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(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. SweeneyCultureOpinionCulture,Gamers,Opinion(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…
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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.