There’s been a lot of talk about video games needing to “grow up” lately. Plenty of people think that the video game industry needs to start taking a hard look at itself, and adapting to “suit the times.” For some, they argue that the portrayal of women in video games is outdated. Others think their view of men is inaccurate. There are talks about what should be okay in relation to sex and violence in video games. Some people wonder what serious subjects should or should not be included in video games. The idea that bothers me most is the thought that video games have to mature and need to change to please everyone.
I am not totally against the idea of change. I think video games offer us a complex, ever-evolving, and expansive medium to work with. We can cover incredibly serious topics, like mental illness and cancer, with them. Any and all kind of alternative lifestyles can be explored. We can journey to lands real and imagined. One game could cover the story of a soldier fighting for the North in the American Civil War. Another could follow the story of a family struggling with their elderly family member’s progressing dementia. There are so many wonderful, terrifying, and heartbreaking stories out there just waiting to be told.
But I don’t think the video game industry should be forced to shift into a neat little box. The point of the industry is that it is diverse and varied. If we try to stuff it into a box of “serious games-only,” we’ll lose something along the way. There’s nothing wrong with some games being about fruitless violence, like shooting zombies in the head. So what if there’s a game entirely focused on the shallow act of shoving a penis head into an adorable butt hole? (I’m looking at you, Genital Jousting !) And what if there was a whole game dedicated to helping a guy score? (Shout out to Leisure Suit Larry !) Even gratuitous sex scenes are okay, to give certain players who want that something to look forward to.
It’s the suggestion of excessive violence and sex in games that sparked this thought. With the release of God of War for the PlayStation 4, the rest of the franchise’s entries have come under fire. Many are saying that Kratos was a monotone character. That all he cared about was murdering people and banging women. That might be true, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every video game or character has to be multi-faceted and realistically complex. Imagine if a new version of LittleBigPlanet came out with Sackboy portrayed with real, complex, and changing human emotions. It would could drag down the game’s cute and quirky vibe.
When people say that pre-2018 Kratos was just a symbol of toxic masculinity, I can’t help but roll my eyes. He’s a fictional video game character. Video game violence does not cause real life violence, and Kratos having sex with courtesans does not make anyone treat women any differently than they did before they started playing. If someone is sexist, I promise you, video games did not make them that way. God of War shouldn’t try to now prove that the Kratos from the previous games was wrong or tasteless. He just was. Duke Nukem or Doomguy aren’t very elaborately characterized either, and they’re equally fine in their own ways.
If we try to force all video games to try to satisfy everyone, we’re just going to end up with a super confusing and muddled result. Not every game is going to make everyone happy. Not every game has to fight against injustices in the world, or be super complex and serious. There is plenty of room in the world for gratuitous sex scenes, equally gratuitous violence, and one-note characters that don’t get in your way of having mindless fun.