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POW Bros: the medium is the message

First of all, I absolutely cannot believe I missed this. For anyone else who missed it: last week, games journalist (and, full disclosure, friend) Jared Rea made a video poking fun at John McCain’s “Prisoner of War” campaign angle.

I love that this is the web 2.0 equivalent of a political cartoon, tailored to suit the tastes of video game enthusiasts.

Obviously, the video went viral—so viral, in fact, that it was actually picked up by the Crooks and Liars blog. “Probably the most juvenile thing I’ve ever seen on this site,” snipes the very first commenter. I cackled aloud when I read this remark.

But let’s say that, instead of a video about video games, Crooks and Liars had posted a political comic strip, and in that strip, McCain is playing Poker or Go Fish or Uno with his political opponents. And say that McCain, in this game, keeps playing a ‘POW’ card. Let’s say that happened. Would that commentary be considered “juvenile”?

But then, and for me this is maybe the most interesting part, Jared found himself defending his work on his home turf, right there in his blog’s own comments. Now, to be fair, plenty of folks were impressed with the video’s astute, if spectacularly silly, shorthand analogy. But a lot of people are uncomfortable when video game iconography is used as a metaphor for current events, it would seem (as we saw earlier this month).

One man expressed his distaste, going so far as to lambast Jared, in the comments section, for “making a political message thinly veiled with a video game shell, when you are first and foremost an entertainment writer. What does any of this [have] to do with video games?”

Is Jared, as “an entertainment writer,” obligated to conceal his political bias?

More to the point, though, I’ve seen this particular complaint pop up at several mainstream video game sites, and especially at those sites where editors are permitted to post to blogs. Hey! You review video games! What gives you the right to talk about politics, current events, war, or culture? Or, and I’ve seen this argument around, Hey! I come here to talk about fun stuff! Knock that off!

I wonder with what frequency critics of other media—movie critics, for instance, or music reviewers, or book critics—are accused of doing the same. I do think it’s somewhat strange, and a little disheartening, that even fellow gamers are suspicious of politics-and-gaming’s overlap.

Is the consensus, even within our own gaming culture, that the medium of games is too lowbrow for the projection of potentially engaging metaphors?

6 responses to “POW Bros: the medium is the message” »

  1. Adam says:

    I’m guessing the reason some readers would prefer gaming journalists to stay quiet about their political views is that the readers have no reason to respect a gaming journalist’s political views. Would the reaction be any different if a journalist was promoting his or her religious beliefs?

    The other reason could be that people often feel attacked when people view things differently than they do.

  2. librarian says:

    Adam, thanks very much for your thoughtful reply. And these are both fine points!

    To speak to your second point: of course. This is the internet—serious, serious business—but it’s that sense of attack and victimization that, when reined, always leads to such interesting discussions! God bless the internet.

    Now, with regard to your first assertion, which is the one I find most interesting, I absolutely agree. But I wonder why it is that we have such a low opinion of said journalist’s credibility. And I think you’ve hit upon what I really wanted to discuss inside of my original blog entry.

    Granted, the reader may feel that political subject matter is outside of the writer’s usual sphere of discourse—we can’t all be MSNBC commentators, can we? But it is interesting that, to the average reader and gamer, said journalist would have less clout or credibility than Joe Blogger @ importantpoliticsblog dot com (if that domain really exists, I will scream). And that’s really too bad, isn’t it? For one, a games journalist is no less equipped to discuss politics than Joe Blogger, so it’s surprising that we are so quick to dismiss said journalist’s vantage and opinion. And FWIW as far as lefty punditry goes, Jared Rea is better equipped than most, regardless of their chosen employ.

    It isn’t only that average games journalists are slighted and condescended to—and to be sure, they are, and a lot of hackneyed writing out there is largely to blame for that—but that they are slighted because their chosen sphere of criticism is videogames. And these journalists aren’t slighted by book critics and film critics; they’re denied credibility by other gamers. And what that tells me is that even gamers have a comparatively low opinion of the medium itself. After all, if the medium were higher-brow, wouldn’t we assign more credibility to the people who commit their lives to discussing it?

    Never mind the fact that games journalists should see to it that they’re equipped to discuss politics in a meaningful way. Journalists should be able to discuss each and every work in its entire context. Games themselves are inherently political. The simplest games are, at their core, about competition, about invasion or upheaval or unrest. They are about war. And more complicated games may have a motive or agenda—it’s naive to think those can’t, and it’s condescending to not allow them that discussion.

    I really appreciate your comment, and thanks—it’s given me a chance to really consider and talk about what I was only implying before.

    edit: Oh great, it’s longer than the actual blog.

  3. Sharpless says:

    I think it’s nonsense. Unless someone openly presents themself as completely unbiased, or chooses to be a part of the “unbiased” general news media (i.e. NBC, ABC, CNN, etc.) then they have every right to express their opinions publically. And I don’t see why games shouldn’t touch on political issues. I think Jared’s video is clever and it has, at the very least, an element of truth to it. Jared’s critics are being ridiculous.

    If Bad Dudes taught us anything, it’s that there’s room for politics in games.

  4. Cody W. says:

    I hate it when someone is silenced because of their political opinions. I’ve seen a lot of editor blogs on, say, 1UP be criticized because they talk about the election or politics in general. Most readers, I guess, don’t want to think about politics, but in my opinion every citizen of the country should be as informed as possible. I know I wouldn’t make it through the day without watching MSNBC/CNN or checking my RSS reader for blog updates.

    And let’s face it, politics and games combine more often than not, and that is only going to continue as they mature into a respectable art form (with art comes controversy). On the other hand, if you’re a site that reports nothing but videogame news, and you have a story on your site that has nothing to do with gaming (such as this one [http://www.gamepolitics.com/2008/09/03/republican-vp-choice-sarah-palin-tried-ban-books] on GamePolitics), then I’d say you should hold back a little. It’s not that they shouldn’t be allowed to talk about politics; it’s just that seeing something completely unrelated to gaming (although it could be argued that book burning shares similar free speech issues as anti-videogame movements) is slightly odd.

    For the video in question, I thought it was very original and witty, and of course it appealed to me as a lifelong gamer. For those who found it “juvenile”, well, they should probably welcome themselves to 2008.

  5. Cody W. says:

    Sorry ^^^ I didn’t know if I could use an HTML link.

  6. Kevin Bunch says:

    I think it may be because there is a notion that still floats around that video games are a juvenile activity, and bringing politics into that realm is therefore “wrong.” Politicizing the youth, as it were.

    Of course, that’s a load of bunk, but no one said perceptions had to be right.

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