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Opinion: 'Merchant Ivory' Controversy Continues

Following an initial feedback column, a veritable flood of extra letters have arrived regarding the recent 'Designer'
The recent 'Designer's Notebook' column by Ernest Adams named 'Where's Our Merchant Ivory?' has already attracted significant feedback from Gamasutra readers, with game professionals querying the fact that "we don’t have any highbrow games". But following an initial feedback column, a veritable flood of extra letters have arrived, all viewable at Gamasutra's Letter To The Editor page. We reprint a first instalment of some of the most notable excerpts and responses below. Brandon Walker comments: "Myst, though it is not fondly remembered by some, is a perfect example of the roots of highbrow. The acting was a little over the top in places but the game itself did what others did not. Not only did Myst usher in the CD-ROM/Multimedia revolution in games but it also presented art for art's sake. There were no bullets and action sequences, just beautiful (for the time) scenery, haunting sounds and sountracks, and the need to piece together the mystery... It may be we need more people approaching games from the same perspective. A more modern examply might be the game Cloud. Cloud is pure experimentation. What can be done with a simple mechanic, a desire to create beautiful scenery, and a goal no more or less noble than to see what happens." The pseudonymous 'foobar' suggests: "The article misses the point. It's not video games that lack highbrow offerings, it's games, regardless of medium. For a few hundred years now, games have been regarded as child's play in our culture. Chess may be the only game that has a good reputation, and other, similar games such as Go might conceivably be mentioned as well." In addition, Jessie Sinclair-Nixon has a long reply in which it's noted: "Plenty of people out there consider movies just as much of a waste of time as video games, to be sure, and you may chalk this up to no one knowing the extent of the history and depth of the art of film - but the same can very easily be said about games. Music, for example, has had hundreds of years to gain the depth and breadth of texture and variation that it now boasts. The visual arts, as well. And none of it took hold right away and was considered serious." Finally for now, Michael Eilers has a particularly interesting response, as follows: "It is a rare occasion indeed that I find myself in any sort of disagreement with Ernest Adams, but in this case I do think the issue needs further consideration. Hauling out the dusty "Merchant Ivory" films as examples of highbrow culture is, in itself, a questionable concept -- they aren't genuine culture, but an idealized, purposely anachronistic revision of an already-romanticized setting. Holding up the costume drama as an example of highbrow is equivalent to saying that highbrow culture is created and consumed only by upper-middle-class citizens of the grey-haired set for indulgent nostalgia of our imperialist past. Or something like that. In all seriousness, if Mr. Adams widened his definition of highbrow just a tad he'd find dozens of games that have struggled to elevate the genre to the heights he desires. Jordan Mechner's masterpiece "The Last Express" was an astonishing achievement in game design and art, and even featured characters speaking foreign languages. Square's seminal RPG "Mother" was a seemingly-childish adventure game based on the Japanese Haiku form in the dialog and design. As noted by another writer, The Ultima series (specifically IV, V and VII) had deep, intrinsic moral messages and a literal quest for virtue with spiritual implications. Even the original Myst was a bold attempt to create a new art form, mixing abstract visuals, gorgeous tone poems and truly inspired writing. If Myst doesn't belong in a museum, it is time to fire the curator. It is fairly simple to dismiss Adams' argument as a straw-man; if you buy the argument that games are pure entertainment, one might retort that no one pines after highbrow baseball or more-literate bowling. I share Adams' desire for games that leap to Shakespearean heights or Platonic depths; however this desire is tempered by the knowledge that this type of entertainment is, and will forever be, for a an elitist niche audience -- just like the Merchant-Ivory films." Further replies can be viewed at the Letter From The Editor page on Gamasutra, and we will conclude selections from the large response set on Monday.

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