Videogames, politics, science, all the important things in life.

Your Culture Sucks– Gaming Celebrity

Posted by nfinit on April 5, 2010

Something that’s always fascinated me about gaming culture is how it compares and contrasts with cultures built around other forms of media, and how absurd the very concept of “gaming culture” seems to everyone involved.

This strikes me as odd.  Electronic gaming has been around long enough to be taken seriously as a legitimate form of entertainment, and not a simple frivolity for children or an obsession for manchildren who spend their free blogging about the newest injustice imposed upon them by Bioware–

–Okay, maybe I need to roll that back just a little.
What I’m trying to say is that the games industry has been around long enough that we shouldn’t feel obligated to defend being immersed within it.  If we mark the start of the gaming industry with 1971’s Computer Space, the gaming industry has existed for 39 years.  The average video gamer is only 30 years old– that means gaming’s been around longer than most of us have been alive, not to mention far older than our first memories of toddling up to a TV screen and wishing we could control all those lights and sounds.

If we use the first commercial videogame as the industry’s starting point, it’s fair to use 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang as the start of the commercial film industry.  By 1939 the film industry had already built up a respected culture about itself.

Hitchcock was directing classics such as The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Marx Brothers were in full swing, the Academy Awards were well established– Genuine art was being produced and its producers recognized for that art, yet thirtynine years after Nolan Bushnell cobbled together the first arcade machine few people even within gaming culture itself will seriously broach the subject of games as art.

More importantly though, by this time in the film industry there was a well-established and well-respected cinema culture.  Yet here in gaming, the term “gaming culture” brings up little more than Red Bull-fueled night long sessions of Modern Warfare and the constant repetition of the phrase “the cake is a lie”.
So I wanted to spend a few entries exploring gaming culture’s collective self-esteem issue, and perhaps also look at what we do right, and I want to start with what passes for celebrity among gaming intelligentsia.


Gaming celebrity is odd in that few gaming celebs have anything to do with making videogames.  Sure, you get people like Shigeru Miyamoto and Warren Spector and Will Wright, but they are rare, and they are the sort of people who earned celebrity status via reputation– they do nothing but make the very best games possible.  They are akin to Steven Spielberg and Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis– people who earned their celebrity for being very good at what they do, the sort of people who couldn’t avoid celebrity if they tried.
But gaming doesn’t wind up with a lot industry celebrities, and publishers would like to keep it that way.  When development teams can be dispersed at a whim, it’s easier to sell a game based on the reputation of the publisher’s own brand.  The most recent and public example of this would have to be Activision’s dissolution of Infinity Ward and subsequently carving the Modern Warfare license among a handful of unrelated developers.  Will mainstream gamers notice  if Jason West and Vince Zampella were divorced from Modern Warfare 3?  Probably not.

But within gaming celebrity you can go entirely the other direction and get industry-related folks who have managed to  gain a bit of celebrity, albeit not so much through the reputation of their games as much as their blatant media whoring.  Dennis Dyack, for instance, hasn’t made a decent original game since Eternal Darkness back in 2002 (and before that, Blood Omen for the PS1 all the way back in 1996), yet he manages to stay in the news via publically bellyaching about the injustices imposed by the Unreal 3 engine, the injustices imposed by the enthusiast press, and the injustices imposed by NeoGAF.

Personally, I’ve always wanted to look at the back of a game’s box and tell who’s made that particular game.  Not the studio or the publisher, as they’re constantly shifting personnel– I want the production lineage to be as transparent as looking at a movie poster and knowing the director, or looking at a book cover and knowing the writer.  I want to be able to explain to people why it’s important that Ken Levine had nothing to do with Bioshock 2, and to be able to point to the name “Hideki Kamiya” and explain why that name is worth buying the game for.

Wednesday!  Part 2, wherein I bitch at length about Johnathan Wendel.


One Response to “Your Culture Sucks– Gaming Celebrity”

  1. […] a few paragraphs about a game, the games themselves got better to suit that demographic. Still, many people see video games in a state of arrested development, I’m right there with you. For all the […]

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