I’ve had enough time lately to return to one of my great loves – computer gaming, and specifically strategy and role-playing games. I’ve written about them before, but suffice to say that I’ve been playing these kinds of games since the days of Ultima, and I’ve cheered at the successes, and frowned at the oft-repeated criticisms that it’s the end for the RPG. I’m yet to see any evidence of that – and one of the reasons why I think that’s the case is because there are people like me who are still willing to buy games like that. I know that the huge monoliths of games like COD seem to dominate the landscape – and the minds of teenage boys (trust me, I’ve taught teenagers, and their zombie-like faces for the weeks after a new release seems more fitting in one of their games than in a classroom) – but gaming itself is a much more complicated beast than just that. Indeed, and I don’t know whether it’s a ‘good’ thing or not, gaming has really widened its appeal, probably borne on the back of the juggernaut that is social media and mobile devices. Far more intelligent people than me have commented how smaller publishers are taking to platforms like kickstarter to fund old-fashioned games and new ideas – taking the risks that the big companies are too scared to – and often reaping the benefits as they find people like me, desperate for something akin to Baldur’s Gate. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqaMzoq0omM
As the audience for games develops – and, let’s face it, gets older, too – we’re seeing what I think is a much more intelligent approach to games, too. Like I said above, for me, gaming has always been about the RPGs – I liked the management, the creating, the crafting but most of all the storyline. For the same reason that I read those kind of books, I guess, but with games – there’s an element of personal investiture in the story, too – because in some small way I am shaping that story. But, as I get older, I want more sophisticated, more meaningful stories. Not for me the simplistic morality of previous years – I want to be challenged on a moral level, forced to make hard decisions between the ends and the means, perhaps even be required to justify why I made that decision. As I get older, I also realise that sometimes, making someone happy will mean making someone else sad, and that’s often an unavoidable part of life. The best games now offer these choices – they present the player with difficult conundrums – and even if the player has done everything right, there is often no guarantee that everything will work out just fine. In fact, there is very rarely such a promise.
For this reason, I think games like this are beginning to really take their place in the artistic pantheon. Of course, I’m not calling COD the next Guernica or something similar, but I am saying that high quality games are serious artistic endeavours – they are a strange combination of art and literature and perhaps a little bit of philosophy, too.