The last decade has been for video games what the Renaissance was for art. With the last console rotation, the technology of game design has arguably reached a point where graphics aren’t going to get much better, where the Internet has made it easier and more fashionable than ever to play and where the industry has broken out of the underground into a socially acceptable, even desirable, recreational pastime.
Not only have graphics and presentation improved, but innovations in the way games tell interactive stories have led many to argue that they have transcended the mindless “arcade” genre and should now be considered creative works of art in much the same way that movies are.
The Mass Effect, Uncharted and Bioshock franchises stand out as particularly spectacular cinematic experiences with fully fledged musical scores, large casts of voice actors and highly sophisticated character development and moral dilemmas.
This Renaissance-esque revolution has also challenged traditional stereotypes of gamers. For instance, you might be surprised to know that we aren’t all hygienically-challenged overweight mouth-breathers after all. In fact, lots of cool people, like celebrities and professional athletes, also play video games.
Unfortunately, video games’s meteoric rise in popularity, realism and legitimacy has also meant harsher scrutiny from media and government. Critics of the industry are quick to denigrate games as mere simulations of violent or sexual situations. In their view, the key distinction between games and movies or TV is that people control the actions of their character in the game and are in a sense actually participating in the violence.
While studies have yielded little evidence linking violent video games to violent tendencies in those who play them, this belief persists among the older generation, and the issue of video game censorship has reached the highest levels of government, even the Supreme Court.
To this extent, the media has definitely misrepresented games and gaming culture. But while I would be hesitant to say that video games produce violent tendencies in people, even in children who play games that are too mature for them, there is at least one negative trend particular to the online gaming community that affects mostly young people, and this is where I believe the critics have it right.
Just like any forum on the internet, being able to sit in the comfort of your own home and have a heated argument with anyone in the world anonymously over a game can have a disgusting effect on discourse. Anyone who has played Halo or Call of Duty on Xbox Live knows exactly what I’m talking about. Online lobbies swarm with people slinging horribly racist and homophobic slurs at each other as if it were nothing. These slurs have become all but universal for insults in online gaming.
In my experience, many of the people spewing these insults sound no older than 10 to 13, and have almost no idea what they are saying. The frequency and nastiness of these slurs has become the norm because of the impersonal nature of online interaction and the complete lack of accountability or consequences for this behavior. Unlike the non-tendency for children to act out the violence they see in games, this disturbing trend definitely translates into real life when kids hear things being hurled at them online and, thinking this is the norm, bring that with them into schools and their daily lives.
In a culture where millions upon millions play these games for hours a day, this hate has quickly become endemic to this facet of our culture and it poses a real obstacle to equality and respectful discourse.
So, to all you gamers out there: if you love games as much as I do, and view this industry as the bastion of free thought and creative development that it still is, don’t let the gaming community be branded by ignorance. Don’t let us become a community of bigots, screaming at each other through our headsets, unaware of the damage we are inflicting on our society. Stand up to these losers that clearly don’t get it, and embrace the philosophy of one incensed video game commentator: “I’ll be damned if I’m going to be one of these f*cking Neanderthals that the rest of you bastards are acting like.”