Gamers are often characterized as wanting the medium to be taken seriously as art. But what happens when critics look at games less as consumer products and more like movies or books? In the case of G4's review of Metroid: Other M, anger and confusion reigned.
Though reviewers often address the artistic attributes of mainstream games, the focus usually remains on less subjective measures of quality. Critic Abbie Heppe, however, slammed the game despite the title's high technical standards, identifying problems that had nothing to do with gameplay. Among other things, Heppe was appalled at how it infantilized the series' heroine, Samus Aran, depicted in earlier outings as a tough female marine veteran. Gaming's answer to Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, Aran first did battle in her desexualized military armor in 1986. Come 2010, however, and much has changed.
"You're asked to forget that Samus has spent the last 10-15 years on solitary missions ridding the galaxy of Space Pirates, saving the universe and surviving on her own as a bounty hunter," Heppe wrote. "Instead, Other M expects you to accept her as a submissive, child-like and self-doubting little girl that cannot possibly wield the amount of power she possesses unless directed to by a man."
And on goes Heppe's write-up. Though she also covered gameplay issues in her review, responses from G4's readers were often negative. Of the hundreds of comments published, many attacked the author directly. Amid the predictable misogyny and hostility, a pattern emerges: it's just a game. Some even claimed that it was unprofessional to talk about such matters in a game review.
Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer sees this as a backlash against the idea of games as art: "All too often, the greatest resistance to thinking critically about games comes not from academics, luddites, or old-school critics like Roger Ebert. The most vocal resistance comes from gamers."
True! But as far as we accept the angry constituency as representative at all, we should also admit that some gamers only cared about 'art' because acceptance as such amounted to a form of validation. To see a backlash here assumes a level of engagement that was never actually in evidence. Critical assessments of games — at least mainstream ones — remain a hard sell to most of the people buying them.