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Gaming Without Prejudice

Some thoughts about maturity in games and how we can become a mature industry. There's even some stuff about the 1979 Alien toy in there!

If there’s one pervasive topic that I’ve been opinionated about, it’s about maturity – in games and as an industry.  Some think that games have to tackle mature subject matter.  Some think that we need a critical vocabulary.  Some think that it’s a futile endeavor.  I’d like to provide another option: objective gaming.  If we can all look upon all games from a purely objective perspective, without labels (i.e. casual/hardcore/female), then we’ll see true maturity in the industry.

Is A Toy Only For Children?

One of my favorite hobbies is toy collecting.  My prize possession is an Alien figure from 1979.  In a way, that figure represents my view of the game industry and how it’s perceived in the world.

A brief history lesson.  In 1979, Kenner was riding high on its Star Wars license, and perceived sci-fi as the next big thing.  Without much thought, they picked up Alien, knowing that: a) it was sci-fi, and b) it was going to be hugely popular.  They made the figure 18”, so it could stand at a similar scale to a GI Joe, and they sculpted it downright accurate to the movie – it was a beauty to behold. 

When it was released to stores, the public was outraged.  How could something so completely horrifying, based on an R-rated movie, be sold to CHILDREN?  Shortly after its release, due to pressure from the public, it was binned or recalled, and disappeared from the Earth.

Videogames have been suffering from the same prejudice.  I can distinctly remember the day when games became a child’s toy; the release of Mortal Kombat at the arcade.  Prior to Mortal Kombat, videogames were living in a day of lawlessness.  No one knew Leisure Suit Larry, or what a Wofenstein was.  It was a gamer paradise…until someone got whiff of Mortal Kombat. 

Parents and politicians instantly banded together and questioned the game industry why they were promoting decapitations and spine ripping (my favorite) to our CHILDREN.  Fortunately, the industry responded by establishing a self-policing group, instead of banning such games.

Here lies the problem.  People unfamiliar with videogames perceive it as something you grow out of, like footy pajamas.  Like in the movie Toy Story 2, abandoning your toys is a part of growing up. 

Why devote time to moving graphics on a screen when you should be worrying about the economy?  When you have a prejudice towards games such as that, you fail to see and experience a game for what it is.  Games should be treated the same as any hobby like reading and exercising; there is no childish aspect to it.

We’re Out To Get Us

This is not an “us versus them” situation either; gamers are guilty of the same thing.  The obvious example would be the “hardcore.”  These are a passionate group who feel their territory is threatened by the growing number of “casuals” in the area. 

With every Nintendo announcement made, the hardcore are chanting, “This is not the Nintendo I grew up with!”  If you can see the parallels between this and certain historical events, then you can see how this attitude can poison the community.  The fact that Nintendo remained in the hardware business and kept themselves from becoming a software developer – as it was rumored during the Gamecube days – should be enough to silence “the core.” 

In a more subtle approach, game scholars have been dividing games by establishing a nomenclature based on artistic criticism, as if the game industry would be regarded as a mature medium if we all spoke like artists. 

While this may be a reasonable approach towards achieving mainstream acceptance, the art world is not necessarily the model of maturity, and aesthetic criticism is highly subjective.  To me, all this does is establish a hierarchy where it is not needed.

A Gamer-Blind Society

In the early days of PC games, it was pretty difficult to tell if a game was good, bad, or offensive.  Everything you knew about the game was presented in front of you, whether in a box or in a plastic bag.  What was a gamer to do but choose the game that seemed the most interesting?

Imagine where we would be as an industry if games were not marketed by appealing to demographics.  What would happen if people picked up a game as they would a book; judging it only by its genre and a synopsis?  Would we have the same debates about legitimacy and maturity as we do now?

Maturity has nothing to do with age.  It has everything to do with experience.  If we can abandon the prejudices we have towards games and experience them solely based on how they are themed and structured, you will see games and gamers mature over time.

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