There’s one specific Christian doctrine that’s been on my mind lately: Total Depravity. There is a lot to unpack in those two words that represent one massive concept, but the primary implication I’ve been thinking about is the belief that all of humanity is implicitly unable to refrain from evil. Not in each and every case, but in general. We are an evil people, capable of evil things, and even evidences of God’s grace in this world are tainted by our own tainted tendencies. I’ve seen this in myself, and people like me, no more clearly than during the years I’ve been invested in the videogame industry.
The past several years have seen a whirlwind of change and near-revolution for the game industry. There have been some great strides made. Recently, games like Journey, The Walking Dead, and Spec Ops: The Line demonstrate a kind of maturity in the industry that bodes well for the future, not to mention an increasingly diverse population of developers, critics, journalists, and gamers.
Oh, but nevermind. Yesterday it was revealed that you could get a statue of a busty female torso with its arms and head severed along with the special edition of Dead Island: Riptide. It looks like this:
So there you have it, the two achilles heels of the gaming industry right there in one limited edition package: glorified, horrific violence, and objectified, oversexed women. They are epitomized in this one piece of kitsch. Combine them and you have the sweet spot, the apparent wet dream of gamers everywhere: a shocking yet titillating display of sexualized violence the likes of which most of the world would prefer never to see.
But someone would. Let’s think about that for a minute.
There is, among mainstream videogame enthusiasts, as determined by a marketing team, a group of people who would look at this thing and think that it is cool; that it is meant to be a fun conversation piece – a kind of edgy and hilarious trophy to share with your friends – “haha, look at this bloodied and dismembered hot lady I have”.
When Joe Biden extended an invitation to game industry leaders to have a sit-down to discuss what could be done about the problem a culture of violence, so many of us turned up our nose and declared that taking part in such a meeting would be foolish – a way of admitting that videogames are in fact part of the problem. It was, we said, a trap.
But we’ve trapped ourselves. We, all of us, are the ones who sustained an industry whose product is made up primarily of different creative ways of killing. We are the ones who told ourselves it was good clean fun, while simultaneously upping the violent ante in every way possible. We are the one who paused Mortal Kombat to look up the fatalities, who try and come up with all the different ways to kill people in Bulletstorm, who praise Call of Duty for the ways it makes killing feel exciting and rewarding. We are the ones who bought, and clamored for, games in which women are sexy nuns that we are then able to systematically eliminated.
It was us – all of us. It was me. We are all, every one of us, totally depraved. None is righteous. No, not one. It’s a system we are invested and take part in.
So even as games become better, as hopeful and loving and community building and creative experiences become par for the course, it will be up to us to consider ourselves from outside of our self-centered bubble. It will be up to us to consider the outsiders who don’t play games, and to consider why that may be, and that maybe there are bigger problems than people who don’t play games.
Maybe they struggle with the controllers, all of the buttons, the triggers, the dual analog joysticks. Maybe they find the complexity of modern consoles frustrating. Maybe they get motion sickness when they move around 3d space. Maybe they push through despite all of that.
Maybe they become enthusiasts. Maybe they like how games are so interesting and smart and varied. Maybe they are considering buying an Xbox 360 and playing with their kid.
Maybe this person is a woman, and maybe she stumbles upon this incredible offer of a bloodied lady torso. She wonders if it’s real, if it could possibly be something that made it through the bureaucracy of a PR firm. She wonders why this is something anyone would want. A trophy of a chopped up lady, proudly displayed on a shelf, perhaps next to another trophy of a full-bodied lady. Maybe a before and after kind of thing.
She angrily decides to put the Xbox 360 for sale on Ebay. She doesn’t want anything close to that in her home. Her kid comes home, finds out, and goes into a violent rage, furious that his mom would take away his precious games. She has done what she has to do, as a mother. It may not have been an ideal choice, but it is a perfectly reasonable choice. Her son’s violent rage only confirms this.
And this is important: she is the reasonable one here. Not those who defend the bloodied bikini carcass, who self-righteously challenge her not to blame an entire medium.
When those who don’t have the opportunity or time or even desire to discover the more hopeful aspects of our hobby assume that videogames are characterized by glorifying and fetishizing violence and sexism and sexualized violence, and when they want to do something about it, to cast the blame elsewhere is at best impractical and at worst cowardly.
Joe Biden wanted to see if we were interested in talking about how games can improve the chances of American children being more safe. We said no, we have nothing to do with that. We are an entertainment industry, we reflect society’s obsession with violence. We don’t cause it.
But the mirrors are facing each other, and each reflection is reflected right back, repeating infinitely, until something stands in the way.