Gameindustry.biz columnist Rob Fahey wrote perhaps the most specious gaming hot take of the year, in his ominously titled “The Sin of Mainstream Games.” He somehow manages to unironically compare developers of Call of Duty and other mindless shooters to Nazi propagandist filmmakers. Godwin’s law in action.
He says that by not expressing diverse representation in CoD games, the creators are on their way to being remembered in the same vein as DW Griffith, the creator of Birth of a Nation, and Leni Riefenstahl, a creator of early Nazi propaganda. Wut?
While Fahey spends most of the article saying Gamergate led to Trump and the growth of the alt right, a tired opinion echoed in multiplying think pieces saying the exact same thing, his most ridiculous claims come when he links the games themselves to the politics of a small minority of the people who play them.
He says that by not keeping up with societal progress and having a political message for change, games like CoD and Halo are actively regressive and “incubators for hate and fascism.” And by lack of political message, he of course means left wing progressive message:
But the endless waves of games which painted the world in black and white and aimed to accomplish nothing more meaningful than fulfilling the power fantasies of a very specific demographic group did help to normalize regressive views and create a climate that was ripe for abuse.
What Fahey seems to be implying is that games like Halo and CoD only appealed to straight white males is patently absurd. Does he not have any non-white friends or something? Shooters are obviously more heavily marketed towards men, but they are certainly not a “white” thing. Every ethnicity in America contains hordes of young men who like to tune out from the world of the important to simply shoot at each other virtually on the internet.
It’s not very original to poke fun at the people who shouted “get politics out of my games!” before going back to don the virtual boots of a heavily armored white US soldier shooting wave after wave of nondescript brown people in a dusty, bombed-out Middle Eastern village – but the failure to recognize that a blind acceptance of the status quo is every bit as political as a challenge to the same status quo isn’t the only problem here.
I’ve played a fair share of Call of Duty campaigns and honestly can barely remember any of them. Their cultural impact is near nil. What most players like about them are the multiplayer and the zombies.
In these game modes, race and context are unimportant. You are seeing the world in first person, the character’s race is insignificant. His race is your race. The character is you.
It matters nothing whether you are on team USA or team team insurgent, especially after hundreds of mind numbing rounds of team death match. It matters not to the gameplay, so it matters not to the gamer.
To call communities around Halo and CoD breeding grounds for fascism is like calling Tetris a subversive commie recruiter.
This argument is not entirely new. Call of Duty has long been called “conservative propaganda” simply because it portrays current US military engagements without passing liberal moral judgements on them. To people like Fahey and film critic Bob Chipman (who has pioneered this idea), CoD’s omission of their own political views, automatically marks it as an enemy of progress:
Is it any surprise that people uncomfortable with that progress found themselves coalescing around games – around a medium that quietly, by omission rather than commission, told them that their discomfort was okay?Is it any surprise that they were easy to coax to fury, to harassment and to aggression directed at people trying to make that medium more open, more representative?
Although Fahey specifically rejects the theory that video games cause violence as unfounded, he makes an even more ridiculous claim that these games are cultivating and attracting goose-stepping brown shirts. And while not promoting violence they do coax “furry, harassment and aggression” against women. It’s really hard to parse these two ideas. Fahey is just the next logical extension of the “games are harmful” crowd.
Sure mainstream games have a long way to go before their protagonists are as diverse as the people who play them. But they clearly are changing quickly as evident with the reasonably diverse slot of leading men and ladies this year (think Watch Dogs 2 and Mafia III). Yet to say this delay toward progress has had any effect on a global rise of regressive politics — shaping politics from the Philippines to the United States — shows the writer’s myopic, self-important view of the industry he serves.
I’m not part of the purist “keep games out of politics” crowd. It really depends on the game. But in games like Call of Duty, where people just play it to shoot people online or shoot Nazi zombies or shoot Nazi non-zombies, who cares about its social message?
And to act like it’s unintended social message has any significant societal impact is nothing-better-to-do hand-wringing at its finest.