Entering the Genre Wars

With thanks to John Thynne for his recent mail:

“It strikes me that games like Insurgency and America’s Army are still shoot-em-ups even if their story line has a current affairs theme.”

It’s true – the most successful games out there are shoot-em-ups, serious game or not. Half-Life and the Halo series spring to mind. Amerca’s Army too, of course. With over 40 million copies distributed, it’s probably the most popular serious video game ever released. Many games are popular precisely because they capitalize on their players’ tribal-primate urge to kill and win (like football, but let’s stick to the video game point here).

In my mind, this doesn’t impinge on the ability of video games to convey journalism. I happen to like Halo and Half-Life 2. Fortunately for all of us, though, there are many hundreds of games out there that aren’t shoot-em-ups – including many successful ones.

Let’s look at movies. No one doubts the ability of film to convey sophisticated journalism. But there are plenty of vapid movies out there, too. The most successful movies ever made are various iterations of the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and Titanic. It doesn’t mean that all movies should be about swahbuckling wizards romancing posh ladies on sinking ships. And it doesn’t mean that movies like The Fog of War and Darwin’s Nightmare don’t get made. Thank God for that.

Games can be made in all sorts of ways, not just shooters. The links column to the right of this post has a few good examples.

Documentary film and television still gets made, even though most of the stuff we see on screen involves superstars fighting and falling in love. And documentary games have a place in the market in exactly the same way.

5 thoughts on “Entering the Genre Wars

  1. Hi Philip – nice blog. I’m not sure football is popular simply because of an primeval urge to kill and win, sure that likely plays a part but for me it rather simplifies things.

    Ok Wayne Rooney – yep on the surface that English bulldog psyche would appear to be purely driven by hunter/gatherer instincts.

    Ronadhino/Pele/Cryuff – nope don’t see it some how.

    Let’s take the great Johann Cryuff for instance his style of play bordered on the visionary, time and space and movement and vision combined.

    David Winner in his excellent book ‘A Brilliant Orange: the Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football’ links the style of play of Cryuff and his contemporaries to the amount of flatland space in and around most Dutch towns and cities. These players used space like no other team, colleagues frequently positioning themselves unmarked and in a lot of space.

    In the Dutch example the real drive wasn’t about killing and winning, or hunting and gathering, it was more about recreating their own environment and painting a picture with the beautiful game. Results would support this theory, this Dutch team (as with later ones) invariably capitulating at or towards the final hurdle whilst still deriving great pleasure and held in very high esteem today.

    Brazil – the samba, the beach, tricks and flair. Again a different culture greatly influencing the attitude towards play. Individual expression valued higher than winning, yet somehow they always won the World Cup regardless.

    Back to Rooney, did you see his link up play with (the Argentinian) Tevez and subsequent goal the other week, the actual goal was imho secondary to the combined movement and passing. Perhaps the Argentines diiferent approach rubbed off on our very own bulldog?

    My team Queens Park Rangers have recently appointed an Italian manager, the football has indisputably improved, but results haven’t. The supporters forums on the net are awash with debate, some want to kill and win via playing English style rough and tumble (win at all costs), some have patience and realise the football is improving but except with so many loan players and poor players it will take time – their happy with watching pretty football for now (would like to win), others go so far as to prefer watching decent football and drawing or losing to winning playing ‘ugly’ football (winning is a bonus).

    Football – it’s about winning, running, identity, expression and so much more.

  2. I’m the first to agree that football is about more than killing and winning. It’s far more complex than that. One could equally say that Halo and Half-Life are about more than killing and winning. And one would be right.

    I was just pointing to the fact that team sports as a cultural phenomenon – football, hockey, soccer, whatever – offer people (usually young males) the opportunity to get together into quasi-tribal groups and direct hostility at the ‘enemy’ – the other team. Going to a game – as a partipant or a spectator – is a culturally accepted way of bringing together a gang of men, getting your adrenaline up, shouting your head off, jumping/running around a lot and venting aggression. Football hooliganism is the most extreme example of this. Usually these sort of aggressive tendencies are repressed. It’s a good thing there are ways of getting it out. And for all its many facets, this is one aspect that I see in sport.

    Though that picture was just a digression from video games . . . 🙂

  3. Yep I did digress somewhat!

    If your interested in the whole quasi-tribal thing behind football I’d recommend two books:

    Football Hooligans: Knowing the Score (Explorations in Anthropology) – Gary Armstrong.
    A Sheffield Utd supporter who spent ten years with the Blades Business Crew (BBC!)and makes some very interesting observations.

    Perry Boys – Ian Hough
    The authors quite clearly insane but he documents a youth cult/fashion birth and transistion in eloquent prose, and for anyone who’s ever wondered what was or is the whole casual football fan phenonomen about this books provides some suggestions. Londoners might disagree with the North West bias, Soul Boys (London’s equivalent of the Perrys and Scallies) were around town from at least 1980 onwards – myself and my Punk friends spent half our teens running from them!

    But enough digression, let’s see if I can contribute a comment on topic!

  4. I am not insane, I am merely a little, er, different from most football hooligans, and as for the Soul Boys and the Scallies, I suggest you look at the names of these chaps. Soul Boys. Scallies. Do those monikers tell you anything? Didn’t think so. Now, to the Manc tribe of the EARLY 70s – Perry Boys. Anything? Indeed – they were the very first to be defined by a designer logo. Now put that, along with the finest brain-masher you can find, in yer pipe, an’ smoke it, lad! An’ that’s that…

  5. OK, guys – my apologies, but isn’t this all a little beside the point? Entering the Genre Wars is about the potential of video games to convey sophisticated editorial messages. The mention of football in this post was a purely incidental, carelessly inserted, throwaway aside. When it comes to sports – I’m Canadian. I like hockey. (That’s the one you play on ice, not lawn hockey like they do it in the UK.) I’m afraid you’ll have to go to Ian’s blog if you want to talk football – looks like he knows what he’s on about.

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