There are a lot of people who either fail to grasp this concept, or vehemently deny it despite possessing a brain: games are a dominant modern entertainment medium and, as such, hold tremendous cultural significance.
It’s really not a tough concept to get your head around. Much like comparably popular mediums, such as literature, film and music, games are a part of cultural discourse; they are informed by modern culture and, in turn, inform modern culture – in fact, given to the interactive and non-linear aspects of several modern games, and the medium’s capability for passively recording ‘feedback’ in the form of statistics and in-game decisions from players, gaming’s cultural discourse is far more intimate than almost any other medium. But I digress.
Modern games are cultural artifacts, representative of the culture in which they are produced. There is probably no better testimony to their status as artifacts than the collection taking place at the New York Museum of Modern Art, which aims to preserve notable instances of game design. This is one of several examples from around the world, acknowledging games as a unique, prominent, and influential cultural medium.
Perhaps more importantly, as a form of cultural discourse games are a vehicle for the transmission of social values; modern games have the cultural clout to both reinforce and challenge social norms and perceptions. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Having transcended the bounds of niche pastime into becoming a ubiquitous medium, games have also entered into a much needed wider critical conversation; a conversation which analyses the inherent values present in games and gaming culture.
In this new age, the interrogation of games’ critical worth is more important than ever. Despite being a rapidly progressing medium, games still struggle embarrassingly with the representation of gender, race and sexuality, and this ongoing critical conversation is utterly necessary to, first of all, demonstrate that games affect, and are reflective of, social attitudes and, secondly, to hold developers accountable for issues with the content they provide. Games developers have the same obligations that directors and authors do in this respect: to question the values inherent in their ‘art’, and to consider the effects such values will have on the audience, reader or player.
Failing that, they’d all better get used to having the misogynistic, racist, homophobic fruits of their labour torn to shreds by critics, because it’s 2013 and we shouldn’t have to put up with it anymore.