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The Occasionally Achingly Poetic Nature Of Video Games

On the surface, there's a lot that is trite, low-brow, or even embarrassing. And sometimes, or most times, nothing lurks beneath that simplistic surface.

But at its core, there is something deeply poetic and inspiring about interactive entertainment. It's akin to that very same sense of intrigue and control we experienced when reading those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. It echoes in our minds as something unique, a type or form of entertainment that oddly defies standardized labeling and seeks to break heretofore untested boundaries.

And this isn't just about freedom of choice, which is the new trend in video games today. This isn't about being able to explore increasingly realistic worlds or hemming and hawing over an apparently difficult - and likely important - decision. This is simply about the act of participation. We participate in a very different way in this medium; it is active and not passive, and the great games don't always turn our minds off...in fact, many require that our minds function at maximum capacity.

Beyond that, there is an almost ethereal nature to the venue. Perhaps it's most similar to "playing God," in that we are in direct control of what we perceive to be a living thing. At the same time, the danger inherent in such an act (see Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein") is mitigated and almost entirely erased by the fact that indeed, none of it is real. What worries me is when the unreal begins to border too closely on the real, at which point we will face a whole new host of problems that are best saved for another article.

For now, it's merely intriguing to note how we brush upon a previously unknown realm, where we control something that shouldn't really be controllable, and we participate in a way humanity has never experienced. It's true that the majority of games out there aren't exactly trying to be poetic or creative or inspired; many are just kowtowing to the mainstream masses that demand familiarity and accessibility. High-concept ideas have never been for the masses and as such, we have to search for examples of the poetry of which I speak. But they're not that hard to find and when you do find them, you know you're enjoying something singular.

Video games can't aspire to the literary mastery of classic novels or film but then again, they probably shouldn't. Gaming is very much its own form of entertainment, and it provides an original myriad of sensations and emotions, which we should appreciate. That feeling you get upon completing a great game? Upon finishing a fantastical adventure that put you elsewhere for many hours? It's different than finishing a great book. It's not better; it's just different. And that difference is precisely what makes gaming so damn special, and we shouldn't pass that by simply because a franchise like Call of Duty rules the sales charts. There's no fighting mass appeal.

We should appreciate gaming for that intrinsic factor, which is unlike anything else. If we can manage that, at least we'll know, in our heart of hearts, that the naysayers and the skeptics labor in ignorance. That knowledge will keep our mouths silent (for what good would it do to speak up?) and our souls happy.

Tags: video games, gaming, gamers, gaming culture, gaming industry

11/7/2012 10:00:39 PM Ben Dutka

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Comments (13 posts)

WorldEndsWithMe
Wednesday, November 07, 2012 @ 10:38:47 PM
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It's a double edged sword though, the fact that gaming is something in which we participate while seated and relaxed is what makes it a hated form of entertainment.

People can't reconcile the two. Sitting back and watching TV is okay, but somehow gaming is an irresponsible waste of time and energy because it is both active and passive in nature. The idea then is that we ought to be out living life instead. No matter the great feeling these games give us they will never be recognized in the way literature is, and that is the tragedy of it all.

Last edited by WorldEndsWithMe on 11/7/2012 10:39:38 PM

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ZenChichiri
Wednesday, November 07, 2012 @ 11:07:29 PM

The sad thing is I see that as more a cultural thing. It's OK to revere something trashy like Jersey Shore because it's accepted by society as culturally fine to follow, but as soon as you mention games people have a hard time relating to it because they're not in your face all the time. It's such a foreign world for them that they assume the worst. Obviously the less familiar is always on the wrong side of the fence!

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 1:06:51 AM

Balance is the key, as with anything else. :)

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WorldEndsWithMe
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 10:51:09 AM

I'm only remarking on the views of outsiders. Every guy who ever came home from a long hard day at work and got attitude from his girl for picking up a controller knows what I mean.

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ZenChichiri
Wednesday, November 07, 2012 @ 11:02:35 PM
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What a great article! I can feel when a game is trying to achieve that poetic nature you speak of, and when it's just trying to cater to a twitchy audience. Sometimes they coalesce, like in games like Dyad or Sound Cloud, but usually the twitchy games lack poetry. The focus is elsewhere.

The way I can feel when a game is poetic by nature is actually how much I get sucked into the world, whether it be a massive open world like Skyrim or merely a simple (yet intriguing) explanation of why I am solving puzzles in a puzzle game. It addicts me when the game has this additional layer of complexity that some games these days lack. I find that some developers can be too lazy to actually give you a reason (subtle or not) as to why you're playing. It really turns me off.

In the case of something like Journey, the reason isn't really apparent at first, but it subtly lets on to what the theme of the game is. It's like a poem with a punch line at the end that changes everything. Very poetic!

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Teddie9
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 12:06:27 AM
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The greatest upset for myself is that I know many people who ARE gamers that do not even understand and acknowledge this. The gamers on this site are a dying breed.

Last edited by Teddie9 on 11/8/2012 12:07:28 AM

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Lawless SXE
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 5:40:03 AM
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A wonderful article. I don't know how to respond to it, but I love it :)

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Huey
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 7:25:36 AM
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You can speak volumns on this subject and still not reach an end. Games and Poetry in my generation were usually not lumped together. I could probably include Biker in this and no offensed to anyone else reading.
You mention "indoor games" and that usually entailed cards,boards,or dice or a combination of all three. Outdoor was limited to your imagination and physical capabilities. Mention games today and where does your mind go? Not like it used to be.
Relaxation indoors was geared to books and limited TV. We made it a point to watch Walt Disney and Wild Kingdom. My parents started me on Louis L'Amour westerns at an early age, to whit I would have to take the book to them and ask what a specific word meant. My children all read and they also play games, having all of the major consoles between them. I think I am priviledged to have seen the inception of games from their start to what they are today. Be it good or bad.
Okay, enough rambling on my part. I could go on and on but Ben would probably kick me off the site!

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BikerSaint
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 3:26:27 PM

^^^^ This!
As early as the 1950's, I was taught that reading was a sacred & fundamental right, & I still actively read many books to this very day.

As for video games, I see many of them as living, breathing "poetry in motion"....Flow, Flower, and Journey just to name a few.

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SirLoin of Beef
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 8:05:55 AM
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Great article, Ben. I've tried telling stuff like this to my friends who find it odd that, at 42, I still love playing video games. They never want to listen and, quite frankly, it's their loss. So many people miss out on incredible experiences because they have such a wrong view on video games.

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Dukemz_UK
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 8:23:05 AM
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Ben, thank you for an interesting and thought-provoking article. I echo your thoughts and views. I also agree with other comments here, that the gaming masses don't see games as poetry, but rather quick, twitchy entertainment, where, like Hollywood blockbuster movies, guns and explosions rule. We can only hope that a large fraction of the gaming masses mature enough to appreciate the true poetry found in certain games.
I honestly feel that in 10 years, gaming won't be spoken about in the same often negative way that it is today.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 11:09:45 AM
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Sorry for sort of going all rhapsodic and philosophical; I know it's not for everyone.

But I love that we have a community with a bunch of mature, intelligent gamers that can at least appreciate the effort. :)

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 11/8/2012 11:09:59 AM

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Draguss
Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 7:45:24 PM
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"Video games can't aspire to the literary mastery of classic novels or film" I agree with most of what you said except for this. I don't really see why they can't.

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