Can A Computer Make You Cry?
In the summer of 1983 the question was posed by Electronic Arts… “Can a computer make you cry?” and while they weren’t exactly posing a query about video games, they were asking one of the most important questions of our time, and it‘s a question whose answer is dependent upon us, the users, not just in the way we use computers, but in the way we view them. Computers play a sacred role in our society, and we owe it to ourselves to seek only to use computers to advance our cultural understanding, as opposed to perpetuating the more unsavory aspects of our culture.
With the birth of video games came the birth of a new way of experiencing the world. We could participate. We could play games on television instead of watching them, and with advancements in computer technology came advancements in our capacity to write video games. In around the early 1980’s we were given the ability to participate in adventures that we’d only heard about, read about, dreamed about, or watched on television or in the theater, and in the beginning, our society truly embraced the new possibilities. New adventures were written in vivid color not before experienced. We could fly on ostriches, we could explore the jungle, and we could even re-live our favorite blockbuster films… which became the problem.
E.T. was such a commercial and artistic failure that crates of unsold copies of the games were burned in a landfill in New Mexico, and is often cited as a catalyst for Atari’s collapse in 1983; which led to the end of Americas love affair with video games; which took a savvy mustachioed plumber to re-ignite. ET the game was a classic example of art being stifled in the pursuit of profit. Atari was given the rights to the game in July of 1983, and set the deadline for September 1st, 1983 so that it could be mass produced in time for the Christmas shopping season. Masterpieces usually take longer than a month to incubate, and this game just completely failed, in all connotations of the word. Atari had banked on brand loyalty and the game’s connection to a commercially popular motion picture, and had forsaken the artistic expression and, honestly, quality; the failure of ET the game shows that when presented with truly underwhelming work, gamers will reject poor workmanship. This doesn’t just prove people don’t like shitty games, it proves that games exist for more than just entertainment.
It’s terrifying, the place we find ourselves. I’m frightened because game developers have evolved, but game players have devolved. We’ve mistaken advancement in graphical and computing capacity for advancement in artistic capacity, and in many instances gamers have simply forgotten the power of video games to tell a story. People prefer to play multiplayer games and take pleasure in the simulated killing of kids trolling and berating them, and while there’s nothing wrong with that every now and again, it’s the overindulgence in mindless, meaningless, cultureless gameplay that can perpetuate the devolution of the perception of video games. Art is not about doing something that no one can do. Monet is not a revered artist because he could sort of paint a picture of a kid on a hobby horse, Monet is revered because he can make you feel what he felt as he observed his son, and we owe the same sort of reverence to truly innovative storytellers and artists of our time. Those artists are programmers, and their medium is the computer.
The most disgustingly cliché phrase that is applicable to the preceding rant is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” It truly is, and we have the power to influence how video games are viewed. If we demand art, if we demand to be spoken to, not just at, if we demand art, we will play art, but if we take what is given to us, we will simply be playing games. It is this fact, coupled with my empirical understanding of society, that causes me to lament, and I suppose in that sense, a computer can make you cry.
- What If A Video Game Was Poetry? [Video] (kotaku.com)
- In danger of being an also-ran, Atari names a new CEO (venturebeat.com)
- The Evolution of the Computer Video Card (brighthub.com)
- Tron Deadly Discs a Great Game on Atari 2600 (quazen.com)
- Can Video Games Make ADD Worse? (everydayhealth.com)