Thursday, January 17, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and Morally Engaged Players

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
My latest PopMatters article is now live: Zero Dark Thirty and Morally Engaged Players

Before you do anything else, I implore you, read Jeff Reichert's article on Reverse Shot, "Desert for the Real." If you miss how critically relevant this article is for game players and critics, then you are missing out on something. Reichert even makes a narrative argument based upon the form, not just the content, of Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. Even in a medium defined by interactivity, procedural arguments, particularly those that pertain to politics or ethics, are few and far between.

In my article I mention a few outliers. Michael Clarkson, of course, wrote an excellent article on the procedural claims of Far Cry 3, something was thrilled to read after I finally gave up on the game myself. More work that engages with the messages in design can pretty commonly be found in the works collected by Critical Distance. Of course many of the works referenced, including and admittedly my own, explore procedural rhetoric too shallowly, particularly when there are hot-button surface issues to criticize. Sometimes, that's ok too though.

If there is one thing I want to express more clearly that is perhaps less strong in my article, it is this: Game critics (and players) should expand their entertainment horizon and, with no hesitation, participate in the conversations around film, television, and literature. I know we all have busy schedules, but there are conversations happening on a regular basis that, without a doubt, pertain to both gaming culture and society at large.

Pardon yet another tangent, but to give a great example, read this excellent article by Lesley on XOJane: "The Audacity of Lena Dunham, and her Admirable Commitment to Making us Look at her Naked." You don't even have to watch Girls (even though I think you should), to understand the conversation. Lesley isn't just talking about the quality of the show - in fact, that's barely the issue, she is talking about the popular discourse around the show. The often mixed, and downright nasty, reaction to Lena Dunham's nudity in Girls reveals exactly why the nudity is audacious and important! The issues addressed in the article mirror some of the same raised in discussions about Ellie from Borderlands 2. It can also help map out a trajectory for what we want in non-traditional characters and what we might expect from audiences when these characters see release.

The industry isn't wearing diapers any more. We can apply lessons, from across mediums, to both the creation and analysis of video games. If we miss out on the myriad of conversations that are happening across the pop-culture landscape, we risk retreading old ground and making the same mistakes again.

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