I am a "grandfather." At least, if not in gender or age, then in the traditionalist view I currently hold toward videogames. I felt as if the author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design was speaking directly to me as I read the final chapters of his book. I felt as if I were a close-minded wretch, bent on discrediting a budding artform at its inception.
It's true, though. I was offering the antithesis to all of his arguments. I had the Columbine shooting scenario behind me (or at least I thought I did). I had the media behind me. I had the parents behind me. I had psychology behind me (again, wrong).
And then Koster started talking about giving gaming a chance amid the human context.
"Games deserve respect. We as creators must respect them, and do right by their potential. And the rest of the world must respect them and grant them the scope to become what they can and must" (216).
And then he found my really weak spot: reason. I was holding unreasonable standards and vendettas against videogames. For shame.
Though Koster's speech all sounds a little Spidermanesque, it is true. As in any artform, there are certain lines that may be drawn, but only through stepping beyond can we know where they exist and if they should exist.
Bad things do happen; they come with the territory. I guess even crossing the prarie included losing an oxen or two. As grievous as the events of Columbine were, the human context unfortunately isn't a perfect backdrop for any artform to develop.
I don't believe in making videogames into the black cat of every tragedy, but I will remain wary. Since gaming is in its relative infancy in contrast to, say, portraiture, study of the supposed tie to the common theme of violence in videogames should continue.
However, it was refreshing to read Koster's resolve to turn from the Dark Side: "I am willing to choose which side of human nature I want to foster (presumeably the 'good side')" (206). Impressions often perpetuated about videogame developers include anything from horny teenagers to pervy middle-aged pocket-protector carriers. My view of the avid gamer is even worse (i.e. classmates showing up to class late and/or bleary-eyed from staying up until 4 a.m. to finish a game--I admire perseverance, but not stupidity).
Koster, though, sounds like he is trying to make a difference in the world. Heck, he even sounds human:
"In the end, if I can say...that one person out there learned to be a better leader, a better parent, a better co-worker; learned a new skill that kept them their job, a new skill that helped them advance the state of the art in their chosen field, a new skill that made their world grow a little...Then I will know that my work is valuable." (198).
I guess this brings me to one aspect of gaming that stumps me: ratings. It's all well and good that videogames develop; but how are they developing? Who are the gatekeepers to stop (if they exist) horny teenagers and pervy middle-age crackpots from screwing up the youth of the world? Where are the lines being drawn for the gaming public?
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) cites "many content areas, including but not limited to violence, sex, language, and substance abuse" as criteria for their rating games. Bravo public relations team at the ESRB--just enough vagueness to keep the public "informed" and the ESRB out of the courtroom.
I guess, if I were to debate or write a research paper, I'd like to know a little more about that.
However, Koster, in his upbeat opus, seems to want to educate more than entertain. I'm guessing, though, that the education he describes includes a little more than Barney and Baby Bop dynamics.
Perhaps Koster is speaking concerning education in simulation situations, such as for the military. I was surprised to see how game situations fared when pitted against a traditional exam.
But what about other elements of an effective education experience in a game? It can't just be based on how well soldiers fought in contrast to how well they performed in a simulated game experience. What about plot--How important is it? Graphics? Weapons? What are the criterion for gaming excellence? Does anyone really know? What is the lexicon for assessing a game (There really isn't one)?
And then I think back to Seton Hill's literary magazine's scoring sheet. Subjective and quantitative methods are used to challenge a piece's claim of worth. These standards have been achieved by years and years of study and are continually refined and sometimes revolutionized.
Though I have not played many games, I find taste, as Koster also says an important aspect of worth. But am I being too naive in that area, as well? I don't know. Perhaps tastelessness does have its place.
There's much to learn. Especially for one who was just weaned off of GameBoy.Posted by Amanda Cochran at September 4, 2006 9:04 PM | TrackBack