Thursday, February 18, 2010

obscurity is not artistry

When are videogames going to stop playing “unambiguous good vs. unambiguous evil”? Right now it seems like game writing is mostly The DaVinci Code. Maybe a good guy will turn out to be a bad guy, but “good” and “bad” is, at most, a binary scale.

2 exceptions leap to mind:

Mass Effect allowed you to be good and bad, with one not subtracting from the other. This doesn’t stop you from making decisions with forced moral ambiguity, because someone you thought was bad turned out to be good!, but it’s a nice thought.

Assassin’s Creed titular creed is, “Nothing is true / everything is permitted”. Which is a wonderful anarchist sentiment, paired off against the totalitarian templars. It edges right up against that Nietzschean nihlism, the beyond good and evil, but falls short because the anarchists are the good guys and the templars are the bad guys.

Please note I am leaving out shitty experimental games like “The Graveyard” and “Marriage” because they literally require a readme.txt to understand. They have nothing to say for themselves and fall back on the “it’s a metaphor” defense, which served Braid (a far superior game with ultimately the same problem) very poorly.

Look, Nietzsche was a coy writer who often left out several leaps in logic as an exercise for the reader (“In the mountains, the shortest way is from peak to peak: but for that you must have long legs”), but writing a game with an ambiguous purpose doesn’t make you a philosopher. Nietzsche had purpose, he had something to say, and he burned several thousand bridges to say it. Oh, games have been “edgy”, but by “edgy” we mostly mean “racist”,  or, “SUPER RACIST”, or, um… whatever this was supposed to prove. Nietzsche attacked religion, science, philosophy, governments, racism, and women (not endorsing that last bit!), he wanted to turn entire establishments on their head and to this day remains an extremely controversial figure. Show me a videogame that even tries to tackle these subjects without veering a sharp right into white privilege or “You see, killing God in a video game is controversial because God is evil” and I will promptly convert to the cult of “games are ert”.

And so help me god if anyone mentions Xenogears I will make them buy me a copy so I can play it.