I want to start off by saying that I believe sociology should be a mandatory credit requirement in college—just like upper level math and science. The fact that such a course is an elective makes me want to slam-dunk myself into a pit of fire. Personal opinions aside, here’s how sociology helped to shape my experience as a gamer.
Into my second year of community college (I was still 18 at the time), I was at a loss of what elective to pick, and based on the choices I had, sociology 101 seemed like it would be bearable. I honestly had no clue what sociology was when I signed up for it. It’s safe to say that I was very ignorant about the world, the society I lived in, and by that extension, the games I played.
To sum up the concept of sociology in my own words: it’s about recognizing that the world around us is socially constructed, and that we are all a part of a social institution. For example, the family that I have is my social institution, and so is the community college I attended; the concept of “virginity” is a social construct, meaning that it was a term/idea created by society. Imagine a 19-year-old me having her mind completely blown. It was an enlightening, liberating experience to have my ignorance exposed and challenged.
How does this play into gaming? I realized that before I had taken SO101 I played video games to do just that—play them. Let me explain: if you would have asked me a year ago why the character Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition was so important to the gaming community, I’d have shrugged my shoulders.
It didn’t occur to me that video games were capable of including social issues, challenging social norms, or making political and cultural statements. I was essentially a passive gamer. I didn’t pay attention because I wasn’t aware. And more importantly, I wasn’t asking questions.
“How come video game protagonists seem to always be white, bearded men?”
“Why is there so much senseless violence against women?”
“Is there a reason for not including gay/lesbian/queer characters?”
“Where are the female protagonists? The people of color?”
Now, if you don’t go about your gaming experience constantly questioning or challenging what you see, then that’s fine! The point of a game first and foremost is to enjoy the experience. But I’d like to offer a piece of advice: do a lot of reading about the games you like, especially if there were any parts of the game that went ‘against the mold.’
For example, The Last of Us DLC “Left Behind” is a perfect example of my first real “aha!” moment. By the time the DLC came out, I had finished my beginner’s sociology course and moved on to a related subject—sexuality and society. (Spoilers ahead!)
The kiss between Ellie and Riley completely shocked me. I remember pausing the game and setting down the PS3 controller, glancing over to look at my boyfriend who was seated on the couch next to me. His mouth was hanging wide open. “Holy shit!” he exclaimed, sounding almost breathless. Holy shit, indeed. We spent the next five minutes talking about the two of them. Did we see it coming? (In a sense, yes.) Were we expecting it to actually happen? (No.) Was it amazing? (Yes!)
So here’s my point: how rare is it in the gaming sphere to find two, un-sexualized female characters acting on genuine feelings toward each other? The kiss was a statement—one that would have completely flew over my head without my prior sociology “training.” I wouldn’t have dove straight to the internet after playing the game to read other gamers reactions. I wouldn’t have written a research essay about the scene, nor would I think it would have impacted me so deeply.
Overall, I think that the first step to think critically about games is to question everything. After that, you won’t be able to stop.