Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Realistic Truth

There has been a recent uptick in the way the industry looks at violence in video games, a few recent media darlings have come under fire for being ultra-violent and taking real issues lightly. The argument has been made that they are sensationalizing real life issues, from the implying of sexual assault to a young Lara Croft to the apocalyptic violence of the Last of Us, game writers, developers, and gamers themselves have started to ask the question is it too much?

The Last of Us is a story that is set in an apocalyptic United States. A fungal plague decimated modern civilization. Joel, who is a black market dealer and Elle, the 14 year old daughter of an old friend recently passed; have to make the journey west. I don’t know about you, but when the end comes I intend to be holed up in Colorado in a nice tight bunker with a decade worth of supplies and ammo. I kid, but only a little, I think we all expect that any long term collapse of society is going to be bad and then worse for years if not decades. The Last of Us doesn’t shy away from that violence. Of course the other half of the equation is whether or not Naughty Dog will focus too much on the violence. At the end of the day, we can’t say, we just have to trust the track record and judge the final product. But that game is nearly a year away, why are we judging it now, based on a smidgen of game play; it’s unfair and more importantly it’s pointless grandstanding.

I would make the argument that video games don’t spend enough time tackling the real issues. Often time our heroes and heroines live in fairy tale worlds where nothing bad ever happens to them. Oh they live and die, feel love and loss, but it always seems they escape the darkness that pervades the real world. Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider is supposed to be this young college girl, the woman she was before she became the legend. 1 in 4 women around the world have been sexually assaulted and the numbers are probably half that for men. To dismiss the issue or to say that games can’t have a real impact on the discussion that our society makes on these issues is to relegate our industry to irrelevance.

Now I can’t say for a fact that Tomb Raider is an insightful look at a very real issue for young women. Even Crystal Dynamics, the development house making this game, can’t seem to make up its mind about what is happening even though the scene is obvious to anyone watching. We tend to want to push the problems facing our society under the rug like it never happened, and with the backlash about this issue taking up more ink space than anything about the game itself we shouldn’t be surprised to see that it’s written completely out of the story entirely. And that would be a shame, video games have made numerous missteps over the years with gay bashing, racial slurs, and misogynistic tendencies; we have too few success stories to ignore or erase another possible one. Video games have to be able to talk about the real issues in meaningful ways if we are ever to be anything more than an expensive hobby.

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