Life, The Universe And Gaming: 2015: Muh Oppressions, And Other Things
Oh what a year it’s been.
We’re now at the end of 2015, and boy do I have a lot to say about it.
Sometimes people like to start these kinds of things with “Remember when…?” but I think that’s a bit backwards, and clinging to a past that no longer exists. I understand that sometimes things change, irrevocably. And I know that we must adapt and try to reconcile these things rather than fighting them. I am not averse to change.
With that said, remember when a game released, and the things we were most up in arms about were how it looked, and what the story seemed to be? Ah, the good old days. I remember earlier this year when someone said the graphics in Fallout 4 didn’t look that great, and I sat back in a moment of panicked self-realisation that I had reached a point in my gaming life when I thought of that as the silliest argument one could make about a game releasing in 2015. Now don’t get me wrong, harping on visuals in 2015 is absolutely ridiculous. We have games that look more real than real life nowadays. But then I thought about the other things people have harped on about this year, and I realised that those are the new silly. The new ridiculous. And I’m one of those people who gets to sit on the other side of it, and cringe.
We’ve been spoiled for good games in 2015. We got many absolutely magnificent games to play, and yet still like petulant children we found things to hate about them.
I guess it’s our nature as humans, to be perpetually unsatisfied. But instead of looking at the great things about those games, instead of celebrating what they were, we criticised them for what they weren’t. We allowed ourselves to get excited for the games, we played them and picked them apart, and then we moved on to begin the loop again.
And in our great delusions of grandeur, we presumed to do it from a perspective of representation, inclusivity, and cultural critique. Because “How dare this game not cater to all demographics of the audience that it has, despite how entertaining and satisfying it is, as a game experience.” is totally an acceptable thing to say in 2015.
“How simply dare it.”
Thing is, and this is really going to knock some folk back so I suggest sitting down for this: They’re games.
No matter how serious the overtones, no matter how dark the storylines, no matter how mature the content, they’re games.
I’ll repeat for everyone: Games.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing the classic “Grow up” at everyone, not at all. Rather what I’m saying is, try to understand what you’re taking so seriously here. They. Are. Games.
In 2015 I saw people take games more seriously than ever before. Why? In previous years we could all get together and laugh at those people who harped on about the likes of graphics, story, and game design in general. But for the most part we were all on the same side of self-realisation that it was ridiculous. This year, we’re a bit more divided thanks to real-world problems being perpetually conflated into gaming problems. And not in that sexy in-writing kind of way where games make profound political statements through their narratives; this is just snide commentary on games under the guise of progressive discussion.
Western culture is falling apart (something I won’t get into here), and games are being dragged along with it. Being representative because nobody likes cookie-cutter games, being diverse because it presents a colourful array of personalities, that’s one thing (two?). Forcing representation onto games just because they aren’t catering specifically to you is a whole other story. Games must have non-white characters, homosexual characters, fat characters, mentally challenged characters, bonus points for any form of transgender. Anything that doesn’t fall into the generally accepted “normal”. But wait! If your game has boobs and volleyball then you need to fuck off because your kind is not welcome here. And don’t even get me started on ass-smacks, amirite Street Fighter fans?
It’s politics. I know. Identity politics that have permeated gaming, and forced certain practices onto all developers for better or worse. We can’t really avoid it now, and to fight it would be silly. Why? Because fighting it has the effect of looking as if you’re against progress, as if you are stubbornly clinging to the “white middle-aged male” stereotype associated with gaming, even if you really aren’t (and trust me, I am happy to have as many different kinds of games as possible). Instead, we should try to maintain some semblance of logic in these matters, and push for better at all times.
I can use two easy examples of this. At E3 2015 people quite proudly used the female representation on offer at the show to take nasty shots at gamers, but were silent when those gamers responded that E3 2001 had more female representation than E3 2015. Are there horrible gamers in the world? Absolutely. Was it a reason to be nasty? It shouldn’t have been, because it just made everyone look bad. Meanwhile, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was criticised for not having non-white characters. Just that. You know, because that’s all that matters, as Deus Ex: Human Revolution no doubt proved, by having the most horrendously stereotyped and shameful portrayals of black characters pretty much ever.
It’s quite similar to what’s going on with comic books right now, where people are calling for existing white characters to be remade into non-white characters, whilst some have asked why new black characters aren’t created instead. A third party meanwhile, has expressed dismay at all the already-existing black characters who are being ignored by the first party, in a stunning irony.
What needs to be understood is that diversity and representation is all good and well, but brute-force pushing for it is not the right way of going about it. Especially when what should be far more important is getting it right, and doing justice to whatever demographic you’re catering for. I say this as a brown person who regularly has to endure the abhorrent caricature of Apu from The Simpsons, as a representation of all brown people. You won’t believe the frequency of samoosa jokes, either.
Unfortunately, getting it right now is not always what’s happening. Last year’s Dragon Age: Inquisition absolutely got it right with Dorian, the gay mage from Tevinter. But it also had a transgender character in Krem, celebrated for her role in the game despite serving only as a glorified conversation piece. Powerful showing of intent from BioWare, or half-hearted attempt to appease the Identity Police? I tell you, I would have much preferred if Krem was a party member, or had some moment that showed you she was more than a static NPC.
We need better, and we won’t get better if we’re consistently fighting each other all the time. Diversity is happening, and there’s no point fighting that. You shouldn’t, anyway. It’s good for everyone. You can’t imagine how awesome it feels to have a character to identify with, as someone who is not the norm. But let it happen uniformly, whether that means highly sexualised or prudent, white or brown, straight or gay, transgender or otherwise. Let’s not fight some people for wanting boobs in their games, and then turn around and talk about being inclusive. Likewise, let’s not fight people wanting so-called “non-games” and then get upset when they react. Be excellent to each other, is the basic message. But be better than the identity politics plaguing the world right now.
They’re just a San Francisco circle jerk gone international.
Perhaps the most startling realisation I had this year was that a lot of this drama going on in the gaming industry is rather self-contained. A lot of my gamer friends who aren’t directly involved in the daily goings-on with specifically games media but the games industry in general are living comfortably happy lives as gamers, entirely oblivious to the fights that have gone on this year. Why? Because to them, games are just that. They’re games. And games, no matter how seriously they try to take themselves, are at the end of the day, just games.
You can still love something after acknowledging it for what it is.
And I love gaming, even though I see its flaws. I love gamers, even though they can be the worst human beings sometimes. I wish I could get the message through to gamers that a review score should not affect their life in any way. I wish I could explain to others that just because someone disagrees with someone else and lacks the decorum to do so politely, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re irreconcilable assholes. This year has been a very hurtful one for me, and I’ve lost more than a few friends along the way. I chose not to pick a side without first exploring all sides, and I then tried to educate others. Because I saw gamers getting poked and prodded like animals for a response, and then being punished for retaliating.
You try being compared to Hitler, ISIS, and the KKK, and see what that does for your online relations.
I’ve heard it said that gaming isn’t under attack, and I vehemently disagree with that. Gaming absolutely is under attack, but it’s under attack by ourselves. And unfortunately, that’s just how it will be now.
And on that note…
It’s time to announce something that I’ve been holding in for a while now: This week will be my last on EGMR.
I’ll wait for everyone to pick their jaws up off the floor. Done? Cool.
There are few basic reasons for my decision to leave, and I am happy to share them here, briefly:
I am no longer the sprightly youth I once was, and I now have various responsibilities that come with being an adult which regularly take me away from EGMR, effectively doing the site an injustice (games among us?). Make no mistake, this team is the hardest-working team in South Africa by far. I’ve seen other sites, I have many friends on them and I respect them greatly, but I will stand with heart on hand and profess my faith in the EGMR team and their dedication to the cause until my dying breath.
Unfortunately, I can no longer maintain that level of dedication to the cause, and I’ve made my peace with that.
To a lesser extent, I think I’m also just tired of being in games media. I’ve grown tired of trying to play nice, and watching out for who I upset with my words. Sometimes speaking freely causes unnecessary harm unless you have the views/interactions to grant you immunity, and I kinda like being able to speak freely. I certainly get to do it at my day job. Further, I’ve grown more and more disillusioned with games reporting, because recently it’s started to look indistinguishable from games marketing. And I am not PR. That’s why I moved away from news previously, and that’s why I no longer feel I have a place in an industry so fiercely geared towards maximising interactions (seriously, the amount of times I’ve been asked for our site impressions this year…) without seeing the effect that has on week-one game sales.
I tell you, not covering news has made it so damn easy for me to say no to upcoming game releases. I buy only the games I really want to play, now. Truly something else, the effect that games media has.
Does this mean I’m out forever? Time will tell. My dream has always been to produce gaming content and get paid for it. If that ever reaches fruition then hey, you’ll see me again. If not, at least I can look at my time here with pride.
eGamer/EGMR/Eggmuhr has truly been a life-changing experience for me, and it’s been an honour and a privilege to serve you, my beloved gamers for whom I’ve fought relentlessly. This has been a very difficult decision, one of the most difficult I’ve ever made, but one that I hope works out for the better for all parties.
So at the end of 2015, all I have to say is: Be good to each other in 2016, don’t let petty arguments get in the way of your fun, and remember: Don’t preorder games.
And another thing…