First Person

First Person
It's Okay To Be Dumb

Dennis C. Scimeca | 4 May 2012 21:00
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Why does it need to be said that videogames are dumb, as journalist Taylor Clark insists? Clark says he wants to "splash some cold water in the face of any intelligent gaming fan who contentedly pays to be treated like a dimwitted child." The assumption is that intelligent gaming fans are being insulted when they are proffered dumb games by developers, they don't know what's best for them, and most disturbingly of all, that they shouldn't be entertained by dumb games.

What I read from Clark's missives on the subject of dumb games is no small measure of shame for the fact that he derives joy from them. "I hesitate even to place a ballpark figure on how many games I've played in recent years, for fear of how it might strike my wife or future editors if they read this..." says Clark. The self-reproach of that statement highlights an issue endemic to nerd culture, which is a fetish for the smart.

It is a fetish I don't understand. Being incessantly smart is lonely and isolating. It makes one difficult to relate to. It almost always leads to some kind of existential angst, all of which seems born out by Clark's assessment of Braid developer Jonathan Blow. And the unavoidably arrogant implication of fetishising the smart is that if you aren't enamored with or seeking it and enjoy the dumb, there's something wrong with you.

It's telling that when Clark pleads with the gaming audience to just admit videogames are dumb, he states we have to look at videogames "objectively" to grasp what he's clutching at, and that his point of view depends on a dispassionate viewing of our games. Who wants to divorce themselves from their passion for videogames? If that's what an erudite assessment of the intellectual potential of the videogame medium necessitates, I fail to see why the pursuit is held up as a virtue. And isn't objective assessment of art generally accepted as an impossibility by thoughtful critics of any creative medium?

I will readily grant by Clark's definition and argument that most videogames probably are dumb. So what? Why should we value the intellectual and the contemplative over the moments in Battlefield 3 when your squad crests a hill and someone shouts, "Holy shit there's a tank coming kill it kill it!" Those are some of the best times I've ever had playing videogames, when my squad is running across a virtual battlefield and the world sounds like it's coming to an end all around us in 5.1 digital sound and shells are exploding into the ground and tossing dirt in our faces and it's absolute chaos and we love it. Battlefield 3 is certainly a dumb game by Clark's assessment, and he utterly devalues the joy we feel from playing Battlefield 3 if and when he looks down his nose at it, and does the same for every other dumb game he might care to list.

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