A critical look at the American gamer: easily entertained, easily amused

As years go by and the video game industry continues to thrive, I often wonder when the day will come when video games stop being treated like second-rate children’s entertainment. You know what I mean, of course. The stares and looks you might receive once you’ve told someone what you like to do in your spare time: “You still play video games?” might be the common occurrence you hear. I nod my head, usually saying something of equal bastard-respite like, “Yes, I am still involved in a forty-billion dollar industry. How about you, are still masturbating to porn? Because video games are bigger than porn.”

In fact, video games are expected to swell to a $68 billion dollar industry world-wide by 2012. Even at its current statistics already, however, video games are the third-largest entertainment market in the world. In the world, friends. Who would’ve ever thought Pong would have brought us so far? Instead, video games are now starting to out-perform movie budgets and revenue intake. So why the hell is America so far behind in the times with G4 showing twenty-three hours of smut and one hour of video game-related air time and SyFy believing we all want to watch a bunch of whiny pretty boys and girls yelling at each other Real World-style?

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Mainstream video game media; for better or for worse

We often criticize mainstream media in the general news as playing sides and being backed by big business to influence the news. Better yet, an even more recurring theme for mainstream media is the attempt to stay on the top with poor attempts of fear-mongering and with exaggerated stories. We’ve all seen this at play: “Massacre at gas station robbery!” The news goes on then to report three people were killed in said robbery. It’s done to garner the attention of the viewer and to ensure that you stay on the station as much as possible. Instead of news reporting it’s simply Entertainment Tonight. At least ET doesn’t even try to dress up the fact that they’re simply in it for the ratings, however.

But we like to think video gaming media is different, yeah? I mean, we are talking about a multi-billion dollar industry that employs hundreds of thousands across the globe. Except our deal with the news in video games has to go beyond the simple reporting of what’s coming out next month or new trailers being released. We’ve moved on from the simple reporting to going on with feature stories and interviews. For good measure you throw in some reviews as well (it’s only fair; newspapers throw in movie reviews all the time). And yet even our mainstream media has evolved into a hive mind of likely tactics.

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Dark, dank dungeon-delving: dubiously dumb?

There are some typical trope settings to video games: a war zone, an apocalyptic land, zombies ate my neighbors, and even to hell and back. The themes usually applied to such miserable settings is a dark one, further hitting home that where you are, in a video game, is not a nice place to be. It’s a common story element to try and bring fear to the player in the way a bayou at dusk with fog on the horizon and the howling of woodland creatures would inspire worry. It’s the sense and feeling of waiting for it, and waiting for it—the anticipation that something may jump out at you at any moment. Or perhaps the lack of anticipating anything at all on a barren world.

Setting is part of the triad to story-telling. For any story to work, it needs characters, a plot, and a setting. Each is as crucial to the other and they usually need to go hand-in-hand with one another if the story is going to be any sorts of good. But just like a horror novel, you have to make sure that what you’re writing (and in this case, developing) is going to be enjoyable to the target demographic of gamers.

But what exactly is enjoyable? To each is own is certainly a nice expression to apply, but do people really get their jollies from roaming around in Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland from hours on end? Or roaming around the nine levels of Hell in Dante’s Inferno? The favelas in Modern Warfare 2? The Deep Roads in Dragon Age: Origins? Riverside campaign Death Toll in Left 4 Dead? Are these the sorts of settings that gamers enjoy spending copious amount of time (sometimes the entire length of the game) surrounding their selves in dark and dreary worlds whose color palette includes gray and brown as its main swatches? Read more of this post

My God has more hitpoints than yours

Video games cover an array of different themes and elements (some of them even cover current affairs) from time to time when the developers are pushing their product to be something other than an action sequence. In this endeavor, they might actually hire the fabled “writers” to put in a coherent back story, add depth to the setting, and then put a twist on it. Usually, however, developers just pick a coder’s name out of a hat from a fanfic selection night and dub him the writer. That, or just hire some monkeys and sit them in front of typewriters and hope for the best. Either way, a story within a game is obviously commonplace in today’s market. But let’s look at a specific element that only a few ballsy writers actually try to take on. In this case, I’m talking about religion. Read more of this post

Working your own agenda: Report on video game minority characters is terribly flawed

Gamasutra wrote on a story a couple days back about a report from Science Daily that apparently takes a look at how “minorities” are misrepresented in video games today. According to the study, researchers covered the top 150 games in a year across nine platforms and found that the games do not “accurately represent American society.” The report fails to mention the specifics of all the games, but does happen to mention a few games that apparently reinforce typical stereotypes, like 50 Cent: Bulletproof, which, according to the study, reinforces the stereotypes attributed to African-Americans. Apparently they failed to realized the game was based off 50 Cent himself, who, by jove, actually does happen to exhibit every typical stereotype attributed to African-Americans. But, you know, that’s not his fault; it’s definitely the game’s fault for portraying what he constantly claims do to in his lyrics. Read more of this post