Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Opinion: Why Video Games Aren't Evil

Last night, I met someone new and if that person will be you in the future, expect that I'll bring up my blog. And why not - I'm proud of it, I'm articulating my thoughts and making arguments. All of you "new" people should get wise.

When I told her my blog was about video games, the sky went black and mothers rushed out to pluck their children from the streets and away from harm. Because some guy told her so, she thinks that video games are evil and are fundamentally on par with drugs or alcohol. They are a waste of time and a corruption of the soul.

I kept smiling. I did. Despite all the many counter-arguments I had to politely offer her, I had one big thing to smile about: I had something new to write about the next day in my blog. Baby, your stern expression just made it to Last to Blame - consider yourself internet famous!

I don't know what would possess a person to immediately respond with the new information given them to turn around and rebuke what was said. If nothing else, that's a real conversation killer; the only thing after that is the aversion of eyes and an awkward silence to which I possess a superhuman capacity to stretch out longer than Marlon Brando's attention span when there is a buffet table nearby.

I'm not offended; really, I'm very surprised that there are people in the world who believe things without having experienced for themselves. I try, humbly, with this blog to explain my thoughts about video games and encourage people to think and interpret video games in their own way. So, Aurora, if you took my advice and are reading this, or are some video game bigot who blames these games for taking away your job, your wife and your dignity, please continue reading and let me explain the good about video games.

Before we get to that, I will say that when I tell people about my blog and I explain that it's about video games (and not music, say) people don't know what to think. I don't really know, myself, and I imagine they think I have a blog full of pictures of Mario and Zelda and write slash fiction featuring all the gravelly-voiced video game characters Ron Pearlman has done over the years. I don't know what the conception is, all I've got is my own perception.

I think the assumption of video game culture, if people even think it a culture, as a toy is deeply ingrained in the public, above all within the minds of gamers themselves. People lavish all this attention and time to video games in a way that pre-school kids will fight each other for a rubber bouncy ball. Video games are a culture and gamers should acknowledge this lest they let large corporations dictate the culture to them, like hip hop culture does. That's what I do here on Last to Blame; interpret video games as culture (which they are) and reappropriate this culture from the big money that makes it to the small guy like me who consumes it.

So, to begin: video games are a world-wide culture that has deeply affected many people. I think Aurora would argue that World of Warcraft players or other devotees of MMO's are deeply affected by addiction, but playing a video game does not necessitate addiction. Likewise, someone who works in the alcohol trade need not be an alcoholic; that's like saying sommeliers are all boozehounds, or that wine exporters are drug dealers. To get the subject of addiction out of the way, let it be said that any number of things can be addictive: alcohol, drugs, sex, food, the internet.. and video games. Video games simply gets a bright scarlet letter from the aforementioned tenuous link the public makes with video games and toys and children and also from the simple fact that video games are a new culture and many misassumptions arise from this.

If video games are culture, so what? Well, culture doesn't have any intrinsic value; rather, it's the importance and relevance it has to people, be it high culture (eg. Shadows of the Colossus) or low culture (eg. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad). What matters is the meaning and fulfilment that culture brings into the lives of those affected. Whether video games can inspire someone to get involved in cosplay or bake a video game cake, or as passive participants can stimulate and arouse excitement and emotions from us from a few hours of playing - well, this has affected us.

Even if video games are culture, it's still base, immature culture at that, right? Well, that's actually something I wholehearted agree with, but I don't leave it at that. Video games are a vibrantly changing medium; tastes and preferences often change at the speed of technological progress. While we have seen a glut of unoriginal games recently (ie. the success of Gears of War means we will see more copycats to come) it stands to chance that with cheaper technology independent game makers will come up with games that stand out against the status quo. Braid, Flower and Noby Noby Boy come to mind as games that are groundbreaking simply for existing in a genre where duplication and imitation are not just expected but encouraged; furthermore, upstart game developers like Molleindustria are making controversial games that are daring enough to instigate discussion on provocative subjects like multi-faith conflicts ("Faith Fighter") and sexual abuse in the Catholic church ("Operation: Pedopriest").

The consumption of video games as art aside, we can all still appreciate video games for what they are to most people: an interesting diversion for some, a hobby for most, and as fun for everyone. And let's take that statement at face value: video games are fun. A whole lot of fun. There isn't much to prove here, but rather let's accept it and not baggage this statement with further opinions and accusations like "things that are that much fun can't possibly be morally good and productive."

To be as blunt as Dorothy Parker and a rucksack full of door knobs: video games are fun, and that's okay. Video games don't need to solve the world's problems and cure the world of cancer. Video games are entertainment that may at times include a thoughtful metaphor, or include a newsworthy current social issue, or provide thought-provoking fodder or something that can make a grown man cry (so I've heard). When that season of "Lost" ended by opening a door that led to yet another door, the resultant face-palming by non-fans could be heard simultaneously throughout the world. To them, it's fun, it's a story, it's entertainment; this same type of attitude could be adopted by those who haven't quite understood video games.

Video games do have a bad rap for being violent, sexist and homophobic and even racist. True, yet we shouldn't brand all video games with the same brush. In fact, we should see that the more artistic video games become, the more violent and sexist and ignorant they can become; as the ability to express becomes more varied and articulate, so too can it convey objectionable themes and ideas. However, that's just the way it goes: "Triumph of the Will" (1935) is a well made film using several innovative techniques that won several international awards and continues to influence the way films are made today; however, it is also a brilliant and charismatic work of propaganda.

Video games also shouldn't be seen as a tool to instruct youngsters how to commit crime and used as a device to decay morals and values. Besides being clearly labelled to which age catagory the game is suitable for so parents will know what is and is not appropriate for their children, video games aren't simulations to instruct children to shoot guns properly nor are tutorials teaching how to carjack a car. If video games could really do that, then we are living in a generation of young super-spies with training in hand-to-hand combat and demolitions; furthermore, video games would have given rise to a whole generation of ninjas with lightning quick reflexes who can catch shot bows in mid air. If this was true, entire governments are at the mercy of these trained assassins who will organise to rebel once the nation's frozen hot-pocket and Mountain Dew supply runs out.

Video games are fun. Video gaming is a culture. Video games are an immersive experience that allow you to actively participate in experiences that you might never ever get the chance to do in real life: you could be a race car driver, an amnesiatic yet powerful blue skinned immortal, the general of vast armies and navies at your command, a dog. The exciting thing about the development of video games is that it appears to soon be only limited by the developer's imagination (and, unfortunately, the demands and expectations of the audience, but that's another story..)

There is, of course, the option that you could try a video game yourself, Aurora. I'm sure a round on the Nintendo Wii Fit board spinning a hula hoop wouldn't be so beneath you. And as I said, I wasn't offended by your statement. In fact, I thought it funny you didn't say anything about the music I had just performed for you, that being jazz, considering that around 30 years ago jazz was considered by your people to be "morally decadent" and outright banned.

So, you prefer Diana Krall over Lara Croft. Hm. Okay. Eidos isn't Blue Note after all. All the same, give video games a chance. I'm sure Diana Krall would approve.

No comments:

Post a Comment