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2013 Spring Issue 2 (April 19, 2013)

Don’t Call It Growing Up

April 23, 2013
By Stuart Urback

Last week I attended the Game Developer’s Conference where I listened to my personal heroes give some of the most inspiring talks I have ever heard.  The conference had to be 80% male, 80% white, and 80% young people.  There’s a tradition at the GDC called the rant.  It’s where individuals in the industry talk about the things that make them the most passionately angry.  In that vein, I am attempting to write my article this week.

What’s funny to me is that gamers are shunned by society for being not good enough.  We’re judged for being too scrawny, too fat, not well-adjusted, and overall just not right for society.    Poetry, acting, dance, song (to name a few) are art forms that have all been methods for individuals who felt as though their voice was not being heard.  And that’s the punch line… apparently the same isn’t true for games.  Apparently it’s okay for games to reinforce cultural tropes that infantilize women and stereotype almost everyone who isn’t white and male.  Apparently, instead of doing everything I can do to change a society that would infantilize me (and other groups of people) I should be making games where I pretend to engage in the same g.d. misogyny and racism that created the conditions for my challenges.  Apparently, instead of doing my best to support people who I can (on some level) understand and commiserate with, I should be doing my best to disenfranchise them in order to make myself feel better.  Apparently, the only thing I’m actually interested in is playing out male power fantasies to make me feel better about the fact that I can never fit into those same male power expectations.

It’s not funny though, it’s sad.  It’s sad that for being the “medium of the 21st century,” at least half of the people who will inhabit said 21st century aren’t even included as a major demographic.  But again, I probably shouldn’t care because there are plenty of new games with whole new levels of blood, violence, and cleavage to ogle at, and that’s what my demographic wants.  But I do care.  It’s depressing when the people who dominate the conversations, classes, and lectures on games are overwhelming male.  It’s depressing when the art form that makes your soul sing is looked at skeptically by a large majority of the population. It’s even more depressing when that art form is primarily used for reinforcing the same values that subjugated “gamer” culture in the first place.  It’s depressing that a medium would choose to support and reinforce the culture that denigrates it, that instead of using its potential to make critical statements about the world, it uses them to pretty much buy into and support the status quo.  

The game industry goes around complaining that no one takes it seriously.  The reality is that if “casual” games are the only game that non- “nerdy whiteboy” stereotyped people can enjoy, then the game industry is worth about as much as, well, about as much as the majority of the human population currently thinks about it, which isn’t that much.  Video games don’t need to grow up, they already did.  Video games grew up from Pac Man and Super Mario to Battfield and Halo.  They grew up into stories focused on violence, domination, and ownership.  I’m not saying that such beautiful, imaginative games don’t exist--they do.  But they exist in the same way that Pepsi Classic does, by the time you realize it’s around, there’s more of the same old drivel replacing it. It’s not like it’s okay for teenage boys to go around objectifying women, being violent, and using racial and homophobic slurs and then one day they just grow out of it, so why is that the excuse that video games can get away with?  The punch line is that the joke isn’t funny.  The rest of the world doesn’t need games as much as games need the world to survive and thrive.  

Growing up implies that what we’re doing is in some way natural or “right.”  It’s not right. It’s wrong.  Games need to change to be more inclusive and supportive on all fronts.  Period.  End of Discussion.  Don’t call it growing up, call it fixing a terrible situation.

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