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.