Why, as gamers, do we still feel like Rodney Dangerfield? We get no respect.
Grand Theft Auto V is here. In case you didn't know, that's kind of a big deal. In just a few simple clicks on Google, you'll find article upon article reviewing, analyzing, or breaking down the various aspects of the game. This will continue for some time to come, even after the new-game smell has long worn off. However, the most impressive feat will come just 30 days in. Bean counters project the game will garner over one billion dollars in revenue within the first month of the game’s release. Now, aside from the Dr. Evil laugh I can't get out of my head when I type that sentence, something else strikes me.
How is it that gaming is still the red-headed stepchild of the entertainment industry? I guess you can say we've come a long way. I'm a child of the 80’s. I missed the huge boom of the Golden Age of video games during the early part of that decade, but I was there for its second coming when games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat blew up the world in the 90s. Many will also remember this time for when gaming was first shoved into the main stream in an unfavorable light. This was during a time when congress was targeting what they considered to be “ultra-violent” video games. Former Vice Presidential Candidate Joe Lieberman was at the helm of what would eventually result in the creation of the ESRB. If you could rollback to a mere 10 years before that, you would see a very different scene. It wasn't uncommon that you'd find young kids standing next to full-grown men in business suits who stopped by the arcade on their lunch break to grab a quick game of Defender or Pac-Man. It was a time when gaming was accepted as, dare I say, equals in the world of pop-culture entertainment.
So why is it now, with unprecedented sales numbers and records being shattered on a regular basis, that we still don't have the respect of the main stream? You'll recall that just a few short years ago in 2010, Roger Ebert was quoted as saying that "Video Games Can Never Be Art." It's hard for me, as I'm sure it is many of you, to understand this way of thinking. Sure, we've had our share of embarrassments when it comes to dabbing our gaming toes in the world of film. Debacles such as the Super Mario Bros. film are what people usually think of when it comes to bad game-to-screen translations, but there have also been glimmers of hope as well. Don’t forget that Peter Jackson himself, at one point, was attached to a possible Halo film adaptation, and it was Halo 3's pre-sales that made the film industry take notice in the first place.
I can only assume that people who look down on the gaming industry do so because they see it as unintellectual, finding it to be a simple, mindless waste of time and, at worst, the cause of real-world violence. Now, anyone who's played games for more than ten minutes knows this is a ridiculous oversimplification that grossly underestimates the value of our medium.
I realize that if I attempt to base the argument solely on financial success (with gaming budgets being usually smaller thus allowing for a bigger return), it doesn’t necessarily hold water. There are those, for example, that would say that Avatar making over a billion dollars is a more significant achievement. Video games will retail for over $60 a piece, way over standard ticket prices, so it takes less units sold to reach the same goal. While this is true on paper, in practice it falls apart. Yes, gamers are investing more at the register for their single purchase; the return is where the gaming industry runs away with this argument. When I sat down to see Avatar, which is three hours of my life I'll never get back by the way, I walked out of the theater and that was it. Even if I decided to watch it again on DVD or cable, the experience would always be exactly the same. The film is not going to change from viewing to viewing.
However, take a game like GTA V. This is a game that will be providing countless hours of entertainment for months, perhaps years to come for some gamers. They will have experiences in this game that are absolutely unique to them. They'll be connected to the game in a way that can't be recreated in any other medium, with the experience being unique each time. And even when the game gets old and the adventures are played out, the world can be revitalized with the introduction of DLC or user-created content. This is the very nature of creativity and art, but it seems people in other industries aren’t interested in taking the time to look past the pixels to see it.
Has any film in the last decade had the kind of staying power that a World of Warcraft has? This is a game that has generated over ten billions dollars to date and continues to earn phenomenal revenue, despite its drop in subscribers. By the way, when I try to picture ten billion dollars in my mind, I can only visualize a pile of money large enough for the creatures of Pacific Rim to roll around in a la Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal.