Video games ‘criticism’ is not, at least by literary standards, critical. To critique something – a book, a game, a film – isn’t always to necessarily say whether it’s good or bad – it’s to explore the work’s deeper meanings, and why the artist in question may have taken that very specific approach. Is this apparent lack of analytical depth, at least in respect to video games, a result of reader’s expectations, writer’s limitations or the relative immaturity of the medium?
Despite being representations would-be realities, video games are far too literal. Film, too, is guilty of this. Summer blockbusters seek only to understand the deeper meaning of a giant explosion, sacrificing thematic substance in the name of thinking-free time. Yet science-fiction, for example, often portrays allegories in-order to tackle real-world events without directly upsetting the status quo. Roddenberry’s Star Trek and Blomkamp’s District 9 are perfect examples of this.
Whilst there has yet to be a modern-day video game adaptation of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the conversion to a current video game format would undoubtedly butcher not only the film’s cinematic prowess, but the film’s themes and subtleties. Further still, such a loss is evident in the film’s adaptation from Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? One of the novels central themes – what it means to be human – is kept intact and is the ‘hook’ of Ridley’s interpretation, and yet it’s difficult to argue that many of its thematic elements weren’t sacrificed in the process.
This loss, though, would be a magnitude more severe should a modern-day, Activision-esque video game counter-part magic into existence. A film that tackles issues of morality and humanity would, more than likely, be reduced to an android hunt. That’s it. As with almost-all things mainstream video game, killing would become the work’s centerpiece without the relevant subtexts to justify it.
This, then, begs the question of how one would actually critique a video game in this fashion. BioShock, for example, could be said to represent how dangerous intellectual segregation – in the sense that Rapture is separated from land-based civilization – can be, or how science and genetic manipulation are inherently dangerous, and will inevitably prove apocalyptic to any society. Or Gears of War, and the use of the word ‘Locust’, could be representative of how humanity may one day bring about its own ‘plague’ by damaging the Earth’s ecosystem – how the planet will ‘rebel’ against humanity.
An entity can only be as good as its critics; they get what works and what doesn’t. If video games are to break through the ‘games are art’ barrier, critics will have to up their game. And to be taken seriously by egg-heads and intellectuals, writers will have to evolve – ‘Visually, the game is lacking…’ just doesn’t cut it.