Divide the Games Industry

Wyatt Hnatiw / March 4, 2015 at 11:00 AM / Archive

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We all have our gaming niche. We tend to play what we like and don’t give a ton of thought to what we don’t. Outside of games media, nobody plays everything. But right now we’re seeing a push for all games to conform to narrow view points, as if that diversity of opinion is a bad thing.

A lot of ink has been spilled over how games need to change. Games need to grow up; whatever that means. Games need to hit quotas for a certain kind of character, the type depending on whose opinion it is. Games need to address adult subject matter like depression and LGBT issues but ban other topics because they’re unsavory. From the outside looking in you’d be forgiven for thinking the games industry is just a bunch of toddlers blowing raspberries… Which actually isn’t too far off of what certain games writers think of their audience, forget I said anything.

If people want those types of games, great. They should make them. No creative industry has ever been hurt by having too much to choose from. So wonderful then! Some people want more ‘adult’ games, so they’ll make them and everyone will be happy. People who play CoD will continue to play CoD uninterrupted, same with people who play League of Legends. The only difference will be that the market niche for mature, narrative driven games will be filled and the games industry will have grown stronger for it.

We’re done right? Cool. Short editorial, should be able to take a long lunch now.

We’re not done? Crap.

Apparently it’s not that simple. The people leading the charge for ‘gaming growing up’ don’t just want games that cater to this need. They want all games to cater to this need. In a recent Vanity Fair piece Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid and upcoming game The Witness remarked;

“It’s kind of like if every movie were a porn movie, most people wouldn’t see movies. The majority of games are basically porn—the onus is on us to make more things that are worth a reasonable person’s time.”

This isn’t a man simply saying “we need more diverse kinds of video games” this is a man saying that the majority of video games are not worth your time, along with a tacit implication that The Witness is one of the few that will be. I don’t believe Blow is leading some grand conspiracy to sanitize all our games, I believe his comments here are in line with a destructive attitude in video games. I don’t have an issue with Jonathan Blow. He worked hard to release Braid and I’m glad it was successful enough to allow him to make a new game. What I have an issue with is his seeming desire to cut the legs off everyone around him to make himself tall.

Jonathan Blow's upcoming game: The Witness

Jonathan Blow’s upcoming game: The Witness

Not every game will challenge your intellect. Some games are pulpy and simple. Not every game will have positive role models or representation, that’s okay, games don’t need to define our lives. Not every game will deal with the ‘right’ kind of subject matter, because some people deal with enough and just want to escape.

People play games for tons of different reasons: for achievement, to laugh, to shut their brain off for a while, to be entertained, and most common of all people play to have fun. I ask Mr. Blow, and people like him, what’s wrong with that? Why can’t we have cerebral experiences like The Witness or Gone Home but also have mindless fun shooters and beat-em-ups like Far Cry and Bayonetta? Isn’t the games industry big enough for both of us? For all of us?

Apparently it’s not, because highly publicized personalities in games, the kind that host panels at trade shows and carry legions of followers, wish to impose their views on the entire community. So I have a proposition.

We divide the games industry.

It shouldn’t cause much of a problem at all. Those who are interested in experimental experiences, tragicomedy vignette games and “walking simulators” (their words, not mine) go one way. Those of us who like fighting games, shooters, platformers, brawlers, hack-and-slashers, racing, and sports games (basically the ones who like games Blow considers unworthy of his time) go the other. Sure our side might be bigger, and more popular certainly. We’ll get custody of E3, TGS, PAX and GDC because frankly, the big corporations like us better. I’m sure our industry will throw better parties but we won’t have nearly as many intellectual conversations.

If this doesn’t sound like a good idea to you, I’d have to ask why? You get what you want, gaming has “grown up”, all the games in your industry are the kind you like right? You’ve gotten rid of all the porn movies, and now you’re left with Wes Anderson and Iñárritu. I’m sure you’ll miss the attention from big games media and your panels will probably be less popular but at least your industry will be pure.

E3 2014 Nintendo

Sorry, we get to keep this. You can start your own though!

But no one would accept that, they want to reap the benefits of being in this multi-billion dollar industry on their own terms; they want games to change to suit them. They obviously have stories to tell and ideas they wish to convey, and they have decided that games are where they are going to plant their roots. To me, it feels like the writers, critics and creators trying to “change games” are merely using them as a platform, rather than truly trying to better an industry they love. It feels like grandstanding of a personal agenda, pushing belief in any number of causes over the creation of games that gamers truly want to play.

Because this elitist attitude has become so common in games media, its proponents are now afforded a great deal of respect. They are the ones who host panels and speeches, and they get a ton of media coverage because they are so vocal. The games industry affords them respect, influence and success, and the longer this goes on the more that seems like their priority. They want the credibility of being indie and experimental but they also want to host massive trade show panels. They want artistic freedom but seek to deny the larger industry the same. Basically they want to have their games and play them too.

To me, gaming shouldn’t be about that. People need to remember that the reason this industry is so massive is because of the enthusiasm of the gamers. People who play all sorts of different games and love them for all sorts of different reasons. The games industry was not built on the backs of the intellectuals or academics, it was built on and for, the gamers.

Unless you want to truly divide the industry, so that your “interactive experiences” can live free, without the taint of the “gamers”, I suggest you get off your high horse. Accept that people will play different things and that’s okay, stop trying to build yourself up by tearing everything around you down and just focus on adding to the industry. Some of us want to play your games! We do! But we want to play our games too.

And to you dear reader I ask, when someone is lecturing you on how the games you love need to change, remember why you play video games and realize how little that voice really matters.

Photos courtesy of The Witness & the Entertainment Software Association (ESA)

Wyatt Hnatiw

Staff Writer

Wyatt Hnatiw is a lifelong gamer with a borderline inappropriate love of BioWare RPGs and Bioshock. Maybe he just loves the prefix Bio...