I’ve always been hesitant about making this kind of post. I guess it’s because I’ve always disliked the constant displays of self-validation that come along with being a ‘gamer’, a kind of simulated minority that’s increasingly becoming less of a quirky identity. Maybe now it’s even a non-identity. I’m talking about the kind of people who play games and take immeasurable offence when told “aren’t you going to grow out of these things?”, the kind of people who post a picture of Link from The Legend of Zelda next to Cristiano Ronaldo and caption it ‘You have your heroes, I have mine’.
I’ve always tried to balance my defence of games as a legitimate art form with a kind of humility about the seriousness of the industry as a whole. More and more as I go into studying games full time, and then hopefully developing them, I have to distinguish between what games can be and what they are perceived as. The former is what I really want to explore and push the boundaries of as I get older, and the latter is what I have to have a kind of humility about to remain sane. No game blogger, maker or player can sanely say that they’d expect games to be seen as something serious and culturally important to the average person. I’m going to have to accept that, as I get older and I’m sitting around the kitchen table of an older relative, telling them ‘I work in video games’ might spark an image of 14-year-olds calling each other motherf*ckers on Xbox Live. I have always accepted that, whilst this may negate an individual’s idea of videogames as ‘important’, I know what I am doing and why I am doing it. I’ve always thought that importance is measured by honest conviction when it comes to any profession.
But, recently I saw something online that made me question this concept: of something being important as weighed by the convictions behind it. It’s going to sound stupid, but I saw an article about Wonder Woman not having any armpit hair in the new Justice League trailer, and the apparent controversy surrounding this. I had the nerve to think to myself: this is so miserably unimportant. There is a drastic deficit of basic democratic human rights for women in some countries, and this is what online feminists are busying themselves with. Nonexistent hirsute armpits.
But then a few hours after having guffawed at the article I began to think: why is this not important? If I tell myself that my own vocation is important because I have an honest conviction behind it, then the people writing arm-ticles about Wonder Woman might also genuinely believe that this is a pressing social issue and have just as strong a conviction as my own. And that’s not an unbelievable idea. But with that in mind I still can’t make myself truly recognise any importance here.
By the same standards, though, a more pressing social issue that I can recognise as important, like the threat to womens’ democratic rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it just doesn’t inspire the same response in me as… videogames. If importance is weighed by the strengths of my own convictions, then it’s not as important to me. And that… sounds kind of really awful. But it’s not genuine. I have the humility to recognise that women having basic democratic rights in third world countries is more important than the thing I’m going to pursue for the rest of my life, but I don’t have as strong a conviction for it. It sounds awful when you put it in words, but everyone participates in the same kind of mindset. If you’ve ever bought an iPhone or Nike shoes, then at some point in your life, the self-gratification of owning one of these items was more important to you than children not having to work underpayed, in severely unsafe factories.
So this all just made me realise that importance can’t be measured by the strength of my convictions towards something. I’m a firm believer that language is one of the most difficult barriers to overcome when expressing what you mean when you talk about something, and that a word is powerless without its context. Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is an example of a short story that explores this problem. I think that, when talking about things like ‘importance’, clarification is necessary in all cases. Up until reading that article about Wunder(arm) Woman, I’d always thought that ‘importance’ was simply weighed by whether I felt strongly about something, but that’s obviously not the case.
As someone who recognises the relative frivolousness of my own vocation (a necessary kind of modesty for anyone blogging about, playing, or making games), this small incident has changed my whole perception of the concept of ‘importance’. I think what I really mean when I talk about, or even think discursively about ‘importance’ is whether something justifies dedication. Issues such as threats to human rights of course justify dedication in order to establish democracy, of course they are important. Exploring narrative possibilities in videogames? Of course that justifies my dedication as something culturally and personally relevant. The same principle applies to someone who treats me well, of course they justify my dedication to them, making them important to me.
It’s an interesting experience to just, at any time, sit back and explore why something is as important to you as it is. It can tell you a lot about your own prejudices and perceptions.