Like many of you, I read the piece in Fairfax media titled ‘The Games We Play’ about men and their gaming habits. I’m not going to link to it here, but you can easily find it with a quick google or twitter search. As Dan Golding over at Crikey has already pointed out, it feels like a continuation of an easy media narrative about games and those who play them. I also think that the responses from the gaming community are part of their own evolving media narrative which contains its own collection of faultlines – especially the industry-centric focus and language, but I’ve written about the use of that particular word many times and won’t revisit it here.
But, despite all that, I think that buried somewhere in the piece, the article does actually have a point. All media has an influence on us, and there are metaphors and ways of thinking about the world embedded in the systemic and thematic structures of games, and we should be conscious of them as adults when playing games, just as we should be conscious of the messages from the endless whirlpool of media that makes up modern life. We discuss and teach media literacy as ways of decoupling, understanding, and immunising ourselves from the subtle and not so subtle messages bombarding us, but we rarely talk about games literacy in the same way. I think we should, and I think, somewhere, deep in the piece, that’s what it’s trying to get at. It is buried though, and what it is buried beneath is what I find problematic.
Firstly, the piece takes the stance – and this is unsurprisingly another fundamental media narrative – that there is some sort of ‘platonic’ or ideal relationship. If you do X, then Y, then Z, then you will be better off. If you play less games, get out and ‘actively socialise’, then your life will be better. It misses the nuance of real-life relationships which are the province of a million different interactions between people and reduces it to a managerial equation which results in happiness. The well cited in response to this article Bond University study – which the author seems to discount in the comments because it was supported by the iGEA – reports that 68% of Australians play videogames. 14 million people. All navigating their own unique relationships. For every Johnny Laidler, there are countless people who navigate the various interests in their lives and find fulfilling relationships which are unique in their own way.
Secondly, the quick conflation of videogames with religion. Many artforms and cultural pursuits don’t offer the same experience as religion. If they did, we probably wouldn’t need the latter because we’d be having those needs met elsewhere. It’s clear they aren’t the same, so someone using the metaphor or language of religion hardly raises the entire medium – nor the vast diversity of people who engage in that medium – to the point where it can be compared to an entirely different realm of human experience.
Thirdly, the language used. Since last year’s Freeplay I’ve been deeply aware of navigating my own sense of privilege and the impact that my own use of language may have on thorny issues of gender and how that frames certain conversations and works to reduce all of us as individuals. I’m still navigating that, and I’m not perfect, and I also firmly acknowledge that videogames have a troublesome relationship with their portrayal of women and developers have a long way to go to be as inclusive as I would like them to be, but within the framework of this particular article, the use of blokes, of dudes, of chaps, of guys, and in the final line boys, subtly – or not so subtly – reinforces the sense of the essential adolescence of the pursuit. This coupled with phrases like “Blokes who fantasise about bodacious digital babes” or “super-powered action-awesome zing” add to a slightly odd tone that continues the masking of what might actually be an interesting point.
Like the article’s author, I’ve been thinking a lot about videogames, about their messages, about their values, and about how they might impact us as adults. I think they’re essential conversations to have, but I believe that they are conversations that require compassion, nuance, and engagement with the reality of the medium and the culture. Any less than that, as Dan points out, simply isn’t a conversation worth having.