With the persistence of politicians in blaming video games as the source of society's ills, it's only natural that as a community and culture we've become self reflective in our efforts to defend the hobby we love. One voice joining the chorus is Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski, who took to Twitter yesterday to voice his views on at least one source of the public's poor perceptions, the Saint's Row series. The "gimps and dildos and purple suits" hold them back, he says, and don't help industry image to boot. In his own words:
Saints Row. Keep the crazy action and game mechanics. Lose the gimps and dildos and purple suits.
While I appreciate that Cliff is calling for games to be more mature, at the same time, his concern seems to be misguided. Certainly the video games industry is faced with inordinate amounts of criticism, but no creator should singled out and burdened with the responsibility of cleaning up its image on behalf of the whole. There will always be games with giant purple dildos. Trying to shame people out of making them is not the answer.
Artists by their very nature draw from their own experiences; whatever their medium of self expression, it is filtered through the kaleidoscope of their personal world view. While this boundary can (and should) be challenged, for the most part, an artist needs the freedom to create based on what inspires and moves them in the first place. To do otherwise would be to deny what made them artists in the first place.
Asking an entire group of people to collectively grow up (read: conform to your preconceptions of social acceptability) won't produce results. If a person wants to make a game full of dildos, they should feel the freedom to do so. What would be more effective is to challenge the status quos and public perceptions that lead to limited perspective in the games development talent pool in the first place. If we want fewer adolescent games, we need a broader range of creators. Should games development become more inclusive, there will be many more examples of quality game making that assure a broader cross section of the public of its veracity as an art form.
Personally, I love the giant purple dildos. They reinforce the game's spirit of flamboyancy and fun. By dialing up the absurdity, Volition diluted the potency of their more violent content, thus drawing the line between reality and fantasy ever clearer. If anything, that's an asset in a time when the media is consumed with taking the intentions of games too seriously. It would also be unfair to categorize Saint's Row 3 as having only been about dildos and gimp costumes, especially when comparing it to GTA, which championed the use of both in San Andreas.
In no other art form do we hold so many creators personally responsible for the content produced by other artists. We never shake down Martin Scorcese and demand he answer for Joe Francis simply because they share a medium, nor do we ask that Joe Francis stop creating Girls Gone Wild in order to preserve the integrity of film. While there are many instances where we should call out an artist for his or her content, in particular when their influence has the potential to reinforce negative stereotypes, a giant purple dildo seems among the least of our worries. It's not Saint's Row responsibility to make the industry look mature. It is, however, all of our responsibility to see that our beloved hobby be seen for what it is, merely the medium for artistic expression and not a amorphous blob of explosions and straight male wish fulfillment. We can do that by supporting those who want to make "mature" games, not stifling those who don't.
Cliffy B, just keep on doin' what you do, and let the Saint's Row folks do what they do. If you really want to help the perception of games as a whole, support diversity in games development.