Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that’s basically only reported on by people easily distracted by shiny things. (Exception: Left Gamer Review. As soon as the studios wise up and start sending us free games, it’ll be obvious that we only seem so positive because we’re selective. It’s pretty depressing to drop sixty bucks on a dud. Note to studios: I’m sure we’ll like your game, so please. Send it along.) See our recent post on G4′s sorry track record as an example.
Indoor Kids, though not doing any reporting, is a gaming podcast of above-average thoughtfulness. Since it has apparently been mandated that every comedian in the US must be part of a podcast, it’s nice that comedians/gamers Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani devoted theirs to video games. Their show’s format is the standard one: a couple of hosts bring in a guest (who naturally reminds listeners of her or his own podcast and twitter handle) for a largely unplanned chat about video games; and they are sometimes more prepared than other times.
Like basically every podcast, the quality can shift substantially from episode to episode depending on how engaging their guest is or whether or not they’ve thought up anything interesting to talk about. The weakest moments, as a rule, are the stretches in which the hosts chat about whatever game they’re currently playing. It’s a bit like trying to bluff your way through class without doing the reading: they just don’t have anything definitive to say about a game in progress other than whether or not it’s fun in the broadest sense. Some of the explicitly “comedic” moments can be oddly unsatisfying, too. For instance, I recommend skipping Episode 46 if only to miss several insipid minutes of comedians punning video game titles in order to turn them into porn movies. This is the kind of joke that’s tolerable when improvised by your pal, once, but ought to be beneath someone literally paid to be funny. Indoor Kids episodes in general feature a lot of “so dumb they’re funny” jokes that never quite make it around the bend to funny. (The clip below really is funny, though.)
The show is considerably better when an episode delves deep into a single game or into a specific topic. One of my favorite episodes was Episode 23 about lost games–mostly games that were abandoned toward the end of production and never properly distributed. Mostly these games were abandoned on account of not being any good, but I still found it interesting as a sort of alternate history of the industry. (If they ever do a second round of lost games they can include my favorite, the Kingdoms of Amalur MMO.)
On occasion, though, the hosts bring in a guest interested in discussing games in greater depth, and not just as a springboard for jokes. Episode 27–”Are Videogames Art?”–poses a number of interesting questions for gamers who think critically about the medium. The title is a bit misleading, since none of the show’s participants argues that games are not art. Instead, it’s more of an attempt to put games in a broader context of art and culture, just as we try to do at LGR. A rambling podcast episode is difficult to summarize, so I won’t, but I can mention the ideas I thought most interesting.
I think that most of the time when people discuss games as art, they limit the discussion to those titles that are self-consciously “arty” in some way or another. The indie game Limbo has an incredibly well-realized visual aesthetic, so it’s an obvious title to discuss as a piece of art. The first BioShock has a complicated and literate narrative with fantastic mid-game reveal that becomes a sort of meta-commentary on the very act of playing games, as well as great art design, so it’s often part of the conversation, too. But framing the question in this way is a bit wrong-headed. We should think of both of these games as pieces of art, but not simply because they contain elements that remind us of other kinds of art. Otherwise, we risk thinking of games as though they are long movies that we have to press buttons to watch, rather than a specific kind of art with its own conventions.
Of particular interest is the episode’s discussion of the game LA Noire. LA Noire is exactly the sort of game that seems “artistic” because of its fantastic art design, but the podcast participants took issue with aspects of its gameplay. (I haven’t played it, personally, but Indoor Kids and this fantastic piece of game journalism by Tom Bissell at Grantland seem to be in broad agreement.) Gameplay is one of the features of a video game as a piece of art, so no serious discussion of the medium can split off gameplay and discuss it as a factor to be judged independently of the game’s artistic merit.
To be fair, I probably got more out of this particular episode than the rest of the shows combined, so I wouldn’t blame anyone for being a once-only listener. Episodes often have a sort of “fanboy” vibe and a crude, rambling quality that I can imagine would be off-putting to anyone who doesn’t already spend a lot of time listening to comedy podcasts. And though I doubt Gordon or Nanjiani think of themselves as game critics, I think this podcast is indicative of a broader trend toward a more thoughtful discussion gaming in general.