There are two essays that you need to read before reading what I am about to write:
Mattie Brice – “Would You Kindly”
Maddy Myers – “Why Do I Like Violent Video Games So Much”
These essays share a topic–violence and video games–and they each take the topic in a separate direction.
For Mattie, it is the development environment around the contemporary AAA video game that is at fault when it comes to violence. What has traditionally been about (mostly) Great White Men doing Great Things has shifted slightly, taking the form of Great White Men being put into not-so-great situations and then attempting to mourn those situations; this, at the core, is Spec Ops: The Line after all–“a man forced to do these things will suffer.” Mattie pairs this analysis with a political call, although she doesn’t frame it in those terms–instead of games that focus on the political crisis of whiteness and masculinity while metaphorically throwing their hands up in defeat, maybe we could make games where there a ways of being, and healthy being, outside of the dominant ideologies and identity politics.
For Maddy, the contemporary set of narratives about violence in the video game industry have value. These narratives are linkages to very specific kinds of power fantasies that are tied to her own embodiment–she writes: “I think the only reason why I ended up being a feminist is because I’m inside this body, and I know how powerless I feel.” Video game violence is a conduit for feelings of powerless in life, and she is aware of it–she is judging herself for finding value in this violence as much as any reader could judge her. In essence, she agrees that video game violence is problematic, but there isn’t any solvency in creating new kinds of games that operate around her body–she wants to escape that body, if only for a play session.
Can we create power fantasies without creating power imbalances? The process of systemic violence against other people that is constantly enforced by media is, at the heart, the very concept of “culture.” It is a way of asserting that certain kinds of violence are both justified and necessary in order for the world to operate “correctly.”
I, like Maddy, don’t have any answers. I only have questions that will, in all likelihood, never be solved. These issues, sadly, have always existed in media and they’ve never been solved out. The most popular novels in the United States trade on racism, political stereotypes, and misogyny so often that it has become both simultaneously ignored and accepted by basically anyone–I don’t see outrage on Twitter whenever a Tom Clancy or Clancy knockoff is published.
I, like Mattie, want to see things change. I want to see new bodies and new subjectivities presented to us to be, become, and befriend in video games. I want a political program that embraces a plurality of existence beyond a grizzled white dude shooting various other people, and I don’t want the “turn” to be HE HAD TO DO IT, DON’T YOU SEE?! or HE WAS CRAAAAAZY! because both are fucked up, and more importantly, they reinforce a well-loved, conservative narrative of “things are this way so deal with it.”
Damn, man. I thought you’d have more words than this after having me read two articles.