James Freetly – Calendar Editor
SPOILER ALERT – Grand Theft Auto IV & Red Dead Redemption
Yes, I’ll admit I have killed my fair share of hookers. But it seems like your lay person thinks that every video game should come with a black cloak, top hat and dark London alley. Really, this activity takes place in primarily one game franchise, Grand Theft Auto, from Rockstar Studios. Now, do bear in mind, this is not an article about whether or not video games are teaching our kids that it’s normal to walk down the street with an AK-47 in both hands and an RPG launcher “just in case,” but it is usually this misconception about video games which deafens ears to any argument on their behalf. In fact, when people try to point to games that could be considered art, they tend to steer the conversation towards beautiful, independently developed games like Braid or Flower. In reality, as is so often the case in normal families, the weird, slightly violent child that no one likes to bring up may be the most artistic.
No doubt you can make a beautiful game, but when I say video games can be art I have a very particular kind of art in mind. Namely, literature. I’m thinking here of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy. Yup. I think video games can be a form of literature (and if I could have convinced the English department of that I would have graduated within my first month of school).
If you’re a classics, philosophy, English or theatre major, or just spend too much time within earshot of these people, then you may know that the Greeks thought the purpose of a tragedy was to teach the audience a moral lesson. You sympathize with the protagonist, see them make a mistake (the kind that anyone could make, and that’s why it’s so scary), and then, because of that mistake, you see the protagonist’s world come crashing down around their ears in such a big way that it will never be the same again. When the dust has settled, you look back and realize that this one mistake came from some flaw in their character (the kind of flaw anyone could have). Moral of the story? Don’t have that moral flaw!
So how does Aristotle tie in with my rampant vehicular man slaughter? Well, beginning, as far as I can tell, with Peter Molyneux’s Black and White, (a game where you had to decide if you wanted to be a benevolent god or throw your followers into volcanoes), video games have offered an element of moral choice, and lately you would be hard pressed to find a game that does not force you to make moral decisions. It’s becoming less of a gimmick and more and more a core part of the medium.
Take for instance, Niko Bellic. Niko has left his wartorn, Eastern European country and illegally made his way to America, enticed by his cousin’s stories of life in his East Coast mansion, only to find that his cousin is in fact only scrapping by as a taxi driver in a city that drinks the sweat of illegal immigrants. And so, Niko, whose past is characterized by war and violence, is quickly sucked into a life of crime. Niko is the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, and Rockstar pulls no punches in making you sympathize with him, having him build relationships, go on dates and answer e-mails from his mother, so when he finds the man responsible for killing many of his friends in the war that haunts his past, and has him at his mercy, it’s a visceral kick when you suddenly find its your finger on the trigger. You decide: kill the man you’ve spent the whole game looking for, or forgive him?
This is what video games offer that make them a distinct form of art, apart from film, theater or prose. They don’t just show you a character making a moral choice. At the crucial moment, they force you to do it, and then, as long as you’re playing the game, live with the consequences. So, am I saying that, rather than teaching you it’s okay to plow over pedestrians and then jump out and rifle through their pockets, Grand Theft Auto could actually teach you something about morality? Yeah, maybe I am.
It might be argued that the fact that the mechanics of many games, including GTA, are such that you can almost only perform violent and illegal actions, makes any moral value relative. We do have to remember, these are the stories of violent people, in the same way that The Iliad is. However, they, like The Iliad, explore virtues of character that extend beyond the world of violence and war.
It is important to make the distinction between art and good art here. While Red Dead Redemption (another one of Rockstar’s) has a beautiful and tragic ending, it is not quite Hamlet. Does this mean that the medium is incapable of producing something on the level of Hamlet? Not at all, but it has yet to happen, and likely won’t until video games gain more ground as a recognized art form (although the Supreme Court and the national Endowment for the Arts have already jumped on board).
And finally, while video games can fall into many categories of literature, from tragedy to speculative science fiction, we have to admit that there are many that are not art, and are just games. I’m looking at you Call of Duty.
Elder Scrolls V: Skryim
by Jacob Lundborg
When I first sat down to write this review I tried to think of a witty and clever way to begin, but then I realized that this is not the time to bandy cheap and hollow words. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim deserves more than that. It is quite simply put, a work of art. Every facet and detail of the game is lovingly and faithfully crafted to create a world of unparalleled beauty and immersion. One could (I know I have) spend hours and hours simply wandering the vast and gorgeous landscapes. Be careful if you do decide to buy this game because it will prove a most ravenous and voracious consumer of your time. In fact I feel obligated to tell you that if you want to do well in your courses this semester do not buy this game until at least J-term (or Play-term as the kids call it these days).
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is set in the magical world of Skyrim. It has a distinct Northern European/Scandinavian feel which appeals to my sense of ancestry and heritage. As a history major, I feel compelled to say that the game is a poor representation of the actual Viking Era, but is an excellent representation of what I wish the Viking Era would have been. With dragons. Now, when it comes to the plot I have to be honest: I haven’t played enough of the main storyline to actually know much about it. From what I’ve gathered the character you play is somehow destined to save the world. This also means that you are really good at killing dragons, which you do quite a bit. The reason I haven’t played much of the main storyline is mostly because the side missions are so enjoyable that I simply haven’t yet gotten around to it.
Now before you all read this glowing review and rush out and buy yourselves a copy of the game, it is important to take my personal biases into account. Truthfully, Skyrim could have been handcrafted just for me. It is literally everything I’ve ever wanted in a game. However, that does not mean that everyone will enjoy it to the same extent that I do. In fact, people who are not fond of sandbox games, or who are frightened by the open freedom to explore everything and anything around them might find this game daunting. As someone who is utterly and completely disgusted and bored with the world we live in I find games with this level of immersion wondrous and liberating. So while Skyrim is the perfect game for me, it might not be right for everyone.
by Ethan Marxhausen – Opinion Editor
That’s a very nice everything you’ve got there…ssssssssssBLAAAAAMMMMM
-The Ubiquitous Creeper
Much has changed since my introduction to Minecraft two-and-a-half years ago, but the basics are the same. First, build a house to keep the zombies out. Then, dig down until you hit a cave. Or don’t, and wander around a randomly generated world until you find a beautiful lake, or a mountain or a village. That’s really all there is to it, but with such a sparse set of rules come mindblowing possibilities.
Notch, the pseudonymous creator of Minecraft, released the first full version of the game for PC and Mac on Nov. 23, 2011, version 1.0.1. Among the many things that made Minecraft unique was the huge number of players who played the game in its beta stage. The simple addition of craftable items and blocks (like seeds, dyes, pistons, clay, minecart tracks and squids, among other at-first-glance unassuming materials) sent gamer forums into spasms as they found ways to exploit these new tools.
For example, a couple rows of lethal cacti, gathered from a desert biome, assembled underneath a floor of collapsing sand can make a formidable zombie trap. Or a biological barbed-wire fence of sorts. You get the idea: throw Minecraft players a bone and they’ll turn it into a full-blown skeleton. (Or they’ll grind it into dust and throw it on their crops for fertilizer. True story.)
Because there is no way to “win” Minecraft, players create their own goals within the game and switch between them as they get bored. Whether it’s building a castle on top of a mountain, swimming out to an island or fighting skeletons in a dark cave, there’s always something else you could be doing.
Minecraft’s exploitability and its constant evolution have made it a gamer’s game for the postmodern crowd fed up with Call of Duty’s tired shtick. It was born and nourished on the internet with the help of Notch—who, by the way, is from Sweden—and his cult of tech-savvy players. Minecraft will be released to a whole new audience when it comes to the Xbox Kinect this December.
There is no good way to summarize everything that can happen in Minecraft—there is just too much. But here is my best effort: Minecraft is hitting square blocks of dirt/stone/gold/pumpkin/lapis lazuli with a pickaxe/stick/shovel/sword/fist and crafting armor/compasses/cakes/TNT/jukeboxes and building castles/log cabins/roller-coasters/bridges/the Starship Enterprise, all the while exploring mountains/crevasses/caverns/volcanoes/islands in the sky and avoiding zombies/creepers/spiders/skeletons/giant floating octopuses that shoot fireballs from their mouths.
So just download from Minecraft.net ($19.99) and play it already.
Oh, and if you hear a hsssssss behind you, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.
Saints Row the Third
by James Freetly – Calendar Editor
Strip down until you’re bare-ass naked, then jump on the back of a fighter jet and do a hand stand on it as it flies thousands of feet above the city. When it finally bucks you, parachute down to the streets, lock eyes with the nearest bystander and then flail them to death with a giant purple dildo. If there are any witnesses around, take care of them with an air strike or a good old fashioned suplex.
Such is Saint’s Row the Third. Basically, take all your preconceived notions about Grand Theft Auto and put them here (after injecting them with a sizable dose of LSD). There are no moral lessons to be learned here. In fact, apart from the 60 bucks you’ll drop on it, it may just cost you a chunk of your immortal soul. Totally worth it.
The developers set out to make a game that was just mindless, over the top fun. During its development it was advertised as the “ultimate guilty pleasure” game. And boy did they succeed. The game is a sandbox crime game, much like GTA, but that’s about where the similarities end. There is no gritty realism here. You’ll do everything from fight clones of giants to befriending a pimp that speaks exclusively through an auto-tuner. The city is alive with color. The character customization is incredibly deep. The gangs you’ll fight are bizarre and diverse. And the weapons you’ll do it with … well, one of the first weapons you get is a satellite-guided missile.
The developers clearly do not want you to have to work to have fun. The only complaints I could direct at this game would be that the campaign is a bit on the short side, taking a little less than 13 hours (that’s including all my narcissistic time spent trying to make my character look just like me), the flying is a little less exhilarating than in the previous game, since you can’t control your acceleration, and that a few of the missions feel like contrived set pieces, rather than something which naturally came out of the sandbox. All in all though, this game is a sex toy killin’, airplane smashin’, face tazerin’ sack o’ fun. If you’re into that sort of thing.