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Monday, April 15, 2013

Off My Chest: Will the circle (of navel gazing hindsight) be unbroken?

I'm not going to call Bioshock Infinite perfect. I may even walk back the masterpiece label a few months from now, I may even refuse to give it my personal goty. But the backlash its been getting recently is becoming absurd.

The game had done the impossible. It built up expectations to ridiculous levels, and in the eyes of the first wave of critics, it meet them with aplomb. Which is great because I almost never get to use “aplomb.” Perhaps the reviews were too positive, perhaps it made people’s already soaring expectations even higher, or perhaps some chose to tear down something that didn't fit what they believed would help the medium. Can you guess which one I think it is?

Cliff Blezinski of Raleigh's Epic Games(Gears of War developer) and Kirk Hamilton of have written articles on why they think Infinite's violence exists to largely diminish it's artistic impact. Hamilton writes “BioShock Infinite is in many ways so, so close to being That Game, the one we can show to our non-gamer friends and say "See? Look at this! It is so awesome! Check out the story! It's like LOST! How neat is this?" Blezinski, whose opinions are sound even though they scream double standard, blogged essentially the same sentiment.

yeah, it ain't subtle.
They make good points...the thing is... the thing that really bothers me...the thing that makes my right eyelid twitch is that both knew exactly what this game was going to be. The violence was on full display from a bare minimum of two years ago. Where were these opinions then? Why was it OK to let Irrational games get a pass only for these folks to rope off it's place in history for being what it never tried not to be? Its just too damn convenient.

The discussion of video game violence, in terms of market saturation, needs to happen. It's a problem. I'd personally love it if the industry took a year off and only produced non violent material. Think about how amazing that would be! Think about what new types of game play could be devised when avoiding the crutch of violent conflict became necessary. I have no problem with this debate, I have a problem with people projecting their personal hang ups on what is objectively a wonderful “product.” A product with a budget and coffers to fill.

Games of this caliber have always been, and always will be, profit first and art second. Violence is the easiest way to sell that product, and that’s the only way a game about 20th century racism ever got a budget over $80 million dollars. The game trades off intellectualism with popular tastes and everyone knew that going in. So what the hell happened? A bunch of critics,in so many words, called it “art.”*

The actual game may not be as imaginative as this concept piece...but its scary how close it gets.
But could you call Infinite “art?” I'd certainly like too. Daniel Golding at would try to choke me to death with his monocle chain, but I think time will be very kind to the game. I'm not even going to bother with Golding, he's...set in his ways, so I'm driving the conversation back to Kotaku. Hamilton wanted validation from his non-gaming peers. That's a great goal, and I hope he finds his bright shining example one day (portal 2). Yes, I agree there was too much shooting, and I would have loved for the last act of the game to have slowed down a bit and maybe eschewed violence all together. I wouldn't have seen that coming. But jumping from that point to practically dismissing its existence because its a shooter is sanctimonious and just plain mean.

These people didn't have to play it, and they don't have to like it. But they can't fault the developers who poured the last five years of their lives into a shooter only to have people like Hamilton hang the entire genre around their neck like an albatross. So please. Talk about video game violence. Talk about better ways for shooters to tell stories. Stop dragging Infinite into it, it knew it was never anything but popular entertainment and it tried some new things. It can't be everything to everyone and it shouldn't have to explain itself that way.

Lets all just take a step back, look at the game's strengths and weaknesses, and talk it out over some cotton candy.
Serenity from Spun Sugar.

*He doesn’t use the word, but he really really wants to.

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