Over the last 6 months, there has been a lot of talk on the internet about “fake” girls present in geek-interest communities. The resulting conversations through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and all other outlets of communication on the internet has been interesting, to say the least. But recently, I’ve also started noticing yet another rift in the gaming community, one that can only really be described as “these kinds of gamers” and “those kinds of gamers.”
This came to my attention when an acquaintance wrote on his Twitter that he’d rather play Pokemon than be stuck playing “jock games”, and cited games like Left 4 Dead and Grand Theft Auto as examples of such. No doubt the tweet was initially in response to whoever wanted to make fun of him for playing a “children’s” game, but anyone who bothered playing either of the games he referred to negatively would know that there’s more to them than just mindless shooting. They weren’t one of those games…
A couple months before, I asked, almost guiltily, for Gears of War 3 for Christmas. I had played a bit of 2 a few years ago and it seemed fun, if not a little mindless, but was definitely not my normal cup of tea. I love RPGs and Action-Adventure games. Not typical shooters. My husband raised a suspicious eyebrow, but sure enough, it was there beneath the tree when the day came, and I popped it into my Xbox after a bit of teasing from him.
I’ve only played a small handful of hours on it, but now that I have, I’m a bit embarrassed from my previous bias. On the surface, Gears of War is deceptively presented as a generic Grizzled Space Marines VS Horrible Aliens shoot-em-up. But after I paid a little attention, I found that each of these ridiculously macho characters had a heart buried under miles of armor, muscle, and body hair. Even more surprisingly, Gears of War featured two prominent female characters (one of them being non-white) that weren’t sexualized or reduced to their gender in any way, which is more than can be said for a lot of games, even ones that I like. (As an aside, here’s a good article about Epic’s inclusion of Anya and Sam.)
I realized that I was being just as unfair to a game as my acquaintance, simply because I was fooled by the packaging and design, and I think this is something that all of us in the gaming community has been guilty of at one time or another. Really, this bias is only caused by a very small handful of games, but because these games frequently get negative attention from the press or are frequently revealed to have asinine player bases, we are eager to separate ourselves from anything that even resembles those few games just to show that we’re somehow better than anyone who plays them.
And maybe some of it isn’t our fault. Maybe some of these titles that come across as frat boy games feel pressured into marketing to that demographic because game execs are out of touch with their market and think that that’s the only profitable audience. Even Bioshock Infinite has fallen victim to this treatment with its cover art, and most likely any future commercials present on television. If Bioshock Infinite were the first in the series, and all we were exposed to were clips from a (brightly lit) first person shooter and the painfully generic cover art, would we be as hyped for it? Or would it be more likely that we’d write it off?
It’s easy to look at a game like Grand Theft Auto and write it off as being needlessly violent – after all, people like the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre did it without hesitation.
But despite what many may think, Grand Theft Auto doesn’t encourage violence, it merely allows it to happen. Take GTA IV for example: While it is a story of revenge, the player actually gets to decide whether or not they want to kill the person they spend most of the game tracking down. The story progresses whether or not you decide to pull the trigger. Yes, it is possible to go on a city burning rampage and pick up prostitutes along the way. It’s also possible for us to do these things in real life, but similar to the game, they usually end in one of two ways – getting arrested, or getting shot down.
By going out of our way to talk shit about a game that we’ve never played but appears as though it might be like that one other game we’ve never played and wouldn’t have liked anyway, can we really say that we’re any different from people like the ones who blame videogames for violence? Many people attacked Mass Effect as the cause for the Sandy Hook shooting late last year because of misinformation on the shooter; by avoiding games or being hostile towards the people who play them, we also effectively segregating and demonizing a portion of our own community that really isn’t as prominent as a lot of us want to think it is.
So do me a favor. Tonight, tomorrow, whenever you get the time, go to a GameStop or get on Steam and buy a game that you thought you would never be interested in playing. You don’t have to pay full price. Boot it up and play it for 3-4 hours, and then feel free to talk as much shit as you like about it if you didn’t like it. And if you did, congratulations. You now have fewer things to bitch about.