November 12, 2007

Costik gets it

Costikyan grabs Bernstein's challenge by the blade in a review of Kudos Rock Legends.

The single mainstream title that succeeds in addressing this fantasy is a simple beat-matching game with a fancy UI device -- Guitar Hero. It's an excellent game in its own limited purview, to be sure--but its limitations illuminate the intellectual bankruptcy of mainstream games.

Why intellectually bankrupt? Because the fantasy of "being a rock 'n' roll star" has little to nothing to do with the fantasy of playing a guitar; it has to do with having an impact on culture, with a lifestyle of travel and excitement, with rebelling against the conventions of the dreary suburban existence most of us face daily, of being adulated and admired. Yes, you have to work to strum those strings effectively, but that's the craft part; we don't long to be brilliant craftsmen, we long to be stars.

In addition to my habitual harping on these open questions of game theory, I'd like to observe a sidebar: games habitually seem to focus on secondary or irrelevant aspects of familiar genres. We don't want to strum a guitar, we want to be a star. In the same way, war games -- even those patently inspired by war movies -- often focus on the generals, where great war movies are usually about the conflict between subordinate. Think about it: Run Silent, Run Deep. Apocalypse Now. Saving Private Ryan. From Here to Eternity. M*A*S*H. Twelve O'Clock High. I mean, you've got a slew of very different movies here, but they're all about the relationship between commanders and subordinates. You never see that in war games.

Don't miss Costik's wonderful diatribe in the conclusion on self-censorship in the indie game community, here evidenced by the absence of sex and drugs from the rock and roll.