the calm before the storm

So this is just a quick check-in before I am utterly consumed by Skyrim, Saints Row 3, and Assassins Creed Revelations.  And also Modern Warfare 3 and Rayman Origins and even perhaps the Metal Gear HD Collection and Need For Speed: The Run.

1.  I’m kinda scared of Skyrim, to be honest.  Was listening to yesterday’s Bombcast this morning and Brad mentioned that he’d put in 50 hours and had “barely touched the side stuff.”  Now, I’ve got no problem sinking tons of hours into a game – I sunk at least 100 in Oblivion and I’ve approached similar numbers in many Rockstar titles.  But it should be noted that I’ve been binge-gaming of late – I’ve been sick a lot lately and so I’ve been spending more time at home than usual, and as such I’ve been engaged in marathon gaming sessions.  (I blasted through Uncharted 3 in two sittings, and Lord of the Rings: War In the North in one, and LOTR wasn’t very good, either.)  Point being, I’m already predisposed to hunker down with a game for long stretches of time, and if Skyrim is even half as good as Oblivion was, I may not leave the house until the spring.

2.  This has happened a few times recently, I think in both Uncharted 3 and LOTR, where I’ve been in a seemingly endless battle with hordes of enemies, and then more enemies have swarmed the scene, and my player character quips something to the effect of – “Again with this?”  or “Don’t these guys ever quit?”  I think it’s supposed to be funny, or at least some sort of nod from the designers that maybe this is what you, the player, are thinking as well; but it isn’t funny, and if you as the designer decide to mock the player’s frustration with your tedious bullshit by giving them even more tedious bullshit, then that’s basically just you being a dick.

3.  I wasn’t planning on playing Modern Warfare 3, but here it is in my hands.  (Thanks, Amazon, for your goddamned pack-in deals.)  My antipathy towards the franchise is probably a little bit unfair considering that I’ve played most of the campaigns in the franchise, dating back to COD2, and while I don’t particularly care for multiplayer shooters in general, I can’t deny that it’s generally pretty fun, and certainly many millions of people love it.  I think my antipathy is more directed at Activision’s merciless whoring of the franchise, which (to me) appears somehow even more greed-induced than even EA’s relentless shilling of Madden.  I get that this is a business, and the Modern Warfare franchise is among the biggest in that business, and there’s nothing wrong with making money (especially in this economy).  But I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to feeling a tremendous amount of shooter fatigue these days.  I’m playing it mostly just so that I can be part of the larger conversation about it, and yet I suspect that there probably won’t be very much to talk about.

4.  I’ve been thinking a little bit lately about the question of Games being Art.  It’s a question that seemed pretty loud back when “arty” games were coming out (i.e., Braid, Flower, Bioshock), and it’s more or less died down these days (since, well, there’s almost nothing super-popular this year that qualifies).  And I guess I arrived at the conclusion that it’s a totally irrelevant question.  Most games are not striving to be art (as is the case with most popular films and TV and even music).  They are striving to be fun, certainly, and they are striving to be entertaining, obviously, but they are mostly striving to be purchased.  This realization is not particularly profound, I know, but I was somewhat taken aback by the realization that I kinda don’t care.  If a game comes along that truly knocks me on my ass in a deep, profound, metaphysical way, I’ll be all for it.  I’ll appreciate the effort.   But I’m not sure that I’m looking for an artistic experience when I fire up my 360.  Most of the time, I’m looking to escape into the game’s story – or, since most game stories suck, I’m looking to get lost in the moment-to-moment thrill of the game itself.

5.  I know the audience of this blog is small, so this probably won’t make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but I must recommend Tom Bissell’s excellent book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.  For one thing, I’ve played pretty much every game he talks about, so I understood where he was coming from.  But he’s also probably my favorite writer in today’s videogame space; his pieces for Grantland (especially this L.A. Noire essay) are incredibly insightful and knowledgeable and just plain readable, frankly.  I am hoping to emulate his quality here in the future.

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