Intelligent-gaming messiah, Jonathan Blow, has returned to save us from stupid games.
Since releasing Braid back in 2006, Blow has been dividing his time between work on The Witness and vocal criticism of the gaming industry. Blow's comments are usually relentlessly self assured, vitriolic, and dryly funny; his recent comments to The Atlantic are no exception.
In a profile piece entitled The Most Dangerous Gamer, Taylor Clark paints Blow as your typical grumpy genius, and Braid as the sole beacon of intelligent gaming in an ocean of mindless shooter sludge. Framed with a picture of Blow looking all austere (though the picture's effect is diminished somewhat by his uncanny resemblance to New Radicals frontman, Gregg Alexander), the piece is hilariously dismissive of gaming as a medium - my favorite line: "the form remains an artistic backwater, plagued by cartoonish murderfests and endless revenue-friendly sequels," - but that's down to Clark, rather than Blow himself. Filtered out from the smug, Blow's comments are quite insightful.
Harsh, but insightful.
"If the video game is going to be used for art purposes, then it has to take advantage of its form in some way particular to that medium, right?" he told me. "A film and a novel can both do linear storytelling, but novels are very strong at internal mental machinations - which movies suck at - and movies are great at doing certain visual things. So the question is: Where are games on that same map?"
Later, he discusses gaming's relationship with cinema:
"The de facto reference for a video game is a shitty action movie," Blow said during a conversation in Chris Hecker's dining room one sunny afternoon. "You're not trying to make a game like Citizen Kane; you're trying to make Bad Boys 2." But questions of movie taste notwithstanding, the notion that gaming would even attempt to ape film troubles Blow. As Hecker explained it: "Look, film didn't get to be film by trying to be theater. First, they had to figure out the things they could do that theater couldn't, like moving the camera around and editing out of sequence-and only then did film come into its own."
Personally, though I agree with Blow in theory, I've aways found his criticism really only applies to mainstream titles, and even then, only partially. I don't mean to diminish Blow's accomplishments, but independent developers (and even some non-independent ones) were making intelligent games with strong authorial voices long before Braid was released, and they've continued to make them since.