Make Video Games for Me
Our work at NYMG has always been in service of making games better for everyone. This includes the community that loves games, the industry that makes them, and the academics that talk about them incessantly (myself included). Some people don’t like the way we go about this. In particular, some don’t care for the way we critique games, the industry, and sometimes figureheads. We have posted many defenses of critique, and I believe that giving a voice to our perspectives on games is crucial for a better gaming future. Some claim we want to perpetually put ourselves in the position of being the victim on purpose and that we use that for our benefit. I get it. It makes people uncomfortable to hear how something you love can hurt other people. The gaming industry and community can be cruel and it can breed horrific things. It is also hard to recognize that while you occupy a privileged position that others can be disenfranchised by it. Many of the writers on this blog are very poor graduate students who struggle to buy games. Nevertheless, we each are privileged in some ways and not in others. “Check your privilege” is a phrase that comes up almost daily in our discussions, as we read each other’s work and talk about important issues we all care about. No one here would argue that because you are privileged that you should also be silenced. Acknowledgement, which we have done continually on our podcasts, can be incredibly difficult but also incredibly valuable. But, I digress.
The call for the industry to make more games you like can be just that: “I enjoy strategy games, and I don’t think the industry makes enough of them.” It can also be a call that brings up larger, more problematic issues: “I want to see myself represented in games, but only %5 of protagonists are characters of color.” The lines aren’t this clear cut of course, but these are generally true. Is the lack of certain types of games related to who the industry sees as potential players? Of course. The social gaming revolution took gaming companies by storm in part because companies didn’t see women as potential customers. One of the reasons I started this blog along with Sam was because I was sick of not being considered a consumer in the eyes of the people who make the games, not being considered a real gamer by the community, and not seeing the types of games I like (ones with strong female protagonists that aren’t sexualized) being given enough shelf space. The way I fight this is by speaking out. It’s not by making myself a victim, trying to stay in a state of perpetual victimhood, or glorifying the terrible shit that happens to other women in the industry. The work I do is to uncover the ugly shit we have swept under the rug for far too long, acknowledge it, and move the fuck on. You can’t get change before you get an acknowledgement from a majority that shit needs to change.
We have been doing this for over four years. I think a ton of stuff has changed in that time period, a lot of it for the better. I do think women have more of a voice, they are starting to be seen by gamers, there is pressure on companies to make more responsible games. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it is getting better. Do we relish being sexualized and threatened and not taken seriously? No. Would we stop writing this blog if somehow magically the games industry and society became completely free of sexism? NO. We would finally not have to talk about how the Cuphead cartoon style made us ill because of its connection to racist (without engagement); we wouldn’t have to write about how the newest female protagonist is silenced because she was raped. We would finally get to focus exclusively on how fucking awesome this game mechanic is, or how dumb the storyline in that game is, or how the developers at this company are coming up with groundbreaking graphics. If sexism and racism begins to fade than we get stronger, we get closer to talking about what we love because we finally can play games without being reminded of how fucked up our culture is.
This is all much more pessimistic than the post I set out to write. That’s the nature of feminist work though; we are always on the defensive. Arguing with opponents about why we have the right to speak. Onto a more fun question. If the video game industry listened to me and only me, what would my ideal game look like? If the video game industry made a game for me, it would be a real time strategy, tower defense, MMO with compelling storylines. The world would have different zones that produce different types of characters, not unlike WoW. For example, I would likely be a healing creature from a forest region. I could team up with others to put up healing defenses around our castle/home/quest giver. Maybe we would team up with a wizard deep in the frozen tundra to protect him from an invasion of giant evil ice birds. There of course would be some character action during this—you wouldn’t only put up defenses and see what happens. It would be like dungeon defenders, but with a strong RPG, open world aspect. The most exciting part of the game is that you could buy trading cards that would put items in game for you, similar to Lego Dimensions. You could then use those cards to play offline games against your friends and trade items. DOESN’T THAT SOUND FUCKING INCREDIBLE?
If they were to make a video game for you, what would it be? Post in the comments below.