So why talk about The Wire? What does looking at a TV show give to us as gamers?
The final season of The Wire was a big deal. The word had slowly built over the years and there were a lot of us watching it, finally. Though we wouldn’t understand half the references the show still worked. HBO had this experiment with On Demand and the new episodes, traditionally a Sunday night affair, would show up on Thursday. Imagine that, if half the audience for Game of Thrones could spoil Sunday nights episode.
The season was an examination of the failing newspaper industry, another institution they wanted to show was both necessary yet failing under it’s own weight. Somewhere the shows creator said the real thing going on the season covertly, under the main theme, was that the media was missing the most important stories. Fuck it, he’s wrong. The real story this season was that everyone plays a part. The play’s the thing.
So what can we learn as gamers about games from this show? A great many things it turns out. On one hand we should always expect more from writing, not so much that a game without much dialogue is bad but that the world of a game is better when it feels real. Dark Souls doesn’t have a massive amount of dialogue, and the world is sort of absurd, but it feels like a living thing. This is all handwaving and lampashading and whatever else, but you can walk away from that game feeling like for that moment you were in a foreign land. A fantasy world.
The other thing is a sort of critical distance. I feel too many writers have decided what they’re going to say by what intellectual school they want to fall in line with. These ideas are always meant to be tools. But they’re also tools for those who know how to use them. I sometimes get agitated at reading someone’s claimed feminist response to some game. It’s not that they can’t say what they want, or that I’m an MRA for not liking it, I’ve just actually studied feminism. There’s a canon of feminist literature and often it feels like these people haven’t actually put the effort in to read this stuff. Feminist issues are popular now, and while I wish they had better advocates than they do, the reality is if you want to talk about what’s going on in a game actually give yourself time to examine it.
In academics we’d look at books that were hundreds of years old. Lots of stuff was written about them. It’s just a different system than looking at a game like The Witcher 3 and saying it’s some sort of masculine fantasy after barely playing through the main quest line. Or worse not even playing through the game. The point being that a great many things were said about The Wire. Everything from it being the best show on TV to it really being left-wing propoganda. Neither is really true, but after the fact do you want to be remembered as a writer that just fell in line.
However, in this internet world often nuance is just as blindly tossed away in favor of a nice quote that can be placed on a picture memetically. In some ways you’re sort of stuck either way, but I have to believe that it actually matters in some way to put the effort in for the more nuanced approach. It matters to actually put in the effort to examine the game thoroughly before trying to throw it under the bus.
The last thing we look at is fandom. We talk about games cause we love them, in some small way they help fuel us. Whether through the good memories or the friends we made there’s a lot of love in the hobby. So it’s hard when someone decides to trash a thing you love.
While on one hand I wish to say we should all be adults, at the same time I just think about Omar. He was a bad guy, but everyone said he was their favorite character. It’s not OK for me to say you’re a bad person cause you like Omar, and it’s not OK for someone to say I like some weird game so I must be bad. Why we give fandom for Omar so much leeway but not for other things is always going to be a problem. The point being for some reason we can look past this weirdness at times. People were saying The Wire was the best show on TV. Lots of games don’t have that privlege.
There are games that weird me out, games I don’t totally understand. I’m not particularly a fan of mobile games, but I think it’s worth remembering that the people who are fans of these things are still people. Similarly I don’t immediately assume someone who is a DOA fan is a perv or anything else. I don’t think Omar has the depth that I really like in a character but you aren’t a bad person for thinking he’s the best.
Hopefully this can be an opportunity. Games and gamers don’t just exist in this media vacuum. As well the term “gamer” is a broader label than ever before. But it’s still just a label. I’m a fan of The Wire, nobody really thinks of me that much differently because of that association. If anything it’s my love of R.O.T.O.R. that makes me who I am.