Heroes! Pirates! Arts & Crafts!
August 01, 2003

Okay, lemme break it down for you. I would have had all these editorials up sooner, but I developed shingles. No, not the roofing material. Shingles is the resurgence of chicken pox due to exposure and lowered immune defenses. Anyway, blisters all over the hand, incredibly painful to type. Fortunately, we’ve got three great editorials to make up for the lost time (and pain!) First is a Mr. Ravi Jain’s musings on the literary and by extension, videogame nature of the hero (I’d say protagonist, but you’ll see). Second, we have good ole Midnight Merchant with an investigation of what he likes to call Hack Marketing, although it sounds a lot like shareware to me. Finally, we have our own Hidoshi, aka Mark giving us his thoughts on games and art. Man, art has been a bigger subject than any in recent memory. Anyway, enjoy and send more eds.

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The greatest and most important concept in any game, the foundation of the game, and the place where any good game should begin, is with the creation of the story. The story of a video game defines it precisely, it describes the world, environment and battle situations the player will encounter, it determines the mood and quality of the music and graphics from fun and upbeat to graceful waving sounds and awe-inspiring visuals, and even in some cases it defines the battle system; the weapons of the time period, the skill of each character, and the scenarios which will be played. But the overarching concept of most video games, most novels or movies, is the concept of the hero, and his heroic journey to protect what he thinks is just right and moral in the given situation.

The initial section of the heroic journey answers the question, “who am I?” The first decision a storyteller has to make is who this hero is, what his personality, his origin, and his powers are. Some games utilize the whole gaming experience to explain this one facet of their hero, notably “Vagrant Story,” and “Final Fantasy VII.” Others choose to twist the conviction of the hero, as “Final Fantasy IX” and “Vagrant Story” again does. These facts emphasize the importance and complexity of the initial part of the heroic journey. Before any progress can be made to achieving a moral end, a hero must decide which end is moral, and to do so the hero must decide or discover who he is and what he believes. Otherwise the hero has no conviction bracing his beliefs, and ambiguity takes hold.

Once a hero is defined by himself or the writer, both must now confront his purpose. The second step in the heroic archetype is defining the quest of the hero. Most games of the past clearly defined a single antagonist as totally evil, giving no question as to truth or falsehood. It is when this line is blurred that a story is made interesting and great. Many different methods can be used by storytellers to blur the truth. The true evil can be hidden in the land, leading the hero through twists and turns like in “Final Fantasy VIII” or “Metal Gear Solid II: Sons of Liberty.” There could be no central evil to combat, as in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

To me, the most passionate and tempestuous method of distorting evil is to make its end the same as good. This can be as extreme as conservation to save the environment versus extermination of the human race to save the environment. It can be as narrow as the conflict of killing a few to save the many, or the sacrifice of the many for a few. Evil is the most evil when it is not considered evil or not known to be evil. Again, the hero must choose a side as being evil or more evil than another, and follow through with his convictions whether they are right or not. Most stories choose to forget the validity of the hero’s actions and default to them as right at the conclusion. The closest any game has come to realizing that its hero might not always be right is “Metal Gear Solid.” In the end I interpreted Naomi’s words to mean we should not be concerned with the morality of our actions or what to believe, we should just live. The inspiring thing about a hero is just that, that he does not question life; he lives it with his own truth.

Through both of trials the hero must go through, his beliefs are tested and relied on again and again and again. The conviction of a hero is key to his success. He must, no matter the cost of life, love, happiness, or hope, trust in himself and his mind that he knows what is right. The best example to illustrate this point is “Ico.” The simplicity of a horned boy leading his newfound love through a dangerous evil castle to combat an evil queen, compared to the complexity of emotions the players feels during the game, especially when the horned ghosts attack you, is amazing. The testing of this in a hero has made many a great game, play, and movie, like Death of a Salesman, Gladiator, The Book of Job, Vagrant Story, and Antigone. Arthur Miller calls this type of tested hero the tragic hero, and like in Hamlet, this type of hero will never give up his conviction, even for his life. Never in my life can say I have met a man who would give his life for his beliefs: everyone I have seen can be broken down to nothing. To have so much confidence in what you believe, such arrogance, egotism, and stalwart stubbornness in the truth is the greatest gift anyone can have. Humans cannot do this. Somewhere within the bowels of their minds arise the feces of selfishness and doubt. A human can be broken, a hero cannot. A hero must have this gift, and utilize it to inspire, lead, and conquer his foes. It is what leads him to complete his task or to give all for it, the third duty of the hero and the writer.

The game I have played that follows these guidelines the closest is “Vagrant Story,” if you could not tell. Ashley has so many elements of the hero, and the story is brilliant, coming close to, if not having the same message as “Metal Gear Solid.” But this is not the goal of my essay, to laud one game. The purpose of this essay is threefold. One – to convey my complete infatuation with stories and the heroes they tell of, in whatever medium. Two – to show that games nowadays are on par with movies and novels and should be recognized as an art form as much as any of them. Three – to express my opinion that in its most abstract definition the only qualification of a hero is that he have utmost conviction and impenetrable will. He need not be noble or honorable, rich or poor, intelligent or clumsy, good or evil. All he must be is unbreakable.

- Ravi Jain


Okay, where to begin… First of all, let’s dispense with this whole hero nonsense and use the term protagonist. You are describing the protagonist of a story, who is by no means always a hero. In fact, frequently the protagonist is an anti-hero, and the “hero” winds up being the foil or the antagonist, especially in this day and age. This is an important distinction, so let’s clear it up right now. Sydney Lostarot is a protagonist, as is Solid Snake. Ramza is a protagonist, but Delita is a hero, ne?

You may think I’m splitting hairs, here, but I make the distinction for an important reason. We are meant to identify with protagonist of a story, and if they are not necessarily a hero, where does that leave us? Moreover, it is very difficult to identify with the idealized concept of the hero. The heroes that appeal to us most are the ones we can relate to, and those ARE the ones that can be broken. If a hero is infallible, how can we model ourselves after him/her? We will never be Beowulf. The appeal of the hero is not that he is infallible, but that he IS fallible, that he can be broken, that he is like US, and that in spite of this fact, he manages to persevere and demonstrate admirable traits in the process. We can only engage in hero worship so long before we realize we can never be the infallible hero. The one who possesses human flaws, on the other hand, that we can be, that we can model our lives after because we know it’s obtainable on some level. We cannot be unbreakable, but we CAN show grace under pressure. As Dylan said, rage against the dying of the light.

That being said, I wouldn’t read Miller’s description of the tragic hero as you do. Miller described two types of tragic heroes: the tragic hero and the pathetic hero. Pathetic heroes are those like Oedipus. By his actions early in the story, he set himself up for situations from which he cannot possibly escape. Hamlet is borderline tragic, for he can indeed extricate himself from his situation, but hubris takes over and, as they say, it becomes a story in which a ghost and a prince meet and everyone ends in mincemeat.

Now, as for the idea that the best antagonist is one similar to the protagonist, I’ll grant you that, although it is really a matter of taste. However, the typical difference is that for the protagonist, the means must justify the ends, while for the antagonist the ends always justify the means. This is typical of characters in most literature, although certainly not all. However, according to this idea, your analysis of the final quote by Naomi in Metal Gear Solid would be an antagonist’s quote, rather than a laudable quip by the forces of good. If you live life without thinking of the consequences of your actions, it’s quite easy to fall into the trap of “villainy”.

I hate being overly critical, but that’s my job and there are some serious holes in your essay that people much more knowledgeable in literature than myself would come down upon even harder. Whether it’s due to a poorly thought-out concept or a poorly communicated idea, I don’t know nor will I speculate.

Marketers of the Carribean

Marketing is a tricky business, especially in the ill world of PC gaming. The Internet and mass hacking has been notoriously destroying the PC market in terms of profitability. Massive duplication, illegal mod making, basic hacking and even server attacks have made many of the larger game studios and publishers run into the covers of a controlled console environment. But the brave stay and fight. The weapons they use? Patches, monitored servers, CD Keys, and many more elements that they hope will keep the pirates at bay. But like the US government waging the war on drugs, computer software companies will eventually realize this war is going to last much longer than they will. But nature has always had one basic law in war: survival of the fittest. Indeed the fit have not only survived in such a harsh market, but they had thrived.

Allow me to explain. In the early 90’s, a new hybrid developer was formed. These new developers were raised and bred within the PC gaming market. The company they formed not only knew how to develop games for the market but the very hackers destroying it. At this point, most developers would see the hackers as the enemy and wage war, but not this developer. It was much too evil to wage war, instead coming out with a new marketing technique I call “Hack Marketing”.

What is “Hack Marketing”? Well if you’re a small PC developer who doesn’t have the millions to publish and market a game through mainstream methods, you use “Hack Marketing”. You develop the RPG (example) and release it via limited amount of stores, through the Internet, and self-distribution, BUT you make sure the game can be easily hacked and distributed. You make sure it is stable enough to run on numerous platforms but at the same time can be modified and duplicated with ease. In doing so you create a powerful element called “word-of-mouth”. Eventually your game becomes so exposed, so easy to obtain, and so mainstream that almost everyone has it or has played it because it was so easy to obtain and at no cost.

The downside is you loose a lot of sales from the first game and maybe just break even. Upside? Everybody, everywhere has your game and knows who you are, and at little to no cost to the developers. But as the evil developer you are, you knew this would happen. You not only knew, you planned it because guess what? You have a sequel about to release exactly like the first game only better and bigger. Guess what happens to the millions of people who loved your first game and want the second right away without the trouble of hacking it? They buy it, and then buy it, and then they buy it again. Next thing you know your sales are in the millions, everybody knows who you are, and they want the expansion!

Many famous developers and even publishers have tried this method. Of course they will never admit it. Sometimes it takes more then two games and many years of red ink, and sometimes it works with ease. This method isn’t perfect, nor will any investor in his right mind invest in such a crazy scheme. God bless the developers mad enough to and the hackers who made it happen without even knowing so.

Oh there is one catch: you have to make a game worth hacking.

- Midnight Merchant


I’m not quite sure which companies our Merchant is talking about, as the whole idea he seems to be talking about is the concept of shareware, an idea that has been around for ages now. I agree, however, that this is a great idea for both consumer and developer. Yet, on the other hand, there will still be a great number of people out there who just do not want to pay for what they play. As noble an idea as many people try to make it, the whole “download before you try it” is often just an excuse to play something (or listen to something in the case of music) without paying for it. Are there people out there who will buy something if they try it and like it? Of course, and they are great in number. However, the number of people who just want something for free is also incredibly huge, especially in countries outside the United States (such as Russia, many Eastern European nations, and third world countries) where “Hack Marketing” or not, people won’t pay for games simply because they can’t afford to do so.

I’m all for shareware or “Hack Marketing,” but there’s no moral cure for piracy short of eliminating our economic system, and that’d just be bad, hmmkay?

Arts and Crafts

Today, games are considered an art form. Why? What qualifies a game as "art", exactly? That's a dangerous question because it attracts fanatics from both sides of the issue en masse. On one side you have the so-called "hardcore" gamers clamoring that their beloved digital toys are an art form and so anything goes. On the other side of the fence though, you have virulent parent groups protesting under the assumption that all video games are violent and filled with twisted subliminal messages instructing the gamer to become a panty thief at age 25. Well, I'm not so sure on that last part, but it sounded better than the usual spiel about murder and suicide.

Putting the fanaticism aside for a moment, I'd have to say that in my mind, games do not qualify as art, but are better ruled under "crafts". Crafts are practical creations, while art pieces are generally for nothing more than decoration. In the case of religious art, certainly there is a lot of function involved, but it is the ceremony surrounding the image which is the craft, not the painting itself. The unfortunate part of describing art to someone uneducated (or deluded) about the field is that they generally have little idea of what goes into a painting or a sculpture. In addition, many so-called artists themselves have little idea of what's going on, which further confuses the issue.

With a video game, one has to look objectively at what is involved. The visuals are an art, the aural compositions are an art, and yet the gameplay mechanics and how they make use of the first two constitute a craft. A programmer may be an artisan in how he designs a battle system, but the result is practical, not decorative. This has to be regarded as a craft, because it goes beyond mere appearances. The same is true in movies. While you may call any of the parts "art", the final product is a craft. Industrial sculpture may be in bad taste, but it's only decorative and therefore an art, while industrial machinery is most definitely manufactured using many crafts. But I digress. To further this list of examples would be like striking a thumbtack with a sledgehammer, so let's move on.

Video games are part of the craft of entertainment. Movies, music, video games, and so on are all crafts. Does this, and should this limit what can be exemplified in any of these fields? Yes; censorship exists for a reason. Many watchers are advocates of its removal, wanting more and more liberal programming. But at the same time, it's a tad inane to show pornography to an eight year old who's expecting to watch "What's New Scooby Doo", now then isn't it?

Moving beyond just that topic however, what about which crafts are stronger in which games? Xenosaga is arguably more refined in terms of scriptwriting, while Breath of Fire IV is a masterpiece of animation. Star Ocean: The Second Story is well-known for its profound inventory systems, and Shining Force 3 for its tactical procedure. These games each display a certain preferred craft, while also exhibiting a distinct weakness. Xenosaga's gameplay leaves much to be desired; Breath of Fire IV lacks excitement in many places; Star Ocean: The Second Story could be much better in literary aspects; Shining Force 3's graphics needed further refinement, etc.

Then of course, there are the companies and their policies behind the games. Squaresoft, or rather, Square-Enix, has long been an advocate of cinematic games, while often sacrificing plot in favor of graphics. tri-Ace, a company known for employing revolutionary gameplay mechanics such as those seen in Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean: The Second Story, often seems to leave plot development in the background entirely. And then of course you have Monolith Soft and their primary dish of Xenosaga, which advocates its script above all else. Would it be correct to say then that the company makes the policy, or is it the internal team that does? These and many other questions are up for debate.

- Mark P. Tjan


Damn Canadians and their “ou”s. As for your argument, it’s definitely one I haven’t thought of, and the distinction between an art and a craft is important. Miriam Webster defines a “craft” as more akin to dexterity and the USE of art in one’s occupation. In that case, I would think that most commercial art is a craft, rather than art. That goes especially for video games, although there’s not much manual dexterity that goes into the creation of a video game (there is quite a bit of mental dexterity, however). On the other hand, an example given of a “craft” is “the craft of writing plays,” so apparently things like script writing, special effects creation, matte painting, rendering, etc., all those are crafts. I guess a director is also a craftsman, and so that would make video games, movies, even books and music a craft. Yet so often we call them art forms because they make use of artistic talent. I guess it all comes down to semantics, but maybe I’ll start referring to movies, games, even music as a craft.


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Final Fantasy IX • 3pm PDT/6pm EDT
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