“Why we need a ‘Citizen Kane’…”

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A few weeks ago, IGN editor Michael Tomsen committed one of the worst sins a game journalist can commit: he reminded the world that video games still are just games for kids. Invited by ABC news to come forth with a name for “our” <<Citizen Kane>>, he chose “Metroid Prime” as the most eligible candidate for that honor. I won’t bother you with the justifications he used to back up his choice, as Anthony Burch, in his somewhat truculent style, already addressed them with the necessary criticism in this interesting read. Suffice to say, IGN’s editor might’ve been better off not saying anything, instead of spewing such ridiculous statements, that serve only to show the lack of culture most game journalists possess.

"Metroid Prime"

The formulation of this question is not new. Where is the <<Citizen Kane>> of video games? This problem is very ambiguous, and the way in which it was phrased can lead to a host of misinterpretations on what is being discussed. The most important disclaimer in this regard is – I am not, in any way, about to compare cinema with video games, they are different mediums with different expressions, and we would do well to accept the differences. The truly relevant question which lies hidden in the “Citizen Kane” conundrum is this: what video game can you show the world that will convince it of the medium’s legitimacy and maturity as a means of expression?

Whether someone chose “Citizen Kane” or “Metropolis” or “Nosferatu” or “Birth of a Nation” or any other film for the comparison is irrelevant. The reason why someone thought of “Citizen Kane” probably derives from its relative closeness to present day, and to the profuse knowledge most of us possess regarding film and its history (as opposed to the illiteracy we show towards older art forms). It is easy for us to track the relevance of film as an art form as a consequence of the study of certain works, in which “Citizen Kane” plays a major role. Also, film, being a product of the XXth century, emerged in a somewhat similar social and economic climate to that of video games, making its process of maturing from a purely commercial business to a wider, more encompassing artistic medium, seem replicable in our means. This is why we should crave a “Citizen Kane” – we want video games to achieve the same status as cinema did, and so we await eagerly the prophetic light of a piece of art so profound, that it can turn the blindest of skeptics into an illuminate, devote follower of video games. But what  features made “Citizen Kane” relevant enough as to establish film as more than a form of entertainment? The answers are many and highly subjective. What follows are my own answers, and anyone is free to give theirs to help the debate.

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The most important of “Citizen Kane’s” qualities is, without a shadow of a doubt, it being a true film. It isn’t a piece of theatrical performance set in an intangible stage, it isn’t a novel with its text hammered into spoken words by both narrator and actors, no! It was pure image and sound in narrative form. The cinematic language employed in Welles’ masterpiece was so powerful and visionary, that it would take more than a quarter of a century for someone to even consider updating it. Welles took all the potential of cinema and attempted fulfilling it, by virtuously condensing a story into an expressive piece of celluloid, captured thanks to a beautiful (and revolutionary) cinematography, exquisite soundtrack,  and an outstanding work in terms of actor performance. Every framing, mise-en-scéne and camera movement serves as a vessel of metaphor for the telling of Kane’s life – these are the only true words of the language used by this audiovisual book. This is what eventually lent artistic legitimacy to cinema – “Citizen Kane” was a work that could not be replicated in other formats without losing its greatest strengths as a work of art.

citizen kane 4

The second, sometimes forgotten, quality of “Citizen Kane”, stems from its universal, perpetual appeal. “Kane” may bear a special figure as a man, being a magnate like we have seen so few, but his story was personal, human… familiar. We can all relate to his life in some way, to his desperate attempts at happiness through all the wrong ways, his wild spiral of triumph and decay, his moral and emotional contradictions as a human being, his ever frustrated obsessions with money, power, love and immortality. Forget the outstanding nature of the characters, this film addresses life, period. These are the challenges that all our lives hold in storage for us, our own existentialist anxieties and psychological dramas. And “Kane” doesn’t touch these subjects with superficiality or carelessness, it is pondered, ambiguous, profound and life-like. As Roger Ebert put it: “Its surface is as much fun as any movie ever made. Its depths surpass understanding. I have analyzed it a shot at a time with more than 30 groups, and together we have seen, I believe, pretty much everything that is there on the screen. The more clearly I can see its physical manifestation, the more I am stirred by its mystery.”

Last, but not least, there is the matter of it being a work that is unique, personal, authorial, unbound by genre conventions or pre-determined notions of what films should be, and, of course, not oriented in any way with a commercial logic. It was not only ahead of its time, as it was honest and true to its authors’ visions. This is their tale, their ideas, their craftsmanship, their art. This is a movie about their message, and it’s that notion which governs everything in it, from the seemingly meaningless stage prop to each earth-shattering dialogue. This is probably why it wasn’t a commercial success and why it was shunned by the producers of the time (despite marginal profit!), eventually leading to a troublesome dispute with Welles throughout the remainder of his career, with several unauthorized edits to his works that, still today, rob them of their artistic value. “Citizen Kane” is a work of art, something which in the world of money… is usually misunderstood. Despite all this, “Citizen Kane” lives on still today, thanks to the continuous recognition by many critics and scholars (heck, even the Academy recognized it with several Oscar nominations!), and by a growing interest of the public in the work throughout the 1950’s and beyond. It became a symbol – a popular one at that, I might add – that film can be art. Many haven’t seen it (and if you’re one of those, stop right now, and go watch it), but everyone knows that “Citizen Kane” is considered the greatest film ever made.

Screenshot of "Citizen Kane", which the American Film Institute named the greatest movie of all time

Now returning to what lead us to this film. Where is our <<Citizen Kane>>?  What video game has become a symbol of our medium’s maturity and legitimacy as art? So far, I’d say none. No one sees, and rightfully so, video games as artistic objects. Perhaps the question then is, does a game with the qualities I’ve mentioned before even exist? Namely, a game that fulfills the medium’s potentials, that has an adult and universal discourse, and is an authorial work? And if it does, how can we make that game a symbol? Is that even possible? How and where can we find our own Rosebud?

“Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn’t get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn’t have explained anything… I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a… piece in a jigsaw puzzle… a missing piece.”

[More unanswered questions in the next article concerning our <<Citizen Kane>>.]

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  • Comments (20)
  1. The issue at hand with videogames is their constant evolving, narrative techniques like the ones in the last 10 years where not present before, gameplay interfaces and techniques too, even the graphical prowress should be noted, as that part of the medium can deliver the visual impact needed to create an impressive imagery.

    My question has always been: What kind of videogames should we be specting?
    Puzzles? Adventure games? Third person adventures? Music games? RPGs?
    Can a puzzle deliver the same strong set of emotions, storytelling and gameplay challenge as an RPG? Should they be put next to each other and seriously cuantificate their greatness over the other?

    Is a Tetris better than a Fallout?
    Or do we focus on the ones that try to tell a story?
    We need to wait for an era when a Tarantino can be capable of create a Call of Duty that can be considered art first…

    Awesome as always.

    • Felix
    • November 2nd, 2009

    You might say, it’s a problem to find a standard gameplay-mechanic that can be meaningful, rewarding and realistic. That’s why fighting is one of the most prominent mechanisms, it’s easy to relate to (that guy/creature or me), and already implied in the idea of “winning” a game. Outside of battle it’s even hard to come up with a major concept of a game. But inside, quite convincing things can be done and have been done, mostly on basis of simulation-elements (Call of Duty, Stalker, perhaps Deus Ex, etc.), or more leaning towards the abstract, wild and fantastic (Action-Adventures, RPGs). In this regard, classic adventures seem to emerge as one of the most general ways of representing life. Only the puzzles have seldom signifance and meaning outside the game, so it’s again very self-contained. So probably one shouldn’t expect games to be able to replace classic narration.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 3rd, 2009

    “So probably one shouldn’t expect games to be able to replace classic narration.”

    That would be the case, should you think videogame’s being limited to what is, instead of what can be. Just because it is not true today, does not mean it cannot be true tomorrow, though probably if it comes to be, it will be in a very different form than those we can conjure today.

    But even so, we must consider all the off-the-beaten-path works that have emerged throughout the years. It would be folly to consider that no game has ever come up with truly meaningful interactive actions! They do exist, though they are far between, and receive little merit from members of the industry. The rolling compressor of the economic side of video games has become a deadly effective tool at plucking away every little niche of creativity and barrier-breaking ideas that we have laid eyes upon… with the voluntary connivance of players, journalists and designers alike.

    Yes, simulation (in the widest of senses) is the key. I leave you with a small provocation: aren’t film, literature, photography, painting, sculpture, and every other artistic medium forms of simulation? Each one, because of the specific qualities of their medium, more apt at simulating or representing certain aspects of human life? Simulation is just a different word for Mimesis, which is precisely what Plato described to be Art – a simulacra, imitation or mimicry of reality.

    Are videogames really different? Especially when removed the concept of ‘game’ from the equation? Are they? But if they aren’t, why are we so cautious in placing them within the same frame of reference?

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    Cheers.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 3rd, 2009

    An interesting text on the subject of emotion in video games:

    “There’s an old saying in biology: “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny.” This is really more of a myth, but what it means is that the developing embryo of an organism roughly replays it’s own evolutionary history. The human embryo, for instance, goes through successive stages that closely resemble fish, reptiles, small mammals, then man. Interesting, you might say (or maybe not), but what does that have to do with this book?

    I’ve been involved with creating computer games for about 20 years. It seems to me that games are mirroring the emotional development of humanity in a similar way. The earliest games appealed primarily to our more primitive instincts. These instincts originate in the central portion of our brain, our so-called “reptilian” brain stem. Over time, the emotional palette of games has broadened beyond instinctive
    issues of survival and aggression to include the more subtle mechanisms of empathy, nurturing, and creativity. We still have a long way to go, however, to reach the outer cerebral cortex. Compared to other forms of media (books, films, music), games are still stuck somewhere around the “small rodent” phase.

    Comparing games to previous forms of media (which are, for the most part, linear experiences) can be both useful and dangerous. Useful, because by studying other forms, we can get a good sense of what games are missing and how far they have yet to go in this important direction. Dangerous, because interactive entertainment is a fundamentally different proposition than its linear cousins, involving quite different psychological mechanisms.

    As pre-humans (and other social animals) began to live in groups, their survival was determined more and more by their ability to understand and predict the other members of their groups (which they became increasingly dependent on). It became as important for Ugg the caveman to predict what his tribe members were thinking and likely to do as it was for him to understand the rest of the world around him. This would seem to be the evolutionary basis for empathy, the almost magical ability we have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to feel what they feel; to relive their experiences from their point of view. In essence, we can simulate the thought and experiences of other people in our imagination and insert ourselves into this model.

    This is important to us because this empathic ability we seem to exercise so seamlessly is also the psychological engine that drives the thing we call “story.” Story (in its many forms) seems to be an “educational technology” of sorts that we have developed over millennia that allows us to share experiences with one another across great distances of time and space. We can learn to avoid failures or achieve successes from people who are long dead across the world or who never existed at all. It’s a technology that’s entirely dependent on our ability to empathize with other beings.

    Games, on the other hand, are most directly dependent on something else entirely: the concept of agency. Agency is our ability to alter the world around us, or our situation in it. We are able to act, and that action has effects. This is probably the first thing we learn as babies. This is the crucial distinction between interactive and linear entertainment. Interactive works demand that the player has the ability to act; to affect the situation; to make a difference at every possible turn. When a player loses control of the joystick or mouse, it’s similar to watching a movie when the screen goes blank. You’ve just closed down the
    primary feedback loop.

    So what place does empathy have in interactive works, where the player is driving the experience rather than just going along for the ride? The answer is that we really need both, perhaps in equal measures. We need agency to engage the volition and creativity of the player; we need empathy to engage the outer region of our brain that wants to simulate and predict complex, emotional beings around us.

    One of the main reasons games have been so emotionally shallow up to this point is that there hasn’t really been anything in them worth empathizing with. We find it rather difficult to empathize with one-dimensional game characters that only have the ability to regurgitate canned speech and perform predictable actions. We know that they have no emotional depth, so we basically disengage that circuit in our brain and treat them more like appliances than as people. Our ability to fully simulate human thoughts, behavior, and emotions is still a long way off, but we are making progress toward that goal in bits and pieces. I don’t know when we’ll get as far as C-3PO, but I think we’re rather close to R2D2 right now.
    […]
    It’s a long hill we’re climbing, but efforts like this will ensure that games will one day realize their full potential.”

    ~Will Wright, foreword to “Creating Emotion in Games” by David Freeman, New
    Riders, Indiana, 2004

  2. One problem with the “Citizen Kane” premise is that games has a stiff learning curve that most other art forms don’t have. Painting, sculptures or movies can be experienced by almost anyone. Books have as a unique precondition that the person trying to experience them knows how to read, which could be consider an easy benchmark for the most part.

    But games, because they are interactives, require the person to learn a set of rules to interact with the environment or have a certain familiarity with the genres conventions. That is even harder when using a device with a high level of abstraction (like a joystick) to interact with the environment… that is one of the reasons the wii is such a success with, what we could call, the less “experienced” gamer crowd.

    That is one of the problems with the idea that games can be art expressions… The fact that it requires a certain amount of learning and skills associated with the experience (let alone the appreciation). That is why Ebert would never experience something like Bioshock, Portal, Flower or Braid… because it requires him to have some familiarity with FPS, platforms or puzzle genres (and lets not forget about the challenge).

    I am not going to argue that the medium is rather inmature but itself, just wanted to point out an issue with the medium itself that might be holding a true mainstream appreciation. The learning problem is, for the most part, a generational issue… The other part will take more than that, but I would be extremely pessimistic if I think absolutely nothing has being archieved on that front.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 3rd, 2009

    I used to think so as well, but I have come to feel that the difficulty issue is a non-issue.

    First, because there is only difficulty and challenge in playing a game because the designers so impose. Designers don’t necessarily have to impose challenges. Nobody forces computer based technology to be used only for the delivery of challenging experiences that require speedy reflexes or acute thought processes. Works like “Gadget” and “The Path” can’t be framed under that notion of challenge, and thus can be interpreted by anyone who can pick up a mouse, with minimum effort in order to understand the interface. But even assuming the game structure is fundamental, games with simple interfaces and negligible difficulty exist – think social games, for instance. Secondly, as you yourself state, natural interfaces like the Wii’s controller already start to cross the gap between viewer and user. In the future, it will probably become increasingly easy to do so thanks to new VR-like paraphernalia.

    As to the issue of genre conventions, the same is true for every other medium. It would be hard for someone who does not understand crime novel conventions to fully appreciate an Agatha Christie work. In some ways, the act of reading is also a necessary “skill” to understand a book, just as decoding symbolism can be in a painting or being able to piece together fragmented time-lines in a movie like “Memento”. All art requires some effort to understand. The thing about games is that effort is required not to understand, but to merely experience. But this fundamental difference only exists because designers so choose. Some designers prefer to put the “difficulty” emphasis on understanding the game thematically, and those games are that much more thought-provoking because of that choice.

    This all goes back to the issue of video-games “having” to be games. This is a dogma. There are different ways of posing interactivity than simply giving challenges which players must overcome. Interactivity is not the same as game-play.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. I am not talking about the challenge to complete, I am talking about the interface and the challenge to interact. Bioshock or Prince of Persia were games pretty much devoided of any challenge. Penalties for dying or failing any of those games were minimal. However, try to give any of those games to a person that never played something similar, and you are up to a whole lot of frustration.

    The problem with your example of Agatha Christie is that, even when I know nothing about crime novel convenctions, I can still experience the work. Not appreciate, but still experience… The problem with games is that, in order to appreciate, one has to experience first, and that requires some level of learned skills many people don’t posses and have no interest in possesing.

  4. “This all goes back to the issue of video-games “having” to be games.”

    I ask again: Is Tetris the same as Call of Duty? or Flower? or Braid? or Deus Ex?
    Then it begs the question: Can Brain be Braind by being just a power point presentation?
    Sure it will look pretty, sure maybe the idea the game tries to express can be interpreted, or can it? (dun dun dun!)

    They need to evolve, they need newer “Artists”, Kojima’s and Warren’s in the business have paved the way for the future ones to come and narrow down what is being discussed, games need to pass the stone age and reach an age in wich the brushes are no longer the issue, but the creativity and meaning, being an artists not only means managing to have skills to create something beautiful, they are creatures who even have a political duty over History.

    Videogames by themselves still lack authoral direction, cept for a very few games no one can say that all games are what their authors envision, and to say that authors even envisioned anything is a long stretch, because most of the time games are handled as a bussiness, thats why for instance artisans are not considered “Artists”.
    Right now videogames are the result of the work of artisans (like I said cept a very few exceptions).
    To say they need or must do this or that, to become art forms is to preciely go against them, as the very idea of art relies not only in the high arts, the appreciation of beauty still falls on us the receivers of the works exposed.

    When videogame creators by themselves start askin and aswerings these questions then their Citizen Kane can be achieved:
    The power of creation and its status. the moral legitimacy of their creations, the Critical valorarion of their works, talent and creativity, the responsability or the modern artist, the market and art Institutionalisation, etc.

    Lookin forward for the second part.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 5th, 2009

    While in general, I agree with what you’re writing, you have to take into account that the fact that videogames expression is limited to “ludic” entertainment is also a consequence, or symptom, of the commercial logic you speak of.

    But the existence of that commercial logic is not the problem itself. It’s true, we have – like cinema had in the first half of the century, and to some extent, from the eighties till the present day – a studio system that is ever entangling. But the issue is not the studio system per se – whether we like it or not, commercial works will be pervasive in capitalist societies driven by economical success. The problem is when even small and medium ventures create products according to the same logic of the big companies and editors, despite their apparant freedom to do otherwise. Even though there has been a sudden growth in the indie scene over the past years, a majority of these works remain “fun” games, ruled by the same obnoxious ideas of their giant corporate siblings. Their creators do not aspire to any form of expressive desire, unless it can be defined in accordance to that “fun” dogma… and I believe there is an underlying paradox in expressiveness and “fun”.

    Creators, journalists, players have all accepted blindly the dogma imposed by the need to make money. The dogma is that videogames have to be “games”, which makes sense from a corporate standpoint, for games represent a highly addictive and entertaining structure for interactivity, despite its shallow cultural value. But it is often that I hear small, creative teams boasting that same line of thought as if it were some proud affirmation of independence. Any attempt at breaking the mold is deemed heresy or worse: lunacy. And it is also common to regard those who do different things as pretentious or arrogant. When Jenova Chen compared his game to poetry, everybody jumped on board criticizing him. When he said “fun” wasn’t enough, nobody got what he was saying. Everybody said: “Sure, it’s not enough”, but their comments and reports on games continued to reflect the exact opposite.

    Yes we need authors, but how can this medium give birth to authors, when everyone categorizes the medium according to a notion that is commercial in principle, and clashes profoundly with artistic creativity? Of course art cannot be packaged or framed by any conceptual border. I agree with that. I am not saying all games should be non-ludic, but the opposite: I am saying that some “games” need to go beyond “ludus”. “Ludus” is the package that must be criticized – a structuring form, a conceptual basis, a framework that all supposedly artistic works are designed in accordance to. How can one be an author, if half of the creation process is already assumed to be laid down in books and corporate policies?

    And yes, “Tetris” and “Call of Duty” are different beasts. But… but they’re both games. They are both defined by a “ludus” game cycle – learn a skill, try it out, evaluate that skill by winning or losing the game, repeat until the end. There are different ways to frame interactivity in the medium – ways in which the focus is not to learn something and see if you’re good at it. Ways in which the purpose of the interactivity is merely to tell an experiential story; to explore and immerse the user in a virtual space or fictional world; ways in which to describe complex abstract systems as interactive simulations. All this wealth of possibilities exists, and remains mostly untapped.

    What I am ever defending is the need for thinking outside the box and doing different things. Forget preconceived notions, forget what is entertaining, forget what makes sense. Create videogames or interactiveART or media or whatever you wanna call it, according only to your own ideas. Break free of dogmas.

    Great comment, thanks for keeping the discussion alive 😉

  5. “Forget preconceived notions, forget what is entertaining, forget what makes sense.”
    I agree with you and maybe it’s a lenguaje barrier and I failt terribly at expressing myself property but I think, in my head, that was my point….
    All I mean is: yes, we are approaching that time, when some indie developers (I believe we should start calling them “Creators”) are aquiring the tools to invade the medium.
    I agree that not all games need to be fun, but they should always mantain an achievement system (“Congratulations for finishing the game!) or else they would stop being games and become just interactive media, and that has existed from a while.
    What is the medium lacking is the artistry, and maybe its a very bad example, but when a story allows you to invest on the characters like MGS3, you psichologically feel the need to move forward and finish your task, get even with the ones who did you bad and find out why your loved one did you wrong. One needs to be cynic (and probably death inside… I like to joke a lot, sorry) to not appreciate the psichych drive the game employs and in it’s way eludes being a save the world story and becoming a personal drama of friendship or love.
    That whole authoral work ends when we turn off the console.
    Now what we need is that not all games have to be placed in war zones, or between kick ass ciborg ninjas, The problem I find with your idea is that GAMES are one thing and interactive media is another, I dont remember anyone dodging that bullet, but instead, games can contain ART, in any ammount desired. From visual expression, music, acting, to cinematic experiences, but in the end they are games:
    Should they ever need to stop being “games”? Sure, I just dont know how can they avoid being just interactive media.

    “We are not playing, we are saving the world.”

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 6th, 2009

    What is interactive media? Do you know? Why do you look down on it? And what are “videogames”? Is there such a clear cut barrier that allows us to say what is what? Is “Sim City” a game? It has no objectives, no goals, and no win scenario… is that a game? Perhaps it’s a simulation… perhaps it’s not. Are Interactive Fiction games? They’re narratives with no game structure, so are they all bad because they don’t fit the game bill? Is “ICO”, a game with barely any challenge, a game? Is “Shadow of the Colossus”, a game? Structurally yes, but then again, it’s a game in which you are striving to lose, a paradox in “ludus” terms if I ever saw one! “Gadget” isn’t a game, it is a linear experience in which there is no choice or challenge… is it bad for not being a game? Is it interactive media?

    Why must non-game experiences be bad, and games be good? Because one has historically been less commercially successful in a industry dominated by teenagers and young adults? Is that measurement of anything whatsoever? Is there some theoretical law that says games = good, interactive media = bad? Really, someone explain to me why must all we experience in this medium be “games”?

    And how can there be games without “fun”, if one is consequence of the other! The entire purpose of the game structure is to to elicit “fun”, that’s why people like it.

    In the end, we have simply accepted notions of what “is” without even comprehending the words’ true meaning. This is a relatively young medium, with bounds we know nothing about, just in the same way as 40’s movie directors could never know about the boundaries of cinema… that would only be discovered decades later! And yet, we have already established consciously and subconsciously, what can, and cannot be done in the “videogame” space. And that is the entire problem right there. You say you don’t want rules, so to foster creativity, but you also claim they have to be games. Why?

    Psychological goals can exist in many ways, not just in “ludus” form. You can feel driven to save a character not because the game gives you a win condition involving that character, but because you genuinely feel the need to save that character. Isn’t that what “ICO” is all about? You feel connected with characters in films, doesn’t mean they need to be saved by the main character. Some of the best films are those that twist that logic. How bout a videogame in which you kill Aeris? Wouldn’t that make you cry?

    There are so many possibilities, and still we cling to the same tiresome answers that all they’ve gotten us is an onslaught of derivative games that co-exist in a ridiculously immature habitat of big macho heroes, cute sparkling colors and fantasy non-sense. Is this the way we seek forward?

    In David Cage’s words:
    “As an industry we make games for teenagers and kids,” Cage tells NowGamer. “So we try to make things very casual and as clear as possible. The bad guys have to be very baaaaad and the hero has to have big muscles and look fantastic, and the women have to have big boobs and be very sexy because to a teenager, this is what women are.”

  6. “A game is a structured activity, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool…” -Wikipedia

    For one, games might be (or are) interactive media, but as a whole its another different kind of animal than “interactive media”.

    “Why must non-game experiences be bad, and games be good?”
    In no way I mean to be rude, but I tought we where discussing videogames… My feels and concerns have always been the same as yours, but we first must recognize the boundaries you have exposed: “And yet, we have already established consciously and subconsciously, what can, and cannot be done in the “videogame” space…” Because sadly thats what they are. I, in no way consider other forms of interactive digital media lesser than videogames, but they indeed are a different animal. And primarily they can exist without the boundaries and logistics videogames currently use.
    To quote myself: “Should they ever need to stop being “games”? Sure, I just dont know how can they avoid being just interactive media.”
    Do they can avoid being about the fun? yeah! In my first comment I asked: Is a Tetris better than a Fallout?

    Ico for one was the first game I ever played in wich I considered it for more than 2 seconds as art within the medium, its a videogame in itself but it doesnt stops just there, it strives for the expression of ideas and the observer interpretting them, even in its mechanics it strived for the user to participate in them proactively.
    I guess my whole point is that as long as they are games they will be games, but just because they are games they shouldnt always be about Aliens and superdeformed heroines dripping hormones.

    Maybe they can try being abstract representations of real life, where the objective is to guide a love relationship between two characters who have no heads:

    Because of its romantic nature do they have to love each other forever and ever or can we drive them insane untill they kill each other? Can an artist represent the thousands of outcomes and still make them meaningful (do they even need to be?)? Or do we fill the gaps whatever the outcome? Would it be better if the creator had a specifically planned ending where both of them buy heads at the supermarket and realize they are ugly and dont like each other anymore? Do you just realized (like me) that I just talked of two different games? One that allows the user to create and one that drives the user trough a specified series of events leading to a climax?

    Like I said for the sanity of our minds we need to resolve those issues first, or embrace them as a whole and discern why cant we agree that playing, creating, interpreting, observing, participating are all different things within the context of videogames?

    Now finally, using the cinema card for the last time:
    “wings of Desire” made me contemplate many aspects of life, relationships, etc. While trying to discern all the imagery and simbolism in it. It caused me to feel a state of peacefulness and a small tint of sadness.
    “Die Hard”, provokes my testosterone to rise and makes me exited.
    Why are the ones who enjoy the second option such bad persons? Would they be if the movie in question was Kill Bill? That is an authoral problem. Some try and make No more heroes, others just keep making Halos. I propose we leave those alone in the same way we ignore Transformers 2.

    PS. Sorry if I fail to express myself, but in my previous comment I tought I had adressed the same issues as in your last comment (well cept for the “game” part, that was properly interpreted).

    By the way, AM I THE ONLY PERSON WHO CONSIDERED THE AERIS ISSUE A CHEAP TRICK?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 6th, 2009

    “A game is a structured activity, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool…” -Wikipedia”

    Well… I wouldn’t exactly use Wikipedia as a source, but… the truly important part of what defines ‘game’ is what follows:

    “Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. Games generally involve mental or physical stimulation, and often both. Many games help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational or psychological role.”

    “For one, games might be (or are) interactive media, but as a whole its another different kind of animal than “interactive media”.”

    Call it what we will. Can, or can’t we have different experiences in our PC’s, Playstations, Xboxes and Nintendos? Experiences that are, in major aspects, non-videogame-y. Yes we can. In fact, we already have plenty of examples.

    “Why must non-game experiences be bad, and games be good?”
    In no way I mean to be rude, but I tought we where discussing videogames… “

    Forget videogames, forget what people call videogames, forget everything. We are discussing what we can interact with in our consoles.

    “My feels and concerns have always been the same as yours, but we first must recognize the boundaries you have exposed: “And yet, we have already established consciously and subconsciously, what can, and cannot be done in the “videogame” space…” Because sadly thats what they are. I, in no way consider other forms of interactive digital media lesser than videogames, but they indeed are a different animal.”

    There are no limits except those we impose. If FATALE can be reviewed in Eurogamer, a videogame website, why should it not be part of what we assert being “videogames”? We are the ones who get to define the medium. Sure, FATALE is not a game, it’s not “ludus”, it’s not even “fun” in any way, but why put barriers to it by placing it in a different pond? By separating these works we are closing avenues of exploration that should have already been trodden. It’s as if artistic movies were shunned by assigning them a different “word” than the same used for “proper, entertainment films”.

    “Maybe they can try being abstract representations of real life, where the objective is to guide a love relationship between two characters who have no heads:

    Because of its romantic nature do they have to love each other forever and ever or can we drive them insane untill they kill each other? Can an artist represent the thousands of outcomes and still make them meaningful (do they even need to be?)? Or do we fill the gaps whatever the outcome? Would it be better if the creator had a specifically planned ending where both of them buy heads at the supermarket and realize they are ugly and dont like each other anymore? Do you just realized (like me) that I just talked of two different games? One that allows the user to create and one that drives the user trough a specified series of events leading to a climax?

    Like I said for the sanity of our minds we need to resolve those issues first, or embrace them as a whole and discern why cant we agree that playing, creating, interpreting, observing, participating are all different things within the context of videogames?”

    To me, those are non-issues. A work can be more open or less, that is up to authors to decide what they want to tell with their videogame. But what you described isn’t even a “game”. There’s no objective, win condition or lose. What you described may be art, which is exactly where I’m trying to get at.

    “Now finally, using the cinema card for the last time:
    “wings of Desire” made me contemplate many aspects of life, relationships, etc. While trying to discern all the imagery and simbolism in it. It caused me to feel a state of peacefulness and a small tint of sadness.
    “Die Hard”, provokes my testosterone to rise and makes me exited.
    Why are the ones who enjoy the second option such bad persons? Would they be if the movie in question was Kill Bill? That is an authoral problem. Some try and make No more heroes, others just keep making Halos. I propose we leave those alone in the same way we ignore Transformers 2.”

    Both forms need to co-exist. But the issue is: is there a “Wings of Desire” in videogame land? No, but there are “Die Hard’s” and “Transformer’s” a plenty. Moreover, designers say there can only be “games”, and I challenge you to imagine a “game” proper, with win/lose scenarios, about nuanced subjects as “Wings of Desire”. This is more than an authorial problem. It’s a very deep problem that goes back to the concept of what a videogames is, has been, can be, and will be.

    “By the way, AM I THE ONLY PERSON WHO CONSIDERED THE AERIS ISSUE A CHEAP TRICK?”

    In what way?

  7. I have to say I’de never heard or seen anything about FATALE, a game that after reading a bit about it makes think of the monsters Alejandro Jodorowsky talks about, about his “Efimeros” plays where the spontainity and uniqueness of an irepetable experience.

    Also my main deal with games being games is because: When I, being an “Artist” myself, was asked if I considered Oh-Kami as Art, my response was that, yes, maybe it contains gorgeous visual styles, and the ludic of drawing over the world -wich acts as your canvas- where pretty much artsy at best, but as a whole it was a disjointed experience that never quite understood what it was or why and failed to deliver on its own premises. That for one if I had been able to redraw the scenario to my desires (as any Goddess using a celestial brush should have) they limited it to quirks similar to the ocarinas and battons of the past, a gimmick. And finally was that it still was a game. When I first put the dvd inside my console and after playing the introductory parts, I realized that my hopes of encountering a story in wich the most logic turn would be that of handling a deity and its power to manipulate reality, I found myself running trough scenarios as a simple dog with a very awesome brush, but that the own limited creativity of the goddess was that of its creators.
    It is the fact that most people still think of “Shadow of the colossus” as just an arcade with only big bosses.

    About Aeris… Well it might be because for the first part of the game I tought Cloud was pretty much a silent character in the same vein as Chronno was and that it was me who was supposed to link with her, a thing I didnt and felt as if someone at one point, predicted someone like me wouldnt, and tried to force a hearth breaking situation where they expected me to. An idea that only becomes stronger after a point in the game where the character gains a personality and detachs from me completely.
    Also, I really like to joke a lot (a trait I created after dealing with many superflous fellow artists), and I am sure “cheap” wasn’t the proper word to use. Tough I do find incredibly funny and daunting the fact that you want to kill her again…

    I did found myself drawn to antagonize you in order to ignite the debate, and now I feel glad I did, in no way i regret having stumbled into this Blog or whateveryouwannacallit.

    Now I will shut up, and wait for your next article.

  8. I’ve read the article, and most of the arguments, and I found alot of points made by both sides to be more than valid. alot of what this argument comes down to though is definition.
    How do we define a video game in itself? Is it merely an interactive medium used simply for the purposes of “fun”? Is it merely a commercial bulldozer leading us into a creative downfall as in the same way some would say about cinema? How would we, as people striving towards more artistic endeavors for “Gaming” strive to better this trend? All of these are difficult questions to answer.
    First comes the definition of what a Video Game is. For its original purposes, video games were just a byproduct of boredom and technology, starting in 50’s when computer development started going in full swing, with the inception of what would claim to be the very first video game was made when someone merely said “What If” and brought the concept of “Fun interaction” to what was solely a scientific medium before that, much in the same way Video was created.
    We can assume, just from historical fact, that any and all artistic medium started this way though; Drawing pictures were used to chronicle hunts and keep tradition, then came writing, which was used to better keep records for future generations, then pictures and moving film. All of which had been given to the people later on so they may do what they would with their own ideas.
    Video games differ from these because unlike the other mediums (Canvas/pain, script/pen. rock/clay, musical instrument, film) because it requires a greater knowlege to manipulate, which then requires the cooperation of many people to complete. The problem this causes then is there would then be limitations to what can be done, as opposed to one person setting where the boundries would start or finish you have not only the people you’re working with, but the technology itself telling you where they have to end.
    At this point, as with many other mediums in their early stages, Video Games still remain a product. The technology is limited to being mostly owned by businesses with very little solo involvement of people. That more than limits the constraints on Creators. But even that cannot be blamed as it still keeps Interactive Mediums going strong in the peoples eye, giving it the potential to be a great format.
    Bringing Video Games to the standard of art would also be more than difficult, if not just a long time coming. Art, as I perceive it, is for the purpose of envoking Thoughts and emotion for the empathy of a message, people, or merely about themselves. With stoic mediums such as Picture or Sculpture, it seems easier, because it only relies heavily on one sense, vision, leaving the mind to interpret subtle details. Film took its a step further to reach broader audiences, bringing audio into it, allowing for more direct interpretatiosn of things going on so that the audience could focus on the emotion of a scene, or the thoughts of the creator. Video Games, which forces anyone to embrace at least 3 senses, leave a person to think soley with a “What to do” thought process, instead of “what’s going on”, making video games rely more on the experience than the thoughts and emotion.
    We cannot compare Video Games to any other medium to look for an answer to this dilemma, just as we cant compare a painting to a film, or a sculpture to a piece of writing. Wht needs to happen is to have a new set of standards created in order give us something of a high empathetic work. At this time though, it seems the focus of Video Games are “Fun”. I beleive that “Fun” should remain a large part in making Interactive Mediums artistic. Otherwise, the Interactive portion of it would die, leaving us with just more technologically dependant Films that go nowhere. Instead it should be encouraged in order to not only keep the interest so that the overall message, or emotion intended by the creator gets across, while keeping up with trends that push the endusers (player, enthusiast) imagination.
    I continue to ask these questions even while enjoying the linear, yet obstacle-ridden stories that I can experience. And I also apologize for the length of my thoughts lol

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 10th, 2009

    Great comments guys, don’t be shy… keep posting 😉

  9. Citizen Kane did not “establish film as more than a form of entertainment”. It didn’t even change the medium the way you seem to think it did. It’s not as if movies weren’t movies before Kane. The conventions of cinematic language and editing that made film “more than just filmed stage plays” were pioneered decades earlier by a wide variety of filmmakers across the world. Griffith and Eisenstein are two that spring to my mind, and that’s only because I took a film history 101 class.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • February 19th, 2010

    Nothing is established or changed in a vacuum: in mediums, there are no technical leaps, just a long succession of small steps. So, of course there were pioneers that had treaded before Wells. Cinema was 40 then, it would be preoccupying if nothing had changed since the medium’s inception.
    Furthermore, if you look carefully at an Eisenstein or Griffith or other classic (typically European) directors, whilst they inaugurated many new techniques in editing and photography, they never applied them successfully in a similar context to Kane’s narrative. Kane is somewhat the prototypical definition of a great Hollywood drama, focused on basic human relationships and emotions and living from extraordinary actor performances… and doing this while summing up all the stylistic figures that defined cinema at the time, but also adding a number of revolutionary new techniques. So, because of its implicit accessibility, its universal, ever-lasting appeal, and also its virtuosity, it slowly became known, in the historical and critical means, as the symbol for a new language – film. And it is not difficult to understand why this is referred specifically to Kane, and not to other directors such as the ones you mention or others like Murnau, Lang, Gance, etc. While it is debatable if this is good or bad, Hollywood is the birth of popular cinema, and its archetypal narrative is infinitely closer to a film such as Kane, than any European production of the time, typically more cerebral, detached, abstract and less focused on actor performance and basic human relationship. Kane is pure pathos in the form of cinema – a glorious spectacle.

    Thansk for the comment. Like your blog btw. Cheers!

  10. “So, because of its implicit accessibility, its universal, ever-lasting appeal, and also its virtuosity, it slowly became known, in the historical and critical means, as the symbol for a new language – film. And it is not difficult to understand why this is referred specifically to Kane, and not to other directors such as the ones you mention or others like Murnau, Lang, Gance, etc. While it is debatable if this is good or bad, Hollywood is the birth of popular cinema, and its archetypal narrative is infinitely closer to a film such as Kane, than any European production of the time, typically more cerebral, detached, abstract and less focused on actor performance and basic human relationship. Kane is pure pathos in the form of cinema – a glorious spectacle.”

    Well, I dunno what to say about this other than it’s an impressive piece of pure-zeitgeist thinking. I very much doubt any serious scholar of cinema history or Orson Welles in particular would make such broad and reductionist claims, even if they did love Kane passionately. The Welles scholar I am most familiar with, film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, would probably be horrified by half of what you say in the above paragraph. He’s actually written a lot about the hysterical myth surrounding Citizen Kane, about how it being “claimed” retroactively as a prototypical Hollywood movie has deeply distorted the context and impact of the actual film itself. What you wrote above reads like an example of the exact sort of distortion he criticizes in his book “Discovering Orson Welles”.

    There’s nothing wrong with liking Kane and thinking it’s a great movie, obviously, but speaking as someone fairly knowledgeable of both film and games I tend to find my generation’s–the gamer generation’s–view of cinema history based more on myth than reality. Kane is a very over-exposed film with a greatly exaggerated image in popular culture, and I often find those who evoke it do so not out of deep historical knowledge but general impressions absorbed from the modern entertainment media zeitgeist, which is itself heavily influenced by the massive and self-serving marketing machine of Hollywood, which includes things like the AFI.

    I personally feel videogame culture’s obsession with this constructed, imagined notion of Citizen Kane speaks to a messianic complex we have about our medium in general. I don’t think we need a single artwork to catapult us into legitimacy, anymore than film did. The fact that we believe film did, and use this a evidence to insist that games do the same, says more about our collective neurosis as a marginalized sub-culture than it does about actual, real cinema history or the mechanisms of artistic progress in general.

    To me the correct answer to the question ‘will there be a Citizen Kane of videogames?’ is obviously ‘who cares?’ The real question is why do we even need such messianic myths in the first place? Artistic maturity is being able to let go of those myths, and that’s a challenge for the whole culture, not just for developers.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 4th, 2010

    “He’s actually written a lot about the hysterical myth surrounding Citizen Kane, about how it being “claimed” retroactively as a prototypical Hollywood movie has deeply distorted the context and impact of the actual film itself. What you wrote above reads like an example of the exact sort of distortion he criticizes in his book “Discovering Orson Welles”.”

    Historians speak retroactively. Culture is retroactive. It’s not what happened but what we think happened. Zeitgeist it may be, but as far as I’m concerned that is the whole issue. Was Kane the movie that directors, critics, scholars or whoever watched or to understand cinema or learn about it, or used as a prototype for new films? No, that would be ludicrous. Was Kane the movie that people in general beheld as a transition point? No, it wasn’t even highly thought of at the time. Nevertheless, it eventually became a cultural symbol of that transition, of the maturing of the Hollywood film, of the solidification of a new artistic language. And here I speak with knowledge of cause: there are many, many, many scholars out there who disagree with Rosenbaum. Ask them, and they’ll be happy to oblige in speaking of 100 ways why “Citizen Kane” is one of the best movies ever made. And just for the record, it’s not my favorite movie, nor has it ever been, nor do I think it’s best of its period, nor do I consider Welles to be the greatest genius of his generation.

    But personally, I think symbols don’t come by accident: they matter, if only from a strict sociological point of view. There are reasons (debatable, agreed) for Kane to have been chosen, and not some other flick. And I think the reasons aren’t just because of some massive marketing campaign. Because even that campaign had to come from somewhere in order to convince people. There was a social acceptance, assimilation and reproduction, coming from different quadrants, that “Kane” was the symbol for film maturity. So, I think those reasons are meaningful, as they tell us a bit of how a medium can converge and become accepted as a form of cultural expression… even if a posteriori.

    Now, is my analysis simplistic? Yes. In that we surely agree. I’m no history bluff, nor do I claim to be one. This is a blog, a game blog of all things, not a book, or research paper. It’s a virtual space where a bit of the old rhetoric makes sense, and has a reason for being employed. I’m sorry, if I let you down in that part 😉

    “I personally feel videogame culture’s obsession with this constructed, imagined notion of Citizen Kane speaks to a messianic complex we have about our medium in general. I don’t think we need a single artwork to catapult us into legitimacy, anymore than film did. The fact that we believe film did, and use this a evidence to insist that games do the same, says more about our collective neurosis as a marginalized sub-culture than it does about actual, real cinema history or the mechanisms of artistic progress in general.

    To me the correct answer to the question ‘will there be a Citizen Kane of videogames?’ is obviously ‘who cares?’ The real question is why do we even need such messianic myths in the first place? Artistic maturity is being able to let go of those myths, and that’s a challenge for the whole culture, not just for developers.”

    Please, please read the second post on this matter. You’ll find my personal answer to those questions there. Furthermore, I think my point only becomes totally clear once you’ve read that part, perhaps then you will have different questions for me. Also, I’d really like to know your thoughts on video games cultural and artistic maturity. Are they past the “low-brow” expression, the infantile binary rhetoric, the cultural ghetto?

    Cheers mate, thanks for the comment.

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