I enjoyed Burrill’s article very much, and I was particularly happy with his attempts to define the emerging parameters of gaming criticism as well as to argue its importance to the study of culture.
Much of what Burrill had to say made a lot of sense to me. Particularly his use of game theory to define the scope and implications of his inquiry and his instance on examining the effects of a game’s environment on the player. A game’s environment, structure, rules, objectives and limitation of choices all communicate something to the player of the game. The players’ repeated pursuit of an objective, with all of their failures and successes, reinforces the value of their choices as well as the value of the goal pursued. Theoretically, any and all media as a product of culture has an impact (however immeasurable) on the cultural values of the consumer and video games are no exception.
Burrill argues that many video games endorse the values of “hypermasculization” and encourage the performance of hypermasculization through game play. And while I do not disagree that hypermasculization is a real phenomenon, I have my reservations about the strength of Burrill’s contentions.
Burrill says “The iterative structure of Syphon Filter operates as a contractual set of rules that reinforces hierarchy within the split/subject, between passive and aggressive, feminine and masculine.” But to my mind all that can be said for sure is that the game reinforces the value aggressive violence to obtain a goal. Weather this is an inherently masculine value is something I feel I have to question. I obviously have to admit displays of aggression are more culturally acceptable to males but is aggression in itself a practice of masculinity?
Burrill’s examination of Metal Gear Solid is much more problematic to me. Because the game requires less aggression, Burrill is left to argue that the games emphasis on stealth, hiding and constant trial and error is representative of masochistic desire, concealed masculinity, penetration, passive femininity and the performance of repressed homosexual desire. I apologize, but I find this contention is not only ridiculous but insulting, which I’m sure to Burill is simply further evidence of my homophobia and repressed resentment of my sexual identity. How on earth can one perform white straight masculinity, repressed homosexuality, passive femininity and masochism simultaneously? How is any and all unidirectional action of game play inherently representative of hierarchical masculinity? The linear plot as the dominant mode of storytelling is not (to my mind) reflective of masculine cultural dominance, though I have heard this argued as well.
The article has inspired other questions for me regarding games, gender and identity: Can the continual pursuit of a game’s objective despite known possibility of failure really be representative of sadomasochist impulses? If a woman plays a game which encourages the performance of hypermasculinity, what is she performing by playing and pursuing the same objectives? What’s more, if she is enjoying the hypermasculine game, what does that say about her psychology? Has she been brainwashed into giving her consent and approval to an appendage of the patriarchy? If a man selects a female avatar, or a woman selects a male avatar to play, what gender values are they performing and why? What might Burrill have to say about the newer wave of games that allow players to make choices that effect not only plot outcomes but the ways in which computer characters interact with the avatar and the morality of the avatar itself? What sort of masculinity or femininity might these sort of games endorse?
These are just questions I have, and I hope we might get to some of them in discussion or in response here.