Gaming Heresy: Part 1 My Gaming Epiphany
It’s been a while since I’ve had a rant, frothed at the mouth and vigorously shaken my clenched fist at clouds. If you do this too often when running a blog you can paint yourself into a corner. Ranting then becomes the defining aspect of how your writing is perceived. Another reason why I don’t want to write an endless succession of irate screeds about the failings of the gaming industry and its associated player communities, is because as I get older, I simply do not care as much about these things. The recent debacle about microtransactions in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, garnered nothing more than a raised eyebrow from me. A decade ago I would’ve been marshalling a restless lynch mob, armed with hoes, rakes and flaming torches. Time and old age have a habit of cooling one’s ardour. However, letting off steam can be very cathartic, so I’ve decided to inaugurate this infrequent column in which I shall vent my spleen about the things that displease me and express views that may well fly in the face of the prevailing consensus.
So, let us begin. Here’s a thought. Gaming is just another commercial leisure industry that is of no greater merit than TV, Movies and popular music. It’s driven primarily by commercial considerations, with art are ethics being secondary issues. Like other entertainment mediums it can be pitched at various ends of the intellectual spectrum and made to varying degrees of quality and professionalism. Although gaming can highlight specific issues and offer social commentary it has no more significant power to impact upon events than other artforms. Games themselves can on occasions be “art” but by and large, most products are just disposable entertainment. Just like a sitcom, an action movie or a pop song. Games are not special, important or unique, when compared to other leisure activities. The social aspects that so many extol exist because of the players themselves and the games are merely a conduit. Essentially, the expression “it’s just a game” is true. It’s not a denigration but simply a statement of fact.
And if gaming per se is simply a commercial exercise in mainstream leisure and thus nothing exceptional, then surely the same must be said for fandom? Therefore, claims of gamers being problem solving savants and alternative, high end achievers are bogus. Gaming and its subset of related fandom is a breeding ground for a myriad of unpleasant opinions and facilitates antisocial behaviour. It is a microcosm of the entire “first world problems” mentality that blights Western popular culture. It contributes to the growing infantilization of public discourse and social interaction as well as playing directly into the hands of the “bread and circuses” policies of the political classes. Why waste your time campaigning, lobbying and fighting for universal healthcare, affordable housing and accountable government? Someone on a game development team has nerfed the Sword of Kagnazax and gimped your build, so why not send them death threats?
I was walking around a very large branch of WHSmith recently. Despite the proliferation of digital media, magazines have not yet vanished from the shelves. In fact the number of fan and enthusiast based publications available is still prodigious. Gardening, fishing, mud wrestling are all represented. It’s a similar story if you go online. There are forums and subreddits for every conceivable leisure activity. If you decide to dip your toe in the respective waters of each community you will find one common factor in them all. Drama. All discuss the minutiae of the object of their affection as if it were the meaning of life itself. It soon becomes very apparent that it is not really fandom that is the issue but people. The bastards. Show me a problem and I’ll show you someone called Colin who’s responsible. All of which is just further evidence that gaming is merely another facet of humanity’s habit of slapping itself on the back, while simultaneously kicking some other poor sod in the nuts. When put in such a context, the reality is clear. Gaming ain’t all that.
This is my gaming epiphany. It’s not something that happened on the road to Damascus or overnight in a Premier Inn outside of Chester. It has come about over a period of time in which the iniquities, trivialities and pomposities of both the gaming industry and its fans have been dripped upon me like Chinese water torture. Don’t get me wrong, irrespective of this rant, I enjoy gaming and do not regret the time I’ve spent pursuing it. I just see it for what it is; an amusing diversion, an enjoyable challenge and one of the many pointless activities we fill our lives with before death cold embrace and the inevitable void. Sadly, it is because my perspective is not a common one, that the gaming industry acts with the impunity that it does and treats its customer base so poorly. I wonder if there will be a major shift in perception among fans, in another twenty years? Only time will tell. In the meantime, a percentage of gamers will continue to shriek “Git Gud” and I’ll continue to shake my head at their misplaced sentiments and watch as democracy is dismantled around them.