Here’s What We Think About That Kellaway Financial Times Article
Yesterday’s internet controversy centered around this article in Financial Times by Lucy Kellaway. She’s not a gamer, but she was asked to serve on the committee for selecting this year’s GameCity award, alongside several other non-gamers. The award seeks to drum up cultural conversation around videogames. In the article, Kellaway talks about her impressions of several different games, from Proteus to Catherine to Journey, and several others.
She had things to say about each game – calling Proteus, which she bored of in 10 minutes, ”the video game equivalent of James Joyce’s Ulysses, only less eventful.” On Journey, Kellaway notes, “There is purpose here, and magic, and no killing.”
The big SHOTS FIRED moment comes early in the piece. When discussing Fez, Kellaway talks about not having much to write down in her notebook while she played. Then she notes (emphasis ours), “This may be part of the reason there is so little cultural discussion of video games: there simply isn’t much to talk about.”
It’s easy to see why this piece is stirred Twitter into a rage-state. Never ones to let a good controversy to go un-remarked-upon, I asked some of our brightest minds what their take is.
I am tremendously baffled by the fact that people aren’t, like, shaking this lady’s hand over the internet.
I mean, sure, she’s copping to incredibly traditional gender roles. Anyone with half a brain can criticize the article for that. But she’s writing for a newspaper. Newspapers, we often forget in this world of internet news, are ludicrously conservative. We internet writers write for 20 year old college students and 30 year old professionals; the Financial Times writes for fifty year old businessmen.
And look. This lady, who never played video games before, not only gave them a chance but enjoyed them. Sure, she says there’s no critical discussion about video games in the beginning. She makes a lot of comments that raise red flags on the Sexism-o-Matic 3000. These are important, valid things.
But someone who didn’t play video games not only played them, but began to appreciate them. And, if we expect our medium to reach people besides ourselves,we have to be accepting of the fact that everyone who plays video games isn’t going to be us.
Are we going to tear this woman’s head off for being open-minded about something and not being effusive in her praise, changed to her very core? Instead of focusing on the buzzwords (my word, a non-gamer being surprised a lot of people write about video games!), let’s look at the narrative, look at how the writer changed from the beginning of the piece—where that line occurs—and the end. Rather than reduce it to its most critical denominator, let’s be positive about it. A writer for a relatively major publication didn’t think highly of video games, and now is willing to have a conversation about them.
Rather than reduce it to its most critical denominator, let’s be positive about it.
It’s like, to use an analogy: I’m slightly active on exactly one corner of Reddit: the /boardgames wing. New people pop in all the time, saying, “We’ve only played Monopoly or Munchkin, what do we do?” Invariably, there’s always a portion of the thread that evolves into, “God, Monopoly and Munchkin are such trash. You should feel bad for liking them, OP.” These curious people, I would imagine, usually leave. They go back to what’s familiar to them, because they don’t need the grief.
That’s where we are. Someone’s just come into our forum (the forum of life!) and said, “You know, video games might be okay.” Maybe this sentiment is couched in language we could absolutely tear to shreds, but, like it or not, that’s how people think about video games who have no experience with them. And we’re at a juncture where we could go all “Roger Ebert hates video games!” apeshit up in here, or we could be mature and realize that not everyone’s lives are going to be profoundly changed by playing one video game. We could realize that the battle for cultural legitimacy will be just as difficult as any other.
Or we could just “troll” her. And reinforce every stereotype that’s ever existed about video games: that they’re something to keep people apart.”
My first response is irritation. The author is the perfect example of the parent of gamers – the one who might believe it when the news tells her that shooting games make kids into killers. She blames games for taking people away, and only seems to see what the media tells her she should fear. And she hits a hot-button for me – that video games are for boys. To her credit, she doesn’t generalize; she just says that video games “have always got between me and the men in my life.”
She blames games for taking people away, and only seems to see what the media tells her she should fear.
However, Tom is completely right. I’m bothered by the person that she starts out being, and I don’t give her nearly enough credit for how she changes.
From her perspective, she’s asked to look at this unhealthy thing that breaks relationships and estranges people – and she does. She does, and she sees merits. She tried games, was terrible at some and good at others, and has learned that not all games are the same, and shouldn’t be grouped together. Sure, some are still the evil that Fox has warned people against, but some are “fun, imaginative and even beautiful.
I’m still irritated, though. A small part of the irritation is that the author ends the article not on a hopeful “I learned about something I dislike and am better for it” kind of note, but on a depressing “my kids still hate me” note. I think she had a huge breakthrough, and should be proud of that instead of reporting her experiment a failure because she didn’t magically reconnect with her kids. Mostly, though, I’m irritated because there are so many other people out there who gladly will think something is “evil” without giving it a chance – that there are people who will stop listening to Lucy Kellaway because she’s now partaken of the corrupting video games. I’m proud of the author for informing herself and improving herself, but she is the minority and that sucks.
No one likes to see their beloved addictions downplayed. What I mean is that we’ve all cringed at a crime drama uncovering that the episode’s killer was an avid fan of ULTIMATE BLOOD FIST or some other cleverly named fictional title. The public stage can be a cruel, overgeneralized beast that runs blind eyes over subtle nuances and focuses harsh light on the obvious or mundane. Sometimes, our critics don’t get it, which is exactly the case today with Lucy Kellaway.
But that’s fine. She unintentionally wrote something brilliant when relating her experience playing video games as a judge for the GameCity Prize, an award focused on acknowledging a game’s contribution to popular culture.
Sure, she’s dismissive of video games in general and talks almost as much about herself as she does her time spent trying to navigate Mass Effect 3 andFez. Maybe her intentions for joining the panel judging the GameCity Prize were less about video games and more about trying to connect with her teenage children. And let’s not forget a few subtle reinforcements that games are for men, not women.
Despite any criticisms, she still demonstrates the state of video games to the general public so clearly that I’m actually embarrassed I’ve never done anything comparable as a writer. This is what video games look like and how they affect the lives of people who don’t play games.
This is what video games look like and how they affect the lives of people who don’t play games.
They aren’t worth talking about to people on the outside. They don’t see anything inherently valuable. It isn’t art or even fun.
To a potential lover, games can be a hindrance to meeting someone because they’re engrossing. To a mother, they can be an expensive nuisance her kids keep bothering her about. And to anyone that hasn’t tried one before, they can, and usually are, almost insurmountably difficult when they assume everyone has rescued the princess a dozen times before.
Video games build on skills that the player has already established and not just at the point you go head to head with the final boss. From the very beginning, developers assume that people know the most basic details, like pressing start to pause, which buttons are which, and even how to hold the controller properly.
Lucy Kellaway did not have these these skills, nor did she have the typical language used in games journalism to describe her time playing. Many people don’t, but that doesn’t make their time with video games invalid.
For an industry that often sponsors its own critics, this is exactly the sort of analysis we need if we ever expect to grow with new audiences past your dad playing Wii Sports on Christmas. We need outside opinions and initial negativity so we can better understand how to open video games to this larger audience.
Because in the end, Kellaway gained exactly what we want these new players to see – a bit of respect for something new.
“However, despite my inability to play half the games, I’ve still learnt a good deal from them. For a start they aren’t all evil. Some are fun, imaginative and even beautiful. It is possible I might play them voluntarily one day but for now there is life to be lived and books to be read and emails to be written, and things to be bid for on eBay.”
But it only matters if we don’t trash this woman for trying something new. Decrying mainstream recognition will do nothing for us anymore. Don’t waste the attention by slapping on an “uninformed” label and tossing the article in the trash.”