3 April, 2007
The issue of games achieving legitimacy is something I’ve talked about a few times before. I think that this is one of the most important topics facing our industry today.
As I’ve said before, part of achieving legitimacy is to avoid the label of being a “kiddie” medium. And that’s most definitely easier said than done.
To review why this step is important, remember the words of Scott McCloud I’ve posted before, “As long as the broader community assumes that comics, by their nature, are without social value and, by their nature, are suitable only for kids — then charges of obscenity will always hit their mark.” This applies to games, as well.
At this point, I’m mostly going to be speaking about U.S. attitudes and behavior as it relates to this topic. There are differences in other places in the world, but I’m most familiar with the U.S. and the attitudes there. And, most of the troubling attitudes come from the U.S., despite our once proud defense of freedom of speech.
But, look at how comic books and cartoons are viewed in the U.S. They are considered kiddie things, something that young kids (or immature adults) enjoy and waste their time on. Unfortunately, games also tend to fall into this category in most people’s eyes, particularly those who deal with making laws. Hence we have committees about how games are corrupting kids, but R-rated movies get a nod of approval.
The problem is, of course, that games aren’t just for kids. Of course, the same is true of comics and cartoons. But, how do we get that message across?
One reason why this is a major problem is because adults actually need games more now than ever. This was covered in an interesting article I read recently, How we learned to stop having fun. It was an interesting talk about how western culture went from knowing how to let loose and have fun to becoming too serious and suffering heavily from melancholy (a.k.a., depression). The money quote, IMHO, was:
Nothing speaks more clearly of the darkening mood, the declining possibilities for joy, than the fact that, while the medieval peasant created festivities as an escape from work, the Puritan embraced work as an escape from terror.
What does this mean? Well, that adults need to capture fun again. How many people work at their dead-end jobs and “hate” their lives? It seems like a natural fit that games could teach people how to let loose and have fun again. How the world doesn’t need to be a crushingly depressing place.
It was also interesting to read how social mobility led to a lot of these problems. A peasant working on the land didn’t have to worry about proper appearances all that much. He had the steady assurance of he daily work, and didn’t have to worry about losing his job. The comfort of knowing your place in the world is secure is interesting. Thinking to “the grind” in online games makes this make more sense. I’ve written before that online games serve up a fantasy. That fantasy is that you just have to put in your time and you’ll be rewarded. Do the same, predictable things and you’ll get that warm fuzzy feeling of eventually reaching your goals. Of course, those goals also happen to be to reach the top levels of power and be greater than other people, bringing in a bit of modern personal advancement to make it feel right. Interesting when put into this context.
Focusing again on legitimacy in games, we can talk about how to achieve that. One way I think we can do this is by talking about adult topics without resorting to mere sexual titillation or hyperviolence. Unfortunately, our society is awash with poor messages both of these areas.
So, let’s tackle the area that games rarely pay much positive attention to: the loaded issue of sex. Another article I read recently was, BOG VENUS VERSUS NAZI COCK-RING: Some Thoughts Concerning Pornography by Alan Moore. Very thought provoking because it dealt with how we viewed sexuality through the ages. The author brings up some interesting things, such as how modern pornography in the U.S. (and U.K.) show two sides of the issue. On one side you have pornography as a necessary release from the sexually-themed bombardment of modern society (advertising, movies, fashion magazines, etc.) but we have “moral guardians” that make sure that any use of pornography is accompanied by guilt and even self-loathing. Using pornography is a sin, and sex must be ignored even though it is everywhere we look. A sure recipe for frustration.
So, what could games do in order to satisfy the criteria of “good pornography” as Alan Moore speaks of in the article above? Could we make a game that fulfills this criteria, or would any attempts be instantly set upon by the forces of legislature?
As an aside, I highly recommend reading up on this topic from Brenda Brathwaite. She does a great job talking about the problems with sex in games and why it usually doesn’t work. Smart stuff that would be a great springboard for talking about topics like this.
So, what are your thoughts? Can we have more mature games without, ironically enough, going too immature? Or, is it hopeless due to the knee-jerk reactions about games being only for kids?