Swimming Through the Cesspool

I was having a conversation with a game developer friend of mine recently (aspiring – still learning the ropes, and there are many of them) about the problem with stagnation in the video game industry. It’s sort of funny how often you see a lot of people talking about these enormously successful game franchises with such blatant contempt – even gamers themselves who actively play them. A lot of what is being churned out again and again by these immense companies is the equivalent of completely forgettable action movies, he says to me. Where are the other genres? Where are the games that are trying to push the medium forward? How will games ever be taken seriously if they keep resorting to formulas and tired tropes that seem to cater mostly to twelve-year-old boys (or men who think like them)?

Although the games industry has its own set of problems to confront, I don’t think this one is particularly unique. Because, just like all other forms of media, there’s always going to be copious amounts of entirely forgettable, expendable trash. Most of it will be mindless escapism because that’s usually what people want when they sit down with a piece of entertainment – an enjoyable respite from reality. A lot of it will also be safe and rely on formulas because people who sink so much of their time, money, and energy in creating it obviously want to see it get something back. Familiarity is often the ideal because there’s less chance to offend and challenge the audience. There’s less risk-taking because creators are just too afraid (especially if they’re aspiring) or too comfortable (if it works, why not keep milking it?). Movies and television suffer from this issue too.

But I get it. It’s easy to get lost in the cesspool sometimes and forget that there is also incredible art out there too. I think it’s extremely important to point out what things need to change in all media in order to make any progress (in the case of my friend’s problem: why aren’t there more black protagonists in games?). These challenges need to be acknowledged. But it’s not enough to just talk about it – we also need to make our own books, movies, games, and share them with others as much as possible. I think it’s much more important to focus specifically on what you enjoy most (and what you’re good at) and to never apologize for these passions. If there’s a relatively unknown book or movie or game that you’ve fallen in love with, tell your friends about it! Spread the love. Help make it seem worthwhile and get it the recognition that it’s due. Don’t just criticize – create as much as you can yourself. If you have a friend like I do that needs some help getting the word out, share it with anyone who you think might give a damn.


  1. I see the same thing in movies and you touched on this some. Movies take huge budgets, on average $100 million dollars. So, if you're going to bet $100 million you want to bet it on a sure thing.

    It's only when those sure things fail or when you can find a way to make something marketable for cheaper that companies want to take on the gamble.

    I expect the same ideas exist in the game industry. It's not so much racism as it is fear of losing that big bet on a less than sure thing, maybe?

    This is why crowdsourcing is an idea with such huge potential. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo spread the risk across the, potentially millions, of "micro investors." I am optimistic this will help solve the problem you talk so astutely about.

    1. It's funny you mention places like Kickstarter because I was actually telling my friend about some of the crowdsourcing projects that have been going on. Recently, there have been quite a few video game projects that have received massive funding because of it and it's really great to see that happening, even if it's still relatively small in comparison to those other companies. At least these projects are taking off and are able to strive to do something new.

Leave a Reply