Gaming Magazine

Should Games Be Marked Down for Being Problematic?

Posted on the 26 February 2014 by Kirkmckeand @mckkirk

Videogames need to grow up.

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with another critic, who raised some valid concerns about representation and problematic scenes in games. This person believes that, if a game tackles problematic themes, or makes the player do something socially unacceptable, then it’s a bad game and should be marked down accordingly.

My first response to this was that 99% of games make us do something I would class as socially unacceptable: the act of killing. That wasn’t what the person meant, though. Killing is fine, apparently.

This critic believes the act of killing in games isn’t inherently bad, but it depends on how it’s represented. Fair enough. I still don’t think it’s fair to knock points off a game for one uncomfortable scene, however.

For example: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and its infamous No Russian level. It forces the player to take part in a massacre and it’s obvious its inclusion in the game was purely intended to spark controversy and, in turn, conversation.

Now, other than this scene (and the terrible story) Modern Warfare 2 was a fine game. Most people bought it purely for its online component, and that’s where players will likely be spending most of their time. Knocking points off for that one scene would be silly. Sure, mention it in the review – certainly criticize it, but actively reducing the score wouldn’t be fair.

Take movies – there’s room there for both Oscar-bait and dumb action romps. Both are judged for what they are and aren’t derided for not trying to be what the other is.

I know we all want games to be important, but telling developers what they can and can’t put in them is sure to stifle creativity. The audience shouldn’t dictate the terms. It’s Mass Effect 3′s ending all over again. Surely film has more responsibility to our culture – it’s been around much longer for a start, yet we allow it more creative freedom. In fact, films that tackle important subjects are often championed.

The next issue was that the person believed we should mark games down for representation of gender and race. Now, this really is an issue I can get behind. Females are embarrassingly underrepresented in videogames but, again, is it fair to mark games down for starring a gruff white male, especially when much of that decision likely comes down to publishers? Remember Me got knocked back by a few publishers for having a female lead and, when it eventually got made, nobody bought it.

I think back to two of my favorite films – There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men – and I struggle to remember any female characters in them. They’re certainty not prominent. Both have white male leads and both touch on subjects which are taboo in videogames. Can you imagine a film critic marking these down for a lack of inclusiveness?

Like I say, I agree it is an issue, but no matter how loud we bang the drum, someone somewhere will be being underrepresented. It’s easy for me to say as a privileged white male, sure. But that doesn’t make my points any less valid.

It’s the same for the music industry, synonymous with human culture since the beginning of recorded history, which still has issues with how it treats females. Most rap videos have girls in thongs twerking on the stage, and even female stars often feel the need to be hyper-sexualised to succeed.

We should definitely keep the conversation flowing, but it’s got to the point now where we’re attacking videogames for their lack of females before they’ve released sufficient information about the game. Hi Deep Down. It’s counterproductive.

Obviously, if an MMO was released and it had a detailed character creation tool that only allowed you to create males, then outcry would be warranted. But narrative experiences? Nope.

If every game catered to every gender and every race, what we’d end up with is a – very expensive – lukewarm paste. Let’s let creators make the games they want to create, mention its problems with representation in the review, but don’t mark it down. Instead, praise those that do it well and still retain an interesting product.

The revolution is happening, it just won’t happen overnight – and we don’t need to spill any blood. Videogames need to grow up, but they can’t grow if we keep them swaddled.

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