Video Game Culture: You’re Not Missing Out On Much, But We Are

These guys … not as lovable as you may remember

More and more people are getting into videogames and I love it.  I can even talk about them at work, which was unheard of 5 years ago.  No longer are games the exclusive domain of stereotypical nerdmen with the emotional maturity of a 12 year old nerd (ie an 8 year old normal human).

However, the nerdmen are fighting hard to retain their dominance of gaming culture.  Whenever I go on the Internet to read stuff about games, these nerdmen are everywhere in the gaming press and resultant communities.  OK, they’re not the whole community, but they are a dominant section of it.  Their constant pissing in the pool diminishes my enjoyment of playing and thinking about videogames, just like my joy of looking up supercoach stats is diminished by looking at any other part of the Herald Sun’s output.

I don’t want to interact with nerdmen and therefore don’t want to join the communities in which they swim.  It’s a big reason why I remain a stubborn single player gamer.  I tend not to like games that are aimed at nerdmen as their core demographic, which is a big reason why I don’t play many shooters.  Online, nerdmen can be just as stupid, bullying and bigoted as the best of them.  Add in the privilege required to sustain an expensive first world hobby like gaming and you’ve got yourself people who are spoiled, whiny AND arrogant.  Not a great mix.

The latest example of nerdmen FAIL is the discussion surrounding the trailer for Hitman Absolution. I’m not going to link to it, but it involves strippers dressed as nuns who get their faces smashed in.

There’s already been some awesome pieces written to explain what’s wrong with it — here and here are a good start.

I cannot speak for anyone else, least of all women as a group.  To me, the trailer just felt wrong.  I’m too long out of cultural studies class to explain why this is, or how wrong it is compared to anything else, other than to say when I watched it, the blend of “sexy” and violence just made me cringe.  Maybe there is a defence of it based on high falutin art principles or whatnot, but it just looked like crass exploitation.  I will not be buying the Hitman game.

What surprised me about trailer was not the criticisms of it, but the vehement defences of it.  Enter the nerdmen.  Particularly egregious was alleged “takedown” of such criticisms by the kings-of-the-nerdmen, Penny Arcade (reluctantly linked here).

After noting that the trailer was “Robert Rodriguez through and through”, they waved away other criticisms of the trailer.  They seemed to be offended that others were offended — describing the others as “swooning and fainting”.  Those who found the trailer offensive, were “preening” and the answer to such things is “more art”.

Leaving aside whether you consider the trailer to be “art” (and thus saving approx 100,000 words on THAT issue) that is just the lamest “look over there!” excuse you can muster, even if you dress it up in a thesaurus.  So apparently you’re not allowed to criticise bad things, but only notice other good things?   Just because other good things exist doesn’t mean the bad things aren’t bad.  Such a point also conflates criticism with censorship, while hypocritically seeking to censor the critics.  That’s a double logic fail right there.

Logic notwithstanding, Penny Arcade is basically saying to a bunch of gamers: you aren’t allowed to criticise or be unhappy with stuff in games because we’ve done it for you and it’s not a big deal anyway.  This attitude is not about making a happy inclusive gaming community, this is circling the wagons with an us-vs-them attitude.  Not for the first time, Penny Arcade have showed that they are less interested in conversation than preaching from a bully pulpit to tell people to go fuck themselves.  I think this knee-jerk defensiveness is a carryover from the days when gaming was more niche and, well, nerdy.

I love videogames as a medium, but the industry has problems.  I can’t shake the feeling that the big studios that pander to the nerdmen are a big part of these problemsIf you want to see what I mean by pandering, watch footage of a major publisher’s E3 press conference and see fawning journalist fanboys cheering at videos of upcoming games.  .  The elephant in the room is working conditions at big studios and the nerdmen culture within them, but that’s a rant for another day.

Increased critical thinking about videogames would allow us to think about these problems and the culture as a whole.  A sociology of videogames would be interesting, as would an analysis of the medium in the context of history and economics.  Why is violence still the most prevalent form of interaction in videogames?  Why are shooters the dominant genre right now?  What capacity does a highly capital-and labour-intensive industry have to speak back to the culture from which it is spawned?  There are some fascinating questions here, but they will not be answered until more people from within the culture are prepared to reflect upon them and look at the games industry and its culture honestly, rather than getting ultra-defensive.

– Felix

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