The story I've been alluding to for over a week now has been posted at thephoenix.com: "Sex, violence and video games." In it, I look at the merits of a few recent controversies, including the ever-present Grand Theft Auto criticism, the Mass Effect "SeXbox" flap, and, of course, the Resident Evil 5 trailer. I also take the community to task for often acting as their own worst enemies. The crux of the argument is that gamers need to be repping themselves better in the discourse, making a real effort at empathy:
The less-helpful commenters accused [critics themselves] of racism, of creating a racial divide where previously there was none. They decried an assault on Capcom’s right to free speech. But the question wasn’t whether the game’s Japanese developers had intended any racism (cultural ignorance is a commonly invoked defense among gamers), or why nobody had complained before when Resident Evil zombies had been predominantly white. It was whether those claiming free speech in defense of divisive games were willing to extend the same rights to those whom the games offended.
I also made one more attempt at demolishing the "just a game" defense.
To spend the bulk of your time and money on a hobby that can be dismissed with a wave of the hand would require an act of cognitive dissonance. Some games do have the potential to be transformative experiences. Talk to Final Fantasy VII fans about the grief they felt when Sephiroth killed Aeris. Ask a few BioShock players whether they saved or harvested the Little Sisters, and why. Such indelible moments may be rare, but they give game developers something to strive for. And they give gamers hope that the next game we play will also engage us intellectually, emotionally, and morally. I can think of no more belittling way to discuss this medium than to ever call something "just" a game. So let’s scrap that argument.
Think it'll take? Me neither.
When I began this piece, I had intended to lay the hammer down. This was to be the last word on the subject, and the spark that ignited countless fanboy epiphanies around the world. But that's not how it ended up. It is, perhaps, a good place to start, presuming that angry mobs don't do their best to prove my point. I would love to know what people think.
P.S. It's the cover story in this week's print issue, which is exciting. Pick up a copy, if you're local.
P.P.S. Also check out the brief sidebar, "Not-so-great moments in video game controversy." Nothing new or particularly illuminating, but that stuff's always good for a laugh.