The games industry has an image problem. Some people may protest, but you know it, I know it and, boy, does the media know it. Computer games and, by extension, gamers are often derided in the general consciousness, seen as a group of social outcasts, misfits who just aren’t like ‘normal’ people. It may be grossly unfair, but the stereotype of a gamer who lives on his own (and he’s always male) or with his parents, doesn’t wash and doesn’t really interact with other people prevails in many people’s minds. In the mental image, he’ll most likely be teenage or early twenties too, sitting for hour upon hour at his computer, playing his games.
In many ways, the gamer today is seen as the ‘other’, the radical and worrying person who is not like ‘us’, the normal everyday population. To see this, all we have to do is look at the reactions to recent events. Take, for example, the reaction to the Sandy Hook shootings. The links between the shooter and gaming were highlighted over and over. It was reported by many reputable news outlets that the shooter, Adam Lanza, was ‘addicted to video games’ and that this was ‘the cause’ of his actions.
Now, while this can be attributed to a sensationalist press doing its best to sensationalise the events, with journalists playing amateur-detective/psychologist to get the latest ‘scoop’, the fact remains that this is only possible because it taps into an existing impression of gamers held (partly) by many of the non-gaming populace.
As you’re currently reading this article which is posted on a gaming website, the odds are good that you would consider yourself to be a gamer. That means that you, as a member of this sub-culture, are tarred with that same brush. Think about that for a minute… its not a nice feeling is it?
So, how can we change this situation?
To a certain extent, the process will be a natural progression of social perceptions. In many ways, gaming is merely the latest in a long line of society’s scapegoats. Think back to the previous decades and the go-to group for the media theories on things like the Sandy Hook tragedy was the Rock/Punk music scene. Take the Columbine Massacre as an example; the shooters were widely reported to be heavily influenced by Rock bands such as Rammestein and Maralyn Manson. That was the prevalent ‘fringe’ group in the popular media’s eyes at the time. To put it another way, I bet if you looked at Adam Lanza’s music collection, he had some rock music in there. But, Rock music is more accepted by the mainstream today, so gaming gets the negative links. Vice versa, I suspect that the perpetrators of Columbine played video games, but because gaming was less infamous than rock music at the time, it is not linked in the same way. In this sense, as the current generation of gamers gets older and becomes the middle aged masses of tomorrow, gaming will, like rock music, become more socially normal and accepted and another sub-culture will become society’s new whipping boy.
The problem is, though, the gaming industry really doesn’t do itself any favours sometimes. Yes, there are debates to be had over the depiction of violence in games and the effect of ever more immersive games and their relative effect on vulnerable/impressionable minds, but that’s not what I’m referring to. What I’m referring to are the instances where the industry plays up to every stereotype of worthless, immature voyeurism and exploitation levelled at it. For every game that can be held up as a shining example of games as an art-form, such as Mass Effect, there is a worthless title with no actual gameplay quality that relies purely on titillation or controversy value to sell copies.
Which brings me to the game that made me the most angry of any game I’ve ever played; Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad. This game, which I picked up purely because I expected it to be a shoddy title I could review as an example of poor gameplay, turned out to be an embodiment of many of the things that are wrong with the industry. The game is sold ENTIRELY on the fact that it has semi-naked women killing zombies in gory detail. That’s it. There has been NO effort put in to make this anything but an incredibly basic game. Taken on its own, the ‘gameplay’ has less actual challenge or intricacy than games designed for controllers with one button. Gameplay has no place in this game. The cynical marketing is demonstrated on the case, with the front featuring one member of the eponymous Bikini Samurai Squad and the title. The reverse of the case consists of the same character with another member (dressed in a revealing schoolgirl outfit no less) and emphasises the phrase ‘Sexy samurai sisters’ and the ‘feature’ to unlock new costumes for them.
This is the sort of game, along with other games like BMX XXX and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, are an example of the industry playing up to negative stereotypes and dragging the whole industry down. These games serve no purpose other than to gather sales based entirely on titillation and gore and reinforce the perception of gamers as horny, mal-adjusted teenage boys.
Oh, and for those who will suggest these are games by small developers with niche appeal, consider this: firstly, DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball was by a major developer and received a large amount of coverage. For goodness sake, it was hailed for its innovation in ‘advanced breast-jiggle physics! And, secondly, even if these games ARE niche, the fact is they sell.
And that’s the problem, these games sell. And I was part of the problem. Yes, I bought the game second hand and for the express reason that it would be terrible, but I bought it. While there is demand for these games, they will exist. It’s depressing but it’s true. I bought Onechanbara on Ebay and I was outbid no less than 4 times for the game before I bought it, by four different people, showing there is a not insignificant demand.
Yes, the stereotypes laid on the games industry and gamers as a whole are, in the main, grossly unfair, but stereotypes are, in the main, an exaggeration of a genuine aspect of the subject. In this case, part of the fault for the negative impression can be laid at gaming and gamers as a whole. While, the reputation of gaming is the culmination of numerous factors, gamers need to look closer to home before decrying the media for its depictions of the genre.
While lazy and exploitative developers can make a profit shilling sub-par and insubstantial titles purely on sexual or violent themes, this will always be a stick with which people can beat gamers.
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org