There have been a lot of articles/videos/opinion pieces, etc put out discussing some of the problematic areas in the gaming industry. Discussing things from sexism, racism, and violence. In response to this there have been a lot of groups that have come out in full force demanding that these opinion pieces need not be shared and are bad for the industry.
I have two things I would like to state to the reader before moving on. One, I disagree with polarizing opinions of any kind (something I will discuss more further down). Two, that I don’t want to make another article discussing the specific problems. Rather I want this to be about why I think discussing these problems is good, why the debate is needed.
The truth is there are troubling aspects of the game industry. They range from the content in games, the hiring practices of companies, to the behavior of gamers themselves. Are the people writing about games truly unbiased? Is it right to raise money via Kickstarter to make videos about the gaming industry? Are game companies not hiring enough women, or is it more a problem with education and girls not pursuing these jobs? Are video games sexist? Racist? Do intentions matter when making something sexist or racist? These are valid and important questions, and these are valid and important questions that are going to be asked regardless of who is asking them.
In the 1990s there were massive debates over the video game industry, and specifically violence in the industry. Notably absent from these debates were gamers. Politicians and people with little to no connection to gaming controlled the conversation. They controlled it so well and so effectively that the industry created the ESRB in order to avoid massive censorship of video games. It was a rating system put in place quickly and comprehensively in order to stop politicians from ultimately killing games. The discussion was happening, it just wasn’t open for gamers to really control the way it went.
That is the important difference now. All forms of media, from art to video games, have these massive discussions about content and the viewer. The great debate over what is art is still waged. And what does it say about the consumers of art when they have certain reactions. Books went through government bans and are still facing bans in schools based on content. Movies and TVs will never escape the discussion of their role in American lives. All of this media also has many discussions about racism and sexism. The important part is that those creating this media, and those consuming it, have an active part in the discussion. It is not controlled by those that want to silence them.
Gamers are finally in a position where they can directly control the debate. The debates will happen, most of the population of America plays games in some capacity. The likelihood that games will be the only popular media that some how escapes question is pretty much slim to none. Even if we could, why would we want to? Don’t we want to talk about these issues and make sure that games, those writing about them, those playing them, and those designing them continue to improve and bring positive changes to the industry?
The debates will happen though. Games have moved to rival the most popular forms of entertainment and media so there is no escaping them. So isn’t it better that the debates are happening with gamers? That the questions are being raised by gamers? That gamers have a chance to answer and a chance to guide and direct the conversation, if not the answers themselves. We are no longer sitting on the sidelines while politicians threaten mass censorship, we are front and center. In fact when outsiders get too far into the debates they are usually turned away or at least told to take a back seat to those in the know.
Yes, part of opening the debate does come with a negative. It opens the debate to those that want to take a polarizing viewpoint in order to cause drama and gain money from it. They are the ones that demand that the industry is only problematic without discussion, or that people need to just shut up because there is nothing wrong. Make no mistake these people are two sides to the same coin. They exist in a realm of controversial statements without any real discussion. These people don’t need to control the debate though, in fact they don’t need to be invited to it.
Let’s let those that talk about the need for more representation in games but acknowledge the progress the industry has made control it. Let those who talk about the lack of women in the industry but have real solutions and don’t just blame the industry itself control the debate. Let the vast majority of gamers who see the problems, still enjoy games, and have no wish to drive other gamers out control it.
The debate is important because it’s going to happen. These issues won’t just go away because people don’t want to discuss them. Video games have made it, it is popular entertainment now. Part of making it means that these issues will be looked at under a microscope. Not every gamer has to participate, if you don’t want to then don’t, simple as that. But don’t try to argue that we need to silence those bringing it up. Race, sexism, who is playing games, who is making games, what influence games have on people, all of these things won’t go away. The difference is now we as gamers have the chance to control the tone. We don’t have to sit by, we don’t have to desperately create something like the ESRB in order to stop people from stealing it from us. Keep the debate going, and decide who gets to be involved. Silence the polarizing people, and instead support those calmly discussing the issues with an open mind and solutions. Support the developers that want to see the industry move forward. Question those writing about games to keep them honest about what they are doing.
Embrace and enjoy the debate. Enjoy that gamers are no longer looked down on or subject to losing our voice should we choose not to. Acknowledge the problems, but still enjoy your games. And if you want to then involve yourself in the discussion.