A long time ago, when I was but a wee lad, I accompanied my mother to her parents’ house to help clean out the attic. During this trip, my four year old self was to discover something magical. Clearing the cobwebs off of some ancient form revealed a black and brown object with the words Atari 2600 emblazoned across it. After fumbling about through a dust filled cloud of thick Mississippi air to attach this wondrous device to the television, I hit the switch and the machine roared to life. From those first unsuccessful rounds of Adventure, Haunted House, and Centipede, I was hooked. Just before entry into Kindergarten, I received what was then the current game console, the NES. As a nerdy five-year-old kid, I didn’t think about what the future held for this hobby of mine. I never fathomed the idea that one day the past time that myself and a few of my friends engaged in would one day become an industry so large as to potentially shake the very foundations of the entertainment industry as a whole. I spent my elementary years saving pixilated cyberpunk dystopias from mad robots, rescuing the odd damsel in distress, and shooting alien spacecraft. For a kid who couldn’t go outside for prolonged periods of time, this was a fun way to waste away the lazy southern weekends. As time past on, and I got to a point where I could go outside and I adopted other hobbies, gaming was still a big part of my leisure time. I know by now you’re asking, what’s the point of all this? The point is that I have always considered videogames a toy. I’m sure most rational thinking people who have been at it for as long as I have probably have a similar view. What colour a gaming avatar’s sprite is has never been a concern of mine. What matters first and foremost is the question “is it fun?”
Unfortunately, when a form of entertainment reaches certain heights of popularity, phony moralizers and carpet baggers intent on ruining everyone’s good time come out of the woodwork. This happened with radio, movies, and television. When the media reached saturation, those who sought to impose their view of what is moral or “just” launched crusades that gave us everything from the comics code (some of you born before 1990 may remember the tail end of that), the FCC, and the MPAA. It started simply at first. Usual suspect nanny statist, Joe Lieberman led a crusade against what he and his fellow proxy parents felt was indecent content in video games by holding congressional hearings on the matter. The pressure put on the big game publishers of the time by these hearings led to the creation of the now ubiquitous Electronic Software Rating Board rating system. If they couldn’t ban them, they would surely make them an inconvenience to obtain, which would shame developers into dropping violent content from their games. While some publishers, like Probe, the publishers of the Sega Genesis version of Mortal Kombat, did cave and institute some censorship (those of you who have played the Genesis version of MK will remember having to enter the infamous ABACABB “blood code” at the title screen). On the whole, however, the effort was a failure. Gamers were getting older. Many of them could now buy the games themselves. Some, like me, had parents who didn’t see any harm in viewing cartoonish violence, and so bought us the games anyway. As time wore on, and the average age of gamers increased, the crusaders seemed to retreat. Yes, there were still some fringe types like Jack Thompson out there attacking violent content in video games and its unproven negative effects on children’s psyches, but (like modern day alcohol prohibitionists) these views were largely limited to the very fringes of communism and social conservatism. For a while, it looked like we had won. That is, until the second decade of the 2000s. Enter: political correctness.
It’s no secret that the vast majority of game characters are white. Even still, a majority of them are male. I think that, by and large, we never paid much mind to this. Why should we? After all, the point of video games is to entertain. They are not intended to teach morals or the virtues of social tolerance. Unfortunately, there are some out there that want to look at this as being some sort of indicator of rampant racism and sexism in the gaming community. On the racism front, however, things can be dispelled by a simple examination of demography. The United States, which produces a lot of games, is a nation that is 77% white. That is an overwhelming majority. As such, it is only natural that most game companies are likely going to helmed by white people, and that most game designers are also likely going to be white. Since people create from what they know, it is only natural that video game characters are going to reflect the ethnicity of the people creating them. In this day and age where storytelling is becoming more developed in video games and the characters themselves are becoming more three dimensional, I don’t see this homogeneity changing. If one is being intellectually honest, one can step back and realize that a white guy who has no clue what it is like to grow up black, hispanic, east asian, whatever and as such is not going to be able to create an engaging protagonist of these ethnicities. A good example of this recently is the game The Evil Within. Developed by a Japanese firm, the game features a protagonist of Greek descent. He is, without a doubt, one of the flattest, most one dimensional and boring protagonists this gamer has ever encountered. It is always fun to explore the outings of a well realized protagonist of a different colour, but the only way to get more of these is to get more people from these “underrepresented” communities into the gaming industry. That responsibility, however, does not (and should not) fall on the shoulders of these development houses. If this is an important issue to you, the way to go about changing it is not to shame the people that create the games we all love. It is possible to hold game jams directed toward ethnic minorities in the same way that rational feminists have held ones that targeted females.
So-called “sex negative” feminism is a recent entrant into the battle for the soul of gaming. Generally represented in the minds of most gamers by logic impaired Canadian loudmouth Anita Sarkeesian. This set seeks to use phony accusations of threats of violence and rape to shame gamers into kowtowing to their incoherent demands. So far, from what this writer has been able to gather from Ms. Sarkeesian’s proselytizing is that feminists are upset because games treat women as sex objects, but at the same time they can’t present a coherent picture of what exactly they would like the depiction of women in video games to be. When pressed to give specific examples of this perceived unfair treatment of women in games, they constantly revert to cries of it being a “larger issue.” This, or they make accusations. When presented with theoretical scenarios that would satisfy rational thinking feminists (yes, they do exist), they balk at them and once again throw out the accusation of sexism. This type of view permeates Ms. Sarkeesians tropes videos (which were not actually written by herself, but that’s a matter for another time) as well as the myriad interviews she has been engaged in. The sad thing is that the fact that the gaming press has been falling all over itself to defend this non-movement that is based in circular logic that would be indecipherable even to the most fastidious Vulcan. The logical mind would look at the complaints about overly buxom scantily clad women and point to the fact that the men in these games (Mortal Kombat, the Soul series, etc.) are also depicted rather unrealistically, usually somewhere between Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime and the Incredible Hulk. Ridiculously stylized depictions of people have been common in animation for a long time. It is patently absurd to think that this started with video games, and even more ridiculous to believe that it indicates some form of hatred. This irrationality seems to be coming entirely from one woman and her handler and should really be ignored by gamers. What’s worse, is that she doesn’t seem to have played the games she is critiquing. Nowhere is this more prevalent in her assessment of Hitman Absolution. A game which I have actually played and highly doubt that Ms. Sarkeesian has. Nowhere in the game is one incentivized to attack female NPCs as she so brazenly claims. I played through the strip club mission quite quickly and never once actually interacted with the virtual strippers. What’s more is that players are, as in all Hitman games, penalized for attacking NPCs who are not affiliated with their target. Perhaps in the future, Ms. Sarkeesian would do well to actually play the games herself instead of having Jonathan Mcintosh do it for her.
My advice to gamers is to remain rational and level headed. Do not let the social justice crowd bully you into acting like an animal. It is also important to be mindful of the political views of the people involved in this crusade. Be careful who you climb into bed with. It is not always necessarily those of the socially conservative persuasion looking to rain on our parade. In my life as a gamer, I have seen video games attacked by authoritarians on both the left and the right side of the political spectrum. While it is fashionable to think that it is only social conservatives that seek to destroy things they find objectionable to their personal morals, the history of attempts at anti video game legislation shows us that alleged social liberals can be just as bad (and in some cases worse). Keep up the fight, and never forget that gaming is, and should always be, above all else, about having fun. Goodnight, and good luck.