I’ve moved my blog to my podcast’s new website! You can now find it at: http://www.tfcpodcast.com/category/waggysblog/.
Thanks to anybody who read it here on Tumblr, and thanks to anybody who keeps reading on the new site!
I’ve moved my blog to my podcast’s new website! You can now find it at: http://www.tfcpodcast.com/category/waggysblog/.
Thanks to anybody who read it here on Tumblr, and thanks to anybody who keeps reading on the new site!
My intent in writing this is pretty self-explanatory – I feel the need to defend BioWare from some recent criticism. Now, I acknowledge that not only is this unnecessary, they don’t need it – BioWare is a highly profitable studio, owned by a huge publisher and their last two games have received massive critical acclaim. That said, gamers seem to be turning on them in droves, I recently saw somebody whose opinion I generally respect say they hope that BioWare developers start jumping ship, and was genuinely surprised. Now, I’ll briefly sum up my argument before I begin in earnest: BioWare is still doing good work, and will most likely continue to do so.
The common criticisms levelled at BioWare stem from Dragon Age II being a disappointment, Mass Effect 3’s ending and The Old Republic not performing as well as expected. I want to identify these criticisms and attempt to rebut them. Whilst it’s obvious that I still personally like BioWare as a studio and enjoy their output I will try and be objective about these criticisms, and acknowledge them when they have merit.
I’ll start with possibly the smallest criticism in terms of what this post is about (BioWare’s reputation) – the performance of The Old Republic. The Old Republic currently has 1.3 million subscribers, down from 1.7 in Febuary . When compared with World of Warcraft’s (which MMOs invariably are) 10 million or so, that is a disappointing figure.
I’ve previously written about TOR in glowing terms, but have since stopped playing and it’s very easy to explain why: after a certain point, questing becomes very a tedious and you eventually give up. The draw of The Old Republic is the story, and it’s good at presenting its narrative. The individuals storylines for each class are well written, there’s ample roleplaying opportunity and the side quests are very well developed. However, there are simply too many side quests on each planet, and the sheer number means that when you come right down to it means they’re all very generic. After a while you start to dread having to visit a new planet because it means more side quests and you end up spending far too long on an individual planet and become very bored.
To improve on this, they need to focus on less but better developed side quests – perhaps between five and seven per planet, making about ten or eleven when coupled with story quests. This would infinitely improve the game and make it much more playable. Whilst this would be less content I think that have less, but better developed side quests would encourage replay ability. I can’t comment on the ability of end game content to keep people playing since I never reached the end game – this does appear to be an area they’re working on though.
This said, let’s bear in mind that 1.3 million is exactly a low number – it’s a pretty solid player base. They obviously have a lot of plans for the game and hopefully as they keep adding content and features, the player base will begin to grow again. So, now that I’ve identified the issues with TOR, suggested possible fixes and expressed the view that things aren’t all that bleak for the fledgling MMO I’d like to move on to the stuff that has done more serious damage to BioWare’s reputation.
Dragon Age II was a huge disappointment. I consider Dragon Age: Origins my favourite game of all time. Not only was the base game incredible, it had solid DLC and a good expansion. Combined with a growing expanding universe of a reasonable quality (the books, written by the series’ lead writer David Gaider are solid fantasy novels) things looked good for the series. Then the sequel was released.
Dragon Age II was a mess, an absolute mess. The gameplay was a watered down version of the previous game that failed to bring in new fans and alienated the old. The level design was generic and repetitive and absolutely no effort was but into encounter design, waves of enemies mindlessly threw themselves at you with increasingly bloated health bars until you became bored. Then there was the story. The first act played like an updated version of the first part of Baldur’s Gate II, the second provided an engaging storyline that deserved its own game, but the third act was a mess. It failed to execute the Mage vs. Templar conflict that had been building through the whole game by railroading the player into a certain path and forcing characters to act in an illogical and ridiculous manner. It was also so ridiculously short you had absolutely no chance to get to care about any of the participants. I will say, however, that the companions were generally as likable and memorable as you would expect from BioWare games (bar Anders) and I’ve played the game repeatedly simply because Varric is so enjoyable.
I cannot defend Dragon Age II. I can defend BioWare thought. The game was obviously rushed, this is easily inferred by the short development time (it came out about eighteen months after Origins) and seemingly confirmed by developer interviews. This takes some of the blame out of BioWare’s hand and places it on corporate higher ups (the grand nemesis in all things of people who aren’t corporate higher ups). Not only that, but it had a lower budget, which explains some of the issues (sadly I can’t confirm this). The good news here is that Dragon Age II performed poorly compared to Origins: Dragon Age II has 2 million sales, Origins has 4 million.  This is good news since this will encourage EA to give it a longer development time and more budget, since it’s proven that it will make more money if they do so and they know they’ll get a return on their investment (at least, this is the conclusion that I draw) and it will also mean a Dragon Age III that’s closer to Origins.
As a fan of the series, I will say that all the information so far revealed on Dragon Age III paints a promising picture of the game and I’m very excited for that. I think it will be a very important game for BioWare – if it’s well liked it will restore a great deal of their reputation, if it’s a failure it may signal dark times for the company. But, returning to defending their reputation, factors outside of the development team’s control led to Dragon Age II’s poor quality, and the future of the franchise looks promising.
And now for the big one, Mass Effect 3’s ending. The final moments of the trilogy absolutely trashed BioWare’s reputation. Vocal fans were all over the internet for months kicking up a storm about how much they hated it, and once BioWare announced DLC to assuage people’s fans they were attacked for caving in.
However, these fans complaining were a vocal minority. Mass Effect 3 sold four million copies . There were not four million threads complaining about the ending on BioWare’s forum. There were not four million signatures on the various petitions trying to get endings changed. The majority of people who purchased the game either didn’t care enough about the ending to complain, or rather liked it (I personally enjoyed it, as I have written about previously).
I am not of course saying that these people’s arguments had absolutely no merit. The ending didn’t provide enough closure, and unless you paid attention throughout the game and picked on several small details a great deal of it didn’t make sense. Free DLC offering closure and detail is an incredibly gracious move.
I’ve defended the ending previous; I enjoyed it very much thematically and thought it was ambitious and interesting. I won’t go into again here in great detail; I’ll simply reiterate a statement I made on a recent podcast: if you thought the ending went against the themes of the series then you didn’t understand the series as well as you think you did.
Mass Effect 3 was also a tremendous improvement in gameplay over the previous game and the story was excellent and was the most successful attempt to date at making your decisions over the course of several games matter (it wasn’t perfect, but it was the benchmark that all series will have to live up to). I think Mass Effect 2 will come to be viewed as the strongest of the series, but whatever you think of the ending Mass Effect 3 was an absolute joy to play for ninety-nine point five per cent of the game.
So, to conclude this section of my argument, Mass Effect 3 was an excellent game with a divisive ending with genuine flaws which has been much maligned by the people who didn’t enjoy it. This is unfair and I personally hope the Mass Effect series continues with new characters, either as a prequel or a sequel set after the Reaper war.
There’s my argument. BioWare are still an excellent studio that produce high quality output and clearly still care about their games. The future looks bright with DLC planned for Mass Effect 3 and a promising future for The Old Republic and Dragon Age. Even if you personally hate BioWare’s recent games you have to acknowledge their history of quality. I hope BioWare’s reputation begins to improve once of again, as they truly don’t deserve all of the hate they’ve received.
 http://www.tomshardware.com/news/star-wars-Old-Republic-Subscriptions-numbers,15573.html accessed 01/06/2012.
 Figures from http://gamrreview.vgchartz.com/ accessed 01/06/2012.
 Figures from http://gamrreview.vgchartz.com/ accessed 01/06/2012.
With the announcement of The Elder Scrolls Online multiplayer the topic of multiplayer in the Elder Scrolls series is suddenly very, very relevant. In the past I’ve always been opposed to the idea of multiplayer in the series, but recently I’ve come around to the idea. Thus, I’d like to share my opinion on how I’d like to have multiplayer implemented in the series.
I’d first like to say before I start in earnest that I’m not interested in the MMO. I’m sure it will be a perfectly good game, I just don’t like MMOs. The only one I’ve gotten into in the last few years is The Old Republic, and only because it’s a sequel to the Knights of the Old Republic games.
I think there should be two types of multiplayer within the series. The first type that I’d like to see is in the style of Fable II. In Fable II you could simply drop into a friend’s game and play in their world. Whilst this was OK, and I do have found memories of running through the Crucible (a sort of gauntlet of monsters) with a friend it had some significant flaws.
The first of which was the camera. You weren’t allowed to stray too far from the person whose world you were in and thus the camera was locked into a very awkward position to keep you both onscreen and keep you together. As an alternative to this, I’d give the guest total freedom of movement, with the caveat that when the host moved to a different cell within the game world (such as entering a building or a dungeon) the guest would be loaded into the new cell with them. I think this would be the best way to handle this kind of multiplayer.
The other issue with Fable II’s multiplayer is that you couldn’t play as your own characters and were limited in your interactions with the host player’s world. If TES were to this kind of multiplayer it couldn’t have these flaws. The first issue is simply enough – just let you use your full character in another player’s world. The second issue is more delicate, and I think that the solution would be to implement multiplayer options for the player so it was up to them how much freedom their guest could have. These options would be simple things like how much of a share of quest rewards to give them and how much interaction they could have with NPCs.
Now that I’ve talked about drop in multiplayer, I’d like to discuss the other type that I’d like to see, which a full world that players share. Sort of like setting up your own server on Minecraft this would be a world that you’re equal partners in and advance in together. This is even more appealing than the drop in multiplayer in my opinion. This would be exactly what it sounds like, where you both start new characters and advance them together. You wouldn’t be bound to each other like in drop in mode though. You could be questing independently across the world. I’d include too ability to fast travel to each other though so that you could go from adventuring alone to adventuring together instantly.
There are two issues with this though. The first is how you access the world. One player with more free time than the other who advances much more quickly, does all the quests and outpaces their partner needs to be avoided, but on the other hand I wouldn’t want to prohibit people from accessing their character. To solve this I’d once again use player options. It would be up to them to determine whether to allow one to play without the other. In a series all about player freedom this is the option that makes the most sense to me. I’d also add in the option to change this option at any point, so if one player loses interest and stops playing the person who shares the world can keep playing their character.
The other issue is narrative in nature. It’s the problem of how to share accolades between the two players. Simply put, you can’t BOTH be the Dragonborn. You can’t both be the Nerevarine. You can’t both share the prison cell that Uriel Septim escapes through. Similarly, you can’t both be Harbinger of the Companions and you can’t both be the Listener. This isn’t true of all factions – Ulfric can name two people Stormblade and Tullius can promote two people to Legate. I think the best option here is to allow players to decide amongst themselves who gets promoted to the top of a faction, with the other taking a second in command spot.
As for the main quest, they would have to rewrite how you enter into it. That’s the only solution I can think of. Maybe provide a different main quest for co-op players, where the designated chosen one dies during the intro sequence and it’s up to them to struggle on without them. This could be an excuse to dramatically increase the length and difficulty of the main quest to compensate for there being two players present in the world.
So those are my thoughts on how I’d like multiplayer to be implemented in future TES games. There are a couple of ways that it could be done and both could be really enjoyable. If anybody has their own take on how they’d like to see multiplayer implemented (if at all) then please tell me, I’d be interested to hear it.
To start this off, I’d like to point out there will spoilers in this post, so be warned.
Mass Effect 3 is probably the best game in the franchise. Everything about it works, the gameplay feels like the natural progression of Mass Effect 2 and the writing is completely successful.
However, there has been a lot of criticism of the ending, which saddens me since there’s so much else in the game that’s worth talking about. However, I feel like I want to weigh in on the subject regardless. Now, I liked the ending, it had an interesting moral dilemma and capped off Shepard’s story perfectly. I was happy with it overall. For the record, I favour the choice to control the Reapers, however in my game I chose to destroy them, a decision I regretted immediately.
I don’t think it’s a valid criticism to whine about it being bittersweet. The whole game is a major galactic war; the game was never going to end with Shepard drinking cocktails on the beach with Garrus whilst the rest of the crew plays volleyball. Was I upset that Shepard died? Certainly, but I was upset to see this character I had shaped over the course of an entire trilogy die. It was tragic, but it wasn’t bad writing. In fact, Mass Effect 3 was the game that made me truly care about Commander Shepard as a character, there was so much room to roleplay him and give him more of a personality, two days on and I’m still mourning this fictional character.
I’m also going to call out the people complaining about being railroaded. That’s nonsensical, the last action the player takes is a huge moral decision that forever alters the galaxy. Similarly I don’t buy into the people who are complaining that they didn’t get to see the results of their decisions. Mass Effect 3’s entire story was dedicated to showing the consequences of your decisions over the previous two games and offers a fairly unique experience to each player. Furthermore, throughout the game it’s made fairly explicit how your decisions turn out, both through the forces you acquire on in the final assault, dialogue, and messages. For example, I know exactly how making peace between the quarians and the geth turned out, since Tali told me. It’s similar with the krogan, I know how curing the genophage turned out through talking with Wrex/Eve, reading the Codex, and looking at my forces in the war room.
I also think that the ending fit thematically, and the nature of the Crucible and the Reapers was foreshadowed throughout the game. There is no deus ex machina, everything that happens once Shepard goes through the Conduit makes perfect sense if you were paying attention.
Now, another common complaint is “What was the Normandy doing flying through space when it was in the battle?” that isn’t a plot hole, in my opinion. I just assumed that Cortez (who was still on Earth) extracted Shepard’s team once Harbinger attacked, and Hackett ordered a withdrawal once the Crucible fired (which, considering the small window of time, explains why the Normandy was still in transit).
The scene at the end between the grandfather and grandson is also complained about. I just assumed that they were on a human colony that got cut off when the relay network was destroyed (I like to think it was Eden Prime or Horizon, that planet above them didn’t look like Earth to me).
I don’t even mind the destruction of the Mass Relays, in all honesty. It just means future games will be on a smaller scale than this trilogy and probably more about rebuilding galactic society.
Overall, the ending is perfectly fine. I think it was profound and deeply affecting. Whilst I was saddened by the ending, it wasn’t in a pissy “the franchise is RUINED FOREVER” way, but in the sense that the series is over, many characters have died and ultimate victory was costly. But I was satisfied in knowing that Shepard’s friends, who I cared about like they were real people made it through and that the Reapers had been stopped. It provoked a greater emotional response than any other game. No work of art has left me as deeply moved as the ending of Mass Effect 3, I’m not ashamed to admit I completely broke down as I watched the Normandy crash land on that unknown planet. So for that reason, I call the ending incredibly successful.
Transformers: Prime is easily the best iteration of the franchise so far, in my opinion. It has everything good about it distilled into one series.
The writing is overall excellent. The stories have obviously been thought up by people who love the franchise, and draw heavily on the mythology of the franchise whilst at the same time presenting it in a way that would be easily accessible to new viewers. Each episode is generally well plotted, well-paced and memorable. The five part series opening and four part ending in particular stand out as being fantastic. The dialogue is also good, and avoids feeling like cheesy kid show dialogue in most cases, and even managed to produce some genuine laughs.
The characters are also incredibly strong. It’s the best Optimus Prime/Megatron so far and my favourite incarnation of each character. Optimus is simply the character everybody loves from the original 80’s cartoon, paired with an awesome back story and great writing. Strong, respectable, wise, calm and at no point rips off people’s faces. I’d be remiss not to mention that Peter Cullen gives a fantastic performance here Megatron is also at his best here. The challenge of Transformers is avoiding making Megatron look like an incompetent fool by the third episode, and this has been done successfully here. He’s genuinely menacing, and whenever he appears he’s able to curb stomp anybody that isn’t Optimus. A huge part of it is the returning Frank Welker who injects much of the menace and intimidation into the character.
The other Transformers stand out as well. The smaller cast allows them to be well developed and coupled with good back stories makes them all excellent characters. The stand out here is probably Arcee, who’s easily the best written and most interesting of the non-Prime/Megatron characters. People often say Transformers is just a glorified advert for the toys and if that’s the case then Prime is a successful one since I want to buy the toys of all of them.
There are also human characters, which is generally a horrible thing, but not here. They don’t have the Shia LaBeouf effect of making you hope that they die swiftly and horribly. In fact they’re all liable, well written and actually competent. The fact that they actually manage to help the Transformers on several occasions is a refreshing change from the series norm.
The CGI animation (reminiscent of the pretty universally loved Beast Wars) is pretty fantastic. The characters models for the Transformers are ridiculously detailed and look incredible. And the fight scenes are fantastic, just fantastic. They pretty thoroughly outdo anything in the movies. Whenever Optimus and Megatron in particular fight it’s incredible.
So there’s Transformers: Prime. If you have even a passing interesting the franchise, watch it.
We all know the Sith, right? The bad guys in pretty much every Star Wars story every. Red lightsabers, lightning and general cackling villainy. But are they really so evil? Well yeah, of course they are, they fucking blew up Alderaan! But should they be? Outside of George Lucas’ archaic insistence on black and white morality, at the core, the heart of their philosophy, the Sith aren’t so bad.
This is the Sith Code:"Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me.”
Alright, let’s analyse this first, “peace is a lie”. This reminds me of the Assassin’s Creed (“Nothing is true, everything is permitted”). It’s also true in a way, peace is a lie - peace never lasts, there is always conflict and war, both internally and externally. This is really just a statement of fact.
"There is only passion". Alright, this isn’t a literal code mind, there is obviously things other than passion. This part merely stresses the importance of passion, drive, enthusiasm, ambition, tell me that isn’t more entertaining than forcing yourself to maintain a veneer of cold detachment (the Jedi way)?
The “only passion” part only really works when taken with the next line “Through passion, I gain strength.” This is pretty obvious, taken with my previous interpretation of what passion means this is simply saying “by applying yourself to something you’re passionate about, you’ll become better at it”.
“Through strength, I gain power.” From here on in the interpretation flows more freely. Through strength, meaning attainment, knowledge anything you want to interpret strength as you gain power, which can be interpreted as success, achievement of goals etc.
“Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken.” I’m taking these two lines together since the first doesn’t require much thought. It’s simply a reinforcement of the idea that by achievement and attainment, you better yourself and your standing. The second line is where things get interesting. This is where the code starts advocating freedom. This is an appealing idea. It means that by achievement you gain freedom and ultimately frees you from the code itself, allowing you to live how you wish.
“The Force shall free me.” A nice, simple round off.
So there’s the Sith Code. It’s fiercely individualistic, advocates ambition and achievement, and promises freedom. But is it evil? No, I do think so, but the Sith’s interpretation of their own code is. Instead of being the passionate, independent, free individuals their code advocates, the Sith are angry, cruel, backstabbing fuckheads.
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the 2011 Waggy awards! Because fuck it, my awards must surely be more preprestigious than the Spike VGAs. So without further ado, let the awards begin:
Best TV Show:
Winner: Game of Thrones.
Yes, Game of Thrones. It was the best thing on TV this year, hands down. As a fan of the books I was apprehensive, but the show was great, and I’m thoroughly excited for the next season.
And no, I haven’t watched Breaking Bad.
Honourable Mentions: How I Met Your Mother.
Best Band/Musician/Singer/etc., Best Album and Best Song:
Winner: Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials, No Light, No Light.
Florence and the Machine are pretty incredible. Their Ceremonials album was great and No Light, No Light from said album has become one of my favourite songs ever.
Best Album Honourable Mentions: Machine Head - Unto the Locust.
Winner: The only book released in 2011 that I read in 2011 was A Dance With Dragons. However, it’s one of the weakest books in the series and took six years to write. So it doesn’t get an award.
Winner: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2.
Yeah, it was actually really good. In fact, on reflection all the films in the series are much better than I gave them credit for at the time.
Honourable Mentions: Rebuild of Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance. The dub was released this year, so it counts.
Winner: CM Punk.
Best in the world!
Game of the Year:
Winner: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Skyrim is incredible, simply incredible. I can’t praise it enough, it’s cemented itself as one of my favourite games of all time.
Honourable Mentions: Star Wars: The Old Republic, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.
So, I just have one thing to say to the winners:
I was excited for The Old Republic. I really was. It’s a sequel to one of my favourite series of all time - Knights of the Old Republic - and made by my favourite game developer of all time - BioWare. I was all set to buy it, but then they released the prequel novel ‘Revan’. It was a travesty, everything I loved about KOTOR was annihilated by one Drew Kapershyn.
So TOR came out and I was fully prepared to ignore it. But, as it happens, it looked so good that I ended up buying it. Thankfully, BioWare have treated Revan well from what I’ve seen so far, and thankfully left KOTOR 2 alone, so I am sated on that front. I still wish to fight Drew Kapershyn to the death, however.
Anyway, my actual impressions of the game are overwhelmingly positive. Yes, this is KOTOR 3 and yes it’s great. I have a couple of gripes I’ve like to get out of the way however.
First, the camera is pretty poor. Often my companion completely obscures my view and prevents me from targeting enemies. Until I learned to work about this my effectiveness was actually compromised because of this. The game cries out for the incredible camera found in Dragon Age: Origins. It truly is the best camera I’ve seen in this type of game (Tactical, party based RPG).
Secondly, the dialogue wheel. I’ve criticised it in every game it’s appeared in, and the problems persist. The paraphrasing is too vague and I often find myself repeating conversations because I’ve ended up saying something I didn’t want to. Why BioWare refuse to implement the simple solution of expanding the dialogue to show the full line when you hover over the option or hold down the corresponding number button is beyond me.
Now onto the positive stuff. I’ve been playing the game like it’s a single player RPG and it’s totally viable. It essentially plays like a BioWare RPG, and I love it for that. However, every time I’ve indulged in the multiplayer aspects it’s been a real joy. Flashpoints are just fantastic and I enjoy partying up to tackle difficult quests. It helps that the community seems to be a fairly good one all around, with people always willing to group up and everybody is generally pleasant on the general chat.
I’m level 16 right now and a fair chunk of the way through the second planet in the Sith Inquisitor storyline (Dromund Kaas, capitol of the Sith Empire). So far, I’ve found a general lack of grinding in the game, with most of my levels coming from the completion of quests.
The quests are generally well designed. Even the fetch quests have fun encounters and generally have well written stories that make them interesting. The quests are nicely spaced out and you unlock more as you progress through the planet. All side quests generally take place in the same area as your main story mission, so there’s no need to backtrack across the map and if you do there’s quick travel and various Star Wars themed modes of transport to make the experience less painful.
The plot is one of BioWare’s best, in my opinion. Each class has their own well written storyline. I can only speak for the Sith Inquisitor, but the plot so far has been really good. Solid characters and solid plotting. I feel loyal to my Sith Master, I hated my trainer on Korriban. The hook of the story is interesting enough that I feel compelled to keep going to see what comes next. I only have one companion thus far, but he’s very good. I find myself deeply intrigued by every interaction between him and my character, and look forward to doing his side missions.
The PC (Player Character) is hands down the best done RPG protagonist of all time. Better than The Courier, better than The Warden and better than Commander Shepard. It’s an elegant blend of the traditional blank slate and the Shepard style of a character that feels more like a person. The PC’s background really helped to shape my character - as a former slave I’m playing him as disrespectful of those that consider themselves above him and with compassion for slaves and people of a low social standing, despite is immersion in Sith culture. That is exactly what a backstory is supposed to do in an RPG.
The reason that Saren the Sith feels like a real person though is the voice acting. The voice actor is great, and some of the sarcastic lines of dialogue have really made me laugh. My brother didn’t mind that I kept winning rolls to speak in the Flashpoint we ran together because my character’s lines were hilarious. That is what makes him feel like an actual person interacting with the world, which is a problem I know a lot of people have with RPG characters, that they feel like personality-less blocks of wood. TOR averts this completely. Saren is as real and fleshed out as any character BioWare wrote, and it’s fantastic. I genuinely hope the Dragon Age team can do the same for Dragon Age III.
*Huge spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2 and Fallout: New Vegas.*
On BBC Radio 4’s today program Ekow Eshun, former director of the UK’s Institute of Contemporary Arts said this “I’d suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us. I think most games don’t get to that place, and it’s important to set that bar quite high.” I would like to take a moment to respond to this.
Firstly, I’m not going to be foolish and state every game I’ve ever played made me ask profound questions, but not did every book I’ve read, every film or TV show I’ve watched, every song I’ve listened to or every painting I’ve seen. But to state that no game does this is ridiculous, and suggests that Ekow Eshun hasn’t been playing the correct games.
For the purposes of my argument I will talk about three games (I discuss more, but I’d prefer to keep this a reasonable length): Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2 and Fallout: New Vegas.
First, Dragon Age: Origins. It’s my favourite game of all time, the setting is well written, fleshed out and fascinating, the characters are deep and complex and I have a damn sight more affection for my favourite Dragon Age characters than I do most people, and the plot is just epic fantasy perfectly done. Furthermore, thee gameplay is the perfect refinement of decades of tactical RPGs, the character customisation is fantastic, not to mention the capacity for some very deep roleplaying.
But, this doesn’t respond to Mr. Eshun’s assertion. At the time I played Dragon Age I was studying lots of moral philosophies, Kant, Aquinas, Mill, that type of thing. One of the games key hooks is a system of choices that affect the outcome of the game. I was able to use these choices, in combination with the ability to create a series of characters with wildly opposing moralities to approach these choices from various different points of view. The game allowed me to explore different moral philosophies in a deeply personal way and because of this I look at the world in a different way (I settled on Utilitarianism as the best way to make moral judgements, if anybody is wondering).
Next I’d like to discuss Mass Effect 2, and one moment in particular. There is a synthetic race of AIs called the Geth. The Geth are advanced enough to be, for al intents and purposes, alive. A portion of the Geth take another race of highly advanced machines known as the Reapers to be their gods. This splinter group (called ‘Heretics’ by the other group known as the ‘True Geth’) have an antagonistic relationship with organic races. In Mass Effect 2 you are given a choice; rewrite their programming so thy no longer worship the Reapers (essentially brainwashing them), or kill them all.
After a lot of introspection I chose to rewrite them. This made me realise something about myself; that I’d rather abandon a set of a beliefs and live than be killed for what I believe in.
Finally, Fallout: New Vegas. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic Mojave Desert, with various small towns scattered around it’s battered highways and the city state of New Vegas in it’s centre. At a certain point in the game your character becomes important enough to be courted by the major factions active in the Mojave, and you have to pick one to support; The New California Republic, the most successful and largest state in post-apocalyptic America, but a corrupt one that is incompetent, Caesar’s Legion, a brutal Romanesque, fascist group who nevertheless bring order the the areas they conquer and the enigmatic owner of the New Vegas Strip, Mr. House, a corrupt and power hungry man who’s robot army can provide security for New Vegas. Or, if none of those appeal, you can simply take over Vegas yourself. My character picked independence, since none of the other groups truly cared about the people of the Mojave and he believed he could do a better job.
But in reflecting on this I thought a lot about governments, nations and how I viewed them. The in game choice between an Independent Vegas and the NCR made me think about how much I valued personal freedom, and the ability to be able to do what I wish without anybody dictating the course of my life. This is what made me gravitate toward the Independent route: the freedom from the controlling forces of the NCR, House and Legion that it represented, which told me a lot about myself.
New Vegas also made me really think about letting go of the past, and whether it’s better to hold on to it it or let go and live your own way, unburdened by expectation and baggage. I came to the conclusion, based on the characters in game who couldn’t let go (one word: Ulysses) that letting go was better.
So there we go, three games that caused me to ask deep questions of society, re-evaluate my beliefs and ideals and I can honestly say changed me as a person. They caused me to ask profound questions about who I am , how I live and the state of the world around me. Therefore, Mr. Ekow Eshun games (or these three at least) don’t just have the potential to be art, but are, in fact, already art.