Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sarkeesian's "Tropes vs. Women in Gaming" is Good for Gaming

     Gamers are an odd bunch. On the one hand, you have a large contingent of gamers that very much wants their hobby to be taken as being as culturally relevant as other forms of entertainment. If movies, comics, music, and television can be the topics of serious academic discussion, then why can't games? Likewise, if movies, comics, music, and television can be respected as being potential works of art, then why aren't games afforded the same chance? This is the group of gamers that want games taken more seriously.
     The problem with that desire for serious discussion, though, is that it can lead to a pretty strong division within gaming culture when the serious discussion starts to get serious. One need to look only as far as the recent God of War: Ascension trophy debacle to see an example of what happens when one side of the gaming coin welcomes serious analysis while the other side does not. This second contingent of gamer out there wants that first group to stop taking the games so seriously because games are just games.

     There are, of course, many gamers that believe both of these things: That games can be taken seriously and that they are just games. This gamer can choose to cherry pick the point of view depending on the topic of discussion. Is Journey art? Yes, games can be art. Is God of War perpetuating misogynistic ideals? No, it's just a game. It's an opportunistic way to view games' ability to impact society. They can do good, but can never do evil when seen from this dual view. Does that mean that these gamers are childish in their desires to have all of the good with none of the bad? I'd say that maybe that's true for some, but certainly not for a majority. I believe that most gamers in this category got to be that way from being conditioned to do so. It likely started as a defense mechanism brought on by many years of having gaming be the scapegoat for all of society's problems. Gaming was, for a long time, only being taken seriously when it was being criticized for societal issues well beyond their reach. There was no balance.
     If games are to be taken seriously, there must be balance. Gamers will need to accept the fact that when serious discussion rears its head, it doesn't automatically need to be quelled. Gamers need to remember that there is a silver lining to critical discussions. The silver lining is that games have become important. Games no longer merely reflect the larger culture. They now, also, inform the larger culture. They are, like art, a product of and a creator of societal views and ideologies. Many gamers didn't understand that Sarkeesian's choice to critique games was a positive thing for the gaming medium. So what if she was going to say things we didn't like? She was going to take games seriously. She was going to afford them the same right to serious critique as other forms of media. She was going to do what actual game critics seem afraid to do because of how it would hurt profits. She is going to actually give us a more in-depth critique than "X" game is bad because graphics. And best of all, she is not, like many political opportunists, unaware of the positive effects that games can have. She is smart enough to realize that if games are a strong enough cultural force to have negative effects, then they are also strong enough to bring about positive ones. She is aware of the silver lining.
     Many people will disagree with her. As is their right. However, it is important to remember that much of what Sarkeesian will say is going to be impossible to refute regardless of how much we may dislike it. Like most critics, Sarkeesian is going to make many objective observations. Those objective observations will be hard to deny because they will likely be true. Like many critics, she will also choose to analyze her observations to draw conclusions. Unlike her observations, her conclusions will most certainly be up for disagreement.
     Regardless of what kind of gamer you may be, everyone should take the time to watch Sarkeesian's video. At the very least, she is going to raise awareness by shedding some light on some of gamings most commonly used tropes. And that is good for gaming.



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