I watched Ms. Sarkeesian’s video on Damsels in Distress over the weekend. I actually showed it to my mother while she was here, since I suspect most of my (hopefully) proper views on gender came from her. I enjoyed the entire thing and felt it was well done and fair.
It did get me thinking about one of the tangential points she made regarding adult themes in games. I’ve been considered a little odd for a long time because I’ve always disliked pointless lovemaking scenes in movies and books. Even before I was an English major studying “literature” (or, as often as not, reading other things when I was supposed to be), I felt like a lot of the “adult themed” elements in stories were, in fact, juvenile. The same has been true for video games for a long, long time. I still remember Leisure Suit Larry games, for instance, which were very popular among my age group when they were first coming out. I had no interest in them then, nor do I their descendants now.
I’ve no problem with intimacy in a story, mind you. If it fits and meaningfully develops the plot in one way or another, then kudos for those involved. I just don’t like the mindless inclusion of sex in place of actual character development. The heavy focus on it in some games has – ironically – turned me off of those games; I remember completely losing interest in The Witcher after finding out that you not only can bed a vast majority of the female characters in the game, but that doing so rewards you with a collectible card, as if the achievement has no greater merit than opening a fresh pack of Upper Deckers and adding the cards to your collection.
Violence, too, especially extremely graphic violence, has somehow become considered an “adult” theme. Again, I disagree; it’s another juvenile theme. Here again the “dark and gritty” subgenre that Ms. Sarkeesian discusses seems to be designed to help sell games to adults who are tired of the typical blood splotches produced in “kids” games. I’ve found, though, that often the “dark and gritty” games feel the least well-put-together, as if being “dark and gritty” was enough to sell the game without further development, and, thus, those games were the least themed overall, adult or otherwise.
It seems that anything that’s considered “not appropriate for children,” must, then, be “adult themed,” but I’d like to propose a different opinion. Truly adult themed stories and games are not focused on sex and violence, but instead on themes that can best be appreciated and understood by adults, themes about selflessness, parenthood, money struggles, and so forth. Sex and violence don’t fit there; teens are PLENTY able to appreciate and understand both. The surprise here, is, then, that true adult themes, while they can only really be appreciated by adults, should be shared with children, as they will help them better understand what it means to be an adult.
Countless adolescent literature books do this; they present “adult themes” in ways that are appropriate for young adults. Only a few games, I feel, do, though. The Walking Dead I think is perhaps the best. I’m looking forward to The Last of Us to see if it holds up its promise of the same. Only time will tell, though.
Stubborn (and adult themed)