Like most who are arrogant, insecure and in possession of an inferiority complex, we in games don't react well to criticism - especially when we know deep down that it's valid. And by "we" here, I'm including not just those involved in the development and production of games, but the press and the consumers as well - all of us who have a vested interest in seeing gaming continue.
Last month, our gaming panties were bunched by the British government's suggestion that too much sitting on the couch playing videogames might just be linked to the alarming rises in childhood obesity being seen across the Western world (a reaction that was enjoyably taken to school by this Eurogamer article). This month, it's the suggestion of Heather Chaplin at GDC that games are made by a bunch of "adolescents" -"a bunch of f***ing adolescents," to be precise.
The general reaction to this has, ironically, gone a long way to prove Chaplin's points, not looking out of place in a schoolyard . In an attempt to prove how cool and totally not adolescent gaming is, the whole argument seems to have become one of jocks versus nerds, with gamers inexplicably attempting to place themselves in the "jock" section. Any attempts such as Chaplin's to criticize the juvenile content of many modern games is written off as "wine and cheese party" pretentiousness, as if anything that attempts to be more intellectual than Killzone automatically becomes the domain of bearded professors.
The question is not one of producing gaming's equivalent of Ulysses. I'd quite happily settle for something on the same intellectual scale as something like Lost. We're talking about setting our sights just a slight bit higher than they're set at the moment. About creating things that ordinary people who haven't invested most of their lives in gaming or comic books can enjoy. About not being content just to wallow in the sea of muscled protagonists who shit bullets and wisecrack every 30 seconds.
Chaplin's words were designed to provoke, and they cut to the quick for gamers. The nerdy stigma that surrounded gaming for so long still persists, and even though gaming has come a long way, we're like the ugly high school girl who can't forget her past insecurities no matter how beautiful she becomes.
A typical reaction to Chaplin's words was that of Twisted Metal and God of War creator David Jaffe, who made the argument that because he is a father and founder of a company, he could not possibly be adolescent. "GEARS OF WAR 2's theme is generic, 14 year old boy/Heavy Metal magazine power fantasy turned up to 11," Jaffe notes. "And NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THAT. If I am in the right mood, I LOVE that stuff."
Again, this argument arrives at the bus stop several minutes after the point has already departed. Of course there's nothing wrong with it, for us. Right there on Jaffe's blog you can see a nice segment of other media he enjoys - Dawn of the Dead, Marvel Comics, The Fast and the Furious. The stuff that appeals to the teenager in all of us. And as a man who from time to time enjoys such fluff as James Bond, Heroes and (whisper it) Naruto, I have no problem with that whatsoever.
The problem is that this is the total sum of all our medium offers. There's nothing wrong with enjoying a little escapism but is that all games can aspire to be? We have pigeonholed gaming into a situation where now the starting point for every new IP is, how do we make it more like Gears of War? What do 13 year old kids think is cool? Worse still, the "mature" product that we do make, the things that are in many places illegal to sell to minors, is still made with those same 13-year-old's values in mind.