Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reductionisim in Discussions of Games (The Bad Kind)

Reductionism as a method of critical attack is highly popular among message board users, bloggers, and podcasters alike. One common argument I've seen is the use of comparison to an older game as a means to demean the game in question. In other words "your game from 2007 is no different than this game from 1987. And that's bad."

We saw it pretty strong around the release of Call of Duty 4 and it's single-player component. The endless spawn closets, enemies with set positions, and linearity drew claims that the game was no better or different than Hogan's Alley or Point Blank. This, of course, is a valid claim. Much like Call of Duty 4, Point Blank was a game with near-realistic graphics, a diverse arsenel of weapons, vehicle missions, and a fantastic, well acted-storyline that plays on modern issues. Oh, and don't forget the ability to move and take cover. All of these were ripped straight from Point Blank. Right.

Sarcasm aside, I feel like that's where this argument breaks down. The level of reductionism required to say "X game is basically Y game" to the level people have with Call of Duty 4 is not only absurd and a disservice to the game as a whole, it also feels disingenuous. It seems to me that when you go into a game with the mindset of ignoring everything about the game in favor of a straw man comparison, you've gone into it with a vendetta.

Depending on what theory you subscribe to, there are one to thirty-six plots in literature. I think it would be interesting to ask how many and what are the basic game types (plots?), perferably outside the review or discussion of one particular game. Despite all the video game industry has innovated over its many years of existence, it falls to reason that game mechanics are no more complex than literature, and can probably be boiled down in the same way.

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