I spend a lot of my time trying, in print and in person, to work against the negative stereotypes that abound concerning videogames and gamers. Sure, sometimes that effort involves pointing up some of the negative characteristics of gamers and game developers that a lot of people either don’t notice or tacitly accept as “just the way things are.” Yet, on the whole I am usually trying to convince others that the world of gaming is interesting, complex, significant and, potentially, a hugely important force shaping our culture. Every so often, however, I’m reminded how powerfully the gaming industry is not an ally in this effort.
I was loitering in my local mall recently and found myself outside Gamestop. Now, like most game outlets, the place is normally dead to me since they stopped carrying PC games in the benighted belief that no one plays them anymore. Fuck you and your consolephilia, Gamestop! This particular Gamestop is also a bit of a hole in the wall, it often looks as if it is barely one step above an adult novelty store, and they don’t have a lot of window space. On this particular day, half of one window was taken up with this giant poster:
That’s right, pre-order this game and you get the ability to dropkick someone into the whirling blades of a helicopter. Clearly this is a thinking person’s game. I can’t think why the average person is convinced that hardcore games are largely a domain of trivial dreck played by intellectually stunted boys who never left their fraternity house.
The precursor to this game (go on, guess. . .that’s right, Prototype) received a great score on Metacritic. But as always with Metacritic, the devil is in the details. Metacritic’s massive failing is that it simply aggregates without any attempt at weighting the scores. So something that is one-step above this blog. . .well, OK, let’s give myself and my fellow contributors a little credit here. . .something that is one stop above Joe Schmoe’s Famous Fanboy Blog is lumped in with reviews by gaming publications that have been around for years and employ reviewers with considerable experience. Prototype received absurd scores (98/100? Really?) from a host of no-name sites; you have to scroll down to the bottom to see any of the voices of reason pointing out what was blindingly obvious from even the trailers for this game: nothing new to see here, it is a low-rent knockoff. And now it’s spawn looks even worse. Seriously, what do you imagine the gameplay will be like for a title that has people hanging around in a squatting position waiting for you to put them through a rotary dicer? Of course, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly on this blog, that same-old same-old is exactly what most gamers really want (all protestations to the contrary). I’m surprised there wasn’t a crowd of players jacking themselves silly in front of this poster, to be honest.
Don’t think I’m being pointy-headed here. I love gaming carnage. I rejoiced every time my massively overpowered shotgun in F.E.A.R. would disintegrate people (literally) in a bloody rain of body parts. The fact that my mercenary companion character in The Old Republic seems to delight in finishing people off with a shotgun blast to the face causes me no end of amusement. But the “Bio Bomb Butt-Kicker?” Really? Now I may be completely wrong, and this game will be the title that redefines gaming as we know it. But ten gets you twenty that I’m not.
Right next to this poster was a more interesting example:
This poster captures the powerful appeal implicit in many games, and the degree to which they tread the fine line between reality and fantasy. Like many shooters, the Call of Duty games are often obsessively concerned with realism. Well, certain kinds of realism at least, mainly the look and behavior of the weapons. And the vast majority of FPS players play these games fully aware that these are fantasy scenarios, where you progress from a hapless noob to be a powerful and experienced killing machine by the end of it all. But deep down within even the most sceptical gamer I am sure that there lurks the dream that shades into suspicion that maybe this is more real than it looks. That when the time comes, and the hordes (whomever the Horde of Choice is at that particular time) menace our homes and loved ones, I will be ready because I have played this game. There’s the dreamy believer in all of us.