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Monday, June 18, 2012

Video games are like porn

Yep, I'm going to make the comparison. But perhaps not how you think. I am not talking about this:
Is the overuse of video games and pervasiveness of online porn causing the demise of guys?
Increasingly, researchers say yes, as young men become hooked on arousal, sacrificing their schoolwork and relationships in the pursuit of getting a tech-based buzz. 
Every compulsive gambler, alcoholic or drug addict will tell you that they want increasingly more of a game or drink or drug in order to get the same quality of buzz. 
Video game and porn addictions are different. They are "arousal addictions," where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food. 
The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.
I'm talking about this:
As a gamer, I do not play Batman: Arkham City to protect Batman. I don't play it to admire Batman, to lust over Batman, to root for Batman or to vindicate Batman. I do not, in short, play the game for any reason that depends upon the relationship between me the individual gamer and Batman the character on the screen. 
I play Batman because, ludicrous though it may be, I GET TO BE THE GODDAMN BATMAN. And the game succeeds at that, because the game WANTS you to be the Goddamn Batman. The way the game feeds you information is specifically designed to minimize any intrusion upon that blessed illusion of identity. 
Back to the Kotaku article, and the line I want to focus on: 
"When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character." 
Now, for one thing, I'd love to know where the heck that supposed information comes from. I know plenty of female gamers who DO project themselves into the character. But for the sake of argument, let's suppose that 'when people play Lara', what's really meant is 'when male gamers play Lara'. 
It seems to me - and I could be wrong - that the approach here has been to try to capitalize upon the supposed disassociation between male gamers and Lara Croft. Instead of helping the player immerse themselves in the character (as was done with Batman above), the male player is encouraged to see himself as a sort of benevolent deity separate and apart, a guardian spirit who not only guides Lara's actions for her benefit but protects her from bad guys. 
If true, if if iffety-if IF, this is a frigging tragedy. And it's moving in the opposite direction from the one we should be moving in. The game should be doing its utmost, through all the subtle tricks of the games writer's art, to immerse us in Lara's character, because Lara Croft kicks arse. Being Lara Croft should feel as exhilarating as being Batman, or Nathan Drake, or any other character whose skin we really get inside. We shouldn't have our role as The Gamer defined for us as if we were a separate character.
Furthermore, forcing male gamers out of Lara Croft's shoes is encouraging them not to empathise and identify with a female character. That's a hell of a waste. There are so many stories that could be told from a woman's point of view, so many narrative doors that could be opened here, and yet we're told that we have to default to a presumed 'male protector' point of view even when the lead character is female? 
To deny that the porn viewer projects him/herself into the corresponding role on the screen is folly. Likewise to deny that the video game player projects him/herself in the same way. Sure, it's possible to separate yourself from that person whose back you continually watch as they cavort through temples, jungles, military bases, alien deserts, and dystopian city streets, or whose gun barrel you stare down while doing this. But it's better all around if you really become that character while you're playing. And if the reason for suddenly pulling up on the reins on that impulse is because the character in question is female, well then... male gamers, take a moment to think about how often we females do that in reverse.

If you're wonder what the fuss is about Lara Croft, these should help:
Lara Croft and rape stories: breaking down the bitch
Tomb Raider Creators Deny Attempted ‘Rape’ Scene Is An Attempted Rape Scene
Lara Croft Will Be Threatened With Rape In the Next Tomb Raider—But Don’t Worry, Guys, You Can Rescue Her
An Open Letter to the Guys Who Told Me They Want to See Lara Croft Get Raped

I'm going to break the rule of "People who haven't played a game really should refrain from commenting on the ethics/propriety of things depicted in it and how they're depicted, no matter how much they know about it otherwise, and even if they're avid players of all kinds of other games." I believe that rule is important because Combat for the Atari 2600 involved mass slaughter on a grand scale, even though it was conducted by shooting small squares at larger formations of squares, and you simply can't literally describe what it's possible to do in most video games that people of all ages (above, you know, six or so) enjoy without making them sound like exercises in sadism and terrorism. So it's imperative that the person doing the describing must have a good handle on the context of the event being described, what it looks like, what the mood is, what it's possible for his/her character to do, what they can earn points/achievements/whatever for doing, even what music is playing...that's all important. Context is key.

I'm going to break that rule to say that it's not necessarily a bad thing to depict a female character-- your female character-- as being threatened with rape in a video game. Though if you're going to do it, people far old than six should be the ones playing. And I think that it shouldn't be the occasion for people who would ordinarily be thinking and acting as if they are their character to suddenly disassociate themselves and because that character's "protector." Yes, I know I say this in a culture in which there's no shortage of guys who will refuse to play a female character, flat out. But when that's the only option; when the choice is either to play a woman or not play at all, well....who knows?

Here's the trailer, if you're interested. SFW, no actual rape depicted:


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