Looking through some gaming news today, I’m struck by the amount of hilarious negativity going on. There’s this tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) pessimistic preview of The Crew, along with a whole slew of articles like “The Suck of Destiny”, “Destiny’s Squads Are Too Small”, and “Destiny: It’s a small world after all”.
Some of this is just backlash, the pushback against the half-billion dollar hype machine that Destiny embodies. We knew this was coming; we should only be glad that the gaming press and public had the good grace to wait until the game came out to begin rebelling against it.
But I’m struck with a curious idea for a project, and maybe this is so obvious that it’s already been done to death and I just didn’t notice (wouldn’t be the first idea I’ve had after everyone else). How about an enthusiast game site about just absolutely hating the state of video games? I know there are guys out there like the Game Grumps, Curmudgeon Gamer, Yahtzee, maybe more. What I’m thinking is a character who is cynical and pessimistic right up front about everything about modern game marketing and marketing-driven design.
Personally I would find this deeply funny, because I find negativity ridiculous and silly and sort of fun in a plumbing-the-depths way. Likewise, I think it would be an interesting tonic/commentary to the normal mode of the enthusiast game press, a la “we got a press release about a game, here is what it said, here is possibly some vaguely optimistic encouragement because what can you really say about this, please God please send us another press release”.
And I’m going to take this to another, even more topical place as well. I place some of the blame for the current delirium over the role of women in video game culture on the nature of gaming press as beholden to the industry it reports upon. Bear with me here. I’m building off of this post from L. Rhodes about the contradiction in asking for a gaming press that for ethical reasons is independent of relationships with game developers, but also that does not criticize games or cover them in ways that challenge the enthusiasm of the audience. This is a no-win situation, right on par with telling women that having sex makes you a slut and not having sex makes you a tease; it’s a demand structured such that the demanders can be unsatisfied and even more demanding regardless of the response. “Don’t be mean to game companies, don’t criticize games for their flaws as art or as cultural artifacts, but also don’t coddle the developers and publishers and certainly don’t do anything that I, using criteria that I will determine from moment to moment, consider to be outside the realm of journalistic ethics. Be pliable and beholden to rules like a journalist, but don’t do any of the things journalists do, like, say, investigate. Or think. Or tell me to think.”
I’m thinking that a possible source of this issue is the historical role of the gaming press as an enthusiast press, as an industry-wide hype man for an industry that began in basements and university computer labs and really needed the help of mimeographed newsletters, zines, and BBSes to get the word out about 1-man projects with zero budget and no clue about business. Video gaming is now a $20 billion a year business. The enthusiast model of gaming press serves no vital purpose to an organism of that size. It provides hype, but not news, and most certainly very little journalism.
There’s nothing wrong with hype! Hype is fun! Getting all excited about the possibilities of the future is why we bother getting out of bed in the morning instead of staring at the ceiling and knowing that we’ll be staring at that same ceiling again in 16 hours so what’s the point Jesus what a dead end life. But living on just hype is like living on bacon fat laced with morphine. You live in this warm, glowy gold bubble all the time, and as soon as the sense of euphoria wears off and you feel like a normal person, well, normality feels excruciating. Little aches and pains are like shards of glass under your fingernails. It’s always too cold, except when it’s too hot. A 4-foot tall woman on the internet who you’ve never met making a video that suggests maybe video games are pretty juvenile about how they deal with women is sticking a giant rock hard penis in your souls and raping everything you hold dear. A game about feelings instead of guns, made by a woman that you kind of would like to sleep with but she probably won’t want you back because there was a girl you liked in school and she didn’t realize you liked her and you never worked up the nerve to say anything so you never really talked which is mostly her fault for not picking up on your obvious signals, is tearing out the walls of your childhood home and burning the frame down around your ears. You have to scream and screech and hate and hide and rip them, rip them all apart for what they have taken from you. You will have control. You will have your safety back. You will look and listen and find the very weakest, very softest part of them that you can find and drive the most red-hot shiv that you can muster into it over and over until they fuck off and die and leave nothing but that warm golden glow of your hype and hope. Your childhood home.
I am going to take that hope away from you, too. But I will not do it with the dulcet and conciliatory tone of a journalist or a scholar, and you will not be able to slip under my guard by masking your screeching claws beneath a cloak of poorly-understood legalese and academic jargon. You have taken every thought and idea and criticism as a raging flamethrower of hateful FUCK YOU coming from someone you do not know and have every incentive to avoid understanding. What if I showed you what that was actually like? It could be done. It would not be the ignorant ravings of Jack Thompson. It would not be the measured and footnoted observations of Anita Sarkeesian. I know my games; I have loved them from my youth, as you have. I know where all of the tender joints and softest meats are in this sacred cow, and I could butcher it in front of you and bathe in its blood with only the very fewest swipes of one short, sharp blade. You would not want to see it, and you would inveigh and yell and tweet at me and maybe find my phone number in the white pages and order me pizzas I do not want. You would prove me right and invulnerable again and again. I would know that I had harshened and hardened that glowing bubble you love just the slightest amount. I think, I hope, that it would be even worse knowing that I am not some dickless feminist or whimpering old man. I am you, and maybe you should be me. If I can do this from within your ranks, maybe I can sow doubt. Maybe someone will think a little harder. It might even be fun.
Has someone done this?