Don’t Let This Stagnate, CVG

18 04 2011

After last week’s thinly-veiled attempt to wring out 1,000 words from a somewhat minor topic, it’s time to take a turn toward the serious. Genuinely. If this begins to get boring, feel free to depart from this mightily obscure blog for a while and exercise an altogether more amiable method of procrastination. And the more times you swap between the two, the more positively skewed my site traffic becomes. Everybody wins.

Right: this week, CVG started up a new campaign to direct some hearty mockery, and perhaps a little righteous outrage, towards those who make sweeping statements against gaming without any sort of substance or evidence.

It’s called WRONG, standing as it does in opposition to the Witless and Ridiculous Opinions of Non-Gamers. The site’s editor, Tim Ingham, wrote thus in the opening article: ‘Anyone who opens their mouth on national TV, in the papers or at a major publicly-attended event and chats absolute bull about our hobby, we’re badgering you – and badging you’, before declaring that the worst offenders will find themselves on a leaderboard of foolishness by the end of the year.

All this sounds very typical of the sort of protests against anti-gaming sentiment that have already happened: blunt, aggressive, focused more on attacking the targets, goading them, rather than responding rationally and with sensible dialogue. Their first targets are fairly low-key, with the initial pair of offenders to have a WRONG badge slapped on their photo being – into the mire of mediocrity we go – Matthew Wright and Anne Diamond from Channel Five’s daytime chat-talk-stuff show (what actually is it?) The Wright Stuff. Their comments, aired during three consecutive shows last week, were equally typical of the nonsense that gets spouted about gaming, as it was flippantly linked to gang violence and drive-by shootings. All official reports on any link between games and violence were dismissed in their entirety for supposedly being ‘funded by the games industry themselves’ and CVG’s staff and readership were characterised as ‘brain-dead computer nerds’

To be honest, it’s that last comment that strikes me as the worst: the rest was fairly typical, even interspersed with reasonable comment on the role of responsible parenting. After watching the section on games on Thursday’s show, it struck me not as an all-out attack on gaming, which was inevitably how the CVG article portrayed it, whether the writer intented to or not. True, there was very little said in defence of gaming, but there was a good deal of scepticism regarding the effect of violent games on younger children and some of the more ridiculous comments were relatively quickly qualified.

My problem with the show was not the spontaneous nonsense spouted from Diamond, for instance when the storage of a console under the bed was compared to the storage of guns in an armoury. These sorts of comments are justly derided by CVG. At the heart of the matter, however, is not what was said, but what was implied in the whole treatment of the topic. Case in point: to open the segment, a clip was shown from the infamous Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 level ‘No Russian’, in which the player, in the role of a military operative infiltrated in a terrorist cell, takes part in an airport massacre. The clip featured the player gunning down civilians waiting in the terminal. The content of the level is not at question here: instead, the decision to air graphic footage from an 18-rated game at half ten in the morning during the school holidays shows a bizarre failure of judgement from the programme makers, who, with masterful irony, decided to treat games as a serious social issue whilst simultaneously disregarding the power that these scenes can have; they questioned whether games were desensitising people to violence before showing just how desensitised they themselves are.

A screenshot from the Modern Warfare 2 level ‘No Russian’.

Channel 5 wouldn’t dare show a clip from one of Kill Bill‘s fight scenes at that time of day and nor would they be able to broadcast footage from a overtly sexual music video; but for some reason, games are still seen as toys and fripperies with a sinister side, like fake guns or over-sexualised dolls, rather than emotive works of genuine power that, in the case of the more violent titles, are strictly for adult consumption only. The comment about ‘brain-dead computer nerds’ only deepens the paradox, with gaming being taken in earnest one day before its advocates are sneeringly dismissed the next.

In response to the airing of the Modern Warfare footage, the consumer group Gamers’ Voice has lodged a complaint with broadcast regulator Ofcom, also stating that they disagree with CVG’s approach to the programme. On CVG’s own pages there are already a fair share of users saying that the WRONG campaign is a waste of time, with a small minority suggesting that the website is whipping up a storm in a teacup to improve their readership figures. Certainly, if the result of all this is merely that WRONG articles become a hub for gamers to point and laugh at those they don’t like, then it will be utterly worthless. However, the campaign is already garnering support from developers, games media and the odd minor celebrity, as well as plenty of gamers themselves, whilst a hint was dropped that it would become less aggressive as it became more popular. If CVG can take these issues outside of the games industry and into the wider media world, then it could do some lasting good. The prompting of Gamers’ Voice into action provides a template for how the campaign could work in future: bringing the issues to light so that more serious bodies can press the charges. What we do not need is tabloid journalism aiming to smear any anti-gaming commentators.

What gaming is currently going through is the same process as jazz, rock and roll and rap before it. As an entirely new creative medium, the opposition it arouses was always going to be more potent than that aroused by the aforementioned examples. Ultimately, no single campaign, study or event will change things, but the slow pace of cultural change will do the work for us. In twenty years time, people who have grown up with gaming as a central part of entertainment culture will be the ones running things, inevitably decreasing the hostility often expressed towards this incredible medium. In the short term, however, campaigns like WRONG could do a great deal to help. I’m desperately hoping that CVG throw their full weight behind this and don’t let it become a weekly comedy column, mocking, satirising, but doing nothing to help. In these promising early stages, however, it has to be supported, as do any other similar efforts.

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