I wrote this after a recent article from Rock, Paper Shotgun : Misogyny, Sexism, And Why RPS Isn’t Shutting Up. Not to comment upon what they wrote (they do that extremely well, and is there even a debate here ?), but to express some personal thoughts derived from it.
It may be a disappointment for lot of people, but games are everything except pure virtual entertainment, out of this world experience not related in any way to our current society, with its ghastly problems, its never-ending flow of bad news, stupid accidents and greedy politics. Yes, that world.
Games depend heavily on current set of representations and trends in our society. Even when you depict an alien in a game, it’s generally as an anthropomorphic creature that conveniently speaks English and often threaten our galaxy quite similarly to the regular concept of a terrorist. You may say that some games don’t impose a representation and let the player free to build the world they want. Yes, but even there the game won’t be played without reference to our society. How many completely new creatures in Spore for every penis and Ben Laden ? (NR : how to trigger every NSA and blacklisting services in one sentence – hello guys o/) How many purely alien architecture in Minecraft for every reproduction of the White House, King’s Landing and Mordor ? Because yes, the last two are also a mirror of our world (notably Game of Thrones, a really clever story built on english history and modern politics).
It doesn’t mean that understanding these links disenchants the game or kills the fun, quite the contrary. The massive and rather pompous debate about games as an art form is really only about these links. It’s because a game reflects in an unusual way what being human means that it relates to art, establishing the same strange connexion with reality as a poem would. Paul Eluard wrote : « La terre est bleue comme une orange » (earth is blue as an orange). At first glance it doesn’t make sense and yet if you move the sentence around, here lies the semantic link, the poetic accident. Many games are working through gameplay and story on that sort of accident, infatuation or shrinking of reality.
Actually, trying to consider gaming as a purely virtual experience is not only meaningless, it’s really weakening the game experience itself. It’s called ignorance, and despite being fashionable, ignorance is not fun or enjoyable, it’s empty. Could you enjoy Shadow of the Colossus if you just consider it as a game where you shoot giants ? I don’t think so, I think that particular game reveals its beauty when it makes you ponder about your own actions : « What am I doing ? Saving a princess ? Does that even make sense ? Especially by killing these mighty and beautiful creatures and wrecking that world order ? ». Let’s face it, there’s no such things as a life where you could separate your gaming experience from your real life experience, because you necessarily relate your gaming with it, in a way or another.
You can’t just ignore these links, try to seclude gaming from real life. It’s the best way to miss the point of many game designers and give in to the general trend of the gaming industry, which is happy as long as you’re buying your standard fix of FPS.
As a matter of fact, I think everything about games is political. By that I mean what political really means : what is related to the city, to the order of the city. Gamers have extraordinary things to bring to society, a new approach that has nothing to do with our current standard « politician » : watch this, a woman who loves gamers !