… and getting pissed off. Or perhaps not so much pissed off as concerned about what those books taught new (and old) game designers only 5 – 10 years ago.
Every book except a very recently published one is pretty consistently placing the player firmly in the “he” compartment. I’m about to start reading a book by Ralph Koster, A Theory of Fun, and I know that that particular book inspired Jesse Schell’s book about game design lenses, and the first edition of that book is a dumpster fire when it comes to how women players are described.
I probably shouldn’t even mention the totally white, colonial perspective these books use as a starting point, but holy shoot, they’re so colonial. It’s as if the only valid mechanics are conquest of land and battle. All the players are men, and there’s this implicit celebration of the culture that surrounds games. There’s much talk about being in the trenches, how feature creep is unavoidable and bad but how good it feels to conquers those difficulties together and how the feature creep is worth it, in the end.
The thing that really raises my hackles is that there is a lot of talk about how meaningful games are, how powerful they are, what they can teach us and the next moment how games are dismissed as vehicles for narrative, and how insignificant narrative is for games, because really, they are only systems.
I find that attitude deeply depressing, but entirely expected. We’ve lived with that attitude for years, and most of the books I’m currently reading were written during the heyday of the ludology – narratology conflict. Most of the books are firmly ludologist, which is why there’s so much praise of mechanics, and so little talk of content and what those mechanics signify.
There’s an unwillingness to look at the dark side of games in those books, that I recognize from the way the discourse around games looked during the 2010’s. There was an intentional blindness around the content of games. In between 2010 – 2014, the discussion changed and started to engage more than just mechanics. And then GamerGate happened.
I honestly don’t think it as a coincidence that some form of backlash was triggered at this point. Gaming culture was bursting at the seams and something had to happen. What happened was unfortunately a backlash for all marginalized groups in gaming.
The most recent book I read, however, was Values at Play, which goes in depth on how ethics and values are starting to make inroads into game development. As with any gains, I believe that there will be a backlash.