Errant Signal released a wonderful video yesterday about politics in video games and the importance of engaging in critical discourse about them.
Title ”Keep Your Politics Out of My Video Games”, the video opens with a description of gamers’ attitudes towards critical discussions: on one hand, they want video games to be taken seriously and respected. They want their gaming knowledge and skills to be acknowledged. On the other hand, they can react rather aggressively to any form of critical analysis of, say, the representations of ethnic groups, women, LGBT or gender roles in games. As the Christopher Franklin, the video’s creator, states:
”[t]hey want to proclaim their hobby to be art with no strings attached. They want their games to be adulated without also being criticized. They want their games to be hard to play but not challenging to consume. They want they want games to have tremendous power, but without any responsibility.”
I would not generalize such attitudes to all gamers, however. Many of them engage in rich conversations, be it on blogs, social networks, forums or elsewhere which are fueled by the increasing number of academic who are devoting their research to games and gaming. For instance, Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D. (ABD) in Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University, created this great video about representations of indigenous peoples in video games. You can read more on her work and Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, of which she is a member, here.
Furthermore, gamers and non-gamers alike take part in (sometimes heated) debates whenever the media highlight a scandal surrounding a game. About a year ago, the (alleged) rape reference in Tomb Raider created a turmoil that lasted for weeks, if not months. In most cases, the individuals who took part in the debates either tried to highlight rape culture or sided with the producer’s denial of a sexual violence reference. In other words, ccritical discourse, of which Franklin himself is an active defender, is enjoying growing visibility.
Despite this, it is true than those who do respond negatively to critical analysis of video games are highly vocal, and can even go beyond the limits of civility and respect. Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian knows that. In fact, some gamers feel entitled to act aggressively towards women in general, even if they are simply playing video games: for examples, have a look at Fat, Ugly or Slutty, a collection of the best of the worst harassment female players face.
Gamers are not the only ones who act this way. When Michael Lee Lunsford created fully clothed versions of superheroines last April and shared them on his Tumblr page, he received much positive press with mentions on The Mary Sue and the Huffington Post, to name only these few. But he eventually took down the redesigns from his Tumblr and Deviantart pages and published this Compilation of Explanations page where he addressed some of the many negative comments, such as ”stop ruining comics!”, he had received.
Such attitudes are common towards people who engage in critical discourse of geekdom, either by writing, creating videos or art. Various ongoing debates, such as the one about ”cosplay sluts” or ”fake geek girls” illustrate some of the current tensions in geek culture; as it becomes more mainstream and more diverse, tensions emerge between people of different ages, political opinions, ethnic background, sexual orientation or identity. Some geeks fear the games, comics or movies they love will change, or even that geek culture is dead.
However, Franklin highlights an important problem with the dismissal of critical analysis of video games:
”But that’s the core problem with the “keep your politics out of my video games” argument. It presupposes video games are apolitical to begin with. Like they’re these wholesome, pure things that exist free from the taint of ideology or bias or viewpoint. They’re mathematical expressions or cartographical mappings of the world, and anyone dissecting them in a political or social or cultural context is just bringing their own baggage to the conversation. But that’s just absurd on its face – especially as many of the games that generate some of the harshest criticisms bring their own politics to the table.”
Take 10 minutes and have a look at this great (and conveniently) short video.
What are your thoughts on this? Are gamers open-minded when it comes to critical discourse?
Head over to Christopher Franklin’s presentation and transcript of the video. Kudos to Anita Sarkeesian who shared it on Twitter!