Podcast this weekend
Brainy Gamer Podcast - Episode 3

NY Times Op-Ed column on...video games

Newspaper_3 The Gray Lady has spoken, and video games are apparently sufficiently interesting to merit op-ed column space. I suppose we could derisively dismiss this with a sardonic "it's about damn time." But instead I'll simply observe that traditional media outlets like the New York Times are rarely first to the fire when it comes to emergent culture, and there's no reason to expect video games to be treated any differently...even if they've been around for over 30 years.

In a piece called The Play's the Thing, op-ed contributor Daniel Radosh writes that if video games are ever to reach the level of artistry and narrative sophistication of the cinema:

...games will need to embrace the dynamics of failure, tragedy, comedy and romance. They will need to stop pandering to the player’s desire for mastery in favor of enhancing the player’s emotional and intellectual life.

Appropriating the language of cinema has made games successful as entertainment. The best video games are more inventive, exciting and rewarding than most summer action movies...But “Transformers” is not what we have in mind when we talk about the art of cinema. Film achieves its artistic potential by offering experiences that are emotionally and aesthetically profound — stories that resonate deep inside us, reveal truths about humanity, and alter our perception of the world. It’s hard to think of a single video game that can match the artistic accomplishments of the most mediocre Oscar bait.

I find it difficult to argue with Radosh's prescription, but I'm even more drawn by a related statement he makes on his blog:

Here's what's wrong with the MSM [mainstream media]: There's brutal repression in Burma, children without health insurance, and a war against Islamofascism — and the New York Times op-ed page devotes 900 words to Halo 3. Sure, I wrote the damn thing, but where were the grown-ups who should have stopped me?

Hmm. Maybe what we really ought to wonder is: where are the video games that address political repression, poverty, or fascism in a meaningful way? Are they yet to come, or are such subjects beyond the scope of what's possible in a "game"?

Maybe that's an op-ed piece for another day.

Update: Daniel Radosh, author of the NYTimes piece, has commented on this post and provided a useful link to a Times article that addresses my question. Click on "comments" below to read his post and my reply.