaningful? … Then again, both the movie and music industries have indie appreciators decrying the shallowness of larger productions even when they have redeeming elements, so maybe this is just the way the world works.

On a related but slightly different note, Chris Delay of Introversion writes about a pretty cool voxel experiment and – more importantly for the purpose of this post – about his experiences judging the Techincal Excellence Award for the IGF. Feeling I had nothing to add I did not write anything about the IGF this year, but it seems my worries about elitism and eligibility were shared and some people felt that Minecraft – due to its reknown and financial success – should not be eligible to receive any IGF awards. I think this kind of thinking makes the IGF smaller, a sort of members-only club prizingĀ  obscurity rather than simply celebrating great performances and great games – it is a bit sad. On the other hand it seems most award shows are heavily influenced by politics and for the IGF it all worked out in the end with Minecraft taking home a modest number of impressive awards.

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Posted on Mar 10/11 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture | No Comments »