Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Arguing some semantics


Adjective:        Amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable: "it was a fun evening".

Halo 4’s Product Description
The Master Chief returns to battle an ancient evil bent on vengeance and annihilation. Shipwrecked on a mysterious world, faced with new enemies and deadly technology, the universe will never be the same. Enlist aboard the UNSC Infinity to experience Halo's original multiplayer and Spartan Ops - episodic fiction-based co-op missions.Key Features·                                 The Reclaimer Saga Begins: Experience the dawn of an epic new Halo adventure, solo or split screen with up to three friends
·                                 Go Beyond the Story: Halo 4's Infinity Multiplayer features a vastly expanded suite of multiplayer modes, weapons, vehicles, armor abilities, a new loadout and Spartan IV player progression system.
·                                 Spartan Ops: Extend your campaign experience in a massive-scale adventure that builds upon the "Halo 4" Campaign. Receive a weekly series of cinematic episodes on Xbox LIVE followed by new game play missions, played solo or cooperatively with up to three friends - effectively delivering two campaign experiences in one game!***
·                                 War Games: Battle the competition in fresh, immersive new game modes and strategies.
·                                 Track your groups, stats and scores on
·                                 Edge-of-your-seat Entertainment: Immerse yourself in Halo 4's graphics, sound and epic game play including a mysterious and deadly new class of enemies**
 Occasionally, I have to wonder if our game writer’s lexicon is gleamed from product descriptions online. I can’t help but cringe every time I hear a critic un-ironically say the word “immersive” or “epic” (luckily these terms have finally left our collective vocabulary as writers, apparently content at their place on the back of a box). This is an industry built upon press releases, of course, but I still feel like people like to box in games and their potential to very simple words and meaningless descriptions. For example, I hate it when people say “video games need to be fun”. (Warning: The following blog is going to essentially be me nit-picking about things you might find unimportant.)

What is fun, exactly? Well, “fun” is a word that means different things to different people, and it means nothing at all. When we are talking about games, we seem to be fans of calling everything fun; Resident Evil 2- it’s fun, Call of Duty- it’s fun, Super Mario Galaxy- it’s fun. In reality, though, the reasons we play these games aren’t to experience some nebulous thing called “fun”. Resident Evil 2 is a game you play to be afraid and helpless, or to experience an interesting world through a unique scope. Call of Duty is a game you play to A) experience a single-player experience (as I do) or B) play with others, or a combination thereof. Perhaps the only comparison between both games is that you shoot things. You might play Super Mario Galaxy to explore a world, be challenged with platforming, listen to music- a variety of reasons. But do you really play all three of these games simply “to have fun”? Do these games really live or die by their ability to be “fun”?
  I am not one of those weird pseudo-intellectual people who say “all language is ultimately meaningless, man”. Language does most certainly have a meaning; all of society is built upon the essentials of language and interpersonal communication. This belief, that language is extremely important- and precise language is doubly so, informs how I discuss art and products. Our reasons for being drawn to pieces of art or products are not simple enough to be described in one word.

Currently, I’m playing Bastion on a borrowed iPad. Bastion is an enjoyable game; I find myself enamored with it and I kind of want to play it right now. But is it “fun”? Maybe I could describe it that way. But if I wanted to make you interested in the game, the only way I could would be by explaining what interests or entertains me. Here’s an example: “Bastion has a large amount of interesting ideas that I enjoy exploring. First of all, the combat in the game is very rewarding, the sound effects associated with using the weapons (especially the dueling pistols) and the sound effects associated with fighting enemies train a part of your brain to want to keep playing- and by extension- fighting. I also think the art style of Bastion is clever; I am a big fan of the concept of a beautiful post-apocalypse, that’s why I’m drawn to shows like Adventure Time. The game is extremely eye-catching, all the colors are vibrant and even the littlest details like the color and texture of tiles you walk across is always different and unique.” Could I say “Bastion is fun”? Yes. But it’s more than fun. 

 Finally, I dislike the notion some people have that games “need to be fun” for a similar reason. Saying that a game needs to have a component as nebulous as fun A) devalues different artistic visions and B) gives off the impression that games are essentially toys, made for the enjoyment of kids and weird adults stuck in childhood. I’m tired of games like Journey for being slammed- not because of anything meaningful about what the game is- but because it isn’t “fun”, like action games, stealth games, or sports games. And, as I said earlier, the buzzword “fun” is about as concise and meaningful as “epic” or “engrossing” or “visceral”; it gives the impression of depth with no further explanation. 

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