Welcome to Let Off Some Steam, the section where you guys get to discuss a topic of your choice. You can rant, you can gush - anything goes! Today's post may be one of my favourites. David Rayfield, AKA 'RayGun Brown' discusses mainstream attitudes to video games, and how he himself is part of the problem.
My Hypocrisy And Cowardice Are Hurting Video Games In my Mass Effect universe, Thane is dead. I watched him be carried off by a Collector swarm and was completely helpless to do anything about it. After I literally yelled his name as he was being killed, I had to stop and put down the controller before continuing with the final assault. I couldn’t believe he was gone. Leading up to the game and even after I purchased it, I knew the drell assassin would be in my space-faring party from the start. I would return to his room on the Normandy more regularly than anyone else and hang on his every word. He was just so…enthralling. After the game was over, his death was the most memorable part of Mass Effect 2. I was shocked how much it affected me.
Defeating Seth with my Fei Long was very nearly an exercise in futility. Even on Normal difficulty, the final boss in Street Fighter IV seemed insurmountable. A constant flurry of Super combos and EX special moves drove me back to the ‘Continue?’ screen more times than I care to remember. I practiced and practiced, determined to insert Fei Long’s fist-and-feet repertoire into my muscle memory. Following many more attempts, Seth made one or two misjudgements as to my newly acquired skill level and I finally bested him. Razor-sharp elation washed over me and I leapt from my seat, rose two fingers at the screen and burst forth with the kind of celebratory obscenities that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush.
Pointing a handgun in a man’s face never felt more real and important than when I did it via the hands of Ethan Mars. Even though the man at the end of the gun was a drug dealer and his appearance was once threatening, he was now cowering on his knees begging for his life. This wasn’t a faceless enemy that I was metaphorically strangling with the American flag in some military shooter, this was a man in his underwear talking about his kids. Scumbag though he may be, I couldn’t bring myself to shoot him. No matter the consequences, I left his apartment feeling a mixture of regret and relief. A lot of the moments in Heavy Rain made me feel overwhelmingly uneasy.
Just three examples of vastly different emotions brought about by today’s generation of video games highlight what many of us already know. Games create the kind of personal experiences that other types of entertainment could only hope to deliver in their wildest dreams.
But who am I going to talk to about it? Who am I going to share these incredible moments with? Not the majority of the general public, that’s for sure.
These deeply affecting gameplay sequences fade into obscurity when you’re talking to people who don’t play, or care for, video games. You can recommend that latest blockbuster movie to practically anyone and they’ll instantly take notice. That amazing book you’re reading? Everyone loves books. And wow, if that wasn’t the most hilarious episode of that sitcom ever then my name isn’t blah, blah, blah.
So, how about that video game you’re currently playing? You can’t just wax lyrical to the same people about such a topic can you? Neither can I. Whether it be relatives, friends or any other number of people who drift in and out of my life, I actively avoid talking about video games and how amazing they can be to more folk than not. They won’t understand what I’m talking about, or worse, they will question why a grown man is playing video games in the first place and my original point regarding their quality will be lost.
And it is not just people I know. On a regular basis, I overhear total strangers spouting off volumes of ignorance about video games. That they’re silly. A waste of time. Responsible for violence. One such example happened recently. I was calmly waiting in a doctor’s office leafing through a tabloid, learning how Olivia Newton-John’s daughter is drinking herself to death when my attention was suddenly diverted. Two middle-aged women, just having witnessed a news report on the waiting-room TV about schoolboys attacking each other with knives, struck up a conversation. I took notes afterwards and the following is close to verbatim:
Woman 1: “I reckon it’s video games that have the biggest effect.” Woman 2: “Oh yeah” Woman 1: “You know, a parent has to always be at home so they can’t play stuff like that.” Woman 2: “Yeah.” Woman 1: “It’s that Grand Theft Auto too. You can stab people and steal cars in that.” Woman 2: “Kids shouldn’t be playing that.”
In what resembled an almost unbelievably stereotypical exchange, these two women were safe in the knowledge they had solved the problem of the knife-wielding schoolchildren in mere seconds. It was video games. Regardless of the fact that the news report didn’t even mention the names of the boys who were fighting, let alone what they did in their spare time. Did they even play video games? These two women certainly thought so. Case closed.
Every single thing these two women were saying about games was misinformed. As I sat there listening, I grew more and more frustrated with their opinions. Opinions that were utterly baseless. But what did I do about it? Nothing. I said nothing. Later that day, I became aware of the excuses I made for such inaction. I didn’t want to cause a scene. It was uncomfortable. They wouldn’t listen anyway and instead question why a grown man would play video games.
These excuses weren’t the first. In countless other situations, I had reacted in the same way. A workmate claimed ‘stupid’ video games were ‘stealing her husband’. A relative heard some vague report about ‘the Call of Duty’ being a terrorist training simulator. A friend who enjoys the Nintendo Wii is unconvinced by the benefits of other consoles due to ‘not wanting to get into all that’. I didn’t say a word. I tell myself it’s not worth it. Not worth the effort to try to convince them otherwise. To try and tell them that video games in the 21st century are light years ahead of any other form of technology when it comes to innovation, evolution and overall amazement seems like a fool’s errand.
So I don’t bother. As a result, I’m harming video games as a whole. Sure, I can spout off on the internet for days about how that mainstream news report about the latest ‘controversial’ release is laughably inaccurate but I don’t actually verbalise it. I never verbalise it. Everyone else is watching that news report and taking that as the truth. And my failure to try my hardest to push against these falsehoods from my own mouth is the real problem. Video games will continue to suffer under tons of ignorance and misplaced hatred because of me and everyone else like me. I’m a hypocrite and a coward.
I believe in video games more than any other thing in the world. I would like to think I would fight tooth and nail against anyone who arguing against them backed only by lies and misinformation. But in reality, this simply just isn’t true. I can’t risk offending a relative or a friend, or indeed a stranger, just for the sake of an entertainment medium that has been consistently misrepresented since the nineteen-eighties. Can I?
Perhaps if I had the guts and willpower to do that, video games would begin to be accepted in modern society just like movies, books and television. Maybe if I had that kind of confidence, Thane would still be alive.