I have argued in the past that video games are the ultimate form of expression, and what is art if not expression? Indeed video games are a convergence of art from just about every medium – audio, visual, literary – and their social impact is ever-increasing. Ebert makes his statement by observing video footage of a few games offered up as art, already prepared to deny the possibility. Aside from the sheer fallacy of denying art as a form of expression, there is also the matter of his evaluation not being made from the proper standpoint.
Once upon a time, I was able to just play video games and enjoy them. I didn’t see race, I didn’t see cultural issues, or gender issues, or anything. Games, after all, were my escape from such heady things. But now I can’t help but notice them. There is hardly a movie or a game or a book where I’m not looking for and easily spotting a slew of cultural insensitivities and outright offenses that can only be attributed to the obliviousness or indifference of white game developers.
As technology improves, and as the content of games expands in terms of breadth and depth, opportunities only increase for representing diversity. In the future, it will not be enough for a character to have darker skin, thicker lips, or a different eye shape. We will have to see different cultures and experiences represented as well.
Those of us who are not white, but hope to identify with the characters we play in games the same as anyone, find the industry to be deficient. At best we have had to settle for ethnically ambiguous characters, often in non-Earth settings, which while fulfilling an aesthetic need still leave players wanting for a more substantial connection. When characters of non-European ethnicities are depicted in video games, it is true that they are often stereotypes.
Even in accepting the apologists’ arguments, that Islam was essentially a peaceful religion, and it was only through a myopic and agenda-driven misinterpretation of the holy texts that the “Islamist” perspective emerged, there was still a problem. It seemed to me that all around the world, where there were “insurgencies” or other forms of violent conflict, at least one side was Muslim. The separatists in Chechnya, the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, the Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group in Spain, and last but not least, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda – active in multiple places.
Gender inequality, even where it takes on a distinctly “Islamic” character, is not specific to Islam as a religion, or Muslim society. Rather, it is a consequence of patriarchy – a phenomenon that knows no religious or cultural boundaries. How patriarchy manifests in any given society, the ways that people – particularly women – respond to it, are simply different. We must be careful not to presume that these differences are qualitative.