Righting for vidoegaems

or, “Eat a dick, Owen Gleiberman!”

Owen Gleiberman, a “writer” for Entertainment Weekly, just discovered a bit of breaking news from three years ago: the Writers Guild of America actually gives out awards to people who “write” for videogames!

You can imagine his surprise: a union funded by the dues paid by its members would actually open its doors to a multi-billion dollar industry, bestowing honors upon “writers” to encourage storytelling excellence in videogames and also to encourage people to join the union. (You’re not eligible for the award unless you’re a member of the WGA, which even three years later is still relatively rare in the games industry). They actually treat these “writers” as if they were real professionals, almost as if they had real jobs like TV sitcom screenwriters or movie reviewers!

His article — and I use the term generously — focuses on the charming human interest story of li’l Gary Whitta, the screenwriter of The Book of Eli, who in addition to being one of the founders of the cute videogame magazine PC Gamer also “wrote” for videogames like Prey and Gears of War. I sure hope Whitta remembered to put on his big-boy suit when he made it up to the Big Leagues to work in TV and movies!

(Gleiberman, like most highly-paid journalists, investigated the story using Whitta’s wikipedia page. I expected so much more journalistic integrity from the acclaimed writer of “Dumplings of Justice.”)

After being condescending and dismissive of Whitta’s entire career for a paragraph, Gleiberman goes on to break the news:

What I had no idea of, until a press release that literally arrived an hour ago, is that videogame writing has now attained such prominence and prestige that it merits its own award…from the Writers Guild! The WGA nominations for Best Videogame Writing have just been announced: They include Assassin’s Creed I (story by Corey May; script by May, Joshua Rubin, and Jeffry Yohalem), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (script by Marc Guggenheim), and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (written by Amy Henning). This might be an easy thing to mock, except that it really does make sense.

And you know, actually, Mr. Gleiberman is correct there. The idea that anyone in 2010 could earnestly state that videogame writing only achieved prominence once it merited an award from an organization made up mostly of people who don’t work in videogames — that is a very easy thing to mock.

So easy to mock, in fact, that you needn’t even mention that film criticism is such a widely (albeit unfairly) disregarded and dismissed field that anyone working in film criticism should know full well how ludicrous it is to see his career shown such a lack of respect. No, you can mock it merely by pointing out that the videogame industry has its own organizations with their own awards, and that they don’t need the acknowledgement of unrelated groups to “attain prominence and prestige.”

Or by pointing out that anyone who earned whatever prominence and prestige he has by working at a weekly magazine about pop culture, really should have played at least one videogame by now. Especially if he’s going to use the phrase “videogame writing” as a pejorative:

Why shouldn’t we honor the creators of videogame stories as writers in an entertainment universe where more and more credible Hollywood screenwriters are drawing their aesthetic inspiration from those very same games? And, of course, the standards are shifting even as we speak. Evaluated as a traditional Hollywood screenplay, Avatar, as I have argued on several occasions, is thin, derivative, serviceable, and vaporous. But taken in a different context, as a glorified act of videogame creation, it might well seem downright visionary.

And the frustrating thing about that is that it reveals Gleiberman is so hopelessly out of touch, it deflates any attempts to take it seriously and be offended by it. At least when a real film critic complains about the videogames, he acknowledges his preconceptions, and he demonstrates a real attempt to judge games by what they aspire to do. Gleiberman’s sneering at vapid videogames is so lazy and cliched, he might as well be complaining about the hippity-hop music or the evils of comic books or the dangers of billiards.

Not to mention conclusively proving that he hasn’t played a videogame since Tetris if even that. He uses Avatar as an example of the negative influence videogames have had on Hollywood (when it’s clear that it’s the kind of movie that “gamers” will just love), seemingly unaware that the problem is reversed. It’s because of the influence of James Cameron’s Aliens and Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan that videogame players have had to be space marines or had to raid Normandy over and over again for the past twenty years.

Clearly on a roll after his Avatar jab, Gleiberman goes on to point out that he watches real movies, making a weak attempt to disguise his pretentious O What a Cineaste Am I masturbation as a eulogy for Eric Rohmer. And he begins with the supposition “If the videogame mindset represents the most potent threat yet to the rich, classical 20th century ideal of what a screenplay can be….”

The most potent threat to the rich, classical 21st century ideal of what videogame writing (note the lack of sarcastic quotes, you pompous twat) can be is the pretentious sneering of people like Gleiberman, clinging to outdated notions of “high art” and “low art.” Instead of embracing the fact that we’re living in the age of unprecedented access to art and information of all types, available to inspire works of unprecedented richness, depth, scope, and accessibility. (And again: the man works for Entertainment Weekly, the bible of melting-pot pop culture. It boggles the mind).

But even more dangerous than self-satisfied outsiders like Gleiberman are the people within the industry who take attitudes like his seriously. Those self-hating game developers who aspire to other media for recognition and validation, instead of exploring what’s possible in interactive entertainment, simply mimicking what they’ve seen before instead of being truly inspired by it. Or those pretentious and self-serving game developers who assume they have nothing to learn from other media, that vapidity is the property of an entire medium, instead of just being the failing of an individual artist.

10 thoughts on “Righting for vidoegaems”

  1. You forgot to point out that he uses Rohmer’s death more as an excuse to plug his partner’s “lovely” blog post about said death than to actually make any point in his own post, I mean article. Classy. Exactly what you would expect from a guy who writes for “Ew”.

  2. I’m not going to defend Mr. Gleiberman, but he raises one valid point: most video game writing *is* terrible. On the other hand, so is most writing for any other medium, even if the amount of crap churned out by those is a little less than what games fling around.

    Gleiberman’s not really someone you should roll your eyes over, though. I just find it cute and ironic that someone who decries “writing” in games as being the natural evolution of the “rich” tradition of 20th Century art (which, let me remind you, produced masterpieces such as Howard the Duck, Caligula, and the profound Andy Warhol vehicle Sleep) can write this:

    Maybe you can, or maybe he can, make a case – it all depends on what part of the paragraph you look at. I guess the chunk of Gleiberman’s brain responsible for writing the beginning of sentence one wasn’t in communication with the part responsible for writing the end of sentence two. That doesn’t really condemn his writing to the, uh, dirty trenches of the Avatar-liking, game-playing common man, but his attitude peppers it with delicious, degrading mouthfuls of irony.

    I can sum-up his stance in one sentence, based on this, as well as his “lone man” comment from earlier:

    What he’s probably trying to say is he’d like to see games do an artsy sun-dappled erotic roundelay about a girl doomed to spend her summer vacation alone, plus a bunch of insults.

  3. Woah, some serious HTML stuff going on with my post there. Whoops. I also finished the comment. Sorry, Mr. Jordan.

    I’m not going to defend Mr. Gleiberman, but he raises one valid point: most video game writing *is* terrible. On the other hand, so is most writing for any other medium, even if the amount of crap churned out by those is a little less than what games fling around.

    Gleiberman’s not really someone you should roll your eyes over, though. I just find it cute and ironic that someone who decries “writing” in games as being the natural evolution of the “rich” tradition of 20th Century art (which, let me remind you, produced masterpieces such as Howard the Duck, Caligula, and the profound Andy Warhol vehicle Sleep) can write this:

    You can make a case that Rohmer was the one and only giant of the art-house-renaissance era who didn’t experience a creative falling off after the ’60s and ’70s. That may, in part, be the prejudice of my own experience

    Maybe you can, or maybe he can, make a case – it all depends on what part of the paragraph you look at. I guess the chunk of Gleiberman’s brain responsible for writing the beginning of sentence one wasn’t in communication with the part responsible for writing the end of sentence two. That doesn’t really condemn his writing to the, uh, dirty trenches of the Avatar-liking, game-playing common man, but his attitude peppers it with delicious, degrading mouthfuls of irony.

    I can sum-up his stance in one sentence, based on this, as well as his “lone man” comment from earlier:

    I first really discovered Rohmer in the ’80s, with films like the sun-dappled erotic roundelay Pauline at the Beach (1983), pictured above, and the great Summer (1986), the story of a woman, single and isolated and doomed to taking a summer vacation by herself, who is so transcendently neurotic that she brings off the singular feat of spending an entire movie talking in eloquent deluded circles around her own loneliness.

    The thing is, she sounds like a real person, and that was the glory of Rohmer’s poetically prosaic conversational movies. Hooked on films like Summer, I went back and saw the movies that made Rohmer famous, the six “Moral Tales” he wrote and directed in the ’60s and ’70s, and though I found them tricky and marvelous and, in their way, quite sexy (what is Claire’s Knee but the story of a man having an obsessive, lustful affair — yet doing it so chastely that he triumphs over his own desire), to me they had less of that luxuriously digressive talky flow than his later films, which elevated dialogue into pure brainy deceptive play

    What he’s probably trying to say is he’d like to see games do an artsy sun-dappled erotic roundelay about a girl doomed to spend her summer vacation alone, and then a bunch of insults at game “writers”. That, or he wants more French people being lusty and having sex, except now with interactivity. You can interpret that any way you want to.

  4. I still think you’re giving him too much credit. It’s the shallowest and laziest of attempts at commentary; even saying “a lot of videogame writing does suck” is giving it more validation than it deserves.

    It would be like sneering at all screenwriters because of Avatar, or all film critics because Pruane2Forever exists. A lot of people, myself included, have pointed out that there’s plenty of weak writing in videogames. What Gleiberman has done is shown a mocking contempt for an entire career based on his own pretentious, ignorant, and outdated assumptions about a medium.

    But of course, I’m the guy who thinks “eat a dick” is showing the guy more respect than he deserves.

  5. Finally, I understand one of your posts!

    “Game design is indeed an art in and of itself, but it’s not “meaningful” except on an academic level.”

    What was that all about? However, this guy does in fact seem to be a major tool. My question though is…is stupid stuff like this from linear media relevant enough to respond to?

    Honestly, those who don’t understand video games aren’t bound to be a major force in society. It’s a little like realistic painters complaining about the impressionists, no?

  6. My question though is…is stupid stuff like this from linear media relevant enough to respond to?

    Honestly, those who don’t understand video games aren’t bound to be a major force in society. It’s a little like realistic painters complaining about the impressionists, no?

    It’s more like having your career dismissed by someone so out of touch that he makes references to realists vs. impressionists. (I’m unnecessarily mean on account of my upbringing).

    But seriously, it’s so easy to call a guy a pretentious douchebag on my website that I might as well. It’s even easier than posting a comment. Anybody whose opinion is worth anything is going to recognize the guy’s not worth listening to, but it’s still one more bit of nonsense that anybody working in games has to put up with. Especially when it’s coming from Entertainment Weekly, which assumes that “Grey’s Anatomy” is something that warrants extensive coverage, but videogame releases only warrant a half-page every few months or so.

    Basically, I’ll be happy when people don’t respond to that with “He’s a douchebag, but you do have to admit that a lot of game writing sucks…” and instead just respond with “He’s a douchebag.”

  7. I still think you’re giving him too much credit. It’s the shallowest and laziest of attempts at commentary; even saying “a lot of videogame writing does suck” is giving it more validation than it deserves.

    Probably. I don’t mean to riff on game writers specifically, but just bad writing – which is present everywhere, including in the art house movies Gleiberman probably masturbates to at home. I’m not suggesting that you or any of your past or present colleagues belong in that camp. Hell, I love you guys. We were just talking about it today. But the vast majority is pretty bad, a correct conclusion Gleiberman arrives at with bullshit reasoning. It’s like arresting a black spree shooter because he’s black, instead of because he’s busy gunning down people at the mall: sure, you did the right thing, but you did it for all the wrong reasons.

  8. A) Invoking Sturgeon’s Law/Revelation/Whatever that “90% of anything is crud,” does not prove Gleiberman’s point. He says video game writing is “bad” without once actually bringing up any games to prove his point. Instead he trots out cliches that were getting old when I was back in grammar school that are not just outdated but actually show how little he knows about an industry he’s lambasting. Criticizing something you don’t know anything about when you’re, you know, a critic is pretty much a no-no. It’s like, if he were a White, financial adviser, and he told you not to invest in CD’s because everyone’s downloading their music nowadays.

    B) Invoking Sturgeon’s Revelation also proves Geldingman wrong. Yes, 90% of video game writing is crud, as is 90% of every other form of entertainment out there. To say that games should be more like art house films because than they’d be “good” is ignoring the fact that even independent films, on average, suck. If you don’t believe me, go look up the oeuvre of Coleman Francis.

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