If you’re reading this blog post, and you’re were born before 1980, chances are you won’t really understand any of it. I mean, well, wait—look, I’m not trying to be ageist. I hate that. I get ageism all of the time.
Back in ’06, I went to go see Steely Dan at DTE with a friend of mine. We were 15 or 16, I don’t remember; we were young enough to be the youngest people there by choice. After sitting down, an older gentleman behind us tapped on my shoulder and said, “Do you guys even know who Steely Dan is!?” His friends and him began to laugh. We just rolled our eyes. What was funny was when we knew the lyrics to every song and they only even recognized “Hey Nineteen”.
Your old school is also my old school, get over it
So, I don’t want to assume that if you were born in 1972, that means you never played video games if you don’t assume that because I was born in 1990, that I don’t have better taste in music than you. Because I do. But we can be realistic. That gentleman at the Steely Dan concert had a point, because most 15 year olds he runs into on a daily basis aren’t listening to Steely Dan. Likewise, most of the 40 and older crowd I know may have dabbled in Atari or Microsoft DOS freebies back in the day, but in the golden age of video games, believed the medium to be childish, expensive and a waste of time until Wii Fit came out and collected dust in their basement.
It’s mind-boggling to me, and it’s quite the phenomenon: that a whole generation of people are missing out on an entire art form. I can’t think of another time in American history where the absorbing of a certain art form was so generational. Maybe comics in the 1940s? Sure, certain genres of art forms are generational, but just because older people may not listen to hip hop, they still like music. To those of you who missed out on all of the fantastic art that has been video games: I am sorry for you. You are truly missing out. You love movies and books and music; musicals, plays, sculptures and water color paintings, but you’ve been missing out on some of the best art of the late 20th and 21st century.
This week, former Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi passed away. He left behind a legacy of Steven Spielberg-like proportions. He was on the frontier of a new form of art, and was one of the first to turn it into a viable business model. Also this week came the release of one of the most anticipated games in recent history, “Grand Theft Auto V”. I’m not as big of a gamer as I used to be. I don’t have a PS3 or Xbox 360. All of the games I play are on the computer now. Video games are more like books, where unlike songs or movies, you enjoy them over periods of time. And as we become more busy with work and such, playing video games and reading books becomes much more difficult. At the moment, I’m in between jobs. I begged and pleaded and got a friend of mine to lend me his 360 and I went out and bought GTA V so I could play it during my time off.
The game is ridiculous. Its scenery and vision is the literal definition of awesome. Its characters are inspired and real, and its scope is possibly unmatched. It’s much more than what you see on CNN. It’s not just stealing cars, robbing and killing, though that’s part of it. It is, quite simply, art. And playing it has me feeling like I did when I was wowed by “Grand Theft Auto III” over 10 years ago. I remember when I first played GTA III. We all knew that games were never gonna be the same after it; that every other mature game was going to try and replicate its immense world of crime and debauchery. It was art then, it’s art now.
Art, sometimes, is just about creating another world to escape to. The way in which the GTA V crew have created the Los Santos/Los Angeles community is something that any urban planner or architect, set designer or set dresser could truly appreciate. The sounds, the lighting, the voice acting; it’s all compiled together so perfectly. Throw in a compelling story with interesting characters and you’ve got yourself one helluva game.
In many ways, video games are the best medium of storytelling.
This past year, I played one of the best games I’ve ever played in my life. I had never read the comics or seen the TV show at the time I began to play it, but when I played Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead” game, I was immediately drawn to it. When I finished it, I got that same sensation you get when you finish a good book. If you’re looking to see the storytelling capabilities of video games, I definitely recommend trying “The Walking Dead”. This choose-your-own-adventure style game is an emotional rollercoaster about a man trying to make his way in a world that’s quickly falling apart; trying to make up for mistakes in a past life by protecting the life of a child, while making hard decisions along the way. And you have to make those decisions for him, sometimes with only seconds to make a choice. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt for characters in any game, movie, book like I have for characters in this game.
“The Walking Dead” isn’t the first time the level of storytelling of a video game overwhelmed me. When I think of the best stories I’ve ever been told via video game, I have to bring up “Star Wars: Dark Forces 2 – Jedi Knight”. This is still one of the best games ever created. It was the first first-person shooter to allow you to wield a lightsaber! I mean, come on! As a 7 year old, this was the greatest thing since sliced bread. But it didn’t stop at the action. This game actually filmed scenes in between gameplay. It was truly something to see footage of lightsaber fights that didn’t come from Episodes IV-VI and it was the first time in my life that the biggest reward for beating a level was to see what would come next. It was also the first game I ever played where the actions of the player throughout the game dictated the choices of the character. Meaning, you never had a moment in the game where it asked you, “Should Kyle turn to the darkside?” No! It wasn’t that easy. You had to make decisions throughout the game: how you treated civilians, which weaposn you used, which force powers you chose–a test to see if you had the dark or light side in you. You just don’t get that in a movie or a book.
It’s no doubt that growing up, surrounded by all sorts of storytelling media, that I would choose to do it as a career.
Look what you’re missing out on, older generation! So much. But most of all, you’re missing out on Zelda. Nothing more needs to be said about “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” for Nintendo 64. It is truly the best game I have ever played. And like a good book, I go back and play it over and over very frequently. The level of storytelling in this game, and in almost every Zelda game to come before and after it, is truly incredible. Hollywood should take note.
Seriously, the Zelda series is just perfect. You think “Lord of the Rings” is cool? I mean, I guess. The only “elves” I care about are the Kokiri. Think HG Wells’ “The Time Machine” is a good time travel story? Sure is! But nothing’s cooler than the Temple of Time. Think our economy is bad? Try Hyrule in Ganondorf’s future!
What’s amazing is that these games continue to tell stories of vast adventure and intrigue, with characters that we care about and situations where we feel threatened with consequences—all without any voice acting. Just images, text, music and true feeling. The main character, Link, doesn’t even ever speak! To think you can get so much out of a mute character. That’s storytelling. That’s art.
Out of all of the incredible gameplay, characters, villains and storylines Zelda has had to offer in the last 25+ years of video games, the best part is still its incredible music. It was the soundtrack of our childhood, “Ocarina of Time”. It was the call to adventure and wonder, much like the music of Indiana Jones and Star Wars. No doubt, veteran Nintendo composer Koji Kondo is on John Williams level of inspiration and legacy.
So next time a shallow news anchor who doesn’t know the difference between F-Zero and Starfox tells you that “Grand Theft Auto V” is gonna be the downfall of America, know that there’s much more to it than mindless shooting and driving. It’s culture, it’s art, it’s fun. The game challenges us, sometimes subliminally, and it offers criticism on our culture and our media, putting more thought into our lives, surely, than the likes of Piers Morgan or whoever is famous for being famous these days.
Lastly, “Grand Theft Auto V”, like the GTAs to come before it, offers many of its customers the chance to experience “new” music…
I love art. I love storytelling. I love video games.