Grow up header

(Disclaimer: The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent those of the 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.


Translating Tumblr — Fatspo (Fat Activism)
Translating Tumblr: Homestuck
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent be­low.
John Sweeney
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.