I spoke last time about violence in video games, especially sexual violence. This time I’d like to speak about the lack of games that don’t feature violence.
Now, when we think non-violent video games, there’s typically two genres that most people think of. Puzzle games, and games for women or kids. Of course combining women and kids is offensive in and of itself, and often is linked to the perception that only children or women would want a game that, say, taught them a new skill (like an art instruction or cooking video game) or to keep them active (such as a sport or exercise game) or allowed them to fantasize about another world (such as a farming or collection game).
Most of these games are intended to transcend the traditional video game audience of 18-34 year old white males, and are more ‘gender neutral’ than other games. It’s a shame, I think, that gender neutral games are thought to be more for women and kids, as though men need the constant reassurance of their own masculinity through video games. I once watched a TED video about an older man who spoke about the ‘man box’ and recounted a tale where his mother had died, and in private, when only his father and him were in the vehicle, his father broke down in tears. He then apologized to his son for his weakness. For crying over his wife’s death, he apologized because he felt it was weak.
This is the pressure that men are under to constantly assert their masculinity. A complete absence of emotion, always stern, always in control, always in power, always knowing what to do. Any deviance from this is weakness. That’s why there’s so many people online stating that they, say, claim to find video games easy even on the ultra hard mode. That’s one of the reasons why people ask for harder enemies and more emphasis on violence in more ‘gender neutral’ video games like Terraria.
Because of the fact that men control the gaming industry still, and because gender neutral games have the broad appeal to women and children, we’ve been neglecting a lot of things from video games that I’d like to see more of. One thing, for instance, is romance centered games, or games that focus on a story line that isn’t centered around violence and focus more heavily on character development. These types of games are seen as more feminine games, and because they don’t have appeal to children (romance for obvious reasons, character development games because children don’t often understand the concept), they haven’t been developed in the West as heavily as I wish. Relationships that are developed and explored, even if not romantic, are often painted with the same ‘soft’ brush.
I remember that the first romance game / dating sim I played was True Love. It was a Japanese translation with scrolling text and 2-d background images. You scheduled your day and interacted with people depending on what you most often do. Girls would be more interested in you if you shared their interests, and there was random chance encounters along the way.
I absolutely loved it. I tried it a few different ways, enjoying it each time and wishing that there were more games like that. Since then, I’ve played many of the Harvest Moon games, and Rune Factory on Wii, both times finding the romance aspects to be the most fun and rewarding part of the game. When Sprung came out for American release, I was ecstatic! I could play a male or a female, and I could end up with several different partners depending on how I answered the questions. It had a bit of a puzzle aspect to it as well, where you often had to remember what conversation ‘tree’ you want to follow for your desired reaction, but it was a lot of fun. It was actually the first game I bought for my DS that wasn’t Nintendo brand.
The lack of romance and non-violence in games is a troubling trend. People clamour for better graphics, more realism when it comes to the physical aspects of the game, but I want more realism where it counts for me. That is, character development. Realistic plot development. Consequences for your actions (I love Fallout: New Vegas’ Reputation and Karma system and find it works really, really well together). Characters that have moral problems, quandaries, questions, and a game in which these problems and quandaries and questions are looked at and examined without violence being presented as the only answer.
Skyrim has a relationship aspect to it, and I adore this addition to the gameplay. The relationship / romance mods for Morrowind and Oblivion were both incredibly popular – which makes me really wonder. If men are primarily the players of Morrowind and Oblivion, then men must really be looking forward to these aspects to – after all, there’s a good possibility that many of these relationship mods were even created by men!
So does it become something that we, as a society, as male and female of our species, want and crave and desire and yet we fear the repercussions for admitting it? Are we allowing our desires to be drowned out by those few, insecure men in our society who cry out for more violence and less time ‘wasted’ on non-violent or peaceful adventures? Are we only able to enjoy relationships and romance options when violence is present? Does this make those relationships more meaningful or does it devalue them?
I hope that with time, more people will speak out, verbally and financially, in favour of games that explore the depths of the human condition, our interactions with one another and with ourselves, and really push the medium into interesting, new directions.