Monday, December 8, 2008

Best Cultural Video Game Trends of 2008

*Edited 12/9/08

I saw that Time Magazine has released their top ten list of the year. It isn’t bad, it’s a bunch of games I’d consider showing to someone if they said “I want to play a video game for the first time that isn’t Wii Sports.” All have fairly traditional, linear stories. All are fairly easy to master and reasonably interesting to a person who hasn’t played a million other games like it. Reading over the list made me think that I should write something to applaud the things in gaming with a bit of humor.

Top Game To Blame Youth Violence On:
In addition to winning Time’s game of the year, Grand Theft Auto IV holds a special place in the hearts of Chicago, Thailand, Michigan, and several other charming places. Whether its residents are demanding ads for the game be taken down, pushing our First Amendment rights in ways the Founding Fathers might not have foreseen, or causing a child to murder a cab driver and then cruise down the street in his car…GTA IV has caused some pretty impressive stirs in the media. International points also go out for encouraging fights and debate in Eastern Europe about whether Niko is Yugoslavian or Croatian.

Top Game To Generate Some Controversy for Old Time’s Sake:
This years award goes to Drug Wars. Recently announced as an addition to the DS GTA game, the tried and true appeal of dropping red tops, green tops, or yellow tops on the corner is back in gaming. It’s also making an appearance on the I-Phone gaming market as Underworld, tapping into the same bored generation that once played the same game on their TI-83. Here’s hoping “I just sold a ton of crack” is still as impressive sounding as it was back then.

Top Genre to Blame for Ruining the Game Industry:
To be honest, I was surprised the FPS was dethroned. As a consistent winner of this award for the past 2 years, I didn’t think it would happen. And it’s not like there haven’t been FPS titles by the bucket load. Thanks to Fallout 3 and Mirror’s Edge though, the genre was dragged kicking and screaming back into relevancy and artistic merit. This year’s winner is the ever amorphous “Casual Game”, which has undergone several definitions as people think up new ways to complain about them. Whether it’s complaining about being too easy, too cartoony, or too something or another, the casual game threatens to destroy everything we know and love. No word yet on if the hardcore genre will return to the spotlight after its mysterious disappearance in 2005.

Industry Wide Accomplishment in Publishing Every Single Game in a 4 Week Period:
This award goes to no one in particular, but deserves a standing ovation from gamers everywhere. Thanks for not coordinating your releases like every other media industry and releasing all your 10 to 20 hour games in the same month. That way, reviewers, critics, and players will just bop around randomly and never form a coherent conversation or discourse. With the economy in such grand shape, players wondering what game they should get for Christmas are going to encounter a grand seething mass of different people playing different games instead of a one singular message. Guess we’re gonna find out about that recession proof claim soon.

Special Achievement in Racism & Stereotypes:
Gamers don’t typically like to discuss racism in games both because of the average youth of the player (they sorta missed a few things) or because such a generalization denies a basic foundation of a video game. The player is participating as well and may not be behaving or thinking in a way that should be called racism. I find it kind of cynical to assume that because a game features a less than positive portrayal of someone it is automatically assumed that the player is just absorbing everything the game projects without bringing their own opinions to the table. Player input. That’s what makes it a video game, stop thinking of it like a movie or a book.

But let’s face it, there’s some stupid shit out there that deserves mentioning. This year’s award goes to Mercenaries 2. I rented this game on one of those weekends that everyone I knew was sick of Halo 3 and only some of us had Xbox Live accounts. As we were picking out our characters we read in awe at some of the most ridiculous game text I’ve ever seen. The woman character laughs at all emotion, only cares about money, and her super power is to run fast. One wonders why they did not just write “Gun Prostitute” and be done with it. The black character has the ability to carry extra weight and has endured great hardships. Given the long montage of clichés and gangster slang coming out of the character, one gets the impression this is what it would look like if Duke Nukem wore black face. Add to that the game’s thin disguise of Hugo Chavez and Venezuela and you get a game that’s not only being culturally relevant, it’s taking a shit while it does it.

Outstanding Achievement in Bullshit Scheme to Suck More Money Out of People:
2007’s brilliant but flawed “We’re making a trilogy, that’s why the story is crap” strategy proved to not survive for another year. Several games ended up being hampered by the move while others are making controversial decisions to appeal to new audiences by setting the game in France. This year though, the reigning champ is downloadable content. Developers might as well start including a “10 Dollars Off The First Map Pack” coupon with the first 1,000 orders at this point. Whether it’s new guns, missions, or just actually finishing the original game, DLC is almost a guaranteed way you’ll be spending money this year. Special Nod: bragging about the Xbox Arcade being $199.99 when not having a hard drive makes the console about as useful as a wet fart on a submarine.

After posting this a couple of people commented that 2008 has been a good year for gaming and I'd like to heartily agree. 2008, in terms of rich and interesting cultural media, has been almost staggeringly off the scales. Los Campesinos, the new Batman flick, Obama, Sarah Palin jokes, Fallout 3, GTA IV, The Black Keys new album being fantastic, Braid, the corner market stocking Sun Drop. Games, along with other media, have produced such a crop of quality stuff that I feel like I'm going to be enjoying things with a 2008 stamp on it for years.

I'd also like to explain this joke with a story that might give some insight into the 3-headed Cerebrus that is my sense of humor. Back in highschool, the school allowed students to give a 'Senior Showcase' and do something to say goodbye. Being fairly pissed that I didn't win the prize for literary studies, I decided to have an awards ceremony of my own. Biggest slacker, biggest asshole, worst mooch, Most Likely to Go to Jail, etc. I stirred in just enough sincerity in my speech that a lot of people had a good laugh and enjoyed the whole thing. To me, celebrating our flaws is as important as celebrating our strengths. I often find it's the flaws that make me love someone or something in the first place.

Alas, this time I think my bleeding cynicism and strung out nerves from exams made this post mostly come across as angry or bitchy. I love the fact that GTA IV is causing controversy, it gets people to take games seriously. I love a good scam and I admire the DLC scene for paving the way for indie games by getting people used to buying stuff online. And even Mercernaries 2...which will always be my crutch game for pointing at and saying, "That's racist and stereotyping." By God, that's gotta count for something!

So those are the top accomplishments (of sorts) in video games culturally from 2008. I figured this thing was vulgar enough and represented my own irritation at so many different elements of video game culture that it didn’t deserve being published on my usual stomping grounds. So take a little pity on me, it’s just a bit of a roast. To cut this short, I’ll end with a poem by the great Ogden Nash that sums all of this up quite well:

The pig, if I am not mistaken,
Supplies us sausage, ham, and bacon.
Let others say his heart is big –
I call it stupid of the pig.


Ben Abraham said...

SHHHH! Don't give them any ideas (I'm thinking of the $10 off the first map-pack) they might just do it!

Also - Ogden Nash was wonderful. The shortest poem ever:



Iroquois Pliskin said...


but on the other hand:

when have we ever had it so good? I don't know if you're the good-old-days sort (to be sure, we havn't been seeing much in the way of Planescape:Torment recently), but I have to say that things have never been better. Right? We have a professional obligation to call out all the bullshit, and god knows there is an augean stable or too out there for anyone with the inclination, but on the other hand it's been a good year to be someone who likes games. Prince of persia!

Spencer Greenwood said...

I'm hesitant to wholly agree with Iroquois. I mean, sure, the year's seen a lot of content, and I've been surprised by how worthwhile a lot of the more famous releases have been. (I've heard little of Gears 2, though maybe that's because I read too many blogs.) I'm not sure that the appropriate response to this year is cynicism.

On the other hand, the games I enjoyed playing the most this year were Portal, BioShock, Mega-Man 2, Half-Life 2, Phoenix Wright and Ouendan!. Go figure.

L.B. Jeffries said...

I've always considered nostalgia to be a form of apathy.

Hell, if anything it's just the same as it ever was to me. There's always some scheme or another going on, there's always some game being blamed for everything.

I was just having a laugh.