And I thought I was a cynic.
I actually *wouldn’t* take that bet–in short, the bet is that video games will never be a significant form of cultural discourse. In many ways, I agree with him that video games require too much of an investment. A game like MYST takes several hours to play, but its story can be summarized in about thirty seconds. Additionally, as long as libraries exist, books and a limited selection of movies will always be free, but video games will likely always come at a cost (unless you have a friend willing to loan you a system and games, as I do). So, yes, by virtue of investment of time involved, I agree: there’s a barrier to cultural relevancy.
After this point, the writer’s argument rapidly falls apart. To wit (emphasis mine):
The mode of expression in a video game is the interactive system. The simplest game would contain one system. Pong, for instance, is born out of the interplay of three systems: player input moves the paddles up and down; the ball bounces back and forth according to a simple physics simulation; a score increments based on the ball leaving one or the other side of the screen. So, you move your paddles to affect the ball, which affects the score. Fast forward to a popular contemporary game like Grand Theft Auto 3, Halo, or The Sims. The number of systems in constant interplay is countless. One must be systems-literate enough to process the outputs and required inputs of these webs of interactivity to gain any benefit from the experience. Compared to film, television and books, which all use plain talk and linear plot to express their meaning, video games speak to the audience in a completely different language.
Uhm, hello? As I have a degree in literature, I must disagree with that statement. Point: William Faulkner. Just as there is such thing as a reading level, so is there such a thing as a video game literacy level. Take DDR or Guitar Hero. Their interfaces are definitively NOT easy, but they operate on several modes–beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc. Just as you don’t read a baby Joyce, but rather Richard Scarry, so also you don’t start a new player on the hardest song of the game, but the easiest. Games are designed with a learning curve in mind. Even linear games, like RPGs, start the player off gently with easy battles or puzzles. Pong may be a great game for beginners just trying to grasp basic gaming concepts, but the player will want to move on from that eventually, just as most people move on from Harold and the Purple Crayon.
Film and novels never had to overcome the stigma of starting out as children’s distractions. They may not always have been respected artforms, but they were at least always seen as entertainment, if low-brow, aimed at adults.
What? Socrates, arguably the father of Western thought, hated the written word. Hated. Writing was considered destructive, especially to the rhetorical canon of Memory. (This is a valid point, but that’s a different blog post.) Perhaps it was never considered a children’s activity, but it most certainly was a subject of great debate. Guess which side won.
I speculate that games will grow up. My generation–the generation that grew up on Mario, Final Fantasy, heck, even the arguably educational Oregon Trail–is hitting the workforce. The game industry is going to grow up, and is already growing up, and we’re already proving that we’re taking the medium with us.
Will video games ever be considered culturally relevant by, say, the Baby Boomers? Doubtful. But even my late-adopter parents play the occasional computer game, and if you ask virtually anyone of age 30 or younger who Mario is, I can almost guarantee they’ll think of a short Italian plumber with a red cap. Moreso, probably at least 75% (that’s a conservative estimate) of those who can identify Mario have had at least one experience with a Mario game, whether a single round in Smash Brothers at a friend’s house or countless hours playing every game to exhaustive completion. Show me an American child who has never even touched a video game, and I’ll show you a child who is entirely too sheltered.