We Need New Metaphors: Adolescence Rhetoric in Contemporary Gaming Discourse

Cecilia Mancuso

Harvard University


In the penultimate chapter of How to Talk About Video Games, Ian Bogost reads the critical acclaim garnered by 2013’s Gone Home as conclusive proof of video gaming’s “perpetual adolescence.” His comments build on those of David Cage, whose controversial 2013 talk “The Peter Pan Syndrome: The Industry That Refused to Grow Up” similarly cast video games as a genre in need of new maturity. Overwhelmingly, this maturity rhetoric has been used to critique the increasingly narrative and cinematic nature of contemporary games, especially those on the experimental frontier of gaming experiences. While the value of cinematic and narrative-driven games within the genre remains a matter of debate, this maturity rhetoric – calls for games to ditch their “adolescent” nature and “grow up” – is a divisive and counterproductive response to that debate. This is evidenced by the long history and longstanding effects of adolescence rhetoric on the scholarly discourse surrounding the transmedia genre of science fiction. This paper reads the increasing prevalence of adolescence rhetoric in contemporary gaming scholarship and journalism alongside the history of that rhetoric in science fiction. It uses the parallel history of this rhetoric in science fiction discourse to extrapolate the possible long-term effects of allowing such rhetoric to dominate gaming discourse, and turns to recent controversies, such as the toxicity of online and streaming culture, to provide preliminary evidence of these effects.

2018 National Conference
Presentation type: