Believe what you want about the future of print media, in our house we have plenty of magazines for lengthy throne sitting sessions. On my latest trip to drop the kids off at the pool I came across an interesting article in Entertainment Weekly. A full page article on Halo 3; not a sidebar or minor footnote, this was a full on article in a major publication. Which is not surprising, as the Halo franchise holds the record for 24 hour sales in all of entertainment. With over 1 million preorders, Halo 3 is about to destroy the $151 million opening weekend of Spider-Man 3.
EW’s article by Neil Drumming takes a look at the game itself, and where Bungie has gone to bring it to the world. It’s a nice little mainstream piece. As a gamer I always enjoy reading what the self appointed upper echelon of journalism think of my hobby turned job. While Neil has put together a nice little hype piece that could technically be seen in any gaming magazine, there’s another major publication taking potshots at the gaming culture.
Lev Grossman wrote a piece in the latest Time magazine that contains numerous disparaging remarks about gamers, and the culture we inhabit. He makes some valid points about the current role of gaming in the mass entertainment market, the problem is that he uses Halo as the impetus for the argument. It’s a tad shortsighted to cite a game that holds the record for first day sales in all of entertainment. The boys at the big movie studios would sacrifice their nubile mistresses for just a fraction of the change Halo 2 brought in.
Grossman seems to think that now Halo is ready to become important, to "turn from invisible to visible." What Mr. Grossman is missing is the ascension of games into the mass market. Like movies, radio, and television before, games are becoming more and more accepted in the popular culture. This niche hobby is gaining widespread notoriety with the Wii, and the best storytellers of our time are interested in getting in on the action. Stephen Spielberg has numerous games coming out, and Peter Jackson is working on a title in the Halo universe. Bioshock (proving that game designers like Ken Levine belong on the same level as a Brian Singer) has impressed gamers, and family members who are enthralled as they watch the game, with its depth of story.
We forgive Grossman for not knowing the intricacies of the Halo story. He states that Master Chief is unnamed, and the only soldier of his kind. Gamers know these things to be false. John 117 is his name, and there are other Spartans. The Halo games are not those few remaining super soldiers’ story though. What he clearly understands is the importance of the story, and the world Bungie has created, for gamers and the future of videogames.
What we find odd about the article is that Grossman continually describes gamers as “antisocial,” and “alienated.” He often appears to be suggesting that games don’t have a huge appeal yet, and may need the help of “proper” entertainment media to be taken seriously. This is juxtaposed to his description of Halo as a piece of art with a “lyrical quality” about the story. Whatever Grossman’s ultimate point is, he seems to have needed to make it wielding a 10-ton hammer of passive aggressiveness.