By now, a few of you might already be looking at this article with suspicious eyes. Is this another “video games are the devil” kind of article? Well, no, and yes. If we understand how traditional video games can get silently into our heads, we will be one step closer to apply the same techniques to Serious Games purposes. So, let me put it this way: I believe playing GTA is like brainwashing yourself with pixel-bleach. Oops. If you are a hardcore GTA fan, you might want to stop reading.
We all know what the game is all about, and it is not its violence or the way it presents criminal behavior what bothers me, as violence and crime are as worthy of portrayal as any other theme. So, even if it makes stealing cars look pretty cool, those who play the game are of an appropriate age, and able to (hopefully) distinguish fantasy from reality. GTA’s main problem are its deeper connotations about social inequality, the patterns associated with gender and race, and they are far more disturbing –as they operate at a subconscious level.
In my opinion, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say GTA is sexist, and very, very racist (don’t even get me started on Saint’s Row). The assumptions made on the concept of “blackness” are blatantly marginalizing – and so are they when it comes to femininity. As an example: even when CJ, (the main black character) grows to be one of the most successful, rich criminals in California – he can still only choose to eat in fast-food joints with names full of ghetto references. The message is inherently that no matter how much money or how high he is on the hierarchy scale, he will always present patterns characteristic and stereotypically appropriate of his “blackness”. Here, “blackness” has deep associations with poor life choices and a marginal lifestyle. In other words: you can take the boy out of the ghetto – you can’t take the ghetto out of the boy.
To answer the question, playing GTA does not make you racist or sexist per se, but clearly contributes to promoting racist and sexist stereotypes. So in a way, it does make you an accomplice of social inequality – all for the price of entertainment.
So how is this obnoxious rant related to Serious Games in a social context? Well. Serious Games have traditionally challenged our assumptions and boundaries and our perception of social issues, with examples we have seen in games such as Papers Please, My Phone Story or This War of Mine. Let’s start creating games that can entertain and at the same time, break stereotypes and diminish social exclusion. Games that illustrate the depth of different realities instead of stereotypes. Let’s educate generations. However, the choice is yours.