Video Games Live Wrap-Up: One Step Forward, One Step Back

Saturday evening, I was able to attend the third showing in the Chicagoland area of Video Games Live. For those of you that don’t know, VGL is a symphonic concert where the music is from video games. I was able to see the show during the inaugural tour in 2006; which featured such classic and epic titles including “Super Mario”, the “Metal Gear Solid” and “Halo” series. This time, two of those three made a repeat performance as well as some new performances including a flutist’s montage of Super Mario, new compilations Castlevania, Street Fighter II, Mega Man, Legend of Zelda, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 7 and the Chrono-Trigger/Cross games.

The Chicago Metropolitan Symphony did an outstanding job while the tour’s co-founder Tommy Talerico couldn’t have been a bigger self-important twerp. Unfortunately he was on stage for about half of the performances on guitar. While I like the style of mixing modern and classical sounds, he was good but nothing outstanding. His performance was self-indulgent and didn’t add much to the show.

While I enjoyed the performance, Video Games Live falls into many of the same traps that keep the industry from achieving major precedence and respect.  The entire show is sprinkled with audience participation in playing along with the symphony – an audience member plays a game live – Frogger in this case – while the orchestra plays the music behind him or her. There are also little YouTube videos called “Video Games Vs.”” where retro titles are spliced together to see how they would interact; and quick countdown lists of the “Worst Voice Acting” and “Worst Game Titles. While it’s cheeky and good for a quick laugh, I paid to see music and if the tour stopped wasting time with talking and pandering to gamer stereotypes, the show would become a world-class production. But on the other side of the coin is that the video game industry isn’t afraid to take a chance but I’m left wondering if those tacky additions are actually value-adding.

Video Games Live has the platform to encourage respect to the industry. I’m very hesitant to be one of those gamers that will jump up and stand on the front lines to call video games art simply because of the company that would require for me to keep. Video games create more money than television or the film industry and while all of those are experience and be created, written, directed and acted with an artistic design, video games still have a ways to go in order to garner my respect in that regard. I respect the work that all parties put into the creation and production of a game and thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the musical production that goes into a game. What holds me back are certain stereotypes that gamers have and what’s more important to me is to work for the mainstream success and notoriety video games but the gaming community has to shed some of those stereotypes.

The most ready and frenzied example that comes to mind came to fruition at VGL – that being the over-glorification of “Final Fantasy VII.” Audience participants began acting like chimps being teased with bananas at the prospect, notion and then announcement that FF7 would be played. I’ve been gaming for roughly 20 years I’ve never seen a no more rabid-cult fandom than those of the Final Fantasy series, specifically the seventh installment. I believe as gamers, we have to stop heralding this game as the “Citizen Kane” of the gaming universe. Now I’m not going to say that an in-your-face FPS should deserve such reverence like “Halo” or the “Call of Duty” series but as a community as a whole, we should come to some sort of agreement on to what we consider as our gold standard. If then FF7 is bestowed that title, than I’ll get behind it. I fear we as a community will never unify due to our fleeting and varied interests, and that has its own value and signature statement.

We live in an “on-demand” world. We’re always chasing the next best thing and what our friends consider to be good. We play what we like and no one can fault us for playing a certain game, because at the most basic and common denominator, we’re at least all playing something, be it “Super Street Fighter 4”, “Modern Warfare 2”, “Peggle”, or “Pokemon”.