Game developers have always sought to “find the fun” for their audiences and to offer players exciting worlds to retreat to. However, the cost of “finding the fun” was highlighted in 2014 when women in the gaming industry attempted to expose misogyny in some games and in their communities.
In response, some members of the player community have lashed out. In what has become known as the GamerGate controversy, male activists have favorably sought to intimidate women in the industry with death threats and threats of rape. These players have expressed a desire to isolate the gaming world from broader social mores.
GamerGate has been a low point for the gaming world, apparently confirming yet another poor stereotype. But in the eight years since GamerGate, the gaming industry has transformed. As game developers have become more diverse, so have the people who play their games.
The things that interest developers and gamers have also changed, heralding a new era of “value-conscious games” that explores a variety of topics, such as empathy, diversity and well-being. These are proving to be increasingly popular with the existing and rediscovered audience.
The gaming landscape has changed dramatically since 2014. Reports of violent video games causing violent behavior in the real world have been greatly exaggerated.
Meanwhile, gaming showcases like Wholesome Direct have grown rapidly, providing a platform for hundreds of “thoughtful, uplifting and compassionate” games that focus on “intimacy” rather than competition.
Walking simulators are a game genre that focuses primarily on the stories that unfold as the characters walk, with more emphasis on atmosphere and art than thrilling gameplay. Games in the genre were previously considered “non-games” or games that value creativity over conventional game design, but their critical and commercial success challenges the idea of what games can be and shows that what players want from their games could change.
The continued success of Fortnite and Call of Duty, which are fairly traditional shooter games, proves that “fun” is still alive and well in video games and that the old game formulas continue to attract many players. But it was Animal Crossing, where players plant trees and build houses on an island, that became known as the pandemic game by emphasizing the importance of friendship and compassion.
Many popular games now promote a similar message, although they also include weapons and combat. The Last of Us: Part II, a game about the aftermath of a zombie pandemic, featured gay and trans characters and storylines. It sold 10 million copies.
Death Stranding, where players traverse a post-apocalyptic America, focuses on the importance of connection. Life is Strange: True Colors, the latest in a series of games in which teens discover and exploit supernatural abilities, has even made empathy a superpower.
I play attentive to values
The notion of games used as vehicles for good is nothing new. Games For Good, which aims to harness the popularity of games to achieve social good, was founded in 1998. However, in recent years, the ways in which games can achieve this have greatly expanded.
It’s not uncommon to hear players claim that a game has fostered their empathy for a cause, encouraged them to become more active, or even changed their lives by tackling problems they value in a uniquely engaging way. This is becoming even more important as the gaming community, of which nearly half are now women, continues to evolve.
Value-conscious game design is a growing field in academia that aims to meet the needs of this evolving audience. The field suggests that focusing on values could really help games “do good” and do well.
Value-conscious games aim to make people reflect on the content of the games they play, ask questions about their own life, and examine their own prejudices. Players said The Walking Dead, a zombie game based on moral decision making like saving a character or running away, was more engaging because it encouraged them to reflect on their choices and actions.
Some players expressly try to challenge their values through “dark play” by replaying a decision game in order to make different choices that explore difficult topics such as sexuality, power dynamics and society’s taboos.
Changing the values also affects game developers. As the average age of male game developers has increased, more games have come to explore the father-son relationship. Many developers also take part in “game jams”, which encourage them to tell their personal stories through games.
More importantly, developers from different backgrounds and with different perspectives now have a seat at the table. More and more women, non-binary people, genderqueer and transgender people are making games, with polls finding that they made up 38% of developers in 2021 compared to 24% in 2014.
This increased diversity has led to game-based reinterpretations of the developers’ personal experiences, such as Nina Freeman’s Cybele, which details her first sexual relationship, or Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest, a game inspired by her lived experience of health issues. mental.
You play forever
While some developers get angry when their work is classified as just another “empathy game,” it is nevertheless encouraging to see how value-conscious games are significantly affecting their players’ lives. Depression Quest players, for example, cite the game as the reason they sought help with their struggles.
Positive results can also come from the most unexpected sources: Tetris has been shown to reduce flashbacks of traumatic memories, Bejeweled can reduce depressive symptoms and stress, and Pac-Man can help autistic children develop social skills.
It is clear that value-conscious gaming is not here to take the “fun” out of video games or to fuel the flames of GamerGate. Instead, by presenting games as a means of exploring the important things in our lives, value-conscious games offer a valuable opportunity for new developer demographics to start creating games and for new player demographics to start playing them.
In 2022, games don’t just have to be fun. They can value empathy, mental health, and a variety of diverse and inclusive stories, among other things. The trend since GamerGate suggests a hunger for games that challenge gamers in new and new ways and talk about things gamers care about. I, for example, can’t wait to play what comes next.
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.