What It Really Means to Be a "Prestige" Game

Games as an artform have had a complicated history with being taken seriously. The ways in which the industry and fans have sought out "legitimacy" ranges far and wide, from arguments of whether games are art at all to borrowing language from other mediums to attempt to bridge the gap from well known mediums to the relatively new form of video games. One example being the idea of "prestige" games that were aligning themselves with the idea of "prestige television," a subset of shows that were held up as being "serious" art in comparison to mass market programming that usually tackle gritty, violent, or explicit subject matter with aesthetic and structural decisions that aligned closer to films than other TV. Prestige games are held up in a similar manner, as the natural peak of games as an art form that can convey themes and tell stories deemed as "important" that other games can't tackle. We discuss this framing, how a game's intended reach might affect its structure, and more on this episode of Waypoint Radio. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/akzvxp/what-it-really-means-to-be-a-prestige-game-waypoint-radio
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I haven’t listened to the podcast yet so I don’t know if it mentions the article or not but the term prestige games reminds me of a cool article Doc Burford wrote back in 2019

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I think Joe Kennedy talks about how the Nolan Batman trilogy and the Daniel Craig Bond movies were crucial in reifying grittiness, violence and the direct physical and psychological effects it bears upon the protagonists into a warped understanding of realism as a nihilistic pessimistic view of society which I think filters down to self-conscious prestige media like The Last of Us 2.

I can’t speak to the development of the first game but there’s been heaps of praise and expectation about the ‘maturity’ of Naughty Dog’s writing which has surely influenced their approach to the (IMO unnecessary) sequel.

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ND are cowards for making a gratuitously violent game and then trying to cloak it in delusions of grandeur. Just make an exploitation game like Manhunt and drop the pretense.

EDIT: while talking to a friend he described TLoU2 as a game that’s I Spit on Your Grave but with zombies but Naughty Dog keep telling us it’s Moonlight, and I don’t it will ever shake that description for me.

I’m really curious what Naughty Dog is going to put out after TLOU2. I don’t see them trying to wring any more life out of the corpse of Uncharted just yet so it’ll hopefully be a new IP. Ideally it’ll be a bit lighter in tone, but based off the way that the folks running the studio talk lovingly about violence and grittiness I’m not holding my breath.

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Just sitting here thinking fondly of Sunset Overdrive, a game where a genderfluid character mows down zombies created by G-Fuel

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I’m not trying to stir up a console war here, but this is a big reason why I’ve come to like Microsoft’s exclusives over Sony’s this gen, despite the accepted wisdom that Sony makes the “better” games. Frankly, I like that stuff like Gears and Sunset are ridiculous and “gamey” and don’t try to aspire to be grimdark serious meditations. I’m a bit nervous about Microsoft’s new direction with studios like the Initiative that are clearly trying to ape this prestige aesthetic.

And that’s not to say Sony only does grimdark. My two favorite Sony exclusives this gen, Spider-Man and Until Dawn, are campy, silly, fun times. Make more of those! Leave the sad dads in the past!

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I don’t mind a little Sad Dadness, but a good portfolio is about balance. That’s why I’m very happy that Sony bought Insomniac: they understand silly fun.

[blows out birthday candle wishing for another Ratchet and Clank]

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Ok, but hear me out on this.

Sad moms.

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I wonder what we all think about Sam Mendes’ 1917, since that movie feels exactly like one of these Prestige games. Almost beat for beat, same rhythms, same gritty tone. They even hide cuts/loading by having characters crawl in tight spaces.

PS: It probably says something that even while I like this style of game, my favorite of all of them this generation is Uncharted: Lost Legacy, which is by far the least grim and least “serious” game of them all.

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I like Nolan North’s performance as Nathan Drake, but I would listen to Claudia Black read the phone book.

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The disconnect between the budget needed for these games and the size of the audience required to merit that budget is at the heart of the issue discussed. Better Call Saul would not look the way it does if it needed to do Grey’s Anatomy numbers to exist.

I want to see more AAA games like Doom (2016), Wolfenstein, Titanfall 2 or to a lesser extent Control that in many ways emulate movies like Fury Road and Pacific Rim. They use their budget to put as much pure spectacle on screen as they can. Video game worlds are almost entirely unconstrained by the physical limitations of reality. While seeing things “realistically” rendered can be interesting I have come to enjoy when games are purposefully unrealistic. I’d much rather see games emulate Into the Spiderverse than Endgame.

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Hearing about the underwhelming Destiny event is so strange for me. My service game of choice is FFXIV and its patch schedule is every 3 months, just like Destiny seasons, but each one comes with a big chunk of story and side content. It’s not quite enough to last a player who plays every single day but it’s just right for the modal player who plays for a few weeks and then takes a break, which is what they design for. That said, there are still longer term goals that players who do want more can work towards if they so choose. I guess the Destiny team still hasn’t quite figured out the work balance between seasonal updates and expansions to allow them to get progress on both in a timely manner.

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