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Mainstream Gaming

Posted on Friday, February 1 @ 22:56:51 Eastern by Duke_Ferris
Seth Schiesel had a terrific article on the front page of the Arts section of the New York Times this morning. The top sales figures from 2007 show a trend towards the mass market, rather than the artistic.

Ever since video games decamped from arcades and set up shop in the nation’s living rooms in the 1980s, they have been thought of as a pastime enjoyed mostly alone. The image of the antisocial, sunlight-deprived game geek is enshrined in the popular consciousness as deeply as any stereotype of recent decades.

Games and gamers, he argues, have changed. And with the advent of the Wii and games like Guitar Hero, have become nearly everyone. He's got a point. I haven't seen my father play a video game since Intellivision Baseball. But this last Thanksgiving, I watched him jam out on Guitar Hero with my sister.

Put another way, it may be a sign of the industry’s nascent maturity that as video games become more popular than ever, hard-core gamers and the old-school critics who represent them are becoming an ever smaller part of the audience.

That is not so unusual in other media. In most forms of entertainment there is a divide between what is popular with the masses and what is popular with the critics. Plenty of films get rave reviews but never make it past the art houses. Plenty of blockbusters are panned.

True again, incredible films like Memento might make people notice, but schlock like Spiderman 3 is what really brings in the cash.

The showcase example is BioShock, the noir thriller set beneath the Atlantic Ocean. BioShock has already become one of the most acclaimed games of all time (Metacritic score of 96) and has taken most of the 2007 game-of-the-year laurels from various groups and publications (including the Game Critics Awards announced on Thursday). Yet it failed to crack the Top 10 in sales, perhaps because the very qualities that made it such a critical darling — a complex story underpinned by a sophisticated interpretation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism — made it less accessible to a mass audience than the running and gunning of Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4, which both made the top-sales list.

I guess I'm an old school critic now, according to Seth. What do you think? I only ask because I'm staring at a copy of My Horse and Me for the Wii.



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