Having been in this industry in one way or another for nearly 10 years now, while being an enjoyer of this industry for 26 years, I have seen it grow so much. I’ve seen it take attacks in stride, both create and lose jobs, and turn from a child’s toy into a truly expressive art form. I view the videogame industry like its my child and I want to protect it like its my child. I have a feeling that the rest of you all do as well, which is awesome when you truly think about it.
We are a diverse group of people that range in age, color, sex, sexual preferences, likes, dislikes, etc; yet we are able to get together over the latest blockbuster in a way that no other art form can do. Jocks and nerds play together, people of different religions are able to bond to help level each other up, people that never would meet in any other way are able to become best friends through the power that is gaming. Truly, we are a generation that has a lot to be proud of and a lot to be thankful for when we look at gaming. Yet, we are facing so many new attacks from so many new directions.
We’ve seen the industry become a haven for depravity towards women and bullying taking an oddly social turn to include online harassment. The newest attack that we see is from politicians and parents against the industry for violence, especially using guns. Its nothing new to other art forms like cinema, television, and music, and it can be viewed almost like a multimedia’s puberty of sorts. It’s the thing that all forms of entertainment have to go through in order to reach the next plateau and grow further. Yet, this stings more than when music was slandered and dragged through the mud during my childhood. So what’s the difference and what can we do about it?
One of the best things about video games is that on one hand they are a toy and on the other hand they aren’t. They can be childish in nature and meant to solely entertain while at the other side of the spectrum, be as edgy and deep as any film you’ve ever seen with the intent of teaching the user and making them think. By holding a controller in your hand, you are able to live through the character and truly feel the emotions that go with it if the game is designed to do that. You can get far more emotionally attached playing a game than you can watching a show or film or by listening to music. In those mediums, you are simply watching or listening to someone else’s experiences versus having your own with your emotional take on things. There is an attachment to games that you just can’t get anywhere else and that’s the magic here.
Well, first we have to not get outraged like we all want to do towards the stupid and ignorant arguments being thrown at us. A calm and calculated approach is the best thing to do here. Letting our emotions take the best of us is something that this generation has been a little too comfortable doing and it will only make us look like bickering, unorganized children instead of the rational, intelligent adults that we really are.
Secondly, we have to remember that our opponents are people that don’t play video games and are typically older. We have to truly know our enemies in this instance. They think of video games solely as toys and it’s why you hear people like Roger Ebert write ignorant, entitled, general statements like “video games will never be art”. They don’t get it and they don’t want to get it because by trying to understand, it only makes them rethink their opinions and place blame elsewhere. Unfortunately, these people won’t listen to logic because they don’t have to. They go on the offensive because they think we can’t defend ourselves properly and that’s going to be there biggest undoing, which leads me to my next point. We also have to know that a majority of our opponents are only using our industry as a scapegoat to either drive in additional money, political power, or for other selfish reasons. It’s a large reason why we need to stop being so passive.
Go on the offensive! Too often are we put in a defensive position because our spokespeople want to be seen as a rational, nice group. Now don’t get me wrong, going on the offensive doesn’t mean that we should be rude or bully our opponents by any means. It means that we need to be the ones asking the questions and making the statements. We need to stop just answering the questions and accusations while adjusting how we function because those questions and accusations never stop coming and it will only force ridiculous legislation on our industry that will kill it.
In order to go on the offensive, we need to do proper studies on the positive and negative effects that video games have on both children and adults. While logic says that violent video games haven’t affected our generation any more than any generation is affected by anything, we need science to back it up and be infallible here. Too often do we see studies that contradict one another. Calls by politicians for more violent video game studies only muddy the findings by putting an end theory in place before research has even started through stating “violent video games” and combining the research with other media images that are out of context. By commissioning studies that are only for video games, we get to make a definitive statement that video games are not a cause of aggression or violence in the real world nor do they desensitize anyone towards true, real life violence.
Regardless of the findings of any study, we do need to do a far better job policing ourselves. The ESRB is a great organization and it does fairly well with rating games appropriately. It’s going to have its issues where people feel that it over or underrates a game here and there, but as long as there is a set of rules or standards there will be no way critics can properly complain. It’s then up to retailers to hold by those ratings and not allow younger gamers to buy things out of their range. Most retailers do a pretty good job of this already, but it can be done better with fines levied by the ESRB for failure to comply.
Another huge thing we can do as gamers is to buy more games that aren’t associated with guns and violence. The fact that the highest grossing game of the year is yet another Call of Duty title is astounding to me. Even more shocking is the sheer number of children playing the game both through its single player campaign and online while yelling, screaming, and cursing anyone in their path. While the game isn’t all that gruesome, it certainly celebrates winning in a way that is unhealthy for a game with violence. While the goal of winning doesn’t equate to anyone being desensitized or getting enjoyment out of real life violence, its definitely nothing that we need hanging over our heads. With so many great games out in the past year like Fez, FTL, Dustforce and others, there is no real reason that bland shooters still dominate with the youth like that. I think that in the next 10 years as we start to have our own children, we’ll see less of a disconnect between parent and child on video games and that will naturally start to push young children out of violent gaming.
Truly, a large portion of what we have to do as an industry to be beyond reproach when it comes to violence is just prove ourselves right and take the appropriate action to shield children away from violent content. It might not completely silence critics, as I’ve mentioned above, nothing ever will because it’s not about fixing any problems, but pushing blame around in order to benefit. However, if we can just protect ourselves in the ways that I’ve outlined, we will have no one to answer to on this debate. We will do what film, television, and music haven’t been able to do: rise above the criticisms and actually push focus back towards the problem itself, which is where it should be.
Now go out there and get to work saving our industry, art form, and hobby!