In Defense of the Shiv

Recently I read an article with an excerpt from a book asking the game industry to grow up. The written piece seemed to make direct comparison between games and movies, claiming the latter was a more artistic form of expression. But overall I felt the author didn’t acknowledge the art in gameplay and made an unfair criticism of gaming as an art form. Here’s one extract for example:

Films have more ‘meaning’ than games

Films are calculated works from start to finish, everything that happens in them matters to the work. Because that’s what art ultimately is. It has a purpose, to communicate something to you. Sometimes something other than what the creator intended comes through, which is fine and speaks to the fluid nature of art as a concept.

And the word “art” is a term that describes a very broad form of expression.You won’t see all the key elements contained within the full package that is a AAA video game have the meaning that a sneeze will in a movie.

The author went on to take apart one of the most adored games of the era – The Last of Us. This was only an excerpt from his book and I believe this was clearly a strategic selection to gain a reaction. While his twitter mentions is currently looking like a civil uprising, I’ve penned my initial thoughts.

You obviously don’t understand gaming as an art.

Journey Is a Work of Art and a Game

Whether gaming is an art is totally subjective. To us gamers it actually doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be categorised alongside movies, books and music because the numbers don’t lie. Sales are up, and even more than other ‘art’ industries. But if you want to go there, then fine. Let’s.

I’m not a game designer so I am not skilled with the jargon needed to form a well-rounded argument from a technical point of view but I will attempt to defend gaming against these movie buffs who look down on it.

As art forms these categories have different effects on their audiences. Movies make you cry and feel empathy while games make you sweat, angry and provide a feeling of triumph. So I guess you may struggle to understand why a gameplay element is as significant as the intricate details of a movie setting. No worries though, as we are going to explore the significance of the gameplay element that rubbed this guy up the wrong way.

The Shiv

The item you’ll likely end up crafting more than any other is a shiv, and in a bit of blatant absurdity you’ll need to scavenge four scissor blades and some tape in order to make one. As a mechanic, these shivs are just as logically fragile to me playing the game as they are physically fragile within the game. Why you would need four scissor blades to make a single shiv is a question so silly as to be pointless. There is simply no meaning to be found there beyond their being a gameplay device.

Crafting Shiv From Inventory

Phil Owens essentially thinks the Shiv in the Last of Us is pointless and holds no significance in comparison to a sneeze in a film. I do not doubt that the sneeze is significant in the right context but the Shiv mentioned is very fucking significant. And as an ex-video game critic, I’m disappointed he can’t understand the significance behind the most important weapon in the game.

So let me tell you why the Shiv is important

Joel Stabs Clicker With Shiv

The Shiv is the ultimate weapon against the vile monsters that has driven humanity to the brink of extinction. It is amazing such power is held within a blade pieced together with ingredients so simple as scissors and cello tape. Also what’s fascinating is the rusty and underwhelming appearance of the ONLY thing that can save you before a fatal bite. Call it artistic or not, it’s definitely symbolic.

This isn’t just a knife wrapped in tape, it is your most treasured possession in your inventory. Now consider this for a moment:

How do you feel when you have 0 Shivs left in a cesspit filled with bloodthirsty clickers? Scared, alone and defenseless. All kinds of emotions run wild while you contemplate your anticipated end unless…. you find one half of a pair scissors. Then suddenly you are filled with hope. What else is around? There is a sense of anxiety while searching the surroundings while holding on what hope you have left.

You may not see it but there is an art to creating such dilemmas in the mind of the player.

The Shiv is also a key

Opening the door with the Shiv

A key to possibilities  and new opportunities. Once again scarcity plays a part in your decision making. You are forced to agonise over whether you use your limited resource to gamble on something better. Risk and uncertainty lies behind the door that can only be opened with your trusty Shiv. This isn’t some small throwaway decision, it’ll impact how you will survive your next encounter….

Hopefully you can appreciate the shiv is quite significant. Whether you consider it an art is up to you.

Games do have their flaws as a form of art

Joell and Ellie sititng on the side beautiful relationship

There are many repetitive elements in games nowadays that hinder the experience but please do not misconstrue your lack of effort for lack of art. If you have become accustomed to consuming content (i.e. Netflix) without any input then it is easy to criticise inconveniences in games. But gameplay isn’t easily consumed like movies or based on a linear structure like a normal story in a book.

Gameplay is an art

Embrace the art of gameplay by realising the art in creating conflict and puzzles for players to solve. Traditional definitions of art relate to a form of expression but this doesn’t nearly incorporate the interactivity of gaming. Gaming is a form of art as a way of making the player express themselves rather than imposing your “artistic expression” on them. Games also expose themselves to external input unlike other forms of art you love to compare it to. So respect the craft and respect The Last of Us for turning survival into play, by recreating the apocalypse to a level of immersion a normal movie never could.
And for god’s sake, don’t diss the Shiv.


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