There’s a long-overdue cultural movement sweeping videogames. It is a change from the inside, spurred by the independent-minded and imaginative and validated by a rising demand from the audience. Games need to change, we are saying. They need to appeal to more people and deliver a broader experience than they have for the last 30-odd years. I believe that these dreams will come to pass. Thanks to the passions of creator and audience, videogames will blossom into a medium for everyone, not just those who know how to work an Xbox controller or update their video card drivers. We will see our favorite mediums’ true potential revealed.
But one part of this sea change worries me: What will happen to all the stupid shit?
The tracking on that copy of The Evil Dead II was shot, but the spine on Great Expectations had nary a crease.
Truly, videogames are one of our culture’s last few bastions of truly repugnant, willfully ignorant junk. Hollywood tries as it might to keep the flames of brain-dead entertainment burning, but for every mind-numbing Battleship that media machine craps out there’s an Avengers – which was, against all odds, kinda sorta smart. Of course one could make a list of all the idiotic movies that Hollywood makes every year. But the numbers are down. And, I think we can all agree, that the level of unrepentant nonsense has fallen drastically. Anyone who lived through the ’80s will remember movie marquees full of horror sequels and video store aisles brimming with shameless sex comedies. Those times were a golden age of base entertainment. I saw the best minds of my generation rotted by Troma pictures, gorging mindlessly on crass exploitation while their English 101 assignments went unread. The tracking on that copy of The Evil Dead II was shot, but the spine on Great Expectations had nary a crease.
Games, on the other hand, remain dominated by the stupid. We have picked up the torch and have carried it proudly, like a college freshmen hopped up on whip-its, streaking across the quad. So many of our games are brutish and simple – their goals are blatant (kill stuff) and their moralities unrefined (dull and grey). As many are willing to point out, much of this stuff is culturally regressive. It is sex-obsessed, but totally unwilling to explore sexuality in a mature, thoughtful manner. The way women are represented in most games is crazily problematic. Games are, for the most part, a boys club hopped up on high school hormones and insecurities. It is a bummer that these concerns can dominate an entire medium. During the aforementioned golden age of dumb-as-dirt, sexist, nihilistic movies there existed a rich world of cinema in parallel to all the VHS junk. Games struggle to say anything meaningful and when they do it is to a small audience. Games are like comics, where the weirdness of the audience has mutated the form into something way too homogeneous to live.
Now that audience is growing and games are changing. That’s a good thing. But what about the stupid shit? Where will we go for cheap, lurid, irresponsible thrills when the tide of idiocy ebbs and the medium matures? As repugnant and harmful as you find this stuff, try to look at Lollipop Chainsaw and Hitman as you would a blind, poisonous and altogether hideous cave frog who can only breathe the toxic fumes of a dank, sunless cave. As gross and useless as that species may seem, it probably serves some small purpose in the grand scheme. Don’t hide your revulsion, go ahead and upchuck your salad. But don’t crush those vile creatures under your boot. Wouldn’t it be nice if those slimy little amphibians could live in their dark havens and go about their poisonous business without biting and infecting all the nice people up on the surface?
Even a cursory glance at the history of creativity suggests that humanity needs that disgusting aisle of worn-out Russ Meyer tapes and grotesque horror flicks as much as we need our high-minded, empathy-inspiring art. Please fix games, you soldiers for all that is good. Make games smart and make them for everyone.
But please, in your remaking of this deformed world, let just a little bit of the stupid shit live.
Pretension +1 is a weekly column about the intersection of games and our everyday lives. Follow Gus Mastrapa on Twitter: @Triphibian