Videogame critic Chris Franklin released a biting commentary of many fans of the industry on Sunday, calling out fans who want games to be “recognized” as an artform but also complaining when critics point out instances of problematic messaging or presentation.
“They’ll bum-rush [Roger] Ebert or any other respected figure and insist they take games seriously as art,” Franklin argued. “But as soon as anyone does try to take a game’s claims of artistic intent seriously by looking at the game’s content and meaning then suddenly the line becomes ‘Oh, they’re just games!’ ‘Stop being so serious.’ ‘They’re just for fun!'”
Instead, Franklin said, these fans will insist that an “objective” review focus on nothing but the game’s technical attributes, a technique companies have embraced by promoting games with the same feature-heavy approach seen in commercials for automobiles.
“From that warped worldview the idea of keeping politics out of video games almost makes sense,” Franklin argued. “No one test drives a Sedan and then goes home and writes about the car’s troubling presentation of minorities or its oppressive heteronormativity.”
But the problem, Franklin continued, is that games often bring their own politics to the table, citing popular releases like Civilization, Bioshock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V — which he referred to as “the Holden Caufield of videogames.”
“In essence it argues for a sort of South Park-centrism where everyone with strong opinions is wrong because people with strong opinions are easy to turn into lazy parody,” Franklin said of “GTA V.” “The game skewers everyone in a lazy effort to be above the fray, but in the process it ends up punching down at vulnerable groups of people more often than it punches up at existing power structures. It’s kind of hard to keep politics out of games that openly invite such discussions.”
Watch Franklin’s commentary, as posted online on Sunday, below.