Video games don’t have as long a way to go in terms of maturity and general appeal as they did even five years ago – but mainstream media’s treatment of them does.
Listening to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on the 26th of February, I was pleasantly surprised to hear an interview about the new Tomb Raider with its writer Rhianna Pratchett and Belinda Parmar from ladygeek.com. The section was refreshingly free of debate about the torture of Lara Croft, and turned into a more general discussion of the game development process and the creative avenues of the industry. Over 8 minutes, Pratchett was asked questions as a writer and gamer, answering knowledgeably and giving insight into her involvement with the reboot of the famous franchise. Parmar got the unenviable task of talking about how the gaming industry can be more than just nerds and numbers, once again stating the fact that gaming is not a pursuit of teenage boys or men with the mentality of teenage boys, and that it’s a well-known fact that the demographic for gaming has grown older with its audience, the gender split of those who play games being more or less 50/50. She talked of the numerous opportunities and recruitment drives aimed towards women and girls in art, design, music and other creative outlets in the game development process along with programming, which is also an art.
At the end of the interview, presenter Jane Garvey thanked the guests for their enthusiasm and announced that Tomb Raider would be released on March the 5th, adding with a casual dismissiveness “If you’re interested in that kind of thing”.
To be fair to Garvey, you can tell she’s filling space; you can tell she’s not the kind of person who completed the original Tomb Raider (or even Anniversary); she doesn’t know who Leisure Suit Larry is, but has heard of Fruit Ninja, bless her. However, Garvey must face this situation on a daily basis when interviewing guests, and in no other section of the rest of the show did she sign off on the pieces so dismissively. If someone from Pixar had been talking in exactly the same way about their latest movie and its development process, would Garvey have been so indifferent of their industry and end product at the interview’s conclusion? The process of creating a Pixar film and big-budget video game is incredibly similar, simply leading to different end products. Sadly, Garvey’s comment shows how it is still okay in the minds of people to automatically think that games cannot be creative, interesting or valid in the way that movies, music and art are, and it’s an attitude that is all too common. There are countless debates as to whether games can be included as art, but it’s undeniable that they are most definitely culture, and this culture is woefully underrepresented beyond cheap nerd jokes, lazy shorthand for an activity that amounts to a waste of time or in this case a throwaway comment on a radio show.
The frustrating fact is for us gamers is that we just have to sit and wait for this dismissive old guard to be dismissed in real time. There are rays of light in Charlie Brooker, Dara O’Briain, and Aleks Krotoski; intelligent, funny, interesting people who talk intelligently, humorously and interestingly about games and their applications in mainstream media. Online, the situation is much better, and there are plenty of places for intelligent, curious, friendly, creative gamers to go to appreciate the many parts of gaming culture that appeal to them and to share experiences, anecdotes and ideas. We can also just play with our friends for social entertainment in a similar way to burning through a DVD boxset.
I’m a woman, and I listen to Woman’s Hour at least once or twice a week. I have sat through countless interviews that do not fall within my demographic, some that have piqued my interest, and more that have just faded into nothing the second the section is over. It’s disappointing that the one time a piece comes around that is actually applicable to my life and style I’m given more than the vague impression that gaming is still perceived as niche or trivial. Video games are unquestionably a part of life for a huge number of people; they have inspired artists, musicians, writers and comics; been used in scientific research; assisted in specialist education; have created shared experience where people bond over the first time they met the T-Rex in the original Tomb Raider. That’s the kind of thing I’m interested in, and the kind of thing I look forward to hearing more about on general interest programmes with a host that is similarly enthusiastic and experienced.
The reboot of Tomb Raider may not have any dinosaurs, but there was definitely a hint of a point of view that is fortunately heading towards extinction on Woman’s Hour.