Artistic Merit: Video Games and Society at Large

The same day I published my blog post last week I came across an article on IGN which you can read here.  In short, the article was about the controversy surrounding the promotional artwork released fpr the upcoming video game Far Cry 4.  The artwork in question features a man dressed in flamboyantly pink attire with a smug look on his face.  His hand is resting on top of the head of another man dressed in dirty and somewhat ragged clothing.  The implication is obvious: the man in pink is subjugating the other man.  But the internet at large flew into a rage, because they understood it as a blond white man subjugating a native person (the blond man isn’t white by the way, as the creative director of the game has gone on record stating that).

The offending artwork.

The offending artwork.

The problem I have here is that I can’t shake the feeling that if this was artwork for anything besides a video game, it wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much flak.  If this was a movie poster, people would be applauding the portrayal of a man you are clearly supposed to hate.  The man in pink is obviously the villain in the piece, carrying himself with a haughty air.  But that didn’t stop people from condemning the piece, calling it racist and offensive.

I believe that this piece of art being made for a video game in particular is what made it such a target for people.  Because video games are just toys right?  They’re not allowed to address deep subject matter.  They’re solely made for entertainment.  They can’t be deep and thought-provoking, because they’re just childish little things.  What a load of crap.

There are plenty of games that can be just as deep and thought-provoking as a good movie or book, and some that are thought-provoking in ways that go beyond anything movies and books could even hope to touch.  Take the game Journey on the Playstation 3.  The game features you as a vague, robed individual wandering through a vast desert landscape.  But every once in a while, the game will connect you with another random player, who just shows up as another robed figure in the distance.  You can’t talk to each other or communicate in any way.  The only thing you can do is choose to help each other or ignore each other and continue on your separate ways.  Could a movie or a book evoke something even close to that?  I don’t think so.



But no one outside of gamers and the gaming media pay much attention to games of this type.  No, they’re more focused on Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, attacking games of their type as “offensive”, “insensitive”, and calling them “murder simulators”.  There exists a double-standard in the United States, where people demand that games prove themselves as a worthy form of expression, but are never actually allowed to.  Any time a game addresses subject matter that’s even a little bit controversial, they are defamed as trashy and unsophisticated.  Make a movie about a school shooting, and you’re  hailed as “visionary” and praised for challenging societal norms.  Make a game about it, and you’re a heartless monster.

And I know that there are people out there who have made controversial games simply for the sake of attention.  I don’t deny that.  The same thing happens with writing and filming.  People will write or film horribly inflammatory things just to get attention.  It happens.  But that’s a human fault, and not the fault of the form they are using.

Art isn’t always pleasant and agreeable.  Art pushes boundaries.  Art offends.  Art stirs controversy.  Art makes you uncomfortable, forces you to acknowledge situations and viewpoints that you may not understand or agree with.   If you want video games to truly be art, then you have to allow them to address subject matter that will make people feel uncomfortable or insecure.  You can’t ask for art to flourish while holding it back.

Until we stop using this double standard and stop holding games to a much stricter set of standards than other forms of media, video games will never be truly allowed to come into their own.  Games are still young as a form of media.  There are plenty of issues with games, much like books and movies when they were first starting out.  But if they can make a movie about people being tortured by a primitive tribe of cannibals (because all primitive tribes are crazy and cannibalistic of course), why can’t a video game even get close to talking about themes of subjugation?

Since there is basically no conclusive volume of evidence linking video games and detrimental behavior (crime has been going down in the last couple decades I might add), there isn’t really a good reason to be so strict with them.  We go through this same dance every time a new form of media takes hold in a society.  The newer generation flocks to it as something new and interesting, and the older generation questions its merits and asserts that it is harmful to the children.  We went through it with television.  We went through it with rock and roll music.  We went through it with rap.  It’s nothing new.

Honestly, in a couple of decades my generation will be the one in charge, which means that video games will most likely cease to be a target of political agendas and conservative concerns.  They will probably be allowed to flourish in their own ways just like any other form of expression.  They will have their own problems just like any other media form, and they will overcome those.  But like movies, not every video game needs to be deep and thought-provoking, or contribute to the artistic debate.  Not every game needs to push the boundaries and revolutionize the way we see them.

Sometimes, a game can just be fun.

And that’s all for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for a new post.  Until then, have a great week everybody.

Author’s Note: Both of the pictures used were taken from IGN,








One thought on “Artistic Merit: Video Games and Society at Large

  1. Maybe one reason people react so strongly to the artwork is because of what you wrote before about racism and sexism in the online community. Or maybe it’s because he’s wearing pink… some people hate to see men wear pink

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