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.