As someone who has more than a passing interest in the maturation of video games, I’ve found some reviews of the would-be blockbuster Metal Gear Solid 4 to be very interesting — and telling.
The reviews of the Playstation 3 game at Slate, Wired’s Game|Life blog, and The Onion A.V. Club (all sites I like and regularly read) are curiously and similarly schizophrenic, alternately criticizing a major part of the game (its story) while praising — well, it’s not exactly clear what’s so great about it. That such praise outweighs the ambivalence in each review shows just how far video games still have to go.
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Over at Publishing2.0, Scott Karp wrote an interesting post exploring why he now prefers reading online to reading books. He has discovered that he prefers reading and thinking across the network rather than in a linear fashion:
When I read online, I constantly follow links from one item to the next, often forgetting where I started. Sometimes I backtrack to one content “node” and jump off in different directions. …So doesn’t this make for an incoherent reading experience? Yes, if you’re thinking in a linear fashion. But I find reading on the web is most rewarding when I’m not following a set path but rather trying to “connect the dots,” thinking about ideas and trends and what it all might mean.
His post reminds me a little of the discussion about video games vs. “linear” media. Some video game evangelists argue that games are superior to movies, books, etc. because only games allow players to choose their path and create the narrative and experience themselves. According to this argument, just as Karp finds “reading on the web is most rewarding when I’m not following a set path but rather trying to ‘connect the dots,'” gamers find video games more rewarding than other media because players don’t follow a set path but connect the dots however they want (within the confines of a game’s rules and boundaries).
My general response to that argument is that giving players control isn’t inherently better; it just means players may be looking for something different than movie-goers. Continue reading →
In a recent New York Times piece, Seth Schiesel looks at 2007’s top-selling video games and finds that social and easy-to-pick-up titles are crowding out more complex and critically acclaimed stuff. His basic point — as anyone who has played Wii Tennis at a party could tell you — is pretty reasonable:
Paradoxically, at a moment when technology allows designers to create ever more complex and realistic single-player fantasies, the growth in the now $18 billion gaming market is in simple, user-friendly experiences that families and friends can enjoy together. …Put another way, it may be a sign of the industry’s nascent maturity that as video games become more popular than ever, hard-core gamers and the old-school critics who represent them are becoming an ever smaller part of the audience.
But taking a closer look at the numbers, his argument starts to break down. Continue reading →