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by Jason Connor
To RPGamers everywhere,
The following is a letter I wrote and sent to MSNBC after reading Dan Crislip's article and subsequently Jack Kroll's infuriating article for Newsweek. I would like to share it with you, and I think it speaks for itself.
"Hello. My name is Jason Connor. I just finished reading Jack Kroll's Newsweek article entitled "'Emotion Engine'? I don't think so," and I would like to say that I am appalled by what he said.
Mr. Kroll states quite explicitly within his article that "Games can be fun and rewarding in many ways, but they can't transmit the emotional complexity that is the root of art." I would like to ask Mr. Kroll, exactly how many video games has he ever played, from start to at least an attempt to finish? Granted, there are hundreds of games released whose sole purpose of existence is to generate income for the company that produced them--for example, Nintendo's Pokemon series. But not every picture that is drawn on paper, painted on canvas, or captured on photo is art, just as not every sound that has ever been heard by human ear is music. And to claim that all video games are incapable of invoking an emotional response in a person is fruit born of sheer ignorance.
I submit for examination the branch of video games known as role-playing games, or RPG's. I have been playing RPG's ever since I owned the original 8-bit Nintendo, and I would argue that these, if any, video games CAN produce an emotional response in a person.
In the movie Braveheart, William Wallace's wife is chased, nearly raped, and subsequently has her throat slit. In the game Final Fantasy VII, Aeris Gainsborough is chased from her home, only to later be stabbed through the back by a sword. I ask, what gives the scene from Braveheart any more claim to being "art" than the scene from Final Fantasy VII? The fact that one is portrayed by live actors, the other with digital characters? That is prejudice of the highest order.
Let's assume for a moment that, as implied by Mr. Kroll's article, art invokes an emotional response. If I go to an art museum, or listen to an opera, or simply watch a movie, am I going to respond emotionally to every picture hanging from the wall, to every note sung by the diva, or to every scene in the movie? Honestly, no. But if I sit down to watch Braveheart, and pay attention to the story, I'm going to become involved with it. I begin to wonder what's going to happen, to care about each character as though they were real people. And when something drastic happens, such as a main character being killed, I am then and only then affected by it. If I were to simply be presented with a death scene, I wouldn't be nearly as affected by it.
The same must be applied when examining an RPG, or any video game that professes to have a story of some kind. RPG's have storys that are just as long and involved, if not moreso, than epics such as Braveheart. I wouldn't expect anyone to jump right into the middle of Final Fantasy VII and cry their hearts out over Aeris's death, but for anyone who has played through the game and gotten to know the characters to not get at least a little misty-eyed is, in my opinion, heartless and inhuman.
But, Mr. Kroll says, video games can't convey emotion. Why is that? The arguement that digital characters can't convey facial expressions like live actors can is irrelevant. Computer technology is so advanced, with CGI on such a cutting edge, that within a few years we'll see digital actors that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. The same goes for voices, music, and pretty much any other comparison one can draw between games and art.
In closing, I would like to state that, just as art is created by man, art is also defined by man. There are quite a few sayings that pertain to this: "One man's trash is another man's treasure." "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Mr. Kroll is quite entitled to his opinion of what art is and is not, but it is not his place to define art for everyone else. For him to belittle a video game that, when honestly examined, portrays a scene every bit as emotional as an analogous movie scene, is, as I said before, prejudiced and ignorant. It is my suggestion that, the next time Mr. Kroll is allowed to write such an opinionistic article, he should better research a subject before presuming to be an expert on said subject, and to judge not, lest he himself be judged.
To whomever has taken the time to actually read all the way through this letter, I give you my sincerest thanks."
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