Here's DJ's take on 2011 in gaming. If you missed it, check out Jordan's take from yesterday.
2011 was a great year for fans of video games. The independent game development scene continued to prove its importance to the industry with successful and experimental titles like Minecraft, Bastion, and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. There were many sequels to huge franchises, many hours spent in — and many dollars spent on — virtual playspaces that gamers love. If you played any video games this year, you can probably find more than a few fond memories to look back on. However, there are only two definitive moments that stick out for me regarding video games in 2011.
Video Game Justice: The Supreme Court grants video games First Amendment protection
On June 27, a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling gave First Amendment protection to video games. Justice Antonin Scalia commented that, “like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world).” The justice succinctly summarizes what progressive games have been arguing: the video game is nothing less than a medium of expression, perhaps even more in that it is interactive.
The ruling is not a magical switch that will suddenly cause an influx of culturally influential artistic video games, a movement which was forming long before the decision and would continue to happen regardless of what happened in the Supreme Court. It is also important to note that the decision does not make video games art, nor does it even make them relevant to culture. Events like that will only occur with the creation of culturally significant video games. However, as video games continue their inexorable advance towards societal acceptance as an important medium, there will be protection against those who wish to hold the video game industry back. When (not if) video games attain the cultural relevance gamers hope for, we will have a watershed moment to reflect on.
Craziest Gamer Moment: Man spends $16,000 on virtual sword from unreleased game
The second greatest thing the video game industry has given us this year is the man who spent $16,000 on a sword for the as-yet unreleased Age of Wulin MMORPG. On one hand, you can dismiss this fantastic bit of news as more evidence for the claim that people who play video games are crazy obsessed weirdos with completely misplaced values. On the other hand, you can acknowledge that the sale of virtual goods is what social gaming giant Zynga is built on and, although they had a rocky first day, they still managed to have the biggest Internet-related IPO since Google in 2004. In other words, there are quite a few people out there who think that virtual goods are not a complete waste of time.
What can be taken away from all of this (aside from the monumental faith some gamers place in games they think they might like) is that as the virtual spaces provided for us through games grow in complexity and depth, higher concepts are brought up and valued even when games are not explicitly asking us to consider them.
These events are important in my eyes because they are steps forward in defining the phrase "video game." Not many can deny the importance of video games to the larger entertainment industry and our culture, but players and developers are still struggling to define what the term means. As we move forward, we will continue to see new games that attempt to shape that definition, which I am looking forward to sharing through NBN-tendo.