Debatoid: Do FPS games prevent videogames’ cultural relevancy?

[Dtoiders CaptainBus and mrandydixon give us the first Debatoid, offering a comprehensive exploration of a pretty interesting topic. Check it out and join the debate. Want to see your own writing on the front page? Write something awesome and put it in the C Blogs. — Kauza]

Welcome to Debatoid! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support. 

The proposition: As long as FPS games are our most popular genre, videogames will not be taken culturally seriously.

Ready? Debate.

 CaptainBus states his case for the proposition: 

The First Person Shooter represents easily our most popular genre this generation: For the biggest players in the western gaming industry, FPS games all represent their flagships; (Activision/Call of Duty, EA/Battlefield, Microsoft Game Studios/Halo, Sony Computer Entertainment/Killzone

Despite the overall dominance of these flagship titles on FPS market share, the genre remains extremely well represented throughout the videogame publishing world, and the speed and diversity with which these titles are being released are a clear indicator of their massive commercial appeal. 

By the end of this year the top FPS games that will be added to the already swelling roster will include; HomefrontBioshock InfiniteFlashpoint: Red RiverBrinkBodycountCrysis 2F.E.A.R. 3Call of Juarez: The CartelThe Darkness 2Resistance 3Battlefield 3RageDuke Nukem Forever and, of course, the annual blockbuster that is the next Call of Duty title. 

Many of these games are some way from release. However, I am sure we are all too familiar with the extent of the core gameplay in any and all of these games. By “we”, I mean any of us who may have ever played a first person shooter before. 

We know that the barrels explode, the bad guys don’t speak or look like we do, and a few first aid kits or a quick time out can heal all wounds. 

Let me be the first to say; as far as treating videogames as a sport, in which strategy, mechanics, reflexes and aim are more of a consideration than considering the human condition, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. 

However, what if we strip away the game element and consider the FPS genre itself, in which we must consider the shooting of people or things as the primary component. How can it benefit us culturally? Let me take a case in point to consider: What would happen if you give a soldier a military videogame? 

In 2010, Point Magazine published an online article by Joshua Casteel, a former Abu Grab prison guard and a real modern warfare veteran. In the article, he described his sensations on playing Modern Warfare 2 for the first time: 

“What I did was … just now … was essentially just play some interactive, videogame version of Debbie Does Dallas. Anatomically correct. The full nine. It was even sexy. But further f*cking removed from real war than porn is from real sex. Which of course is why everyone loves it. It turned me on.” 

For those of us who have not experienced real combat, then, the experience must be further distanced; a military FPS, must give us an insight into war as much as pornography gives insight into sex to a virgin. 

On that basis, in which a military FPS; arguably the most gritty end of the FPS spectrum, and the one to which we could most associate as a parallel with what real people are doing elsewhere in the world, is considered akin to pornography, how can an FPS involve us more in an understanding of human behavior? If the answer is “it can’t”, how, then, can an FPS be culturally relevant? 

Then, since we have proven that the FPS is the current standard by which videogames are regarded by the wider world, how can videogames be taken culturally seriously? 

 mrandydixon states his case against the proposition: 

Other than a certain out-of-shape plumber with springs for legs – whose influence has been dwindling as of late – First Person Shooters are the sole representatives of the videogame industry in today’s popular media. Recent games like BulletstormCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Duke Nukem Forever, whose boundary-pushing uses of violence and language have garnered the collective ire of Fox News pundits and liberal politicians alike, have become the literal faces of videogaming in the 21st Century, for better or worse. 

As such, the videogame industry is judged, by the outside world, wholly on the quality of a genre whose primary focus is shooting people in the face. (Or, in the case of Bulletstorm; the dick. Or the ass.) But are they doing their job? Are shooters upholding their elected position as our most popular genre, and thereby showing the world the relevance that videogames can have to our culture? 

Put simply: Yes. 

While shooters (and videogames in general) are nowhere near a Holodeck level of realism or immersion (yet), their potential for emotional impact – when in the proper hands – can still be great. 

Regardless of the disconnect between the player and his or her in-game actions, experiences like shambling around the wreckage of your helicopter in the wake of a nuclear explosion (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare) or beating down Andrew Ryan with a golf club (Bioshock), when shown from a first-person perspective, can emotionally weigh on a player just as greatly as any scene from Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now

Add to this, I would propose that the simple fact that shooters consistently receive media attention at all has sealed their relevance within our culture. 

Try to think about the last time you saw media coverage for a new platformer. Or a racing game. A music game? RPG? Hell, even Madden, one of the highest-selling series in all of gaming, receives little-to-no coverage outside of the occasional commercial on ESPN. (To be fair, some “sex-laden” RPGs occasionally manage to slide themselves in and spray their filth all over the media’s spotlight, but on the whole this is not the case.) Certainly, each of these genres contains games worthy of praise, but because they rarely venture into the realm of over-the-top violence and profanity, they remain hidden from view. 

Let me be clear; I’m not advocating that videogames should have to resort to head-exploding violence and “dicktits” in order to generate a buzz, but that seems to be the way things are working out. However, I’m also not proposing that this is a bad thing. If shooters are what it takes for the rest of the world to debate – intelligently – the merit of videogames, then so be it. The fact that the industry has grown and – “dicktits” be damned – matured to the point of earning heated discussions on the 5 o’clock news is something we should all be happy about. 

It is because of shooters that videogames even have a place at society’s table. If it weren’t for the guaranteed media attention that the genre garners, videogames would still be seen as nothing more than a hobby enjoyed by children. And because they generate debate in a way that platformers, racers, sports games, and even RPGs couldn’t hope to, shooters are our best bet at securing videogaming’s place in our culture. 


Voting has now concluded on the 1st Debatoid ever! Many thanks to everyone who voted. The results are in and I have to say it was a very close call. I have to say this to try and build up the tension, because it was actually not a very close call at all: 

Congratulations to my colleague mrandydixon for his victory. A truly deserved one. Despite being new to the idea and being brought in at my request to try something entirely new, he was unwavering in his enthusiasm and support for the idea of Debatoid, and was a gruelling opponent, providing an insightful and thoughtful counterpoint to my argument. 

I have the utmost respect for Andy as among the men responsible for bringing me back to Destructoid, and can safely say that there wouldn’t have been a Debatoid without him, and by this time I would have been a long distant memory of Destructoid past without his insistence and spirit. 

It was a tough sell to dig up the old “videogames as art” argument and giving it focus and punch by relating it to the current blockbuster of our generation that is the FPS. I was hoping that by putting a slight slant on the idea it would bring some interesting new avenues to bear. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion: 

Lord Death of Murder Mountain 
“I genuinely don’t see why video games should be culturally relevant. A lot of people believe that games should ‘grow up’ and start acting like Limbo or Braid. I kill these people.” 

Occams electric toothbrush 
“Games should be culturally relevant because being culturally relevant doesn’t mean that fun has to be sacrificed for the sake of art. 

“For me, culturally relevant means it appeals to a wide spectrum of people and the medium takes on an intrinsic value for people. It goes from being something they do to something they appreciate and even love. Entertainment, education, inspiration, um, something else-ation. I think games can be all of that without having to give up anything.” 

“…as someone who has been moved by multiple genres in gaming, I’m holding out hope that FPS will churn out a few games that the mass media absolutely cannot gloss over as immature baby-raping simulators. It will take time, and it will take some big names to back it up, but there’s a definite possibility for it to happen.” 

“Like I was saying the other day to someone on here, mainstream shooters can be critically analyzed if gamers really want to. A game like Killzone 2 has its story universally panned but if you sit down and deconstruct it, the game does an amazing job showing a man unable to control the chaos around him. Gamers tend to only analyze the “Heavy Rains” and “Braids” of the video game world because that is what those games are being marketed as.” 

“I believe games are already somewhat culturally relevant, but I’m taking a view on what may be stopping them from advancing even further abroad. I love my FPS’s, and they can contain undeniably powerful moments but i still think we are limiting ourselves with what we can do with the first person perspective. ” 

“Nobody would play COD for hours and hours every night if they were playing with bots – part of the attraction for FPS military games is the same addiction that draws gamers to large MMO’s like World of Warcraft – it’s the social interaction with other people. 

“That online interaction is in itself culturally relevant – the formation of clans, the heirarchy of leadership in clans (and the fact that the leadership has no basis in gender or age – anyone can lead a clan and it’s not unusual to see 16 year olds taking leadership roles over 30 year olds). The nature of FPS online games have a cultural relevancy in the social interactions observed and played out.” 

“We’re not determining the worth of the FPS genre; we’re looking at the way non-gamers perceive the medium due to the popularity of said games. 

“A few weeks ago i was talking to a non-gaming co-worker about video games and asked him ‘What would you think of me if i randomly walked up to you and said “I play video games?” ‘ 

“His response was ‘Well, I would assume you just sat around, smoked pot, and played Call of Duty all day.’ ” 

“The mere fact that this topic even warrants debate shows just how far we’ve come and how much FPS games are a part of that.” 

I have to say that I have been incredibly impressed, enthused and excited by the prospect of introducing Debatoid to the cblogs, and the reception has not been a disappointment. I’m delighted to see people already anticipate the next instalment in what I hope to be a long and illustrious series. 

I intend to consider Debatoid as a blog for the community, by the community. You do not need a degree in journalism or a debate championship medal to qualify. You just need to love videogames and love talking about them. If you want to be involved as a contender or to contribute to a future topic, simply drop a PM to Debatoid, CaptainBus, or email me at captainbus at gmail dot com 

That is not to say that I will never get involved as a contender in Debatoid, nor will this be the last time I will ask mrandydixon if he wishes to participate. Nor may it be the last time we debate against each other…but that is all for another time. 

A brand new Debatoid, with brand new contenders, will be winging its way soon. The contenders are prepared, the topic is decided, and the opening statements are 50% complete! I do not wish to give away the next topic, but suffice to say that we have an exciting future in the pipeline! 

Thank you, Debatoid will see you soon!