Friday, June 01, 2007

Like Oprah, but with Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

Kokatu (who the hell is Kokatu?) proposes video game groups—where members would play through a game on their own, beginning to end, and then get together to discuss the game. (via the Chronicle of Higher Ed)

Cool idea, although, at least for me, I forsee a few obstacles.
  1. time—if you assume that the average game takes 40 hours to complete (often a very conservative estimate), that's a great deal of time to commit if you assume a monthly meeting of the group. (Granted, the group may not have to meet every month, but I'd say that you run into danger of losing momentum and group coherence if you meet too infrequently. (Also, what about the fact that many games are set up to provide additional content and story on the second play-through?)
  2. money—at $50 a pop, you average video game makes even a hardcover novel look like a deal, much less a paperback.

I tend to assume that your average (paperback) novel costs about $15 and takes about 10 hours to read.

Still, like I said, the idea sounds cool, and I've said before that I don't read science fiction or fantasy anymore largely because the Final Fantasy series gives me everything that I look for in a good sci-fi novel. Also, I'd love to hear an in-depth conversation on whether strategy guides are the new Cliffs Notes, or whether so many extended games have become so intricate that strategy guides are now an essential part of the game experience.


Jess said...

This is potentially a great idea, but I wonder if it isn't being too closely modeled on a book club. For one thing, the approach a group might take with a Final Fantasy RPG would have to be different from, say, the latest incarnation of Tetris. Should a group try to stick to games with a discernible plot in order to make analysis similar to writing and film? Or is the full range of games available today, um, 'fair game'?

As far as your obstacles go, I present a few ideas...

Time - Well, just as not everyone reads the book in time for the book group meeting, not everyone need finish a game on time. But more importantly, how do you measure completion of a game, especially games that involve randomly generated elements or that focus on multi-player instead of single-player? Is it fair to discuss, say, GoldenEye or Starcraft without taking multi-player into consideration, and if not, how do you 'complete' multi-player games that are largely uncooperative? Bottom line: completion isn't a clear idea in many cases, so eliminate it as a requirement.

Money - This seems like it can be as much of an issue as a group wants to make of it. Old games can be found pretty easily on the internet, rented, downloaded on services like XBox Live Arcade or the Wii Shop Channel, or purchased on eBay. Just as book groups can decided to focus on old or new books, so can gaming groups focus their energies as they see fit. Considering that the gaming group is a brand new concept, there's no reason why one couldn't focus on, say, Ms. PacMan instead of Guitar Hero.

Robin Sloan said...

Ooh -- your notion of tracking down old games makes this even more interesting, Jess -- I hadn't even thought of that. So you could all buy & play th ebig new release in game club... OR you could go back and play Secret of Monkey Island, etc. The canon!

I definitely think the full range of game types ought to be options -- everything from Dr. Mario to Paper Mario -- but you're right, the nature of the conversation (and the prep that was required to participate meaningfully in the conversation) would vary quite a bit. That could be part of the fun!

This is a really good idea, Gavin.