Press Start

I’ll be honest: “Pixel Theater” was not my first choice for a blog name, but it was the only one I could think of that wasn’t already taken. (It turns out I’m not the first gaming nerd to start a blog – who knew?) That said, I think it fits what I plan to do here: to present and discuss games as narratives.

Too often, I feel like games are dismissed as kids’ toys, or pointless time-wasters with no artistic value (Angry Birds, I’m looking in your direction). My intent is not to convert non-gamers into gamers or anything like that, but merely to show that games can have a lot more going on than just shootin’ stuff.

Although there’s that, too.

Like all forms of entertainment, video games can be a lot of things. Sure, they can be mindless fun, but they can also be thought-provoking. Melding audio and visual components with interactive technology creates a medium that engages the audience in ways that others can’t. At the same time, they can deliver carefully-crafted stories on par with any film, TV show, novel, etc.

Initially, I was thinking my examples would come mostly from the old school – it’s “Pixel Theater,” after all, not “Polygon Theater.” But when I was thinking about some of the more memorable or poignant scenes in gaming, I realized that many of them are fairly recent. This shouldn’t be too surprising, though, since nowadays games generally employ actual professional writers (and often teams of writers), whereas in the earlier days of gaming this was not typically the case.

Sorry, Q-Bert.

I realize “art” is a loaded word, and that video games have an uphill battle towards mainstream respectability. But this is a fight that all new media have had to face. Comics were considered “low” art, but then Maus won a Pulitzer, and now graphic novels are taught in college classrooms.

I think video games are getting there, though. For one thing, the generation that grew up with them are now increasingly becoming the authorities, so games are less and less the scary new thing that the kids are doing and more and more a legitimate medium for expression.

Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe the freaking Smithsonian.

Y’all better recognize.

Next year they’ll be unveiling an exhibition on the art of the video game, highlighting games from different eras, including narrative-driven games such as Final Fantasy VII, Shadow of the Colossus, Portal, Bioshock, and not one but two games from my beloved classic RPG series Phantasy Star (yes, that’s how it’s spelled). I think this honor will be seen as an important landmark for the medium as a whole.

Finally, I’ll include a warning: talking about game plots is going to be spoiler-riffic by its very nature, so if you see a title that you don’t want to know what happens in, read that entry at your own risk. You’ve been warned.

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2 Responses to “Press Start”

  1. This sounds like it is going to be an awesome blog. I can already tell that your style and personal voice is going to be a welcome addition to the narrative of video games. Video games were my first true love. However, a couple of years ago we had a rough breakup (thanks UMass Dartmouth/300 level courses). My brother and I used to play all the new video games together but although he has remained steadfast in his resolve, I however, I am sad to say, have not. I have missed out on awesome games like Mass Effect, Bioshock, Dead Space, Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands etc etc etc. The list goes on and on. It is very sad. (I have yet to play MWF3…Come to think of it I didn’t even beat Black Ops). And I will probably miss out on Skyrim as well (sigh).

    Oh and Just so you know that I am in fact human and not a fun-hating cyborg, I did beat L.A. Noire and Portal 1 and 2 this summer.

    • I was about to call you a fun-hating cyborg until that last part.

      But yeah, it’s too bad that there are so many great games out there that are just so time-consuming that it’s hard to make that investment as a player. I personally have an embarrassingly large backlog of games that I want to play but haven’t gotten around to yet (including Oblivion, Red Dead, Mass Effect 2, Fallout 3, and on and on… even PS2 games). That’s why as much as I love RPGs, I also appreciate games like Portal and its sequel that offer a great single-player story-driven experience without requiring a huge time investment.

      Bioshock and Dead Space aren’t super-long, though, and like you said, they’re awesome, so I’d recommend checking them out when you can (they’re also dirt-cheap by now, so there’s that).

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