Tag Archives: maturity in gaming

Gamers: Let’s All Pick a Lane, Shall We?

Let's pick a lane. Where do we want to be?

We gamers have been under fire for ages.

We’re constantly told that our passion is juvenile at best; will turn children into godless murdering monsters at worst. Lately, the argument against our hobby has been more subtle and yet, more dismissive. Games are not art, and therefore not really worth taking seriously.

As a community, we have responded with a one-two punch against the nay-sayers: we are well informed with facts about our hobby (“Well, actually, the grand majority of games are rated ‘E’ for Everyone and so aren’t violent”) and, yes, sometimes we have been known to engage in all out on-line warfare (“This chick is an idiot! Let’s all give her book a one star rating on Amazon!”).

All in all: we defend, defend, defend. Everything is so fantastic in GamerWorld!

But I don’t think so.  I love gaming. I spend my free time writing this blog all about gaming. But I am not so in love with it that I’ve lost my reason.

We should be at the point where gamers must look at gaming with a more critical eye.  And sometimes that means we will have to acknowledge that the glass is not half full… in fact: some of the time, our glass is full of crap.  If we believe that games are art, as we’ve strenuously argued as of late, then we should be able to discuss the games at a higher level. To argue at a higher level means to acknowledge the flaws in our passion and in ourselves as members of this community.

Why is it that gamers tend to dismiss the homophobia, sexism and racism in our games and in our interactions with one another on-line? It’s as if the gamer culture thrives on being juvenile.  Tits or GTFO. See, we’re too cool and ironic to get worked up by mere political correctness.  If you can’t handle the homophobic, racist, sexist remarks on line well, then a) you are a whiny spineless worm — if this was 5 years ago I would add “hand in your man-card” — and b) get off of Xbox Live and let the REAL gamers play.

Perhaps there is also an ignorance, one born of privilege. A telling quote from N’Gai Croal and the Resident Evil 5 and racist imagery controversy:

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort  of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists?

While gamers don’t have control over the racism or sexism in the games themselves, we can control the dynamic in on-line gaming. Yet, here we also see ridiculous behaviour. In a study, it was found that women received three times the negative comments in Halo 3 than their male counterparts. This sexism can`t be blamed on the industry but must be placed squarely on the shoulders of gamers. The best we have come up with is `mute, report, pwn, a strategy which places all of the responsability for policing on the shoulders of victims of these remarks, and not on the enforcement teams at Sony or Microsoft. It also absolves other gamers from the responsability of acting on behalf of fellow gamers. We have become passive on lookers while others are harassed.

Yet we pretend that this culture  of juvenile behaviour does not exist when we have to prove that gaming is a serious and adult past time.  And so we start pulling out “The average gamer is over 30 years old and so this is an adult medium.” argument.

So which is it? Are we cool and ironic and so un-PC, or are we adults playing games that, like all works, are flawed on a social level.

In the face of the big “-isms” I find that the reaction from gamers is to ridicule, and dismiss, but rarely to engage.  As a result, we give two very counter intuitive arguments in regards to gaming:

  1. Games are HIGH Art DAMMIT. You should come to appreciate the medium as I do.
  2. It’s just a game: STFU.  GTFO and stop overanalyzing.

No wonder outsiders are confused. We’re confused. We can’t keep saying that games are high art, and then when faced with the baser elements say “it’s just a game”. We gotta pick a lane, be honest with ourselves and be prepared, educated and brave enough to be critical of ourselves and our hobby.

Nope. No sexism in games. None. What. So. Ever.

These arguments are not new. There are many gaming journalists who have run up against these attitudes and tried to argue the same arguments that I am making now. I am not surprised that people whose job it is to question and engage the industry are asking these questions. I am surprised, however, that gamers haven’t acknowledged these questions more often and demanded better by now.

Maybe the confusion is with me.

If games are art, then we treat it like an artform and not a pretty picture. That means learning, questioning and being critical. We must start reading more critically. It means we identify and we start getting angry when we see sexism, racism and homophobia within a game. It means we each denounce this type of behaviour online instead of leaving the victim to defend him or herself alone. We question and question until we are satisfied.

Or if it’s just a game, then fine — don’t argue back when people say it’s just for kids and it’s irrelevant.

All I ask is that we start picking a lane.

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists? residentevil5-03-281.jpg

Spoilers Abound! End Games – Do Gamers Crave The Sure Thing?

In case you couldn’t tell from the headline, this post contains many spoilers about games and movies. Proceed with caution! But please have fun in the comments section: let’s talk about game vs movie endings! 

My husband and I love movies with a twist, and, as is to be excepted, we found Inception a great flick. We both enjoyed The Prestige more, and Momento is still one of my favorite movies EVAH, but that’s just us. Upon dissecting the movie over wings and nachos, my husband asked me if video games had the same type of ending as Inception. 

Please Can I Haz Games Like This?

Now, for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Inception doesn’t really end. The big payoff .. isn’t. It would be like if a hero entered into the room with the final boss fight and then… nothing. That’s that. End of scene. No payoff. In fact, when you think about it, you just get more confused. The entire narrative is brought into question. Did the hero ever make it to the castle, or did something else happen?

The straight narrative that you have been following hasn’t been straight at all. Now you really don’t know the fate of our hero, not to mention the fate of the mission at hand. Everything is called into question. What exactly is going on? What WENT on?

The Wrestler ended with a big boss fight, that you don’t see. Does he die at the end? Does he reclaim his past glory? Dunno. No one does. The Prestige had a final ending, but again, one that made you question what went on the entire movie.   The Sixth Sense was one of the first big movies to have this type of switch up. M. Night Shyamalan’s followup The Village tried to capture lighting in a bottle for the second time, and while I liked it fine, the ending (everyone is actually living in modern times) I felt was projected too easily.  Momento, Vanilla Sky, Mulholland Drive, Pan’s Labyrinth are more movies where you weren’t really sure of the outcome or the narrative. And these are just the ones that I have seen: and I am not a moviephile.

Offhand, I don’t think we see these types of endings in games to the extent that we see them in movies. Offhand I have Bioshock and Killer 7.  Yes, we do see cliffhangers…  The End. OR IS IT!???  Excellent way to set up a sequel and all. We also have games where the good guy actually turns out to be the bad guy. But that is a straight double cross. That’s not anything close to finding out that Lenny actually set himself up to kill John G (see… I told you there would be spoilers). 

Why is this? Why aren’t there more games with unknown narratives and endings?

One reason why games have definite endings is to encourage replayability. One run through and the top spins forever, the other playthrough and your top falls over. One play through and you rescue the princess, another play through and you kill her. All definite endings, but different ones to explore.

Another reason could be that gamers couldn’t “handle” an uncertain ending after 12+ hours invested in the game. We need that payoff. I don’t buy this for a second. Gamers are smart adults, the same adults that are going to see Inception. We are not so small-minded that we cry if things are not how we imagined. Everyone loved Bioshock. But why aren’t there more?

Is it just easier to write and churn out Space Operas? Maybe we have something here. I have mentioned many, many great movies that are of this “major twist that makes you question the narrative” genre, but I could mention triple the number that are simple, but excellent, action films with a straight “good guy saves the day” narratives.

I have never claimed to be an end all and be all expert on games and gaming. I am a fan of gaming, just like you. So tell me: do I have this right? What games have a twist in the whole narrative a la Inception and The Sixth Sense? What have been your favourite twist endings in movies and games? Do you think that games would benefit from a less defined narrative?

Vets vs. the FNG: Gaming Mentorship

It is summertime, and certain aspects of my life have ramped up to insane levels. As always, gaming is a refuge.

But alas, no energy.

Mass Effect 2, Dragon’s Age: Origins and Splinter Cell: Conviction in rapid succession sort of sucked the gaming out of me for a while. And again with this “real life” stuff that keeps on hammering away at me. What’s a girl to do?

Easy: casual or turn based games. Turn based games engage the mind, but leave the tension behind. Lately, my go to game has been Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Plainswalkers on XBLA. So much so, I finally bit the bullet and joined up with Magic the Gathering: Online (MTGO).

Now, I used to play back in tha’ day. So I understand the mechanics of this admittedly complicated game.  However, I ws not prepared for what I was to face.

Trading systems, deck requirements, deck restrictions, different game types, live chat, clans, buddies, and on and on. None of it intuitive. None of it explained. Very little help. Now, I’m a lucky lass with connections, so I was basically in a great clan before I entered in my credit card number to buy my membership. (check that nerd cred, yo) But I have no idea how others do it. And this isn’t vanity talking. All my clan members agree… this is one complicated and crappy interface.

But how do you change something as big as  MTGO to be friendlier to the newb, without alienating the hardcore fans? Slim down the number of cards and abilities, fix the interface (with presumably a certain downtime or time on the new learning curve) and the established players are upset. But if you don’t; you gain no new members… and older members always leave and need replacing.

We see this often with on-line multiplayer. If you are mere weeks behind the curve in Call of Duty, and the like, prepare to be pwned. Everyone else has leveled up, and you are stuck trying to figure out maps in vain while rocking the basic load out. Forget it if you have never picked up a controller or played a FPS.  And if you don’t have some type of rank or levelling system, well, that kind of sucks too. It’s fun to get better and get a reward for it.

So. The argument is as follows:

1. As Vets leave, or ramp down their gaming time for a variety of reasons, developers and publishers have to keep adding new players (FNG) into the gaming experience.

2. You can’t alienate your current fan base (Vets), a sure thing, for the possiblity of new fan (well… you just have to do the risk assessment). This is marketing 101.

Therefore…

3. There is a pull between two different groups: the Vet, and the FNG.

So… what do we think developers might have to do? They are going to, in some respects, stack the deck a bit for the FNG. Maybe make things a bit easier for them, dumb down controls, who knows? Got to get new players.

But that isn’t the only option.

Vets, us gamers, can also be the heroes here. It’s not that fun to beat up on the little guy. We all learned this (hopefully) in kindergarten.

Let’s be human. Help the FNG learn the damn game. You see someone who has no clue what they are doing… don’t spam kill them. Hell… maybe even send them a FR and (gasp) take them under your wing for a few games. The more FNGs we, as gamers, can convert into Vets, the less the game developers have to do the same.

Mentorship. It works. Let’s do this.

Rated M for Adolescent

A while ago, Leigh Alexander wrote an excellent piece for Kotaku, about the extreme violence in games. In the article she writes:

But as games get ever more immersive and lifelike, it starts to feel less like healthy play and more like unsettling aspirational fantasy to me. And as the economic competition around the genre heats up, the push for bigger-bloodier-more seems especially opportunistic and shameless. I don’t understand the continuing appeal; I don’t understand the unquestioning audience.

What I find interesting is that in the debate afterwards, I heard the refrain “Yes, games are violent, but most games are not. Most games in, fact are rated ‘E’.”  An example from the fantastic Ngai Croal:

Ngai Croal discusses L. Alexander's Kotaku Article

And I completely agree. Most games are not the overly violent “blockbuster movie” type faire that have people wringing their hands with worry. The games industry is more akin to Pixar’s “Up” than to “Saw.”

Here’s my problem. I’m an adult. I don’t necessarily want to play a kid’s game, but that doesn’t mean I want something mindless either. Where is our “Saving Private Ryan”?

I would rather see more games that are rated Mature, not for their gratuitous sex or violence, but for their themes.  I see plenty macho space marines that are underdeveloped stock characters having to save humanity (again).  In see women in games portrayed as ice princesses, vixen-whores or beautiful commandos: none of which are realistic and are a bit insulting.  I see sex scenes straight out of a teenaged boy’s fantasies.  I see games where I blow stuff up real good. Hey, all great games and a ton of fun… but mature they are not.

For me an example of a Rated M for Mature game, with mature themes was Fallout 3.  Tongue in cheek, laugh out loud funny, and disturbingly violent, yes; this game was also one of the most mature I’ve seen. You play as a survivor of the nuclear apocalypse, 100 years later.  Nothing grows. Raiders that roam the land leave dead bodies hanging in their territory as a warning. There are charred skeletons of children next to teddy bears and toy cars. Mailboxes contain letters of regret: there is no room at the fallout shelter for the homeowners, their bodies can be found inside holding each other. There are prostitutes, not the funny stereotyped BBWs of GTA4, but women who sell the only thing they have ownership of for a night of security. This is just the world, the trend continues as the main and side stories the state’s responsibilities to the citizenry and so on.

There must be a reason for the lack of truely mature games. Maybe this is what the Rated M market wants and what sells?

But as the gaming population ages, are we going to continue this trend? It’s one thing to be titillated at a lesbian sex scene with a Goddess, it’s another when the next day you have to take your little girl to little league. Shooting up baddies is fine, but after reading the news on-line… well you may not be as keen. 

As gamers continue to take on the “games as art” debate to heart, will we see more critical analysis of the story, universe and themes that we see in games? Will we come to a point where we can debate racism, sexism in games intelligently, or will we simply say “it’s just a game” if it all becomes to difficult to defend?