Smart phones and the aggressive marketing of the female demographic now means that the computer game market is bigger than many could ever have imagined. There are many games that fit into the Heston Blumenthal end of the cultural spectrum - Skyrim is ambitious and accomplished, and, as unattractive as I personally find running around shooting things in a realistic setting, the Call of Duty series has some merit in recreating the experience of warfare. Many independent games are embracing a postmodern cannibalism of gaming conventions, the excellent Braid and Super Meat Boy amongst them. Yet, as this detailed and nuanced article from Wired explores, the rise of the casual gamer, on smartphone and social network, is also the rise of the stupid game.
|Ian Bogost's 'Cow Clicker'|
Tiny Tower involves building a tower, with competing needs for residential and various forms of commercial floors. Except they don't really compete. There is no scarcity of resources, the gamer must merely wait for his tower to generate enough money to allow them to build another floor. The manipulation of the gamer comes through incremental reward - to get money you must re-stock your commercial floors. This can take anywhere between 5 minutes and 5 hours, after which your phone will prompt you to click on the floor to complete the stocking process. The more floors you have, the more often your phone will prompt you, so the more often you return to play the game. It's an alarm clock for a non-event. Temple Run, on the other hand, is just an Indiana-Jones-ified version of the Chaos Emerald levels on Sonic 2. In other words, the gameplay of a mini-game from a game made two decades ago, with the style of film made three decades ago. Postmodern asset stripping should be celebrated when it creates something new and interesting, but in Temple Run it is at its most cynical.
Sonic 2 / Temple RunTemple Run's debt to Sonic 2 is at the heart of the problem with the rise of the stupid game. By reducing the narrative and complexity in games, cynical developers are sending the form back to poorer times. Naivety has a legitimate place in art: music has genres including punk; numerous visual artists play with the idea; and novels written from a child's perspective can provoke interesting insight, with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas more recent examples. The difference between this and gaming however, is that examples in music, visual art and literature use a naive approach to create a new perspective. There is no argument that Temple Run or Tiny Tower change the way we look at the world, or medium of the computer game, in an interesting way, or that they are even intending to.
The concluding rooms of the recent Postmodernism exhibition at the V&A documented how the movement, after gaining mass popularity and ubiquity, became corrupted by money and was destroyed by the vapidness that resulted. To illustrate this, exhibited in one small space, was a Warhol Dollar Sign, Jeff Koons' silver Louis XIV, and a yellow sequined jacket by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. Temple Run, Tiny Tower and others like them are the gaming equivalents of these gaudy pieces, suggesting that they might be as dangerous as they are stupid.