Let’s talk about games, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about… well, mostly the bad things because most of gaming is bad.
Actually, I don’t want to talk about games exactly, but more the culture surrounding them. I want to talk about people like us who play games and express their opinions about them on the internet. I also want to talk about developers because developers, through their products, create this culture. Plus, they’re really not too different from you or me. They just happen to get paid for looking like walruses with throw rugs on their heads.
For lack of a better title, I’m calling this series “Tough Love.” So, this being the inaugural one, let’s discuss why I think it’s important to discuss gaming in the first place, right? Huh? Why, guys? Okay, listen, here’s why.
I want to talk about gaming because it’s what, like, fortyish years old? It’s a damn baby compared to the bigguns of literature, art, music, film, and television. It’s an insanely young industry and, as is common with the insanely young, it’s highly susceptible to influence. Video games currently fall squarely into a developmental state in which they can still be molded and evolved based on numerous factors, public opinion most definitely included.
Think about this: Pretend you have friends outside of the ones that look and act and smell exactly like you, okay? Pretend you are talking to an elegant lady or a dapper man over cocktails at a swanky establishment. In such a setting, it is totally natural to say, “Hey have you seen the new film, Transformers: Dark of the Sphloom?” Or “Isn’t Whitney just the best new comedy on television? What a treat she is.” Or “Hey, have you read that Fifty Shades of Cool? I mean, I was just a lake down there.” Hell, you can even just casually bring up Michelangelo’s David (just trying to pick examples of equal artistic merit here) and that’s fine, right? It’s perfectly normal to do that.
Now think about how it’s not normal to say to this imaginary swanky person, “Hey, have you played the new Transformers: Dark of the Spleeg tie-in video game?”
You will be maced instantly. (And the same thing goes for comic books too but who cares about comic books? They’re stupid.)
This is why people who play games even have a label. You’re designated as “gamers” because you’re a specific type of person that partakes in an activity that the common folk do not necessarily partake in. You’d never say “Hey, I’m a TVer” or “I’m a booksmith.” Yes, you can say that you’re a film buff or a bookworm, but that just means you’re super into those things, you know what I mean? Whatever, it’s different, shut up.
Do understand that what I’m saying is not that old fucknut about whether games are art or whatever. Sure they are, who cares? I’m saying a significant contingent of society still doesn’t see them as such or they’d discuss them in much the same way they do other media. I still to this day meet people who dismiss video games as being for kids. And, believe me, I know, I hear you saying: “Well, the hell with those people! They clearly haven’t seen any modern games because they’re obviously not for kids! I’m cool! I can kill people in GTA!”
And you’re right! Games aren’t for kids anymore because now they’re for manchildren.
See, I still totally get why some people dismiss games outright because if you just take a cursory glance at this medium, it’s… not good. It’s just violence and shooting and explosions and bouncing titties. You know when you were a teenager and you were just a massive shit and you stopped being nice ever and you became an obnoxious, self-centered prick? That’s the stage video games are in. They’re adolescent. They’re loud, they’re inarticulate, they’re stupid, and all they think about is titties.
Even many of the best games out there are pretty damn embarrassing. I mean, what am I going to say to my mom? “Hey, mom, check out Resident Evil 4. This changed the face of action gaming.” BLARRGH EXPLODING HEADS CHAINSAWS PARASITES BLURRGH. I mean, come on, she’d probably stop sending me money.
Now, of course there are exceptions. There are those are the gems that make me proud to be a gamer and ready to come to the defense of gaming as a vehicle for thought-provoking, emotional experiences and as a medium that can affect you in unique ways that are quite simply not possible in other media. Shadow of the Colossus, for example, handles issues of guilt in a manner I’ve never come across in anything ever before. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time manages to tell a story featuring an interesting dynamic between the two lead characters. Katamari Damacy might literally be the only time pure joy has ever been successfully boxed. The list goes on.
But for nowhere near as long as I’d like because then there’s every-fuckin’-thing else that makes me feel like a giant freaking loser who’s ashamed to be associated with games in any capacity. And that’s the crap that, by and large, keeps getting made. And, yeah, I’ve heard of indie games; there are a lot of shitty clichés there too. They might be different shitty clichés, but they’re clichés nonetheless (and, yes, I do plan to address this more concretely in a future installment).
I was involved in making games once. I actually was one of those guys for a hot second. I bring this up to get whatever faux-credibility (or fauxdibility) I can milk out of it. But, in all honesty, I was only involved in the industry for a total of three months due to a series of unfortunate events, so I’m not going to pretend my insight in this capacity is not limited.
Still, one thing I did learn from my five seconds in the industry is that the majority of the people who get involved with it basically just want to maintain the status quo. “More of the same! That’s what we want and screw casual gaming! I hate the Wii! To hell with accessibility!”
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? DON’T YOU EVEN WANT GIRLFRIENDS?
I find this such a stunningly misguided point of view for a gamer to have. You can argue that games are just too difficult for some people or too deep or that you’re a being that’s made it to some higher plane of existence (good luck peddling that one) because you get games and screw those people who don’t. But there comes a time when you need to take a look at yourself and this medium of yours and consider the possibility that maybe part of the reason people don’t like gaming is because of what they see of it. And what they see of it most often are immature depictions of violence and sexuality or stuff that’s otherwise insular, i.e. title after title sticking to worn gameplay mechanics with little attempt to evolve the medium to something that might make non-gamers give a damn. Maybe we get little respect as gamers because we’re kind of doing a shitty job and making, not to mention championing, the same dumb, often alienating experiences over and over again.
Frankly, a lot of this culture sucks. And I want it to get better.
“So, Joe, you’re saying what? You’re saying we need to talk about games so that they become more accessible to plebeians?”
NO, I’M NOT ONLY SAYING THAT.
I’m also saying that simply by virtue of pointing at games and gamers and all that relates to gaming and stating, “Lo!, this sucks and here’s why,” means that developers—and all of us—will have to step their games up (< hilarious wordplay) and creative people with unique ideas who might’ve ignored the medium before will want to get involved with it. (And creative people who were already involved won’t get completely fed up with the industry and ditch it like I’m about to. You never appreciated me.)
Whether or not you care about “normal” people liking them, if we have a wider of variety of mature, interesting games, gaming on the whole will just plain be better and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to get behind that unless perhaps you’re worried that games moving in more artistic directions will mean the demolishment of your favorite, boring, laborious strategy genre or something. But, please, this medium was founded and will always be brimming with nerds. I mean, who else is gonna program these things? There will always be a space for you. Your boring games are safe.
But now I hear you saying (because this obnoxiously defeatist yet strangely righteous attitude is typical of nearly all gamers): “But, Joe, talking about games doesn’t do a goddamned thing. You have to get in there and make your own games, not just bitch and moan, blah blah, I can kill people in GTA.”
No, you’re wrong.
As a consumer, it is your greenback-given right to criticize things. Not all of us have the time or even the ability to become programmers or designers or what have you. We are busy doing other things and living different lives. But you know what? We still like games and we still want our games to be good. So we can talk about them, yes we bloody well can.
I talk about gaming because I have an opinion about it. And why shouldn’t I express it if I care to (don’t answer that)? And this segues us so shitting perfectly into why I think we all should talk about gaming. (Well, maybe not you. You look like when you open your mouth a bunch of hair is gonna fall outta it or something.)
Generally speaking, you’re on the internet to see the opinions of others and to express your own. The internet is really nothing but a gargantuan swirling puke-vat of opinions from chumps like you. You have a gaming background too (I assume or else you were trying to get to “MomAttack.com,” one of the more disturbing fetish sites available). In theory, you have something interesting to say. That or you totally don’t and you speak entirely through stock image macros and links to 20-second clips on YouTube, in which case you can very sincerely fuck the fuck off and come back when you’ve got a real personality. But, hey, if you’re not a prick and you’re a gamer, your opinions about gaming are just as valid as the next prick’s.
“But just talking about it still won’t do anything, I don’t think, I think that—”
No, shut up.
Thanks to the existence of the internet, this argument is so invalid it’s silly. To add some legitimacy to my noise, I’ll quote someone who is famouser and has much more money than me.
Dan Harmon, creator of the fantastic show Community, said this not long ago during a giant Q&A session on the internet website Reddit where people got to ask the creator of the show Community questions and he RESPONDED DIRECTLY TO THEM.
Here’s what he said:
“…I think what the internet, which is increasingly becoming the real world, needs most, is a big fat dose of everybody assuming that everybody can see them [emphasis deftly added by yours truly].”
You are seen all the time, even if it’s just by douchefacecommenteridiot469 on YouTube who hits dislike on your comment that Destiny’s Child was better than Beyoncé’s solo work (I’m afraid I’m with doucheface on this one, however). More people than ever are reading the nonsense you put on the internet and it can affect things. I mean, there’s empirical evidence of this, for Miyamoto’s sake.
How about the ending to Mass Effect 3? It generated such a collective virtual fervor of BO-soaked, acne-ridden, nasally whining that EA (one of the biggest Star Wars Empire-like conglomerates of today) actually changed the god-forsaken ending. I mean, what? That’s nutballs.
Or, more recently, that pisspoor Hitman: Absolution trailer came out and a jillion people got mad about it—with good reason. The developers said, “You know what, we’re actually going to fix this in the game and make it less stupid and exploitative.” Well, to be honest, I’ve seen the new trailer since they said that and it’s pretty much still missing the point. It’s like slapping a Band-Aid on a festering sore brimming over with shiny tits, but still, the real point here is that the feedback reached the people responsible to the point that they had to react.
With the internet you wield a frightening amount of power and influence and, with gaming especially, as mentioned before, developers are really not too far off from you. Just like you, they read all (or at least many) of the forum posts you make about games and they are affected by and care about your opinions. Hell, they even hire people who are paid literally just to wrangle the social circles that spring up around their products. Plus, thanks to DLC and patching and all that jazz, they can change a game even after it’s been released in response to your many ramblings.
So, in conclusion, being a part of this culture I argue that you have more power to change and disrupt and unmake and remake this culture and this industry more than any other media-based industry or culture currently in existence. As I said at the start of this whole mess, games are still really young and, if we don’t screw it up, they can still develop in really awesome ways.
So we need to talk about them now, before it’s too late.
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