Monday, February 09, 2009

Request hour: Dinner for four, emulation nation, and the future of games criticism

Continuing with our reader-requested topics...

I love this one. Shoinan wants to know:
If you could have dinner with three video game characters, who would they be and why?

Phoenix Wright. He's the opposite of almost every other video game hero, most of whom preach honor and glory as they indiscriminately slaughter thousands of people. Phoenix is a bumbling, self-conscious dweeb, who also has an unshakeable sense of truth and justice. I think he'd be a great guy to hang out with. You know he'd probably suffer stoically through poor service and subpar cuisine, but if the bill was calculated wrong, he'd take care of everything.

Guybrush Threepwood. I picture him sitting there, practically breaking a sweat as he tries to remember which utensil he's supposed to use for each course. Plus, as we know from several Monkey Island games, the guy's a hell of a conversationalist. He always has at least four responses ready, no matter what you say to him.

I guess we'd need to invite a villain, just to make things interesting. There are a lot of good options here, but for some reason I keep coming back to Dracula in his Symphony of the Night incarnation. I would ask him to repeat his lines from the beginning of the game and see who else at the table cracks up first. My money's on Phoenix Wright.

From brilliam:

What gaming systems have you owned in your life? Which ones did you want most and never manage to get? Would you consider going back and buying those systems now, or would you more likely just emulate whichever older games you wanted to play?

Or, to put it in a more bookish way: how important is the artifact vs. the information?

The first part is easy, at least. I've owned:

  • Atari 2600
  • NES
  • Sega Genesis
  • Sega 32X (really!)
  • Sega Saturn
  • Nintendo 64
  • Sony PlayStation
  • Super NES
  • Game Boy
  • PlayStation 2
  • Nintendo GameCube
  • Nintendo DS
  • Xbox 360
  • PSP
  • Wii
  • PlayStation 3
That's in order of when I got them, as far as I can recall. The big systems that I missed were the Dreamcast and the original Xbox. I regret never owning a Dreamcast, but given that the 360 is at least somewhat backwards compatible, I don't mind missing out on the Xbox. I never really wanted some of those crazier ones, like the Neo Geo, 3DO, or Jaguar.

The funny thing is, I've held onto most of those systems, even the truly useless ones like the GameCube and the PS1. The artifact does seem to matter. If I felt the urge to play Super Metroid, say, it would be easier to simply download it onto the Virtual Console. It would look better and wouldn't take any setup time. But it would be more satisfying to hook up the SNES and play it for real. That I didn't even hesitate to say "play it for real" probably illustrates the point nicely.

I think it's basically impossible to separate your idea of a game as software from the context in which you played it. I can't think of games like Puzzle Fighter, Mario Kart, or GoldenEye without remembering where I played them, who I played them with, and, yes, what I played them on. Emulators are a valuable way to broaden your gaming horizons, but something about playing it on the original hardware -- getting that controller in your hands -- makes the experience seem authentic.

Brian asks a few questions, which I'll split into parts.:
As both a writer who is paid by a major publication to cover games, and a blogger who writes personal pieces on his own, what are the biggest differences in your approach to the two? Which do you prefer?

The biggest difference between writing for the paper and writing in this blog is my idea of who is reading. I think of the person reading a review in the Phoenix as not a committed gamer, who would therefore be turned off by jargon and highly detailed descriptions of gameplay mechanics. I have to assume that the reader is not an expert. I'm trying to write for the person who picked up the arts section for the movie reviews, say, and is now flipping past the half-page game review. Can I get their attention? Can I make them stop and care about this?

On the blog, I assume you're already interested. I can assume a level of knowledge on your part, and a shared set of reference points. Really, though, when I write in the blog I'm just writing for myself. That is, I'm trying to produce content here that I would find interesting if I read it elsewhere. Then I hope that there are other people who feel the same way.

And if you had your way, what would games writing look like 5 years from now?

I'd like it if game writing were less time-sensitive and less event-driven. It seems like the bulk of game reviews and game topics are all about trying to rank everything, and write history as it happens. A friend of mine recently complained about the modern state of arts discussion by saying that it's all an "attempt to determine if [album, movie, game, book, or show] is the most [Adjective] of the [Time period]." He's exactly right.

I'd like to see more people try to take games on their own terms, and ask: what's this really about? What is the game asking me to do, and how are my in-game actions affecting this world? What's the fiction here? How consistent is that fiction? How meaningful is it? And so on.

Especially in light of the fact that newspapers and even sites like 1up falling apart hint that some of the current avenues may not even be available by then. Is it possible there will be no professional, full-time games writing jobs left?

I think there will always be full-time writing jobs available, but they may take different forms. Things are bad all over in print media, but web readership is only expanding, and there will naturally be winners and losers in this landscape. 1up in particular is a sad story, but it may be cause for hope that it was their online publishing that UGO felt was worth preserving. Ziff's print properties were an anchor around 1up's neck.

Hey, we're almost done. More tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your response to the question about the next 5 years of games writing.

I honestly wish there were more people writing seriously about games that aren't in the now. Just taking any game willy nilly from the last 20 years and forming an understanding of the game's meanings and merits. The good majority of blogs and websites I read are all centered around the latest 3-5 big release titles. It's quite sad really.

Well, I don't blame them though, I try and write that way and no one really cares. Obviously it's not a sexy way to talk about games. ^_^

Anonymous said...

What is this post?
A miserable little pile of secrets.
But enough talk!

Ben Abraham said...

This was a very interesting one in the series. You'd better get to Jorge Albor's question though, cause I'd love to hear your answer too!

Anonymous said...

Glad you liked the question Mitch, your answer rocked, in fact it instantly rocked as soon as you mentioned Guybrush. This is a cool little series, some interesting and testing questions have been asked.