counter crawford

Patton vs. Rommel

Detail from the original cover of Chris Crawford‘s 1987 game Patton vs. Rommel

As I said, all in all the public discussion on computergames is led way more differentiated in the aftermath of the amok run at Emsdetten, than it was led before. For example yesterday there was an interview with the 1980s prominent game designer Chris Crawford of The art of computer game design (Crawford 1984) fame, in one of Germany’s biggest transregional newspapers: “Faster, higher, more colourful—how bleak” (Süddeutsche Zeitung 288: 11) As usual Crawford is quite critical of contemporary computergames and the industry [for more of Crawford’s views, here is a comparatively recent interview (12 June 2006) he did with ↑Gamasutra‘s Chase Murdey: Video games are dead: A chat with Storytronics guru Chris Crawford], but in some respects he this time overshot in my opinion. For example he said: “Ego-shooters are cheap, tasteless and completely rotten concerning moral.” Every first-person shooter, that is? And then: “Counterstrike is so attractive for boys, because it serves their longing for extremes, rebellion, and turmoil.” Don’t get me wrong, me personally, I do not like to play Counter-Strike (1999/2000), nevertheless I take it to be a great competitive game, it’s just not to my taste—the latter prefers Quake III Arena when it comes down to multiplayer games. I won’t tire to repeat it again and again: When trying to bash computergames in general, or first-person shooters in particular, “Counter-Strike” is the wrong example, because since long it has matured into a sport with tournaments, requiring lots of training, teamwork, and all. That people are going lengths in terms of discipline and training together just can’t be explained by adolescent craving for turmoil. Especially in Crawford’s case this kind of attack on “Counter-Strike” quickly is disclosed as a damb squib, as in 1987 he programmed a game called Patton vs. Rommel, a turn-based war game set in World War II that simulates a what-if battle between General Patton and Field Marshal Rommel for control of Normandy, hence the name.”—Adolescent phantasies of almightyness, warriorship, and an overall romanticizing rendering of World war II in the guise of a knightly duel between legendary commanders? It’s a strategy game, you say? Well, yes, but why the WWII alternate history framing?

In the 1980s, according to Crawford, “art” still was the correct word to be attached to computergames, because the genre still had the potential to develope into a full-blown form of art. But since 1990, Crawford says, the industry is following a mechanistical scheme. I agree that uninspired clones of other games are legion, and that there is a plethora of absolutely non-noteworthy computergames—just as it is the case with movies, and books, and … But I do not agree that the games industry since 1990 has not produced anything remarkable. Rather landmark changes in the domain of computergames happened well within the 1990s. Remember that fateful 09 December 1993, when “Senator Lieberman declared that the video game industry had one year to develop some kind of voluntary rating system or the government would step in with its own council. […] The gamers had been warned. It was time to change their ways. The next day id Software released Doom.” (Kushner 2004 [2003]: 158)

Crawford goes on: “During the last ten years there was no game that fascinated me.” Well, there were games that fascinated me and millions of others. Just to name a few: 1996 saw Quake, 1999 Quake III Arena, 2001 Half-Life and Max Payne. All right, Crawford personally abhorrs shooters—which is perfectly his right—and is more into real-time strategy games (RTS) and other genres. Each of the following four examples from the last ten years are seminal for genres well apart from shooters: StarCraft (1998), EverQuest (1999), The Sims (2000), and Black & White” (2001) To be fair, when around 1997 Crawford was interviewed by James Hague for Halcyon Days, he was asked what games had impressed him during the last ten years, and answered: “”Hidden Agenda,” [1988]SimCity,” [1989] “Doom,” and “Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe.” [1990—and did you like Return to castle Wolfenstein (2001) then? ;-] A sadly short list. Either I’m too critical or the games industry is losing its edge.”

Do not get me wrong, I have the highest respect for Chris Crawford and his voice carries weight for me when it comes to computergames. Nevertheless I have to counter the opinions he voiced in the above cited interview. When I read the latter I first was seduced into suspecting that Crawford simply bases his assessments upon personal taste. Especially because with his Storytron he is into something seemingly completely different from shooter games, namely into interactive storytelling. Maybe Alan Wake will proof that this differentiation can not be upheld any longer. Meanwhile I think that the roots of the problems with Crawford’s statements are to be found on another level: He follows an idealistic or even intellectualistic concept of ‘art’. Matchingly enough the interview was published in the Feuilleton-section. But to understand ‘culture’, gaming culture in this case, a socioscientific concept of ‘art’ is needed.

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