If you are even remotely plugged into the video game scene, you will have seen social media explode today as Microsoft’s new Xbox One marketing campaign went public. You can read all about it here.
So yeah, once again a major video game publisher/developer/site demonstrates to the larger world that the largest and most profitable entertainment industry in the world is being run by a bunch of 13 year olds. The good news is that it happens so much these days that there is likely nobody left to be shocked by it. I’m so jaded by it that I just shook my head when I saw it this morning. Once again, the stereotype of the ‘gamer’; white male with no social skills, hostile towards women, insular and petulant, is in full effect, and once again we’re responding to it wrongly.
Let me be clear that you’ll get no argument from me that it was a stupid idea, and Microsoft deserves all the flack they get from it. However, I can’t help but feel that we’ve all been down this road so many times that maybe we need to think of new ways to respond to this kind of stuff. Companies should absolutely be held accountable for the messages they are putting across, but I think we are well past the point where just getting mad about it is enough. Where does that leave us though? Boycotts? Well, that plays well on Twitter and Tumblr to the indie crowd, but unless you have a legion of people behind you it’s a waste of time because we’re not willing to give up our cool toys. Getting angry on Twitter about something is about as effective as putting a flag on your car. It’s a nice gesture and it lets everybody in your circle know how you feel, but it’s completely meaningless in the larger scheme of things. If it weren’t, companies like Microsoft, Penny Arcade, and whomever else is on video game fans’ shitlist at any given time would have gotten the message and grown up already.
I think the problem is that ever since the Supreme Court Ruling a couple of years ago, there hasn’t been any significant criticism and pressure coming from outside. As a result, the video game industry has become the Joker without Batman; bored, flabby, and hedonistic because it hasn’t had to worry about protecting itself for a while now. What it needs is somebody in a position of visibility and power calling it out. You know what we need? We need a Jack Thompson. No, no no. Not Jack Thompson himself; he’s a crazy person. He would also be ineffective because he has been thoroughly discredited and disbarred to the point where even FOX News doesn’t return his calls anymore. What I mean is we need somebody out there who exists in the mainstream media who has a large platform outside of NeoGaf, Twitter, and Reddit, and is ready to take the video game industry to task when things like this Xbox One campaign happen.
Legislators and crusaders against video games are fighting the wrong battle; they’re focused on sex and violence out of a need to protect ‘the children.’ There’s a bunch of conflicting data out there to support whatever point of view you have about the effect of content in video games on children and young adults. The thing is, history and court rulings have proven time and again that it’s a loser of a case. If mainstream critics REALLY want to get under the skin of the video game industry, they need to start calling it out on how it represents women, racial/ethnic minorities, and LGBT people. Stop talking about being able to see Liara’s butt in Mass Effect and start talking about how a major industry is being largely run as if it’s a frat house.
For so long, video game enthusiasts have treated critics of the industry as the enemy; as people who are trying to take our games away because they don’t understand them. Maybe instead of putting pressure on the industry itself (which we all know by now is a waste of time), we should be seeking out those critical of the industry and giving them the tools to really make some noise. Shareholders and investors don’t care about our complaining because we line up and keep spending money, but what about if advertisers start shying away because they don’t want to be associated with an industry that is openly hostile towards large chunks of a marketplace?
It’s true that issues of representation and inequality are far bigger than in the video game industry. This industry however, as mentioned above, is the biggest one in entertainment and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be under constant scrutiny by the outside world. It’s not a magic bullet of course; the video game industry is just too big and there is too much money on the table for advertisers to start applying pressure. But then again, who knows; maybe if the industry has a villain (or is it a hero?) watching its every move and calling it out whenever it does something inappropriate, they’ll start to act like responsible adults. It may not amount to much in the end, but it’s at least better than the big fat nothing that we’re all doing about it now.