Monday, 23 September 2013

We don't need to defend the indefensible in our games.

by Jak Marshall

I grew up playing games in what I'll glibly call the 'pre-casual' era of gaming. Although some people still treat video games like an alien mind control device set to make us all kill everyone I think I can safely say that most people accept gaming as part of our mainstream culture even if that does just mean Angry Birds and Wii Fit. In the pre-cassh days though a rush of excitement would hit me whenever my parents took a slight bit of interest or gave any respect to my games. It was validating to see my dad appreciate the tactical depth of Worms 2 or get my mum addicted to a match-3 bubble popping game called Bloobs. They could briefly see that it was no more a waste of my time than it was to watch movies and TV and read books. It had some value and in those times I would go to great lengths to extol those virtues.

See! Look! Physics! LEARNING!

From this position I would also find that many games could undermine my argument that gaming was actually something healthy and normal enough for me to be doing. Games featuring violence and crime were things I felt that I would have to hide from or justify to my sceptical parents lest I went straight back to square one in that debate. It took me long enough to convince them that the South Park movie was good so I didn't want to have to even explain away the fact that I could beat a prostitute to death in GTA3 before I was allowed to talk about how cool the open world freedom in the series was. I've certainly been guilty of sweeping these things under the carpet.

But this is precisely because I literally don't want to hear what I sound like if I tried to defend something like that, especially to my nine year old sister who has taken a pretty serious interest in gaming (Pok√©mon Pearl, 7 badges at last count, incredibly proud of her) if she continues playing games. I would not want to try and justify the gamification of strip clubs in GTAV to anyone I want respect from and yet people predictably defend it vehemently in the commentosphere. I'm almost certainly sure that in most cases these defending statements aren't intending to stand up for the intellectual integrity of a sexual harrassment mini-game but more to defend GTAV as a complete game or even gaming as a medium. But we don't need to justify or ignore problems with these sections at all.

Female champions in League of Legends tend to be sexualised. I see this as an easily amenable problem.
We can accept that otherwise well made and perfectly playable games have glaring problems like this. One can simultaneously enjoy a game and regret its flaws. I do not try and justify Bayonetta's ridiculous character design because I know it is bloody stupid and hypersexualised. I can criticise the game for that but also praise it for its solid action gameplay. Nobody needs to point out the deep meaning behind Princess Peach being kidnapped every time. It's dumb and it always has been. I can still say that Super Mario 3 is a work of freaking platforming genius though and not be a hypocrite.

Speaking of hypocrisy, Anita Sarkeesian, who has produced a video series on the problematic portrayal of women in video games is often (I'd argue unfairly) accused of picking up on these flaws but not playing/enjoying the games that contain these flaws. Appreciating these games for their technical brilliance and fun factor but yet ignoring these issues is surely tantamount to the same kind of selective blindness that Sarkeesian stands accused of. Gaming doesn't suffer when it is criticised, or even when it makes mistakes. It suffers when we let such things slide.