What’s it worth?

Note: There will be spoilers for The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, and Valkyria Chronicles in this article.

The maturation of the gaming industry over the past decade carried significant changes to the presentation, storytelling, and profitability of any given video game. With proper advertisement, professional writing, and a Triple-A studio, the next Game of the Year award remains within reach to whichever developer decides grabs it. Time-and-again, plot and emotion driven titles reap the majority of critical accolades, and the industry seems on track to, perhaps, push the limits of innovation.

Or maybe not.

You see, the blatant reminders of the genre’s mediocrity rings loudest when incredible experiences trump a generation of games. Having recently completed Uncharted 4 and dabbling with the possibility of rewarding it a perfect score, I’ve come to re-awaken to the fact that I’ve been playing a lot of average games. I would never enjoy a boring, rinse-and-repeat, meaningless or confused book. And I’m overly frustrated by the mind numbing action films or the overtly gory horror flicks (but this is not to say that I don’t enjoy an awesome horror film – Sinister, say). Why, then, do we, as gamers, flock around and play the myriad money grabbing games?

Sinister Ethan Hawke

Sometimes, I believe, we’re duped by the advertising process or past loves of a genre, series, or developer. It can be argued that Uncharted 4 is not a great game (and it has been argued that {as an aside, I’d like to also point out that it is okay for a reviewer to dislike Uncharted 4, even if we disagree. It’s the beauty of art.}), and that fans of the series love it simply because it is Uncharted. In many cases, I’m sure this is probably accurate. Hell, how many Call of Duty fans play the game for its name only? How many play the story mode? How many are kids who grab the game to play with their buddies? (And how many turned coat on the new trailer because Battlefield).

But for me, a developer like Naughty Dog personifies what I want in games: a strong, meaningful script. I cried at the opening of The Last of Us, as any parent or family person may do. And I teared up at the ending of Uncharted 4, when, Sam, pinned beneath the wooden beam of the pirate ship, tells Nathan that all he wanted to do was find the treasure with his little brother. I longed for Nathan and Elena to make amends, and I wanted to see their family reconcile. These themes are important to me; I’m a family man about to be married. I want to lead a life of love and build a family around that. Naughty Dog and the art they develop speaks to that part of me.

The Last of Us Joel and Sarah

Video games remain poised to address issues that plague our world. As I restarted the Valkyria Chronicles HD remaster, I was reminded of the immense racism that plagued Europa. The bonding between Rose and Isara throughout the narrative was profound, and Isara’s death – a necessary plot development – shifted the tone of the game. And in this particular title, the player is bound to think: this girl is hated because her hair is black? Something as trivial as color could cause such vitriol? And then you think – oh. Why do these problems persist?

Life is Strange, for all of its expository flaws and mechanical faults, provides us with another glimpse into pressing matters. Climate change, sexual preferences, bullying, and suicide – amongst others – take the forefront of the title. And while the entire experience felt contrived and forced – making the player feel a way, rather than allowing them to get there on their own – many of the themes made you think: hmm.

Life Is Strange

Why is Shakespeare still taught in schools? Why do we (at least in Ohio) read Fahrenheit 451? Why do we film documentaries? What is so important about van Gogh? Why do we celebrate Monet? Why read Swift or partake in music? Why examine Sylvia Plath or Sojourner Truth? “Ain’t I a Woman” is perhaps one of the strongest, most memorable poems I’ve ever read. Why?

Because artists speak to truths and lies, fiction and reality that we disregard daily – whether intentionally or through blissful ignorance. And so video games, the poetry, novels, plays of our time (sharing center stage, of course, with film), have the largest audience with which to impact. Now, I’m not calling for the forceful submission of script writing by those who create or the forceful obedience of those who consume. Doing so would load the deck and devalue the industry’s currency.

Fahrenheit 451

What I’m saying now, and what I’ve always said remains steadfast. We have a powerful medium at our fingertips; I could argue days away over the significance of games that I perceive as art. Yes, all of these mediums serve as sources of entertainment, and all of these mediums are generally a means of income, a business. But the artist in me and the artist in those creating hope to script something special, something meaningful – if we allow them.