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.