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Jaffe vs Cage: A polarized discussion of gaming

Feature; Apr. 19, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Tyrone M. Cato
Subtypes: Column
Two developers both want what's best for the video game industry. So why do they hate each other?

David Jaffe knows what games should be like.

Jaffe is the head of game developer Eat Sleep Play and director of the upcoming PS3 game Twisted Metal. In a blog post from last month, he discussed the concept of “games as art” and the maturation of the gaming industry as a whole. In his post (and the part he added at a later time, where the majority of his points lie), he asserted that by saying, assuming and purporting the belief that video games are substantial because of their style, "core/pure play experiences" (the term Jaffe uses to describe games that have a particular focus on game play and game mechanics) are put at risk.

David Jaffe

The claim that video games are as important as movies could cause developers and the gaming community as a whole to become complacent and not strive for or expect games to develop further. Praising a game because of its soundtrack, aesthetic and graphics instead of its ability to integrate those things with the game itself may convince people that the game was good when its overall storyline, plot and setting weren't very innovative at all.

Jaffe fears this might happen. He points out that what makes a game special is its interactivity -- it cannot instill emotions in people the same way films do. He knows that games aren't like movies; an exciting situation in a film could be boring/awkward in a game and vice versa. What makes games unique is their interactivity -- something that should always be on the forefront with designers.

David Cage knows what games should be like, too.

Cage, head of the game developer Quantic Dream which made Heavy Rain, said in his speech at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2011 in San Diego, Calif. that developers shouldn't be/have to feel constrained by concepts of traditional gaming such as boss fights, missions, game overs, etc. He said game developers should be creating more meaningful content, and designers' work should "be on par with the best movies out there, in matter of storytelling and characterization and emotion, etc."

David Cage

Again, all points are sound. There's no reason a game can't be wildly different from the basic game formula. But that's not to say having linear stages, boss battles and game over screens is inherently bad. It's simply that there's potential for video games to craft stories that would be best told with different basic mechanics than those. When a game over screen appears, the action stops and it can halt the immersion one feels in a game, potentially spoiling the experience the developer was trying to create.

It's important to know that 11 days after Cage spoke at GDC, Jaffe posted this blog post. Neither has mentioned the other by name (or mentioned particular games) in recent interviews or blog posts. However, when Jaffe compares the claim "games are art" to "putting on a beret and a black turtle neck and sitting outside a Parisian cafe," and Cage speaks of violence in games as if it's only meant for tweens, they're just showing they don't feel as confident about their beliefs as they may say they do.

Jaffe mentions in his post that people who claim video games are art only do so because of their insecurities from being geeks and social outcasts. Cage tells developers to make games for adults, which leads the conclusion that developers are still merely making games for children, and that "game mechanics are evil" (quoted from the slideshow that accompanied his speech).

And when you read anything about either of these developers or these points, the above negativity and indirect name-calling will rise to the surface. Jaffe wrote a blog post that, while not without its good points, makes certain aspects of modern video games (story, graphics, physics) out to be no more than surface elements, as if game play is a completely separate component, in turn belittling what games, like Cage's Heavy Rain, stand for. Cage tells his industry that games should further the industry. He discusses one method -- focusing on emotional connections between the player and the story -- yet he comes across as aloof and pretentious by alienating those who like those "pure play experiences" which feature bosses and levels, something Jaffe's God of War video game series is known for having.

These men are bickering -- and not even directly. Because they don't call each other out by name, their words have and will insult others whom they may not have intended to offend. This could polarize the discussion, everyone taking arms for one extreme or another ("games should be emotional and story driven over all else" or "games should focus only on being fun") without considering both sides of the issue because they feel threatened.

Cage and Jaffe have opinions that are held in high regard. What they say will shape perceptions, and by throwing in childish, unnecessary jabs at those holding different beliefs than their own, they gain attention. Yet, they also create infighting.

A video game could have the "pure play experience" which Jaffe holds so dear, and at the same time, evoke emotions from the player while telling an emotional story through its game play. By bashing the other side, they both inadvertently support the notion that games can't be fun and be art, that they can't be anything other than mindless, fun violence or a bombardment on the emotions.

While the term "game" may have a definition, video games are still evolving. A video game does not need to have boss battles and levels, nor does the inclusion of bosses and stages indicate the game's worth. A video game nowadays doesn't just have to be fun. It doesn't have to be artistic. It can be both, neither, something in between or something completely outside the general concept of what a video game is.

There's one thing both designers believe, and that's that the gaming industry still has a ways to go. However, it doesn't seem promising to the industry's future if some of its most influential members can't play nice with each other.



rfludwick - Apr. 20, 2011 at 2:06:45pm

These gents need to man up and get along. If they're truly passionate about and care for the industry, then they need to accommodate other points of view and to work well with their counterparts to advance the industry.

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