The Game Stash

The Game Stash: Show Some Respect

Steve Butts | 28 Jul 2010 21:00
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So let me just freak everyone out by offering a mea culpa for the entire industry: We do a lot to encourage this viewpoint. The subtext of most videogames has barely risen above our boyhood games of imagination. I recently received a press release for a game -- I won't mention it by name, for fear of rewarding the outlook it represents -- that made the subtext of male power fantasy disturbingly explicit. This game is fun, it read, because it lets players "live out the male dream," which, according to this game at least, is defined by crazy sex, drugs, and acting like a raging, violent jerk. I was a little bothered by the definition at first, but really, was it just because the release was admitting something that 99% of other games try to hide? When you get down to it, games like GTA IV, Mafia and God of War are presenting the same fantasy. Was I just acting like a man who gets mad at his friend for pointing out the man's failings?

Of course, we on the inside can distinguish between games that use anti-social violence and hyper-sexuality in the service of a greater goal and those that use those same elements merely to get attention or hide poor design, the same way that a weak writer will use profanity as a substitute for emotional intensity. But here's the rub: Those distinctions aren't apparent when you're looking in from the outside. We wrongly blame people like Roger Ebert and Jack Thompson for not seeing a difference of which they have no relevant personal experience. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not defending small-mindedness or prejudice. All I'm suggesting is that we're blaming them for not understanding something that they have had no opportunity to understand. The mass media can look at all the layers of mature interactivity and story in a game like Mass Effect and see only the side of an alien's boob, from which they extrapolate the end of civilization as we know it. These guardians of public decency step beyond their usefulness when their zeal leads them to capitalize on and reinforce the public's uninformed assumptions.

They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I think that statement should be the beginning of any discussion of gaming's larger cultural relevance, either as the destroyer of worlds or the sublime synthesis of all our culture's many arts. If a person wants to offer a relevant opinion on the value of videogames, they need to have a relevant experience of them. This is why I couldn't care less whether people who don't play videogames think they can or can't be Art. This is why I also couldn't care less whether someone claims a game is pornographic based on a 40-second YouTube clip.

Yes, we absolutely need to be concerned about what is being said about videogames in the mainstream media but instead of just shouting ad hominem attacks at each other, we need to foster a greater understanding of each other's points of view.

Steve Butts thought a degree in Latin would be more useful than it has been.

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