There’s something I really feel is kind of being passed over in this discussion that I really wish wasn’t.
Russ is saying he wants to take over The Escapist and take it in a less political direction. But he isn’t saying that he wants to take over The Escapist and also Kotaku and also Polygon and also, well, whatever other websites you care to name, and take the whole world of games criticism in a less political direction.
A lot of people have pointed out that all life is political, and that pretending we can talk about anything and not engage with it politically in some respect is wrong. That we shouldn’t go back to the way things were in the ’90s and ’00s and first half of the ’10s, where political discussion seemed in some way verboten in games media. And I agree with that. The genie, as one commenter has said, is out of the bottle, and thank God it is. All art exists in context, and all art influences and is influenced by society.
At the same time… Let’s try to have some context of our own. We’re not going to go back to that time. We are having one magazine, one website out of many, move away from being explicitly political. We are not — Again, thank god — In danger of returning to a world where all political thought in game is gone. Where even a game like BMX XXX has reviewers tiptoeing around its very obvious objectification of women as if any mention of a wider world will send reader’s heads spinning. That’s not going to happen. Even if you thought it should happen, it isn’t. I think it shouldn’t, as well.
And we should be honest about things. Because our desire to be socially conscious and aware can create problems of its own. And there’s a lot more to talk about, artistically and socially, than just those issues that society has arbitrarily called ‘political.’ Because there’s a whole lot more to discuss. It’s not that politics should be avoided. But that those things we call politics should not be the only thing to talk about.
For one example, let’s consider the Battlefield V trailer. The game looked, on a visual level, rather beautiful. The polygons and lighting and whatever else you want to talk about were nice. And if we were back in the ’90s, the conversation would stop there, but thankfully it won’t.
Of course, the game featured a female soldier. And apparently not just one from the Russian female corps. That’s historically inaccurate. So, a conversation sprung up around representation.
And I’m glad it did.
But there’s so many other conversations we can have. And that it would be great to have. Not just about things like monetization and lootboxes, or whether we should have women in games.
There’s a whole discussion we could have, for example, about the very idea OF historical accuracy. What it means to be ‘historically acurate,’ and how much historical accuracy one should have. About when historical accuracy should bow to other considerations. Not just to ‘representation,’ but to player control, to mood, to people’s IDEAS of history versus the reality.
In that game, of course, we can — And I really, really want to — Talk about how art direction, character modeling and detailing, and customization options can interact with and effect tone. How can a game which offers so much varied customization that characters are going around in blue war paint and ripped sleeves, long coats in active combat situations, packs and holsters strapped haphazardly across the chest, and mohawks and shaved heads can also try to tell a dark, serious story about the dramas of war. About when customization is and isn’t a good idea. Some soldiers were oddly eccentric, in every war, but how does it effect the experience when ALL of them are?
These are questions that will advance the art of gaming. How does the decision to use realistic models and aesthetic effect the audience’s expectation of tone? How does customization impact a game’s themes?
Should we talk about race and feminism and representation and gay rights in games? Yes. OF COURSE we should. To say we shouldn’t is, fundamentally, to say we shouldn’t treat games seriously as an art form. They aren’t JUST toys. And if games are art, games can talk about politics, as all art can. Games can be held to a political standard, as all art should.
At the same time, there should be people who very explicitly choose not to delve into that, unless the game throws it in their face. Not because that topic shouldn’t be delved into. But because they — I, at least, certainly — Can rest assured that those topics are going to be delved into.
Kotaku, Polygon, and Waypoint aren’t going anywhere. And even if they are, youtubers and bloggers and people all over are going to step in to fill the void. They’ve got this handled. Does Escapist need to join them in a four-company pileup for best commentary on social issues in games? I would suggest they do not. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing. I think Donald Trump’s an idiot. And if you don’t, please feel free to autocorrect his name to Bernie Sanders for the duration of the next paragraph.
I think Donald Trump’s an idiot. But if every conversation I had with someone was about how stupid Donald Trump was, that person would be immensely bored. A person who turned every conversation towards that one topic, no matter how right they are, would be extremely frustrating to be in the presence of. Because sometimes I want to talk about how much I like Five Guys burgers, or the poor quality of translation in the Fate/Extra anime, the question of how much an adaptation invites comparison versus how much it ought to be treated as its own work, or the clear manner in which the Gospel of Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus’s birth is used to invoke comparisons to Moses, or the ways in which Muso often reject innovation across titles.
All of those I could write essays on, and some of them I have written essays on. And could I think of a ‘political’ aspect of each one of them? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t aspects that I can and should discuss OTHER than the political.
The Escapist does not need to do what everyone else is doing. Polygon and Kotaku have a great number of writers on staff who have experience covering racial and gender issues. When there’s an uproar over the existence of a woman in a videogame and three different websites are publishing editorials full of screencaps recounting the drama, the presence or absence of a fourth one is not going to make a difference. Especially when, let’s be honest here, anyone who’s interested in those issues is probably reading those other websites.
It’s not that The Escapist focusing on politics is BAD. It’s that it’s REDUNDANT. If The Escapist succeeds, and other games websites start to follow suit, then I’ll take issue with that. Because I don’t want to rid games discussion of political issues.
Unlike some others, I don’t think we need someone striking back at Waypoint or Kotaku or whatever else. But I do think we need to have someone who will set a guideline of “Here, we’re not doing that.” Not because they think that talking about politics is bad or wrong, but because SOMEBODY has to think about something else.
We have people who talk about gameplay and graphics, so that’s great. We also have people who talk about social issues, and that’s great too. But there’s a wide range of stuff that is neither fish nor fowl, and if The Escapist is going to make it its mission cover that, I’m personally excited for it.