"You aren't men. You are stunted adolescents," said Heather Chaplin during her public excoriation of the gaming industry at a GDC panel. It was the kind of rant meant to garner attention, with its mix of caustic language and references to both high (Fritz Lang) and low (The Clash) culture. It was also, at its heart, an exercise in self pity. I don't know about you, but I wasn't particularly surprised to learn that videogames peddle heavily in male fantasy. If anything, I was glad to hear from her that the trend is showing no signs of abating. Because adolescent male fantasies are responsible for the majority of our great works of entertainment and art.
I think she may have been fooled by the quiet, monastic tones on NPR into believing there's a group of men who have moved beyond a fascination with sex and violence. Unfortunately, she is ignoring that sex and violence are the very reasons I play videogames and the things I look for in most entertainment. I am not alone in this. Could videogames look at these issues more subtly, in more thematically complex ways and without the same parade of space marines and zombies? Absolutely, and it's a goal I hope the industry continues to strive toward. But in saying videogames lack any of the things that separate men from boys - responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery - Chaplin reveals her romanticized notions about what actually separates men from boys. It's true that as I've gotten older I've grown more intellectually curious, responsible and introspective, but she's also conveniently ignoring the more prurient aspects of being an adult male.
For one thing, my tolerance for violence has gotten exponentially higher. As a child I would play games like MegaMan and vicariously live through his epic battles with robot bosses. At some point that evolved into a fascination with Street Fighter, and then finally I went and saw a boxing match in person and realized that was the best by far. I remember, even in junior high, feeling slightly ill as I watched two older students slug it out in the hallways, realizing that noses actually break and eyes get blackened. But I cheered for the next one. For most adult men, violence is magnetic. No less a writer than Cormac McCarthy has based a fair amount of his career on the dissection of it.
The other element that drives adult males is sex, and that definitely has nothing to do with responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery. When I was younger I could tell you roughly what I found attractive in girls, but for the most part they were still sort of an abstract concept. Not so, as you get older. The evidence is in the billion dollar adult entertainment industry whose revenues are definitely driven by credit card holders over the age of 18.
What these two examples illustrate is that roughly 30% of my time is actually devoted to responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery. The other 70% is basically consumed by various musings on sex and/or violence. And given how physically oriented both preoccupations are, why the hell wouldn't I want my videogames to reflect some combination of the two?