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Being a game developer is not an easy job. It’s an industry notorious for overworked and unappreciated employees. To make matters worse, developers are incredibly restricted in what content they can produce. Indie developers often lack the resources to bring their full vision into reality. Although larger development studios have more resources available, they are often at the mercy of their publishers.
This is a major problem within the video game industry at the moment: publishers are too risk averse. They are absolutely allergic to new IPs. That’s why they pump out sequels to popular franchises on a yearly basis. In the rare cases where they take a chance on a new IP, it’s usually meddled with by the publisher, and ends up being a watered down version of what the developers envisioned. So we end up with a bunch of generic, bland, and incredibly similar games being produced. They are technically impressive but lacking in creativity and heart.
Obviously there are exceptions, but in general the video game industry has become stale. I strongly believe that the best way for video games to advance as a medium is to give developers as much artistic freedom as possible. Yes, they will make mistakes, developers are still human after all, but even deeply flawed games with a spark of creativity can offer a worthwhile experience. Dedicated developers with a passion for video games will learn from their mistakes and push the medium forward.
Recently we’ve seen the rise of various video game critics who have appointed themselves as gatekeepers of the video game industry. They tell us it’s very important for video games to mature as a medium, and the only way that can happen is if everything they disagree with is entirely removed from the video game industry. Far from advancing the medium forward, this just makes an already bad problem worse. Like the publishers, these gatekeepers wish to further limit developers’ artistic freedom, and it will only end up making the video game industry more bland and boring.
Now the critics are quick to cry foul. They insist they are not here to censor video games – they just want to make them better. However their actions tell a different story. They attempt to stir up moral panic by promoting debunked links between video games and social problems. Recently we’ve also seen a number of hate mobs being riled up on Twitter, with the intention of pressuring developers into self-censoring their work. And of course we’ve had the petitions to have games removed from brick and mortar stores as well as online retailers like Steam. All these actions have the effect of crushing artistic freedom and further limit what developers can create.
The critics claim they are doing nothing wrong – they are just exercising their free speech. It’s not like they are advocating for government enforced censorship. As much as I disagree with them and believe that intimidating developers in this way is morally objectionable, I do have to admit that they are within their legal rights to do so. The solution is to counter their unscientific propaganda about the negative effects of video games with the truth, and to stand up for developers’ artistic freedom against the raging mobs.
The great thing is people have been speaking up in favor of game developers. And boy are the critics upset about it. Pseudo-intellectual Chris Franklin, aka Campster, tweeted out a message stating that if someone supported the game Hatred being put back on Steam, after it was temporarily removed, it was proof that they were part of a hate group. It’s hard to imagine a more profoundly stupid statement being made on this matter. It seems like a would-be gatekeeper lashing out at anyone who dares to support a game he has judged to be morally objectionable. Steam did the right thing and the game was put back on the store. In this particular case, the critics failed to enforce their will.
Really, if all these critics wanted to do was give an opinion on a game there wouldn’t be any problem. But critics like Jonathan McIntosh are creating unscientific propaganda videos on YouTube, and tweeting Jack Thompson-esque screeds about violent video games on twitter, all for the purpose of getting a mob of special interest supporters to attack game developers. The mainstream press is happy to promote these critics and their ideas, but what was the most surprising thing to see last year was that most of the gaming press is promoting them as well. The same gaming sites which ridiculed Jack Thompson are now fully embracing his ideas because this time its coming from the mouths of self-proclaimed progressives.
The most important thing to do is let your voice be heard. Tell a game developer how much you enjoy their work and support their artistic vision. This tiny group of critics gets a voice massively disproportionate to their number, thanks to the support of the press, so it will take a large effort for average gamers to get their voices heard. The only way the medium will advance is if gamers stick up for developers’ artistic freedom.
In 40 years we went from Pong to Skyrim, which is an absolutely amazing achievement. And every single advance was brought about by creative people experimenting with new ideas. Not a single advance in video games, or any other medium, was brought about by caving to a group who tried to dictate what people were not allowed to create. I hope everyone remembers who has really been pushing video games forward all this time: the developers.