Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Game

It seems like every pocket of the arts and entertainment has a special reserve dedicated to Christmas.  Famous and unknown artists alike have devoted countless works to this single holiday, regardless whether they focus on the religious or secular aspects of it.  That's really no surprise.  People love Christmas.  More importantly, people love the idea of Christmas.  They love to celebrate with food, family, and giving, and they naively love to believe that there is at least one time of the year when we can set our differences aside and enjoy all the good within humanity.

Thanks to this holiday, we've not only been given a large number of Christmas media, but so many "Christmas Classics."  We can credit much of contemporary Christmas to Charles Dickens' wonderful novella, "A Christmas Carol" and we've seen it retold and parodied countless times.  We have children's poems like Twas the Night Before Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas that manage to stay part of popular culture long after poetry's virtual death.  Christmas specials like Charlie Brown and The Simpsons keep their respective franchises dear to our hearts.  And there are many classic Christmas films that we watch every year, like It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.  Then there's all that music...

Christmas NiGHTS
But I can think of one particular medium that almost entirely lacks the spirit of Christmas - video games.  Why are games so bereft of seasonal themes?  You would think a medium that does not only let you see or read a story, but be part of one, could easily find Christmas excellent source material.

There are a few sparse examples.  Christmas NiGHTS was a Christmas-themed sequel to an obscure Sega Saturn game.  The Costume Quest DLC, "Grubbins on Ice" took place in winter... though new additions to the game were not particularly Christmas-y.  The flash game Winterbells has you playing as a rabbit, ringing bells in a snowy landscape.  If those are the best I can think of then there certainly is a broad deficiency of Christmas games.

Grubbins on Ice
The problem comes from both game developers and audiences alike.  Most "hardcore" developers will make games for a teenage, male audience.  Teenage boys are not known for being the most... festive... company.  Sure, they like Christmas.  They get new games on Christmas, but they don't particularly care about "The Spirit of Christmas."  Developers look at their wallets and say, "Should we invest tons of money in a seasonal game with limited appeal and an undetermined audience or make Shoot Gun Kill 4?"  They already know which one the kids in the forums are salivating over, so the choice is obvious.

Sometimes developers might issue a holiday edition of their games.  This is a cheap, re-skinning of an already successful property.  One can see it done by games like Angry Birds.  But these are as arbitrary and novel as the forced "Christmas episode" of any Sit-Com, but with perhaps less effort put into them.  What possible message can be derived from putting Santa hats on the enemies in Killing Floor?  Is... is it supposed to be funny?  H-How is it funny?  I don't pretend to understand these superfluous expansions of the game.

Angry Birds Seasons
It's a genuine shame that a classic Christmas game does not exist.  There really should be a game you can pop into the console every winter and play to recall the child-like warmth and spirit of the holidays, like one can find among so many other works.  But sadly, there aren't any.  There aren't even many games that take place around the holidays.  So we'll just have to keep experiencing the sensation of Christmas cheer through books and film, and the old fashioned, interactive way - in reality.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nintendon't in South Korea

Nintendo is the most famous name in gaming and one of the most famous companies world-wide, but here in Korea, even it finds it hard to break through to mass success.

This is probably because like all other console manufacturers, they just don't move a Korean audience.  Koreans are PC gamers.  PC Bongs (Rooms) dot every city and it costs barely anything for teenage boys to go to one and spend a couple hours between class, away from mom and dad's watchful eyes, playing League of Legends with their friends.  In this way, games in Korea are not only things to do, but places to go.  They aren't just a pass time, like television.  They are an event, like arcades and movie theaters.  Games are even broadcast on TV and professional gaming is a legitimate form of competition, especially when it comes to titles like League of Legions, Starcraft, and Sudden Attack.

There's not a lot of room for console developers to move in such a PC-centric environment.  But that doesn't seem to stop a company like Nintendo from trying.  On a recent trip to the COEX Mall in Seoul, I couldn't help but notice all the effort Nintendo had put into a 3DS campaign.  Big signs advertising the 3DS and Nintendogs lined the walls and a station was set up for people to watch and play 3DS games, just in time for Christmas.  And that marketing was trying to catch everyone, adults and children alike.

However, the 3DS is still a hard sell in a country that's not only dominated by PCs but smartphones.  Every kid is walking around with a portable game system that they can easily justify to their parents, and their favorite game at the moment is free physics platformer called Bounce Ball for the Android.  A couple days ago, I had a student walk into my class with both a 3DS and his phone and he spent his break playing Bounce Ball, entirely ignoring the handheld designed specifically to playing big, sweeping action games.

I find myself almost rooting for Nintendo.  "Yeah!" I think, "Introduce kids to the adventures of Mario and Link!  Show them what classically good games are!"  I think that forgetting I haven't bought a Nintendo console or game in years.  I think that forgetting how stagnant the Nintendo production cycle has become and how New Super Mario Bros. titles are becoming as annual as Call of Duty and Madden, and just as interesting.  I think that forgetting Nintendo is not an underdog.

Like Korea has been for a while, the United States is certainly moving away from the console and handheld gaming systems and farther into the realm of PCs, tablets, and smartphones.  Maybe the Koreans have it completely right when it comes to gaming.  Maybe consoles and handhelds are relics.  Most of those independent and experimental, artsy-fartsy games that I love are found on PC and smartphone.  So why should I be rooting for a giant cooperation to conquer yet another nation?  Perhaps I'd rather keep my local PC Bong in business.

Originally posted early today on my other blog: Museum of Bad Ideas.