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Seriously? Part 1

September 10th, 2009 by

seriously

Video games have, for quite some time now, had great power. Metal Gear Solid forced us to consider the boundaries of media, Manhunt examined our society’s murky depths, Silent Hill 2 made us question our sexual drives, games then can be powerful tools in provoking emotion and delivering story. Why then are critics, developers and enthusiasts still arguing over whether games are seen as ‘art’, why do the greater media not focus more attention on the industry at large and what do we have to do to be taken seriously?

There are plenty of ancillary debates we could have regarding the ’seriousness’ of video games, which leads me to believe that, by proxy, this medium should be taken seriously. One classic argument of course is the ‘games as art VS games as product’ debate, can games, unique products to be mass produced and sold, be classed as art? If not, it negates any higher emotional reaction to them, and if so, surely that means the furniture you find in Ikea is art. Regardless, the fact we have to have that discussion in the first place denotes gaming’s importance in art circles, but seemingly it is only a select number of individuals having any serious debate at all.

Games are, however, in my opinion still seen as childish, insular and cliquey by a wider audience. Why? Well perhaps it’s the culture and attitude surrounding games in general, even articles such as this, with serious debate about the subject matter, have their leading images reference oft-impregnable, oft-immature ‘Geek Culture’. Maybe a culture that has so far bought the world Lolcatz, Rick Rolling and forum based flame wars pertaining to who the better Star Trek captain is (it’s Picard) is not one to associate with where academic discourse is concerned. Not all sites out there take this approach, but most do, and with damn fine reason too, the need to appeal to a general gaming audience. The furthest most ‘casual’ gamers go to reading a site about games, is checking a title’s score on Metacritic whilst deciding to part with their cash, they simply aren’t going to be interested in high profile write-ups in The Guardian. Top 5 boobs in gaming though, well now you’re talking!

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Of course the argument could be made that my notion of ‘games are not taken seriously’ is fairly ethnocentric. In Japan a release of a high profile title often makes the evening news, the release for example, of a new Dragon Quest, is of national importance, if not culturally, then economically. Right back to the start of the video games boom Japan has been focused on this growing industry, reports of 100 Yen coins being in short supply due to Taito’s Space Invaders made the nine o’clock news in Tokyo! Occasionally the West does have a story make it to the front page of the papers, especially on a slow news day, although this tends to be less debate, and veers more towards scare mongering and reactionary pieces about violent titles like Grand Theft Auto. Not true, serious debate then, but perhaps this is a tentative first step forward, at least we are taking the medium seriously in some regard, if we are led to believe it is destroying the youth of today.

And talking of negative aspects, what won’t help games be seen as anything other than immature, is the way gamers can behave, and are stereotyped as behaving. Gamer snacks, caffeine mints, the behaviour of aforementioned forum users, it’s all almost universally appalling, whether you buy into that stereotype or not. Amongst the stereotypes listed it is perhaps how gamers are seen to treat forums that is the most damaging, as this is where the ’serious’ discussions should be happening surely… Instead, what we often see is discrimination and close mindedness. It’s no wonder that the warm and welcoming MLG forums are so highly praised by it’s community for its lack of trolling, spamming, griefers and other types of undesirable individual.

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But even in my previous sentence, whereby I am describing a user of a games service, I have potentially lost interest from a reader less familiar with the terms of ‘trolling’ etc. As mentioned in another article, I don’t play MMOs because they are so difficult to get into, due in some regards to the level of knowledge needed going into each title. The vocabulary of specialised words I need to know simply to communicate effectively with other players is often overwhelming and off putting. Perhaps it is this that gives gaming such a bad rap, after all, you can’t take something seriously if you don’t understand it!

I think then that it is words and communication that may be the ultimate key as to why our art is not taken as seriously as it should be. My proposal however is that the major issue here is a solitary word every single video game critic has used, in almost every single article they have written since Pac Man first ate a power pill. What word could this be? What word could, just by its very use, undermine every attempt in the effort to have video games taken seriously?

That word, is ‘game’.

Do you agree? Have something to say on the matter? Drop a comment in the box below and check back next week for the thrilling conclusion!

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