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Charlie Brooker Tries to Teach Jon Snow How to Play Video Games

TychoCelchuuuTychoCelchuuu ___________PIGEON_________San Diego, CA Registered User regular
Here's the video - watch it first, because it's kind of funny and because it's what this thread is about so what's the point of being here without watching it?

I think this is a really great video for a lot of reasons. Here are some interesting things it made me think about: we can talk about this stuff or maybe talk about other interesting stuff that the video brought to mind for you:

Video Games Have Their Own Language, and it's a Hard Language to Learn
This is the point Charlie was trying to get out throughout half the video, and he kept getting interrupted and never really quite got to explain the entire thought thoroughly. His point, which I agree 100% with, is that unlike something like movies or books, video games aren't the sort of thing everyone is familiar with.

Pressing the "Start" button to skip a cutscene and rotating the camera to see where your character is going and reloading when you're low on ammo and right clicking to bring up a contextual menu and box selecting your units and double jumping and dozens and dozens of other things make up the "language" of video games: you need to play games enough to understand these sorts of things and become at least somewhat conversant in them if you want to successfully experience and enjoy games.

This has, for me, at least three interesting implications:
  1. Games are hard for newcomers and for people of varying abilities, unlike much other art & entertainment: I mean, duh. But it's a really important point. Jon Snow just can't really understand what the fuck games are or why anyone would give a shit about them because it's going to take him half an hour to get the Hulk to pick up LEGO cars.

    Anyone with eyes and ears and an ability to read and speak a language can handle movies, TV, books, radio, and so on, and you don't even need all the senses for all the media (no eyes needed for radio! No ears needed for books!).

    Games, meanwhile, think nothing of requiring you to do stuff that a ton of people really aren't equipped to do. This goes double for people with bad hand-eye coordination, color-blind people, people with various physical disabilities, and so on. Games are making strides in fixing this but to some degree it's unavoidable. Some games are like sports: they're physical activities and if you suck at them or your body can't do certain things, you're just shit out of luck, because you can't really translate something like Quake into a form that someone with terrible reflexes can enjoy. Books, meanwhile, can be printed in Braille or whatever.

    The exceptions here are twine games, I guess, which just ask you to be able to read and click on hyperlinks - nothing special is really needed there. You can use a screen reader if you're blind, too.
  2. The language is new and it is always evolving - do you need a fair degree of fluency if you want to be on the cutting edge? Or is the fluency required elsewhere?: Papers, Please and Cart Life (to pick two examples) make you do things you've never done in a game before. They are just new experiences. So, in one sense, these are examples of games that really go out on a limb and ask you to figure out entirely new paradigms of play, just via your own abilities. So we might take games like these as examples of how harsh games can be - it's not enough just to learn the usual control schemes, because one day you might end up playing a wacky game that forces you to do all new stuff!

    I think the lesson is different, though, because for newcomers to games, Cart Life and Papers, Please probably aren't any harder to learn than any other game (they're probably easier in fact). I think the real lesson here is that it's the more mainstream, traditional games, the Call of Duty Ghosts and the LEGO Avengers Marvel Superheroes whatever, that actually require the fluency, because try as they might to teach you everything from the ground up every time, these games that take place in a broader context of games seem to alway shave in the back their minds the idea that at least some people are already going to know all the controls and be able to do everything.

    Gaming as a form of entertainment is in a weird place where there are some paradigms (like the FPS or the third person action game) that are really tough for certain people to come to grips with but that represent a big chunk of the games that form the "canon," so to speak. The really neat games like Papers, Please and Cart Life, which are on the edges of gaming, don't buy in to these paradigms and to me therefore represent the direction that the medium can grow towards: a place where games aren't slotted into genres but instead are crafted according to the kind of experiences they want to evoke. We'll still have FPS games and action games, just like we have genre movies like sci-fi and action, but stuff like Papers, Please and Cart Life (and dys4ia and Starseed Pilgrim and Surgeon Simulator) doesn't have to represent the fringes forever.
  3. Even fluent people have issues because the learning curve is always there: Charlie couldn't figure out how to get discs out of the PS4! Imagine not being able to figure out how to read a new book because the publisher did something weird with the cover. Games are strange in that they're so intricately linked to the technical side of things that you can get real barriers to entry even for people who know what they are doing. The closest analogy would be something like a board game with difficult rules and a weird setup procedure that you have trouble figuring out, and those things really haven't had much luck becoming mainstream either (how many people do you know who play Axis & Allies?).

    I wonder if the lack of standardization and the requisite technical expertise that attaches to games are always going to hold them back from being as common as movie and books and TV, or whether a generation of kids raised on Minecraft and smartphones will have no problem figuring this stuff out when they grow up and run the world.

Basically, to sum up "video games have their own language," here is a tweet:



This stuff is silly enough to gamers - it's completely baffling and perplexing for non-gamers. There's nothing except hours and hours and hours of experience with video games that is ever going to let you get over confusion about what can and can't be blown up. Video games often don't make sense except to gamers, who have learned to ignore stuff like "that guy looks the same as the guy I killed four minutes ago" or "why can't I jump over this chair?"

Charlie's Not a Fan of Sexism
It was really heartening for me to see Charlie's repeated assertions that women play games, that more women play a lot of the most popular games than men, that Jon's quip that no women play games is sexist, and so on. Gaming needs more people like Charlie, who understand the community's demographics and contest people who are unaware of the demographics, because when we don't have enough people like Charlie, when we have people like the kind who have made up the gaming community since time immemorial and who still inhabit it now, we end up with perfectly reasonable people like Jon Snow saying stuff like "women don't play games" because that's what they've been taught by gamers.

It's our responsibility, as a community, to come to grips with the fact that there are about as many of us who are women as there are who are men, and that the things we do as a community are often pretty rude, dismissive, creepy, and outright hostile to those women, and that doing these things has repercussions not just for gamers who are women but for the way society sees gaming. Nobody will ever take us seriously unless we act like Charlie acts here, and unless we constantly speak up the way Charlie spoke up.

The second (I think) #1reasonwhy thread in got locked and the whole sexism in gaming discussion topic was put on ice for a while, so maybe we shouldn't talk about this in this thread very much.

Games as Play/Fun vs Games as Art
When Jon gets Iron Man to fly, it seems like he has a bit of fun for a moment. Immediately, though, he asks (in fact, almost protests) "what does it mean?" Charlie rightly balks at the question but doesn't get lots of time to explain the reason for the balking. I think it's clear: Jon's expecting the game to be art, to mean something, but Charlie just wants him to see that games can be fun - that games are things you can play. Games are interesting in that unlike books, movies, radio, and so on, they have the capacity to be really, genuinely fun, by virtue of being things that you play. Some games are just fun - Tetris and Pong and so on are basically nothing but fun dicking around. Some games are really great but they aren't fun or not-fun: twine games, some adventure games, something like Dear Esther or Gone Home, hell, maybe even games where you're hypercompetitive (like Starcraft II) are games that we might hesitate to call "fun." Some games are specifically not fun, and although you "play" them in the sense of interacting with them, it certainly doesn't feel like playing - look at Cart Life, for instance. Some games straddle the line uncomfortably and exploit this: Hotline Miami and Spec Ops sometimes make you feel like shit for doing the thing you're also having fun doing.

Most people don't really understand this, though. Gamers tend to want games to be ONLY fun, to be fundamentally fun things. They want reviews to basically tell them if the game is fun (and not read like movie criticism or anything like that - legitimate games criticism as opposed to a product evaluation seems to be something people want kept out of the reviews they read, and people even go so far as to claim they want "objective" reviews where the reviewer's interpretation of the game doesn't enter into it at all). When people criticize games, like when Anita Sarkeesian claims games have issues with their representations of women or when people say Bioshock Infinite is racist or when someone writes a game review talking about what interesting things a game does but neglects to do the whole "graphics good, sound good, replayability is good" thing that people think encompasses all of games, there's backlash, not just against the content but against the idea of treating games as works of art that can be critically evaluated for their message the way that movies and books can be critically evaluated. Gamers will even be overtly hostile to "art" games that are perceived as "not games" because they're not fun (and not supposed to be fun). (See this video and this video, for instance.) I've seen people say as much on these very forums - if it's not fun, it's a bad game, because games should apparently be nothing except fun machines.

On the other side, non-gamers sometimes don't understand that games can be fun. Like I said above, Jon instantly wanted to know what it meant for Iron Man to be flying. And when Charlie talked about Papers, Please, a game that means something, Jon seemed more receptive. Papers, Please is also a little fun (shuffling around the papers, clicking the buttons, and so on feels really tactile and great), but it's barely fun, so it's not the sort of thing that would be great for kids the way Pong is great for kids.
Thoughts?

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