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It’s Not “Just a Game”

July 6th, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Blogs

I don’t usually read Kotaku anymore, just scan the headlines that Evotab puts out. And most of the time, I don’t bother clicking.

So I missed Leigh Alexander’s June 23rd essay about how saying that something is “just a game” as a response to social or political criticism is a cop out that does more harm to the pastime than good. It stifles debate and reduces games to just what their detractors claim they are – ephemera with no more social meaning or value than a doodle.

Well worth a read, and I may have to start reading Kotaku again. And thanks to RPS for pointing it out.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Scott R. Krol

    no more social meaning or value than a doodle

    And why do games need to have social meaning or value? We are blessed to live in a time of civilization that we have so much free time that multi-billion dollar industries can spring up to fill our leisure time with their goods. One such industry is the game biz.

    I play games to be entertained. To relax. To have fun. I’m not seeking out anything with hidden meanings, or that will change my life. Yet in the past few years there is a sub-culture of gamers who do try to seek that out, or at least argue that it’s there. Why? Why can’t a game be just a game? Because writers such as Alexander are ultimately ashamed to play games? They want to justify their past time? And to do so they need to have them mean something?

    I don’t get golf. Just don’t find any enjoyment in it, but I know plenty of people who do. Ask them why they do it and the majority will answer because they enjoy it. Maybe a few will talk about exercise or something. But no one is going to try saying there’s some deep life-altering meaning behind the game.

    Likewise one can think of dozens of past times that the people involved in simply enjoy doing. Why does digital gaming have to be different? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being entertained for entertainment’s sake.

  • Alan Au

    I feel like gaming is held to a higher standard than other forms of media. Probably this is justified due to its ability to offer interactive situations, but I’m more annoyed that (these days) games receive get much more scrutiny than their non-interactive contemporaries, like movies and television. It sort of makes me wonder what the media will be fussing about in another 30 years.

  • Chris Nahr

    I agree completely with Scott, and want to add just one thing: this article is delusional to tie the “mainstream” legitimacy of games to their being not just entertainment, whatever that is supposed to mean.

    What made movies mainstream? The few irrelevant intellectuals who debate their social merits, or the teeming masses watching the blockbusters? Popularity makes a medium mainstream, not academic analysis. The only relationship between the two is that more popular media are also more heavily analyzed — but that’s the opposite of what the article assumes. No amount of furious analysis has ever made anything popular or socially acceptable.

  • Darius K.

    Chris: The academics have far more influence on popular culture than you give them credit for: while their analysis is mostly irrelevant to movie-goers, it is extremely important to filmmakers.

    If you look at movies, you’ll note that the high water mark of American cinema is generally considered to be the 1970s. That decade gave us everything from The Godfather to Star Wars, and–oh, right, Coppola and Lucas both were among the first generation of popular American filmmakers to be rigorously educated by “irrelevant academics” at the UCLA Film School and the USC School of Cinematic Arts, respectively. And Coppola and Lucas were not making academic, avant-garde films: their movies were among the highest grossing of all time, as well as being critical successes. Do you think Star Wars would have been as good had Lucas not learned about Akira Kurasawa in film school?

    As a game developer myself, I find that academic game studies inform my work every single day.

  • steve

    The idea that games aren’t “just games” isn’t at odds with anyone’s desire to “just have fun” with them. Just like movies and music and books find homes for both the serious and silly, why can’t games?

    While it would be silly to make the argument that Tetris is an extended metaphor about the futility of packing, it’s dangerous to fall back to “don’t take games seriously” when someone does take games seriously. To use one simple example, if these are all “just games,” it’s harder to argue against legislation and censorship. You can’t be expression if you have nothing to express.

    I don’t understand why people get so offended by the occasional article like this. It’s not like you can’t find plenty of “ohmygod, those games are AWESOME” to offset the occasional bit of navel gazing.

    As for “irrelevant intellectuals,” you could argue that they help create the language which lets people teach and discuss the art to subsequent generations. The literal “language of film” was mostly established by academics based on their analysis of the techniques of early filmmakers.

    It may not be important to the layperson, and it’s certainly irrelevant to your enjoyment of a game. But it makes it a helluva lot easier to have a serious discussion about theory, or to teach the next generation of talent, when you’re all speaking the same language.

  • Europa Universalis series (2000-2008)

    […] And we all know how seriously I take the “it’s just a game” defense. […]