Dif­fi­culty Switch

Hard game crit­i­cism

EDGE - - SECTIONS - IAN BO­GOST Ian Bo­gost is an au­thor and game designer. His award­win­ning A Slow Year is avail­able at www.bit.ly/1eQalad

Ian Bo­gost es­tab­lishes a new or­der of gen­res for games to­day

With games to­day, the form of a work is found less in the game – in its me­chan­ics and con­ven­tions – than out­side and all around it. Why not em­brace it? I present to you the true gen­res of videogames, circa 2015.

First, Se­quels. They used to be marred by the unseem­li­ness of enu­mer­a­tion. Su­per

Mario Bros 3. Half-Life 2. It’s cheap, slap­ping a num­ber at the end of a ti­tle, even if the ti­tle it­self of­fers sub­stan­tial im­prove­ment or nov­elty com­pared to the orig­i­nal. Num­bers make for a con­tin­u­ous stream of con­stant same­ness with a slight twist of vari­a­tion. A new Bat­man, a new Kirby or a new Mario for a new sys­tem or, more likely, a new Nin­tendo earn­ings pe­riod. A new As­sas­sin’s Creed for a new week of the cal­en­dar year. The se­quel of­fers fa­mil­iar­ity and con­stancy. Thank God, videogames are still videogames.

The Re-re­lease. This is a spe­cial kind of se­quel that re­pro­duces a pre­vi­ous game in a dif­fer­ent mo­ment. Grim Fan­dango re­mas­tered.

Oca­rina Of Time in HD. Like the cin­e­matic re­make, the re-re­lease takes ad­van­tage of a known prop­erty for a new au­di­ence, one that may not have ex­pe­ri­enced the orig­i­nal thanks to youth. Or one that is will­ing to re­visit it for the benefits of new tech­nol­ogy. The re-re­lease re­places the se­quel’s in­vest­ment in con­stancy with the patina of time­less­ness and his­tory. Games are old but videogames are new, and re-re­leases make them ap­pear to have a longevity that can pro­duce clas­sics.

The Notgame chal­lenges the very idea of games. Ev­ery medium likes to push its lim­its, to find its edges through ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. But the notgame does so by ex­plic­itly re­ject­ing the “usual” fea­tures of games.

Jour­ney, with its lush, ba­si­cally chal­len­ge­less scenery. The en­vi­ron­men­tal nar­ra­tives of

Dear Esther and Gone Home. Web-based games made in Twine, re­vi­tal­is­ing hyper­text fic­tion but in the con­text of games. The notgame is a sig­nal of games’ de­sire to ques­tion the ar­bi­trari­ness of pre­vi­ously holy con­ven­tions, but it is also a sig­nal of games’ ob­ses­sion with the va­lid­ity of ‘game­ness’. In­ter­est­ingly, whether they use this (ter­ri­ble) term or not, notgames of­ten sell them­selves as a path to new au­di­ences, un­bur­dened by the very con­ven­tions they flout. The only way into games for the unini­ti­ated, it would seem here, is through the as­sump­tion of a dis­taste for games.

Then there’s the Mo­bile Throw­away. When we play smart­phone games, we do so on a clock. The clock of our own sched­ules, of course. A few mo­ments in a cof­fee queue, as a way to bide the time while on a con­fer­ence call, as an at­ten­tion-am­pli­fy­ing dis­trac­tion while watch­ing TV. But there’s an­other clock, too: the weekly-or-so re­tire­ment of a free mo­bile app down­loaded for its ap­peal or pop­u­lar­ity, which quickly ground into abuse. Even the de­light­ful ones do this now. Crossy Road’s cute voxel char­ac­ters in­spire un­til they dis­gust you with their de­mands for at­ten­tion. No prob­lem. Delete and move on through the end­less sup­ply of freemium shov­el­ware. An­other genre is the Steam Thing You

Didn’t Play. You got it in a sale. Or a bun­dle. Or you traded for it. Or you bought it out­right but you have so many to play that you might never get around to it. Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 study con­ducted by Ars Tech­nica, 37 per cent of Steam games never get played at all. A game, it turns out, is not just some­thing you play but also some­thing you col­lect and dis­play and pos­sess, like base­ball cards or Hummel fig­urines. A game is a gew­gaw, a knick-knack. A thing to dis­play, even when the only place to dis­play it is a dig­i­tal li­brary in a pro­pri­etary app run by a mys­te­ri­ous cor­po­ra­tion.

Fi­nally, there’s Kick­starter Vapour­ware. The best part of crowd­fund­ing a game isn’t re­ceiv­ing a code to down­load, in­stall and play the ti­tle some months (or years) later. It’s the ex­cite­ment and plea­sure of be­ing a part of an idea be­fore it ma­te­ri­alises. And with crowd­funded (and “early ac­cess”) games, the idea is the pri­mary ex­pe­ri­ence. Watch­ing the cam­paign play out, watch­ing con­tri­bu­tions rise, par­tic­i­pat­ing in rec­om­men­da­tions and see­ing those ideas come to (hy­po­thet­i­cal) fruition – th­ese are the ap­peal­ing dra­mas of crowd­fund­ing. But when they end, so does the work it­self. Only dis­ap­point­ment can ar­rive later – if in­deed it ever ar­rives – since re­al­ity can never match ex­pec­ta­tions. This is why the most suc­cess­ful crowd­fund­ing projects, such as Star Cit­i­zen’s (which raised tens of mil­lions of dol­lars), would do best never to re­lease an ac­tual videogame.

Only dis­ap­point­ment can ar­rive later – if in­deed it ever ar­rives – since re­al­ity can never match ex­pec­ta­tions

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