If you think of games like I do, you might wonder why people ever thought to interpret games in the first place. Games have certain qualities that should make the medium resistant to interpretation, yet it’s done anyway. I went over a few in my last post, which were laid out by Susan Sontag. Games are young, they are mass culture instead of high art, they have “direct address,” and they have a formal vocabulary. Despite these, games are obviously interpreted. In this post, I’ll prove that games conform to Sontag’s criteria for an interpretation-resistant media as well as some other criteria which should help it avoid interpretation even more. After that, I want to explain why games have failed to escape interpretation despite having those qualities.
Recently, Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software wrote a short blog with the ridiculous title “No, Video Games Aren’t Art. We’re BETTER.” The article itself is just about as infantile and pretentious as the title would let on, but I do have sympathy for some of Vogel’s sentiments anyway. The tone of the blog post is exhaustion—Vogel is tired of bickering about whether or not games are art, the apologetic tone many gamers take toward the medium, and the unsightly desperation of pseudo-intellectuals who beg for the medium to be validated by the experts in other artistic media. I sympathize with these points, but Vogel swings too far in the opposite direction and misunderstands art in the process.
When a gaming publication gives a game their highest rating, people sometimes respond by pointing out a flaw in the game, then asking “how can you give the game the highest possible rating?” Part of the answer is practical. A perfect game hasn’t come yet, and it seems unlikely that one ever will. So why not use the full length of the rating scale in the meantime? The other part of the answer is that a perfect game is actually impossible, so the highest rating shouldn’t be reserved for one.