Originally, my column this week was going to discuss how BioShock Infinite uses history to reflect the modern age – but honestly, it can wait. No one wants to read about anarchist bombings this week, or racism for that matter. Even if they do, I don’t particularly feel like writing those articles. Even with Monday’s tragedy aside, it’s been a bad spell for game journalists and the people that read our work. Studios and outlets are closing by the day. Writers bitterly argue about who has the right interpretation of a specific game and who is or isn’t doing their duty as a journalist. A lot of people are out of work. Many worry that we’re coming up on an industry crash. Negativity is everywhere.
Since I started this column, my aim has always been to give people information they want to know. And I think this is what everyone wants to know right now: It’s going to be okay.
Yeah, I know that’s tough to swallow. When everything’s going haywire it’s sometimes hard to hear someone say everything will be all right, that you’ll live through it, that your world isn’t over, it’s just changing.
We as gamers, as journalists, as developers and publishers, we will be all right. That doesn’t mean bad things will not happen, it doesn’t mean we and our friends will be immune to layoffs or that favorite studios will not close. It doesn’t mean we’ll always be right and no one will disagree with us, it means that gamers, the industry, and our medium will survive. This is not videogame Judgment Day. Yes, we may see the end of consoles. It’s entirely possible – but not inevitable – that in ten years Xbox, PlayStation, and even Nintendo may not exist in a form we’d traditionally recognize. No one can guarantee anything in this market, but I will promise you this: even if that happens, games will still exist, and I think they’ll be better than ever. Why? Because that’s what happens.
Recently, my Dad emailed me some old photos of downtown Honolulu. Each scratchy, black and white picture showed a building that was demolished before I was born, along with a caption stating what structure replaced it. To my Dad, this was an exercise in nostalgia – when he looked at these photos, he saw the dealership where he bought his first car or a restaurant where he waited tables. I saw something different. To me, these photos showed what needed to be destroyed to make way for my own memories: the concert hall where I went on my first date, the neighborhood I grew up in, the game store where I practically lived during college. None of them would’ve been built if not for the swing of a wrecking ball.
We’ve made wonderful memories with the games, franchises and systems we have, but when they’re gone, it’s important to remember that there will be new systems to replace them. Maybe it will be the Xbox 720 or the Oculus Rift, or maybe it will be something that hasn’t come along yet. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Our medium is more than its hardware and software – it is the people that matter, from those that make the games to those that play them, and those of us who write about them. Games run on human imagination and the urge to explore digital worlds, and both these forces are alive and well. Yes, it’s scary to not know what companies and franchises will survive the next five years. Not knowing where we’re headed is frightening, but it’s comforting to remember that the industry has survived contractions and recessions before. When the North American market crashed in 1984, investors lost billions and American companies closed shop left and right, but it also paved the way for Japanese systems to enter the market. We lost Atari but gained the Nintendo Entertainment System, Genesis and PlayStation, the same as how Hollywood’s crash in the 1960s, led to Bonnie and Clyde, Taxi Driver and The Godfather. Instead of thinking of our current state as a prelude to darkness, we can see it for what it actually is: a transition to something new and exciting.
It’s true that in this transition some people, maybe a lot of people, will lose their jobs – that is, unfortunately, inevitable. But we also have to remember that losing a job, though awful, is not the end of someone’s story. People lose jobs sometimes, but they can also get new ones. The game development community is extremely generous and looks after its own. When one company closes, another starts tweeting links to its jobs section. Also, it eases my mind to remember that the industry is full of creative, ambitious people, and creative people are good at making their own opportunities. There’s always the possibility that a group of laid-off developers or writers will band together and create something we’ve never seen before. Shifting landscapes in the game industry might be hard – very hard – but I know that we can put our heads down and push through to the other side.
It’s going to be okay.
Of course, it’s not just the game industry that’s going through a shift – game journalism is as well. While it’s easy to get bogged down worrying about the future of game writing, or arguments about what is or is not legitimate journalism, we also need to recognize is how good we have it.
This is the best time in history to be a game journalist. Not only has web video and internet publication given us an enormous audience for our ideas, but games are deeper and more interesting than ever. Mechanics, visuals, art direction, and storytelling have all leapt forward over the past decade, and we’re front-row witnesses to a new medium that’s going to transform the world. Games are art, yes, but they’re also so much more. Games can teach you to fly an airplane. They can help you learn a new language or treat veterans with PTSD. Games are about to bring so many possibilities to our world, yet we often chose to nitpick or dwell on the medium’s failures. While it’s true that it’s our job as journalists to confront problems like industry sexism and questions about the appropriateness of game violence, in doing so we can’t forget to celebrate all the magnificent things games can do – because ultimately protecting the good things in games and gamer culture is our entire reason for confronting the bad. Cynicism should never kill our sense of wonder and possibility.
It’s going to be ok.
Look, change is coming and there’s no sense in fighting it. But we can help ease the transition if we stop fighting each other.
It would really help for us to be kinder to each other. As developers, as journalists, as players and readers. I know that sounds easy, but it’s not. Change frightens people, and fear is always the greatest impediment to kindness. As we see studios dropping staff and game publications closing, as we see companies and writers strike out in directions we don’t agree with, it’s important that we can discuss things without pulling each other down. There needs to be some place for gentility in our discourse, some acknowledgement that it’s alright to think something different and agree to disagree. We can’t keep fighting an eternal round of King of the Hill, as if us being right means everyone else must be wrong. Art interpretation doesn’t work that way – two differing viewpoints can be equally valid and it profits us to discuss more than it does to argue.
I know we can do it. I’ve seen developers rationally talk out disagreements over Twitter. I’ve seen all of us come together to fund Child’s Play. Most of the time, when Critical Intel readers don’t like something, they tell me why rather than jumping to insults. At PAX, I’ve hiked around half the convention center to meet colleagues for the first time – if only a few minutes – and they’ve done the same for me. We are a community that fundamentally cares about one another once we talk face-to-face.
A few weeks ago, while reading an article on a well-known game site, I came across some problematic language. It was the kind of thing that might’ve gotten a lot of attention had I decided to Tweet it, but instead of doing that, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. I wrote the site’s editor with my concerns, and immediately upon reading them he agreed to edit the article. Turns out it was just a mistake. No one was offended. Everyone learned a lesson. There was no need to put anyone in the digital stocks and shame them in public. As I closed my computer, I wondered how many other controversies could be solved this way, with a courtesy email rather than a rage post. How much bitterness would we avoid if we made forgiveness a practice? How much energy would we save if we wrote about games more than we wrote about each other?
As long as we’re kind to each other, it’s all going to be okay.