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Are We Ready?


If a poll of gamers was taken, with the question of “What is the least desirable aspect of your hobby?”, I would venture to guess that many would respond with “My public perception.”  Avid video game fans are often imagined, both by individuals and society, as lazy, unproductive, power-craving, flat-out disgusting people.  They’re often ridiculed and mocked by those unfamiliar with the hobby, and are honestly just not very well represented.  Many argue that this is a result of games being viewed as entertainment for children, prompting many to feel that most gamers simply need to “grow up.”  

Obviously, in today’s world, that is not the case.  Games are created more often than not with adults in mind, many including detailed stories and complex gameplay systems.  More and more, large titles are expanding (both in gameplay and story) into realms that are on the same level as many books or movies, tackling subjects such as social issues and character relationships.  As a result, a large push has been made to make the public aware that we “aren’t the stereotype,” and that gaming is a legitimately interesting and useful form of entertainment.  In some ways, the efforts have been successful.  With titles such as Call of Duty or Angry Birds, the public has come to accept video games as a part of society, regardless of their personal interest level.  

Like it or not, these guys are bringing gaming into the mainstream.

However, the stigma has not gone away.  While a normal person won’t judge another harshly for playing a level or two of Cut The Rope, they often find fault in those whom actively keep up with the gaming industry, or simply play games on a regular basis.  The push to gain acceptance continues, and is spearheaded by gamers that look to games such as Journey or Bioshock to prove that games can be more than “pew-jump-pew-jump.”  However,

while being accepted and appreciated might seem attractive on the surface, I’m not sure that we’re ready, and have several reasons why.

To better understand why I’m not sure gaming is ready to become a completely accepted hobby, let’s look at a few of the last month’s big releases.  The first biggie that comes to mind would have to be Saints Row IV.  The title is widely praised for not taking itself seriously even slightly, engaging players with various oddball activities such as battling aliens while wielding a “dubstep gun.”  This refusal to include realism allows the developers to experiment in any way they desire, and the end result is a game that is imaginative and fun, yet crude and brimming with teenage humor that would be looked down on by many.  So, while the game is honestly very fun to play, and really emcompasses what makes games enjoyable for multitudes of people, it isn’t something that I would show to the public with an expectation that they’d want to bow down and recognize games as “worthy” of their time.

I mean, how could you not take this seriously?

Or, for an even more obvious example, take a gander at Suda51’s newest production, Killer Is Dead.  For those that are unaware, the heavily-stylized action hack-n-slash game has been condemned by reviewers everywhere in the past week for its portrayal of women, especially in the title’s “Gigolo” missions.  In this mode, players are tasked with gazing upon a woman’s breast or legs while she looks away, with the end goal of gaining her affection, giving her presents, and taking her home.  The mode is basically required for completing the game, as acquisition of key weapons is impossible without engagement.  

Honestly, I don’t even need to identify the problem there, and it should be brutally clear why this is a huge hurdle for a normal person looking to understand gamers.  “But wait,” you might say, “that isn’t the norm.  The majority of games look at women positively.”  And, when compared to most other games, you’d be right.  However, that doesn’t others from blame completely.  In a world that has become obsessed with viewing women with strength and worth equal to that of men, we still have multitudes of games that portray women purely as things to be saved, seduced, or supported in some other way.  While some, such as Mirror’s Edge, The Last of Us, and Uncharted throw women into leadership positions, many others use females as the stereotypical “damsel in distress” with few unique qualities.  And, with the focus on women that is so prevalent in the world today, presenting these patterns to the general crowd will likely not be met with optimal reception.

The exception to the rule.

One could even look past the games themselves, and instead look at the vocal communities that enjoy them.  We are building a record of responding to developers’ decisions in a fashion reminiscent of a childish rant, be it through ridiculous online petitions or even death threats prompted by a tweak to the stats of a Call of Duty weapon.  While we aren’t all horrible, homophobic psychopaths with the goal of hating on everything, enough of us are that I wouldn’t be comfortable with presenting gamers as “model citizens,” so to speak.

Of course, there are obvious steps being taken to ensure that games will someday be taken seriously by the majorities.  More and more games are attempting to appeal to those that don’t normally care for them, especially indie titles such as Journey or Gone Home.  Bite-sized mobile games have infiltrated the market, and while they aren’t necessarily creating “hardcore gamers” per se, they are turning the hobby into a more everyday thing.  With that said, however, there are still too many barriers keeping us from successfully penetrating into the mainstream.  Until we can manage to consistently rise up above our cultural perception, instead of sadly exhibiting the stereotypes that define us, we won’t be.  Perhaps that time will come, and perhaps it will not.  Perhaps it should, and perhaps it shouldn’t.  Regardless, the time is not now, and we need to stop pretending that it is.