Let’s try this again, shall we? Oh come on, baby, one more shot!! I promise I’ll be faithful this time, I swear baby.
In all honesty, for a while I hoped this blog would be forgotten, lost in the endless sea of unsolicited personal writing that is wordpress (sorry wordpress). But something changed recently.
Listen, I’m sorry I got writers block and made y’all read my shitty attempts to claw and scratch out of it. I’m sorry I got too busy with my senior work (a fantasy/sci-fi novel I’m sure I’ll be discussing from time to time) and with life, barely able to fit in sleep let alone maintain a blog. But I mean it this time when I say that the bitch is REALLY back (probably updating weekly for the next couple months). And she’s got some bitchin’ to do.
And by that I mean I finally feel like I have things to say again. And I remember why I wanted to say them in the first place.
Because, ladies and gentleman, this college senior (ick!) has done some growing up since last we spoke. And part of growing up was realizing that playing video games meant more to her than most things. Which made her decide to commit the rest of her life to a career in writing for and about video games.
Yes, I want to be a game writer… that realization came with a jumbled mixture of self-conscious irony, defensiveness, excitement, and fear. But I bit the bullet anyway, taking my first plunge into the industry by interning for a small but truly awesome (and smart) video game magazine/website. I think for now we’ll keep names secret (don’t want to attach any unwanted press to their name, but if you’re curious just ask me which site). But I think it’d be interesting to document some of these early experiences. Because, boy, games have a really funny standing in our culture right now.
“People” like to give me this weird face whenever I tell them about my decision to take playing seriously. It’s some cross between the face you’d make after smelling rotten milk and watching a dog walk on its hind legs. People are surprised, to say the least. Before whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I could provide the far-fetched but still adorably ambitious statement: I want to write books. That’s still true, but I’ve come to understand that I’ve spent most of my life running away from the stories that really affected me. Because Ocarina of Time changed who I am as much as Harry Potter did. And Ocarina did things Potter could never do: it cast me as the hero, which was very important to an awkward, insecure 5th grade girl. Also, I’ve finally admitted to myself that the way my brain works is not the best thing for novel-writing. I’m a hyperactive ADD child, and collaborating on narrative ideas/solutions in story-heavy games fits that condition much better.
But ever since I stopped ignoring this part of me, I’ve had to cope with a never-ending brigade of hatred toward games from both outside and inside of the gaming industry. Really, it’s shocking how many game journalists, critics, and creators alike constantly make statements that go something along the lines of, “I DON’T KNOW MAYBE WE’RE ALL JUST FUCKING AWFUL FUCKED UP PEOPLE AND GAMES ARE USELESS AND WE SHOULD JUST KILL OURSELVES NOW.” The community seems to have an almost compulsive habit toward spiraling into existential crisis in the public eye (myself included). And I don’t know how much more of it I can stomach. Seriously, it’s starting to give this young, optimistic heart anxiety palpitations. Because recently it feels like I can’t read a beautiful, lucid critique of a game without it ending with the writer having an emotional break down.
It’s weird because in most of these articles (I’m looking at you Tom Bissell), the writer is only revealing what makes games so special: they tell us a lot about who we are as people. Because the way you play a game says much more about your character than watching a movie or a TV show does. Games are participatory: you cannot play a game without contributing a significant part of your personality to the content. Whether you’re an explorer or a troll or a cooperator (or any other variety of player), every moment of gameplay says something about your priorities, decision-making, and sometimes even your morality. And this isn’t just in artsy-fartsy games either. In COD, for example, you might discover that you’re the kind of competitive prick who’d rather crouch in a corner and troll-kill other players rather than risk a shitty KD ratio.
When these writers start having public panic attacks in their articles about games, what they’re really proving is the sheer potential and value inherent in the videogame medium. Their admitting how powerful games are. Because how many articles about television or film ends with the author realizing their compulsion to consume violent media stems from the same dark place that turned them into a drug addict? I mean that’s heavy stuff, Tom Bissell. How can you undercut the significance of that realization by asking your readers, in the same fucking breath, to reconsider whether shooters are really meant to be anything more than mindless, competitive entertainment. Really Tom Bissell?
All I know is something’s gotta give. Because I think anyone in the industry who cares enough to ask whether games are worthwhile or dangerous or not came to the industry because they couldn’t shake the sense that playing was important, capable of achieving great things. And if so many of these powerful articles and intelligent critics start to completely disregarding that initial, intuitive understanding of games, it only gives the rest of the world more reason to misunderstand and fear us.
I’m not saying we should stop critiquing or expecting more from video games. This is actually a clear sign that video games are a burgeoning, important new medium. I just wish we could take a breath before haphazardly throwing around negative judgements on games and genres as a whole. I wish the take-away from these articles were less destruct-button, and more reset-button. It’s just beginning to seem irresponsible, especially when games have evolved so much in the few decades since their inception. Especially when you’re a high-profile and globally respected journalist.
All I know is that I’m sick of having my belief in the potential of video games constantly demolished by articulate basket cases. It’s a real bitch, having to pick up the pieces on a daily basis.
Games matter, if only for the sole statistic that more than half of America plays them (and the numbers grow globally every day). And they matter because of much more than too. I know you all know that. But the hysterical insecurities are starting to make you look like a bunch of middle school girls, game journalists.
Personally, I like to think of video game designers (and specifically the very newly titled “Narrative Designers”) as something akin to film-makers during the golden age of Hollywood. “People” loved disregarding the value of moving-pictures back then too. And now we laugh at those people. Just picture this: older-me with a Charlie Chaplin mustache, writing for the studio that’s making the Ocarina of Time of virtual-reality games. Obviously video games are a different beast than film (and the above is a purposely ridiculous fantasy). But for aspiring narrative designers I think the metaphor hits pretty close to home. We share the dream of shepherding a new frontier in entertainment. We want to be there on the front lines of a new age in storytelling. Games have a lot to learn. Narrative in games is so much harder to control than any other storytelling medium, which is part of the reason why we’ve found it so hard to articulate their value.
Figuring out how to tell effective stories in games is an enormous challenge. We’re far off… but isn’t that kind of wonderful?
There’s something important to be said about games, otherwise we wouldn’t find it so hard to talk about them. Figuring it out will be a long, exhausting, and perilous journey. But for this player, consider the challenge officially accepted.