Art’s greatest quality is that it typically doesn’t care about what you want, but rather what it needs. In principle, one expresses for the sole purpose of conveying an established idea, based solely on that idea’s own merits and necessities. We, as a collective, cherish particular pieces of art and entertainment because they successfully portray something in a manner that shows an admirable degree of intuition and skill.
Good games are not born of a void. The majority of those who have created works worthy of remembrance knew precisely what they were doing. In a venerable title, most mechanics and features work because they had a planned and well-reasoned purpose.
Some seem to ignore this fact, though, and they beckon a change in videogames that adheres to their individual needs. In short: They feel underrepresented in the artform, and therefore claim that it should consider their position, regardless of whether or not it would benefit from such consideration.
Fortunately for the medium, it actually doesn’t need to be inclusive in order to be good. At all.
The green tint of The Matrix had a purpose, and it wasn’t because the color is somehow rare in science-fiction.
“Art for art’s sake”
This quaint little cliché is familiar to many, perhaps with the exception of those who have but an observational relationship with artistic expression. Though its use is now somewhat variable, its core meaning implies that whatever has been utilized in the creation of a particular art piece was done so for the sake of its own integrity and nothing else.
In Double Fine’s Psychonauts, the main character, Razputin, physically explores the subconscious of Lake Oblongata’s “Hideous Hulking Lungfish” (AKA Linda). In this lake monster’s brain, the player assumes the role of a giant, menacing Raz, who proceeds to unintentionally terrorize a sprawling city of placid, law-abiding lungfish. This is mainly an expression of the insecurities a grotesque creature like Linda feels amidst a world of “normal” beings. Such is the case with every level in the game — repressed baggage being reflected through the motif of each character’s subconscious.
The beastly experience of Lungfishopolis exists predominantly as a thematic correlation for the sake of Psychonauts, entirely. It has a purpose all its own — simple, yet brilliant. To add this stage for no other reason than “some people like monster films” does no real favors to such a great game. It just ends up being there, off to the side and contributing to nothing.
Blizzard Entertainment … or was it Bethesda Softworks?
Hmm, not enough me in this. Could use more me.
We often project ourselves onto the games we experience, but some individuals now expect the medium to project onto them. It seems the “gender equality” movement of this industry has spread from the justifiably concerning world of employment to the wholly non-existent realm of fantasy. The usual point is that too many (the majority, in fact) of protagonists are white, male, buff, stalwart, and so on. The basis of their argument against this: “We need more [minority group X] in games, simply because not enough are there.”
This is to assume that a mere lack of something, anything, provides an absence of value that would otherwise be added if that something, anything, were merely included. Also, this sentiment is based on the unfounded conclusion that minority status retains its own unique, outstanding qualities. In all honesty, my Costa Rican background provides nothing of any particular worth, unless the cultural idiosyncrasies of my heritage compliment the overall experience.
This push for more minority groups to be featured in videogames is a matter of personal representation. I fully understand this, being of Latin-American descent in the United States, but shouldn’t representation be a concern of politics, not games? This is fantasy we’re talking about; its purpose is not to fill some quota of diversity, nor is it to refer to a checklist of missing elements. The whole reason for its existence is to provide a form of escapism that actively distances us from the bullshit we endure in the real world.
A desire for videogames to adhere to your personal sensibilities and preferences is to actively meld reality with fantasy. In that regard, many would argue that you’re failing to suspend your disbelief.
Remember all of those Dominicans who cheered victoriously and how games were changed forever? Yeah, neither do I.
You want fries with that?
It’s rather unsettling that many individuals regard games as nothing more than tools to satisfy their personal delights. Yes, those same people strive for the medium to be viewed as a “form of art”, but they often don’t bother to truly understand just what makes the most cherished of art so reverential. Everything is negotiable to them: graphical style, themes, gender, race, nomenclature, etiquette, language … like toppings on a hamburger. It seems that the consumer market has fooled gamers into thinking that these “works of art” are here to serve our preferences, never their own intentions.
Fortunately, art is incredibly self-serving. Its truest value lies in its personal identity — sometimes derived from that of its creator. Of course, an aspiration of every developer is to successfully reach a market, but the process of a game’s creation is often based solely on its own needs and, most importantly, the knowledge, skill, and milestones of those crafting the work.
Never do designers think to themselves, “Hmm, I wonder if Ryan Perez — Hispanic/Danish descendant, ex-Christian, moderate, objectivist, obsessive compulsive — would enjoy or agree with this.” They don’t care, and they have every reason not to, because I don’t matter in this particular process.
Developers want their work to be good in its own right, not to be my perfect little friend.
The sex minigames would have been interesting. That’s for damn sure.
Let the chef form his own menu
I just want to be clear: This is not an argument that we should only ever perpetuate “norms” in games, simply because they are the usual template. That is a logical fallacy, as readily as the idea that we should step outside the norm, solely based on the belief that diversity retains some form of inherent value. “New” does not necessarily equal quality.
The point of this is to leave implementation in the hands of artists; they’re the ones doing the work, enduring the crunch, and serving the medium. I would rather they do what’s necessary for their game and what they feel confident and comfortable with, rather than risk fumbling in an attempt to relate to me on a personal level. Art that serves is common and does not speak volumes, in the sense that mere plebs are never hearkened by kings, caliphs, and kaisers.
I will not, for one second, lie about the fact that it has been incredibly privileging to take on the role of white men in most of my games, but believe me when I say that that’s not why I enjoyed them. My favorite titles are so cherished because they retain intuitive controls, sharp writing, intriguing puzzles, riveting gameplay, and great art direction … all of which have nothing to do with the identity of the person playing.
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