We’d like to respect this article from Slate, but, we’re sorry, when the thesis is “Isn’t there something better you could be doing?”, any shot at respect goes out the window. Instead it’s replaced with amusement. And mockery!
What’s sad is the snob in question, Michael Thomsen, should know better. He’s been writing about games for years. He should know better than to write a piece like this. And, yet, he wrote it. Let’s have some analysis, shall we?
You can accomplish a lot in 100 hours. You could read “War and Peace”, for instance, then follow it up with “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and a few starter courses in a new language. You could watch “Melancholia” 40 times and still have time to squeeze in a screening of “Shoah”. You could also drive from Los Angeles to New York and back again, or complete 20 weeks of training and then run a marathon. Or, if you preferred, you could also play through the video game “Dark Souls” from start to finish.
Let’s see here: famously thick book, boring movie from a pretentious director, run a marathon, play a video game.
Maybe you should have just opened this article with:
I am really smart! See, I know about smart people things! Video games are stupid people things! I will show you they are stupid people things now!
It’s just, dude, put some effort in. Say “You could watch ‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’ more than thirty times” or “You could read most of Milan Kundera’s fiction several times over” or “you could stage a few Alfred Jarry plays”. If you’re going to look down your nose at a video game, at least avoid the cliches.
In more than twice the time it would take to read Tolstoy’s historical fiction, Dark Souls leaves one’s head overflowing with useless junk like the difference in attack stats between a Great Axe with a fire bonus versus a Great Axe with a divine bonus. These bits of occult nonsense don’t have an internal logic. In one early section, you’ll fight a pair of gargoyles who live perched high up on a bell tower in a castle. These gargoyles, you discover, are especially vulnerable to lightning damage. Why a creature that lives on the medieval equivalent of a lightning rod should be vulnerable to lightning damage is not explained. Every victory in the game is built on a similarly dumbfounding bit of nonlogic.
In fewer than twice the words, I can sum up this paragraph: “I have never played a roleplaying game of any sort.”
The 100-hour game is not a pointless exercise because it’s a game, but only because the relative meaning of its experience is almost always diluted into a thin, tasteless nothing by the time you’ve invested yourself in completing it. Imagine if War and Peace were 5,000 pages instead of 1,400, and imagine if, whenever you came to a word you didn’t understand, a gust of wind appeared and pushed you back five pages, forcing you to reread everything you’d made it through up until that point. How long would you last? And what would be the point in trying?
Uhhhh, actually, that’s how you’re supposed to read a dense, complex book like, oh, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. At least that’s how most people do it. You read a bit, go back and read a part again, compare it to other parts…you did take a philosophy class, right? You understand that you don’t just barrel through a book, you apply critical thinking to it?
When making the case for Dark Souls, almost every defender stumbles into the affective fallacy, wherein the value of a work is tied to the emotions it dredges up from its audience.
Help me out here. If a person really enjoyed a game, and gave it a positive review, they’re applying a logical fallacy by saying they really enjoyed how difficult the game was? I’m kind of lost in how a game review is a logical argument instead of an explanation of whether or not the critic enjoyed the product.
The irony here is that Thomsen’s article is based on a fallacy of its own: that long video games are inherently “low media” because…:
What no one talks about when they praise Dark Souls is what it means—what immemorial questions of human nature its difficulty and disorder evoke. Instead, the game is good because playing makes you feel good, and that goodness is amplified by the recent memory of having been very bad at the game, of taking wrong turns and mistiming attacks against zombies.
In other words, having fun the way a lot of people have fun in other pursuits is bad and wrong. It’s only fun if it makes you think about profound philosophical questions, dammit! But wait!
There is real beauty in Dark Souls. It reveals that life is more suffering than pleasure, more failure than success, and that even the momentary relief of achievement is wiped away by new levels of difficulty. It is also a testament to our persistence in the face of that suffering, and it offers the comfort of a community of other players all stuck in the same hellish quagmire. Those are good qualities. That is art. And you can get all of that from the first five hours of Dark Souls. The remaining 90 or so offer nothing but an increasingly nonsensical variation on that experience.
So basically, you desperately needed to overanalyze the game, and your overanalysis didn’t stand up to a full playthrough.
Everyone who has played a game of this length knows too well the hollowness that waits at the end, brain numb, uncountable weeks and months piled on the trash heap at their backs, and no idea of what to do next. Why did I do that? Why did I keep playing? What was I after? Where am I now? These are questions victims ask, people taken advantage of, left with less than they started out with. The purpose of art is the opposite of this, to leave you with more at the end than at the beginning, to give you something you can carry with you. There’s no reason video games can’t provide that, and many do. But none of them take 100 hours.
That’s a very pretentious way to describe game fatigue.
Look, could gamers be doing something of more value to the world with the time they spend gaming? Yeah, probably. But so what? You can say the same thing about people reading “War and Peace”: why dither with a novel about an event in Russia when there are actual histories written about it you could be reading? Or why are you wasting time reading when you could be down at the soup kitchen, feeding the homeless?
This is where Thomsen’s argument hits a wall, because no matter what you’re doing, its value is always subjective, and has different value to different people. The truth is simply this: we each have a right to do what we want with our life, if it makes us happy and doesn’t hurt anybody else. What we don’t have a right to do is sneer at other people for their choices. That simple.
We are allowed to sneer at their articles, though. That’s totally in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. You must not have read it closely enough. It’s in the back.
Image courtesy Altus