Tug of Warfare – The Games Culture Struggle

The Game Awards 2014 have represented this total weird place we live in right now, with regards to games culture. On the one hand, we have our glorious history behind us with people like Roberta Williams coming out and we have this heartfelt and real celebrations of their work, and we have indie developers come out and show these genuinely astounding and fantastical games that make us excited and seem new and like the next step forward. On the other hand, we have the super constructed world of AAA ‘bro’ culture that somehow still lives on harder than ever, with deep voices proclaiming the next trailer is a ‘WORLD PREMIERE’ and building up this constructed hype around games that look fairly similar to each other and to the last five year’s worth of games, and we have these problematic figures coming out and receiving awards proclaiming them as the voices of our culture while they promote a continuing of our male-dominated and male-oriented ‘prove it’ aspects that we’ve tried to move away from.

It is, to say the least, a bit of a crazy game of cultural tug of war.

It seems to sit between the world of real open inclusive interest and excitement, and constructed and manufactured excitement and interest over products designed to interest the few and indulge them. Take Playstation’s keynote; Sean Murray, from Hello Games, came out to show No Man’s Sky, and here you have this guy who is clearly nervous about the crowd and not a comfortable speaker but he loves his project and is so excited for it that he just has to come out and show it to you, and everyone else then gets infected with the excitement because hell, No Man’s Sky is a game to get goddamn excited about. On the flipside, we have David Jaffe, coming out to discuss a game set in a teenage boy’s notebook and its all hyperviolent, and he cussed on stage because he’s cool and edgy, and the whole experience of him being there and his game just felt like such a constructed attempt to be ‘hip’ and ‘edgy’ and appealing and indulging to what seems to be perceived as the ‘core’ demographic of games that it kinda actually hurt.

There seems to be some contingent of the games industry that still thinks like the teenage boys they were, playing games like Doom and Leisure Suit Larry, and remembering how great they thought all the violence and sexual gratification was and wanting to continue it, and constructing hype around these young male fantasies so people can try to make real buzz out of it. Obviously, these people existed before, to make games like Doom and Leisure Suit Larry, but it seems to be the developers who followed that and came into the industry as teenage boys who hadn’t fully grown up, and still haven’t, and the folk in suits who saw what money they could make from teenage boys and think that’s still the way to go. So the corporate structure and the ‘visionaries’ in charge of studios creates these games to aim at these young males (and at themselves to an extent), and the hype machine revs up for us to have this big reveals and cool dubstep or metal on the trailers and for this false constructed excitement to occur, where you get excited because the publisher wants you to be excited, so you’ll buy, rather than the developers wanting you to be excited because they’re really into their project.

But at the same time, there is a contingent, as there has always been, of developers and folk that want to create games for everyone, or at least don’t want to just play to young males and their fantasies and ideas of what games should be, who really genuinely believe and are excited in the work they do. The indie community is a great example of this; there are so many games creators who are so invested in the work they do and believe so much in their projects, and it creates infectious excitement. It becomes hard not to be excited when you see a Sean Murray or Roberta Williams come out and talk about their projects and see how genuinely invested they are in the work they’re doing or have done. Its this very genuine and very real love of games, rather than just trying to appeal to one group or make money from one group or indulge the fantasies of that one group. It makes games culture this thing that anyone could come into and understand the excitement and joy of.

But of course, how would that natural shareable excitement fit in a games culture where we constantly need to prove our status as ‘gamers’? How could we make things inclusive when its so crucial apparently that everyone prove their knowledge and experience of games all the time so we all know that they do really like games and their opinions are valid? How can we let people into our games culture and make games for them, when we can’t be sure they’re really into this for the games and they’re not just lying about being into games, because being a fake gamer is the most heinous crime? Because a crucial part of our games culture is the machismo nature of needing to prove one’s status obviously, and we could never do without it.

Or wait a second, what if we could just have things be inclusive and open and not try to have people prove themselves all the time? What if we got rid of the overt macho rubbish in games culture with regards to how we act towards each other, and we could make progress towards having inclusivity in games, and excited developers and not having constructed hype pushed towards us? What if our creative industry felt more like creatives were in charge of the process, or had a bigger say, than just men in suits pushing hype to their big new shooting game or male power trip? Because we’re like getting there. The indie revolution has made us have some progress towards making games culture and the industry better, but there’s still some space to go, so like, can we finish the job please world, and just stop this daft tug of war?


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