In Defense of Explosions: The Importance of Mindless Games

Chances are if you’re reading this I don’t need to persuade you that games are art.

There are studios that define themselves by their engrossing stories, unparalleled realism, or inventive gameplay. Then there are studios whose only job is to put together a somewhat playable version of a popular TV series or movie franchise that looks convincing enough that an unsuspecting grandparent will buy it as a birthday or Christmas gift. I understand this because I worked retail at the peak of the Wii craze and I’m still in therapy from the stress of trying to organize all that shovel-ware.

Box art for a game you really don't want to know exists.

Go ahead and get them the officially licensed knife set so they can slit their wrists when they’re done.

The universe, being what it is, demands equilibrium. So for every Journey or The Last of Us there’s a Mini-Golf: King of Cups or Game Party 3. But what about that big ol’ space between them? It’s occupied by games like the Saints Row series or Just Cause 2—games that are incredibly fun to play and push the technical envelope, but rarely evoke such serious emotional responses. Which is just as well seeing how most of them revolve around killing an unbelievably high number of people. I believe these to be art as well, and more than that, they’re important to gaming culture.

I love games that challenge my moral fiber and engage me in deep narrative, but they can wear on me. I’ve been playing through The Last of Us and it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played, but it’s also utterly exhausting. Every encounter seems to take years off of my life and there are times when more than anything I need something fun and less likely to have me wake up the next morning an emotional cripple. That’s where those other types of games come in.

Don’t be fooled, latching onto bad guys with my super grappling hook while flying around an island using an infinite number of parachutes and a fuzzy understanding of basic physics is exhausting too, but in a different way.

Don’t be fooled. Latching onto bad guys with my super grappling hook, while flying around an island using an infinite number of parachutes and a fuzzy understanding of basic physics is exhausting too, but in a different way.

Since I’m not allowed to play The Last of Us when my wife’s not home (more on this in a future post) I’ve started Saints Row: The Third in my down time and it’s exactly what I needed. The change of pace is refreshing and gives life to all of my wildest action movie fantasies that I’ve been repressing in the far more serious The Last of Us; I play it using the Cockney accent for the main character, give him a bald head and a mean look and I feel like I’m Jason Statham in Crank 3: The Video Game which is all I’ve really wanted out of life.

Games are becoming more recognized as a serious means of story-telling, but they’re also more interactive than any other form of media. Most times I prefer to feel like I’m a major player in some grand emotional journey, but sometimes it’s necessary to just feel like a bad-ass. If it weren’t for these breaks now and then I’d probably end up crazy and alone, wandering through the Forbidden Valley, murdering Colossi, trying to inflict enough pain on them that I will begin to feel something again myself. Just think of these over-the-top titles as software sorbet to cleanse your video game palate between more complex offerings.

Or you can just do what most gamers do and enjoy the ridiculous explosions and ridiculous gunfights simply because blowing things up and shooting bad guys always has been and always will be fun.

Saints Row the WTF