In the thirty-plus years since Pong hit the market, video games of every stripe have been released. We have explored strange, otherworldly realms in No Man’s Sky, we have delved into the human condition in The Last of Us, we have even tried our hand at being thugs and gangsters in the likes of Grand Theft Auto. We have defended the world from alien threats in countless games, and we have spent more time on the beaches of Normandy than the actual soldiers.
In those thirty years, we have seen games that take our breath away. Games with mechanics so well-crafted that we lose ourselves in them, or build entire sports around the genre. It often seems difficult to remember that once upon a time, shovelware from major game publishers was just as common as the trash of Steam Greenlight is today. There has been a drive in the last decade or so to rise above the dull, “modern”, grey-brown, cover-based shooters of the last console generation, a push for better storytelling and more refined gameplay. By and large, we have been successful, but in doing so, we have forgotten an important point.
Mediocre games are okay.
It is an unpopular stance, even in today’s world of calls to “be tolerant” and “don’t judge”. Even in the politically correct society we have cultured, developers still get death threats when their games are delayed or do not meet expectations. Every game is held to the standard of the likes of Minecraft and Portal and Undertale, an act that is comparable to expecting your three-year-old to paint the Mona Lisa.
“Ah!” a reader might outcry, “But video games are different because they have big budgets and professional companies!” However, by comparison to other art forms, video games are still in their infancy. Less than a half century ago, A. Eddy Goldfarb & Associates (a company so obscure that Wikipedia does not even have an article for them) released a game in which the sole mechanic was dressing Barbie up for dates with Ken.
Thirty years before The Mona Lisa, the likes of Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna With Child, which, to this day, is housed in the Indianapolis Museum Of Art as one of the greatest pieces of art in history. A HUNDRED years before da Vinci put paint to canvas, Paolo Veneziano created masterpieces like The Crucifixion. Suddenly, 40 years to go from inception to masterpiece does not seem like a lot.
So, whether it is an outcry against violent and graphic video games, a complaint about buggy, unrefined messes or outrage over a game that is not as good as it was promised to be, remember this: In the 1990’s, less than three decades ago, there were 19 games released based on the Barbie product line, and none of them is famous today. They were not great, they were far from revolutionary, but we have come leaps and bounds since then because we’re still growing as an industry AND as an art-form. Let us keep our macaroni art displayed on the fridge for a little longer, and praise ourselves when we do better, rather than putting ourselves down for falling short. We are growing out of our juvenile, immature creations, and with love and patience, we will get there.