A few nights ago, I got caught into a late-night Twitter debate in response to a comment that was levied at Leigh Alexander, a writer for Kotaku, Gamasutra, and other outlets. The comment was a criticism of her writing that focused on a feeling that she “complains without posting solutions.” As a writer myself (duh), I decided this was a good place to jump into the discussion and offer my thoughts. We went back and forth until it was way too late in the evening, but the conversation got me to thinking.
What’s my goal as a writer? Why am I doing this?
The request to “offer solutions” is not uncommon. Many writers who point out faults in our way of living are also tasked by their readers with offering solutions to the things they label as problems. I believe that to do this is to miss the point. I’m not here to tell you how you can get game designers to have more thematic variance in their games. Honestly, I’m not sure you can affect that change by yourself. No offense, reader, but your voice is not loud enough on its own to make much of a difference. You can speak with your dollars, yes, but witholding your $60 dollars from Activision won’t make the next Call of Duty less jingoistic. It won’t magically add good female characters to AAA games. It won’t stop the cycle of misogyny and violence that permeate today’s AAA space. It just won’t. Furthermore, focusing on a single issue (such as the Hitman: Absolution trailer) doesn’t work. What happens when that issue is gone?
In September of last year, a man by the name of Troy Davis was scheduled to be executed in the state of Georgia, based on what some people thought was a shaky conviction. This became the lightning rod for many social activists to rail against Capital Punishment, and there was an upswell in support for Mr. Davis’ plight, and a plea for clemency and a stay of execution. On September 21st, 2011, Troy Davis was executed. The support vanished almost as soon as he was pronounced dead. People moved on.
I don’t want to get people up in arms over a single issue and watch as they move from thing to thing, fighting over scraps of the carcasses of social issues before moving onto the next “big deal.” That’s counterproductive, and does nothing but foster hate and anger. That’s not what I want my writing to be about, and I don’t feel it’s how we in the games press should treat you, the readers. You are not pawns to be manipulated into fulfilling the id of a person behind a keyboard. You are intelligent beings who deserve the respect to make your own decisions.
So we complain. We point things out. The goal is not to get any one thing to change, but it’s to get you all to realize that not everything is perfect in gaming or the world. Not everything has to be accepted as “just the way it is.” If you have your own feelings on the way things should be done (even if those feelings are different from mine), then I want you to feel empowered to try and have the change that you want to see in the world. In life. In games.
Sure, games aren’t the most important social issue that we have going on right now. Some people would call this an extremely trivial column, but I disagree (of course, since I wrote it). Speaking up for yourself when it comes to something “insignificant” is a chance to learn how to do that in a “safe” environment. Trying to change something in gaming won’t get you killed, won’t get you sent to jail, won’t get you shunned from society. You will, however, get the practice that you need in order to build up the self-reliance necessary to go out and affect some change in “the real world.” If games can be simulations for things like war and sports, why can’t they also simulate the political process? Or the process of standing up for oneself?
My goal as a writer is this: I want one day for someone to read my writing, and decide that there is something in gaming that they want to change. Maybe they don’t do it themselves. Maybe they don’t have the talent. However, they pass those feelings along to their child, and their child becomes the next Peter Schaefer, or the next Ken Levine, or the next David Cage, and they use their ability and their empowerment to make substantive change in the gaming environment.
There is progress being made. There are articles on major gaming sites that point out the hypocrisy in the messaging and selling of videogames, as well as the thematic and gameplay focus. So yes, I’m going to complain, because that is what I can do to affect some change on the world.
What are you going to do?