Video Games Need Auteurs, Too

Video games are still estranged from old media in one sense. There’s no culture of stars in video game design and production. Yet.

There should be.

There are a few exceptions, of course; Shigieru Miyamoto and Will Wright, maybe – but their names are still mostly known by fanboys. Everyone knows who Super Mario is, but few people know that Miyamoto created him.

Huge numbers of people played Halo 3 and Grand Theft auto, too, but few know who made them, either. People know the companies, yes. Halo? That’s Bungie. GTA4? Rockstar!

But that’s because when you pop the DVD in your console drive, a honking big logo animation pops up. It’s like the 20th Century Fox fanfare at the beginning of Star Wars. Hard to avoid.

Try this: who made Titanic? Lord of the Rings? Apocalypse Now? The Godfather?

I’ll bet you knew most of those.

But Grand Theft Auto 4 was easily as significant a cultural event as Titanic. People love it, spent hours -days!-playing it. The same can be said of other games. Call of Duty 4 matched it in impact and acclaim, and it’s a masterpiece of game design. The buzz surrounding the release of the sequel is as big as that for many movies.

But who’s making it? We don’t know. Oh, their names are out there – you’ll find them with a single google search, to be sure. But game designers aren’t bandied about by PR departments like film directors are. Wham the next Coen Brothers movie comes out, it’ll be impossible to avoid knowing that they’re behind it.

I think games designers should be treated the same way. Their names need to be on the posters, on the front of the packages, right on the banner ads online.

Of course, as a recognition of what they’ve achieved.

But also for the rest of us, because having those names up there is a sign that the experience on that disk has meaning and value; that it was crafted and designed by dedicated people to give us, the players, a unique experience.

Beacuse if I start seeing those names, as a game player (and most of us are game players these days), then I’ll feel like the game experience has more value. I’ll humanize the experience. All creative arts are about communication, and games are no different. Knowing who designed the experience I’m having means I’ll relate to it better. I’ll enjoy it on a personal, as well as a visceral, level.

And (you listening, games companies?) I’ll probably buy more games if I can build up a relationship with their auteurs.

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3 thoughts on “Video Games Need Auteurs, Too

  1. Eh… Michel Ancel and… um… Ragnar Tornquist? Not Hideo Kojima.

    It seems worth noting that the development cycle of big budget games almost prohibits auteurs. It is also relevant that when studios have tried to create auteurs to sell games, it often fails miserably, a la Jade Raymond.

  2. What, exactly, in the development cycle of big budget games prohibits auteurs? Major studio films take years to make, cost millions of dollars, and employ hundreds of people. Most people know that Peter Jackson was at the helm of the movie adaptations of Lord of the Rings, and that was a really involved production. Video game development is just the same.

    As for the Jade Raymond example, I have to say that I was really disappointed in the community’s reaction to her. That backfired because Ubisoft’s publicizing of Raymond somehow felt (rightly or wrongly) inauthentic, and so it fell prey to a puerile 4chan – style flame-war mentality. It’s a shame because that is exactly the sort of thing that gives gaming (and interactivity in general) a bad name.

    In contrast, Boom Blox did pretty well and it was associated with a big name: Steven Spielberg. Genre-wise, the game isn’t exactly what I’d call a ‘Spielberg’ experience – I’d expect more adventure, more epic, less pretty bright colours and physics puzzles. Still. When Spielberg’s name is on a game, you take it seriously.

  3. The big problem with Jade Raymond wasn’t just that they dishonestly hyped her (’cause she’s pretty) – it’s that she managed to make a game about murdering templars in the third crusade repetitive, boring, and non-sensical. Auteurs need to be talented, or you end up with Jason Jones and his confusion-inducing, franchise-spoiling cut scenes.

    As for what in the cycle makes auteurs unlikely in big budget games… how many games and movies have auteurs like peter jackson? The answer is very, very few. Not having one also does not prohibit a game from being good. Fallout 3 and Saint’s Row 2 – two of my favorite games from last year – managed to be great without a brand name producer helming them. Because big-budget affairs require so many people to produce, a studio system is both more likely and more sensible. If individual auteurs emerge to leave their imprint on games through sheer talent and force of personality, so much the better, but they aren’t required for quality products.

    The bottom line seems to be that auteurs occur at a more or less similar rate (though video games do have catching up to do, being a much younger medium), and with a similar degree of quality. For every Jackson there’s a Miyamoto… and for every Micheal Bay there is a John Romero.

    Still, I agree that it does seem like it’s time – based on the size of the industry – for the video game guys to start being famous like the movie guys!

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