Masterpiece indie game designers Superbrothers made a recent foray into trying to understand the video game as media and find out why, despite the massive budgets and even more massive fanbases, Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid are so bad. Well, maybe I'm letting my own feelings on the subject bleed into their explanation, entitled Less Talk More Rock and originally delivered at whatever passes for an independent game developer conference these days.
Most interesting to me is the idea of the less texty, less reality-grounded videogame as somehow more pure than the typical expository Super Famicon-type that supplanted them (referred to as Hyrule games, after the mythical land found in the Legend of Zelda series, which is held up as the texty evil twin of Super Mario Brothers). Superbrothers blames this on committee:
Meanwhile, our modern day Hyrule videogames, well, there's a sadness here isn't there? The sadness is that the man who pioneered all this rock has allowed committees and middle managers and random stakeholders to choke these videogames with needless, often incoherent, and always disruptive talk.
Sometimes there are spaces where the old magic exists, when you are seeing things, hearing things, spotting patterns, flowing through spaces, experiencing moods and locations. But often our experiences are pierced by disruptive, dissonant elements: overlong and condescending tutorials, over-explained idiotic stories and a million other stupidities.
These kinds of things stir our intellect, forcing us to switch gears and pay attention, but what they have to offer generally isn't worthy of our attention. To me these kinds of things are repulsive, evidence of a deficient imagination or a lack of videogame literacy on the part of the creator, or simply evidence of a committee. These things break the spell, they're an invitation to quit, and they exist in 99% of the videogames I've played.
The entire thing is an unintentional recapitulation of Baudrillard's argument about simulacra, even down to how the simulation of the thing that never existed (and here we can firmly put Italian plumbers jumping on evil, walking mushrooms while fighting a giant, evil turtle for the hand of a fair princess, all the while trying to knock coins out of bricks with their heads) is divorced from the simulation of the real, which still exists within the pre-modern power structure despite its hollowness. I wonder if Ico and Super Mario Brothers and the like could be considered the hyperreal. It's all made me pick up a fresh copy of Simulacra and Simulation and try to understand how our mixed system of simulated real things and simulated unreal things interact and affect the way we deal with our (semi?) real lives.
Also, the Superbrothers reference an interview with Jordan Mechner (whose Prince of Persia is about to become a big budget movie, though cast with caucasians and set in a generic, fantasy, polytheistic Persia--the original game was never as captivating as the stark, nearly storyless and emotionless Karateka) that can be found here.