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In Defense of Games 81

Posted by Zonk
from the stressful-lifting dept.
darkwing_bmf writes to mention an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in praise of videogames. Specifically, author Brian Anderson discusses the negative reactions videogames have gotten in the press, and why that reaction is unfounded. From the article: "The truth is, critics are often ignorant of the moral universe of video games--violent games included. Yes, the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series, in which the gamer plays a criminal on the make in the big city, is pretty amoral. But most violent games put the player in a familiar hero's role, notes Judge Richard Posner in a 2001 Seventh Circuit appeals-court decision overturning an Indianapolis anti-video-game ordinance. 'Self-defense, protection of others, dread of the 'undead,' fighting against overwhelming odds--these are the age-old themes of literature, and ones particularly appealing to the young,' Mr. Posner observes."
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In Defense of Games

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Friday June 02, 2006 @12:19PM (#15454912) Journal
    Long ago, there was the art of spoken word. Whereby stories were passed on from generation to generation by simple speech. Some of these were true stories, some were factious but they were popular.

    Eventually, writing & printed word became a popular means to pass on these same stories. Poetry, plays, odes, short stories & eventually novels caused these words to persist through time.

    Then followed music and the art of telling a story through a song. Chorals, hymns, operas, symphonies & musicals would forever bring us stories--again both fiction and non-fiction--across time and space to our theatres and living rooms.

    Motion pictures evolved and suddenly acting was more popular than ever. The actual events of a story were unfolded before our eyes and could be repeated over and over. These rose in popularity because all of the above could be recorded in the form of a movie (and many movies are remakes of one of the above).

    Games are not much different but there's a new twist. The user can interact with the story. Sometimes on a very limited basis with no influence at all but, in others, the user feels/is integral to the storyline. A story is often told, some very basic, confusing and short (Tetris, Super Mario Bros, etc.) while others are much more in depth and consuming (Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, etc).

    Unfortunately, most video games are produced just to give the user a previous story with some limited involvement in it. Look at how many Lord of the Rings video games there are out there. Look at how many games are spurred from a successful book or movie. Is this really necessary? Do game makers lack so much imagination that they are relying upon movies or books for their storylines? If this is the case, then gaming is doomed to be a mere wanna-be art medium.

    What are games missing to truly take hold among the masses & become a popular medium for entertainment? Some may argue it's already happened. Some may argue that games are the best form of story telling and factious tales of adventure.

    I would disagree and so does a majority of the public. Novels, magazines, television & movies seem to be the preferred medium.

    Gamers seem to be caught up with trivial aspects of games. Graphics, console wars & and status seeking has torn apart the community. Did Shakespeare bitch and moan about his lack of fonts? Did Plato refuse to write on shitty papyrus based paper? Did Mozart refuse to write music because he didn't have the right instruments yet--or a mixer for that matter? Did Fritz Lang stop making motion pictures because he didn't have color film and light meters?

    No.

    Why are we spending our time arguing over whether cell processing is the best for gaming when we should be talking about our favorite characters from our favorite games? Is this what gaming is about? Laughing at the Wii for its name and bickering about pixel shading and polygon counts? For Christ's sake, how could anyone not technologically inclined pick up a console without being abased by a gamer?

    When technology catches up to games and graphics/CPU power/egos are out of the way, hopefully games can be made that truly aim at evoking emotion and telling a good story ... or better yet, letting the user experience their own story & interacting with other users.
    • by BecomingLumberg (949374) on Friday June 02, 2006 @12:26PM (#15454984)
      Speaking against the almighty gamer on /. is risky business. You sir are both bold and daring.
    • by linvir (970218) * on Friday June 02, 2006 @12:30PM (#15455032)
      Gamers seem to be caught up with trivial aspects of games. Graphics, console wars & and status seeking has torn apart the community. Did Shakespeare bitch and moan about his lack of fonts? Did Plato refuse to write on shitty papyrus based paper? Did Mozart refuse to write music because he didn't have the right instruments yet--or a mixer for that matter? Did Fritz Lang stop making motion pictures because he didn't have color film and light meters?
      You have producers and consumers confused. Mozart's listeners might well have demanded that the organisers of a concert brought in some decent instruments. Mozart and people like him most likely had the same effect that the producers of videogames do today: to improve the quality of their medium.

      The reason gamers and the gaming community are the way they are is because they are still a subset of nerds, and let's be honest, nerds are assholes about this kind of stuff. The publishers pander to it as well, as demonstrated by the ongoing penis war between Microsoft's and Sony's GPU technology. When you no longer have to be a "gamer" to play games (just as people who can read aren't seen as some sort of bizarre literati), things will start to mature.

      In the meantime, however, it's been really beneficial. If it hadn't been for this constant obsession with stats, we might still be finding ourselves drooling at the likes of Mario 64. It's starting to wear thin now, though. Buy a new TV just to make things look prettier? No thanks.

      • Buy a new TV just to make things look prettier? No thanks.

        Because it sucks when things look prettier.
        • If you're going to make your entire post a guess at my reasoning, at least put some effort into your guess. In fact my reason is fairly strongly implied by the sentence I used: image definition quality is not a good enough reason to buy a new TV. As miserably as you may have failed, it was a good attempt at being an ElitismBuster.
      • When I read:

        Did Shakespeare bitch and moan about his lack of fonts? Did Plato refuse to write on shitty papyrus based paper? Did Mozart refuse to write music because he didn't have the right instruments yet--or a mixer for that matter? Did Fritz Lang stop making motion pictures because he didn't have color film and light meters?

        I thought the same exact thing as the previoius poster. Shakespeare wasn't limited in what he could write due to fonts. Plato wasn't limited on what he could express due to b
    • Unfortunately, most movies are produced just to give the user a previous story with a 'big screen feel'. Look at how many 'Romeo and Juliet' movies there are out there. Look at how many movies are spurred from a successful book or video game. Is this really necessary? Do movie makers lack so much imagination that they are relying upon games or books for their storylines? If this is the case, then movies are doomed to be a mere wanna-be art medium.
      • Do movie makers lack so much imagination that they are relying upon games or books for their storylines?

        Many of the world's cinematic masterpieces are original stories. Citizen Kane [amazon.com] , which often shows up in the first place of lists of the world's great movies, was an entirely original tale penned by Orson Welles himself. My own favourite film, Bergman's The Seventh Seal [amazon.com] is similarly an original story.

        Sure, the Hollywood blockbusters that are the majority of what's offered at your local theatre might

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Note that Citizen Kane is partly famous for its use of special effects, new camera angles and improved sound design - just the same sort of thing that gamers talk about.
        • In case you missed it, I was making a point by copying what the original poster said about video games and replacing 'video games' with 'movies'. There are good, artistic movies out there, and there are also movies that are unoriginal, trite, and dull. The same is true of video games- you have good ones and bad ones. In any entertainment area- books, newspapers, video games, movies, television- most of what you see is crap designed to make a quick buck. That doesn't mean that everything in that area is
    • Gamers seem to be caught up with trivial aspects of games. Graphics, console wars & and status seeking has torn apart the community. Did Shakespeare bitch and moan about his lack of fonts? Did Plato refuse to write on shitty papyrus based paper? Did Mozart refuse to write music because he didn't have the right instruments yet--or a mixer for that matter? Did Fritz Lang stop making motion pictures because he didn't have color film and light meters?

      You seem to be forgetting the community of gamers who ar

    • What are games missing to truly take hold among the masses & become a popular medium for entertainment?

      In all the other story telling mediums we have a huge variety of genres, books and movies have come up with a mind blowing number of unique tales to tell. With video games, the stories are mostly limited to violent conflict. Even the typical Mario game is a violent tale of a rescue, where sole resolution to the story is Mario's fight to "kill" all who stand in his way. There seems to be a huge lack of

    • Did Mozart refuse to write music because he didn't have the right instruments yet--or a mixer for that matter?

      Not Mozart, no, but there were some composers that weren't able to write what they wanted due to lack of available technology. Edgard Varèse, John Cage, and other composers in the mid-20th century only started to compose what they heard in their heads with the advent of new equipment, particularly the magnetic tape recorder.
    • Unfortunately, most video games are produced just to give the user a previous story with some limited involvement in it. Look at how many Lord of the Rings video games there are out there. Look at how many games are spurred from a successful book or movie. Is this really necessary? Do game makers lack so much imagination that they are relying upon movies or books for their storylines? If this is the case, then gaming is doomed to be a mere wanna-be art medium.

      How many movies were produced from books? How
    • Nitpicking:
      I would think song and music came _before_ the written word.
    • Do game makers lack so much imagination that they are relying upon movies or books for their storylines? If this is the case, then gaming is doomed to be a mere wanna-be art medium.

      I think it might be a sign of the times. But the same could be said of film these days. You bring up an interesting point with Mozart not bitching about not having a mixer, or Fritz Lang being fine without a light meter. All of those artists had to suffer for their art and make do with what they had. Maybe that's where the great
    • "Games are not much different but there's a new twist. The user can interact with the story. Sometimes on a very limited basis with no influence at all but, in others, the user feels/is integral to the storyline. A story is often told, some very basic, confusing and short (Tetris, Super Mario Bros, etc.) while others are much more in depth and consuming (Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, etc). "

      I disagree. When 'stories', or cutscenes, are introduced in video games, they are just attaching two different th
      • I disagree. When 'stories', or cutscenes, are introduced in video games, they are just attaching two different things together. They have no influence on each other -- the game part has no influence on the story, and the story part has no influence on the game. In other words, there is no interaction with the story. Your input will not change the story in any way. There is a pre-defined story line, or set of alternative story lines. You will get no other story than the one(s) that the programmers put into

    • Yeah and that's why the top of this artform was stuff like King's Quest, Pirates!, SimCity, and Elite.
    • I agree with the overall sentiment that we need to just enjoy the games and quit with all the nitpicking. If we concentrate on the stories, and characters we will be better off. However, film buffs routinely argue over the physical characteristics of move making and viewing movies. Even literature fans will argue what type of paper makes the best book.

      Plunk a film buff in front a 13" color television with a VHS movie and you will get a diatribe on how great widescreen is as well as how great DVD is when com
    • Art is not "story." Computer games can tell a story, or they can chose not to tell a story. There are many great works of high art that tell no story at all. What stories are told by:

      Michaelangelo's "David" [anthroarcheart.org]
      Monet's "Water Lilies" [ibiblio.org]
      Wright's "Falling [umd.edu] Water"
      Calder's "Mobile" [guggenheimcollection.org]

      To be hung up on computer games because they are inadequate for conveying a story is to forever relegate them to a second-class medium. Despite the fact that designers and gamers continue to strive for a great narrative, computer games and
    • I think you are confused. Games are another medium for communication just like all of the others you mentioned.

      Just because some people who play games and console makers talk about technical specs, that doesn't mean the industry isn't focused on telling a good story. It's the same as some people who get excited over flashy special effects or the brand of instrument some group is using. It is analagous to someone who creates a fancy theatre. They have all the bells and whistles. It allows more complex
      • I think that many game designers are ignoring the one point that makes VG better than TV. CHOICE. TV never gets you thinking about other possibilities. OTOH, a game is based around that possibility.

        But that means you can't follow the same old plots. Future games have to give both a choice and a consequence. And you have to see the consequence. I think it would be great to have the posibility of making a wrong move and thus killing off an entire city. Or maybe take a separate path that makes you hat

  • by Anonymous Coward
    My girlfriend told me that her daughter had a very low frustration tolerance - until video games. Super Mario Bros. taught her to keep trying and trying until she was able to continue. My GF sincerely believes that, because of that game teaching her daughter to increase her frustration tolerance, she did much better in school.

    Of course, that's a sample of one with no control group. But it would make a really interesting study for you Psych folks.

    • I can definitely relate to that. As a game player and a professional QA tester, I have to learn how to be patient in systematically trying to resolve problems without getting frustrated. It's also a big help in life since God keeps putting idiots in my way that I have to deal with too often. :)
    • What I find is games make me unable to tollerate defeat. One simply has no reason to loose in a game, since there is nobody to enjoy victory but you so one simply restarts the game. After playing military stratergy games or RPGs, then playing boardgames with friends I can't simply loose gracefully. My inclination is now to do everything in my power to cause the game to restart or leave the game, just like I would if I was playing my computer. This behavior is not very sporting and not becoming of a gentlema
      • Actually you can blame biology for that. Males are prone to volatile mood swings any time they "loose", your brain chemistry actually plunges you into a deep depression any time you are "loosing" at something you care about. The answer to loosing gracefully is to pry away your emotional attachment to the game and emotionally take a step back. Interestingly enough females do not suffer from this brain chemistry imbalance due to loosing, but are far more likely to suffer it when they feel they have perform
        • I'm a man 24/7 and I hate loosing whenever I'm a man. But the only times I winge and act like a complete whiny git when I loose is when I've been playing games. Its not like games teach me to hate loosing, its that they teach me that when things arn't going my way, I should end the contest.

          By the way, my younger sister reacts angrily, sometimes violently when loosing a game (regardless of her own performance), far worse than any man I've seen. I think reactions to these things have as much to do with the i

        • My god. For the sake of the English language, it's not "loose" or "loosing". It's "lose", or "losing".
  • Well, it's good to see at least one judge get it right. Now if you can just find the one politician, and the one leader of a parent group, you'll have the whole ultra rare "have a clue" set.
  • In our house we use games both as a family activity, and also to strengthen life lessons.

    WoW, for example, give me a controlled environment where I have ample examples of various behaviors I want to point out and use as 'life lessons' when playing with kids. Perseverance, treating others fairly, random acts of kindness, and our lack of control over how others act are all easy to teach in this format.

    Other games reinforce analytical thinking, demonstrate spatial relationships, and provide catharsis, amo
    • WoW, for example, give me a controlled environment where I have ample examples of various behaviors I want to point out and use as 'life lessons' when playing with kids. Perseverance, treating others fairly, random acts of kindness, and our lack of control over how others act are all easy to teach in this format.

      Father: "Okay, Billy, what do you after you gank the nice ally?"

      Billy: "Spit on his corpse and laugh at him?"

      Father: "That's my boy!...BILLY! DON'T AGGRO THOSE DRAGONS...that's a bad Billy! Apolig
      • Perhaps you should read the whole post:

        I consider a cornerstone lesson: you can only control what you do, and how you react, not what others do to and around you.

        Now you can choose to do what you have outlined above, and it certainly teaches something, but bad parents are bad parents. The example you outlined would be a perfect example for me to teach my children what I said above: you cannot control how others act, only how you act and respond. Being treated by the likes of the above is a perfect p
      • Me thinks you have mistaken Billy for Lerooooooy!
  • 'Self-defense, protection of others, dread of the 'undead,' fighting against overwhelming odds--these are the age-old themes of literature, and ones particularly appealing to the young,' Mr. Posner observes.

    It would probably be a lot more better if kids read more books than play more video games. (When I mean books, I mean books not strategy guides on beating the boss creature or unlocking the content that the ESRB doesn't about.) If society is going to do well in the future, we need to become a nation o
    • Even before Videogames, TV's, and Radios, kids didn't spend all of their leisure time reading books for fun. Why would they start if we took away consoles?
    • When I mean books, I mean books not strategy guides on beating the boss creature or unlocking the content that the ESRB doesn't about.


      You know, now that you mention it, I've never read a Dickens novel that engaged my mind more than the average strategy guide.

      A lot of our 'classic' literature has always seemed pointless to me -- even when compared to the masterworks of Prima.
    • I agree. Kids should put down those video games and pick up a copy of The Zombie Survival Guide [randomhouse.com] instead. It's way better than video games at teaching kids how to defend themselves from the undead.
    • by RsG (809189) on Friday June 02, 2006 @01:09PM (#15455437)
      Doesn't work that way.

      Kids will do whatever they find to be fun. Try and force them to do something else, and while they will do it, they'll quit just as soon as they aren't forced to anymore.

      My GF got forced into playing the Cello as a kid. She's good at it - not amazing, but definately skilled. However, she has exactly zero interest in it now that she's an adult - being forced to play essentially took all the fun outta it for her.

      For my part, I remember being stuck with all the great classics in literature in school. I would never read those now - Shakespear, Dostoyevski, Dickens and the like are all things I read as a student and promptly gave up when I graduated high school. For all I know I might have enjoyed them had I either discovered them outside school as a kid, or later in life as an adult.

      She's still into classical music, and I still read, but neither of us wants anything to do with what we got stuck with as kids. OTOH, I was reading hard science fiction (starting with Larry Niven, who is definatly not light reading) as early as my teens, and I haven't yet lost interest - because those were the books I read of my own volition, and they were never forced on me.

      You want to make kids give up games and start reading? Good luck. The minute they aren't being pressured anymore they'll go right back to their games - because games are fun and books are what the adults are making them waste their time on. Trying to make them to be something other than children does them no good later in life.

      Educate them, teach them right from wrong, get them started on science and literature, but DO NOT try and make their fun into something you percieve to be useful. There is plenty of room in life for wasting time, especially when you're young.
    • Why?

      I don't necessarily disagree with you, but as both an avid gamer and an avid reader, I'm not sure I understand why you feel the need to put those two activities at odds.

  • by malsdavis (542216) * on Friday June 02, 2006 @12:29PM (#15455019)
    'Self-defense, protection of others, dread of the 'undead,'

    It's good to know games are teaching our youngsters against sympathising with the undead!

    I'd like to see games go further and display warnings like "Ghoulish Studies leads to bad buddies""

  • just as bad if not worse, I remember reading articles that delt with the rampant sex trade on Sims Online (I haven't kept up with it latley) but that basically became some kind of extortion scheme. Where n00bie sims players would be put into a jail, so their character couldn't get out, unless they paid the house owner money. Either way, games are made to be a source of entertainment, wether good or bad. I think the article is one of the positives I've seen in a wave of negative tones in the US aimed at gam
  • "...Grand Theft Auto series, in which the gamer plays a criminal on the make in the big city, is pretty amoral."

    The later Grand Theft Auto games, as has been pointed out in other forums, are presented within a strong moral framework, so I think it is wrong to call them "amoral". Whether they are immoral would be a different question, but not one to which I'd immediately jump up with an answer in the affirmative.
  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Friday June 02, 2006 @01:07PM (#15455413) Journal
    Or does it look like Wolverine's sticking his claws into Dad's head? [opinionjournal.com]
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday June 02, 2006 @01:08PM (#15455430) Journal
    ...is that the 'public judgements' are being delivered by people so woefully ignorant about games. (Generally, having come from a full generation before games came out - say age 50+.)

    The criticism of the 'lack of art value' in games is telling; in terms of human context, yes, there are morally bankrupt games (GTA-anything), as well as morally empty games (Bejeweled, Card games, etc.), but there are also a lot of deeply interesting and challenging games with interesting, engaging stories to tell. There are educationally valuable games that teach a LOT while entertaining: Europa Universalis 2 springs to mind.

    Generally, critics seem to look only at the CRAP, without being willing to invest the time to find the good ones. Look, I could say the same thing about the movie industry: there are a LOT of people that like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, does that show by itself that movies as a medium are worthless? Does that invalidate Citizen Kane? Does Coven erase any value in To Kill a Mockingbird?

    Anyone who enjoys games has no trouble coming up with games that are equally engaging (or even more than engaging - they are involving) as great films - naturally the most involving are RPGs such as Planescape Torment, System Shock 2, and Fallout.

    But likewise, measuring computer games with the tools meant to measure a one-way medium such as movies is inherently flawed. Likewise, the genre-spread of video games is (I would argue) beyond that of films. Civilization? Dance Dance Revolution? Yes, maybe one or both don't particularly appeal to a single person. But would that person be a fair judge of movies if she loved Westerns but only saw French Lesbian Bondage films? Perhaps not all computer games offer deep ethical conflicts, but there is no WAY that people could fault either of these (for example) as entertainment. Not rationally, anyway.

    For a 50+ (or 60+ *cough* ROGER EBERT *cough*) who has NEVER spent any time actually, seriously, playing games to offer his 'educated opinion' about computer games as a medium would be as stupid as someone reviewing the value of movies after being forced to watch "From Justin to Kelly". His opinion should be valued similarly.
    • Please dont mix violence in games with the debate on games as an art form.

      I dont have any issue with the violence in games and the recent tirade of censorship that every other politician is trying to slap on us is minority driven, dangerous, nonsense.

      I sure as hell dont think games are an art form though. (And im a tad under the age of 50...)
  • Just lost my vote (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mmalove (919245)
    From the full article:

    "That's why she [Hillary Clinton] and fellow senators Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh have introduced legislation to regulate the video-game industry, codifying its voluntary rating system and making it a federal crime for retailers to sell or rent inappropriate games to minors."

    A federal crime?! To compare, selling alcohol to a child, something they could actually kill themselves with, would be a state crime. You know what a colossal waste of time is? Debating how the federal governmen
  • Games Are Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fwice (841569) on Friday June 02, 2006 @01:46PM (#15455816)
    In defense of games:

    When I was three or four years old, I played videogames -- a lot. Everyone in my family did. I used to spend a lot of time playing with my dad, and when I got stuck, he would read from a Player's Guide (or other help book) to me.

    One time, when I was playing and got stuck, I asked him to read from the Player's Guide. He told me that he was too tired. So I took the book, opened it up, and looked at it. The words came, and I eventually started reading. Taking words that I knew (my own, SUPER MARIO, etc.), I was able to figure out and put together other words. When my parents found me, in my room, reading, they were ecstatic. Video games were the catalyst here (thank you, mario brothers).

    It didn't just stop there. Through Civilization I got a rough knowledge of history that I worked to expand (the same with Colonization). SimCity taught me, to an extent, how cities function -- balancing residence and commerce, infrastructure, etc. The list goes on.

    Would I have eventually learned to read if my father wasn't tired? Or if I was reading about something other than video games? Probably. But I learned at that instance because it was something I was interested in.
    • SimCity taught me, to an extent, how cities function -- balancing residence and commerce, infrastructure, etc. The list goes on.

      Ah yes. When I got older and eventually became involved in some real urban planning, you cannot imagine how disappointed I was when I learned that just laying railroad tracks randomly across roads was not actually a valid way to alleviate traffic.
    • I totally agree with you. I live in Québec, Canada, and I speak french. When I was in school, we started learning english in fourth grade, and boy did I suck. I don't even know how I passed my english courses in 4rth and 5h grade.

      I played a lot of video games back then, but mostly Mega Man, Mario, Ninja Turtles, Contra, Baseball Stars, etc. Text-less games. Then I started playing Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy I and coupled with an english immersion class for a few months, I got a LOT better in engli
  • Yes, the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series, in which the gamer plays a criminal on the make in the big city, is pretty amoral.

    Speak for yourself, because as you should know your moral values are yours and are not shared by everybody, nor are supposed to make authority, and there is no way anything can be objectively amoral either.

    Personally, I don't find GTA amoral. It could take everything that makes Custer's Revenge as bad/good/interesting, or it could have kids, cats, dogs and goldfishes to be kill

    • Wrong. There're universal moral values. The thing is, they're so damn obvious that people usually don't take notice these universal values exist, prefering to talk about the specific moral values that chance from place to place and from one person to another.

      An example of an universal moral value: no society, ever, based itself on the unrestricted right of any person to assassinate any other persons. All of them have at least some rule on who can assassinate who and why. Even a psycho serial assassin guy wi
      • "Wrong. There're universal moral values"

        It appears clearly from this short discussion that I am a moral relativist, and that you are a universalist. People like me deny that there are universal moral values, and people like you, due to the nature of their philosophy, are convinced that universal moral values do exist, that's why you simply said "Wrong" to state how you don't see your point of vue as a simple point of vue but rather as the truth.

        However, you cannot prove me wrong/force your point of vue as t

      • I don't see anything morally wrong with moving some polygons around on a computer screen.

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