Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play. MIT Press, 2009 (Chapters 7 and 8 )
Ah, the well-worn debate about video games as art. This chapter brought up a few issues that I think are important for explaining why commercial developers are reluctant to create games that are challenging in either their presentation or content.
First off, I do wonder if there might not be a problem with claiming as fact the statement that “artists’ games by definition take an ‘outsider’ stance in relation to a popular commercial games culture” (226). While it’s true that “This position itself suggests alternate readings of contemporary issues in electronic media and offers the possibility of commentary on social experiences such as discrimination, violence, and aging that traditional gaming culture either avoids or unabashedly marks with stereotypes” (226), and I definitely do not disagree that this is very important, I think this might create a self-perpetuating problem. Reinforcing the idea that art and commercial games are automatically different–if not outright in opposition to each other–might restrict the art games’ influence on commercial games, enforce a false dichotomy between the two, and create the same chasm between “art game” and “commercial game” that currently exists between “educational game” and “commercial game”, which would be extremely unfortunate.
Also, I may as well comment on the following question: “If games are supposed to be a source of entertainment, should they also attempt to enhance critical thinking as well as address social and political issues?” (247). Because video games are often viewed as (and often are) playful, light entertainment, if they address serious issues, there’s a good chance that they can be seen as disrespectful to or exploitative of that subject matter in an offensive manner (though I would argue no more exploitative than your average Hollywood movie). However, this issue does not necessarily need to be seen as a problem or obstacle to making a game with serious content; rather, it can provide extra incentive for the developers to put more thought and care into the game that they’re creating. Unfortunately, the idea that games are and should only be for entertainment can also become an excuse for dangerously sanitizing serious issues. For the purposes of my own blog, I consider this a particularly important issue to consider because a refusal to address serious content, or take serious content and distance and distort it as much as possible from reality, can restrict the potential for games to explore moral dilemmas that aren’t clearly black and white or that have relevance outside of the game.
As for educational games, Extra Credits had a helpful episode detailing a few ways that educating players can be achieved in commercial video games in ways that aren’t overly heavy-handed and obvious.