Published on May 27th, 2012 | by rowsdower2
On Subjectivity, Best Games Ever, and “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Katamari Damacy”.
I first became familiar with the idea of “video games as art” in high school. The context was pretty simple: Roger Ebert said that video games aren’t art (because someone asked him about that instead of movies, I guess) and some people on The Internet got mad at him for that. I think that’s pretty much where the issue is now, except now the Smithsonian’s holding exhibitions of video game art and it’s way less cool to make fun of Roger Ebert, what with his failing health and that real lame-o new At The Movies PBS is putting out now.
Thinking about it, I have no problem with defining video games as art, mainly because it’s almost impossible to define what art actually is. Under the “anything that the artist says is art is art, like this urinal that I just signed, or this Piss Christ that I keep in my trunk for emergencies” definition, video games are art so long as someone includes. And a more specific definition that includes film or narrative as art seems like it would have room for video games as well.
What this acceptance of the artistic worldview means, however, is that there can no longer a single Best Game Ever for everyone. Let me present a series of propositions:
-Evaluating art is half an evaluation of technical skill, and half a matter of taste. However, judgments about quality are difficult to make across genres.
-Taste is more or less subjective. When talking about games or other pieces of media that are in the same genre or series, there can be “accurate” and “less accurate” opinions (i.e. “Bulletstorm is a more atmospheric and horrific game than Bioshock”, or “The new At The Movies is better than the original Siskel and Ebert program”), but most video games of a generally agreed upon high quality (Good Games) are of a sufficiently technically refined nature, i.e. not super buggy.
I can argue (and you might agree) that Star Fox 64 is a better game than Star Fox: Assault, because you don’t have to get out of the Arwing and deal with awkward first-person segments in Star Fox 64. Comparing games within the same series or same genre to determine which one is the “best” works well within that clearly delineated area.
However, what if we’re comparing Star Fox 64 and, say, Katamari Damacy? There aren’t really any points of commonality between those two games: one’s a series of desperate missions to save the entire galaxy from a dangerous threat, and the other one’s Star Fox. The gameplay, art style, music—there’s almost nothing alike between these two games. Therefore, there’s little to say when comparing the two.
One could say, for example, that Star Fox provides a better action-themed space rail shooter. We should all hope so. But why is that objectively “better” than the experience Katamari Damacy provides?
-Therefore, there is little to no way to distinguish between which Good Game is better than any other Good Game.
Look at every time GameFAQs (always a reputable website) does one of their “Best Game Ever” or “Best Character” polls. The results always seem to come down to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time versus Final Fantasy VII, or Link versus Cloud Strife. Both games are from roughly the same time (late 90s), both are parts of long-established series, and both have similar graphics. However, both games (so I understand; never played FFVII, but it has something to do with dudes who have this one giant wing swinging big swords at each other and betting on ostrich races or something, right?) are in radically different genres and play very differently.
But is it possible to argue that one game is better without referring to personal preferences (for an RPG over an action-adventure title, that one story, franchise or console is somehow superior to the other)?
-Therefore, picking a “best” video game is, in theory, down to personal preference and taste. Each person has their own “best game ever.”
In theory, there is no single Best Game Ever that can be applied to the entire gaming community. In fact, each person may have a few different personal Best Games Ever, depending on what criteria said person is using to evaluate their games.
For me personally, Fallout: New Vegas is the conventionally “best” game that I’ve recently played. The story, the characters, the combat, and the world are all interesting and well-made, even if the game bugs out or crashes a bit more often than it really should. However, Rockstar’s Bully is the most emotionally involving game that I’ve recently played. For some reason, all of Jimmy Hopkins’ misadventures were affecting on a level that F:NV wasn’t, maybe because it reminds me a lot of a non-magical Harry Potter, maybe it’s my strange fondness for small New England towns, or maybe it’s because I know a guy who looks eerily like Jimmy Hopkins and was just reminded of him the entire time I played the game. At the same time, Katamari Damacy, a “crap-ball” (to paraphrase my mother) rolling simulator par excellence, is maybe the most creative game I can remember playing. There’s nothing else like it, besides the other Katamari games, and the soundtrack has this way of burrowing into your brain. To this day, if someone says “Na, na na na na na na”, I’ll finish it with “Katamari Damacy”. That happens more than you might think. Trust me.
So, which of these three games is the Best Game Ever? They all are. New Vegas has the best gameplay, Bully is the most touching, and Katamari Damacy is maybe the most memorable. What I would argue is that, much like with art, speaking about a single best game or best single piece of art for all gamers is not particularly accurate. Instead, I would argue that each person has their own set of Best Games Ever, and that there are different reasons for why those games are there personal favorites.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still need to finish Lonesome Road. And then mod Bullworth Academy and The King of All Cosmos into the Mojave Wasteland.