Video games are sexist. They encourage mindless violence. Video games are mindless escapism. The video game industry hurts customers, developers, and society.
Stop me if you’ve heard any of this.
Last Thursday, as floodwaters rose around Chicagoland, the New York Times put up a Sunday book review about Chicago.
The review took three books about Chicago and used them as a launching point to talk about the problems Chicago has.
“Poor Chicago,” a friend of mine recently said. Given the number of PR apocalypses here, I couldn’t tell which problem she was referring to.
The real problem according to the article, though, was that Chicagoans will still point out that the city has good qualities.
The article was not well received among Chicago bloggers.
It also was not untrue.
It also was not news to any of us.
So why am I writing about this in a space where we usually talk about video games? Because the way the conversation played out on the internet could almost be a find-and-replace version of a discussion about the games industry.
Social networks lit up around Chicago. Local news teams shared their opinions. There were some particularly smart and smarting responses. Blog posts were written in response to the responses, collecting and curating, pointing out which responses were the curator’s favorite. Upvotes, likes, +1s and RTs abounded. Harsh words were hurled into the data streams.
Those words were, of course, unlikely to ever reach the eyes of the original author, but they sure felt good to type, read, and share. We all had a grand time getting upset at someone who didn’t like what we like.
As I said, Chicago has its problems. Chicago definitely has a problem with gang violence. We know it. We worry about it. We discuss it among friends, blog about it, make faces at the morning news. And some people will leave Chicago due to its problems. Millions of other people still call it home — many of them on purpose.
The topic, and the response, was familiar. I don’t spend as much time blogging and Tweeting as I once did, in those heady days when I still had the time and energy to be frequently misunderstood by strangers. I keep my hand in by trying at the very least to pay attention to the regular cycles of games discussion.
Big games come out and are loved, then picked apart by those sharpening their analytical skills before being laid to rest. Games with lower marketing budgets are occasionally drawn out into the spotlight by a noble soul seeking to show off something refreshing. These occurrences are regular. Whether a game’s on the way up or the way out, there’s always something to talk about.
One of those things we talk about, though, is the problems of gaming. Game companies, taken as a whole, are kinda crappy about some things. They don’t all treat employees or consumers as well as we might hope, or manage their finances or production as well as you might expect.
Games end up treating some of their subjects badly, too. Games can be bad with gender, sexuality, relationships, ethnicity, ethics. (Sometimes the industry does, too.) Games can be truly, amazingly dumb. They have dozens of small problems, from DLC, to patchless bugs, to stories that don’t mesh with the mechanics. Games focus on things that maybe they shouldn’t, and they show and encourage things that maybe we’d prefer they didn’t.
“Poor video games,” a friend of mine recently said. Given the number of PR apocalypses here, I couldn’t tell which problem she was referring to.
Sounds about right, doesn’t it?
Actually, “poor” seems kind. And yet even as the catastrophes pile up, video games never cease to boast about itself. … The industry likes brags that could be read as indictments too, announcing the addition of higher-res gore and bigger, dumber guns.
I could go on like this. Actually, I did go on like that. I went through the whole article swapping in “video games” and changing specific examples to fit. I won’t force that on you, though. You’re smart; you get it.
Games, both the medium and the industry, have serious issues.
Yet there are throngs of video gamers out there. People who love the video game industry, the medium, the craft and the theory. Hundreds of millions of people play games — many of them on purpose. People even love the culture, despite all of its rather obvious problems.
I’m one of those people.
I love games and everything about them, and that’s why I’m still here, talking about games, encouraging discussion, pushing writers to think a little deeper, a little broader, and doing what I can to make games, game culture, and games writing better.
Because when you care about something, even criticism is an investment in that community.
Because when you love something, part of your happiness is tied to the success and growth of that which you love, be it a city, a person, or a medium. You want to see it improve, and so you invest in it. You help clean it up. You push it to grow and to learn.
Video games are my community, and I love that community. It hurts when someone else criticizes what you love — especially when they’re right — but it’s love that often drives us to criticise. And it’s love that drives us to work to better our communities, be they defined around geography or by pastime.