Pining for a Game That Doesn’t Yet Exist

Dear N’Gai, Seth, and Stephen,

Stephen wonders if we should be embarrassed for not discussing Wii Fit, and then he answers his own question by noting that it’s a self-help game and therefore isn’t really the kind of game that the four of us are talking about. Which reminds me: As games grow, and as they are played by more and more people, I think game critics will increasingly have to grapple with Stephen’s mantra from last year’s club: “Video games are not a genre; they’re a medium.”

I think this statement was more radical than Stephen intended it to be. I think I’m persuaded by it, but I have trouble wrapping my head around it sometimes. The boldness of the claim makes me want to resist it. Put the Internet aside for a moment—in time, we may see it as less a new medium and more a technology for the transmission of all media (including games!) under the sun—and you’ll see that every other medium, at least that I can think of, qualifies under one of the big three rubrics: Print, Audio, Video. (Under this taxonomy, TV and movies, for example, aren’t distinct media—they’re just distinct ways of transmission for a particular medium, video.)

Stephen is saying that video games are a Fourth Medium, then, something truly new under the sun. (Maybe this is just a different way of saying that games are an Eighth Art Form, as Dennis Dyack says.) I often think that’s right. But it also helps explain my long face, as Stephen puts it. Don’t I have the right to expect something more from this marvelous new medium? Something more wondrous than beautifully and impeccably crafted worlds filled with enemies for me to kill?

What I want is a game with the elegant gameplay and level design of Gears of War 2 but with the story of The Force Unleashed. But I want it told in a manner like Braid—or even You Have To Burn the Rope—meaning, a telling of the tale that is consistent with the promise and the mechanics of this Fourth Medium (or Eighth Art Form).

I haven’t played this game yet. Have any of you?

Stephen and Seth are right that if you put a space alien in front of this year’s batch of games, the interstellar visitor—assuming his slippery, tentaclelike thumbs could handle the controller—would conclude that the games that are coming out right now are some of the finest examples of the promise of this new medium. But they are also captivating largely because they possess exactly that: promise. The best games are packed with the prospect of something more, something on the tip of everyone’s tongue that no one has yet been able to put into words—or rather, games.

I don’t feel guilty about dreaming of the day when a game designer puts it all together and I can finally, at long last, scratch the itch that all of us feel but none of us can find.

Until next year,

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