Column: Gaming in the modern world

By Eric Naing

Esquire writer Chuck Klosterman recently asked why there is no Lester Bangs of video games criticism (Bangs was a widely influential music critic who helped shed mainstream attention on rock music). More than just dealing with video game journalism, Klosterman’s question deals with the bigger issue of why video gaming is not as widely accepted in mainstream culture as movies, music, or even books.

Along the same lines as Klosterman, film critic extraordinaire Roger Ebert was criticized himself for saying that video games are not an art form as music and movies are. He writes, “To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers.” As a gamer, it pains me to agree with Ebert on this issue.

Think of the defining moments in film or books: Charles Foster Kane whispering “Rosebud” in “Citizen Kane” or Winston Smith embracing Big Brother in “1984.” Now think of the defining moments in video gaming: an Italian stereotype in red overalls jumping on turtles or a generic white guy in a leather jacket beating up hookers with a baseball bat.

A recent Nielsen Interactive poll shows that almost 40 percent of all gamers are female and almost a quarter are older than 40 years old. Gamers are becoming an increasingly diverse group and yet, most video games are geared solely toward young males. There are books, music, and movies for people of all types, but there are very few games made for people who are not the stereotypical nerdy teenage male.

Furthermore, the video game industry is plagued by rampant racism, sexism and homophobia. Spend 10 minutes playing a game online and odds are you’ll be called a “fag” or a “bitch.” Video game companies exacerbate this problem by placing big breasted women and gun-toting, bloodthirsty warriors at the forefront of the industry.

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    While there’s nothing particularly wrong with big-breasted women and gun-toting soldiers, the problem is that so many other great games get overshadowed because of them, thus labeling all gamers as immature and violent. When non-gamers think of video games, they think of Tomb Raider or Grand Theft Auto and not of all the truly artistic games such as “Rez” or “Shadow of the Colossus.”

    Fortunately, the industry is starting to turn around. Nintendo, a pioneer in the video game world, is starting to focus on expanding the video game market. Games like “Nintedogs” and “Brain Age” are appealing to both the elderly and to females. Only by appealing to all people will the video game industry ever hope to be on the same footing as Hollywood or the music industry.

    As Chuck Klosterman notes, “Video games in 2006 are the culture equivalent of rock music in 1967.” As more people learn more about gaming and as the industry (hopefully) matures, video games will one day take their rightful place alongside moves, music and books.