And the winner is… “Mario Galaxy”?
“Mario Galaxy” was voted by a vast majority of game sites as 2007’s Game of the Year (Gamespot, Gametrailers, 1Up, IGN, etc). Personally I found it disturbing. Not because I consider it a bad game, mind you. [Though I must admit, “Mario Galaxy” is the only game-of-the-year nominee I haven’t played from start to finish. I have however played and seen enough footage to know what the game is about…] The thing that bothers me, is not the actual award, but its justification. The main reason why “Mario Galaxy” allegedly gained the award over games like “Bioshock”, “Mass Effect” or “Call of Duty 4” was because it was considered to be “more fun” than any other game.
Now this really reminded me how immature the industry and its media really can be. Imagine, if you will, that during the next Oscars “Pirates of the Caribbean” won the award for best movie; that the Grammy for overall best record went to Shakira’s latest album… and imagine the Nobel Prize in literature given to JK Rowling. All, because that was the best entertainment of the year; all because those were the most “fun”. Forget about everything else: THEY WERE FUN.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: games are supposed to be “fun”, right? Hey, movies too. Music, books, paintings… they’re all supposed to deliver on some sort of entertainment. Whether in the form of contemplating aesthetic beauty, the conveying of powerful feelings, the telling of stories, or even the provoking of laughter, amusement and pure pleasure. Whatever the form, all art has one purpose: to entertain an audience. Now, the key thing is: there are many forms of entertainment, and many types of audience, and any medium has an infinite array of ways in which it can deliver entertainment… to an equally large number of different audiences. Think about the differences between a “Da Vinci” and a “Pollock” painting; think about what sets Mozart and Shostokovich apart; think about the work of Kubrick vs. that of Spielberg. Are they the same? No, they’re different; they all have different notions of entertainment, audience… and Art.
So, why is “Mario Galaxy” Game of the Year a problem? Because critics in the videogame industry only contemplate entertainment in one simple way: the amusement one gets from actually playing the game. Everything else: all the complexities, all the variety of possibilities a game offers, all the beauty… falls secondary. This year, the artistry of the graphics, the weaving of the narrative, the message games convey, were forgotten. Only “fun” was rewarded with the Game of the Year award. Now, this doesn’t happen this consistently in other mediums: magazines, websites and festivals consider many aspects beyond this abstract “fun” factor, when reviewing and criticizing art/entertainment. More so, the majority of awards go to works that challenge the audience into feeling or thinking about some issue or message; not the ones that are just more “fun”.
Not that there is anything wrong with fun. I love playing games that excite me, that challenge me, that entertain me at a more basic level. But a game can, and (in my opinion) should deliver much more. Books, movies, comics, music, tv… all those mediums deliver on so many levels, so why should games be any different? Are they inferior? No, but I guess they are more recent, more immature, and as such, are still seen as “toys”. Because “toys” are the only objects that are all about being “fun”, nothing more, nothing less. Now think a bit: is “Mario Galaxy” just a “toy”? Is “Bioshock” a “toy”? Think about the games you liked the most: were they just “Toys”? Or were they something far more powerful? Something we usually call… Art?
The conclusion one can achieve from the justification of the “Mario Galaxy” award is that the majority of the game media still regard games as some sort of fancy “toys”; the same media that, supposedly, should be enlightening and uplifting people’s perceptions about videogames. And if they regard games as these “toys”, and not as something more, then who will?
[I will come back to the issue of what defines art (and games as art), as well as the lack of maturity most game journalists show, in weeks to come…]