I love video games a great deal; not just as entertainment, but also as a bonafide artistic medium. They have the ability to engender joy, sorrow, or social contemplation. Even if the games aren’t specifically aiming to accomplish these feelings, they may. This is the power of art. And as with any established art form, criticism is both natural and necessary for growth. Even if you want “apolitical” (although this isn’t possible) shooty-stabby games starring gruff white dudes out for revenge, this genre can still be improved with criticism. Personally, I am interested in the political aspect to games and the messages they convey. After all, we passively absorb ideas that we witness around us. Just check out current events in the media if you don’t believe me.
For this reason, this week’s Web Crush is #GamingLooksGood, a YouTube show hosted by Shareef Jackson. If you aren’t familiar with Jackson, he is a common guest/host on Spawn on Me, and has appeared on many other podcasts discussing social issues from a racial, gender, and tech perspective.
Each episode, #GamingLooksGood examines an aspect of a certain game and some of its ramifications on the race and gender spectrums. One early example has him reviewing the racial implications in Battlefield: Hardline, focusing on how they frame the cops vs. criminal narratives. He points out that the criminal voices tend to be stereotypically Black, in contrast to the stereotypical neutral and white voices. This is important to notice and discuss as it reinforces harmful mindsets about who is a bad guy and who is a good guy.
In a similar vein, Jackson analyzes some of the sexism in Mortal Kombat (9). Specifically, he discusses how the camera tends to view the female characters, particularly in their knockout (or death) animations and framing during cut-scenes. He notes that hyper-focusing on the characters’ breasts is creepy as it is, but even more so after they’ve been knocked unconscious or killed. Again, this reinforces harmful mindsets, in this case, the objectification of women. Furthermore, it reduces women to sex objects, rather than the deadly fighters they are. And it’s especially creepy to see the game objectifying dead women, further emphasizing that objects are all they will ever be.
Another strong point to #GamingLooksGood is that Jackson doesn’t simply criticize egregious examples of the genre. He’s even brought the race discussion to crowd favorite Splatoon, mentioning how its advertising and focus isn’t quite as diverse as the game could have been. As much as I love Splatoon, and as much positivity as it brings to the table, it is not without its problems. He discusses that even though there are occasionally multi-racial squid kids in the splash (heh) page and some of the promotional art, there are fair-skinned squids on the majority of the promo art, including the box art and Amiibo. All the non-player characters in the game are light skinned as well. It’s this sort of commitment to bettering the medium, even critiquing the better examples like Splatoon, that makes Gaming Looks Good such a great show.
This show is definitely something worth your time. It is still young, with less than twenty episodes, but it shows promise involving even more topics. Additionally, the episodes range in length from around five minutes to roughly thirty. Diversity in time commitment shows respect for the viewer—they can watch short videos if they are busy or have shorter attention spans, or can watch one of the longer videos if they want to fill a larger amount of time. It is more than a little bit refreshing to see honest and social criticism that critiques more than just the mechanics and gameplay of games. You can check out Gaming Looks Good on YouTube here and on Twitter @GamingLooksGood.