Darius Kazemi has published a fiery talk he delivered at Boston Indies entitled Fuck Videogames. Click over and give it a read (it’s quick) and then come back to read the rest.

I see three main points in Darius’s argument:

  1. It’s not necessarily more “noble” or whatever to express something in videogame form, particularly if it’s not working for you.
  2. Often expressing something with videogames primarily serves a meta-rhetorical purpose or benefit (“Look, X made a game about Y”), which might actually detract from or even reverse the desired expression.
  3. Often the desire to express something with videogames is really just a desire to gain approval from a particular audience associated with videogames (he uses Twine games as an example), which may or may not be a valid goal but it’s wrong to bind it to videogame expression.

I find (2) particularly true, as I’ve experienced it with nearly every game I’ve ever made. And I think (3) is the smartest critique yet of the whole formalist/zinester controversy.

As for (1), the key is the for you, and Darius makes clear that he’s speaking for himself, but suspects others may feel the same (they do). It may occur to you, as it does to me, that games actually might indeed be the best medium for expressing certain things—say, the operation and experience of systems. And I think Darius would agree and say, “Sure, fine, go for it.”

Sometimes we do things for the wrong reasons. Making videogames isn’t noble as such. Nor is writing novels or making gelato or throwing pots. Nor do they need to be. Sometimes we just do things because we do them. Finding the right things to do or make in the right situations for the right reasons, given our own talents and desires and circumstances, this is a task at which everyone could improve, videogames or no.

published May 3, 2013


  1. MARA

    I think this touches on a point I’ve been trying to make for a while. People see art as the be all end all purpose of media but it doesn’t work that way. No one argues that all movies are art or that they should all be art but then we see people regarding videogames with no message or meaning as art. Sometimes the purpose for creation is entertainment.

  2. Greg Borenstein

    Interesting. Darius’s argument is basically a Greenbergian Modernist one: that a medium should only be used for the tasks to which its essential nature is best suited. Painting is about flatness and so should not represent the illusion of depth, etc. Games are systems and therefore should be used to represent systems.

    However, games, like every other medium, are also genres in Frederic Jameson’s sense of that word: sets of conventions between authors, readers, and material that evolve through history. Darius expresses skepticism for people who make games “because they grew up with games”, but it’s often exactly those kinds of histories (both lived and embedded in the material and institutions surrounding a medium) that give genres their meaning.

    It would be inhuman, in a very Modernist way, to expect people to discard these kinds of histories and entanglements in order to act solely as Critical Agents of their Media, working to constantly critique each format to reveal its essence and “entrench it more firmly in its area of competence”, as Greenberg calls for.

  3. Ian Bogost

    I don’t think Darius’s argument goes quite so far as that, really. I think it’s much softer: if painting isn’t working for depth, and depth is what you want, maybe try sculpture?

  4. Ernest Adams

    I kinda wish Yoda had said, “Do, or do not. But for God’s sake chill the fuck out.” Why the sturm und drang? Why the angst?

    Perhaps this fussing about why you do stuff and what it all means is a disease of young artists.

  5. Darius K.

    Greg, I felt I was pretty clear in my disclaimer that if making games that do *anything* is actually working for you, then by all means keep on making games.

  6. Frank Lantz

    A great and much needed rallying cry to open our minds and question the limits we impose on ourselves.

    On the other hand, I’d like to turn the same critical gaze onto the term “expression” which occupies a central, unquestioned place at the center of Darius’ rant, alongside its accomplice the assumption that games are a “medium”. (Can we go back to pluralizing this word as “media” again?)

    Darius opposes games-as-expression to games-as-mere-entertainment as if that were natural and obvious, but it’s not. There are many ways for games to be meaningful, valuable, important, rewarding, beautiful, for them to transcend mere entertainment, that are not bound up so tightly to the idea of expression.

    Some of these other ways involve participating in a larger scene, connecting to other people under a common banner of a particular cultural form or movement. Thinking about what you can make that will speak to that community, get the attention of those people and take part in that conversation is certainly not the only reason to make something, but making something for that reason doesn’t automatically make you a “creatively bankrupt asshole”.

    Re the Rob Dubbin quote, what makes participating in a community a less intrinsically valuable way of connecting to other people than “expressing” yourself? They are both forms of social interaction, both ways of seeking shelter from the storm.

    If you’re deciding whether to make a blog post about your cat or a game about your cat maybe the problem isn’t with the “game” part, it’s with the “about” part.

    It’s fine to hold the concept of expression fixed and pivot everything around that. But it’s not obvious to me that that is all that different from holding videogames constant and pivoting around *that*.

    The larger lesson I take from this piece is to think about what we are holding constant and why.

  7. Ian Bogost

    Maybe the problem is with the “cat” part.

  8. Frank Lantz

    I hold my cat constantly.

  9. Pippin

    Sure hope I’m making games for the right reasons!

  10. Naomi Clark

    “If you’re deciding whether to make a blog post about your cat or a game about your cat maybe the problem isn’t with the “game” part, it’s with the “about” part.”

    vvvvvvvvvvvvvv REMOVE PROBLEM vvvvvvvvvvvvvv

    “…deciding whether to make a blog post your cat or a game your cat…”

    vvvvvvvvvv ELIMINATE FALSE BINARY vvvvvvvvvv

    “Make both a blog post and a game your cat.”

  11. Darius K.

    I sure hope you are too, Pippin.

  12. Paul stephanouk

    A considerable amount of the media I consume on the Internet pivots around cats.