Brave, New, Gamerless World …

I came across this blog post saying how to create the new gamerless world of gaming. Now, one of my big questions in all of this has been just what this future was supposed to be, and I hoped that this would tell me. Well, it didn’t really tell me what the end result was supposed to be … but how it suggests we get there is, well … interesting. So let me go through each of the suggestions one by one and comment on them.

1. We don’t wait. We don’t wait until after that big, exciting sequel is out. We don’t wait until after E3, GDC, or PAX. We don’t wait until we finish this game we’ve been investing hours into, or until after we unlock that new assault rifle. We don’t wait for other people to fix this. There’s just going to be another E3 and another newly-announced game and another excuse to not look at the present state of games culture. This industry has been distracting us with carrots-on-sticks since its inception, repeatedly pulling the rug out from under us before we could even get oriented in the first place. There’s always been a promise of something better around the corner, so we don’t bother examining or acting-on what’s right in front of us. But we must examine ourselves and act, right now. We’ve been doing far too much waiting in games.

Well, okay, this is a motherhood statement backed up by what looks like a conspiracy theory. First, if you want something, well, waiting isn’t going to get you that, so start now. But then this part here goes on to talk about how they’ve always let themselves get distracted by the game they’re playing now or the big event that’s coming up or whatever, and then seems to imply that the industry is doing this to them, as opposed to it being something that they are doing to themselves. At best, this argument here works as a “We have to make this a priority”, but not as a “These industry people keep distracting us with the shinies!”. And the rest of the point is indicatively problematic:

We need to raise our expectations and stop waiting for the medium to mature. It’s 2014. The first generation of consoles was decades ago. The only reason for games to be immature is if its consumers and producers are allowing them to be that way.

When you say that gaming is immature, what do you mean? Because there are two senses, once which is that the medium itself hasn’t fully matured as a medium, with no link — implied or otherwise — to the maturity level of those who want what it has. But considering the massive technological and social advances that gaming has undergone in just the past few years, it still being a bit immature that way only makes sense. We’re still figuring out how games should work and what gaming culture should be. But I suspect that it’s called immature because as an attempt to make it seem like games are just for those teenagers sitting in their basements … or people who still think like them. At any rate, calling it immature and then saying that that is because it is allowed to be so doesn’t imply a maturing medium, but instead a medium of immature ideas and people. Or, to put it back in the context of the title and intro, immature “gamers”.

2. We listen to those who are less privileged than we are, and we don’t adopt a default stance of skepticism towards their views and claims. We support them when we have the power to, we involve them when we have the power to, and we don’t ignore it when institutions fail to do these things. We each proudly claim the label of “social justice warrior” (if only to subvert its use as a pejorative). We do whatever we can to learn about the inequalities in the world, and we examine what we can do to change things for the better.

Motherhood statement, but most importantly it doesn’t say that we don’t adopt a default stance of acceptance of their views or claims either, which given how a lot of discussions that talk about “privilege” go seems indicative. I want us to listen to everyone, and evaluate all claims with equal skepticism or acceptance. I don’t want to think about whether this is a privileged or less privileged person. Give me the facts, which include facts about personal experiences, and we can go on from there. This might be what this person wants to, but the language use here seems to link to theories that often don’t think that way.

3. We display broader interests as individuals who make and play games. We spend more time learning about the world beyond this industry. We put more effort into making games about things other than what we’ve already seen in games. Apparent sources of inspiration for games are getting suffocatingly narrow because people are increasingly likely to ignore all of the things outside of their window when they decide to make a game. There’s a lot of fascinating, beautiful, and horrifying stuff going on out there, and it’s more important to understand that than indulge in yet another escapist fantasy universe.

Motherhood statement again, but let me ask: what’s wrong with indulging in escapist, fantasy universes when playing games? That’s what I play games for. If I want to study philosophical or social issues I’ll read philosophical and social texts and posts. I play games for entertainment, not for meaning … just like I do for fictional books, movies, TV shows, and so on and so forth. This is not to say that games can’t express meaning, or that we shouldn’t have a wide variety of themes and purposes for games, but just that we shouldn’t insist that that sort of thing is necessarily good (or “mature”) and escapist fantasy isn’t. This one works well if it is merely a call for people to not wait and start making games expressing all of these diverse and non-standard ideas and settings, not that games need to do this instead of creating escapist fantasies.

4. We make and play fewer isolating games, including online multiplayer games. If our medium is designed for people to stay secluded for dozens of hours while having their egos stroked, then we reap what we sow in terms of the kinds of people who emerge from this pastime.

This is the first one that I really disagree with, mostly because I’m generally a solo player myself. Why in the world do you think that someone who plays alone in an escapist fantasy is just having their ego stroked? I play alone because I want some escapist entertainment and don’t want to have to deal with the social issues, or rely on other people for my fun, or wait for them. At that time. There are people who, for various reasons, don’t always want to have a social experience. Games were a nice outlet for them, as it was something that they could enjoy on their own but that they could still have a deep and interactive experience with, unlike books or movies. In fact, video games developed into a media where people could control their social interactions, playing on their own in the single-player parts of the game, with a small group of friends with directed groups, or with total strangers when they wanted. This takes that away in the service of a half-baked psychological theory that people who play alone — with nobody else — are going to turn into people who, I presume, don’t care about anyone else than themselves. And that’s crap. Don’t take away single player games because of some kind of social agenda that isn’t supported and has nothing to do with how games work. This is exactly why the “SJWs” get the push back they do: they assert that games must do things in the name of a social agenda when they can’t even demonstrate the problem, let alone that their solution will solve it.

5. We become far more mindful of the games we make and play. Sexism in games is pervasive and toxic. Racism in games is pervasive and toxic. Violence in games is pervasive and toxic. Despite the skepticism the games press shows at every opportunity, it *really* looks like violent games *do* make us more aggressive and less empathetic. If researchers are repeatedly suggesting this and then we complain that the vilest people in our communities are too aggressive and not empathetic enough, aren’t we partially to blame for our general eagerness to make and play games that have these overall effects on people? If you think you’re not affected, you’re sorely mistaken and you sound no less ridiculous than people who claim that advertising doesn’t work on them.

Is sexism and racism in games pervasive and toxic? I’m not convinced, and I’m not convinced that games are worse than anything else, and not convinced that even if that was there that it being in games would be worse than it being anywhere else. The gaming press shows skepticism that violent games make us more aggressive and less empathetic because no one has been able to demonstrate that. The researchers have been suggesting it for years and yet haven’t been able to prove it. And if only the vilest people are that way, then how can you claim that it is the games that are at fault? And how do you know that people who aren’t that vile are actually affected? It’s one think to say that advertising can’t work on you and another to say that you haven’t seen any solid evidence of it. So where’s the evidence? Where is the evidence beyond this assertion of something that a particular worldview needs to be true in order for the view to make sense?

6. We maintain a critical eye towards the e-sports scene and its accompanying machismo.

Is that machismo … or competition? It is interesting that a post that is based around a framework of addressing stereotypes and the like is so quick to assign the issue to something typically considered male, as if it being male makes it bad or that it is part of masculinity, as opposed to a natural human trait when you get into that sort of competition. I don’t think female sports necessarily have less “machismo” than men’s sports do, so making that “make” is a bit of a problem when opposing sexism in general, methinks.

7. We change the culture of game consumption to be less about buying and rating games, and instead develop a paradigm that is more about playing and thoroughly investigating games. The reason this is so vital is because to be a “gamer” is not merely to play games. At its core, to be a “gamer” is to obsessively and regularly make the correct purchases. “Gamers” are such vicious gatekeepers because they want to protect the perceived value of their investments. We can subvert that by making and playing more free games, changing the ways we evaluate and discuss games, and finding new ways to fund game development.

Wait … what? I don’t even … where the heck is this coming from? I mean, I griped about that when I talked about Leigh Alexander’s post, and it seems that this has become a narrative that, as far as I can see, has no basis in fact. Gamers don’t try to buy the “correct” games, and they don’t treat games as investments. They play them, and get attached to their preferred franchises. They become fanboys and fangirls, just as you see in every other media. They are such vicious gatekeepers because they attach to these things that they enjoy and have fun with, even if most other people don’t. They don’t like people wandering in and insisting that the things they like have to change because others don’t like them, or, in fact, because the companies might make more money if they do. They feel no need to have their hobby and the thing they love and love to do change to appeal to people who didn’t support it when it was starting out and will only participate on their terms, and if the whole genre changes to their terms. So this … well, I have no idea what this is. I can’t see what it’s based on, and it doesn’t describe any of the gamer I respect … including myself.

8. We jettison the hardcore/casual dichotomy. It’s utter garbage that’s only used for three reasons: 1) to feel superior to others, 2) to tragically submit to unjust hierarchies of play, or 3) to sell products (and effectively reinforce the other two). Besides, what’s more “casual”: mastering a free mobile game over many years or spending a Saturday buying and exhausting the latest murder simulator that you believed you were supposed to play?

Speaking as the Not-So-Casual Gamer … the former is more casual, definitely, by any definition of casual that you want to name. Look, as someone with “Casual Gamer” in my self-description, I’m certainly going to think that there is a distinction between a hardcore gamer and a casual gamer. I do think that hardcore gamers too often think of the distinction a a hierarchy of play, and I think that’s because they make the same mistake that this suggestion does: thinking that there aren’t importantly different characteristics for hardcore and casual gamers. There are, and games that try to cater to both will cater to neither, and so one of the things that this new future of gaming needs to do is explicitly recognize that so that games can individually focus on one group or the other. We don’t need those categories collapsed, as that will only alienate one group of people who definitely should be able to find games for them, as the markets are there and there’s nothing wrong with either approach.

9. We let the industry’s tentpoles fall to the ground more often. We stop allowing ourselves to be told which games we need to play. We’re smarter than that. We abandon any skepticism any of us have towards underrepresented people’s deep concerns about the medium, and we are instead skeptical of game publishers’ interests in our well-being. (Drug dealers want their customers to have fun too, you know.)

Most gamers are skeptical of game publishers’ interests in our well-being. Most gamers are skeptical of attempts to be told what to play. This really strikes me as a comment of “Don’t let them tell you what to play; let us tell you what to play!”. If people were playing the games that they ought to play based on the framework of this post, then there’d be no need to tell them to stop allowing themselves to be told what to play by game publishers. Since they aren’t playing the wonderful and innovative and diverse and wonderful games that they should be playing, but instead are playing AAA games, then they must be doing that not because they’ve looked at the sets of games and decided that they’d rather play the latter, but because they are mindless sheep who are simply playing what people tell them to play. Which is utterly ridiculous.

10. We always remember that we don’t need to buy new things in order to legitimately appreciate games. We play old games until they’ve revealed all of their secrets, and then we play them some more. We stop implicitly accepting the idea that games are meant to be disposable. We dissect gaming’s recent and ancient past (and everything in between) instead of just perpetually flailing around in its cacophonous, slippery, and overwhelming present (and future).

An odd statement to make considering how much replayability and time of play matter in typical, mainstream gaming reviews, and the constant posts and discussions of older games and the nostalgia for them. It seems that gamers have already done exactly what we’re supposed to need. Imagine that.

11. We stop upholding “fun” as the universal, ultimate criterion for a game’s relevance. It’s a meaningless ideal at best and a poisonous priority at worst. Fun is a neurological trick. Plenty of categorically unhealthy things are “fun”. Let’s try for something more. Many of the alternatives will have similarly fuzzy definitions, but let’s aspire to qualities like “edifying”, “healing”, “pro-social”, or even “enlightening”. I encourage you to decide upon your own alternatives to “fun” in games (while avoiding terms like “cool” and “awesome” and any other word that simply caters to existing, unexamined biases).

Games that are meant to be entertaining really should aspire to be fun. That’s neither meaningless nor poisonous. Games can do other things as well, and you can have games that aren’t fun but are “pro-social” if you really want … but I’m not going to go home after a long day at work or put aside my philosophical reading and play them when all I want to do is have some fun. And I’ve got a feeling that I’m not the only one. We don’t want to say that if a game isn’t fun it’s worthless, but we don’t want to say that games shouldn’t strive to be fun either … even the ones that are edifying, healing, pro-social, or enlightening.

12. We don’t afford any credence to the idea that games are “just for fun”. Games are not neutral. Anita Sarkeesian is not imposing her feminist values onto games; she’s identifying the misogynistic values that game developers have (sometimes unwittingly) incorporated into games. You don’t have to think her efforts are perfect, but what she’s doing is not inappropriate. Discovering the values expressed by games is a responsible thing to do; discouraging that practice is cowardly. We need to regularly compare our games’ expressed values to our own real values. In the end, we may arrive at different conclusions about what different games mean, but we need to stop asserting that they’re meaningless.

The values expressed by a game are not necessarily values that people can or should take away from them. I don’t see a problem with her analysis as long as she doesn’t assert that they are there and what people learn about it. A game doesn’t have to have a deep meaning, even if one can be found. We must respect the right to say that the purported meaning of a game isn’t there or even that a game is meaningless just as much as we must respect the right to say that that game has that meaning.

13. We make and play fewer linear games about one person saving the world. Take a look at the people terrorizing games culture lately: they’re almost all tyrannical brats with messianic delusions. Where do you think they’re learning this behavior from?


Let me go through my recent games to see if they fit this model. Conception II? Nope, part of a team, at least with the women and even with the support staff. The Personas? Part of a team. TOR? Your companions matter. Mass Effect series? Companions matter. Dragon Age? Companions matter. I suppose FPSs might be that way, unless you’re in multiplayer, but that’s just one genre. I wish that the people ranting about this stuff would listen to suggestion 3) and get outside of their gaming boxes and see the wonderful world that’s out there that clearly they aren’t aware of.

14. We make gaming more like recreation or reading than it is like religion. What we’re seeing lately is not merely a mob of odd hobbyists frustrated by change, but an army of fanatics on what they perceive to be a holy crusade. These people have dogmatic views of what games need to be (a theological approach, to be sure) and they express a devotion to the game industry that makes Mitt Romney’s tithing look stingy. Forget The Beatles, Mario is more popular than Jesus now, and any criticism of that franchise is going to be received by some as blasphemy. This is partly because we tend to treat gaming like it is a special club. But playing games isn’t special or unusual. It never was.

So, this is different for gaming than it is for everything else, right? So we don’t have rabid fans complaining about the differences between D&D 3.5 and 4.0? About changes to their favourite TV shows or movies? About casting for adaptations of books to movies? None of that exists, right? Look, all hobbies have these people. Even books and other recreational pursuits. There’s no way to make gaming more like recreation on this topic because it already is just like it. The problem is not in our stars, but in ourselves … or at least some of us. Heck, I’ve seen these kinds of debates about board games. This is bog standard.

15. We get serious about inclusivity, which means understanding that “game” is a very loose category that—even when defined relatively strictly—encompasses an astonishing range of activities. This means that we should associate less strongly around such a vague term. Being interested in games doesn’t mean you need to play every game that comes out and have an opinion on it. It doesn’t mean that every game is for you. The games press creates an illusion that every big game needs to be played by everyone who likes games. Games as a medium (or—more accurately to my mind, lately—a plurality of media) are more diverse than all of film, radio, television, print, etc. Compare two random works of one of those other media forms. Then compare two random games (digital or non-digital). There’s no contest: the breadth of games is staggering, and we need to cool it on the preoccupation with having an encyclopedic expertise-of and exposure-to all games.

This one’s good. I don’t know if it really does exist in games, though, to be honest, outside of formal gaming sites that try to work with a small set of writers. That being said, when I wrote for a site I only talked about what I knew, generally. So let’s start there and see how it goes.

16. We do not assume that the harassment we’ve seen lately is a complete aberration. We understand that there is a link between this medium that terrorists see themselves as defending and the terrorism itself.

Prove that there is that link, and that it is particular to the medium, and then we can talk.

(I really want to write “Terrorsaur, terrorize!” every time the post talks about terrorism.)

17. We agree that caring about the world and its inhabitants is more important than clinging to our toys.

I want to be able to care about the world and its inhabitants and keep my toys. Why can’t I do both?

18. We all grow up (starting this very instant), and we bring games along with us. This doesn’t mean making “grittier” or “darker” games. Rather, we make and play games that we have no reason to be ashamed of, and—most importantly—we’re honest about what may very well be shameful about games.

With, of course, growing up and being ashamed all being defined by the standards of the right worldview, driven by the right culture, and not that icky gaming one that’s just plain wrong. Look, claims about what is and isn’t shameful aren’t made in a vacuum. They follow from a worldview. For example, while I think that a strong feminist worldview might find Conception II shameful, I don’t. Should I? Well, if someone wants me to, they either need objective facts and philosophical arguments, or convert me to their worldview, preferably with objective facts and philosophical arguments. I think this last point sums up the future pretty well, because it is based entirely on judging games the way the post author thinks they should be judged and insisting that if people don’t agree they need to grow up. Sorry, not buying it. Although I may buy the more diverse games that are supposed to come from this, if they ever get made.


2 Responses to “Brave, New, Gamerless World …”

  1. Crude Says:

    Gamasutra sure knows how to make a boring rant. And it’s such a generic one that it’s hard to tell the difference between it and others I’ve seen in the past, on other topics.

    I think this is also a case where something you brought up before is in play – this contradictory idea that, on the one hand, we should listen to and accept the experiences of people different than us, and care about their emotions… but oh, not THESE people’s experiences and emotions. Theirs are completely invalid, let’s not even talk to them in any capacity.

  2. Héctor Muñoz Huerta Says:

    I never expected I would ever see a manifesto about gaming… I had my share of pc gaming in my late teens and early twenties (Age of Empires, Golden Eye, Close Combat, Unreal Tournament, etc) but I never really thought of it as anything else than inconsequential entertainment.

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