Credibility. Respect. Legitimacy. Call it whatever you’d like, but it seems gaming is constantly defending the label. Can you consider gaming an art form? Do violent games create violent kids? Is gaming just for anti-social people? Is eSports really a viable career?
This constant barrage has often been from those outside of this industry, looking in. A strong defence can surely be made that gaming has withstood external scrutiny, in many regards, with flying colours.
The glare from within
For many reasons that won’t be discussed now, gaming culture has often had a “Them vs. Us” mentality when it comes to interacting with the rest of the world. A major factor in that is due, right or wrong, to perceived attacks from mainstream media outlets and their audiences.
An ill-informed mainstream journalist writes a hit piece on some aspect of gaming, exposing their little to no understanding of the context around issues in gaming and it leads to mainstream audiences reaffirming already biased, ignorant views on the gaming world. We’ve all see in before.
Nobody likes to be attacked, least of all gamers, yet that’s been at the center of the latest drama to envelope the gaming world. The latest installment of Zelda, Breath of the Wild, has recently come out with the arrival of Nintendo’s Switch and the overwhelming majority have been singing its praises to anyone that would listen.
Glowing reviews have been heaped on its throne and all was well in the Nintendo universe. Until Jim Sterling decided to give the game a 7/10. The backlash was swift and merciless and completely over the top. Some went as far as to DDoS his website. (Source)
With Mass Effect: Andromeda having just come out and with so many holding high expectations for the game, views are already polarised following less than pleasant character animations and dialogue. Although it must be said, arguments around the game have not reached anywhere near the level of Jim Sterling’s Zelda review.
In response to the Sterling/Zelda drama, the following tweet resurfaced:
Video games biggest road block to becoming a "respected art form" are the people who play them.
— 9 V O L T (@9_volt88) May 22, 2015
My initial response to the tweet was dismissive. Typically empty rhetoric. Gaming didn’t need to fight for legitimacy as an art form and if people were too slow to realise that it was, well then so be it. However, Danny raised an interesting point as we debated the validity of the aforementioned tweet:
@g_kayy It most definitely holds back the desire to create art! Who do creators make things for? Why should anyone risk their souls for that
— Danny Day (@dislekcia) March 13, 2017
The debate around gaming’s claim to legitimacy in whatever form has always been with the notion that it was about convincing those outside the gaming world of its credibility. But what if the scrutiny we need to face up to isn’t from outside but rather within. What if the debate isn’t a “Them vs. Us” but rather an “Us vs. Us” debate?
Aggression with a side of critique
If you’ve ever written an unpopular piece on gaming, be it a review or opinion piece, you’ve most likely experienced what Sterling has. Perhaps not to those extremes, but you’ve at least experienced severe backlash in some way, shape or form.
This kind of aggression is not exclusive to gaming culture, it is a phenomenon that occurs in all industries due to the accessibility and platforms that the internet provides. From music to film to art, many are lambasted by online mobs for perceived injustices. However, none of these industries have undergone the growing pains that gaming has in recent years.
Whilst gaming has been around since before I was born, it is only in recent years that it has stopped being perceived by the mainstream public as just a time waster but a powerful medium for storytelling; That gaming can be more than just a button mashing, action packed hobby. Looking at eSports, the rise to legitimacy has been even more exponential as milestones are being achieved every year in a variety of competitive titles.
So yes, to the outside world gaming has begun to back up its claim to legitimacy with concrete numbers and titles that have shown the potential of gaming. But how much has gaming changed when you look at it within? As more and more companies rush in to get a piece of this digital pie, how welcoming and nurturing has the industry been for the creators of everything that we love?
To this day, game reviewers are still attacked with such unnecessary vitriol. A reviewer will critique one aspect of a game and those that disagree will take it as a personal affront, resulting in completely over the top aggression and little to no actual critique for the reviewer to grow from.
You often hear of gaming journalists leaving the scene entirely to pursue other prospects and many cite the mental fortitude required to be involved in the gaming scene as a reason for leaving. The same line of thinking comes up when pro players explain reasons for leaving the scene or mitigating the amount of time they spend interacting with the community.
Diving into the world of being a game dev is something even more arduous. You pour days, months, years of your life into a project, only to find people sending you death threats and absolutely awful comments over a game. Disliking a game is perfectly fine, but it never justifies attacking someone personally over it.
Us v Us?
Gaming has come such a long way and is still growing so quickly. But massive growth and incredible milestones shouldn’t detract from the fact that none of it would be possible without the creators of content. That spans from the YouTubers to the journalists to the game developers themselves.
Of course, content creators wouldn’t be anywhere without the community either. It’s a mutual relationship that helps to propel gaming to dizzying heights. So why do something that harms that wonderful symbiosis?
This is not to say that content creators should be excluded from criticism. Everyone needs criticism as it allows for in-depth discussions and helps people to grown and learn from one another. However, all out aggression and insults are not criticism. Criticism can be given without resorting to personal attacks or accompanied with death threats
The battle of legitimacy in the eyes of mainstream audiences may be shifting in our favour, but I think a lot of work needs to be done in creating legitimacy in our own scene. Last night I met a 19 year old who wants to get into game design and I shudder to think of what she’ll have to endure if nothing changes now. Credibility. Respect. Legitimacy. Call it whatever you’d like, but it seems the term is a precarious one when it comes to Us vs. Us.