Video games are not the enemy
Gaming should not be vilified as many video games’ themes provide opportunities for thought and discussion. | www.participaction.com
Video games usually make the news for gratuitous violence, sexism and obscenity. And despite their skyrocketing popularity, gamers and games have been unable to shake the stereotype of perpetuating antisocial and sedentary behavior. Though it is true that gaming addictions, just like any addiction, endanger an individual’s physical and mental health, reducing the industry to its product’s abusers harms not only the individual players, but also discounts its power and contributions to the world today.
In the 2011 case, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court officially considered video games art and in 2012 the Museum of Modern Art acquired 14 videogames for its collection. Like film, video games combine narratives and visual aesthetics to explore and express various aspects of humanity. The medium at its core allows the player to interact with another virtual world much more personally than film. In gaming, the players overcome obstacles, the players defeat the villains and the players make the difficult decisions while facing the consequences.
“Heavy Rain,” for example, sends you to rescue the main character’s kidnapped son, forcing you into ethical dilemmas, such as having to consider whether to kill an innocent man so that the kidnappers do not kill your son. Though I have not played it due to its violent and sexual content, the game perfectly exemplifies how the medium contains the potential to cause the players to consider their morals and their consequences in ways that other mediums cannot.
Video games also perform another function of art — criticizing perceived social ills. “The Binding of Isaac” and its update, “The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth,” directly alludes to the biblical story of God asking Abraham to kill his son, but then providing a ram in his place. In the game, Isaac’s mother, while watching Christian broadcasting, hears a voice from above to kill her son. Though he escapes through a trap door, he must battle the monsters in the depths below. Many see this as a simple criticism of fanatic religion, but others theorize that the game reflects the game creator’s escape of his own childhood guilt in a religious household, creating conversation around uncomfortable topics, leaving room for future change.
The potential uses of games do not lie only in art. Politics, economics, and charity have all found their place in the gaming industry. NSA agents disguised themselves as elves and gnomes in World of Warcraft to spy on terrorists who used WoW to move money, send messages and train for combat. Virtual economies create models for real ones as game goods are exchanged for real currency, and developers must consult real economists to solve economic problems in their games. Let’s Players, video game playthrough commentators, on YouTube like Mark Fischbach and Felix Kjellberg, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity organizations through their millions of subscribers.
In the age of new media and technology, video games and those who play them have the power to make a difference in society, whether through thoughtful consideration of their themes or through the application of its mass popularity. Although video games primarily entertain, they are much more than just entertainment.