Let me preface this article by saying that I love coming across game articles in the Wall Street Journal. I love that they’re in there. I won’t pretend for a second that it’s a precursor to the end of this Games As Art “debate” that’s been cranked to 11 ever since Ebert put his foot in his mouth. But it’s refreshing to read about gaming on sites not cluttered with flame wars and general stupidity.
Unfortunately, to the experienced gamer (or me, at least), the tone often sounds too distant, a little too “here let me explain this for you since you’re reading the Journal, thus I can’t assume you’ve ever touched a controller.” That’s a bit harsh, but let me give you an example: a recent piece by Jamin Brophy-Warren on HUD-less games.
On one hand, it’s a fine piece about how two games – Afro Samurai and Dead Space – have eliminated conventional HUDs. Afro Samurai, from the Sammy L-voiced anime, uses screen coloring to show when Afro is hurting or when he’s ready to kick in some teeth. Dead Space turns the HUD into a holographic display, whose use can be interrupted by an alien attack, negating its usefulness as a pause screen.
On the other, more judgmental hand, I think Brophy-Warren has squandered an opportunity to place this in greater context. Yes, he ends with a little sentence about how these games reflect a growing trend in games to provide a more immersive experience – he even includes the obligatory quote from Ian “at times I wonder if anyone else is talking about games as much as I am” Bogost. But in briefly commenting on how this could affect gaming future, he’s neglected to mention how these games were affected by gaming past.
Where’s the Good, Bad, and the Ugly of HUD-less games past? How about a shout-out to Donkey Kong Country for being one of the first major platformers to only show stats when it mattered? Or the slick design of Portal (Good) that would have been ruined by a display of any kind? Maybe you could mention that one of the few things anybody bothered to say about Ubisoft’s King Kong (Bad) game was that it eschewed a HUD in a manner similar to Jurassic Park: Trespasser (except it didn’t use your busty tattoo as a health bar – UGLY).
I’m not asking for a lot, W.S. Journal. In fact, I rarely ask you for anything. But do me a favor, instead of making your Afro Samurai preview article pass for an essay on immersive gameplay, educate your readers to the trials and tribulations of games past. Let us know why games like Afro Samurai and Dead Space might succeed where others have failed. Use your immense power and influence to give people information I take for granted.