On Video Games (A Treatise and Plea)

So, I am a huge fan of the video game medium, in case it was apparent from past posts, and recently there has been some, shall we say, kerfuffles concerning the industry and medium. For instance, Ubisoft’s whole “no female avatars” situation in their newest Assassin’s Creed game.

No Girls Allowed in Our Expansive Tree-house!

No Girls Allowed in Our Expansive Tree-house!

Now, personally I do find it a bit odd that no one in the company thought to find it in the budget or schedule to include possible female avatars considering how it is essentially an expected default at this point. Seriously, most popular games, particularly big budget triple A titles, tend to have female avatar options, with few exceptions, at least for the multi-player. However, it really was not the lack of available female avatars that bugged people, but more so Ubisoft’s response that really caused an uproar within the community.

To be perfectly honest, I am tired of hearing these conversations and discussions coming from the video game community on all levels: from the industry, the consumers, the fans. It is not the content, itself, that frustrates me, but the fact that we still have to have these conversations in general. Frankly, we should always constantly be striving for more inclusion and diversity and not rejecting criticism and observations. Not because it is right or appropriate but because we are selfish bastards that want video games to improve.

This is Anita Sarkeesian. She gets death and rape threats because she states an opinion on video games. WTF!?

This is Anita Sarkeesian. She gets death and rape threats because she states an opinion on video games. WTF!?

Take movies, for example. At first, movies were simply a carbon copy of plays and then evolved into a more developed narrative form. For the next few decades, we would merely have stories from the same perspectives, usually that of white, middle aged males. These films were not bad, per se, and I consider some of them classics that everyone should watch, criticize, and learn from. Still, film was greatly improved from the involvement and influence of different points of view, stories, and techniques brought by including women, minorities, and non traditional tales and techniques.

The film industry is by no means perfect, but the difference and improvement in available narratives and experiences brought on by this inclusion is obvious. Now, imagine how much better video games would be if we got over our idiotic, toxic bullshit and focused on simply making video games, and the industry, better. Video games, among the various mediums, has the most potential to truly be a revolutionary and ground breaking force.

To some extent, we have already seen that in the past with the various technological advances and, more recently, with the development of tools like the Oculus Rift that holds so much promise, but what are going to be the available experiences and stories once full immersion has been achieved? Are we going to simply rely on and repeat the same power fantasies and tropes of the past? Or will there be some movement on the dial toward more diverse voices, perspectives, and experiences? Will that goal really be achieved if the community still argues and debates as to whether more women should be hired or that maybe once in awhile the protagonist of a major game does not have to be a white guy. Like, really?

Don’t get me wrong. I love being a super powered, indestructible soldier mowing down hordes and hordes of enemies, but every once in awhile I would like my avatar to have a different skin tone or maybe be a woman. Also, I sometimes don’t want to fight through masses of monsters, zombies, or people and try something different. Games that don’t focus on battle have already been made, very well, on rather small budgets. I can only imagine what the results could be if even a fraction of the resources given to the next Call of Duty was put toward an independent or non traditional title.

So, why am I, practically, ranting about this? Books, films, and music came long before me, but I grew up with video games. I was born in 1987 and Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment system in the US in 1985, pretty much reviving the video game industry. Obviously, there was a history of the medium before this, but the resurgence of what eventually became the modern video game behemoth started at this time. Thus, in my mind, video games, as we know them, are only two years older than I am.

Half the reason I even still buy a Nintendo system is to play the newest Zelda game. Fuck you, Water Temple!

Half the reason I even still buy a Nintendo system is to play the newest Zelda game. Fuck you, Water Temple!

Accordingly, I have a personal stake and relationship with the video game community and industry. Part of my personality and world view revolves around the concept of being a “gamer.” It’s not my sole defining characteristic, but it definitely is part of my personal make up. I see the potential that video games have as an industry and creative force.

As I’ve said before stories matter, and the possibilities for story telling, empathy, trading of experiences, and immersive aspects boggle the mind. Hell, we have no idea where they might evolve to in the future. I truly believe that video games will not only be the most used entertainment option, but an incorporation into culture that allows for people to actually be able to “walk in another’s shoes” and experience things that were originally thought of as impossible. The possibilities that this medium holds excites every fabric of my being, but in order to get there, we need to get over these dumb issues and problems and realize how much further we can get with the help and perspectives of others.

Progress is inevitable. People of all genders, races, religions, and backgrounds play video games. A disservice is done by not including their stories, voices, and views into the medium. Will it be uncomfortable? Sure. Will we have to reevaluate and possibly change some deep seated thoughts and manners? Of course. Will there be come casualties along the way? Probably. Will it be worth it? Abso-fucking-lutely. We can do better. We need to do better because doing so will only improve the thing we play with and love.

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