As everyone’s favorite whipping boy, video games are blamed by everyone from politicians and journalists to “culture critics” for everything bad in the world. Cracked, a site that once celebrated the medium, has turned against video game enthusiasts—gamers—for “holding back” the medium.
In a newly released video, the publication lists out five reasons video games are stunted as an artistic medium, falling behind movies and books—in their opinion.
“The level of violence is smearing banana paste on your chest and calling yourself the king of France insane”
Right off the bat, Cracked claims that violent video games are the only ones available on the market. This is of course untrue, but it’s one of those old chestnuts that the medium’s critics like to bring up, alongside “video games are sexist” and “video games are for children.” The popularity of the new Pokemon, Civilization VI and any number of non-violent games out this year should be enough to dispute that claim.
“We don’t want any innovation in getting between us and scratching our murder itch,” says Cracked’s Josh Sargent, who cites a claim by Jonathan McIntosh (“a Twitter user”) that 89% of video games presented at E3 feature violent content.
McIntosh, who previously called for game developers to get rid of moral choices in their games, to prevent players from making their own decisions, was widely derided for his moralizing views.
Cracked claims people “lost their shit” at McIntosh for sharing a statistic, while failing to mention that the real reason they did so was because in the days prior, he blamed video games for the Orlando night club massacre, stating that games “glorify guns, gun violence, or gun culture.”
Not missing a beat, Sargent claims that video games are recreations of the “most fucked up things we see in the news,” calling the hobby and defense of the hobby “weird”. He says that violence in movies can be excused because it’s “different kinds of violence,” as if video games do not offer an equally diverse range of experiences—many of which aren’t even violent.
“The anger thing probably isn’t a coincidence”
Cracked says that the “gamer” identity is corrupt because typing up the word “gamer” in Google autocompletes to GamerGate, a movement that the publication falsely calls an “internet harassment campaign” with ties to white supremacy groups. As we’ve exhaustively reported, GamerGate is a far more complex movement-turned-media bogeyman that can’t easily be boiled down to a soundbite.
In the video, Sargent says that gamers are angrier than everyone else, citing an Arthur Chu article about why gamers are bad and a screenshot of an unpopular subreddit with fewer than a thousand members. “Everybody knows this,” he claims.
People who play video games are only about as prone to anger as anyone else. Despite being a $20 billion-a-year industry, gaming enthusiasts have never committed wide-scale acts of violence like sports spectators, who’ve burned down stadiums and caused massive city-wide riots. Just this year, thousands of football fans rioted in the streets of Paris during the UEFA Euro 2016 cup.
“We don’t actually care about story”
“We gamers, you and me, don’t give a fuck,” says Sargent about narratives in games. “It’s not why we play. It never has been and it never will be. The stories don’t matter to us.”
Speak for yourself. The issue with many games is that they just don’t have good enough stories for anyone to really care about.
But games with good stories do exist, and gamers care about them. Titles belonging to the Deus Ex, Final Fantasy, Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises have always emphasized story over everything else, and they remain some of the most popular games in existence.
Some of the best games use their controls and game mechanics in service of the stories they tell. It’s especially evident in games like Dark Souls, where the non-standard controls and unforgiving difficulty provides the player with a deep sense of dread and powerlessness. It serves to complement the game’s hopeless narrative.
And besides, if we’re going to talk about the importance of story, I need only mention The Witcher 3.
“We don’t actually care if games are art or not”
To answer the question as to whether video games are art, we must first define what art means in the context of video games, which can tell their stories through standard narratives, as well as through gameplay.
Much like the scene in the Breaking Bad episode “Abiquiu,” Jesse Pinkman doesn’t find any appreciation in Georgia O’Keeffe’s multiple paintings of a door whereas his girlfriend thinks the artist painted that door repeatedly to express onto canvas the feelings she felt at the time.
For many gamers, enjoying a game is very much the same thing as each of those paintings. Each round of Counter-Strike or Overwatch is different from the last, offering new experiences—some of which are worth remembering.
Some games can make us cry, make us feel angry, or hopeless, while others can give us a sense of accomplishment. Some games, like The Last of Us, create a feeling of empathy. Like all art, video games run the gamut of human emotion. To dismiss them as Skinner boxes is dismissive and betrays what little understanding one might have towards the medium.
“Video games are not relaxing”
This might be the worst point brought up by the video. Sargent once again mentions violent video games, which he argues breeds aggression and frustration.
Perhaps the fault lies with his conflation of “relaxing” with “boring,” because video games can be relaxing in the sense that you don’t always have to be thinking about the problems you have in real life when you’re focusing entirely on chaining combo attacks in Final Fantasy XV, building a castle in Minecraft, or cruising around the streets of San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2.
And if games are “addictive” in any way, it’s only because they tend to be more engaging than other forms of media.
Ultimately, video games offer a wide variety of experiences that don’t revolve around the violent dismemberment of demons, robots, and armed killers. Judging from this year’s releases alone, there are titles that cater to every stripe of gamer, ranging from shooters and RPGs to strategy games, personal adventures, and even theme park simulations.
If video games have a problem, it’s with people who just hate the idea of other people having fun.