You know… in my spare time I try to think up ways on how to write about games, how to analyse them, all that jazz. But when I hear some things that critics talk about these days… I kind of feel like I got off at the wrong station. Just recently a video by Upper Echelon Gamers (over on Youtube) made me aware of a GDC micro talk done by someone writing for Kotaku. While this talk is pretty short and the topic is something relatively “small” (”Idle Animations As Expressions of Freedom”), some of the phrasing seems to give insight into the mindset of at least this person. I don’t even want to imagine it being popular among current critics. You’ll have to excuse me if some of the following text isn’t the most structured or coherent, I was struggling with putting my reactions to what I was hearing into words and during the write-up I was repeat-listening to parts… and the more I listened to it, the more absurd the whole thing seemed to me. I was honestly trying to figure out if some of this was meant to be a joke, but it didn’t make that impression.
During this talk there are multiple times where the view on video game characters is bordering on seeing them as actual people, not fictional digital figures that have become more elaborate and detailed over the years as hardware limitations have become far less restrictive. I’m not even exaggerating here, one of the very early sentences contains the statement “we need to start treating them like actual people”! Another one is “[snip] they can make these PEOPLE and I mean it these people do things that they do NOT want to do”. To me… this just seems really weird. I do get the argument that in games there are 2 disparate parts present at the same time, the player and the in-game story and these can clash or not always be in sync. But claiming that for example Mario is “a person in a place with weight and validity” on the basis of a skidding animation seems “a bit” of a reach, to say the least. Apparently, these video game characters also WANT FREEDOM, which they thankfully get in cut-scenes and those little idle animations.
The other part is that the talk characterised the player as a tyrant and that players “scare the shit out of” the speaker. Because they apparently “control everything about video game worlds”, which they definitely DO NOT, I mean HELLO? Where does that claim even come from? Sure, inside the possibilities the game supplies, the player can do anything freely, whether it is towards the game’s goal or counter it, but besides that? There are a lot of things not in the player’s control. Sure, there is breaking/glitching games for speed-runs and the like, but I have my doubts that the speaker was even thinking of that anyway.
Honestly, I am struggling to see the benefits of this mindset. Sure, more advanced tech and more sophisticated storytelling / character development in games make characters become more life-like and looking at how well the characters are written etc is beneficial to a review or a critique of a game / parts of a game. But treating them this much like real people in my opinion goes too far into missing/discarding the difference between constructed fantasy and our reality.