Christopher Paul’s take on video games is an interesting one, to say the least. According to his book, The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture Is the Worst, games have a problem of focusing on the individual and promoting meritocracy. Which really isn’t a problem, considering competitive and single-player games all necessitate player to become at least good enough to stand a chance. It’s a natural continuation from the whole game culture thing video and computer games have to them.
Of course, Paul’s argument against this is that this competitive environment is that this prevents creation of positives spaces for interaction. This is bullshit, as these spaces are created by the people, not games. Whether or not you’re a sore loser or a graceful winner matters more whether or not a game requires you to have enough skill to compete. Certainly certain game franchises attract specific types of people for whatever reason, as we’ve seen with the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom throughout the years, yet we have to give the individual weight on their life selections over blaming the game they like.
Paul mentions Mario Kart and Mario Party as examples of games where things are the opposite of supposedly toxic meritocracy. Which is a riot, considering both games can destroy friendships. Mario Kart may have some elements of randomness to it, but the player with the highest skill will always come at the top, as they he can make the best of his calculated risks and knows when and how to take certain positions. Being aware of the weapons in the game is important as well. The same applies with Mario Party, which while having some cooperative mini-games, is still all about the individual aiming to get Stars or whatever it is you collect them in the latest versions. These games still promote individuality and rewards the players with most skill. Their random element may add a layer of uncertainty, but that’s nothing new to video games at any point and only provide a challenge to beat the odds, rather than trying to level to playfield.
It’s an odd thing, really. Boys’ play culture has always had a competitive edge to it, mostly in form of adventure games and sports, so it’s not exactly a surprise that electronic game culture would mainly stem from that. Especially considering that it’s the men who generally love to tinker with mechanical stuff and mathematics. Trying to change this by force doesn’t exactly work, because you’d need to change the paradigm of what essentially is a result of thousands of years of evolution. What Paul seems to want to do is to change the paradigm toward girls’ play culture, which is more about peaceful interaction with each.
The two aren’t completely separate, of course. Nothing exists in a vacuum, despite certain sections of the population wanting to hole themselves into comforting bubbles. Boys’ and girls’ play cultures have their differences, but they mingle with each other to an extent. However, forcing one’s values towards the other has never really gone well. Just asking boys to play with girls’ dolls like girls would rarely goes as intended, which is why boys have action figures, not dolls, by name.
Paul’s assumption that meritocratic systems, the ones promoted by games according to him, are toxic by their nature is incorrect. People are individuals who have to strive for individual goals. At times, we combine out forces for a common goal, but we still stay as individuals with out own desires. Collectivising population into grey mass has never been successful without excessive force from the ruling party. Even then, nations like the Soviet Union no longer exist, despite brute forcing their way into power, keeping their power through terror and violence all the while subduing all forms of resistance. North Korea’s really the only place all people have been leveled down to the same field, except the ruling party. There, no matter how good you might be, you’ll be hammered down like a nail.
If we view video games from Paul’s perspective as a tool to promote individual achievements and rewarding merit, we soon come to a point where games are only a positive tool. If games affect their consumers like Paul seems to assume, then all who play games should be striving for high achievement in other fields in life. This should then yield highly educated and highly skilled set of workers, who would step into fields where people can contribute the most while raking in the most rewards. The STEM field would be one of these as would other similar fields of high degree of demand. The best workers would also deliver the best results, and without a doubt the person most fit for a job should always get it, as this would be seen in results across the board.
Natural order of things isn’t as forgiving though. People have different dispositions and there are biological differences between people, sex being one of them. Multiple elements affect us, but that does not prevent us from having the chance to strive and aim higher. Games, in that sense, offer a level playfield, as almost anyone can take part in them and learn. Hell, even people without arms can gain the same merit in video games than their more armed competitors.
If you choose not to put the time and effort to get to the level of gaining merit, nobody else but you yourself can be blamed on. That’s the decision you’ve made as an individual and that can’t be put on anyone else. If you didn’t take the chance, that’s on you.