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Mr. Kauz, you're doing it wrong.

After reading through Andrew Kauz's "Videogames and the pursuit of harmless entertainment and all the comments, I came to a very different conclusion than he did, or, in fact, than anyone in the comments seemed to. Andrew offers his view on what kinds of qualities are valued in gaming, and laments how prevalent it is to appeal to the lowest common denominator instead of pushing for something more meaningful or advanced. In a word, (his, in fact) Challenging.

And while I can't really fault him for feeling like that, I think that there were some really accurate comments on the article disagreeing with him. They basically fell into two categories: A) "Entertainment, and indeed, life in general is always full of more shit than substance: it's unreasonable to ask that games be any different." And B) "But, hey, look at (insert game here) and it's message of (blah de blah)."

And they're both right. And Andrew's right. But none of them are talking about the real issue, I think.

There is a disconnect between what was put into a game for us to get, and what we get out of it.

Take, for example, No More Heroes. DTOID ran a series of articles detailing the messages, symbolism, and design choices that the writers saw in the game. ("Analyzing No More Heroes" and "What NMH2 really means) Some people in the comments agreed, saying they'd seen similar ideas. Some were surprised at how much sense it made, and how they'd missed it all. Still others thought that the game didn't have any of that by design, and that the writer was reading too far into it.

Who's right? I don't know. Chances are, only the people behind the game know. But wherever their intent was, the game still got all these different reactions. Is that good? Maybe. There's something to be said about a game, or a movie, or a book, or anything, when each person gets something different out of it. There's also something to be said for having a very direct message that everyone in the audience can understand.

I thought of this when I read a comment on Kauz's piece, discussing the message behind GTA4.

Anthony Noel writes (Large comment, I only took a couple pieces of it):
"But the choice was in doing the mission."

later elaborating:
"Drive a taxi for a living and share a shitty apartment with Roman, barely scrape by, call your friends up on Friday and go get drunk, find a girl in the personnel section, go on a few dates, get laid. Right from the start the game happily says to you, here have a normal life. But if you choose the other path then regardless of Niko's self deluding moralizing about how much he hates violence, he and by extension we as gamers are choosing violence."

Was that the point of GTA4? I always thought those things were more about providing a look at the fact that Niko is, despite all the crazy shit he gets himself into, still just another guy. I took those elements to mean that there's more to the life of the men we remember than just the parts we remember. Ben Franklin had a vast number of purely social experiences. Meaningless, empty days. We all do. And we forget that sometimes. By adding the human element to Niko's story, it becomes a bit easier to relate to.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Rockstar was putting in a subtle challenge to the gamer. And to the society the game comments on.

In either case, at least one of us missed what they were trying to do: the message they wanted to send. And there's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but until games and gamers are connected enough to send the intended message to the majority of the userbase, we can't accurately say how "challenging" games are these days.

Because we simply don't know.
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About Roagerone of us since 2:47 AM on 03.27.2009

I'm a 28 year old guy in Idaho. I've been playing video games as long as I can remember, starting with an old dusty NES, some Mario, and Battletoads. Now, I mostly play on PC, and try to play as many different games as possible unless it involves the letters "RTS" or "MMO." Sorry, Blizzard. Nothing personal.

Collage of some favorite games in no particular order, courtesy of Dtoid's own Dango.