The Philosophy, Art, and Social Influence of games
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Key-Glyph
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Re: Is there value in novice gamer reviews? Or are we elite

by Key-Glyph Wed Oct 24, 2012 7:47 am

I think I'm getting a little off-topic here. Just a warning.
Ivo wrote:There is a very important difference in that even though SOME movies and literature and other forms of art require information to be enjoyed / appreciated, basically ALL games, with few exceptions, can only be appreciated by someone who is informed or puts some non-trivial effort to learn.
That highlighted part is what I think both articles are undermphasizing. Each over-inflates the presumed inaccessibility of video games to the novice by arguing that the "informed" quality is more important than persistence of goals. The first author does this to explain away her failure at grasping the mechanics, claiming that gamers must be vacant weirdos for pursuing the medium to the point of being good at it. The second author wants to spin that claim into a back-patting session, congratulating himself and others for being so darned special for getting enjoyment out of this stuff. Both are motivated by their biases while mistakenly thinking they're motivated by questions of skill (or lack thereof).

Take the second author's comparison of the "thousands of hours of reading and studying [you need] to have a proper understanding of Proust or Derrida" to the time spent mastering DOTA 2 or Dwarf Fortress gameplay. These things are not even close to being equal, because a video game is designed to teach you what you need to know to succeed at it. It can't risk betting on your being a genius, so even if it's a challenging title, the keys to accomplishment are still built right in there. One's understanding of Proust and Derrida, by contrast, will be largely helped by reading works other than the source material, especially analytic works. Beating your head against a particular book is not going to lead you to sudden enlightenment in the same way that beating your head against a particular video game is.

I think gaming is more comparable to a skilled craft, like carpentry or metalworking. If you're observant, smart, and willing to experiment by trial-and-error, you will gain command of your tools and techniques in order accomplish something. A video game says, "Build a shelf," and then supplies you with all the machinery, raw materials, and tutorial projects you need to eventually get there. Not all finished shelves will be of similar quality, but so long as you dedicate yourself to the work, you'll finish the project in your own way.

I mean, I agree that more comprehensive and useful reviews are going to be written by seasoned gamers. But I'd also say that if it's hypothetically impossible for a substantial review to be written on a particular title by an persistent, open-minded non-gamer, then that title failed at its job. Non-gamers are more crippled by the "unproductivity" connotation that JT brought up in his excellent post than by their supposed innate ineptitude, in my opinion. I particularly wish that they themselves would stop buying into that myth.
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Ivo
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Re: Is there value in novice gamer reviews? Or are we elite

by Ivo Wed Oct 24, 2012 8:22 am

Key-Glyph wrote:I think gaming is more comparable to a skilled craft, like carpentry or metalworking. If you're observant, smart, and willing to experiment by trial-and-error, you will gain command of your tools and techniques in order accomplish something. A video game says, "Build a shelf," and then supplies you with all the machinery, raw materials, and tutorial projects you need to eventually get there. Not all finished shelves will be of similar quality, but so long as you dedicate yourself to the work, you'll finish the project in your own way.


I find this comparison apt. Once again, you really can't enjoy some craft without already knowing what to do or putting in a non-trivial effort to learn (insert your own Starcraft joke here). And honestly many people are not looking to put non-trivial effort for something unless they get money out of it, so they don't want to go and actually spend money for that kind of occupation (getting the materials / the system+games).

In "accessible" books and movies you basically only need some fundamental language skills and reading (there are of course the less accessible ones with higher pre-reqs, but we can ignore those in the analysis just as they are ignored by most people). And we observe that indeed many people are willing to pay to read books / see movies and enjoy that occupation that doesn't require non-trivial effort to enjoy.

It is then not surprising to me that many things ranging from cross-stitching to wood-whittling are not necessarily taken up by a large segment of the population. I think games, even the ones with the mentioned barrier of access, are actually fairly popular (at least if we go financial metrics, games have a currently huge industry that rivals or surpasses the movie industry). I don't have much of an idea on how big the authoring / publishing industry is in books alone (and there is so much free to read material in the internet).
I'm pretty sure if you combine many of the textile related crafts you will also find quite big industries, I'm not sure how they compare with games and movies (maybe Luke has a rough idea and can spin us a bit of epic yarn about that?).

We shouldn't be so surprised that not everyone is pre-disposed to spend the non-trivial effort required by most games. I think if we are fair, there really is relatively small percentage of truly accessible games that are interesting for adults - stuff like Solitaire and Minesweeper come to mind and they are hugely popular; with the DS, the Wii, web games and iOS there are several other modern examples and the well known commercial success of some is informative.

The one thing that remains different and had been mentioned in the comparison with playing musical instruments etc. and Key-Glyph again refers in the final sentence of her recent post is the productivity issue. Cross-stitching, wood-whittling and other crafts leave you with a finished product that society in general appreciates to some degree (perhaps even a Lego construction)... Whereas a difficult speed run in a game, or in general a solid performance (perhaps even a Minecraft construction) are usually not appreciated at best and derided as wastes of time at worst (except by the segment of the population that are "connoisseurs"). The average view of society does not appear to be that cross-stitching / whittling / whatever craft (that is not Minecraft) is a huge waste of time, even though certainly individuals would refer to it that way (some of those might even be gamers judging others in ways they themselves don't like to be judged). So the issue with society's view of different accomplishments remains.

I mean really, how different is building a X number of bricks Lego monument and doing the equivalent X sized building in Minecraft? One is 100% virtual, but arguably they are both merely representations and extremely comparable. Possibly the Minecraft one takes additional effort, and the Lego one costs you more as you need to actually buy many bricks...

Once again it is interesting to see some exceptions:
Farmville, where somehow the state of the farm is valued by some social groups (and sort of used to "shame" people to keep investing time in it even if they no longer have fun - at least if I understand it correctly)
Brain Age or Wii Fit: people think they are actually being productive as they are, through the game, explicitly improving themselves (I personally think practically all games allow the player to do this, but these examples are very explicit and may have convinced society in general).

Ivo.
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isiolia
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Re: Is there value in novice gamer reviews? Or are we elite

by isiolia Wed Oct 24, 2012 9:08 am

Key-Glyph wrote:Take the second author's comparison of the "thousands of hours of reading and studying [you need] to have a proper understanding of Proust or Derrida" to the time spent mastering DOTA 2 or Dwarf Fortress gameplay. These things are not even close to being equal, because a video game is designed to teach you what you need to know to succeed at it. It can't risk betting on your being a genius, so even if it's a challenging title, the keys to accomplishment are still built right in there. One's understanding of Proust and Derrida, by contrast, will be largely helped by reading works other than the source material, especially analytic works. Beating your head against a particular book is not going to lead you to sudden enlightenment in the same way that beating your head against a particular video game is.


While the exact ways that you'd become familiar with even different games vary, the general point would remain that an individual pursuing those skills or knowledge would be making an effort to do so. Whether faced with difficult prose or a confusing interface, the option is there to just say "screw it" and go find something you do understand.

Not all games will teach you what you need to know within the game itself either. Some MMOs (at least) are deliberately vague in order to encourage community cooperation/shared knowledge. Even games with extensive tutorials, like more recent fighters, still tend to have a lot more to learn outside of any official information.

While one could potentially discover every bit of information about a game themselves, it would be a massive, largely unnecessary undertaking. Just like exhaustive study of a difficult book would be if others have already analyzed it.
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Re: Is there value in novice gamer reviews? Or are we elite

by jfrost Wed Oct 24, 2012 9:43 am

This was a great point:

"I had never read a book in my life. I’d barely even touched a page, except to confiscate my brother’s novels so he would hang out with me. That impenetrable realm where awkward poindexters escaped into ludicrous worlds of printed fantasy, books and I just never got along.

Naturally I was surprised when I was asked to judge a book prize. The judges were assembling a panel of illiterates and I agreed to join them: not because I actually cared about whether books contributed to culture, but because I wanted to reconnect with my family of unashamed bookworms.

The first book I received was Ulysses by James Joyce, an eccentric Irish alcoholic who neglected his wife for six years while writing the novel. After suffering a few pages of this unfathomable word soup, I moved onto to Golding’s Lord of the Flies, an action-adventure about schoolboys. I noted, “Surprisingly enjoyable. Nice adjectives. Like the allegorical dialogue,” but then ran out of things to say. Maybe that’s part of the reason there is so little cultural discussion of books: there simply isn’t much to talk about. Lord of the Flies is clever and snappy, but it’s not exactly Bioshock. It’s not even Call of Duty."

http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/20 ... bout-games

Deriding a video game for its primitive narrative misses the point. You wouldn’t read a book and complain about its lack of interactivity or longevity. While some games do have an engrossing story, it’s not an essential prerequisite for greatness.
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