(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.
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.
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.
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