Ah, what an interesting time to be involved in the games industry. So many brilliant creators pushing the boundaries of what you can do with pixels and programs. Oh no wait! Someone on Radio Four has just dismissed it all as “not serious enough… a marketing tool for kids”. As something engaged with “unthinkingly… obsessively… like a drug. Oh wow. Oh wowee.

Better pack it all up people, stop it. We’re done here. No more video games, just give everything to Activision and go get a ‘real’ job.

The person in question is art critic Sarah Kent, the show: Today. For those of you who may not have BBC Radio 4 immediately available imagine a long, comforting fart, perhaps after an over-rich sunday roast. That’s basically what Radio 4 is. I’ve listened to it and enjoyed in the past but seriously, the best that can be said of it – apart from the occasional comedy program – is that it’s awfully… nice.

Anyway, a lot of people got justifiably upset when this aired and even though the show had Alex Evans, Technical Director at, and Co-Founder of, Media Molecule (they made the marketing tools LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway) attempting to balance the argument out because he had actually played more than one video game, just ouch, Sarah. Ouch.

If you want to listen to the whole – five minute – debate here starting at 2:50:21. If you’re the kind of person who’s reading this article then I’m pretty sure listening to it will make you pretty bloody angry. It certainly riled me up enough to write this about it.

I think it’s the ignorance that makes Kent’s statements all the more galling. She’s obviously hardly even bothered to research the media she’s damning, saying things like games have “no self-reflection”. Perhaps it’s just because those games are small-time arthouse affairs which only the most diehard of video game buffs will have heard of. I’m now just going to whisper the word Bioshock sweetly into the ether and leave it at that single example of many. Spec Ops: The Line. Ahem. Sorry. That one just popped out.

I could spend a while correcting the wrongness of many of Kent’s words, however this has been addressed much more adroitly that I could by Keith Stuart in this article  – it’s from a little known publication known as The Guardian and, you know, I guessed they needed the signal boost – also at least I’m talking about someone who isn’t Jim Sterling for once, (but seriously though, he’s rad. (Damn (more brackets please))).

What I’m going to talk about is why we care about what some art critic thinks. I could pretend I don’t care, but I obviously do. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be writing this. All the people who this annoyed care, Keith Stuart cares. Yet it’s just one person who obviously doesn’t know what they’re talking about mouthing off because of a deep-seated mistrust of something that might challenge their narrow view of art. So far, so much pointless bluster, what can we do about it?

Attack. Not personally, only arseholes do that and no-one deserves that. What people can do is attack creatively. Prove Kent wrong. Make too much excellent stuff for her to ignore. Use the ignorance of people like Kent to fire up the desire to create. Eventually video games will be recognised as art, but it won’t be by engaging with people who don’t want to listen. Just generate amazing things and they’ll realise how wrong they are on their own.

About The Author

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Ben is pretty damned nerdy. If he isn't playing video games, then he's probably rolling some dice to hit goblins and thugs or designing, running and crewing a host of LARP systems. He lives in Brighton, because it's nice there. You can follow him on twitter @benrlmeredith

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  • I don’t know if I want games to be more artsy, but I wouldn’t mind if they would at least try to be smarter and more clever. Not necessarily actually smart, but try to appeal to people who want to be smarter, think of themselves as smart or smarty pants. Dumbing down is everywhere in games, it’s a medium where there are only the movie equivalent of failed blockbusters and book equivalent of head splitting YA fiction. I think this was Roger Ebert’s real hurdle with games too. It’s a desolate void when held up to every other medium (of course it is the youngest of the bunch, but I don’t know if I’d call it a much younger sibling. In fairness computers are very complicated, and there is no real bridge yet between the technical and artistic performance sides, and while the same can be said for film, the film industry at least appears to have done a much better job of giving the fresh faces a lot more freedom and money to prove themselves before being marched into the blockbuster money-maker circuit once they do (payback time))