Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
01 May 2008
Video game canons and flesh colored band-aids

I was obviously asleep when the announcement was made that this stab at a video game canon was announced last year:

Mr. Lowood and the four members of his committee — the game designers Warren Spector and Steve Meretzky; Matteo Bittanti, an academic researcher; and Christopher Grant, a game journalist — announced their list of the 10 most important video games of all time:

Okay, I can pick at the list. Anybody can pick out a list. Did they screw up? Sure. Where's KABOOM!? (kidding on that one -- for now)

What concerns me is that these guys are, well, just that. All white guys. Sure, it's a pretty good crosssection of dark haired white guys. There's a short one. One that's not ashamed of his poor vision. Two -- no, on second glance, three -- major facial hair decisions. Still, as humans go, it's a pretty diversity challenged group on its face, har har.

What else unites the Superfriends of Ludological Canonization? That they all decided not to make their rationalizations for picking these ten easily Googleable [by me].

In any event, even if white guys too largely made the games and white guys too largely play/ed the games, is that really a good reason that white guys should pick the games? I imagine these guys would likely find my dimestore critique here uncontroverstial, but then why not branch out before announcing your list at the Game Developers' Conference and posing for the NY Freakin' Register of the US Times?

Insert smilie.

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--ruffin at 11:46
Comment [ 6 ]

Comments on this post:

I actually saw that list when it came out. I think my friends and merely scratched our beards sagely and said, "A typical specimen in the species 'Commentarien typicalis'. Well until we started talking about why the heck Star Raiders appeared on the list. (We figured they must not have been talking about the Atari 2600 version which was garbage.)

By Blogger MonkeyKing1969, at 01 May, 2008 14:31  

As far as I could Google, there was some emphasis on getting the first example of certain influential genres. Perhaps Star Raiders is for 3D space games, though I think the random station generation in Elite gave the first expansive world this side of Adventure Construction Set that I ran into, and should be that genre's representative.

I would also vote for Adventure Construction Set as a "top 10" game.

In any event, though I agree they likely didn't mean 2600 Star Raiders, I did really enjoy Star Raiders on the woodgrain. The number of things going on in the game (energy levels, damaged shields, keypad, difficulty switches, etc) gave it a breadth I particularly enjoyed and didn't find in any other 2600 games.

By Blogger ruffin, at 01 May, 2008 15:25  

I was all set to argue that Ruffin was trying to stir up a tempest in a teapot, but after consideration I think he's just trying to play the race card.

The _idea_ behind this scheme is laudable: promote the idea that the Library of Congress should be preserving video games the same way it preserves classic movies. This sure looks like it's trying to build support for a National Video Game Preservation Act.

But the National Film Preservation Board (who select films each year for the Library of Congress to preserve) has 22 members, each with an alternate, representing a whole heap of stakeholders: film archivists, directors, critics, actors, academics...the sort of group that, should it typically consist solely of white dudes, would be subject to criticism of the sort Ruffin puts forth.

But "Mr. Lowood and the four members of his committee" doesn't rise to that yet. (What's it a committee of, by the way? Is there a parent organization, perhaps derived from Stanford, U Maryland and U Illinois but unmentioned in the article?) If it is an organization unto itself, it's...two guys who work together, a journalist, and a couple of famous game designers.

It doesn't bother me at all that these FIVE people are all white and all male. It bothers me greatly that the article and the list presume this group to be representative of ANYBODY.

If you can't rustle up a score or so of recognized authorities from every aspect of video games -- players, reviewers, designers, programmers, publishers, platform producers, academics, etc. -- to take part in making your list, then it's not a "canon".

Heck, if you can't rustle up more than 4 of your friends, doesn't that argue against the cultural importance of video games?

By Blogger Bob, at 02 May, 2008 01:04  

"I was all set to argue that Ruffin was trying to stir up a tempest in a teapot, but after consideration I think he's just trying to play the race card."

Race, class, gender, geography, etc. I am playing most any identity card. What does this group think it represents?

And no, no Swiftian goals hiding here. I heard of the list, went to see if the canon was useful, and immediately reacted to that picture. I would've expect more from academics, if only because identity studies continue to be so in vogue.

Btw, here's the list I came up with in 20 minutes, spammed here for fun. Ten came quickly, but then I kept thinking of more. I think John Elway, Team Quarterback was the game that got me wondering most about the list -- it's very limited in scope, missing entire fields o' games.

top 10 video games for study
(there is a heuristic goal that shouldn't be undervalued here, so just b/c you're Beowulf doesn't give you a freebee)

no particular order
1 Zork
3 Elite
4 Adventure
5 Combat
6 Pong (in its variations, incl. very early analog game)
7 Quake
8 UO (alternately a MUD; I enjoyed Sojourn MUD. Might need to factor in Zork somehow too or explain why it's not the same)
9 SW:TAG or Tron
10 Head to Head football

Galaxia or Space Invaders (Arcade)
Virtua Fighter
John Elway Team Quarterback (for Madden)
One from Silent Hill 1-3
Tetris (xgender, xage appeal)
Spy Hunter or Monaco GP

Hopefully I'll refine more and put *why* each should be "read" critically at some point.

By Blogger ruffin, at 02 May, 2008 07:27  

What is ADC?

By Blogger jvm, at 02 May, 2008 10:58  

ADC is from the earlier comment.

I would also vote for Adventure Construction Set as a "top 10" game.

It really was a game before its time, with an engine, RPG d20-esque system, and a game dev util. And its that last part that makes it especially useful for teaching.

By Blogger ruffin, at 02 May, 2008 12:23  

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