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  1. A couple weeks ago, devin posited a theory on twitter that video game criticism seems like the next great critical arena of interest. The idea being that young writers are attracted to it as both a largely untapped frontier and also because we are just beginning to truly understand the semiotic and artistic capacity of the genre. Hulk wholly agrees with this statement... The only problem that hulk not entirely sure of the medium's current ability to actually make good on said new artistic capacity.
  3. Hey hulk, why so cynical? Games are better than they've ever been! Highly immersive, emotional, involving, articulate, and pretty damn smart!
  5. Okay, let's just call it mild unsureness. Yes, video games are technically better than they've ever been in terms of presentation, but there seems to be a large-scale lack of understanding of what the medium needs to make that jump to the artistic understanding that is implicit in other forms of media.
  7. For one, hulk can't think of a single game that has transcended the confines of the objective-based gaming needs to become the full-on semiotics and artistic ground zero the genre actually needs. Some games have come pretty close. Why hulk even acknowledges that this proverbial game might be just around the corner. But hulk's mild unsureness still come from the fact that video developers are in a period of intense dichotomy between some a tip-of-the-tongue revelation and the opposing, abject desire to be as base as possible... Which means that the crowd might be slightly ahead of the medium here.
  9. Hulk know we seemingly can't have a conversation about video games this day and age without getting into that lame question "are video games art?" but hulk argue there's damn good reason for that. It is the single most important conversation to have about the medium. Because until both game makers and audiences fully understand what exactly art is, and specifically how their medium can become art, then it can't really happen.
  11. This isn't to say a good deal of games do not have artistic elements. Games often have spectacular approaches to art direction, lighting, composition, and technical acumen. Which, again, is truly great, but those elements are just a component of the bigger purpose... And the bigger purpose is what actually matters. As interesting and thoughtful as some video game narratives have been, the best examples have either gone the interactive 'choose your own adventure" route or simply inverted the basic nature of objective-based gaming ("would you kindly...", etc). While these conventions are neat and show an ability to think of narrative both in terms of weight, arc, and power, this does not solely make it art. Because art is actually something much, much bigger than that.
  13. Now... People argue about what constitutes art all the time and to hulk the answer kind of simple.
  15. Hulk defines art as something where the thematic messages (even if those messages are ambivalent) are the single most important aspect of the products inception and identity. This is not to say an artistic film can't have an equally compelling plot, action, marketability, or whatever the heck. But the grand power of theme reigns supreme. Which means art is about the constant control of thematic message in almost every single aspect of the presentation (again, even if the message itself is ambivalent). Art is effectively "saying something" or provoking an intellectual response with every fiber of the product. Sure, sometimes art is lame: a crucifix in a jar of pee, it's a commentary! As stupid and trite as it is, the singular goal of the piece above all else is the thematic commentary and abstraction... Thus it qualifies.
  17. [The conversation gets tricky though...]
  19. but let's qualify this. Hulk said no video game in hulk's estimation have reached the mediums theoretical artistic nirvana, but let's look at thew few that have come wonderfully oh-so-close. Hulk's vote goes to either shadow of the colossus, in which all the fighting and game-play is a direct commentary on hubris  of the main character and his misleading actions (it also gorgeous) or better yet: bioshock, in which the fighting can be construed as an extension of the game's blistering criticism of objectivism and-thereby-libertarianism. But both of those deductions are ever-so-slightly stretching the present thematic issues into stuff that is nakedly game-play driven. Colossus largely becomes an exercise in point the sword light / find the spot on the monster / find fruit trees and bioshock largely falls into the repetitive trappings of the f.p.s. (Albeit with some super-nice visual distinctions). Both come so, so damn close, but ultimately they try to serve the functions of gaming over the functions of art. And well... Art demands to be the point. Art demands responsibility. Art demands duty.
  21. And that's the damn problem with video games. They often have to be games. They have to directly serve the playing experience and you know what? Maybe they should. Maybe games can never be true art, because in order to become art it would seemingly have to become an "un-game." and does that ruin the point? Maybe it does.
  23. But let's not give up on medium just yet because we're barely scratching the surface. Let's assume that games can transcend this barrier (again, it's on the tip-of-the-tongue here). Thus, in going forward with these conditions, we have to somehow accept the condition that games have to absolutely satisfy those game-like expectations, but then line up those gaming conventions with constant thematic resonance . It has to approach art just like the very best genre work in other mediums, which have to satisfy the basic requirements of the genre, but also go beyond them to be wholly about a larger and likely-transgressive idea.
  25. But it's not just mastering the dynamic of how movies "work" but reaching the same level of heightened understanding. While video game narratives are really improving, it seems like most of the time they are just imitating the most basic movie tropes without real genuine understanding of how and why they're supposed to work. And when they do work we can't just assume that because a game can evoke the minimal emotions that even our most basic films can, that they are now somehow equal mediums. For instance, 30 second commercials can achieve emotional resonance with a music cue (such is the great power of cinema), but those are "the simple tricks" so to speak. For a game to reach the plane of a great film, they would have to reach the same kind of total awareness of thematic effect. They too would have realize what their playable, affecting immersion actually means on a semiotic level. And then there would have to follow through and give meaning to every scene, ever interaction, every puzzle, every bad guy shot... In other words: every moment of the game. Because that is what art does.
  27. The good news is that this is totally, totally possible.
  29. For one, games are a young medium and as hulk stated earlier this tip-of-the-tongue realization leads one to hope their citizen kane is waiting just around the corner.(1) maybe there is a young game creator, right now, who totally and intrinsically understands that they can achieve the needed stasis between the goal of gaming and the goal of art. And they can create that singular and sublime narrative that ties into their core gaming constructs.
  31. Do you know why hulk knows it is really possible? Because theses kinds of semiotic messages are already happening... Just on a largely-uncontrolled level.
  33. That's right. Do not think for one second that these big, bombastic aaa video games do not lack overlying themes (as hulk will show in a second), but it is that these theme seems seem to be the product of nakedly-exploitative or completely unconscious decisions. Who knows, maybe they are aware of all these trappings and it's just the problem of collective, bureaucratic oversight (or lack thereof) in game creation. But the same could be a true of filmmaking. Only with filmmaking there is always an author who, as individual or collective, is responsible for it.
  35. So hulk would argue the problem with video game authorship is that there is often an accompanying lack of awareness to the actual duties of authorship. Hulk also think that by shirking this responsibility many aaa titles end up being thematically contradictory or worse, deeply problematic. It is the great and singular roadblock of the genre, because it then turns the public conversation (which does ultimately depend on the game-makers to reciprocate believe it or not) into a perpetual impasse.
  37. So right now, even with all the best intentions, hulk regard video games as a hell-of-a-lot of fun.
  39. And that's okay! Hulk loves things that are a hell of a lot of fun, as should anyone.
  41. [Hulk's other favorite video games ]
  43. honestly, it is hard to have a conversation about this subject and hulk admire you if you even stuck around this long (wasn't this supposed to be about modern warfare or something?). For most gamers, the devoted pro-art stance is conditioned from the tough reality of the last 20 years. Not only were they considered a separate group of the intellectual subset, but they had to battle a massive amount of cultural misunderstanding and political overreaction to the medium. Heck, in those conditions defensiveness was almost a must. But today's climate has shifted. Hulk grew up on video games the way most people have. So we can drop the collective defensiveness and embrace the idea that things may now radically change for the better. Necessity is the mother of invention and everywhere hulk go it seem like the demand for a more thoughtful, fully-realized gaming experience with a huge awareness of thematic effect. All it takes is the ability to shift the large-scale consciousness of what we actually expect of games. Thus:
  45. every conversation, helps.
  47. Every argument you may make below regarding a game that you think qualifies as art, helps.
  49. Every time we engaged in the best possible dialogue, helps.
  51. It helps create a cultural context for new, high-brow video games being wholly and irrevocably valid option. And we can do this now because it is all part of one big, central cultural media experience. Game criticism is now, quite simply, cultural criticism.(2)
  53. so as part of this new all-encompassing cultural discussion, let’s have a conversation about the bat-shit evolution of the call of duty: modern warfare series, shall we?
  55. [Vroooooooom! ]
  57. A few prefii...
  59. Preface i - just know for the sake of this article hulk going to ignore the multi-player component of these games. Why? Because the multi-player stuff qualifies purely as "games of competition" and therefore separate from the pre-thought-out nature of the storytelling in the campaign modes. They may be the reason most people buy these games, but there just isn't as much to analyze aside from certain weird decisions of iconography. Well... We could posit why in the sam-hell people on xbox live are so homophobic and racist, but that's another conversation. This article is about the socio-political themes of the series' narrative.
  61. Preface ii - hulk maintains that call of duty 4: modern warfare (henceforth called mw1) is a truly great video game. From a pure game-play perspective it was layered with that all too-critical element for first person shooters, where it is required for an individual to develop actual strategy and memorization in completing the levels (at least on veteran mode). Instead of just running around hog wild, there was a delicate and organic sense of solving a certain enemy-based quandary (how can hulk take out the two guys behind that door in time before the guy comes in from the hallway? Ooh flashbang! Etc). To some, this strategy-bound approach takes them out of the so-called reality. But to hulk it is still a game and thus great strategy is all part of the fun (plus, one could reason that the strategy of taking down a room full of badguys would in reality require pinpoint strategy). And in terms of art direction, the levels of mw1 felt distinct, textured, and were extraordinarily well-lit. From a pure technical standpoint, the game was a coup. It even managed to take a little luster on the mastered-gameplay-physics of the halo series.(3)
  63. preface iii - yes, hulk can talk about the politics of this game series. Why? Because they're freaking about politics. That may sound crazy because clearly the main purpose of the game is to shoot stuff, but when you look at the actual plot than yes, that is what the modern warfare games are about. Politics. We like to just think of each level as a "cool mission" but in order to provide objectives, every single military operation in the entire series has a distinct political motivation behind it (even if it's often "we need that guy!" or something). Beyond that, there is this weird conception that games don't have these hidden socio-political meanings, which is, quite frankly, total bullshit. We cannot confuse intention with implication. If game developers make choices solely based on "wouldn't it be cool if?", there is still an idea or philosophy associated with those choices and it's totally worth discussing. Even if it is not the intention, it is still the effect. Heck, sometimes the most interesting and crazy stuff comes out precisely when the artist isn't thinking about it and the socio-political thoughts burst out of their collective id in some sort cronenbergian horror... Those moments are great.
  65. So now then:
  67. hulk argue part of what makes mw1 such a great game is that it had the least-invasive and most-understandable politics of the series. It mostly forgoes a lot of too-easy targets of arab terrorism (hulk said mostly) and focuses on the strangely "okay" generic eastern european theater for its baddies. Hulk argue this always kind of a safe political bet because most americans really don't understand the intricacies of the post-u.s.s.r. Slavic breakdown. So audiences readily accept a bad guy as "someone who's just wrapped up in all that stuff." and for the most part it all works without setting off the sociological-concerned parts of hulk's brain. This would obviously be different for someone directly involved with the slavic unrest, but if hulk once wrote a thesis on the topic of the post u.s.s.r. Breakdown role in said slavic unrest / horrors and hulk think that what comes across in the game plays more or less plays like a really broad simplification of that, than that should be sorta admirable by gaming narrative standards.
  69. And while the game is obligingly pro-combat (it's a fps, what else could it really be at this point?), it is mostly about the people who run covert affairs against terrorists, in this case to prevent relative nuclear armageddon. Which means the game is focused on stopping a worst case scenario with a seeming understanding of the intended and horrible effects of mass warfare. So basically, you are constantly participating in combat at its most justified. More importantly, it is not just the missions themselves, but the gravity of the tone that reinforces this idea. Heck, it's somewhat dignified and measured all things considered. It sort of feels like the world of mw1 is the same as the "bourne series" if that makes sense, only without greengrass' pointed ideas and aesthetic.  Basically, it struck hulk as the kind of self-aware military story that is obviously interested in the relative 'coolness" of combat, but at least has some tiny sense of ethos and pathos.
  71. Modern warfare 2 was a different story.
  73. In general, mw2 suffers from every single bit of sequelitis you can imagine. It's bigger, louder, totally incoherent, and wholly lacks much of what made the first one so good. Gone is the adept strategizing of the campaign mode and instead you are treated to the chaotic willy nilly of open air environments with massive amounts of soldiers.
  75. From a pure game-play perspective, do you know why this sucks? Do you know how to beat this game? Even on hardest level? Heck, especially on the hardest level? Why dear readers you can just run to the next check point and have your massive army follow you and kill guys while you take cover and hide. That's it. Completely lost in this desire to make things bigger, more cinematic, and supposedly more "life-like", they largely lost moment-to-moment strategy of the first game... Which sucks a massive amount of butt. The whole scenario actually plays right into the growing problem of "immersion" overtaking player influence and affect.  Sure, a giant helicopter careening out of the sky and almost hitting you is "cool" but it's meaningless if it doesn't actually affect anything. Much like what's wrong with today's action scenes, it's all sound and fury with very little cause and effect. Part of the reason the disorientating "wait, what's happening?" cinematic moments work so well in the first game is because they are few and far between. It is always unnerving to be out of control. But in this entry, the moments can feel like they're every 10 minutes or so (it only gets worse in mw3) which all adds up to feeling less like you're playing the game and more like the game is just taking you along for the ride. Cinematic immersion in games has to be a delicate balance.
  77. And then... There is the story itself... Sweet sassy molassy! (Btw spoilers or whatever but hulk argue they okay to talk about since the game a few years old). So let hulk lay the groundwork: it starts the same kind of terrorist chasing stuff as the last one and this time you're this "generic undercover guy" in some russiany/slavicy terrorist outfit headed by a bad guy named makarov. You are then immediately involved in some airport massacre on russia soil. Seriously, you just literally go out and shoot a bunch of civilians. It's a really, really weird position to be put in and could be kind of provocative or provide an opportunity for commentary on you the player... But it mostly just feels like a-purpose shock value and nothing more.
  79. [Pictured: intended meaning ]
  81. so then when you go to leave the mission, makarov shoots you dead (you being the american undercover guy).  See this was all part of an elaborate plot to show that this american soldier was behind an act of terrorism on russian soil... Or something. It doesn't quite make sense but russia then does the only reasonable thing and fucking invades america. All sorts of red dawn allusions and michael bay-esque action moments follow in a plot that basically can be described as "totally insane."
  83. okay.
  85. So let's ignore the obvious plot-holes (for instance, it says that no other terrorists were identified, but later shows terrorists were caught on tape thus indicating makarov? Or that makarov is clearly target #1 for the russians too and they seemed to suspect him as well? Or the presidents clear ambivalence at starting a war that he shows later on?) also, let's ignore the fact that america, while having something of a p.r. Nightmare on their hands, would do 100% everything in their power to immediately explain to our russian friends that this was an undercover mission gone horribly wrong and we're both after the same guys here. And again, as frosty as things can be at times the russians are still very much our allies at the moment (the game seems to stuck in 1960's land on this count). But forget all of these plot or specific socio-political logistics, because they really aren't what matters. There is a bigger thematic misconception going on here that is downright bothersome.
  87. They are ignoring the modern impossibility of total war.
  89. This mw series always have these quotes pop up when you die and most of the time they are very pointed famous ones that show the kind of thought and philosophizing of war that the series completely lacks. But there is one quote that pops up quite a bit by albert einstein: "i do not know with what weapons world war iii will be fought with, but world war iv will be fought with sticks and stones." actually hulk thinks they paraphrase it. But anycrap, they are obviously aware of the quote... They just have absolutely no idea what it means.
  91. It seems the game designers, in a rush to presumably engage in a "wouldn't it be cool if they russians invaded a suburban american street and you had to defend like a mcdonald's or something!?!!?" never stopped and thought about if this could actually happen with any kind of plausibility whatsoever. Because honestly... It can't. It is part of the great myth of modern warfare that two nuclear armed nations could somehow engage in total warfare and there wouldn't incur nuclear armageddon as a result. It is completely and totally impossible and the reason we have yet to have anything resembling total warfare among nuclear nations since the inception the bomb. Total war would be abject suicide for any armed nation... There is a reason we don't want certain countries going nuclear, a reason we have to put up with north korea, and, most importantly, a reason the cold war was cold.
  93. But because we either have to fan the flames of american fears or just want to indulge in a little homeland fighting theatrics, the reality of nuclear armageddon completely disappears, and we're treated to pure "invasion fantasy." only it's played ridiculously-straight and deadly-serious.
  95. Sooooooo remember the semi-justifed politics and semi-responsible tone of mw1? Yeah... Nowhere to be found here.
  97. The game later makes this weird attempt to kind of temper why america was in such rush to dive headlong into suicide when you eventually realize an american general / madman is complicit in trying to accelerate world war 3. But his reasons for doing so are completely and totally beyond hulk. Something something american enemies something. It really makes no sense whatsoever, but is justified under that equally stupid myth that "it just takes one mad man!" etc. This attempt to temper is ultimately so half-baked that it just complicates the ideas endlessly. It dissolves the narrative leaving the cold-hard mission objectives of you, the player, to be mostly irrelevant. Which likewise dissolves you, the emotional human being, into a sea of wishy-washy moral quandary. The writers seem far more interested in constant reversals of fortune and trite plot dynamics (that are merely aping other mediums basic tropes) instead of any rational sense and honest objective, which again was the really positive aspect of the first game. Anycrap, this madmen is killed in a hilarious drag-on fight that doesn't resemble, but sort of reminds hulk of the one from they live. A fight which leaves our so-called heroes needing to press on as the only ones who know the truth in a world engaging in an impossible non-nuclear total war.
  99. Which brings us to modern warfare 3.
  101. While the great fantasy of total war goes on in mw3, what is so damn weird is how vacuous the whole thing feels. For starters, the game-play strategy is even worse. They've completely lost the objectivity of goal-orientated focus. It reaches that dreaded place where the game happens around you instead of controlling it. The whole run-to-next-marker element is even more effective on veteran mode. Often times the only means of beating a large number of areas as you go up against dozens of bad guys firing on you in open air environments.
  103. Realistic? Sure. Fun? No.
  105. But the vacuousness takes a far different, far worse form as well. While the last game was cloying and was meant to at least play at your basic defensive or jingoistic fears, this new entry feels like mere disaster porn. That's right, it's downright reminiscent of emmerichian desire to blow up world wide landmarks, cities, and iconography. Why? Because it's cool.
  107. Ugh. Even if the last game was misdirected, at least it had gravitas or something. You may remembering the swelling bits of garish music you heard as a suburban american street was leveled by mortar fire. Or perhaps as you emerged from a bunker to see the u.s. Capitol in ruins. It's pornography of the great american fear... But at least it's something.
  109. But in mw3, the eiffel tower falls and there is barely even a whimper.
  111. [Kablamo!]
  113. this is a moment literally right out  of gi joe.
  115. But what's particularly telling is the opening of the games' distinct use of 9/11 imagery as you are revealed into the battle... Only for no real emotional purpose. It seems we are so far removed from tossing around 9/11 imagery as some kind of solemn remembrance about the gravest of all possible things. Heck, it's even removed from its cloying sentimentality of the second game. Instead? It's just boom, boom neato warfare. It is solely presented as part of an elaborate fabrication just to see what total war is like in downtown nyc.
  117. ... And it feels meaningless.
  119. Every single time the game tries to be cool instead of resonant. There is no emotional gravitas. No stakes. Nothing tangible or anchored to this chaos. It is all an empty gesture of "wouldn't it be cool if..." and its very worst moments it feels like a child playing with all the neato toys. So gone is bourne, bay, red dawn, and the like so that we can now we engage in a rather different kind of fantasy.
  121. We have entered pure and unadulterated james bond territory.
  123. Seriously. Mw3 is a globe trotting, disaster laden adventure that has taken the modern warfare universe into the amoral territory that this is all somehow fun (which may have always been their dirty little secret anyway). The nature of mission objectives shifts without any kind of merit or pretense. Even the gameplay feels extraordinarily confused. And best of all, the villain makarov has turned into an outright bond villain. He has an absurd amount of henchman-like conspirators helping pull of these massive coups of assuming soviet control (and with each passing move it renders the logic of his movies in the previous game to have absolutely no value). And all these henchman go along with him in the name of... Nuclear armageddon?!?!? Again, it's all downright bondian. Even in mw2 makarov only had a few men by his side and a tiny network. Suddenly he has a massive network of supply and henchmen spanning the globe and, like, dominating soviet airspace. In the end, all these decisions turn the world of modern warfare into a giant cartoon... Only, as hulk mentioned before, it's played completely straight. Why the hell do we this? Because we need our "serious and mature" entertainment to be all serious and stuff... Even if the ideas behind it are grotesquely juvenile.(4)
  125. everything about this game is big, empty, and meaningless.
  127. Oh sure, there's an american girl playing in the paris streets before getting dirty-bombed or chemical attacked or whatever it was, but as an unintended consequence it plays hilariously like the famous lbj-ad.
  129. Worse, it's out of nowhere and completely sans context. It's a desperate attempt for sentimentalism and gravity in a game that so desperately tries to distance itself from those very concepts. After all, it's a game where you also go around stabbing skinny, poor african guys in the neck for relative fun (hulk should mention that none of the others levels seem to take so much pleasure in killing people).oh  don't worry, the game takes extra care at one point to tell you that these folks are all "bad guys" so don't feel bad about gutting them or mowing down wave after wave of non-uniformed, beyond-poor black people! Nope, they're alllllll bad guys... Look... If this sounds like hulk again going down the p.c. Pipe once again, that is  not the case (besides it was a well-covered topic in the resident evil 5 discussions). All hulk trying to say is that it really strange and the fact that the game purposely calls it out with a kind of simplistic defense to justify this strangeness, is equally strange.... You can decide for yourself what it all actually means.
  131. But perhaps the funniest element of all this faux-seriousness is the way the game series is meant to be played as some sort of character-based personal vendetta, as if they have been playing these guys up with some sympathy-for-mr.vengeance-esque characterization.... The problem being the extent of the characterization in the modern warfare series is "guy with mustache that shoots people" and "guy with mohawk who shoots people." which isn't all that surprising because all the "great" video game protagonists tend to be generic badass soldier guy. But maybe hulk's being tough on the mw characters. After all, one of them does have an accent... Okay more seriously though maybe they should get some kind of points for them not being written like the 13-year-olds-vernacularly-speaking in the gears of war series. But ultimately, the mw guys lose points anytime hulk is supposed to regard them as, you know, people.
  133. To hulk, they are simply avatars of destruction.
  135. What really kind of sucks about that is mw1 had some pretense of captain price's characterization with the pripyat events, which even tied into the history and causation haunting realities of the slavic past. It was kind of well-done all things considered. But the reference to these events in mw3 is mere lip service. All par for a series that has gone from visceral and morally unobtrusive, to visceral and cloying, to lackadaisical and all-together empty. If you think of that transition in terms of war films, there has been a marked regression: it went from the tone the bourne series, to the jingoistic red dawn, to the heightened destructo-mania of independence day and gi joe... Think about that for a second.
  137. Because hulk finally happy tell you that the mini-essay on video games now going to be tied into the modern warfare part. Yes, there was a point to all this (hooray!).
  139. Hulk sees the regression of the plotting / thematic responsibility in these games to be whole indicative of the exact problem holding back video games as art. This is what happens to a medium if its most popular series de-evolves against the grain of artistic capability. No, it's not just sequelitis. It's a series that was so concerned with playing with the neat toys that it completely changed the tone of the series without even realizing it. It's a series that is more and more comfortable pursuing its baser elements to their own undignified ends. There is nothing more gratuitous and unartistic than that. For a series called "modern warfare" they've gotten further and further away from what that term actually means.
  141. But worse, no one really seemed to notice... Or at least articulate it.
  143. Look, if you just want your video games to just be fun games, then hulk will argue there is a way in which this decision to go bondian with the mw universe makes sense. It finally exposes the naked will for havoc and destruction for what it really is.
  145. But hulk's brain was more comfortable bournian angle of the first, because it seemed so much more aware of its affectation on the player (read: audience). It understood the tone of the kind of "serious game" they were making. It understands the concepts of motive and pretense and all those things about balancing strategy / immersion / reality that we need to "unlock the potential of gaming." and it struck a chord with players, even if just on a subconscious level, because everyone really jumped off halo and got on the call of duty bandwagon.
  147. And now the games have basically gone to shit to sound of thunderous applause. Oh we think video games are getting "better," but really they are just more popular than ever.
  149. And the modern warfare series is the most popular of the bunch.
  151. They've made billions. You read that right, billions of dollars. And they make that money at a speed which can put movies to shame. While the money factor puts them in a new league of corporate influence (but that's more of a video games 102 / economics discussion) the accompanying popularity is what really begs for artistic responsibility. Specifically for the out-of-control messages that video games exhibit. Because, as cliche as it sounds, these messages have a huge and direct effect on the young culture that is enamored of them.
  153. People constantly misunderstand when hulk says "oh noes! This will affect young gamers!" please know that hulk in no way means games are "responsible for their behavior." that is ludicrous and yet something hulk gets accused of every time hulk plays the 'affecting young minds" card. Again, there is a capacity to which hulk admit that this defense is understandable after years of politicians waving their fingers at nonsense and trying to ban games, but hulk not advocating censorship in the slightest. Hulk not part of the p.c. Police. What hulk advocating is a sense cultural understanding and awareness. That's it. Because in all honesty, when any sort of medium or property accepts the responsibility of how their work comes off on a semiotic level, there's a funny way in which that seems to take care of the big problems inherently.
  155. And taking care of the big problems matters.
  157. Because hulk doesn't know about you, but hulk talks to lots of folks about these things that are "just video games" and hulk sees how 10-14 year olds, in real life, actually react to them.  Hulk could recite the entire list of the most crazy things hulk heard in the last few years, but let's go to the extreme example. In the midnight line for mw3, hulk was making chit- chat with a short latino high schooler who, all casually and without a hint of worry says: “i can’t wait to kill some fuckin’ sand ni****s”
  159. … yikes.
  161. It's the kind of yikes that sort of dumbfounding when you actually hear it out loud and then gives you a sickening feeling in your gut. Again, someone's reaction to that may be "that's awful! That game needs to be banned!" but again, that's ridiculous. Games do not create this kind of viewpoint because clearly there other issues into why someone thinks it just "okay" to say that to a random stranger in line. And who knows, the kid may grow up to be well-adjusted and whatever, but none of that really hulk's point.
  163. Hulk's point that the modern warfare series is a place that this person can go and get their arab-killing rocks off with absolutely no kind of tonal resistance and it's all in the name of fun.
  165. Call this young person ridiculous. Call them an extreme. Call them whatever. There probably a capacity to which this kind of person could get their rocks off in the more tone-responsible first game, but clearly this person is looking to this new game to reflect and relish in their totally-fucked disposition.
  167. This is what semiotics are all about.
  169. The associations and thematic reasons people may play video games are very, very real. And whether or not this kind of reaction is intentional on the part of the authors, it should at least be signal that the ideas being put forth in games are not exactly working right.
  171. And fuck, if the purpose behind the game designers was to kill arabs then come out and fucking say it so we can have an actual conversation about the idea. To dress up this pretense behind the mantra of "it's unintentional!", "we can't control how people react!", or "it's just a game!" nonsense is utterly ridiculous. No matter what there is a very real conversation to be had.
  173. But this semiotics conversation isn't just about the big, horrible stuff that's in your face. It's about the subtext stuff comes across just in stealth ways. Why just a few days later as hulk was waiting in line for skyrim (good gravy that's a good game) hulk overheard a few other guys in line: "modern warfare 3 is so fucking gay. I dunno the campaigns just fucking stupid. And the online's no good either. I'm all about battlefield 3 now, man so fuck that game, it's fucking gay." homophobic and inarticulate to a t? Yup! But the reaction shows that the very emotional emptiness hulk speaks of with mw3 which presumably affected the gamer on a subconscious level (check out this link to metacritic scores which highlights the stunning divide between critical raves and user's hate, and pretty much everything hulk talked about concerning the games industry).
  175. Whatever these anecdotes are supposed to represent about the gaming community, they are first and foremost, real. And whether you agree or not, hulk believe they speak to the very kind of responsibility over semiotic control that comes along with any form of narrative.
  177. Art requires duty.
  179. And that ladies and gentleman is why video games are both not-yet-art and yet absolutely need to embrace the responsibilities of being art. The unformed thematic messages are out there running wild and embracing this catch 22 of not-being-art, but having the responsibility for it is exactly what propels you to the promised land. And folks, it can't just be the rare case of game here or a game there that transcends the genre, but the movement of a complete and total culture. Only then do games become a true medium of artistic expression.
  181. So sorry folks, but they don't even belong in the same conversation as movies until we get there.
  183. Let hulk put it this way... In all those "best of the year" games are theme, resonance, and semiotics ever concern of any of that? Sometimes yes, but a lot of times not. But those things, which are the very lifeblood of art, are at the center of movie-going culture. Let's not even compare to the work of the greats like kubrick, bergman, fellini, and kurosawa. Even with all the lurid talk of box office and tent-poles and bad summer movies, those films are still often completely beyond their relative aaa title games on most accounts of character and artistic responsibility (you know, in comparison). And on the high-culture end of the spectrum? The oscars, as trivial as they often are, embrace the very idea that movies should have a deep and resonant societal meaning above all else. Even if that meaning is as corny as "the power of love!" the theme has to resonate in order for movies to work.
  185. That is why movies are considered gateways to better understanding of the human condition. That is why we love them. That is why hulk loves them. Every year there are hundreds of truly good movies that compel hulk to go forth and spill hulk's guts about the meaning of our collective understanding and true purpose. That is why we, the proverbial hundreds of us sitting quietly in the dark together, are able to experience that miracle of the collective epiphany.
  187. Meanwhile, video games are just a ton of fun.
  189. Which, again, is fine. Hulk both loves fun and wants video games to enter the arena of art just as much as the most serious-minded gamer does. But we can't get ahead of ourselves when video games manage to create emotional cues or engage in basic symbology. Still, hulk loves the conversation, the culture, and the grand possibility.
  191. But art requires duty.
  193. So consider this video games' call of duty.
  195. ...  Hulk can't believe hulk just ended this giant article on a pun.
  197. ... Fuck.
  199. <3 hulk
  201. hulk's required listening / reading on the subject of video games!
  203. Community creator dan harmon's appearance on the indoor kids podcast. In case you not know, it is a great podcast by husband / wife duo kumail nanjiani and emily v. Gordon, who tackle gaming from a comedian / psychology perspective. This appearance by harmon runs the gamut of topics, but is completely and utterly fascinating.
  205. Tom bissell's "press x for beer bottle" on grantland. This piece a master meditation on the potential semiotic deductions on the interactivity of the genre
  207. and lastly, movie bob does a hell of a hell of a series over on the game overthinker. In all honesty, hulk afraid link to it only because he said such ridiculously nice things about hulk that hulk's ensuing bashfulness turn hulk into red hulk, but the the essay has wonderful thoughts on the medium at large. Many of his points the collective reaction of gaming culture beautifully compliment hulk's points in this very essay and articulate the nuances better than hulk ever could, specifically with the game industry's response to 9/11. Check it out because both he, it, and the series are absolutely fantastic.
  209. Endnotes!
  211. (1) - hulk would categorize a whole lot of german expressionist films as reaching the golden goose of art first, but you get the idea.
  213. (2) - so what kind of sucks is that the games industry doesn't really seem to have any idea how to handle written criticism and game reviews. For one, they're not really playing by "the rules" so to speak. For instance, all reviews are embargoed unless they're a rave. Give a game anything less than a rave and they'll completely drop advertising. There is a degree to which this is a facet of the movie industry too, but they still more or less understand how to play fair. The games industry on the whole absolutely and totally does not. To be as blunt as possible, hulk has witnessed both sides of the coin and the people working game publicity seem to have a real problem not engaging in relative sociopathy. We're talking nakedly machiavellian tactics without a hint of what's wrong about it ("look you're giving this game an a or we're never talking to you again", etc). There are of course many who do this part of the job responsibly, but it's totally unsettling. While hulk understand this behavior is part of this is the immense pressure on publicity departments, because in all the amazing profits you hear about with some titles, the video game industry is actually an extreme case of feast or famine. And most of the time it’s famine. A 60 dollar long-term investment is a different kind of product construct. Thus games have to be "must-buys" otherwise they lose massive amounts of money. Still, none of this justifies the at-large publicity behavior. And in hulk's view it's all a part of the problem with the industry dragging their heals in the "artistic responsibility" cultural conversation.
  215. (3) - a little. Mw still feels a little heavy compared to halo's perfect balance of controls / movement. But whatever they're both really good.
  217. (4) - which isn't to say juvenile is bad. Not in the slightest. In fact, juvenile played juvenile (like, you know, the actual bond series) is perfect for what it is. The bond movies are wrapped up in the tone of fantasy which makes it entertaining in the exact kind of way it needs to be. But when juvenile bullshit dressed under the auspices of "serious stuff"? ... That is when hulk has problem.
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