Marginalised, Mistreated and Misunderstood: Video Games and the Fight for Recognition
I’ve had enough of video games being relegated to the dustbin of society; banished as some form of unpleasant, cultural other; video games deserve a better place in the world, as do the people that play them. Whilst music, literature, theatre, sculpture and painting all receive (and deserve) recognition as art forms, video games often lies forgotten, occasionally with a feeble cry of ‘me too!’ before the tight gag of taboo is firmly re-attached. But, as I said, I’ve had enough. The days of video games being nothing more than clumpy blocks of pixels, offering solace to nerds and social outcasts alike, are gone. In my eyes, video games are just as worthy of being referred to as art as a Jane Austen novel, Spielberg film or Pinter play. And there’s nothing wrong with the people who play them, either.
The look, part pity part abhorrence, that people give me when I say that I’m the video games editor for my student newspaper, is the least of my grievances. Such looks give me the impression that, despite my entirely ordinary appearance, the fact that I play video games makes me the sort of closet weirdo that masturbates to the thought of elves and Uzis. Stereotypically portrayed as either acne-ridden, nasal-voiced adolescents, or awkward, overweight, balding men, the common categorization of ‘the gamer’ is just as juvenile as the stigma that it perpetrates. Even worse is the association between gamers and abnormal behaviour. “Games turn children into killers!” they cry. Sure, Anders Brevik played Call of Duty. So do millions of other people. Anders Brevik also ate toast, as do billions of other people. You can see where I’m going with this.
The vast majority of people are quite capable of differentiating between the fictitious scenes on their TV screens and real life. I’ll admit it; I’ve played games where you shoot people, in the face, with a gun. I can also guarantee you that I’m not going to do that in real life; the thought of owning a real-life gun scares me. The thought of using said gun to shoot a real-life person with a real-life bullet is almost incomprehensible to me, and that won’t change, no matter how many hours I put into whatever FPS is currently incurring the Daily Mail’s wrath.
Certainly, a lot of games are just loud explosions and warzones, but so what? It’s exactly the same kind of mindless entertainment as The Only Way is Essex or LMFAO, and nobody has a problem with those. Just as film has its Die Hards and books its chick lit, video games have their mindless shooters. The crying shame is not that fact that such games exist, but the fact that they so often distract from the industry’s true achievements.
This is because most negative portrayals of video games come from uninformed assumptions. I would bet that the vast majority of sneering bystanders, ready with the old familiar jibes and stereotypes, have never played video games, at least not enough to be able to comment fairly on the topic. If you are one such person, then I have a few suggestions for you – a few titles I would like to recommend. Mass Effect, Witcher 2, Deus Ex – all of these titles boast incredibly nuanced stories, all of them alterable based on the player’s actions. Yes they all feature violence. One of them even has elves. But if you can look beyond that you will find incredibly well developed and imagined worlds, full of award-worthy plot and performance.
The fact that players can shape these worlds themselves adds a whole other layer – video games are not passive, they’re interactive art. Still not convinced? Play Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker, play Braid, play Skyrim. Each of these games is artistically brilliant, featuring some of the best, and most diverse, graphics in the industry. These games don’t just deliver brilliant gameplay, they also present it beautifully, with emotive and intelligent music to boot.
If you’re still not convinced, then try Dead Space 2. Behind an incredible amount of gore and horror lies an interesting critique of religion. Dragon Age contains messages about social and racial inequality; Fallout poses moral dilemmas to the player, Deus Ex: Human Revolution presents thought provoking questions about the nature and limits of humanity itself. Of course, you are quite welcome to play all of these games as simple action-fests, but if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll discover worlds as developed and intriguing as those of any novel or TV series.
Video games have grown up a lot over the past twenty years, as have the people who play them. The industry is now worth more than the music and film business, and is slowly being recognised as a valid form of artistic expression, with award ceremonies such as the video game BAFTAs adding to this sense of validity. I’m not saying video games are perfect: they’re not, but they are a lot better than many people often give them credit for. Most people would be horrified if someone had never seen a film, read a book, or heard music. The same horror should apply to those who haven’t played video games. Hopefully it’s not too long before such a scenario becomes reality.
Last five articles by Alex
- RollerCoaster Tycoon: A Retrospective
- Beware The Hoarder
- History is our Playground
- Open World Problems
- Marginalised, Mistreated and Misunderstood: Video Games and the Fight for Recognition