Monthly Archives: August 2014

Opinion – Status Quo

I’m going to PAX!  Thanks Triforce Quartet!  This is what you get for Sunday’s post.

It seems that every time someone points out that video games have a problem with diversity, vocal members of the community remember fondly of a golden age before all the controversy when men were men and video games were all about fun.  Holders of this view see critics (sometimes called SJWs or Social Justice Warriors) as spoilers of gaming’s Eden-like garden.  Everything was good and fun until SJWs forced the industry to focus on pressing issues of the day rather than making games.  It’s a compelling argument for those who have found their once simple past time polluted with major social and political issues.  Unfortunately, it’s grounded in ignorance.  The issues we’re hearing about were always issues, we just didn’t hear about them.

The stereotypical gamer of the 80s and 90s was a bespectacled nerd whose knowledge of fictional lore was only matched by his inability to connect with others.  Like many stereotypes, there was some truth to this as many social outcasts found their way to the gaming world and drowned their sorrows in magical realms where they could be the hero.  What often gets ignored is that being a social outcast is not confined to white boys.  Many youth from across the spectrum made their way to gaming only to discover that it had been made by and for a very limited audience.  Some moved on to different pursuits and their potential contributions were lost.  For others, the allure of the screen was enough to overcome the fact that they were poorly represented.  They sought out the few games and heroes that they felt best reflected their reality.  They hung on to the few cracks in the wall and accepted what they must because that’s all games were.

Surprise surprise, these people weren’t happy about it.  The commentary we’re seeing now isn’t outsiders who want to ruin our fun, it’s committed gamers who grew up and decided to speak out against the games industry’s singular focus on one type of person.  They aren’t seeking to destroy fun, but rather finally see developers who take them and their needs seriously and who use the medium to explore the realities of the lives of a more diverse set.  These SJWs don’t hate games.  They don’t want to stop Mario.  They just wish that gaming’s leading lights (GTA, inFamous, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, etc) gave them some love (and no, side stories like AC: Liberation or inFamous: First Light don’t count).  They want to see heroes like themselves, which really doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

When someone argues for returning to focusing on fun, what they’re actually asking for is keeping games limited to people like themselves.  They, understandably, see the status quo as preferable because the status quo serves them, but it doesn’t serve everyone.  Should anyone be surprised when the losers of a system seek to make it more equitable?   SJWs aren’t deliberately raining on gaming’s parade, they’re asking to be a part of it.  Not surprisingly, they also want gaming to grow up.  Gamers used to get up in arms about whether games counted as art yet, now that a number of games explore that space, we want to pull back.  Well, tough.  Contra isn’t art.  Nor is Mario.  Art has a meaning that SJWs are infusing into old and new game worlds.  It may not be a meaning you like, but that’s also an aspect of art.   

It’s time to stop living in the past.  The past only worked for a select few while others had to put up with something inferior.  We now have the energy and resources to create an inclusive gaming culture that serves the needs of an increasingly diverse group of individuals and that inclusivity is worth far more than any attempt to recapture the days gone by.

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Opinion – What We’re Gaining

I’m a big boy now!

I noted last week that gaming’s old audience of straight, white, male gamers are losing something to the push by the critical and developing industry to be more inclusive.  Acknowledging this matters because it also acknowledges the feelings of those who are most aggrieved by the change and so most likely to oppose it.  The flip side of this argument, and one that is also typically ignored, is that the diversification of gaming actually benefits the old crowd as well.  There is good in the bad and that’s something that worth talking about and promoting.

One of the major problems with the old paradigm is that its conception of its audience is incredibly simplistic.  Gamers are not only seen as a collection of the traits mentioned above, but also as 13 year olds seeking power fantasies.  While that may have been true at one point, the reality is that the player base, even the old player base, has grown and matured far beyond their teenage selves.  Game stories and worlds that once satisfied the pimply crowd no longer have the same impact once they leave those years.  Doom’s “go kill demons” or Ninja Gaiden’s “save the princess” plots can’t compete with the more sophisticated narratives in other mediums.  Yet the Call of Dutys and the Killzones still pedal these mindless tropes like they’re still compelling.  I remember playing Killzone 2 when a character died.  Everyone in the game seemed incredibly distraught but I couldn’t muster an iota of emotion for the mindless muscle mass that just died.  After all, the game had plenty more of him.  Acknowledging that gamers have grown up means that games must grow up as well.  By realizing that gamers are no longer insecure teenagers, developers must now create stories and settings that appeal to a more mature audience.  Every gamer, regardless of how well they were served before, benefits from this.

Along with admitting the audience has matured, developers can now include greater diversity and the avenues that represents.  In an earlier post, I noted that Assassin’s Creed: Liberation protagonist Aveline de Grandpre, while not particularly revolutionary in her character type, still opened up possible gameplay opportunities beyond the traditional AC game.  While appearance certainly mattered for men in AC:Liberation’s colonial setting, the difference between an assassin, a court lady, and a slave were far more different than any man at the time fulfilling similar roles.  Just by having a black, female protagonist, Ubisoft produced an organically new approach to the AC world.  Including other’s perspectives allows developers to think along new lines and with different plots.  The archetypal video game hero is so well worn that it’s hard to break free from the confines that come with.  New characters pulled from diverse worlds can open up new pathways that developers have previously not considered.  Again, pushing the industry beyond its current confines can only benefit all games as new stories, perspectives, gameplay, and worlds develop organically from more diverse views.

In the end, the diversification of gaming shouldn’t be done to benefit the white, male audience.  It should be done so that others can have their stories, dreams, and imaginations explored through the video game space.  People deserve to have characters that they can relate to.  Video games should not be the domain of its old audience.  To my fellow white male gamers I say this: the change will be scary.  Our favorite developers will start projects that don’t target us anymore.  Games will tell new and exciting stories that we cannot relate to or are harder for us to relate to.  Gaming won’t just serve us.  Be excited anyway.  We’ll get new worlds to see through the eyes of new people.  We’ll get new gameplay and stronger characters.  Most importantly, the world will get to experience games the way we did and find stories that have meaning to them.  That can’t be a bad thing.

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Opinion – What we’re losing

Don’t minimize my pain.

The debate over the inclusivity of gaming continues to rage and the pro-diversity forces seem to be winning.  What once was a medium unapologetically devoted to a white, male, and straight fan base is now apologetically devoted to a white, male, and straight fan base.  These are heady times.  The critical gaming sphere has largely fallen in behind additional game inclusivity and is attempting to convince the broader game community of its importance.  In their attempts to do so, these critics have employed a number of arguments of which one of the most prominent is that gaming’s previous golden children aren’t actually losing anything.  They argue that many of the staples of the past, such as military shooters and other power fantasies, won’t be ignored in the coming games industry.  While they are broadly right, the reality is that the old fan base will lose a great deal.  Dismissing their concerns won’t get them to embrace diversity.

It’s important to recognize that video game development is a zero sum game.  There are a finite amount of developers commanding a finite amount of resources of which one is absolutely time.  When a developer creates a game with audience A in mind, then they are not creating games for audiences B, C, or D.  This doesn’t just apply to whole games.  The time and effort Bioware spent on including a fully voiced female Shepard was time and effort Bioware could have, and used to, spend on developing another game.  If you are one of the elect for whom the games industry used to create exclusively for, then you now see a world that is moving away from catering exclusively to you.  Yes, it’s selfish, but is it any wonder that people got used to having a medium all to themselves?  The justified crusade of others attempting to get their views included doesn’t take away from the fact that the beneficiaries of the old system are losing a world that sought to fulfill their dreams.  It’s important for critics to acknowledge that every opening they push for is taking resources that would have formerly gone elsewhere.

It’s not just the future of games that are effected, but the past too.  The games of yore targeted the male audience without any of the self awareness that we now see today.  Every hero was a muscle bound white guy ripped from an eighties action flick.  Women and minorities were relegated to side roles, if they existed at all, and forget about gender awareness.  These old games acted as if much of the world didn’t matter.  Return to them on a nostalgia trip and they look terrible to modern eyes.  Even when the gameplay and graphics hold up, the politics are often atrocious.  The “save the princess” plot that used to buttress so many of these games seems hopelessly tone deaf in a world where women characters are supposed to be empowered and more than a McGuffin.  The same can be said of more modern games that eschew the evolving cultural context.  If a game plays by the old rules, it stops being fun and just becomes embarrassing.

There was a time when all games were “me” accessible.  When a good game was targeted at me and people like me.  Anytime a good game came out, if it was in a genre I liked, it was also accessible to me.  Those times are passing and we’re seeing a slow move towards a broader range of characters and issues.  I would (and will) argue that this is an overall positive thing, but it eclipses an old world that was made by people like me for people like me.  Gaming can no longer exist in a state of innocence and, for those it benefited, that is a loss.  Critics and boosters of this new vision would do well to recognize that they are destroying something as well as building it. 

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Summer Break

It is summer time.  Time where a young man’s thoughts turn to vacations and the like.  As such, I shall not be posting today or next Sunday.  See you in two weeks!

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