Monday, August 26, 2013

Blips: Grunge Games

Source: Grunge, Grrrls and Video Games: Turning the dial for a more meaningful culture
Author: Leigh Alexander
Site: Gamasutra

"Gamer culture" is nothing if not off-putting, and I like video games, so I have to imagine there's not much incentive for those disinterested in the medium to want to join in. In a recent piece by Leigh Alexander, she states that the culture that surrounds video games needs to change if it's going to be a culture worth remembering. The parallel she draws is the grunge music counter-culture of the early 90s which was a reaction to the glam and excess of the 80s and hair bands in particular. Alexander speaks of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Rage Against The Machine, but also of Riot Grrrl bands like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, and how the spirit of that movement is carried on in the feminist DIY game scene: perhaps the medium's first true counter-culture.

Though grunge music and personal games have their share of differences, not the least of which is the change in environment from mainstream monoculture to the fragmented subsets of specialized niches we have now, there's an "against the grain" tone in both. I firmly agree with Alexander that this counter-culture is the most interesting thing happening in the games space right now, and it's disheartening the degree to which young people would rather in-fight over corporate loyalty than embrace the rebellious element.

In my opinion, this comes down to what's cool, and what's not. Grunge music was cool, but in a way that youth latched onto and adults largely repelled. For a long time, games in of themselves fulfilled the same purpose. Adults didn't understand them, and though they weren't cool in the high school clique sense, they were cool within the circle of people that appreciated them. Now, even though the grunge fad has passed, games haven't changed all that much, except for how they look and a refinement of mechanics. In games, instead of each new generation growing up with their own unique counter-culture like grunge, punk, goth, metal, or dare I say dubstep, they each get their own iteration of Mario Kart. In music, these movements are driven by youth and ambition, which stagnated in games around the time of grunge. There is an alternative scene in games right now though, and it's one worth championing.

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