Monday, December 7, 2015

Semantic Games

Periodically discussions spring up around the internet regarding the term "video games."  For some the meaning is too broad.  Personally, I don't have a problem with it, and consider "video games" to be synonymous to "literature" with regards to scope.  More concerning to me is the shadow of tribalism showing up in the hobby.

As much as people love to toss statements like "PC master race" and "xbots" this kind of terminology is counterproductive.  It's petty labeling done in an attempt to turn opposing interests into an "us versus them" free-for-all.  The only place this kind of pigeonholing can be potentially useful is in marketing departments when they talk about "core" and "casual" audiences.  Even then it's a problematic practice in that Nintendo might be doing its own thing in relation to Sony and Microsoft, but saying their games are for children doesn't jive with the reality of the situation.  I know more than a few adults who play Nintendo games.  Does that mean they are immature?  Do real men only play violent murder simulators or interactive art experiences?  Absolutely not.  Interests vary and change constantly - one day I might want to play Doom, the next Flower.  Everyone is going to have their own gaming preferences at at any given time and that's fine.  The industry is big enough for all kinds.  New stuff comes out on a daily basis.  Although an important caveat to that statement is the big-budget scene.  Even then though, I tend to feel the fault lies in large part with the publishers who cling to an increasingly unsustainable "largest possible demographic" school-of-game-development rather than making tighter more focused experiences.

One other thing I want to address is the notion that some advocacy groups are causing censorship in the industry.  Maybe...but even if it were true the term "censorship" hardly applies.  To illustrate further let me swap out "censorship" temporarily with the word "injury" and make two statements:

  1. I suffered an injury at work - I got a paper cut while doing some filing.
  2. I suffered an injury at work - I got my arm ripped off by industrial machinery. 

The first statement is the degree to which censorship applies to some recent game releases, while the second is the kind of thing people have to deal with in real-life dictatorships these days.  On top of that fans can still get unfiltered versions of their favorite Japanese titles through importing.  It's not even all that hard considering that the USA and Japan share the same region encoding (Europe is a whole other can o'worms I don't want to get into right now).  Sure the game might not be properly localized, but stuff like fighting games and beach volleyball aren't exactly hard to navigate (heck, players might even learn a bit of Japanese too).

That said, I got agree with what Jeff Gerstmann said on a recent Bombcast, people should really expect better from their games.  The moment I see titillation in a video game it's a sure sign the developers are trying to distract me from some significant design flaws.  Case in point, Golden Axe: Beast Rider tried really hard to advertise how hot Tyris Flare is (pun intended) in an attempt to entice customers into buying the game before they'd notice the absence of a multiplayer component or even other playable characters iconic to the series (such as Gilius Thunderhead or Ax Battler).

Don't fall for that kind of thing, and don't let semantic games pull the wool over your eyes either.  Video games are for anyone and everyone.  Calling yourself, or someone else, a "gamer" is about as useful as terms like "music-listener," "book-reader," or "sandwich-eater."  Anyone trying to make a bigger deal out of their intense interest in the hobby is just trying to start a fight that nobody is going to win.  Game over!

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