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Thinking Thursday: Gaming Culture Part 4 – Why We Need To Change

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(Photo: D'Arcy Norman)

Over the past few weeks I've been exploring the topics of women characters, women gamers, and the language gamers use. We can characterize ourselves and our audience by the characters we care about, the peers we play with, and the way we act towards ourselves. This week I want to write about how those affect gaming at large.

Last week I mentioned that we, as gamers, need to change. Now I want to say why. Our lack of diversity in game characters, the treatment of perceived "outsiders", and "gamer speak" have succeeded in creating a vocal, elitist core of gamers. That is damaging to the industry.

I devoted the past few weeks to discussing some of these issues. I have been keeping track of the comments and how people responded to the points I've made. Some were positive, others were quite negative. One commenter responded,

"I don't like that you imply we should have to change the language we use because certain people are offended by it. You clearly stated that harsh language is used as a way to express ourselves and recognize kindred spirits. Then, you said we should lose ourselves in the constantly devolving definition of 'gamer,' and accommodate the poor, soft skin of the casual gamer because they might not like how we talk."

Another commenter argued,

"I guess my issue is, why do 'we' have to change? I think that keeping the CS:S and other games exclusive helps make the experience more enjoyable. It also opens people up to being tolerant to people they don't agree with. And if you are thin skinned then mute people. You don't have to play the game, and it should be considered bigotry to the old-time gamers to make us change."

There is a deep, underlying problem within these viewpoints. It's the immediate fear of change, and the notion that exclusivity, or a closed environment somehow improves games. They don't. The puerile characterizations of female characters and the closed-off "exclusivity" of being considered a "gamer" limit the true potential of what a video game can be.

We, as consumers are every bit as responsible for the direction the industry takes as the creators. We are the audience. The way we grow, and who or what we accept will directly impact the directions our games take. If we continue to close ourselves off and say only certain types of games should be considered games, or we continue to push away (unintentionally or otherwise) specific demographics, we send the message to the top that their voices don't matter.

There is so much we can learn from the demographics whom our language and actions too often push to the fringe. By denying outsiders, we deny new voices and perspectives. Homogenous perspectives result in homogenous games. It's not uncommon to see gamers and talking heads in the industry decrying a lack of innovation. A fair amount of the lack of innovation and risks is because we refuse to turn to ideas from people outside our "gaming" circle. We demand progress in our games, yet seem content to try to push away fresh perspectives.

The game mechanics found in casual or social games are no less valid in our industry than those in the more hardcore titles. The problem is there exists a strong wall in gamers, and as a result, in the industry, between the casual/social crowd and the hardcore crowd. We need to tear down this barrier and ask ourselves, "Why do so many people play casual/social games? Why are they fun? What can we learn from this, and how can we incorporate aspects positively into our industry and our evolving demographic of gamers?" It's through a dialogue between the AAA and the social/casual games and gamers that we will see our games reach a greater potential while the still young social/casual games crowd and developers mature.

Here is an amazing speech from industry veteran and legend, Brenda Brathwaite who has been a game developer since she was 14. She is now a social game developer and is exactly the maturing force and bridge between these mediums we need to accept and listen to. The message: Hate specific games developers, but don't hate the genre or the player.

Looking at the story and characters of our games, we are all too often left with a lack of depth as a result of our closed off community. Because we close the "gamer" demographic off, we see less outside perspectives to influence character development. We grab our pitchforks when we see openly gay characters like Zevran in Dragon Age, and hyperbolic claim that anyone who suggests the way we represent diversity needs to change is "extreme, radical, and completely ignorant".

Games, the community, and the industry have flaws. We need to accept that it's okay to admit that fact and discuss those flaws. There isn't a medium out there that has been hurt because of critical analysis. It's only through a constant questioning of ourselves and the medium that we'll see positive changes to make better games in the end.

The question remains: "Why us? Why should we be the ones to change?" The answer is because we have that power. Unless we, as gamers, change the community, our games won't change and the industry will stagnate.

The community and the industry need to get out of the catch 22 where the gaming demographic doesn't grow because there aren't games to attract them, and the industry doesn't produce innovative games because of the lack of a demographic. It's not up to the industry to break this cycle, either. No developer or publisher is so big that one massive flop won't force it to shutter doors forever. We need to let the developers know that we demand character from our characters.

It's up to us as gamers to share what we love with the outside world and accept that yes, things will change. It's just up to us to help the medium change for the better. Just as there will always be movies like The Expendables, there will also always be games like Soul Calibur. Those won't go away, and they shouldn't. We also need more. We just need to pave the way for our Donny Darko or our Inception. That can't be done if we deprive ourselves of community and the insight of the outside world.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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