Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Gaming's Moral Duty

Video games are an amazing medium. Capable of giving us reality escaping blockbusters like Call of Duty or harrowing tales of child abuse like Binding of Isaac, the medium is simply immense in terms of breadth and depth. As video games mature more and more of them tackle deep themes, challenge players and raise awareness around certain issues. Games like Papers, Please or The Stanley Parable show that the medium is far more than what you see advertised on TV. 

This growth has led to conventions, groups, talks and an overall sense of hype around the idea that games can break barriers, sexuality, race, gender, religion, mental health, physical health, gaming can cover everything and make people interact with things in a way nothing else can. Websites like Polygon post amazing stories on an almost daily basis about games about homosexuality or the harrowing reality of war or drug abuse or Alzheimer's. The thing I wonder is, are games duty bound to tackle big issues? Are games duty bound to be more than fun? Is it in some way wrong, immoral or disappointing if a game doesn't allow for gay marriage or if it doesn't talk about racial issues or sexual violence? Sometimes, especially with the growing popularity of opinion pieces on websites discussing these issues and their place in games, it seems like people think they are. 

Well. They aren't. 

Games as a medium began life with one purpose: to be fun. That is fundamentally what a game is and what a game must be. Instances where games aren't fun but instead offer something else, are fantastic things. Games like the Stanley Parable are amazing and it gives me great pleasure that ours is a medium in which these games can exist beside a game like Mario. But Mario can still be Mario, he doesn't need to pressured into being something deeper. This clearly happened to Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, a game featuring a painfully shoehorned in narrative about sexual abuse that is at odds with the rest of the game's story and only serves to greatly worsen the game and doesn't effectively tackle the issue at all.

Nintendo have been forced to defend themselves over the exclusion of same sex marriages in Tomodachi Life. They should not have to. Their defence was that they did not set out to set an example or tackle an issue, they set out to make a fun game that people would enjoy. Of course gaming must never become an exclusive hobby where homosexuals or other groups are not welcome or accommodated but the implication from people covering this issue is that games, as in ALL major games must tackle huge issues and must force these things down our throats. 

Pull your head out of your arse for a second and hear how ludicrous that sounds! 

Mario doesn't need to be black, Link doesn't need to be in a same sex relationship and if a game, which isn't even a life simulator (!!!), doesn't allow for same sex marriages it doesn't need to be crucified by journalists. 

Games tackling issues are a good thing, games being inclusive are a good thing but pressure from the outside to have every game be more than just a basic game is wrong, it's pretentious, ignorant, lazy and only serves to distract from the games that are doing these things. 

Pull your head out of your arse and just play some games. 

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