Video Game Discourse Has Become Stale and Repetitive - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 26 March 2022 / 4,310 Views
A month ago FromSoftware's highly anticipated open world game Elden Ring was released to massive critical acclaim, to an extent that very few other titles have ever received. Unfortunately, alongside the release of the game came the exact same topic of discourse that has accompanied the release of every single Soulsborne title since the original Demon's Souls. Namely, the discussion surrounding the lack of easy mode in the games and whether they should have one or not.
But What If Easy Mode?
As is practically always the case with these things, some people online had the temerity to suggest that perhaps these games should have an easy mode, so that those less inclined to play difficult games would be able to experience Elden Ring, whereupon the usual cavalcade of troglodytes emerged from their caves to condemn the very notion of an easy mode in Soulsborne releases, employing such highly original arguments as "git gud" and "go play Call of Duty/Fortnite instead".
Now, the point of this article isn't to discuss whether those titles should have an easy mode, but rather to talk about the severe repetitiveness of video game discourse. However, just for the record, I don't think they need an easy mode, although if they had one it wouldn't bother me whatsoever, nor would it change the way I play those games. What we are here to talk about is the stale, cyclical nature of modern video game discourse, where the same topics are recycled over and over again, as well as the tendency of some people to actively try and restrict what video games should be allowed to talk about.
The difficulty discussion around Elden Ring illustrates the former perfectly, as I've seen the exact same points being made since around 2009, following the release of Demon's Souls on PS3. Of course, this is just one of the many constantly repeated topics regarding video games, but it perfectly encapsulates the state of video game discourse today. Whether in articles written specifically for an outlet, or on gaming forums, or social media, the gaming community really needs to find new things to talk about.
"Objective" Reviews and Unacceptable Scores
Let's start with an old favourite. Go onto almost any site focused on covering video games and you'll likely encounter some variation of the phrase "video game reviews should be objective", commonly accompanied by statements telling critics that their opinions shouldn't influence their review. You'll probably find these in a comment under a review that didn't give a game the high score it so clearly deserved according to these commentators. Of course, anyone who takes even a moment to think about it should realize how absurd the whole notion of an objective review is, but that doesn't stop it from coming up with disappointing regularity.
Speaking of reviews, could people just stop getting angry at review scores? I understand, though. The game you tied all your hopes and dreams to - in the short term at least - only received an 8, or perhaps even a lowly 7 from an outlet, and as a result its Metascore dropped by a whole point, which obviously now makes the title worse than it was before the review was published. Is the sarcasm reading clearly enough? Why is this such a huge issue to some people? Stop putting so much importance on a title's Metacritic score and just enjoy the games you like.
All too often it still feels like the level and depth of video game discourse starts and ends with furious fans shouting into the void about their most recent favourite game receiving less than stellar scores from an outlet or two. Now their whole enjoyment of the game is ruined because a couple of mean critics deemed the title to be only very good, and this is naturally such a grand offense that the only logical responses are insults, death threats, and DDoS attacks against the offending site and reviewer.
Games and Art
Another fun example of cyclic video game discourse is the question "Are Video Games Art?" I have no idea how many different versions of that same question I've seen presented in various forum posts, articles, and videos over the last 20 years. I thought we would have gotten past this tired topic a long time ago, but I suppose not. The fact that this is still an on-going debate is quite disheartening, considering how obvious the answer seems to me. Yes, many video games are "art". Perhaps not all of them, but the same can just as easily be said of films and books.
We could be discussing what effects different games are trying to achieve through their art styles, visual design, or music. Why were specific decisions made during development, and how effective were they at achieving the desired outcome? How have video games as a form of entertainment and art evolved over the years? Or even just what makes one game art and another one not? Instead of that, the discussion is usually just left at the surface level with little if any consideration for anything beyond that.
Don't Talk About "Politics"
Alternatively, perhaps we could entertain ourselves with yet another extremely nuanced and definitely intelligent take on the topic of politics and social issues in video games? That always cheers me right up. It baffles me to read and hear people complaining about developers 'bringing' politics and social issues into video games and claiming that this is somehow ruining gaming, as if politics hasn't already been a part of video game storytelling for decades now. Naturally, bringing politics into video games is only ever really a problem for someone when it doesn't quite align with their personal beliefs and values. Only then is it ruining gaming.
This has gotten so bad over the years that many publishers and developers are actually scared to even suggest that their new release might have political themes or messages in it, solely for fear of alienating some part of the audience and losing their business as a result. Ubisoft once explicitly stated that The Division 2 wasn't trying to make any political statements with its setting or story:
Interviewer: "Taking up arms against a corrupt government is not a political statement?"
Terry Spier (Creative Lead): "No. It’s not a political statement. No, we are absolutely here to explore a new city."
This is a game about a world devastated by a virus released by an environmental terrorist, with the US government then activating a group of domestic sleeper agents to prevent societal collapse and keep the system running. But they aren't making any political statements there, apparently. The messaging in the game is certainly not clever or subtle, but it's also not apolitical.
The saddest part of this is that there are people who actually celebrate statements like this, as if it's somehow a positive thing that a video game creator is afraid to admit that the product they've worked for years on might actually have something even remotely interesting to say about the real world. I can't fathom the desire to actively hinder the progress of video games in becoming a form of entertainment, or indeed art, that is taken seriously. Why would you want to stop the growth of the whole medium over some petty gripes you have over politics, social issues, gender, or sexuality, of all things?
It's Just a Game
Similarly, whenever someone actually takes the time to properly analyze a video game's story, characters, plot, or any other element, and looks at the political, social, or cultural themes found within it in a critical light, you can almost guarantee that there are going to be people telling them to not take it so seriously because it's only a video game. I wonder how literary critics would react to someone telling them not to analyze the classics of their chosen field because "they're just books"? Maybe it isn't that much of a surprise that the topics of discussion regarding video games seem to remain stagnant year after year.
Some of the greatest video games of all time are filled with commentaries on social, political, environmental, religious, or cultural issues, and a huge part of what made them great were the themes their creators decided to tackle within them. Nier: Automata, BioShock, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, and countless other titles wouldn't be nearly as interesting or groundbreaking if they didn't have something of value to say about society, culture, and the real world in general with their characters and narratives.
A Problem Isn't a Problem, Because it Happens Everywhere
Over the last few years the video game industry has been inundated with reports and allegations of abuse, crunch, and harassment at almost all levels, from the smallest indie studios to the biggest AAA publishers. Whether it's Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, CD Project Red, FromSoftware, Sony, or any number of other companies, the horrible treatment of workers feels like the standard rather than the exception these days.
When these issues are brought up, you can practically guarantee that someone will chime in with the retort that it's not really a problem because these things happen everywhere, and that we shouldn't blame video game companies for stuff that is an issue elsewhere as well. This attitude that something horrible is perfectly fine because it's also being done by someone else in some other place or environment is horrendous. Not only does it allow for the people responsible to get away with what they've done, but also buries a genuinely important discussion under meaningless drivel.
And heaven forbid you have the gall to actually like a game with a female protagonist, or bring up issues like misogyny and sexual harassment within the industry. Half the time trying to have a discussion online about any of that is depressing, because for some reason it's still difficult for some people to wrap their heads around the fact that it's not, in fact, alright to harass and abuse people. Then again, some people haven't quite yet figured out that female characters can be more than just fan service in games, so baby steps I guess. On an unrelated note, The Last of Us Part II is pretty great.
The constant repetition of the same tired topics and the lack of desire from some people to see this medium develop is an ever-present weight dragging it down. The only way video games grow and become better is if they tackle and discuss as wide a variety of difficult topics as possible, in as many ways as possible. It's not always going to result in a great or successful game, nor a nuanced take on the subject matter, but without those attempts the creators don't ever get the chance to learn from them and get better through that process.
People who whine about politics and social issues being addressed and dealt with in video games are the reason why so many outside of the "video game sphere" still don't take them seriously, instead just seeing them as either children's toys or violent pieces of disposable entertainment for teenagers. Too much of what video games are and can be remains unexplored, and people still wonder why they aren't on par with films, music, or books when it comes to public perception.
Depending on how you count, as of 2022 video games have existed in some form for at least 50 years. Yet, much of the discourse around them is still shackled and limited by a sizable portion of the gaming audience seemingly not wanting it to grow and develop the medium into something more interesting. Whether it's because of the incessant repetition of identical talking points, or certain people doing their utmost at handicapping the discussion surrounding them, video game discourse still has much growing to do. Sadly, I genuinely can't say how this might be achieved.
Given enough time, I do believe that we'll see more and more genuinely interesting and intelligent takes on video games as a medium and an art form, both in the games themselves and in discussions about them. The state of the discourse has definitely gotten much better in recent years, as long as you know where to look. With that said, I'm looking forward to reusing this exact same article in about four years'´ time or so, just with Elden Ring's name swapped out for whatever FromSoftware's next release is called, as the next crop of articles revolving around difficulty options inevitably spring up.