Disclaimer: This article covers the hyperbolic ranting of an entirely fictional (and very foul-tempered) stick figure thing. As such, we reserve the right to label this article as satire and advise you to take any of Angry Joe’s advice in good humour and high spirits. Whether or not he happens to make any valid points is entirely up to you to decide.
As a follow-up to his recent report on common game development myths, Dev.Mag correspondent Angry Joe has contacted us to rant about the state of the industry, and why he thinks that people are caring too much about things which don’t really deserve any attention.
What follows is an unabridged and uncensored interview in which Angry Joe explains why the gaming industry’s focus on several contemporary issues makes him want to hurt small animals and punch babies in the face. Needless to say, Angry Joe’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of anybody on the Dev.Mag staff. Even if it totally looks like they do. Heck, just stop reading right now if you’re easily offended or frightened, because this guy’s not in a habit of mincing his words.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Issue #1: The “games as art” debate
Q. Hey Angry Joe, thanks for chatting to us again. You mentioned that you have one or two things on your mind regarding the gaming industry.
Angry Joe. No shit, Sherlock. Why else would I be here?
Q. So what exactly is it that’s bothering you today?
AJ. Aside from you? My gears are being pretty damn well ground by the fact that we have an entire society of game developers who claim to be enlightened creatives, but who still somehow manage to get caught up in inconsequential trash such as whether or not videogames really are art.
Q. That’s quite a claim, Angry Joe. Especially since art games really are becoming quite high-profile nowadays. They’ve even made it as far as the IGF.
AJ. I don’t care if an art game explodes from my birthday cake wearing a freaking g-string. My point is that too many people are asking the same stupid questions over and over again. “Are videogames art? How do we make them into art? Why can’t I be the cool kid at school? Does this dress make me look fat? Bluh bluh bluh waaah!”
Q. Wait, what?
AJ. Oh, sorry, I was just degenerating into a list of your top ten insecurities. My point is that we have two types of people in the art games arena: those who are making the damn games, and those who feel some strange need to lean back and blow a bunch of hot air about some inane semantics that don’t actually have an impact on how a product is delivered or even played.
Q. But it does, Angry Joe. Imagine being an uninformed player who stumbles across something like Passage! You’ll play it without any prior knowledge of art games, and it’s almost certain that the experience would be neither educational nor rewarding. Contrast that with the enlightened player who goes in to learn and explore. It’s the difference between knowing whether a nude image is erotic art or merely pornography.
AJ. I don’t need to know about your online surfing habits, and your point about Passage is moot in any case. Even people who know about art games can’t magically tell which ones are going to be artsy from the word go. The author usually puts that sort of thing into context on their Website, in a readme file or inside the game itself. I know that The Graveyard is an art game because – shock and effing wonder – it’s described as such before I even play it!
Q. But we wrote a piece about art games a while back, and Jason Rohrer said that art games are a very important discussion.
AJ. Holy crap, enough about Jason-freaking-Rohrer already. Do you know any other game designers out there, or do you just like hearing yourself talk about his stuff? Look, his advice in no way justifies what’s happening right now. In fact, I don’t even think it applies to the sort of discussions we’re actually seeing. I’m sick of seeing uninspired journalists like you jumping onto the “are games art” bandwagon and rehashing the same damn words that were uttered by yesterday’s Bringer of Truth. I’m sick of self-aggrandising little shits whoring out blog posts entitled “wot i think about art games ‘n stuff” when clearly they just enjoy masturbating to cheap ideas and the look of their own writing. I’m sick of evangelists coming up to me and telling me that it’s a big issue when they themselves can’t explain it to me in a way that I haven’t already heard a HUNDRED TIMES before.
Q. Yeah, but—
AJ. AND MOST OF ALL, I’m tired of seeing these questions being deliberated at the cost of discussing something that actually could be of value to us. Regardless of whether or not these really are art games, I’d like to see some different questions being asked for a change. Like, how do we improve the player’s experience? What advice does a dev give to others who which to express themselves artistically? And instead of seeing endless impotent arguments about definitions and semantics, how about just once we see a piece trying to deconstruct the game’s message instead? Man, it just pisses me off. The subject of art games is a whole damn jungle of cool stuff to explore, and idiots around the world are huddling around a random anthill situated at the arse end of the foliage because they somehow think it’s the only bit worth exploring.
Issue #2: Ironic games
Q. Seems like you have quite a bit to say on the matter. So what do you think about the art game’s cousins: metagames and satire projects?
AJ. I’ll admit that they’re usually pretty cool. I recently had a lot of fun with Upgrade Complete, and similar titles such as You Have To Burn The Rope and Achievement Unlocked are all pretty clever pokes at just how cro-magnon the average gamer mentality really is. But I’m going to steal the words of Alec Meer here and point out that it’s starting to get stale. We need to go easy on these games for a while.
Q. Why, though? Ironic games seem to be going so well, and they’re genuinely quite fun.
AJ. Don’t get me wrong. Anything that insults the intelligence of the average player is a keeper in my books, usually because they get it dead right. But these games are fun because they’re clever and different. They teach us something new. They’re a departure from the norm. The further we go down this path, however, the more these games are going to become the norm. They’re becoming less clever and more of a blatant effort to hop onto an increasingly lame bandwagon. My advice is that we stop this crap NOW before it leaves the realm of innovative intellectuals and moves into the territory of grinning, gap-toothed trend-followers who can’t do anything but ape any old fad that they think looks cool. It’s that sort of thinking that gives us pink, pop-collared golf shirts and Hannah Montana fan clubs.
Q. So when would be the right time to start making these sort of games again?
AJ. Whenever some turd on the Internet can pick one up and say “wow, that’s new to me!” instead of “oh look, another one of these!” To all aspiring developers out there: get over it. These guys had a cool idea before you did, so exercise some damn creativity and think of something else instead of making up for having only half a brain by hopping onto the bandwagon. We’re leaving the golden age of ironic games. Accept it.
Issue #3: Cactus
Q. If there’s one developer out there today who you could claim to be propagating unnecessary fuss, who would that be?
AJ. That would have to be that Swedish guy, cactus. Morons everywhere are going to be up in arms about this one, so I’ll throw in my explanation up front. I have nothing against cactus. He’s a great man. He’s taken the process of rapid game prototyping and turned it from a secluded bedroom wank into something inspiring and educational for game developers everywhere. In a far superior way to what Dev.Mag could manage, that’s for sure.
Q. So what’s the problem?
AJ. Um, people’s reaction to him, that’s what. I’ve tried some cactus games, and a lot of them are what I’d expect: quick game tests and prototypes. I don’t like all of them. And some of the ones that I do like are, well, novel, but they could do with some fleshing out. Again, this is because they’re usually quickies. A’dhoi! The thing about cactus is that he provides an example and a valuable game development lesson: stop trying to compare his shit to lengthier games which have received more work and polish. Okay? For every new cactus game that a lazy journalist looks for (“Oh crap, I need something to review! OOOH CACTUS”), that’s one more game from a new and fresh developer that gets ignored as a result.
Q. So you think that his limelight costs others?
AJ. Yeah. You know, sometimes I think that you’re not a complete idiot. But then a look at your face reminds me otherwise.
Q. Thanks … I guess. So what would you suggest to cactus?
AJ. Mr. cactus should keep doing what he does best! He doesn’t need to change a thing. It’s the attitude of viewers and the media that needs to change. Coverage of his work should follow the necessary angle: as a design lesson, not an example of the pinnacle of gaming.
Q. You know, I really just think you’re jealous.
AJ. And I think you’re just a ****ing wanker.
Issue #4: The casual/core divide
Q. Fine, enough cactus. You mentioned before this interview that you had some beef with casual games. Could you elaborate for our readers?
AJ. Yeah. No beef with the casual games themselves, mind you. Except for the crap ones. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. Today, I’m asking everybody in the whole damn industry to catch a wake-up call and stop building stupid fences between the “casual” and “hardcore” gaming industries. You’re acting like a bunch of bloody-minded children.
Q. Could you go into more detail?
AJ. I bloody well plan on doing so! Ever heard these comments? “Polished turd.” “Corporate whore.” “Lowest common denominator.” “A soulless piece of shit for the masses.” None of these comments are mine: they’re all made by snot-nosed little brats — usually indie — who think that they have gaming and the definition of a “real game developer” sussed out. For some reason, they believe that casual game developers are a bunch of heartless pricks who want nothing more than to churn out crap for bucketloads of money. Yeah, sure, that happens. But nobody likes to acknowledge the concept of a good casual game. And it’s a real shame, because casual devs are some of the most experienced and talented blokes in the industry today. In fact, I think NOW is the time to call the “jealousy card” and tell these naysayers to grow the hell up already.
Q. I agree with you … if not in such strong terms. But are things really like this? I mean, I don’t see that much hatred myself.
AJ. Oh, not everybody hates it. But I’m damn sure that a lot of “core” people harbour quiet disdain for the industry, or at least look at it as beneath them somehow. Hey, you know who’s awesome and actually makes a lot of sense? James Portnow. In fact, he has a great writeup on Gamasutra about this stupid little divide.
Q. But does said divide actually hurt people? I mean, you know, there’s dicks and all. But for the most part, we just get on with our thing and they with theirs?
AJ. Then welcoming to an atrophied industry, asshole. READ that piece I just gave you. The divide isn’t just getting people worked up: it’s watering down our capabilities. Cores think that they can suss out things like innovative concepts, player-friendly gaming, difficulty progression and, hey, POLISH. But they don’t have shit on the masters of casual gaming. In fact, they should just climb into a hole and cry themselves to sleep knowing that they’re inherently rejecting the advice and experience of some of the world’s best developers, all because they’re too damn proud.
AJ. JUST READ THE DAMN PIECE. Sheesh. James Portnow’s opinion, in this case, is freaking gospel. He says far more on the matter than I could ever convey. Here’s a quote I like: “We’ve seen how successful crossover hybrids can be (Puzzle Quest, Portal), and we’ve frequently acknowledged that we often have a hard time including puzzles in our games without them seeming forced or hackneyed. There are people out there who have already spent 10,000 hours thinking about these problems.” Q.E.D., bitch.
Q. So, any final words for our viewers?
AJ. Yeah. You’re all idiots and I’m tired of this conversation. So, like, cheers.
Q. Er, thanks. Dev.Mag signing off.
AJ. Are you always that cheesy?
I love Angry Joe, I want to marry him and have angry, angry children!
One day some famous psychologist is going to research the therapeutic effects of writing an article like this. Because I’m sure there are therapeutic effects.