Gaming's Prismatic Citizen Kane

Gaming's Prismatic Citizen Kane

Gaming won't ever have its own singular, massive Citizen Kane - it'll just have a bunch of little ones.

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The fact that I consider "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to be the greatest movie ever probably means that I'd consider "gaming's citizen kain" Incomplete without some combination of the items in the last paragraph.

Gaming also won't have a Schindler's List, or an Airplane!. It won't have a Oliver Twist or a Pride and Prejudice. It won't have The New World Symphony or Für Elise. Or a Mona Lisa, or an Old Guitar Player.

The reason is that games are different. It's not just that a gaming masterpiece will (or does) look different than a film masterpiece or a literary masterpiece. It's that it will mean different things. Gaming can never have a Citizen Kane because Citizen Kane is irrevocably a movie. Trying to make a game have the same type of impact would work as badly as trying to make a Citizen Kane of music, or artwork.

I don't know if we know what a game masterpiece looks like, yet. Strictly speaking, only time tells. Possibly ten or twenty years from now, we'll say that movies had their Citizen Kane, and games had their Portal. Or we'll say games had they're Ico... or their Tetris, or Mario, or Photopia. Maybe Psychonauts? Maybe twenty years won't be long enough? It took fifty years of filmmaking before Citizen Kane existed, and though gaming has existed for a few decades already, it wasn't until the late eighties or later that developers started to have a real freedom in what they could do with a game.

Similarly... we don't know what a masterpiece game does to the state of the game medium (or maybe we do?). Does it affect the way future games function? Is it something that plays unlike anything you've ever played before? Is it something that has a perfect difficulty curve - or no real difficulty, like an interactive movie? Portal and Ico, for instance, some of the most artistic and most highly-regarded games ever made, aren't THAT different from the games that preceded them. They're just done much much better than most other games.

(But then again, maybe the best games really are the weird ones... the Killer 7s and World of Goos and Rezs of the world.)

JLrep:
Gaming also won't have a Schindler's List, or an Airplane!. It won't have a Oliver Twist or a Pride and Prejudice. It won't have The New World Symphony or Für Elise. Or a Mona Lisa, or an Old Guitar Player.

The reason is that games are different. It's not just that a gaming masterpiece will (or does) look different than a film masterpiece or a literary masterpiece. It's that it will mean different things. Gaming can never have a Citizen Kane because Citizen Kane is irrevocably a movie. Trying to make a game have the same type of impact would work as badly as trying to make a Citizen Kane of music, or artwork.

I don't know if we know what a game masterpiece looks like, yet. Strictly speaking, only time tells. Possibly ten or twenty years from now, we'll say that movies had their Citizen Kane, and games had their Portal. Or we'll say games had they're Ico... or their Tetris, or Mario, or Photopia. Maybe Psychonauts? Maybe twenty years won't be long enough? It took fifty years of filmmaking before Citizen Kane existed, and though gaming has existed for a few decades already, it wasn't until the late eighties or later that developers started to have a real freedom in what they could do with a game.

Similarly... we don't know what a masterpiece game does to the state of the game medium (or maybe we do?). Does it affect the way future games function? Is it something that plays unlike anything you've ever played before? Is it something that has a perfect difficulty curve - or no real difficulty, like an interactive movie? Portal and Ico, for instance, some of the most artistic and most highly-regarded games ever made, aren't THAT different from the games that preceded them. They're just done much much better than most other games.

(But then again, maybe the best games really are the weird ones... the Killer 7s and World of Goos and Rezs of the world.)

Well, we had Max Paine, that's a step towards Airplane!

Asking the games industry why it doesn't have any classics is like asking the guy who hust got his bachelor's degree why he hasn't revolutionized the world yet.

As far as I can tell, Tetris is the only really classic videogame so far, seeing as it's on just about every platform out there. Tetris is like the books you had to read in high school, you don't really know much about the field until you understand how they work.

Maybe I missed something here. If I did maybe someone can please explain to me what I am not understanding. I thought the significance of Citizen Kane, at least in so far as game developers and writers keep discussing it, was that it represented a turning point where film went from being cheap entertainment to being a medium that was capable of something more significant. Maybe it's a mistake to view it that way and not in keeping with what actually happened, and maybe comparing any individual game to it is misguided, since the analogs between the two mediums are so few, but that seems like sidestepping the issue to me. The key question here is, do gaming masterpieces actually exist? Have any developers taken the leap and--as Rube Goldberg might have put it--become artists rather than vaudevillians?

Half-Life, surely?

JLrep:
The reason is that games are different. It's not just that a gaming masterpiece will (or does) look different than a film masterpiece or a literary masterpiece. It's that it will mean different things. Gaming can never have a Citizen Kane because Citizen Kane is irrevocably a movie. Trying to make a game have the same type of impact would work as badly as trying to make a Citizen Kane of music, or artwork.

I find this comment almost entirely useless. The comparisons can be drawn. Citizen Kane is a classic film that pushed moves to new heights - it helped changed the industry to something that viewers take seriously. As of yet, even though gaming has become very mainstream, it's not viewed as something truly mature, truly... artistic. As far as the perception of games by society, and as far as the quality of games go, it's still a very young art form.

With that said, I don't think gaming has a Citizen Kane, and unless the demographic for gaming rises, I don't think developers have an incentive to make such a game. Personally, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the game that made me take video games seriously. To me, that's gaming's Citizen Kane. For many others, it's Final Fantasy VII.

But I don't think any game had the same sort of effect on viewer's perception of the artform that Citizen Kane had on cinema.

Depending on what you see in Citizen Kane, 'gaming' has had plenty of them.

What would you call Myst?

@JLrep

Possibly ten or twenty years from now, we'll say that movies had their Citizen Kane, and games had their Portal. Or we'll say games had they're Ico... or their Tetris, or Mario, or Photopia. Maybe Psychonauts?

Right; and gaming *did* have all those games, rather than one singular "masterpiece". I think the fact that we regard them as we do already (and not just twenty years from now) is a testament to that. The reason my angle is that all of these games are the equivalent to CK (and not any one alone) is because Tetris didn't help develop Mario, and Psychonauts didn't influence Portal -- they are individually paragons of their own genres, and together they are all what we could consider gaming masterpieces.

@shMerker

I'm not a student of film, I've just been around them a lot (as the game design school I attended was founded as a film school.) From what I've gathered (and I admit I haven't watched the entire film, all at once) it really isn't what you would consider a masterpiece unless you yourself were a filmmaker. Technically it's impressive, from the shots used to scene composition, and the way the story is composed and delivered is actually more creative than the formulaic plots used in many of today's shiny "Hollywood" movies. In this column I did consider it as a technical leap in craft, not as a cultural mover and shaker. In a sick way, you could argue that film has actually devolved somewhat since CK as more and more films adopt same-y production techniques.

Maybe, at the time, CK did help push film into the mainstream and legitimize the medium, but I'm unaware of that. If that's the case, then I don't think we can say there is a videogame out there that the average non-gamer won't find silly, childish, or unbearably complex and alien.

CapnJack:
I find this comment almost entirely useless. The comparisons can be drawn. Citizen Kane is a classic film that pushed moves to new heights - it helped changed the industry to something that viewers take seriously. As of yet, even though gaming has become very mainstream, it's not viewed as something truly mature, truly... artistic. As far as the perception of games by society, and as far as the quality of games go, it's still a very young art form.

With that said, I don't think gaming has a Citizen Kane, and unless the demographic for gaming rises, I don't think developers have an incentive to make such a game. Personally, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the game that made me take video games seriously. To me, that's gaming's Citizen Kane. For many others, it's Final Fantasy VII.

But I don't think any game had the same sort of effect on viewer's perception of the artform that Citizen Kane had on cinema.

Are we really talking about something as specific as that? The elevation of an artform? As you suggested, that's more of a personal thing, with games; which is I think a reflection of the nature of games. Ocarina of Time made you take games seriously. Final Fantasy VII made others take games seriously. Prince of Persia happened to be the game that made me take games seriously.

In this way, OK, the article is spot-on. Not one Citizen Kane, but many. But I think that's looking at it backwards. It's not that a masterpiece is the work which causes people to look at a medium a different way, and Citizen Kane happened to be a singular work which did that for filmmaking. Rather, the thing which made Citizen Kane a masterpiece is the fact that it made people look at the medium in a different way!

What I mean is, other than its general artistry, we define Citizen Kane as a masterpiece of filmmaking because it elevated filmmaking. That's not how we look at masterpieces of other mediums. For example, Chopin's Ballades are not masterpieces because they elevated music; they didn't, really. They're masterpieces because... well, I'm not terribly good with musical terms, but they're masterpieces because of their harmony and their romanticism. A masterpiece in each medium means something different.

What would make a game a masterpiece, a work of art, an opus, etc.? It might be, like Citizen Kane, a quality of moving the industry forward as a whole. But it might be something different! It might be, a quality of having a very clever engine; it might be a quality of being particularly evocative; it might be a quality of being just ridiculously fun; it might be something we have already experienced, and it might not be! As I said, the first gaming masterpiece may still be coming, and it may have already come. Time tends to define these things. I can imagine in the future saying that Tetris was the first gaming masterpiece, because X, or Mario was the first gaming masterpiece, because Y, or, that the first gaming masterpiece was some game made in 2020, because of Z. It may even be exactly what the article denied; a game that advanced game mechanics. It may be that the first game that is really controlled by your thoughts is the first masterpiece game. (Maybe.)

shMerker:
Maybe I missed something here. If I did maybe someone can please explain to me what I am not understanding. I thought the significance of Citizen Kane, at least in so far as game developers and writers keep discussing it, was that it represented a turning point where film went from being cheap entertainment to being a medium that was capable of something more significant. Maybe it's a mistake to view it that way and not in keeping with what actually happened, and maybe comparing any individual game to it is misguided, since the analogs between the two mediums are so few, but that seems like sidestepping the issue to me. The key question here is, do gaming masterpieces actually exist? Have any developers taken the leap and--as Rube Goldberg might have put it--become artists rather than vaudevillians?

i always thought it was a film about a guy and his over compensating house.

What is gamings Citizen Kane? Ico. Very simple. Kanes legendary status and influence is all part of its mediums higher penetration and longer history - if it had become forgotten in the time it takes a game to be considered ancient, its influence would have been far less. But if we're looking at what would have been the Citizen Kane of games, its Ico.

A large part of Citizen Kane's prestige is due to this sort of rareified position it holds among film intelligentsia, especially among the hugely influential French New Wave theorists and filmmakers like Andre Bazin and Jean-Luc Godard, et al. who had very particular ideas of how film evolves.
I would chalk up the inability for gaming to have a "Citizen Kane" is due more to the rejection of empiricism in contemporary art criticism. I think that what the author argues as being "different gameplay modes" really just equates to semiology. This, while not as nostalgic as empirical approaches to art criticism, does in itself have a predilection for putting games which redefine what codes we like on a special pedestal.

randommaster:

Asking the games industry why it doesn't have any classics is like asking the guy who hust got his bachelor's degree why he hasn't revolutionized the world yet.

I don't see how there hasn't been classics. I'd call Doom a classic. if you look at it, a classical novel is hundreds of years old, a classical movie is tens of years old, so why cant a classical game be just years old?

bit of topic, you mention the "get longer mechanic as innovative" what about Snake? (on mobile phones etc.

The reason for no citizen kane is that video games don't need one, the advancements in video games has been fairly impressive. We don't have "classics" only due to the amount of time passed I'd argue a lot of games already are classics we just need to give it some more time. I'd argue that goldeneye and 0ot we're pretty big step forwards. In terms of multi player brilliance for the former and just for massive 3d adventure for the latter

Chrono Trigger

/Thread

A major reason that video games are often not taken seriously is because no matter how sophisticated the gaming mechanisms are or how fun the game may be, at the end of the day they are generally thematically inmature. A great game like Link or Mario may score points for story and fun factor, challenge, clever puzzles, etc, but they are really children's stories with a "save the princess" ending that quite frankly does not warrent any artistic merrit. Citizen Kane not only brought new story telling techniques to the genre of films but was also a very sophisticated and morally complex story that moved the viewer on multiple levels. The only level that Mario moves me on is when he gets the princess in a sort of cliched "happily ever after" way (and that only lasts until his next adventure).

Storyline inovations are rarely rewarded within the games industry. Visual originality is often ignored if the game itself isn't fun enough. there is also a fixation on franchises that makes the games industry even more crass- whereas people bemone the existence of summer blockbusters with "2"s and "3"s in their titles it seems that the majority of gamers cannot wait for the next "N"th sequel to an already overblown series. Yatzee seems to be one of a few commentators on the internet who has actually picked up on the absurdity of this aspect of the games industry. Would you think Citizen Kane or Taxi Driver would have as much artistic merit if they were shot for the 10th time with slightly better lenses, films, one new scene and a reworking of an old scene where the protagonist wore slightly different clothes? Yet I probably have just described the vast majority of games franchises in existence.

All in all, I would say that the games industry right now is on the same level as the Carry On or Bond films (or National Lampoon for Yanks)- cheap entertainment that do not deviate from establised formulae but has cosmetic changes every now and then to make things slightly interesting. Maybe the taste of gamers need to change before we can see true artistry within the industry. But the thing is, games are already pretty fun- so why bother doing it any other way?

I would have to agree. In the whole games-as-art debate, I think there's every reason to think that games are capable of art, but that very few artistic games have actually been already made.

Furthermore, the state of mainstream games is even worse than the state of mainstream films, with it being hard enough to find a good, fun, new game by a major publisher, let alone an artistic one.

But there is a lot of hope in independent gaming. For me, at least. World of Goo, Braid, the Chzo Mythos (Yatzee's own games), Passage, Cave Story, Cortex Command, Lugaru (& upcoming Overgrowth), and Aquaria are all examples of really fantastic or interesting games coming from independent game makers. Most of them are primarily the work of one, or two people, which is excellent because I think the reason films and games so often have trouble being artistic is that they just have too many people working on them.

I've heard people make predictions about the future of mainstream games, citing the fact that it's beginning to take ridiculous amounts of people and time to make a single game... but honestly, what intrigues me more is the fact that at the same time, it becomes easier and easier for single people to create full working games, using tools like Game Maker and Adventure Game Studio.

4fromK:

randommaster:

Asking the games industry why it doesn't have any classics is like asking the guy who hust got his bachelor's degree why he hasn't revolutionized the world yet.

I don't see how there hasn't been classics. I'd call Doom a classic. if you look at it, a classical novel is hundreds of years old, a classical movie is tens of years old, so why cant a classical game be just years old?

I think of classics as things that everybody respects, even a hundred years from now. While I agree that many firsts in gaming will be remembered simply for being first, a game like Tetris is one that people will be playing a hundred years from now and be looking at it for guidelines to make a good game. While Doom will certainly be remembered, people probably won't be paying it much attention.

The fact of the matter is, mainstream Western culture and its overpaid art critics will never, never, NEVER take video games and comics and pro wrestling seriously until someone does something with any of these mediums and labels it "feminist" or "political satire."

I'm not saying making a feminist or a political satire game is impossible or wouldn't be worthwhile. What I'm saying is, as long as your content involves guys in costumes beating the crap out of each other, you're not going to get "high art" credit unless you try and shovel cultural commentary into it. That's what "high art" fans think is "high art," and there's no helping it. So until someone goes ahead and does this, we're not going to get our "high art" game.

I would argue, though, that we could cite certain dev studios as the Citizen Kane studios of gaming - such as defunct Westwood Studios, Valve, Double Fine Productions, Nintendo, etc. These were studios that revolutionized the art of game manufacturing, promotion, and distribution. If we look at studio output over a decade, then we can start to see real revolutions in technology and story telling developing. I personally think part of the problem is that individual games are made rather quickly, sell, then get outdated in but a couple years, so the only way to track real innovation is by looking at the bigger picture.

Fumbles:
Chrono Trigger

/Thread

Convoluted story is convoluted

TheBluesader:
The fact of the matter is, mainstream Western culture and its overpaid art critics will never, never, NEVER take video games and comics and pro wrestling seriously until someone does something with any of these mediums and labels it "feminist" or "political satire."

Wait...What? Pro Wrestling will never be taken seriously, because it is NOT SERIOUS. Also Citizen Kane is neither feminist or even political satire. American Beauty is not either of those either. Also colleges are actually teaching Watchmen as American Literature, it actually ranks up there with The Great Gatsby. Watchmen was even in Times' greatest works of 20th century literature. Therefore your argument makes no sense.

Fumbles:

TheBluesader:
The fact of the matter is, mainstream Western culture and its overpaid art critics will never, never, NEVER take video games and comics and pro wrestling seriously until someone does something with any of these mediums and labels it "feminist" or "political satire."

Wait...What? Pro Wrestling will never be taken seriously, because it is NOT SERIOUS. Also Citizen Kane is neither feminist or even political satire. American Beauty is not either of those either. Also colleges are actually teaching Watchmen as American Literature, it actually ranks up there with The Great Gatsby. Watchmen was even in Times' greatest works of 20th century literature. Therefore your argument makes no sense.

you forgot /thread

I am having some trouble understanding something here. As far as I know the reason Citizen Kane is a big thing was that it was so original that it raised the standard of how to make a film. So I understood that article because of that, but after that I am not understanding what is going on with this thread. I am really confused since things seem to be going on there own tangent that doesn't seem to make sense. So because of that I may not make any sense, sorry for that.

Citizen Kane as far as I know is considered a masterpiece because it show examples of every technique that is now standard was how different at the time it all. This happens all the time in games with something like sandbox games. As far as I know before GTA3 games stuck to being a go to this level and do that. A rather linear experience becomes more free and more fun that it starts becoming the new standard for games that allow for Fallout 3 or Brutal Legend to comes forth. That seems to be the small things that lifts the standards much like Citizen Kane did.

That gives reason to why there won't be a Citizen Kane, because there is a singular game that would push the standard of all games. That makes sense, since the way to present a game seems to only change in small ways over time so far. The way we play games seem to be fallowing the same format of being rather linear of get from point a to point b so story c can be moved with very little freedom outside the choose your own adventure book. Between point a and b you have the choice to play around with the how and the when, but not much more then that.

I am an idiot, so I may be wrong on all this. It is understandable it happens from time to time. Until there is something that utterly breaks the mode, say for example the game starts at the last boss. Going toe to toe, unable to figure out what is going on so one loses. Just before he dies, his life flashes before his eyes playing it from the beginning till that moment. The simple idea that the end is the beginning.

This may not be the most creative thing in the world, but it is an example for the sake it doesn't exist and would break the mold that games must be told from beginning to end. It breaks the mold so that there is a new base line for what games can be. That is how something like Watchman got its high marks by the Literary people. That right and wrong, the very principles live there lives, don't matter as long as the end justifies the mean. That is a tough concept to get breaking the mold of what good and evil can be.

Since right now the game industry can't seem to break the mold there will be no Citizen Kane when it comes to game. It still hasn't figured out how to be. How can one break the mold when there is no mold? It can't, it can only change how it is, and that is what the gaming industry can do. From a movie standpoint we are in the silent films era, still relatively new to telling a story. One has to know how to tell a story before one can tell a masterpiece.

How can there be an argument on what is a masterpiece when telling a story is a mountain most can't take a step towards? That is what I am confused about the topic so far.

Films will never have a Portal, The Sims, Plants vs. Zombies.

Computer games will never have Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Brazil.

Books are the only media to have Good Omens & Maus, so each has something to offer and something it can never achieve.

Could you imagine the film version of Football Manager?

You know what would be fun? "Senior Citizen Kane", alongside such greats as "He-Man 2: Armed and Fabulous".

JLrep:
...but honestly, what intrigues me more is the fact that at the same time, it becomes easier and easier for single people to create full working games, using tools like Game Maker and Adventure Game Studio.

Which is what makes me believe that gaming's Citizen Kane will come, not from a major studio whose primary concern is budget and income, but from an independent group or even a particularly creative individual who simply asks "Hey, I wonder if I can make a game out of this idea".

What made Citizen Kane revolutionary? A completely new style of direction (the camera points DOWN?) Mastery of the cinematic language. A fantastic script, acting and characters. Oh, and it's really old.

I can't think of any game that manages all of those things, but I think "System Shock" comes closest.

 

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