Games for Good: Can We Escape from Ourselves?

The video game industry is a strange place. On this blog, we talk a lot about the business of games, their design, their structure, their production, and the implications they have for audiences and for culture. As much as we as a company—and myself as an individual—believe in the good that games can do, we can’t fully realize that potential without acknowledging the negatives.

I recently read The State of Play, a collection of long form essays on everything from level design to how video games can be used as a tool for exploring and fostering discussion about depression.

The quality of the essays themselves are hit or miss at times, but the bigger theme I pulled from the book was how hard it was for designers and critics to step outside of the box of “traditional” video games. Whether the essayists wrote about Gamergate, designed a game with LGBTQ implications, or explored the depths of mental illness through storytelling and game mechanics, the writers in the book repeatedly described the intensely hateful messages, mail, and treatment they received from the video game community.

And I mean bad. Really bad.

There’s always an argument to be made about a vocal minority giving the rest of a community a bad name, but if this is a minority, the majority aren’t speaking out against it with any sort of force. At the same time, the vitriol we’ve seen targeted at female games journalists or at minorities extends to any group or issue that happens to rock the status quo.

The industry on the one hand demands innovation, but on the other, it doesn’t want change. Some core group of “hardcore gamers” hates the idea of casual gamers. They look down on mobile games, mocking in-app purchases but buying Destiny DLC with the next mouse click. They talk about how powerful video games can be for storytelling but then get upset if those stories explore social issues. They want video game journalists to be honest and critical in their reviews and coverage of games but run ad blocker so that they don't earn any revenue (and then have to rely on publishers).

The video game community is incredibly broad and is in places painfully shallow.

The medium is testing the waters on a number of fronts. We have virtual reality, augmented reality, DLC, episodic content, in-game purchases, in-game advertising, brand placement, motion control, voice recognition, and free to play. Some of these are big jumps in technology, and others are twists on things we’ve seen before.

In my mind, there are pros and cons to any of these changes, but our problem as a community is that we are so afraid from moving away from the video game industry we knew as kids that we immediately assume the worst of any attempt to innovate. Are some things purely for cash grabs? Probably, but even the most nefarious sounding change could have a positive impact.

If we let it.

The conversation surrounding video games is important. We as gamers are in a position to shape the future of video games, but our voices shouldn’t be guided by hate or fear. We should constructive about the attempts to grow and innovate and be more forgiving of people trying to do something different.

If a game company is trying to step outside of the norm, give them a chance to do some good.