Self-enrichment – but not in the spiritual form.
Why do entertainers entertain? Why do developers craft video games? Why does Stephanie Meyers write? The answer: income. Why is EA and Activism at the top of our most hated publishers list? The answer: they beat dead a franchise for pure profit, or they allegedly treat their employees as less than human, or they gouge consumers for every last penny for content that should be free in the first place. It’s all so clear as day, you may be thinking; so why am I continuing this article?
I’m a huge fan of the prolific Bo Burnham, a young New England comedian with whom I’ve always felt I share a kindred soul with. Finding fame from making his brother funny YouTube videos when he went away to college and being a terribly gifted musician (most notably pianist), Bo appears to suffer from the system where he financially thrives. But if you take care to examine his work on any level deeper than surface, you’ll find a brilliant introvert trying to send a message, perhaps an S.O.S. Throughout this case for art, I’ll be having you partake in the viewing of Bo’s relevant songs. As a forewarning, crude language will follow.
So let’s start it off with “Art is Dead”.
What Bo presents in this song is the monetization of art. For example, at one point he sings, “So people think you’re funny / How do we get those people’s money?” Likewise, how many developers or publishers think: “Well, Call of Duty is pretty popular; let’s copy that formula and market it to the same audience. As long as our multiplayer is fun, it’ll probably do okay.” Even games that stray from, say, the Call of Duty clones still use the franchise to assess its own successes. I suppose a multi-billion-dollar industry doesn’t have room for art near the top in situations like these. Though I will admit that I do hold The Last of Us and the likes as artistic games.
Still, using my previous Call of Duty example or considering how Assassin’s Creed is still a thing (and a movie), it quite often seems like we’re being pandered to. And shit, we don’t even notice the pandering if the game is fun enough. But look at this Adam’s Venture game and compare it to Uncharted; it’s clearly an attempt to capitalize on Naughty Dog’s success. I don’t care if there was an original Adam’s Venture. Read the description, and tell me you don’t believe this. As Bo Burnham expresses before his “Country Song”, as long as the expression (in this case, self-expression via music) comes from the heart, from your passion, it’s art – as simple as that. The problem is… well, watch the video.
So, yeah. So many things raced through my mind as I watched and re-watched that video. Hell, if music is one of the biggest sources of pandering, then the video game industry has to be a close second. I mean, look at Pokemon GO. It’s developed by a company who bought the rights to make the app for the sole purpose of profit. It milks the idea of nostalgia for the generations of gamers who fell in love with the Pokemon franchise dating all the way back to 1998. Sure, I’ll admit that I enjoy walking and finding wild Pokemon; I had a blast navigating my way back to the parking garage after taking in a Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field, but as fellow BitCultures team member Dakota argued, it’s not exactly a passable game. In fact, it hardly even constitutes as a game. In the same idea, toss some of exo-skeletal gear onto the characters in Call of Duty and call it a unique and fresh feature. Bam! The gaming masses have already thrown their 60 dollars at you. To stop beating the Call of Duty franchise (sorry, it’s so easy), let’s take a gander at Final Fantasy.
I love Final Fantasy, but it certainly consists of some pandering. But let’s even excuse all of the nostalgia value for a moment and focus on Final Fantasy XV. Did you notice, in the demo, the excessive amounts of Coleman gear? I mean, how could you not? The logo was blasted in your view on nearly every piece of camping equipment in the game. Truly, Final Fantasy XV is one of the first games to contractually earn money from advertising. Continuing this thought (and I’m not sure if this technically counts), Quantum Break features characters and corporations who all strictly use Microsoft products – particularly the Surface Pro.
As I’m rounding out this little rant of a feature, I’ll link to you the Netflix trailer for Bo Burnham’s Make Happy tour. Pay attention to what he says in the video and reflect on the idea posited in regards to social media and why we cling to it.
I’m not perfect; no one is. I like to think I’m thoughtful and passionate, caring and creative. I like to think the music I’ve made and the book I wrote is artistic expression, something with meaning. I’m not particularly asking for you to consider games as art in this feature, no. I think I’m just asking you to think. There’s so much negativity in our world today, and from what I’ve seen, no one is suggesting actual answers; everyone is spraying vitriol, igniting the flames. We need to come together and not divide ourselves intentionally. And that’s just what we’ve done.
I think I’m just asking you to think.
So in conclusion, I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite Bo Burnham songs. He parodies Kanye West’s rant, the babblings of an egotistical man who believes he is a god and better than just about everyone (have you ever seen him at the Grammys?). Still, it’s a thought-provoking piece that’s both funny and devastating simultaneously.