Every gamer knows those buildings that are just standing in a level for effect, to make it seem like you are standing in a huge, buzzing city. But whenever you try to enter one of those doors, you just bump head-first into some flat texture.
The thing is – the same thing happens in the real world as well from time to time. Which is exactly why the bldgblog's post on subway air vents disguised as houses has such a gamey feel.
Makes you wonder whether you could reverse that – create levels that seemingly consists of pure facades turn into actual buildings, where stuff is hidden, where dungeons open up. Question is – how do you visualise that? Directly followed up by the question of whether the general public is ready to play games that are meta on some level.
Yes, I should still play Robert Yang's Level with Me.
It's clearly not the first time I stumbled over the assumption that the mainly heteronormative depiction of gaming characters causes "severe disconnections between player and avatar if the player identifies as a minority".1
So maybe this seems "logical" at first, but the weird thing is that I can not really relate to that. The character might be male and hetero – as long as he looks good, I don't have a problem with that. After all, most of the cultural products I consume now (and consumed in my childhood – books, films, plays) usually feature heterosexual couples. The world would look pretty bare if I set aside every medium that does not involve (exclusively) a minority.
So, instead of keeping the question "How does a girl gamer feel while playing as Mario, a stereotyped Italian male plumber in Mario Sunshine? How does a gay gamer feel while playing as Jack and being forced to marry a girl or live alone forever in Harvest Moon?" purely rhetoric, it might be time to ask people exactly that. Do they feel disconnected? Can't they play a game because the main character isn't gay, or female, or black? Or do they accept those figures as stand-ins, purely metaphoric representations to deal with the game mechanic, just as a board game token? As parts of a story, where the characters just happen to be male and straight?
Are games just mere entertainment? Or can they be more? Obviously, I strive for the second part – and here is why I might not be that wrong.
This year, for the first time, a video game will appear on the syllabus of a course required for all students at Wabash College, where I teach. For me - and for a traditional liberal arts college founded in 1832 - this is a big deal.
Alongside Gilgamesh, Aristotle's Politics, John Donne's poetry, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the Tao Te Ching, freshmen at Wabash will also encounter a video game called Portal.
This comes, of course, from the Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott. And it is a logical consequence: games are becoming more and more mainstream. Practically all kids that are just a bit younger than I am (and a lot of my own generation) have grown up with games, they know the game's language, they can read those texts1.
But most of the time, they can not analyse it. Just as you have to re-learn to read literature and watch films in university, you have to re-learn to play games.
And they understand it differently than, for example, the people from the Vereinigung gegen mediale Gewalt, who never learned to read games and, obviously, have no intention to do so. It is much easier to confine yourself to banning something you do not understand. ↩