Thursday, June 14, 2012

I call this disease "Games".

At times, I am driven to despair by the games industry.

Games ... are ... great. They really are. I know that this is a gaming blog, and the temptation is naturally to search the entire lexicon for superlatives and similes, but there is no need when a word that describes how good games are perfectly already exists. I use the word "great" because of how "great" games are, and how "great" great is. Sometimes, it pays to stick with the classics.

What is less great, however, is the whole circus that surrounds videogames. It really does run an entire gamut of archetypes, almost all of whom are clueless. From publishers who think that we all have hedge funds we can siphon off of to pay over the odds for never-ending pools of pointless DLC, through marketing teams who think that only 15 year old boys play videogames, to the writers who refuse to accept that games are an entertainment medium, and as such should be treated as AN ENTERTAINMENT MEDIUM. With all the bonuses and drawbacks this entails.

Perhaps it would be best if I were to illuminate more clearly what I am hoping to get at.

Let us take a look at the cinema industry, and the way it is treated. This is a world that appears to be completely out of touch with reality, paying stupendous amounts of money to the stars at the top of the tree. Arnold Schwarzenegger once got a Lear Jet as part of his fee. This sounds insane, but the people making the movie thought that Arnie's presence in it was worth whatever he asked for. It is no surprise, then, that cinema budgets are obscene. However, they still know that no matter what it costs to make a blockbuster movie, the viewing public don't care about that. All they want to do is to see it for less than 20 local currency units. Avatar cost well over $200 million to make, and yet I paid £7.50 to see it in the cinema, and then paid £10 for the DVD. It remains the highest grossing movie of all time, having raked in over $2 BILLION.

Games, however, take this attitude that they are somehow different, and that we should pay more for them because they, apparently, cost a lot to make. Well, I still don't know of any game that has cost more than $100 million, although by now some the of the Modern Warfare games might be getting close. But I still need to pay £40 to play most of the bloody things, and that is before they pile on the inevitable useless tat. It seems that in order to access one of the classes in Borderlands 2, I will be required to pre-purchase the game. Now .... hold on a cotton-pickin' minute, there. What if the game isn't worth buying? (I don't doubt that I will adore it, but I have an aversion to handing over money on promises alone. I call this disease "Not being stupid".)

The movie industry doesn't do this. There is no benefit to me if I choose to go and watch a film at Vue, Warner, or ... ummm ... some other cinema chain. They all show the same film. And, even though some stores do pack bonus content in with it in the shape of extra discs, THEY ALL STILL SELL THE SAME MOVIE TO ME!

Games think they are different.

Marketing is another problem area. Recently, the trailer for Hitman: Absolution rattled a few feathers. You can see why, below:

Oh, we were all up in arms about this one! "SEXISM" and "MISOGYNY" were seen everywhere. "GLAMOURISATION AND SEXUALISATION OF VIOLENCE TOWARDS WOMEN" was a particular favourite of mine. It seems that we didn't like that trailer. Or rather, after a little bit of research, it turns out that we are being TOLD to not like that trailer.

I honestly couldn't give a shit, myself. I have only ever played about an hour or so of one of the Hitman games, because I have an aversion to stealth games in general. (I call this disease "Liking to have fun".) In Hitman, the whole point is to get through the games without anyone ever being aware that you even exist. The trailer misses this aspect most spectacularly, trying to sell it as an all-out action game. That just happens to have women in lingerie who were originally dressed as nuns, because manchildren LOVE THAT KIND OF THING.

I didn't see exploitation, though. I saw Agent 47 defending himself from enemies who were trying to kill him. The nuns did not pack Rosary beads, they packed serious weaponery. What was he supposed to do? "I'm sorry, I don't hit ladies."

The trailer was low class, high impact, eye-candy. It was meant to get people excited about the game. It did that by doing what Hollywood has done for years. However, when movies do it, there isn't some army of self-important hacks telling us that the art form should be above this, and that movies need to do more to appeal to women. By and large, the world has accepted the "Chick flick" and the "Bro movie", and they are happy for movies to just be taken at face value.

Games think they are different.

And, finally, we come to the current Tomb Raider furore.

This time, we are faced with a game that dares to allude to an attempted rape on young Lara. OH, MY! The twitterati love this one, alright.

It all stems from this Kotaku article, in which, whilst discussing the aims to make players want to invest more emotionally into Lara, Ron Rosenberg stated that enemies will try to rape her. Naturally, the shit hit the fan pretty much instantly, and now there is a whole world of back-pedalling going on from Eidos, and several universes of anger from the internet in general.

That single word, rape, changed everything. The context of the interview is not remarkably different to one from December 2010.
What IS different, though, is the uptake and reaction.

The thing is, though, why not include such material in a videogame? Are we not mostly adults these days? Are we incapable of deciding for ourselves if this makes for interesting character development? Movies and books have covered this ground plenty of times. Even comics are allowed to explore these areas without being accused of outright sexism and misogyny.

Games think they are different.

The rape thing? It's just bad writing. It is the idea of somebody who thinks that the only way to get strong is by overcoming adversity, and when said somebody is female then the most adverse thing that could possibly happen is rape. If it were in a movie or book it would be cast aside as such. A B-movie. A pulp novel. But, because it is in a game, it is seen as some sort of sacred cow and therefore we can't touch it. There is this bizarre idea that games all need to be worthy in some way. They don't. Sometimes, entertainment can be pure escapist fantasy. Sometimes, it can be mindless and throwaway. Sometimes, it can be utter rubbish that is still entertaining to some.

We decry that games get singled out. We say that we want them to accept us, and join in with us. But, when it comes right down to it, we don't. We want to be unique. We want to be different. We take every opportunity we can to exclude ourselves, to differentiate ourselves, to alienate ourselves. The cake that we want to have is that games are no different to movies or books, which precludes us from eating the cake labelled "Games are no different to movies or books".

We can be JUST LIKE THEM, we really can. But, in order to do that, we have to be JUST LIKE THEM. This means allowing games developers to explore areas that other media are free to. This means accepting that there will sometimes be things that we don't like. And this also means allowing adult themes to be discussed in an adult manner. I can read books about tortured souls agonising over their decisions. I can watch movies about spiritual journies and growth. But, I can only play games where big men and women do things that strong people do. It's pathetic, I want to be able to do more than just shoot stuff. (I call this disease "Being an adult".)

Games are great. To anyone who plays them, we already know this. To the outside world, though, they will never achieve greatness until we allow them to. We may never get a videogame equivalent of Lolita, mostly because the second somebody were to try it they would be torn apart. Not by the rest of the world, though, but by US. We need to ease up on ourselves, and let games stand on their own two feet. If the world hates Tomb Raider because it is a bad game, then that is fine. But to not even give it a chance because we ourselves assume the worst whenever anything like this is mentioned? I can't understand why we are doing it. We are not all kids, you know?


  1. As you know, I agree with you. So, my input will be slim.

    I think one of the problems is that for too long video games have been mass-marketed to anybody who happens to get in the way. I would love to see more mature and adult content in games (and I don't mean more extreme, graphic violence). But, publishers want money and the best way to get more money is to target EVERY male on the planet (presuming that video gaming is still a male dominated hobby). So, even though that little circle has an '18' in it, the marketing campaign will purposely target the teenage boys too. Now parents have come to terms with violence. It's only shooting guns. Boys will be boys. But, rape is on a whole new level and even deeper, more meaningful adult issues aren't even worth bothering with as wouldn't sell games. Only guns and sex sell games.

    Realism comes into play here as well. This Hitman trailer is no worse than the Lollipop Chainsaw trailer. They both show the same content in selling sex and violence. One has pretty colours, is cute and has zombies being cut up. While the other is realistic, raunchy and humans get hurt. I've not seen one complaint about Lollipop Chainsaw.

    As for the price point? Well, consumers are stupid with money. It only costs this much because the publishers can get away with it. We can talk about how stupid it is until we're blue in the face. But, until people start talking with their money, instead of their mouths, then shit will remain the same.

  2. The gaming community can be pretty immature at times...well, at most times. I like your page and this article; will follow.

    1. Thanks, Tom. I hope to give you plenty to read in future!

      Also, AWESOME surname.

  3. I share your frustration with the still ingrown mentality of the attitude towards games and the impact it has on the way games are marketed. As happy as I am that the indie market has has its time bobbing up and down from the surface, it will forever anger and annoy me that this industry seemingly has yet to fully appreciate and understand what it takes to get things moving.

    The approach to "rape" that you mentioned is rather close to the bone. I've never heard someone in the film industry explicitly market a popular blockbuster by using rape. You just don't do it. I don't care who your audience is. By all means, if you wish the player to become more emotionally attached, make the character vulnerable, bring forward a mechanic in which your character can become a victim of a horrific crime, but don't SELL that!! No no no no. Then everyone on the outside looking in will think,"So THIS is what sells to gamers? Rape?" THANKS GUYS!! THANKS A BUNCH!

    1. I hope that I didn't come across as if I was defending the marketing, I was merely saying that it is a valid plot device, as it has been in other media. And that we shouldn't be getting all bent out of shape the way we have been just because it is in a videogame. I truly believe that the only way we will remove the stigma that traditional media attaches to us is by just ignoring their constant attacks, which are borne out of fear of losing business to the more exciting possibilities that games provide, and continuing to evolve until we are so obviously at a point where we have left them behind that it is THEM that need to do the growing.

      Sooner or later, all entertainment media will converge with any luck, and a book won't be complete without the game or movie attached, and vice-versa.