Meaning and the Mainstream: Entry 2

Ah, video games. No other modern medium of art has been so maligned as the recent one of gaming. The words “video game player” themselves bring up images of 13-25 year old males who sit in their mother’s basements, wasting their lives in virtual worlds as the real one passes them by. When brought up in the news, video games are depicted as violent and corrupting, and any praise brought upon them is solely financial, as a talking head announces that the video game industry is surpassing the movie industry in revenue.

However, this depiction is false, and while many video games are indeed pointlessly violent and base, there are also many that are intelligent and worthwhile pieces of art. Part of my project was to find one of these video games, and analyze as I would a novel or film. But which video game would I chose? Upon approaching this task, the games I was holding in contention were Bioware’s Mass Effect 2, Irrational’s Bioshock 2, and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII. I created a list of criteria that I thought would be necessary to choose the right game:

The game had to be relatively successful, both critically and commercially.

While I could have chosen a much more artistic, less popular game, this choice would not reflect the medium as a whole. The game I chose would have to be a reflection of the common (quality) videogame. When one analyzes a piece of art, it is usually because you hear about its qualities from somewhere or someone. You are first told it is a worthwhile piece of literature, film, or music, whether by a teacher, critics, or from the pure fact that many people are buying it. While these sources may prove false and you may cast your own judgment on the art, for the most part you enter into the experience with the prediction that it will most likely be a positive one. A game is not different, and whatever game I choose should be one that has been lauded by journalism and the market. All three of these games met those criteria.

The game had to represent the average video game:

Most videogames follow a certain type of formula: The player will play out the plot of the game by using the set gameplay of the creator, and the player cannot deviate from this path. While how the player gets from Start to Finish is up to him or her, the result will be the same no matter how they played it. Several games, however, deviate from this formula, Mass Effect 2 being one of them. Mass Effect 2 (ME2) is a game driven by player actions. Situations are presented to the player during which the player is given a choice, most of the time a moral one, such as save the industrial center of a town or the residential district from some imminent disaster. The outcome of the game depends on these choices, and the finale is a direct result of the choices the player makes. Each player can play through a completely unique story, and in ME2’s case, the main protagonist will either live or die based on the actions of the player. While it might be worthwhile to analyze such a unique style of game and the moral dilemmas they bring up, ME2 is the exception, not the norm, and most games use set paths. Bioshock 2 also somewhat follows ME2’s style, but to a much lesser extent, as the moral choices are obviously black and white. Final Fantasy XIII (FFXIII) holds with the normal gaming tradition of a single path.

The game must stand alone as a piece, and have no relation to another.

Out of the criteria, this one was the hardest to implement, but in the end the most obvious. While Bioshock 2 and ME2 are both amazing games worthy of analysis, the numbers at the end of them indicate that they are sequels, having characters and plot lines from a previous installment. Now while FFXIII also has a number attached to it, Final Fantasy is a unique series in that the sequels have no attachment to a previous installment. The characters, setting, plot, and even the world of FFXIII has no relation to any of the previous twelve Final Fantasys. I would be going into the game as a blank slate, with no opinions on the story or game play.

The choice was obvious in the end. While I was anticipating using Bioshock due to its connection to and heavy influence by the social thinker Ayn Rand, FFXIII ended up being the most sensible choice, and 1/3 through the game, it’s turning out to be the right one. While I still find it hard to write seriously about something with such a stigma as video games, the works of art that are these games makes it worthwhile.


  1. mpreed01 says:

    I think this is such an interesting project and I like your methodology for selecting a suitable game. I’m a little surprised that you ended up with one of Japanese origin considering your abstract mentioned examining American culture…but I understand that they’ve become a part of our society and I suppose that aspect provides you with even more subject matter to consider.