My column this week is a little talk about what Batman: Arkham Asylum and 50 Shades of Grey have in common and no that’s not a joke.
Really, this is just my swipe at the long-standing trend of condemning art because you think OTHER people are too stupid to enjoy it responsibly. “This art promotes [longstanding social ill]!” Now, the response to my sort of article is usually, “It’s just criticism! Don’t be such a butthurt fanboy! If games are art then they deserve criticism like all other forms of art!”
But we’re talking about really different sorts of criticism here:
1. The violence in Batman is disgusting, brutal, and over-the-top. It made me uncomfortable and I’d never let a kid play it.
This is a perfectly valid artistic critique. I disagree with it strongly, but that just makes for interesting conversations. It’s an appraisal of the art. We have these kind of conversations here once in a while. “This made me uncomfortable” is a perfectly valid response to something.
2. Playing Batman reminded me that violence is a real problem and we should watch out for signs of violent behavior in our kids.
This is sometimes a little annoying when you want to read about a videogame and instead someone uses the game as a launching point for a cause that’s important to them, but this is a natural response to art. This is basically a more personalized extension of #1.
3. Batman promotes violence and sends a message that we should solve our problems by hitting people.
THIS. This is the one I have a problem with. It’s less a criticism of Batman and more an attempt to judge the audience more than the game. It frames the game as a social ill and assumes that fans of the game have no capacity to discern fact from fiction. It’s preachy, sanctimonious, and seems to be based on the idea that we should fix society by condemning certain types of art. Or that art must be designed to not cause stupid people to act out.
It makes you sound like this:
Oh, won’t somebody think of the stupid people?
I’m not going to say that you should NEVER do #3, but if you’re going to go that way then you ought to realize the kind of fight you’re about to start. You’re about to call everyone else an idiot. You need to either put lots of gentle disclaimers around the whole thing, or you need to brace yourself for an ugly, prolonged, politically-charged fight. If you pull a #3 and then play the victim as if you were just doing criticism #1 and were unfairly attacked by fans, then you are engaging in some serious debate shenanigans.
The dynamic goes something like this:
A critic claims the game promotes violence. A fan reads it and feels that the criticism is based on the wrong assumption that fans are stupid sheep. The fan, being your typical internet person, lashes out with insults. But since there are thousands of fans and only one critic, the critic feels like they are facing a lynch mob. They can’t reason with an angry mob, so the conversation ends and both sides feel the other is just THE WORST sort of person.
This is bad enough, but then those same fans will often turn around and become critics themselves, sneering at some other thing that doesn’t appeal to them. So with the column I’m hoping to drive home the point what we all have our 50 Shades of Guilty Pleasure, and that we could stand to be a little less judgemental of other fandoms.
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A music lesson for people who know nothing about music, from someone who barely knows anything about music.
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How did this game avoid all the usual stupidity that ruins remakes of classic titles?
The Best of 2016
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2016.
Bethesda felt the need to jam a morality system into Fallout 3, and they blew it. Good and evil make no sense and the moral compass points sideways.