[Column] Gamers Never Rejected “Art Games”

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Let me just start by saying that I hate the premise of this article. Not because of the ideas within, but as a gamer who has spent the better part of the past ten years, if longer, trying to make the argument that video games are indeed art, when not pushing against the idea that they make people violent.

So if we, as gamers, argue that all games are art, it leads to an important question: What does that make an “art game?” Ask around and you’ll likely hear a pretty consistent answer: A game with no combat, minimal interactivity, created by an independent art house developer trying to convey a personal message/experience. If I had my way, ‘art game’ would be a redundant term, but I can’t always have my way.

If you haven’t realized by now, this is mostly set around the recent failure of Tale of Tales and their game Sunset. I’m well aware of the developer’s response and demonization of the industry, gamers, and capitalism, and their overall attitude following their departure from the gaming scene. I touch on that near the end.

One idea I’ve seen pushed by the supporters of Sunset is that its failure is proof that the gaming industry needs to “grow up” and “mature” to join the other mediums, a fallacy if I’ve ever seen one. What other mediums? Television? Where the highest rated cable shows for 2014 were Game of Thrones, Major Crimes, sports, Nascar, and reality shows? Or film, where eight of the top ten grossing films of last year were riddled with sex and violence? Or perhaps in novels, where the best-selling list is dominated by the likes of 50 Shades, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and Bill O’Reilly?

If you want to put gaming on the same pedestal as other mediums of art, it holds up pretty well. Even the artistic side of gaming matches up against the other genres. A few big successes, a bunch of smaller successes, and a whole lot of failures. The industry is saturated on all levels, and there isn’t enough consumer time and money to go around when just about anyone can release a game and hundreds of new titles add to the clutter on Steam on a weekly basis.

But the thing about Sunset is that the more we try to rationalize why the game failed, the closer we should be getting to the realization that sometimes success or failure can’t be explained. Sunset was focus tested, marketed to specific groups, and at the end of the day it sold 4,000 copies and knocked its developer out of the gaming industry. Sometimes you can do everything right and still wind up failing. The game was never going to sell millions of copies and I doubt that Tale of Tales expected it to.

To say that games like Sunset have no place in the genre is a farce, full of condescension from the gamers claiming to speak for the market and from those on the outside talking down to the community like we’re all a bunch of uncultured morons. The idea that a walking simulator is doomed to failure doesn’t hold water in a reality where games like Gone Home, Dear Esther, and Ether One have made a comfortable place for themselves. The industry is massive, it outperforms Hollywood, and as with film the people who call themselves gamers aren’t a hive mind that agree on everything (and often don’t seem to agree on anything).

If the gaming industry was truly populated by dullards banging controllers, we wouldn’t see unconventional titles that manage to grab hold and survive despite the hailstorm of “I don’t know what people see in this.” Games like Papers Please, The Stanley Parable, Brothers: Tale of Two Sons, and Gone Home attract substantial audiences and loyal followings. The horror genre has seen an entire subsection of games built on the idea of not being able to fight back (Amnesia, Alien: Isolation, Outlast, etc), and Telltale has managed to grow an empire on the strategy of episodic gaming and powerful narratives that make us feel our feels.

The evidence of diversity in the gaming community is no more obvious than when you consider that the anti-indie sentiment has been able to grow alongside animosity towards AAA developers. More and more, people turn toward the indie community as a source of content that is deemed too risky or not profitable enough for big publishers who seem all too concerned with making the same low risk cookie cutter games year after year. People are getting tired of AAA gaming pushing out titles at premium prices with content slashed to sell at a later date, for a title that despite its massive budget can’t even make it out the door without game breaking issues.

On the other hand, people are getting really sick of the shenanigans coming from the indie development scene, between the unprofessional behavior of certain developers either trolling, constantly arguing, or throwing temper tantrums whenever someone responds negatively to their game, to the entitled reaction from other developers and their blogger friends when their games fail in the market. People who think that consumers have an obligation to throw money at them because they made a thing, and inevitably when the game fails the blame is put on the market, with the implied or explicit reason being that gamers are too uncultured/stupid to know what they want.

One of the earliest popular Youtube videos was from a vlogger Chris Crocker going on a rant about people criticizing Britney Spears, culminating to one point in the video where he says “you’re lucky she even performs for you bastards.” This is a mentality that I see a lot in gaming, both in the indie and AAA field from producers and customers. That we, the consumer, should just shut up, pay up, and be grateful that we get anything at all, and just be happy that the content creators are willing to grace us with their presence and work.

To say that Sunset failed because its genre has no place in the industry is inaccurate, as is saying that it failed because gamers don’t support indie devs. At the end of the day, it didn’t sell, but its failure isn’t indicative of a greater problem in the industry, it shouldn’t have PC gamers worried as some publications have stated, and it shouldn’t put off other people who might be interested in trying their hand in creating products. It didn’t sell and the blame definitely doesn’t fall on the consumer.

Otherwise I have no opinion on the subject.

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