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Dead on Arrival: Gaming Media's Perspective Problem
Unable to look outside their own insular networks, gaming media has become oblivious to what the community at large really wants.
It's been a while since I dove headlong into the latest and greatest controversy in the gaming community at large. The ongoing storm of negativity that has engulfed gaming is rather lethargic and I'd much rather spend my time focusing on the games themselves, but it's important from time to time to take the temperature of the gaming public and let off a little steam at the right people, if only to remind myself and others of how stupid some people can be.
That newest controversy is once again focused on the pre-eminent bogeyman of the crybaby gaming media, the Dead or Alive series, which for nearly 20 years has been assaulting American shores with a volley of violent and titillating action, much to the consternation of many a prude. No doubt that particular crowd is nonplussed at the record breaking sales that the most recent game generated despite a hostile response from the increasingly depreciated gaming press.
But I digress.
The most recent volley from the “perennially offended brigade” comes in relation to a demo for Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 VR. Tony Polanco of geek.com, one of the few writers to give a fair account, describes it as follows:
“(a) VR update, being called Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Fortune (VR) will be available in October. This coincides with the release of the PlayStation VR headset which has previously been reported to be launching the same month.”
Naturally, this development raised the hackles of all the right people. “Dead Or Alive Xtreme 3 VR demo shows it is interactive sexual assault” proclaimed the Metro. “Dead or Alive' VR is basically sexual assault, the game” cried Engadget. Tech.Mic went down the route of stating plain and simple that “'Dead or Alive Xtreme 3' lets you sexually assault a woman in virtual reality.”
I'll save myself the time and indignation of repeating the words of the usual band of shrill and arrogant hatemongers. It's easier, and more important, to skewer the argument without delay.
So let's dissect the argument in two simple points. Assuming that we're tackling the topic of “Dead or Alive is a sexual assault simulator”
1. No it isn't.
I would generally consider “sexual assault” to be equatable to the act of trying to rape someone. In English Law this is defined as follows:
“A person commits an offence if he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with his penis.”
Apologies for the rather verbose and triggering language. Time to get mad over some non gender neutral language? Didn't think so.
Now, this may be naive of me, but I don't expect Sony to unveil the VR Fleshlight any time soon, so we can safely rule out the notion of people being penetrated in this game.
2. It isn't real.
The single point I've raised in argument with people who have proclaimed “pure disgust” with DoA VR is the hypocrisy of such a position.
Sexual assault is horrific and vile, but so is murder.
As gamers we're quite tolerant of shooting a soldier in the head with a sniper rifle or beating the crap out of them with our fists. That tolerance of murdering other human beings is translating over to VR, and nobody has really batted an eyelid, and neither should they.
Games are an escape from reality, and as long as the fantasy is palatable you will see people flocking to give it a go. This can take on numerous different forms, from trudging through mud during World War One, flying through the cosmos at the helm of a starfighter.
Or even heavily petting a woman with oversized mammaries?
The soldier, the starfighter, the woman. They're all just intricate connections of graphics, sound bytes and AI. Often the hard work of a group of individuals working to create something which will appeal to a mass audience or a target market.
But no matter how much work or effort it requires to create such dazzling pieces of art, it still isn't real. Killing someone doesn't make you a murderer, flying a starfighter doesn't make you an astronaut, fondling someone doesn't make you a rapist.
The Real Problem?
The large degree of agency that our medium provides allows gamers to take what they will from a game or a piece of work. Sometimes this can take form in a number of disgusting and vile ways, but as human beings most of us are quite capable of discerning the difference between the reality of life and the fantasy of the game.
Modern gaming critics don't get this. They don't understand that the grant of agency, from developers to players, to do what they want, does not directly correlate with advocacy of such behaviour.
Case in point some driving games have those warning screens at the beginning saying that you should buckle up your seatbelt, avoid driving too fast, tuck your kids in at night so they avoid the bedbugs, etc. The active focus with these games is on being as real as possible, so there's a clear justification for including such a load screen.
Nobody is advocating mounting your dog and trying to ride it round like a horse from your favourite WRPG. So they don't warn you about it. It's common sense.
Unfortunately, the virtual, for the game media at large, has become the reality. Such beliefs are clearly manifest in the beliefs of figureheads such as Jack Thompson and Anita Sarkeesian. So the gaming media espouse the views of said individuals in their desire for influence and control over the direction of the ship that we're all hanging on to.
This is directly harming relations between the gaming media and the community at large and it has been happening for too damn long.
But what's the solution?
Henry Ford supposedly once said “Don't find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”
I tend to agree.
A multi pronged attack is required in order to try and defuse the situation that currently presents itself.
The games media need to pull their heads out of their butts and smell the coffee. Then they can start considering how they can bridge the vast chasm in opinion currently standing between themselves and the gamers they abandoned on the other side.
Gamers, as a community, need to continue piling pressure on media outlets and developers who behave disingenuously. Recent events have proven how an organized, concerted effort can help drive sites who stir the pot out of business and help to detoxify the well of opinion.
Developers can, well, develop. I'm quite aware of just how difficult things can be when developers interact with the public, which is why I think that some people are, not naming names, ill suited to be sitting around on Twitter all day posting about how an amorphous body of individuals is attacking them on a daily basis.
All the while paying someone to...uh...post about an amorphous body of...you get what I mean.
I'm running out of steam, so lets get straight to the point.
I get how difficult a place the internet can be for fixing things, but I'm hoping we're not past the point of no return, even if it feels like it.
By taking steps to de-escalate the continuing war of words and opinions, the gaming media is quite capable of fixing a broken reputation, but it will require work that many individuals at the offending sites are quite unwilling to put the effort in to do.
This most recent controversy with Dead or Alive, merely highlights an ongoing problem which has spent far too long manifesting itself and poisoning the well of discussion.
As always, let common sense prevail.
Co-founder and MD of Powergamer. I'm the final word on the direction of the site, but I will mostly defer to Ix's wisdom. I've played enough XCOM to ensure that my only recognised pronoun is "Commander".