Welcome, feel free to leave comments or e-mail me if you have any questions.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Stemming The Tide: How Can Gamers Help Fight Ignorance?

As an optimist, I like to think there are no “bad people” in this world, just bad role models. I believe that a lot of the problems we as a society face can be attributed not to a willingness to be malicious but a desire to be understood (because we don’t know any better ways). So how can gamers help curtail the rampant ignorance that seems to hold not just our country but countries around the world in its sway? Sometimes the answer can be a simple willingness to listen and learn; other times, it can be finding the strength *not* to listen and instead question the motives of those we admire or look up to.

 In a recent interview with PC Gamer, Ken Levine, the president and creative director of Irrational Games, defended his company’s upcoming prequel to the widely popular Bioshock series Bioshock Infinite. Since its debut, Infinite has come under fire not only from left-wing anti-objectivists (who also attacked the previous two entries; Bioshock and Bioshock 2) but also by, of all people, white supremacists who claim that Infinite is nothing more than a “white person shooting simulator.”

My initial reaction to reading these blatantly unfounded claims was to ask myself “how many of these people have actually *played* the Bioshock games?” Of course in this age of the internet, information sharing, and the spread of *mis*-information, actually *engaging* with a medium first-hand before you condemn it doesn’t seem to be a requirement these days. To many popular outlets of the media, video games are nothing more than a scapegoat for all of America’s problems. Gun violence? Blame video games. Deteriorating education standards? Blame video games. Gender inequality and sexism? Yep…Blame video games.

In the interview, Levine goes on to talk about how both Infinite and the Bioshock series as a whole are not a “love letter to objectivism” as many accuse them of being nor are they necessarily a critique of American History (since all three games take place in the early 1900’s). While all three games have issues such as racism, bigotry, and sexism woven into their narratives, Levine is careful to point out that they don’t take center stage: 

“People were men of their times, and this is a game that’s set in a time where, if you don’t have those elements in the game, it’s just dishonest.” 

Another point Levine makes relates back to the issue of ignorance I mentioned earlier:

“When we had our first Catholic president in 1960, many people thought he was going to be an operative of the Pope. He had to publicly proclaim that he wasn’t.”   

For those who may not know, Catholic society was under a lot more scrutiny in the 1960’s than it is today and that is exactly the point that Levine is making: people often don’t need a specific *reason* to hate, judge, or attack something, they just need to see a lot of other people, sometimes people they admire or respect, doing it first.

Levine also mentioned how even his own relatives, many of whom were members of the Tea Party, were offended by Infinite because, once again, they *assumed* it was meant to be an attack on the Tea Party movement:

“When I started working on this game, relatives of mine were very offended, because they thought it was an attack on the Tea Party. Specifically an attack on the Tea Party, which they were very active in.”

Now, I’m not trying to equate video games with Catholic society or compare them to the Tea Party movement, but the same issues are still front and center, namely, the issues of ignorance and misinformation. Heck, Bioshock Infinite hasn’t even been *released* yet, as in nobody in the entire world has gotten to play it outside of the occasional brief tech demo or showcase, and yet many are proclaiming to know so much about it that they can accuse it of being a “white person shooting simulator” or that it’s “trying to tear down the labor movement.”

After reading about all of the overblown reactions and negativity that have been directed towards both Levine and Bioshock Infinite, I feel I am obliged to bring up the old saying “take everything you hear with a grain of salt.” I’m not foolish enough to believe that what I say here will do anything to silence all the white supremacists, objectivists, anti-objectivists, Tea Party members, and other media outlets out there, but if I can convince just one person to stop judging, stop assuming, and maybe *start* questioning, then this entire rant has been worth it.

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and check out my other work at vgutopia.com and rantgaming.com

No comments:

Post a Comment