Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, or Everything Has Meaning

13 11 2014

Talib Kweli Greene wrote a great piece about the use of the word “nigger” or “nigga,” its racial contexts, and why everyone somehow agreeing to universally drop it from their vocabulary wouldn’t make any real difference in the world. It’s very much worth a read. I found it particularly interesting because he touches on something I’ve tried to express in some of my writing about games and social responsibility. In short, you can say whatever you want – just know what you’re saying. Make a conscious choice, because everything we say can and often does have consequences and will hit different people differently. If you’re touching on a subject that is more likely to offend, you need to be prepared to explain and defend your choices. If you want your art to be completely free of any offensive material or deeper meaning, that’s fantastic, but it’s going to require a hell of a lot of work on your part to analyze everything you’re saying to make as sure as you can that your assumptions about what is and what is not offensive are correct. The makers of Resident Evil V were probably not racist and didn’t intend any racial commentary in their game’s setting. Unfortunately, they picked a setting and scenario that automatically brings a lot of baggage and subtext, and their ignorance of that subtext meant that there was little defense they could offer beyond “We didn’t know, that’s not what we meant.” That’s unfortunate.

On the flip side, we see games that nibble at the edges of weighty and controversial topics in order to seem edgy or of the times, only to veer hard away from them whenever they start to look like they’re trying to say something – see the recent entries in the Call of Duty series. I guess that’s a better way to go than the RE V route, since it represents a consciousness of the issues (if only enough consciousness to avoid them), but it’s still deeply unsatisfying for me. They want to play with dangerous material without risking anything.

We need artists (in every imaginable medium) who make the conscious choice to offend and do so with purpose. Games definitely lack that.

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3 responses

13 11 2014
Prof.mcstevie

Don’t ever consciously offend on purpose, it paints an image of an asshole rather than a critic of status quo. If you think that someone doesn’t actually criticise and question for the betterment of humanity and instead is just enjoying pissing people off, you won’t really be indulged to be constructive and reasonable. If I truly believe someone is questioning and criticising to better our understanding of the concept at hand, I am a hell of a lot more open.

13 11 2014
Groove Haircut

I can see your point, but there are instances when acting against prevailing ideas of propriety is exactly what a situation calls for. A lot of great art has been made with the goal of shocking and offending the audience, with the hope that the shock will make them question their assumptions and understanding of the world. In conversation and discussion, it’s generally best to take a softer tack in order to foster understanding rather than anger.

13 11 2014
Prof.mcstevie

I do agree sometimes you gotta just smack some sense into people to make them realise, but still I think such a task can be done with finesse. Like the difference between being loud and being authoritative, you can get your point across effectively without having to resort to drastic measures.

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