May 20th, 2008
Video game culture; I find this so awfully difficult to write about yet so compelled to submit to the keyboard every time. Culture, culture, what is culture? It is an issue that I have been grappling with in this blog a couple of times already, each time concluding with mixed results. This time around though I think that I have formed a better methodology to approach the topic so let’s see what happens.
So Why Culture?
My interest in video game culture recently received a jump start when I read an article from Write the Game’s Keira Peney which summarized the various opinions on video game culture among us bloggers. Unfortunately I can’t say that I have read much on how other bloggers feel about gamer culture, which is probably why this article has opened a whole new can of worms which I’d like to explore.
It interested me why so many other people were also interested in gaming culture, it kinda surprised me a little as well. Once I got to the end of the article though and continued on to read the other articles referenced in the paper it all became clear. We have all been looking at culture from the same mind set.
What you’ll notice if you read any of the articles (including this one by me) is that we are all concerned about the growing negative social behaviour growing within our industry. Be it video game fandom, the negative overtones in online play and/or juvenile behaviour converging around online discussion boards; these are all issues of concern. We are all concerned because such behaviour is devouring the reputation of our industry and is restraining the growth of our identity as people. So therefore, in order to better understand this situation we have turned to culture (on the whole) as the answer.
Now that I am conscious of this I would like to step back and provide my own ideas about what elements within video game culture has spurred on this epidemic. Culture is, of course a complex issue and cannot be defined simply by a list of trends and occurrences. I’d like to acknowledge that. I’d also like to point out that culture is messy and you might notice, it is something that cannot be defined hence why I have had trouble differentiating video game culture as a whole from this negative social activity (another facet of video game culture itself).
What I am posting though is what I see to me dominate contributors to these issues. If you have your own ideas then be sure to let me know below or via email.
Competitive Playing Field
I am fortunate to have a twin brother whom is well….just like me, we both love games and as such we love to play games together. What we have noticed recently is just how few co-operative games are available. Funnily enough this realization has raised a serious point about the state of video game design.
I would like to purpose a forth wall activity here. Just take your eyes off the screen for a minute and mentally construct a list of video games with co-operative play and as a further challenge exclude all FPS games.
How’d you go? If you are like me then you might have had a difficult time thinking of more than 15 games. Now contrast this against the number of competitive games available (yep, that’s most games). Hopefully you get the point.
When you look at our industry from past to present it becomes clear that co-operative play has been somewhat of an after thought. The greater majority of video games nowadays have multiplayer modes and of those, competitive play is largely dominant. Competitive play is the default that all multiplayer is based around. Even team based, co-operative games are wrapped with competition. Take Zelda: 4 Swords as an example, the team must work together to get to the end of a dungeon but at the same time they are all fighting to obtain the highest number of rupees.
I think that there is a relationship between the lack of co-operation in games (and the dominance of competition) and the issues seen within social gaming. In games we are pit against each other, we are all vying for the number one spot. Think of how similar this is in the online discussion arena; each contributor is fighting with others to be more correct than the next. Multiplayer gaming has in some ways taught us about how black and white we are,we are either winners or losers, right or wrong. Multiplayer gaming, generally speaking does has taught us to work together, it has created competition and conflict which I think has perhaps influenced gamers to be less accepting of the opinions of others in favour of something better. Essentially when we play together we play against each other, when we discuss games together some of those competitive elements from multiplayer may indeed make their way into the conversation.
This perhaps explains why when looking at the contributors to such negative online discussion, why they are so polarized. Why casual gaming can be dismissed as uncool while guns and boobies are. Everyone that falls under this moniker wants to be a winner, they want to be correct which is partly why there is such a conformist attitude to saying yes stuff thats cool (guns and boobies) and no to stuff that isn’t (Wii Fit and Brain Training).
It is hard to gauge just how much of an impact this style of game design has had on us players. I think that if we switch the two, if co-operate play was the predominate multiplayer option then maybe we would be more accepting of others.
As a last point these design aspects have breed it’s own language with words such as pwnage, n00bs and the like. I think that the role of such language is also very interesting.
It’s in our Nature to Kill Ourselves
This idea came into my head when responding to a comment in my recent article about the Xbox 360. Essentially, taking the framework of the previous point in hand, here is an excerpt:
“I still stay grounded in my opinions though. I do think that the Xbox 360 library is very narrow in scope. How many quality Xbox 360 games do not involve shooting elements? Most of the games on the system all involve guns let alone the core titles. How many platformers, fighters, stratergy and RPG titles are on the system in contrast to shooting games? Just the fact that developers constantly put guns in the hands of their protagonists limits the scope before the core ideas are even developed.”
After writing this a few ideas fell into place. Firstly within the scope of the Xbox 360 console just look at the number of games that involve guns. Heaps, a good section if not majority of high profile games nowadays all place a gun in your hand and command you to you to kill. Much like competitive multiplayer it appears as though putting a gun in your hand is the latest trend among uninspired game design. Modern day game design; converging into the realm of killing our friends.
Maybe that is harsh, I do understand that violence does not really affect social behaviour and that this is all just good fun. If you put the pieces together though, a great deal of modern games don’t go to any lengths to encourage strong team building. It is all about rivalry with weapons. If anything, can’t it be seen that such a competitive environment set around the death of our opponents might not be the perfect breeding ground for positive behaviour, particularly among adolescence?
I’ve talked about this previously in other articles. This points works in favour of my ideas on multiplayer gaming. In this case I am talking about face. As consumers of video games, this hobby of ours is part of our identity.
People naturally don’t like it when their identity or beliefs are challenged. Whatever it is, this negative aura surrounding some online communities represents such a point. Some people feel that other people and their different opinions may possibly damage their identity and as such rebuttals begin. I think that this can be clearly seen in what is called ‘fanboy baiting’ where members of a community stir up someone whom is loyally dedicated to a brand. From the perspective of the fan the other members are threatening his identity, his existence and as such he or she launches into a war of words.
Anonymity of Online Interaction
This topic has been discussed many times in journals regarding online interaction. This whole issue is self explanatory so I will try to be brief. Essentially being the medium it is, the internet (where such negative behaviour can take place, be it on the web or online games) allows users to remain anonymous. Users do not have as severe consequences as that in real life. If in real life you go to a public forum and abuse other members within that forum then you will be kicked out and at worst prosecuted for being a public nuisance. On the other hand if you do the same online the worst case scenario is an IP ban which, with a little bit of work, can be overcome.
The people who par take in this sort of negative behaviour are all real people (well at least they should be!) and much like in society at large there are bad eggs. This makes up a small proportion of the general playing audience but is still a contributing factor,
So there are my ideas, I am glad to have finally made sense of what it is I am trying to do with culture. These contributions are just ideas, culture is a fickle thing and there is no way that all sources can be accurately documented without at least a little bit of generalization. I hope that I have shed an inkling of light over what is such a complicated issue.