Why “Gamers and Video Games Need to Grow up” Is Wrong

John gives his views on why gaming and video games are grown up already, and those calling for more "maturity" are actually the immature ones

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(Disclaimer: The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent those of the SuperNerdLand.com staff and/or any con­trib­u­tors to this site.)

Ever since its in­cep­tion as a medi­um, video games have had a dif­fi­cult bat­tle for ac­cep­tance as a le­git­i­mate art form. They are of­ten still sub­ject to far more re­stric­tions in terms of con­tent than more es­tab­lished art forms are. Old me­dia has a hard time un­der­stand­ing the in­ter­ac­tiv­i­ty in­her­ent in video games. Gaming has been al­ter­na­tive­ly por­trayed as a waste of time, children’s toys, and even train­ing tools for mass mur­der or they hard­code misog­y­ny. Equally, the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty has been por­trayed as in­fan­tilized, so­cial­ly in­ept, and un­able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate re­al­i­ty from fan­ta­sy.

In re­ac­tion to this per­ceived im­age prob­lem an idea has tak­en hold — a kind of con­ven­tion­al wis­dom in some cir­cles — that in or­der for gam­ing to be tak­en se­ri­ous­ly it needs to stop mak­ing cer­tain kinds of con­tent all to­geth­er. In their minds, if we elim­i­nat­ed most of the ex­am­ples of vi­o­lence or sex­u­al con­tent the me­dia takes out of con­text then video games would mag­i­cal­ly gain the same re­spectabil­i­ty as mo­tion pic­tures or the writ­ten word. This idea has been tak­en fur­ther; that the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty ac­tu­al­ly de­serves its bad rep­u­ta­tion for not ac­cept­ing these at­tempts at mak­ing gam­ing more “cul­tured.” The rhetoric pre­vi­ous­ly used by the me­dia against the com­mu­ni­ty is now com­ing from within.

This at­ti­tude is per­va­sive with the now de­press­ing­ly fa­mil­iar “in crowd” made up of some gam­ing press, their pet in­die de­vel­op­ers, and the cul­ture war­riors who at­tempt to im­pose their ide­ol­o­gy on video games and the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty at the cost of oth­er schools of thought. It’s part of a canon of ideas and talk­ing points that are re­cy­cled ad nau­se­am in ed­i­to­ri­als, opin­ion pieces, and on so­cial media.

We could just be tak­en se­ri­ous­ly and all of our im­age prob­lems would dis­ap­pear overnight if we did away with all these un­de­sir­able games and gamers,” goes the para­phrased ar­gu­ment. It’s why they tried to call us dead.

The prob­lem is that even if they did some­how erase from ex­is­tence all the sec­tions of gam­ing they found “prob­lem­at­ic” it wouldn’t make a dammed bit of dif­fer­ence. Old me­dia feels threat­ened by video games, the in­ter­net, and the alarm­ing­ly rapid ex­pan­sion of the two. This caus­es them to seize every op­por­tu­ni­ty to take a pot-shot at their lat­est com­peti­tor. If they weren’t at­tack­ing GTA then they’d be fab­ri­cat­ing some sto­ry about an­i­mal cru­el­ty in Nintendogs or imag­in­ing a sex­ism cri­sis in Tetris. You can’t ap­pease the old guard who want to tear down what they don’t un­der­stand, or ide­o­logues who rely on cre­at­ing con­tro­ver­sy to make a liv­ing. This same “fear of the new and un­fa­mil­iar” plagued movies and tele­vi­sion when they were less established.

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By giv­ing into the de­mands from out­side of gam­ing, all you do is dam­age it as an art form and stunt its growth. Games are at their most “ma­ture” when they’re at their most hon­est and naïve; when the de­vel­op­er is cre­at­ing some­thing with­out over think­ing the themes in­volved or con­scious­ly try­ing to craft a mes­sage. In this re­gard I think the ear­li­est days of game de­sign were in many ways the most ma­ture. Creation was un­bound by ex­pec­ta­tion and pre­co­cious­ness as de­vel­op­ers were wrapped up in pure­ly test­ing the lim­its of tech­nol­o­gy and of play. Straining to look grown up didn’t en­ter the equation.

The new push for “ma­tu­ri­ty” in­volves the em­u­la­tion of oth­er me­dia — es­pe­cial­ly film — try­ing to get some of that old-world cred­i­bil­i­ty to rub off.  Like a teenag­er des­per­ate­ly draw­ing on fake chest-hair and try­ing on their dad’s cloth­ing it sim­ply copies what they think makes you “ma­ture” in­stead of ac­tu­al­ly gain­ing some real wis­dom. The spir­it of ear­ly gam­ing is sore­ly lack­ing in these places. The de­sign process has be­come too self-conscious, too wor­ried about pro­ject­ing an im­age and pro­mot­ing the right ideas rather than fol­low­ing an in­ter­nal vision.

People who are afraid of look­ing im­ma­ture through their gam­ing choic­es, or in­creas­ing­ly oth­er people’s gam­ing choic­es, be­tray their in­se­cu­ri­ty. The peo­ple most wor­ried about “Game X mak­ing gam­ing look bad” are those with the least amount of ma­tu­ri­ty. The sig­nalling of “su­pe­ri­or taste” through loud­ly show­ing off your oh so “al­ter­na­tive” gam­ing choic­es is as gross­ly immature.

Once again, it’s pure­ly ado­les­cent be­hav­ior. They might as well be shut­ting them­selves in their bed­rooms with a Neutral Milk Hotel playlist and com­plain­ing that oth­er peo­ple don’t lis­ten to “real mu­sic.” The spec­tre of em­bar­rass­ing gam­ing hip­s­ter­dom is nev­er far re­moved from the ma­tu­ri­ty de­bate. When a games jour­nal­ist launch­es into a di­a­tribe about “gross gamer man­ba­bies” you can prac­ti­cal­ly smell the un­washed beards, $30 kale smooth­ies, and hair-dye.

This men­tal­i­ty has re­cent­ly crept fur­ther and fur­ther into game lo­cal­iza­tion now, with teams tak­ing it upon them­selves to re­move the “Immature” or “prob­lem­at­ic” el­e­ments of Japanese video games. Their at­ti­tude as­sumes that the au­di­ence is un­able to han­dle a bit of harm­less fun, and more wor­ry­ing­ly brings us back to the days when lo­cal­iz­ers scrubbed every morsel of Japanese cul­ture from Japanese trans­la­tions. The com­ments made are be­com­ing in­creas­ing­ly Japanophobic to­wards the do­mes­tic mar­ket that cre­ates these games. They can’t seem to grasp these games are made for a dif­fer­ent au­di­ence, an au­di­ence that isn’t them.

The re­sult of this mind­set is the ugly sneer­ing at “ani­me avatars” and the plea­sure de­rived from chid­ing “man-babies” who want their “pet­ting game” by mem­bers of the press. Members of the press who are paid to cov­er Japanese games no less. Again I would ask, how does some­one else’s gam­ing choice ef­fect you? Someone en­joy­ing a nice big juicy pair of ani­me tid­dies has no bear­ing on any­one else’s cor­ner of gam­ing. Enjoying the re­moval of con­tent that you per­son­al­ly don’t like to the detri­ment of oth­ers is child­ish. It speaks to the “we’re touch­ing your stuff” tod­dler in­stincts we’ve seen be­fore from this same group of people.

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I know I mock “walk­ing sim­u­la­tors” and non-games, but the peo­ple who en­joy those things are en­ti­tled to ex­ist, and if there is a mar­ket for those games then so be it. My prob­lem is that their au­di­ence tends to have a huge over­lap with peo­ple who want to im­pose their pref­er­ences on oth­er peo­ple. Gaming is at its best when it’s pure­ly about the games; when it doesn’t fo­cus on a whole load of ex­tra­ne­ous bull­shit. You have a right to not like some­thing, but you don’t have a right to de­mand that what you don’t like then be­comes un­avail­able to every­one else. Don’t be an asshole.

As I demon­strat­ed in my se­ries about Geek Culture, you can’t re­al­ly bun­dle dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and fan-bases to­geth­er; in a sense there isn’t one en­ti­ty of “gamers” any­more. Aside from their love of video games there might not be one genre two par­tic­u­lar gamers have in com­mon. Gaming is a main­stream medi­um big enough that one sec­tion of the mar­ket doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have any ef­fect on an­oth­er sec­tion of the mar­ket. Those who hold the world­view that games like Hatred set gam­ing back as an art form have a mind­set decades out of date that wor­ries more about the opin­ions of non-gamers than gamers themselves.

As was seen in the Brown Vs. ESA supreme court case, games are pro­tect­ed speech in the USA — the place most caught up in this de­bate. Japan on the oth­er hand con­tin­ues to not give a sin­gle fuck, only re­mov­ing con­tent to ap­pease us baka Western pig­gus. Video games are so en­riched in Japanese cul­ture at this point that the de­bate about “how will this make gam­ing look?” in the west must look ab­surd to them. And quite right­ly, no one says that the whole of film is be­smirched when a par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­taste­ful movie comes out. No one is wor­ried that the ex­is­tence of pornog­ra­phy will sud­den­ly cause so­ci­ety to re­ject mov­ing im­ages any more than they wor­ry hate­ful books will cause peo­ple to whole­sale re­ject the writ­ten word. It’s time to stop think­ing of video games as this frag­ile lit­tle niche and start view­ing them as the mass-media they’ve be­come. A mass me­dia free to be what­ev­er it wants to in a free market.

For games to flour­ish as an art form they need to be com­plete­ly un­cen­sored and open to all premis­es and ideas; even those seen as puerile and dis­taste­ful. In a world where a uri­nal and an un­made bed are con­sid­ered high art I don’t think a few panty shots and a bit of vul­gar hu­mour is go­ing to bring down gam­ing as le­git­i­mate form of ex­pres­sion — in fact their pres­ence is vital.

My fi­nal mes­sage to the “ma­tu­ri­ty po­lice” would be this: video games and gamers don’t need to grow up. YOU do.


The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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