Spot the Unsupported Generalizations

Older games, like Super Mario, punish improvisation: you live or die according to their algebra alone. … Most video-game worlds, however well conceived, are essenceless. … Video-game characters tend to be emptily iconic. … something that few video-game characters had yet managed to be: disappointedly adult. … twilight—a lighting condition prized by cinematographers but comparatively neglected in video games. … Until very recently, almost no literature was devoted to game design, and what there was tended to be quickly made obsolete by the speed of technological developments.

—Tom Bissell, The Grammar of Fun, The New Yorker, Nov. 3, 2008

I understand that this is supposed to be an article about what makes Gears of War interesting, but the way to do that is to talk about what makes it interesting, not to have it chainsaw-bayonet its way through a field of alien-shaped straw men. The history of the theory and practice of video-game design is much, much richer than the reader of this article would be led to believe. For shame, New Yorker, for shame.

I just read this article (I’m a little behind in my subscription). It also annoyed me. The author says that he’s a twenty-year veteran of video games, but the more I read his argument the more out of touch he seemed. My biggest beef was the article’s assumption that Gears of War is a paradigm-shattering game. I think Gears is very, very good, but it doesn’t break ground in the way that Doom, Half-Life, or any number of other games did — and that’s just in the FPS genre. More important, I don’t think that anybody in the gaming audience thinks that Gears is an industry-changer. And yet the average non-gaming New Yorker reader will now think that it is.