The video games debate isn’t new and, surprisingly, for as much as we claim society has progressed in the past 20-some odd years, the debates we haven’t progressed all that much. This is especially true when the media debates rear their heads in the face of tragedy. More recently, the debate came back around after the Sandy Hook shooting, when Wayne LaPierre of the NRA tried to divert the issue to a culture of violence partially built up by games and movies. Does violent media cause or inspire real world violence for example? Is Obama’s call for the CDC to study whether video games can be linked to gun violence accurate or even necessary? While this issue is linked and important, it isn’t the specific issue that I’m talking about. I’m talking more about the question of whether or not video games need to grow up.
Comparatively, the medium has been growing up rather quickly. Yes, the immaturity and power fantasies of earlier games do remain, but in a context in which they fit well. Their presentations have grown up with the generation that grew up with them. Their mechanics quite often being complex even at the inception of the industry. Either way, before the invention of video games, humanity has had a lot of time to figure out how to make a game, create art or tell a story.
Now, not everyone really needs to have growth in the depth of their talking about games. There is some interesting scholarly work that discusses games seriously, approaching the topic from multiple topics from moral agency to literacy. Actually, if you want a really interesting time looking at theories regarding games, go to Youtube and search either “TED talks games” or “TED talks gaming.” The TED Talk that actually inspired me thinking about this will be embedded below.
It can be a pretty mindblowing time for gamers. Carnegie Mellon University’s ETC Press is also a good resource to see some of the scholarship being done. Many game developers often speak about games covering bigger issues outside of fun or profit. Then, there are the gamers, especially more creative ones, whose justifications for gaming can be turn out being very sophisticated. Some groups of gamers even turned gameplay into practices like charity. However, there are places where the talk seems to need to grow up.
First and foremost, the publishers need to get more consistent and mature with their part of the games talk. Yes, the games industry is a business and commercialism is important. However, the publishers that really set themselves apart, other than being the ones that put out a good product, are the ones that push for a more meaningful experience with play. An example of the more meaningful experiences could actually be Sony’s “Michael – Long live play” ad campaign giving tribute to the players who are the final components to fleshing out a game world and its story. An example of the more juvenile ads would be the “Your mom hates it” Dead Space 2 ad campaign. These might be two extremes of marketing, but they do illustrate a point. We need more of the former if we want the medium taken seriously by more than just the people who already partake.
The gaming press, while it has grown considerably since its start, hasn’t grown as much as the medium it covers. This is especially true when it comes to reviews. I mean, sure, some of the things (fun, ease of gameplay and/or presentation in terms of graphics) that are brought up in reviews are important to the medium. I’m not saying that we should forsake those things. If there was something that we could forsake, it would probably be the scoring systems for reviews, but that’s just my thought. But there are ways that the gaming press and blogs can grow toward stronger, more mature, and more relevant conversation. Part of it is expanding the critical language regarding games more while also more actively putting content into context. There are multiple different ways in which that can be done, as Game People in the UK and any number of TED talks among other sources. The gaming press at the moment is adequate and can be quite good, but we can do more. We can do better by further linking the medium to other arts by examining aspects of narrative resonance while showing that, much like a lot of art, games act in reaction to reality – not as a cause of reality.
Love it or hate it, controversial or not, video game content is maturing. And if the industry really wants to gain legitimacy, companies and press both need to be more open and willing to continue defining the nature of the medium. This means that many more gambles will need to be taken on the business, development and press sides of the industry. It shifts the burden of proof for legitimacy from the industry and press to the people who have been pushing for restrictions or bans.