Kanye West, possibly the most well known pop idol of our generation, recently held an event to promote 3 projects - his new album, The Life of Pablo, a new clothing line, Yeezy season 3, and an upcoming game about Kanye’s passed on mother Donda West, Only One. While his state of mind and borderline paranoid remarks have assuredly caused a shitstorm on the web, the particular promotion I want to focus on today is the one that relates to our not-so-little slice of culture, Kanye’s video game - and the almost universal reaction of negativity targeting it.
From all accounts, Only One seems to be a game about Donda ascending through the sky towards and through the gates of heaven. The small trailer shown has a distinctive art style with some well done animations. And… that’s pretty much it. Nothing was said about gameplay as such - judging from the way the trailer was portrayed it looks to be an endless runner of sorts - but really, no one knows. Yet, there was a fairly unifying reaction outside of the event; at best ridicule, at worst pure hate.
As pop culture and the media has taught us, once we brand someone as culturally “bad”, the automatic reaction is to hate on any new developments surrounding that person. Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Eminem, Taylor Swift, Tom Cruise, etc etc - all people that, once the public perception flipped, were immediately treated negatively regardless of how good (or not!) their next song/album/tweet/facebook post etc was. Obviously Kanye is in the same boat here; therefore it’s easy for us to scoff at him and his new foray into another creative field as something to dismiss entirely.
While I certainly won’t argue against the notion that Kanye’s perception of reality is… not all quite there, I do think we should be paying more attention to Only One. If not for it’s individual value as a game (which, again, has yet to be determined) then for it’s ability to continue to open up our industry to those who are dismissive of us. Yeah, gaming sure is “bigger than Hollywood”, but between a pure body count level and public perception of video games (while in the process of changing, still isn’t quite there yet) we still have a ways to go.
Indulge me for a minute and imagine a scenario. One in which Kanye’s game comes out and is spectacular. It can be on console, PC, mobile - doesn’t matter. Imagine that it has something interesting to say, that it sparks a conversation outside video games in one way or another. It get’s looked at less like a time-waster and more like a piece of work that has a story, has meaning. While you and I well know that gaming has some insanely powerful and moving experiences already, this game already has a potential mainstream reach that even the most popular of story driven video games can’t possibly hope to achieve. What if “normal” people start to pay more attention to games in more serious ways than we’ve previously seen?
Kim Kardashian’s game, while not exactly sparking that kind of conversation outside our own circles, was a well made, clever and fun game. Given Kanye’s seemingly heated passion for whatever he’s working on at the time, the fact that Kim is his wife and how allegedly close he was to his mother, it’s totally reasonable to see West overlooking the Only One project with Steve Job’s-like scrutiny, with only the very best being acceptable.
Let’s be realistic - Only One could be a major flop. It could be a a simple game cloned from any number of others on the iOS and Android app stores, be boring as hell and be a hot mess. It still doesn’t change the fact that one of the most influential figures in pop culture right now is interested in our medium. Isn’t it worth seeing what could come of that?