A couple weeks ago, The New Yorker ran a piece about Fumito Ueda, and his games Ico, and Shadow of the Colossus. It’s a good piece, and one that I am extremely happy to see running in such a prestigious publication with an audience broader than the audience for most writing-about-games.
The piece quotes me in support of its loose thesis that ‘games can be art’. While certainly flattering, and while this is a thesis I support, there is not a small amount of irony that arises from the piece running more or less in parallel to my last post which questions whether or not games should be art.
I should clarify one thing about the specific quote, which is pulled from Tom Bissell’s book Extra Lives. I said,
"Finding a way to make the mechanics of play our expression as creators and as artists—to me that’s the only question that matters."
The quote is accurate; that’s what I said. But then, as now, my own thinking on the subject of ‘how games mean’ was evolving (and has been evolving for some time). What I should have said back then was,
"Finding a way to make the dynamics of play our expression as creators and as artists—to me that’s the only question that matters."
Furthermore, the way I would prefer to express that idea today would be to say,
"Finding a way to make the dynamics of play support the creative expression of players—to me that’s the only question that matters."
Anyway, putting aside the subtleties related to where meaning in games can reside or where I personally think it ought to reside, the fact that articles like this are appearing with increasing regularity in mainstream publications is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it gives game developers an opportunity to gain some much needed traction toward building credibility and artistic legitimacy in the eyes of a real audience of billions instead of a pathetically small audience of tens of millions. It’s a curse because I still supect that most of the people intrigued by such an article and inspired to take a closer look at games will be largely disappointed once they gtet beyond a very small handful of games, such as those of Ueda and a few others.
As we see more and more articles like this, and as we draw the attention of a real mass market, I worry that the limited depth and breadth of our work (at least our most visible work) cannot sustain and nourish the attention we receive from that mainstream. I suspect that, in the long term, that may be a bigger problem than not receiveing this kind of attention at all.