Eye Catching, September 16-20, 2013

Welcome to Eye Catching

Each weekend, this recurring feature will editorialize certain news items related to gaming that caught our eye.  We welcome you to our conversation on these items and look forward to the discussion.

September 16-20, 2013

Amidst the frenzy over the release of Grand Theft Auto V, several game and game-related tidbits caught our eye this week.  Some of the most interesting relate to the gaming community and its members.  A New York Times article, “Disruptions: Minecraft, an Obsession and an Educational Tool,” returns to the oft-heard argument over whether video games are good or bad.  With violence in the headlines, seemingly inevitably tied to violent video games, it’s good to be reminded that games are what you make of them.  And no game better illustrates that than Minecraft, the “Sandbox” poster child.

Despite parental fear of obsession – their hearts are in the right place, all things in moderation – Minecraft and other, open-ended games do more than just fill leisure time.  The article points briefly to several possible lessons learned by children who play Minecraft.  But the most interesting, in my opinion, is the social aspect of the game.  And here, I have to wax sentimental at you.  My son played Minecraft for months before I wondered exactly what all the fuss was about.  It was only after he’d convinced me to purchase the game for him and showed me some of the buildings he’d created and lands he had explored that I became interested in it.  Earlier this year, I downloaded the free trial, opened the world to LAN, and spent the entire time building a wood and dirt shack with him.  For those who don’t know, the Minecraft free trial lasts one in-game day.  As the day came to an end, my son and I sat on the roof of our house, eating pork chops and watching the sunset.  And even now, that is one of my fondest recent memories, virtual or otherwise.

Star and her son play minecraft

Star & her son.
Minecraft w/ Sphax Texture pack

Before everyone is overtaken by sappiness, I do have to warn you that my son and I also play other games together, of all ratings.  My opinion, in the end, is that if parents are worried about the game, they should play it, even if they can’t figure out all the buttons and their cars keep driving into walls and exploding, or they miss the same platform jump ten times and their child is laughing, shaking their head, and rolling their eyes.  Because they’re not just video, they’re games and games are meant to be played together.  ~Star

* Disruptions: Minecraft, an Obsession and an Educational ToolNew York Times, Bits blog

* Navy Yard Shooting Revives Violent Game Debate But Doesn’t Threaten Grand Theft Auto Fans  – US News & World Report

The sales statistics on GTA V show clearly that the franchise is alive and well.  Two articles caught our eye on the new iteration, both referencing Rockstar’s non-American foundation, though Dave Lee’s article on the BBC News website explores this more in depth than Chris Suellentrop’s review in the New York Times.  Lee’s article is flanked by Mary Hamilton’s sidebar on the role of women in the series, a commonality with Suellentrop. The latter raised the issue in his interview with Rockstar co-founder, Sam Houser.  It’s no secret that the series stereotypes and limits female characters to, as Hamilton puts it, “shallow, insecure, disposable, annoying [types], defined only by their availability and use to the male protagonists.”  Backlash against any critique of this gender stereotyping has been vitriolic, including with this release, but Houser admitted to Suellentrop that he hadn’t thought about the portrayal of women in his games “as much as I should have.”  That Houser outlined a possible way Rockstar could have included a female protagonist into the series is intriguing.  As one recent panel at PAX Prime explored, it would be interesting to see what story lines such an inclusion could open up, and how this would affect the development of other women in game.  Would it break GTA?  I doubt it, but it would certainly alter it in some way by giving players the option to choose to play a woman.  Other game genres include female protagonists, even some pretty badass ones (Lara Croft anyone?), and players haven’t rejected those games.  Though we may sometimes complain about the lack of armor on female alts. 😉 ~Sandra

* Grand Theft Auto: One of Britain’s finest cultural exports?  – BBC News   Very interesting side bar on women in video games

* Grand Theft Auto V Is a Return to the Comedy of ViolenceNew York Times

If you have any questions or would like to continue the conversation, leave us a comment or tweet us @VInterrupted.

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