We Don't Need To Defend Video Games Any More

In the final dying moments of 2015, the human race seems like it might once again be on a collision course with mutually assured destruction. Glance at the news any day of the week and I fail to see how anybody could be proud to show the exploits of this planet to any passing extraterrestrial beings. Any intelligent race of aliens has no doubt warned off their neighbours from visiting this planet filled with psychopaths, demagogues and people who keep giving Adam Sandler money.

However, there’s something missing from the news reports. It used to be there. A consistent reminder of pure, hilarious ignorance.

I want you to cast your mind back to the last time you saw the mainstream media attack video games. You know the type. Headlines like “Violent Video Game Turns Kids Into Killers”. A panel of “experts” calling for politicians to ban these horrible games for fear of our children being instantly transformed into black-hearted murder-bots. Interviews with concerned parents who are shocked that these things don’t look like “The Mario Game” anymore. Fringe religious politicians who act like video games are worse than 9/11 and polio combined.

I’m not just talking about some regional newspaper reporting on local man Cousin Jim Bob who wants to sue “them Apple fellas” because he was blissfully unaware that his beloved toddler could spend $2,000 in Game Of War. What I mean is the primal, so-good-you-could-taste-it, widespread outrage of Fox News renaming Microsoft’s console to SEXBOX because there’s a six second PG-rated love scene in the first Mass Effect. The rib-tickling joy of disgraced attorney Jack Thompson claiming every violent young person was under the voodoo-like spell of Grand Theft Auto. The kind of red-faced directionless rage spouted by older, confused people that you could eat straight from the trough and ask for seconds. There was nothing else quite like it.

None of this happened in 2015. Not even close. Or in 2014, for that matter. Not a trace of outrage. In fact, the last blip on the ‘Games Are Evil’ radar was the low rumblings of disapproval made by one or two media outlets about the ‘No Russian’ level in Modern Warfare 2. That was 2009. Almost seven years. Seven years is a long time ago. Seven years ago was James Cameron’s Avatar and Susan Boyle. Donald Trump was just a rich celebrity on a reality show.

This was a period of time that if a new video game was preparing to release even the slightest whiff of mature content it also brought with it the expectation of media outrage. If you enjoyed video games, this was the world they lived in. The phrase “video game controversy” was met with tiresome groans. “Oh, not this again”, said the gaming enthusiast, reaching for their copy of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. “Let’s see what nonsense they come up with this time”.

That time is gone. Video games, as a concept, aren’t the demon they once were. Maybe everybody got exhausted. Priorities shifted. This era of ignorant bleating by politicians, religious television personalities and concerned mothers simply died out. Barely anybody noticed its passing and certainly nobody mourned it. But as we look back over the debris of 2015, perhaps we should have. For it was a far more pleasant and amusing time in video games.

Games can reach superb heights by allowing us to be the heroes or monsters we don’t allow ourselves to be. We can plumb new emotional depths of love, sacrifice and courage or unleash the demon within us all to wade knee-deep into carnage with a big grin on our face. When games successfully achieve these goals, they typically end up on a lot of Game Of The Year lists. They burn themselves into our minds and hearts and we celebrate them with friends. Years later, we remember them with quiet disbelief at just how good they were. But there’s a truth hidden amongst this video game glory that some people never want to admit. 2015 saw the release of over six hundred games across all platforms. That’s not even counting $1 Steam games, App Store sludge and every Five Nights At Freddy’s sequel known to man. Add those onto the pile and you’d probably be in the thousands. Taking this into account, think for a moment how many you played this year? Ten? Maybe twenty or thirty at the absolute most? And how many of those would you consider to be the best of the bunch?

If you take that handful of games and compare them to every game in 2015, there’s a startling but obvious conclusion: a lot of video games aren’t good enough. In fact, the majority of them are forgettable, poorly designed or cheap money-hungry cash-ins. The odds are simply against them. Take away the epic role-playing masterpieces and the fantastic multiplayer experiences and what remains, if we’re being honest here, is just crap. For all the fist-pumping celebrations and pats-on-the-back we give ourselves about our favourite genres, the stench-ridden tsunami of bad games is bigger than ever.

Swallow that bitter pill for a moment. I know it doesn’t taste very nice but we need to take it. Most video games are a waste of time and money. You might be able to ignore them every year but they are there. They don’t function properly or are a clone of something else or highly embarrassing to show to family and friends.

That’s why the good ones leave such an impact. After sifting through the mountains of trash, these nuggets of well-designed gold stand out. And they help us see what can be done to reduce the overwhelming piles of garbage. There is always room for improvement. All we have to do is admit it.

That doesn’t mean video games are doomed, of course. There’s an endless supply of terrible movies out there and they will be around for quite some time to come. However, there’s a difference: there are no barbarians at those gates. In 2015, a selection of gamers are still standing between this industry and any criticism or change. Like online vikings, they will defend the most insignificant corner of video games with the most violent of retribution. Without the slightest hesitation, they will line up to defend digital boobs or implied rape scenes. They will let fly the dogs of war if a video game tells an emotional, personal story that hasn’t been told a thousand times before. They will link someone to a real-world terrorist act if they think that someone doesn’t like what they like. And then laugh when the world’s media treat it as fact.

Standing proud in front of piles of garbage. Defending the outflow of toilets as if they are generals on the battlefield of some twisted war. The sense of unreality held by these soldiers in 2015 was fascinatingly powerful. Napoleon Bonaparte never had an angry Youtube channel and a collection of busty anime statues.

Fox News and its “experts” seem hilariously ineffectual in retrospect. Oh, how uncontrollably mad we were when they got their facts wrong or were pushing an obvious agenda to demonise blah blah blah who the hell cares. Fox News never sent SWAT teams to someone’s house or published an individual’s private address for the sole purpose of targeted harassment. They never thought it valid to risk people’s lives over something as ridiculous as a video game. All they ever did was look silly and tell their viewers what they wanted to hear. And now, at least in terms of blaming games for the world’s problems, they’re gone. I wish we had them back. They were fun.

Now the enemy is everywhere. They’re inside the goddamn walls. And for what? What’s the endgame? Decades from now, will you sit your children down and wow them with tales about how you remained steadfast against the hordes so you could hold on to the 2-3 seconds of R.Mika slapping her bare ass in Street Fighter V? Will you shudder at the memory of fighting in the trenches of the Great Dead Or Alive Xtreme 3 Wars? Or will you actually never mention these things to your teenage children for fear of them calling the authorities?

This tiny planet we live on has been hanging around in our solar system for about 4.5 billion years. The modern version of Homo sapiens have only been around for about 200,000 years. But oh boy, we’ve sure left a mark on Earth haven’t we? Despite whatever the future may bring and whatever horrors we inflict on each other, this planet will live on. Human beings might believe that one day somebody will “push the button” and destroy this wondrous world but the odds are low. The more likely scenario is that we will somehow wipe ourselves out, Earth will remain and keep ticking along like it always has. Human beings will be barely a memory to the blue planet.

The same can be said for video games. Despite irrational fears of change or critique, they’re not going anywhere. They’re far too popular now. Too many genres, too many platforms. They’re going to be just fine no matter how much we argue or complain or act like ugly, reprehensible bigots. Just like movies, TV shows, music or books. We no longer need to blindly defend video games as if they were one single entity. You might argue about how to interpret the emotional impact of an adventure game or discuss cool reload animations but video games as a whole don’t need anybody to hold their hand or fight for them anymore. This isn’t the late-eighties. They can take the criticism.

History will determine how many bad video games are remembered. History will decide how many developers pushed boundaries. How many barriers were broken. How many people pushed back against complacency, racism, sexism and intolerance and how much we wanted it to happen. And history will definitely put people who complain about “political correctness gone mad” in the same place as white folks who didn’t want their slaves taken away.

We don't need to defend video games anymore. We need to start being human beings instead.

You can follow Raygun Brown on Twitter here.


Comments

    I don't get it. You wrote a long article to address a vocal minority group of gamers that most of your readers wouldn't be a part of.

    A little over the top but a good read nonetheless! Regarding SF5 R.Mika Assgate, back in the day I loved Super Street Fighter. Now I'm married with little kids and I'm just starting to introduce my eldest boy (5 years old) to video games. I'm really enjoying playing Disney infinity with him. I would just be embarrassed if my wife or kids saw me looking at SF derriere. So much so that I may give SF5 a miss. They need to tone down the bare flesh even more for me to get it! My wife has a low opinion of video games as it is.

    I may be flamed for this view but so be it. I don't need to look at nakedness to enjoy a game.

      I remember me and my friends all having a great giggle as kids over how you could see Cammy's butt in SFII.

      Don't see what the big deal is, butts are funny :P

    Entire article is based on nonsense...
    None of this happened in 2015. Not even close. Or in 2014, for that matter. Not a trace of outrage. In fact, the last blip on the ‘Games Are Evil’ radar was the low rumblings of disapproval made by one or two media outlets about the ‘No Russian’ level in Modern Warfare 2. That was 2009.
    Do you watch the news? Even in Australia where we never got it as bad as the US for the stuff we've had outraged news reports on Hatred and GTA V's First-person mode (removed from Kmart/Target remember?)

    I don't know of anyone that ever felt a need to 'defend' video games against uninformed news outlets and their rubbish stories, but it would be just as uninformed to say these rubbish stories have stopped.

    Last edited 18/12/15 11:32 am

      I would say it's more that the counter coverage stopped. Kotaku found something better in Gamergate-like groups and had no need to drag every ridiculous Fox News story out into a month long event.

        I prefer fox news style outrage to gamergate nonsense. Atleast you can laugh at the old fuddy duddies.

    It is strange how big the internet makes everything appear. I think sometimes it is hard to keep in mind the actual scale of things. Take this site for example. I am not sure exactly how many views each article gets, but we can see how many comments are made. The most comments normally appear on things like 'Talk Amongst Yourselves' follows by controversial articles. At most though these only get a few hundred or maybe a thousand comments (not from a few hundred people due to duplicates, but for ease of argument lets say that each comment is a single person). So for the most talked about topics on this site only a few hundred people care enough to comment one way or the other. This is probably only a small percentage of people who are reading the article, but I don't have the data to conclude one way or the other. The total people reading the article is going to be a small percentage of the total population. (This is Kotaku AU so lets go with 23 million people) So assuming that only AU reads Kotaku AU (obviously not true), we have a few hundred people of millions who are passionate enough to make any comment at all.

    Yet despite the fact that it is such tiny percentages of the total population of humans it still feels personal. For some reason humans seek out places where we feel like we belong, and perhaps we return to those places where we find others who we can relate with. Perhaps when we see these places 'filled' with conflict it touches something inside us and makes us fear that we are going to lose this safe haven. Maybe it is that fear that makes people who are cloaked by the anonymity of the internet react in ways that are inappropriate.

    Maybe I am wrong, maybe the internet is a true reflection of humanity as a whole. Maybe the hundreds of comments made on this site truly reflect the entirety of 7 billion people, the experiences they have had and the feeling they harbor. Perhaps we are already being human and maybe it is time to press that button....

    or maybe it isn't.

      Nice post. You should get a job at kotaku, raise the standards a bit.

    I'd hate to describe an article that long that clearly had work put into it as ignorant, disappointing and full of hyperbole but it really, really is. It actually seems delusional and wholly uninformed by holistic perspective. Saddest thing is was the last line. Shows a worrying degree of dismissal in challenging perspectives. Articles like this that reach such powerful levels of certainty with almost NOTHING but generalisations genuinely worries me. Am I the only one who thinks the ends don't justify the means? I mean it's nice that you're so certain your perspective is good an ethical but at one point that certainty was informed by information we sought out and challenged ourselves with, now people write like it's just an arbitrary given. Generalising an entire perspective en masse simply makes me distrustful of the writer.

    It's hard to say really since it's the games journalism outlets that tend to decide how outraged we should be over something. There was the "Terrorists use PS4s to communicate" event, and the "Undertale has a character of pure un-christian evil so games are bad" event as well as the whole "Hatred" thing. The lead up to Hatred being released was really the only thing games journalism sites tried to blow into a full scale controversy though despite most people just shrugging their shoulders and accepting that stupid games will be released.

    It's also not a "new" thing that video games are following Sturgeon's Revelation that things are 90% crap. The release of the iPhone App store was really when it started coming into full play and the introduction of more accessible market places has only further reinforced the flow of sub-par games. If anything gamers are still at war, our enemy has just changed from uninformed news outlets to publishers capitalising on their greed and turning games into money-making engines.

      Hatred really showed how much of a joke the games journalism industry really is.

      If a site was actively supporting the removal of Hatred (from Steam, from life, any kind of removal) or complaining on how it would "set gaming back", then you know you couldn't take that site seriously.

    the last blip on the ‘Games Are Evil’ radar was the low rumblings of disapproval made by one or two media outlets about the ‘No Russian’ level in Modern Warfare 2. That was 2009.

    No one remembers the Games Make You Murder People media frenzy of 2011 when that guy who I won't give the glory of naming murdered a bunch of schoolkids in Norway?

    The reason that media interest in linking real-world violence to video games in the US is twofold. First, the US supreme court ruled that games are Art, meaning they are a protected form of expression there and that legitimized them considerably. The other is that mass shootings are a daily occurrence, so commonplace that to even make a splash in the news it seems like you need to have taken out at least a dozen people. And besides, why link it to games when you can blame Syrians? :\

    Last edited 18/12/15 12:47 pm

      That's an interesting point. Mass shootings are no longer linked as strongly to fringe cultures that the mainstream doesn't understand. You look back at Columbine and it was all about teenagers. Kids were crazy and listened to loud music and that's what it was all coming from. Now it happens so often with a diverse enough group of nuts that you can't just throw whatever kids are into up as a scapegoat. These people don't have flimsy links you can grab at. You can't go 'well, it's obvious this is because they were Manson fans' because two days later someone who has no idea who Manson is will shoot up another bunch of kids.

      and even then, that scumbag said in his manifesto that he was gaming as cover because he knew the media would fall for it

    This article turned into something I wasn't expecting, but hey.

    Re: us not needing to defend games from "regular people like Fox News etc - it's different now than it was then in part because of 2 things - the Wii/DS, and mobile. The Wii and DS put actual gaming machines out there for anyone to enjoy instead of just the hardcore, and mobile gave the Everyman the OK to play games anywhere.

    I know the article isn't really about that, but just wanted to say that :)

    Pleasant read.

    It would be some kind of nice if everyone could stop being such reactionary, adversarial bastards and just chill.

    legit question: why DO we keep giving Adam Sandler money?

      I watched ten minutes of the Ridiculous 6 on Netflix (which was ten minutes too long) before quitting out and giving it 1 star.

      But in the pit of night when I lie awake and reflect on my many wrong acts, I have a fear... a fear that my moment of curiosity will have been counted as a 'win' for that garbage. That I have contributed somehow to allowing that monster to continuing to punish audiences worldwide.

    This article seemed really silly... At first it was about how in North America there was no longer outcries from mainstream media about games being bad etc.
    And then turned into talk about minorities and sexism?...
    wtf?

    It seemed as if the author was trying to say that fighting for nudity and sexiness in games was a bad thing? I don't see what is wrong with wanting to have these things in video games.
    If you don't want those things, you don't buy the game.
    The fact that people get angry that games like dead or alive extreme exists is laughable.
    Not every game that gets released is going to appeal to you.
    Dead or Alive Extreme may not appeal to you because you don't like a game with lots of boobs and silly sexiness. that's totally fine, don't buy the game.
    But don't campaign against it claiming it's sexism or whatever you want to call it.
    (i'm not saying people are actually doing this for dead or alive specifically, but i've seen it for other games).
    Games is a medium for everyone. But that certainly doesn't mean every game has to appeal to you or should not have things you don't like.
    If sexy ladies makes you angry that's cool, can I interest you in a reverse harem game filled with sexy dudes? they exist. And i'm sure they are totally great if that's what you are into.
    Just please don't attack things that don't appeal to you. Just ignore them, and move on to a game that you do like.

      One point I forgot to mention is that people feel the need to get angry about things being taken away from them such as boobs or whatever it is, because these are things that some people enjoy and are things that have been in games in the past and they would like them to continue to be in games in the future.
      Wouldn't you be angry if someone came along and told you that we are no longer allowed to put these things in games so that we can appeal to people who don't like it?
      I know I would.

      Alex Ahad, the artist for skullgirls, has an interesting view on sexy characters in video games. A view I totally agree with. There's a difference between "something being sexy and being sexist". He puts it like this:
      I think the role of a character plays more of a defining element than what they look like. People complain about hour-glass figured female characters, but rarely do they complain about muscular/perfectly fit male characters. Both of these are completely fine and acceptable in my opinion.
      The real issue comes from what their role and actions are. If a character is a side-line character and their sole purpose is to be a sex object, then it is sexist. If the character is a competent contributor to the story, then it is not sexist, even if they look sexy. Looking at a screenshot by itself, or judging by the artwork alone is extremely short-sighted.

      Last edited 18/12/15 9:51 pm

    I really hope this dickhead isn't being paid for these trash articles.

    I really don't know what the hell I just read...

    Terrible article. And coming from someone who is part of the Twitter online outrage brigade, comically ironic.

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