Week 6- Reflections

Like many others on this blog, I have found that my interaction with games has stayed at relatively the same level as when I began this class, but my appreciation and understanding of the games themselves and the surrounding culture has deepened drastically. While at the beginning of the course I very much bought into the gamer stereotypes presented in the media and saw it as being outside of the mainstream (despite the fact that almost everyone I grew up with playing videogames), I now have appreciate it as being a major part of mainstream entertainment that is widening to include many demographics outside of the traditional “nerdy male” stereotype.

I have also grown to understand that, while this medium has grown leaps and bounds, it is still a young medium that was historically very male and as such has a long way to go when it comes to both the representations of females within the texts and the treatment of women in gamer related social media circles (most explicitly during the ongoing Gamergate controversy) . While many of the aspects of this course have been very interesting to me, this is the aspect that I find myself being much more aware of when it comes to playing games and reading press and online discussions surrounding games. I think this is due to the fact that it has taken such a new and  extreme form of the issues that pervade much of our mainstream media and has extended my understanding of a subject that I have studied throughout my FTVMS degree.

While in my first blog post I was clearly still unaware of the huge depth of study in the field of video games, I was surprised to find that I did touch on a number of prominent issues that we went on to study in detail. These include my aversion to microtransactions, the relationship between “casual” and “hardcore” games and the way the moral panic surrounding Grand Theft Auto made it more appealing to me as a young teenager. I think the fact that I was well aware of these concepts even as a layman is testament to the way videogames and their surrounding issues have become so strongly ingrained in our culture, and as such is a subject that needs continuous study in academia as it will continue to grow as a major part of the entertainment and cultural landscape.

Representations of gaming in the mainstream media

As they have become a more mainstream and a hugely financially successful entertainment medium, video games and their surrounding culture have been discussed in the mainstream media more and more in recent years. While the quality of reporting on this subject has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years, it is still often the focus of moral panic by the mainstream media.

Emerging forms of media have been the subjects of moral panic for decades, with those that are marketed towards children or young adults being put under the microscope in a particularly intense fashion. This stretches back at least as far as comic books in the 1950s, with the violent imagery and supposedly antisocial messages featured in them being the subject of a number of alarmist media reports. This continued with rock and heavy metal music in the 1960s and 1970s, “video nasty” horror films in the 1980s and cartoons such as Beavis And Butthead in the 1990s. A major focus of moral panic for our era is certainly video games, with particular focus on violent video games or those believed to have particularly addictive qualities.

While the moral panic associated with video games has some specificity to it due to the fact that the violence perpetrated within games is interactive, much of this controversy can simply be seen as a symptom of how the media industry operates. For example, in the wake of a tragedy,  the media are expected to provide answers as soon as possible and as such often fall on an easy scapegoat. A strong example of this was how, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, many jumped to blame the shooter’s so called “obsession with violent video” games and proceeded to publish stories to this effect. While the shooter was no doubt obsessed with video games, what many of these media reports neglected to mention that most of the games he played were in fact completely non-violent games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Pokemon.

While games and gaming culture are still frequently discussed in this naive and knee-jerk fashion, I think that as time goes on and the medium is further integrated into the mainstream and is better understood, they will become much less common. For evidence of this, as we have seen the cycles of moral panic have followed new mediums over the years, we have also seen them fade in much the same fashion.

Representations of Gamers on Television

Although representations of people of different genders, races and sexual orientations have always been quite dire within the realm of mainstream television sitcoms, there have always been a select few shows that are more forward thinking and enlightened on these issues than others. This has become even more apparent in recent years, with the diversification of media through online services such as Youtube web series and Netflix allowing more space for minorities to be represented in a more more nuanced and realistic way. Comedy Central’s Broad City comes to mind as an example of this. Born out of a web series, the show features two female protagonists that find themselves in gross, outrageous and awkward scenarios that are usually reserved only for male character. Is excellent in the way that it allows the female protagonists to be real people, in that they are complete characters that are funny, flawed and complex in a way that is rare in television comedy. In a medium that often sidelines women to the roles of the ‘love interest’ or a bouncing board for the jokes of the male main characters, they avoid this and create characters devoid of gender stereotypes.

It is because of this that the character of Beavers feels so dated. The overweight, bearded and lazy room mate of main character Abbi, he is the gamer stereotype embodied. The majority of the stories or jokes that feature him, centre on his innumerable hours spent on the couch playing X-Box and his subsequent poor personal hygiene and social skills. For a show that is so progressive in the way it deals with race, gender and sexuality, the character feels like it could have been pulled out of any bad 90’s comedy film that features a ‘nerd’ character. This misrepresentation of gaming culture within an otherwise progressive show is not an outlier, however. Shows like The Simpsons that show incredible smarts and depth have featured video games as hyper violent and moronic (“Marge Not Be Proud”) and incredibly addictive (“Lisa Gets and ‘A'”).

While these stereotypes of gamers certainly do exist to degree, I find it strange that they continue to be used in such a common and inventive way in film and television, given the ubiquity of the medium and the fact that video games are now played by people across almost all social and age groups. While sitcoms will always have go-to recognisable groups that can be used as easy punchlines, I suspect that the use of so called ‘gamers’ in this context is due to the fact that they are still seen as an other in society. I suspect that as video games continue to move into the mainstream this will become more of a thing of the past or will give way to a more nuanced representation of gamers.

One Chance

I’ve refreshed the browser at least five times before I realise how the end of this game works.

For a game that appeared to intentionally work against intuitive game play from the beginning, the fact that once you make the wrong decision you fail the game you really do not get another chance should not have surprised me. The game has only a few controls, almost no instruction or explanation besides telling us the world was going to end, but somehow managed to be an incredibly interesting and open ended game. The game follows a scientist that accidentally dooms the human race and is charged with finding a solution to his mistake in the next six days before humanity dies out. My time came when, after choosing the “go to the lab” option several times in a row and seemingly not having any progress, I decided to go to the park with my daughter and we both promptly died. This self imposed restriction against re playability makes the game unique in it’s own right, with the juxtaposition between at times extremely dark subject matter (the suicide of the main character’s wife) and the retro and light hearted visual style making it an even more unique experience.

I thought the open ended aspect was really interesting, as it meant that I had no idea what is going to happen after I choose a particular option, and indeed was not even sure what happened after the fact, as the game simply fast forwarded to the next day with my actions seemingly having no positive effect. While this was a little confusing at first, the sense of mystery it created served to spur me on during the game, as opposed to putting me off playing. I thought this was really interesting, as it seems the developers were actively attempting to subvert the expectations of the form, as side scrolling and puzzle based games (of which this is an interesting hybrid) are genres almost as old as video games themselves and players therefore think they know what to expect.

The fact that the game actively revokes any sense of instant gratification that can be found in almost every other video game I have played made it fascinating to play, albeit with a very frustrating conclusion. In no way does the game hold the players hand, as it leaves it up to the individual to explore their options and choose what they think is best with the limited information provided. I think this gives the player agency, although I can’t help but think most options lead to the same conclusion – death.

My Experience With Videogames

My experience with video games began at age six when my sister and I were gifted a Playstation and a copy of Crash Bandicoot 2 for Christmas. From then on, a huge part of my childhood was taken up trying to clock whatever game I could get my hands on. While I didn’t own many games, I would often rent them out from the video store and stay up far too late attempting to clock them before they were due to be returned the next day. A large part of this obsessive interest came from the instant gratification of more simple games and the challenge/reward dynamic of more difficult ones. Because of this, it becomes very easy to lose hours to a video game without realising, a dynamic I have not experienced with other forms of media. Due to playing platformer games from such an early age, I was also able to see the different patterns that most games of the genre seemed to follow and enjoyed working my way up to each boss level to figure out how it worked. While games have clearly become infinitely more complex over the years, I find it interesting that many games still use these simple formulas that can be seen in games as early as the original Donkey Kong.

While I had many other interests, my interest in gaming continued through high school. Due to the fact that they were released while I was in my early teens, this (as was the case with most boys my age) was dominated by the various games in the Grand Theft Auto franchise. The freedom, the huge scope of the games and the forbidden fruit aspect of them being rated R18 was and irresistible combination at that age.

While I will still occasionally get obsessed with one particular game, my active interest in video games has become much less consistent. While this is in many ways simply due to the fact that I am now much more busy with work and university commitments, it is also partially due to the fact that many of the most popular games recently require a huge time commitment and paid online subscriptions and updates. Because of this, I find my current relationship with video games is now restricted to playing what is introduced to me by my gamer flatmates and playing older multi player games from my childhood with them as a (slightly) more social alternative than watching television.

I look forward to gaining a more involved understanding of video games from this course, as their place in the cultural landscape is now larger, more far reaching and more complex than ever.