A wee con­cern

I’ve just fin­ished the Vir­tual Re­al­i­ties round­table dis­cus­sion in E282, and af­ter read­ing Jon Hib­bins’ en­thu­si­as­tic com­ments about the death of TV I can only pic­ture him as Robert De Niro in The Un­touch­ables yelling, “I want him dead, I want his fam­ily dead, and I want his house burned to the ground. I want to go there in the mid­dle of the night and piss on the ashes”.

It seems to me that VR ad­vo­cates are fix­ated on pro­vid­ing com­plete im­mer­sion, an ex­pe­ri­ence un­like no other. I’m not sure how Edge feels, or how other read­ers feel on the di­rec­tion or the po­ten­tial of VR, whether they’ve been lucky enough to ex­pe­ri­ence it first-hand or not, but it never oc­curred to me up un­til read­ing that ar­ti­cle that there are peo­ple that see it as a full re­place­ment for TV gam­ing and, as an ex­ten­sion, ded­i­cated hand­held con­soles.

I don’t dis­agree with the idea of im­mer­sive games or ex­pe­ri­ences, but I fear that such a large em­pha­sis on pro­duc­ing hard­ware, and ul­ti­mately soft­ware, that fo­cus on pro­vid­ing such ex­pe­ri­ences will lead to a fu­ture – if not nec­es­sar­ily in the next gen­er­a­tion, or even the one af­ter that – where games will be­come much more iso­lated ex­pe­ri­ences, and much more ho­mogenised.

I may sound like a bit of a Lud­dite and a pes­simist, but my cur­rent videogame en­vi­ron­ments in­clude loung­ing on my sofa for a few hours, play­ing hand­helds in bed, mul­ti­player nights at friends’ houses, and the oc­ca­sional lo­cal tour­na­ment. The beauty of these is that there’s an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with passers-by. It’s some­thing that I think will be lost in VR ex­pe­ri­ences.

To put it another way, the most re­cent games that I’ve been play­ing in­clude Half Minute Hero: The Sec­ond Com­ing, Guilty Gear Xrd, the orig­i­nal Banjo-Ka­zooie, Dragon Quest V on the orig­i­nal DS dur­ing a week’s stay in hos­pi­tal, and Ikaruga. I may not be be­ing very imag­i­na­tive but I can’t see my­self hav­ing that va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ence, as well as the as­so­ci­ated so­cial as­pects, in VR.

I be­lieve that it was the sadly de­parted Sa­toru Iwata who said that games should be as much fun to watch as they are to play. Maybe it’s not Jon Hib­bins I see piss­ing on the ashes of TV, but VR piss­ing on the ashes of Iwata’s lega­cies, and that re­al­i­sa­tion is what re­ally wor­ries me be­cause when I’m old and less spritely I’ll have to re­sort to what­ever’s up in my at­tic if I want to re­live my re­cent ex­pe­ri­ences again. Alex Davies

“I can’t see my­self hav­ing that va­ri­ety, as well as the as­so­ci­ated so­cial as­pects, in VR”

VR’s so­cial is­sues are among the top­ics ad­dressed in Food For Thought this is­sue – and it’s not all bad news. As we’ve said be­fore, though, there’s a long, un­com­fort­ably bumpy road ahead for VR as a whole. Your New 3DS XL should help tide you over in the mean­time.

A dy­ing art

On the one hand, games are slowly but surely gain­ing re­spect and recog­ni­tion as a gen­uine art form among the most pro­gres­sive in cul­tural cir­cles. In fact, the mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary na­ture of the game cre­ation process, which draws in equal mea­sure from physics, paint­ing, literature and en­gi­neer­ing, gives this rel­a­tively new form of hu­man ex­pres­sion a unique chance to fi­nally bring to­gether the many flavours of in­tel­li­gence and imag­i­na­tion in the ser­vice of en­joy­ment.

On the other hand, just as this al­most mes­sianic na­ture be­comes in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent, so does a ma­jor flaw, one that could sin­gle­hand­edly de­stroy games’ claim to be more than a mere con­sumer prod­uct: tran­sience. What al­ways set art apart from other en­deav­ours is eter­nity – the fact that works of art live long af­ter the civil­i­sa­tion that cre­ated them has crum­bled to dust,

giv­ing those who fol­low an op­por­tu­nity to un­der­stand and em­pathise with their dis­tant fore­bears.

And yet as another reader pointed out in E282, games are any­thing but eter­nal, their sur­vival depend­ing on short-term com­mer­cial de­ci­sions to make server space by re­mov­ing this or that five-year-old ti­tle from the back cat­a­logue af­ter it failed to sell enough copies within a quar­ter. Granted, not all works are wor­thy of be­com­ing trea­sured ex­pres­sions of a by­gone ge­nius. But the key point here is that the de­ci­sion should not be­long en­tirely to a hand­ful of busi­ness­minded in­di­vid­u­als whose hori­zon is, at best, the end-of-year bal­ance sheet.

Works of art were al­ways the prod­uct of prac­ti­cal re­al­i­ties, com­mer­cial, po­lit­i­cal or oth­er­wise. Clas­si­cal Greek sculp­ture would not have bloomed had the city-states of the day not been vy­ing for pres­tige, and the Qu­at­tro­cento would not have ex­isted had the bankers of Florence not had a sur­plus of wealth to in­vest. But artis­tic cre­ations that do make it through the ages need not just unique aes­thetic qual­i­ties, they also re­quire a cor­po­real ex­is­tence that al­lows them to sur­vive their go­ing out of fash­ion or los­ing their pur­pose for a few cen­turies.

With one ex­cep­tion: literature. Spo­ken or even writ­ten words do not en­dure quite as long as mar­ble or can­vas, so how come we can still read Homer’s Iliad or Plato’s Cri­tias, draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from them to cre­ate mem­o­rable game char­ac­ters or uni­verses? Be­cause gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion, le­gions of scholars (to­day we would call them fans) copied them over and over, keep­ing alive the mem­ory of their cher­ished sto­ries.

Soft­ware is ar­guably closer to literature than to any other art form, shar­ing with it this im­ma­te­rial qual­ity that makes it par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the pass­ing of time. But where the great sto­ries of old could be shared and copied freely long af­ter they had lost their mun­dane rel­e­vance, this is sadly not the case for games. DRM en­sures that our favourite media is firmly locked up in its time, con­demned to obliv­ion as soon as its own­ers, not its cre­ators or devo­tees, lose in­ter­est.

If games are to be­come part of the world’s cul­tural her­itage, some­thing must be done to free them from their DRM shack­les. Only then will the process whereby hu­man­ity’s col­lec­tive wis­dom se­lects what’s wor­thy of re­mem­brance be al­lowed to fol­low its nat­u­ral course. Only then will (some) games es­cape the fate of mere con­sum­ables and re­alise the am­bi­tion of en­dur­ing as art.

Fabrice Saf­fre

This is a long way of telling us that you miss play­ing Burnout Re­venge online, Fabrice, right? It’s OK – we’re right there with you.

Leav­ing the door ajar

I’d al­most reached the point where I’d given up on gam­ing. The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion is now firmly es­tab­lished, and were it not for a gen­er­ous lend of a friend’s PS4 I would have strug­gled to pick an Xbox One or a PS4 out of a lineup. I’d been left be­hind, and I was kind of fine with that. Blood­borne was the only thing that had me moon­ing at a PS4, and with that itch now scratched, and with me still get­ting mileage out of my 360 thanks to the Rock Band 3 Cus­toms scene and the seem­ingly end­less replay value of

Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, I’d kind of re­signed my­self to that be­ing that.

I mean, it’s not ex­actly my own choice. I know I’m not alone in do­ing the maths on the kids-plus-mort­gage-over-dis­pos­able-in­come equa­tion and end­ing up in mi­nus fig­ures, but I was a lit­tle sur­prised at how qui­etly I was go­ing into that dark night. Games have been a con­stant part of my life, more or less, since the Atari 2600. But with thou­sands of pounds spent over the years and con­sid­er­ably more in­vested in time, I fig­ured that I’d had a good run and guessed that this is just what hap­pens when you strug­gle to stay awake past 10pm.

And then E3 hap­pened. And sud­denly I’m as ex­cited as I used to get when a new is­sue of Mean Ma­chines would ap­pear in a newsagent and I’d spend weeks star­ing slack-jawed at pages I’d read 20 times, dream­ing of grey im­ports and whether that ar­ti­cle about SFII port­ing to Game Boy was true or a load of rub­bish.

Dark Souls III? Rock Band 4? The Last Guardian? Street Fighter V? Fall­out 4? And cru­cially, for some rea­son, Xbox One back­wards com­pat­i­bil­ity (yes, I’m hyped about maybe be­ing able to play games I al­ready own on a dif­fer­ent ma­chine – bravo for that sales job, Mi­crosoft)? Well, I can’t turn my back on that lot.

Or can I? I mean, we’re talk­ing a huge in­vest­ment again here. Buy­ing Rock Band 4 means buy­ing another plas­tic guitar, plus the in­evitable DLC needed to aug­ment the unin­spir­ing track­list­ing an­nounced thus far. I’m also go­ing to need a new ar­cade stick for

SFV. Not to men­tion the ac­tual in­vest­ment in the con­sole hard­ware it­self. Maybe I can’t af­ford it, af­ter all. Maybe I’ve talked my­self out of the whole she­bang while typ­ing this all out. I don’t know.

I doubt it, though. De­spite loosely try­ing, I’m find­ing the thought of fi­nally clos­ing the door on gam­ing to be a step too far. I still love those mo­ments of joy, won­der, sad­ness and im­mer­sion that games still give me. Sure, a child’s first steps are emo­tional, but they tend to pale next to a limp­ing Sif.

So, I guess it’s time to start look­ing around the house for things to sell, work­ing out what I can live with­out, and scour­ing the In­ter­net for bar­gains be­fore even­tu­ally giv­ing up, stick­ing it all on the credit card, and hid­ing the state­ment from the mis­sus.

I can’t wait.

Ross Cale

This is pre­cisely why E3 ex­ists, isn’t it? A bar­rage of new an­nounce­ments de­liv­ered with max­i­mum fanfare so that even those with wan­ing in­ter­est in games are scrab­bling down the back of the sofa for spare change. Mean Ma­chines, though? Get out.

Is­sue 283

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