The Unconcious Deconstruction of Video Games

I had a lengthy conversation with a friend of mine who is a total jerk. No, he’s not really, but he was going on about how he isn’t excited much about the New Super Mario Bros. for Wii. This was probably enough for me to cut off our friendship completely, but alas, I’ve known this punk for 13 years or so; I thought it best to give him another chance. (I’m kidding, Antonio. You know I love you.) 😦

Anyway, our conversation turned toward why he felt this way, and I was interested in hearing his negative thoughts about something I was so gleefully excited about.

“They almost overdid it trying to replicate the look of the original,” Antonio said as he murdered a few small animals.

“But the 2D platform is still in demand. Mega Man 9 and even Street Fighter IV proves that,” I replied, as I donated money and clothing to nearby charities.

But Antonio continued on with his argument and had a valid point, I thought. “From Super Mario Bros, to 2 to 3, to SMB world there was an evolution. They weren’t obsessed with recreating the original, but obviously they retained the spirit of the original. Nowadays the attitude seems to be that they should recreate the original, add to it, but make it as much like the old one as possible,and I don’t really like that approach.”

It was an interesting way to look at it, and I couldn’t argue with it. It’s true. I think there is a lot of that going on in game design nowadays, however, some companies are finding such resounding success with this route, such as Capcom or Nintendo. So why is that? How is it that some people are so comfortable playing Mario games until the cows come home, yet some have gotten utterly sick and tired of it?

What I think it is, in some ways, is an unconscious deconstruction of video games. Now, before I continue on with this theory on things, I will point out that I am no longer speaking about my villainous friend Antonio; these are not necessarily his thoughts toward games. It’s more of what I think may influence an overall pervasive attitude amongst game critics who seem to revile long running franchises and games that see endless sequels.

What is a video game, in essence? It’s a computer program, most (by all means not all) of which are essentially based on the idea of one cursor that you control either avoiding other cursors or trying to occupy the same X,Y coordinates as others. I mean, that’s basically what they are. What makes a video game fun is the skin they’re wrapped in, the polish they’re given. But really, everything from Super Mario to Grand Turismo to Street Fighter are essentially one set of X,Y (and now Z) coordinates trying to avoid or occupy the space of other coordinates. Kind of deflates the entire idea of video games, doesn’t it? Don’t think too much about it, whatever you do…it’s very depressing.

I believe a lot of critics who are attacking the “rehash” practices of the industry are subconciously deconstructing video games without even realizing it. By saying New Super Mario Bros. is the same rehash as the Original Super Mario Bros, isn’t one really only looking at the most core, basic functions of the computer program? It really does seem so.

“It’s Mario running and jumping and avoiding obstacles…the same obstacles and the same enemies as he did 20-something years ago.” critics say.

Hmm. Aren’t these the same people who watch a television series week after week with the same cast, the same settings and the same overall basic story?

Man, not to clump on even more nerd stigma to this already dorkified article, but lets take a look at Star Trek (ok, and Star Wars, angry guy shaking his fists angrily at me right now who owns a dog named Chewie.) We’re talking about a series that has the same basic setting, the same set of characters, and the same basic plotline that has existed for decades. Decades! But why do we watch these and countless other series? Because we love to see the new situations the characters get themselves into. We enjoy watching the characters engage in new challenges, new strife, new romance, new emotions. It’s exciting to see what happens next. In reality, I don’t see how video games are all that different, using the Mario series as an example. The levels are new, the challenges are new, the graphics, for the most part, are new. It’s fascinating to see a beloved character in a new place.

There is one major difference between games and TV shows: the price. Things are different when the price of admission to watch your favorite characters do new wacky things is fifty bucks.

I write this article, I suppose, as a caution to my beloved fellow gamers. When you begin to see video games as “more of the same old thing over and over again”, question what it is you’re really tired of. And I don’t really have the answer to that necessarily since I believe that’s a personal issue for everyone. But beware: too much deconstruction of video games will reveal to you that you’re still playing Pong after almost 40 years.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic. As usual I don’t articulate myself very well on this blog (I’m more of a song-and-dance man) but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m saying. Chime in!

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One Response to The Unconcious Deconstruction of Video Games

  1. DAGO says:

    I kind of agree a little bit with your friend, back when I was playing the original Super Mario Bros, 3 and Super Mario World I remember thinking that the next generation would have to be so much better looking, like a playable cartoon.

    Then everyone started making 3D games and forgot for a while that 2D existed, and now that they started making 2D games again they look exactly like they used to but just a little nicer with higher definition (and in this case 3D graphics over a 2D plane).

    Wario Land: Shake it and A Boy and His Blob kind of go into that direction but don’t go as far as I was hoping back then.

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