Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Great Article

This week, Next Generation published this controversial list of the 100 best selling video games of 2007. It wasn't controversial because it was wrong, most people, like me, assume it was right because they took three months to research it. Rather, it was controversial because it showed us what really sells in the world of gaming. Nobody expected Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 to not be at the top, but did anybody expect Need for Speed: Pro Street to finish above Super Mario Galaxy when both were November releases? Could anybody have predicted that Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games would sell more in two months than Bioshock, Orange Box, or God of War II did in a year? You can chock part of that games success up to the runaway that is the Wii (a quarter of a million units sold in March 2008 alone), but it is nothing compared to those other three games; except maybe GoW II, but that's personal. I was thinking about this list a lot this week, and considering doing a post on it, but luckily Joystiq did it for me.

In "Selling Out Without Selling Out," Jeff Engel and Geoff Brooks theorize that the list isn't as depressing as it seems. Rather, it shows that taking risks and attempting to redefine a genre actually pays: "a notable proportion of top-selling games from this past year have attempted to tackle new, interesting, and even provocative styles or topics." They raise an interesting point that having a good script, or good art direction, is in many ways secondary to enjoyability of the game, but is becoming more important. For instance, Bioshock has great storytelling and great art direction, and it is fun, but games that are fun without the other two, like Mario Party 8, are doing just as well or better. The article concludes, "this list illustrates [that] you can certainly make a profit and a statement at the same time." I think that is an important point to take from this list. Gaming is a business and you have to make money to do it. However, "making a statement" is being rewarded in today's gaming environment.

In architecture, it is much the same. The function of gaming is to provide entertainment. The function of a building is defined by its' program, be that housing, warehouse space, or library. Loosely defined, architecture is a business and we have to make buildings that work. But to me, the transcendence of architecture is in what it does beyond that. This is a weak statement but it's all I know how to say. I think I can illuminate it with a definition of architecture by Tschumi: "Architecture is the violent and sometimes pleasurable interaction of spaces and their use." Architecture is what we make it translated through what we use it for. The building is one part, but we are the equally important other part. Today in both gaming and Architecture, buildings that function are just a viable as buildings that "make a statement." Not just making a statement in the sense of the Bilbao Effect or Venturi's Mother's House, though it certainly includes those elements; making a statement is also rethinking program, like the SCL, or having wonderful art direction, like the Acropolis, or a wonderful interaction with the environment, like a Glenn Murcutt, et cetera, et cetera. It's no wonder Vitruvius tells us to know everything, what with all the influences on the design process. It is buildings that do more than just function that are Architecture with a capital "A." However, we "can certainly make a profit and a statement at the same time."

"Optimism in the inevitable:" we need to build buildings because that's who we are, we are architects. But we want to be able to make a statement without being so disconnected from the average everydayness that we can't also make a profit. Is this a role of architects?

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