Media is extremely important to me. My favorite comics, books, television shows, and films have brought me unquantifiable joy, strength, hope, and inspiration. I feel so strongly about the fiction that I love that I consider it, in many ways, to be a part of me. For that reason, I often balk at critiques of the works I love; although critics don’t intend it, I sometimes inadvertently feel that pointing out the flaws in something I hold so dear is somehow an attack on me personally. As an English major who studies fiction day in and day out, I’m really trying to improve my critical distance—my ability to separate myself from the works I love enough to analyze them honestly and fairly. With that constant quest in the back of my mind, I was struck by how well my classmates maintained their critical distance when writing about games they enjoy. Whether pointing out implicit racial stereotypes or questioning a game’s level of violence, I really admired how my peers managed to separate themselves enough from games they loved enough to point out their flaws.
As I read the series of game logs, this critical distance first caught my attention with Gale’s critique of racial representation in Kingdom Hearts 3. I know how much Gale adores that series (I’ve seen the Kingdom Hearts tattoo she has!), so I admired her ability to acknowledge some of its shortcomings. I especially liked when she wrote that the game’s character design might “reinforce the idea that dark-skinned bodies are inherently villainous, and light-skinned ones are in some way more pure or more worthy of redemption.” Not only was this analysis thoughtful and well-stated, but it also displayed her willingness to question media messages even from one of her favorite games. Matt made a similarly sophisticated argument about racial representation in Clash of Clans. While a simply a casual game, he thoughtfully critiqued the representations of “white heroism” and black aggression in the game. Sierra, writing about gender rather than race, also questioned the potential sexism in Super Mario Run, outright stating that she believes the game has “at its core, a sexist storyline.” Again, rather than simply focus on her enjoyment while playing the game, Sierra removed herself from Super Mario Run enough to criticize its sexist tropes.
My classmates also thoughtfully critiqued violence in video games. Charlie’s entry “Mario the Bully” particularly impressed me with its willingness to question the cultural messages of a seemingly “family-friendly” game. In his criticism of the moral disengagement of video games, he managed to interrogate the violence in a game he likely enjoyed. Another one of my classmates even went so far as to critique his own behavior when playing games, acknowledging that he plays GTA V “like a madman,” indiscriminately killing and destroying whatever he chooses. Again, my peers thoughtfully considered the flaws of the games they played rather than simply defending what they enjoyed.
Throughout this semester, my classmates have impressed me with their willingness to interrogate the messages of a medium they likely love. Despite being a class that is overwhelmingly male and white, my peers were not only incredibly receptive to criticisms of the depictions gender and race in games, but made their own critiques of these representations themselves. This class gave me a great deal of hope for a future of critical, media-literate gamers, and also modeled to me how to maintain critical distance even when analyzing a work I love.