The Game's Afoot

November 29, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli
Over the years, I have gotten my share of irate e-mails from annoyed devotees who don't think I give video games enough credit. I think at some point, I may have written something along the lines of "this movie has a plot worthy of a video game" - and that was not intended as a compliment. My unenthusiastic review of Doom created a flurry of negative e-mail. Unlike some reviewers, however, I am not ignorant of the lure of video games (although Doom never attracted my attention). So when I write about games, gamers, and gaming, I'm not coming from a perspective of ignorance.

To begin with, Hollywood's track record in adapting video/computer games has been abysmal. With the possible exceptions of Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy, I can't think of a title that was worth the celluloid it consumed. Just as a great novel can be adapted into a bad movie, the same can be true of a great game. What's addictive fun on a console or PC is not necesarily fun in a theater. The problem is, we have yet to have a video game adapatation made by an inspired director who understands both film and games. Eventually, there will be one, and a stake will be driven into the ground. For now, however, the movie/game relationship is primarily a one-way street. Good games are made from good movies, not the other way 'round.

One thing that has disturbed me in perusing the Internet recently is the (unintentionally?) elitist attitude that some critics have toward video gamers. The sentiment seems to be that playing a video game is a waste of time. Instead, one should be enriching one's mind by reading a book, spending an afternoon at an art gallery, or watching a movie. Pardon me while I disagree.

It may be true that the act of playing a video/computer game is inherently wasteful. But there's also a degree of enjoyment and relaxation to be had from the activity, whether it's the simple repetitive action of "Space Invaders" or the complexity of "Civilization IV." One could make the same time wasting argument about watching sports, reading a book, or watching a movie. It depends on your viewpoint. Does spending six hours reading a novel enrich the mind more than spending six hours playing a well-crafted video game? It depends on your perspective. I know people who would be bored watching a Kurosawa film, but are engaged by numerous computer games. These are not unintelligent people, but I can guarantee that, for them, the movie experience is the waste of time. They will get nothing out of it.

I wonder if age plays a part in all of this. Many of the "game bashing" critics tend to be older men and women, and they admit to having little or no experience with playing video games. I'm a firm believer that if you're going to criticize something, you'd better have some experience with it. Older critics (those born before 1955) grew up in the pre-computer, pre-video game era. By the time video games became common household entertainment devices (late 1970s), they were out of college and immersed in other things. Critics from my generation (and younger) grew up with video games. It's part of our culture. So maybe the tendency to criticize video and computer games is the result of a generation gap.

I devote a portion of my leisure time to computer and video games. My preferences are RPGs, strategy games, and puzzle games. I do not believe that the time I have spent playing these games has in any way rotted my mind or inhibited my intelligence. I also read books, write books, see movies, write reviews, and watch sports. All that time wasted... The reality is that I enjoy all of these pastimes. It's possible to argue about the ultimate productivity of engaging in them, but I'm a firm believer that not everything one does has to have a purpose. There's such a thing as fun for fun's sake. I limit the amount of time I spend playing games. I'm not an addict. For me, balance is the key. Some gamers have not learned this lesson (obsession with anything is a bad thing). Unfortunately, the same may not be true of some who attack gamers without really understanding what they are attacking.