Excellent Read: Reviewing Games with and Eye to Value(s)

Gamasutra has an excellent article today concerning game reviews, and their lack of depth when speaking to writing and characterization. Yes, game reviews will dissect the ins and outs of gameplay, audio/visual mastery and the replayability of the game, but they often gloss over the literacy of the game. A quote from the article:

Meanwhile, as gamers mature they often become more concerned with exactly those aspects of the game which are being ignored. Does the game contain nuanced characters or does it merely exploit common stereotypes? Does the game make the player reconsider our preconceptions about war or does it romanticize it? Are religious and spiritual issues dealt with fairly or are they glossed over in a way that distorts the issue overall.

In chatting with a friend of mine, his immediate reaction was a defensive one. “Why can’t games just be fun?”

Yes, there will always be room for the “blockbuster” type game where Stuff-Gets-Blowed-Up-Real-Good, but sometimes I want more than popcorn.  Or I want to discuss the games on a higher level. 

I used to belong to a Reader’s Circle: that’s a fancy name for book club. We would spend hours talking about the book in question and being critical of it. Everyone threw around opinions and viewpoints, and we never felt the need to be defensive. It didn’t mean that we hated the book, or reading, but by having these discussions we became better readers. We became more knowledgeable about publishing, character, storyline, universe creation and so on. If gamers can do the same, it’s a win for everyone. Gamers become better gamers, developers may have to stand up and listen and really give us socially relevant and literate games.

And it’s okay to look around and say that the Emporor has No Clothes.  Pointing out the sexism, homophobia, racism or plain old juvenile nature of some games does not mean that games and gaming is not a great pastime. It does mean that we are thinking enough to question what we are being given. It also means that gaming can be considered a truly mature medium, one where we can talk like adults about adult issues, and not get defensive.

Either way: be sure to check out the above article. The comments are thoughtful and measured, and the author speaks intelligently to the discussion.  And let me know: how do you find the literacy in games? Any great or horrible examples of poor writing? What about games where you were unsure if the developers took present day social context into consideration when creating certain aspects of the game?

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