Social Issues in Games

I swore that I wasn’t going to get involved.

There has been a trend on Twitter, blogs and I’m sure other forms of social media, regarding commentary made by WoW developers, about the state of misogyny and inclusiveness in their game. More than one lengthy blog rant has been written, Twitter has been awash with commentary, and lines in the sand have been drawn. Some have crossed those lines. People are getting really pissed off at one another over things that they cannot change, and despite wanting change, these blog posts aren’t going to be the catalyst.

Sexism exists. Racism exists. Homophobia exists. Rather than focus on all of the change that’s occurred in the past 10+ years, people still want to focus on the things that haven’t changed. Those isms aren’t going to change over night. A hundred years ago women’s rights movements changed the world. Civil rights followed. Gay rights are the current hot button topic. Progress is happening, and yes it is probably slower than most would prefer.

My problem, is that social issues and games don’t mix. Fantasy is  imagination. It fulfills the psychological need to experience things that might not be legal or humanly possible. Playing a strange elf-like character, opening up rifts to fight demons from another plane of existence is a good time, but not realistic. As such, I’m not worried about my Elf character’s worldview, sexuality, or thoughts on the opposing gender. Yes, certain bits of the dialogue and storyline might reflect upon the creators of the game, but I don’t think any one company is setting out to sound misogynistic, homophobic or racist. I think many times people who are hyper-sensitive to those worldviews are reading too much into what goes on into a game, instead of appreciating it as-is — a work of art.

Going back in time, when people’s worldviews were different, the above isms weren’t really an issue. People wrote novels and plays and made artwork that went along with the state of the times. We still look back upon many of those works of art with fondness, and don’t question their motives, understanding that the world was different. Our culture is ever evolving, and people will eventually look back on these times and see that we were still changing, and accept works of art as they are. Of course, we could be Nazis and just burn everything that doesn’t have a utopian world-view. But how silly would that be?

Scree took a position of apathy in all of this. I applaud him for being able to state his position and stand by it, not worrying about the flames that would come his way. Others, like J3w3l are up in arms about the supposed wrongs that works of art have done her. When reading her post, I was inspired to comment, and I will relay that again here:

I’m going to go out on a limb here.

1. I realize that abuse/rape/etc does occur. I am not ignorant of misogyny. However, in my small group of people that I interact with, I have never heard of anything like this happening. Men that I know might get mad about not getting laid, but they don’t rape or belittle, nor do they physically harm women. I have never laid hands on a woman, and never will. I couldn’t bring myself to rape someone. In the cases where I have seen/heard about a woman being mistreated by a man, other men stepped in to help. In one case, a friend of mine slipped down the slope towards alcoholism, and as a result started showing patterns of abuse towards women. At one point a group of us put him in his place, and then we cut him out of our social circle.

2. I have been the victim of both verbal and physical abuse by the hand of a woman. It was only one, and I put up with it for years because I was “in love.” I’m not trying to make this about me, or take away from the negative experiences that women have had, but it goes both ways. Women can be manipulative, hurtful, downright evil towards men. The woman in my experience drove me to a point where I wanted to beat the shit out of her. I never did it. I fancy myself a good person, and one who wouldn’t use my size advantage against a woman. The point being, this outcry that women are the only ones having shitty things happen to them and that EVERY woman has a bad experience is a little bit tiresome. EVERYONE has bad experience with other humans. It’s part of life and how we deal with those things makes us who we are today.

3. It is true, most of us play video games because we are trying to escape from the bullshit that is life. We deal with social issues every day. We see terrible things on the news/internet. We are treated like shit by people who are supposed to provide a service, even if the only service is customer service. Our fellow man couldn’t be bothered by our well being. When I get home, I want to escape from reality into the worlds of fantasy. My fantasies include beautiful women, violence, progression, etc. Video games provide a means of being able to do the things that you can’t do in real life, without some sort of consequence. There have been many examples of strong female lead/sub characters. There is gay representation in games. It’s a psychological fact that people are attracted to attractive people. This is why women and men in games are portrayed with perfect bodies, while the people playing those games are actually fat and ugly.

4. If you don’t like a flavor of ice cream, you don’t buy it right? So why do you buy a game knowing beforehand that you don’t like the flavor? If you thought you might like the flavor and it turns out you don’t, wouldn’t you just go buy another flavor and throw away the one you didn’t like? You wouldn’t write the company making the flavor, or go on an all-out crusade about how the flavor is wrong and that company should go out of business would you? Don’t you think all of the people who DO like the flavor would instantly disagree with you, or write off your crusade immediately? When put into a metaphor like this, it sounds pretty silly doesn’t it?

I think this is why many people don’t get up in arms about these types of social issues. I’m all for women’s rights and gay rights, and hell even animal rights. But I’m not going to go on a crusade to make sure things get done for them. I’m a straight white male and that’s stereotypically the group with the most rights/easiest life, but I’ve been shit on my whole life, and no one is out there clamoring to give me more stuff. Sure, I’m not suffering, but I also don’t have life handed to me on a silver platter. When I see things I like I buy them, if I don’t like something I don’t. When a company starts taking advantage of my wallet, I take my wallet elsewhere. Instead of bitching about a company not following your individual mantra, especially when they have openly said they don’t give a shit about you, perhaps it’s time to move on to something else. It’s likely the people who don’t care or don’t see eye to eye with you won’t follow though, and in the end your crusade has gotten you nowhere.

There have been many other posts and discussions on the topic, but I’m not going to go and track them all down. Many of you have probably already had your fill of the topic, so I’ll just leave this here and hope that I haven’t alienated anyone. Really, I think we need to just get back to gaming and try to get along.

11 thoughts on “Social Issues in Games

  1. I just want to say thanks for sharing, we learn from our experiences , good and bad so we hopefully wont go down the same path again. I understand that people want to play games and dont have to worry about all the crap that is in the world, I feel the same way when I log onto a game.

    I commented on J3w3ls post to, saying I get mad when people don’t care. What I mean is if people dont care about reallife issues going on in the realworld, there is something wrong with them. I try to keep gaming as neutral as can be. But beeing a female ingame sometimes also turns into some sexrelated stuff. I have had to leave guilds because it has become unpleasent for me, people talking in disgusting ways, hitting on me and whatnot. I have had creepy things happened on voicecoms and seen thing i deffo dont want to see. But I guess it can go both ways. World is a mesed up place, even in our fanasty place of mmos and games.

    Anyways I think its good you are taking your stand and saying your opinion, you, j3w3l and scree, wish I was that brave.

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    • Thanks for your comment, and for not jumping down my throat. It appears the message I was trying to get across was poorly worded and picked apart by nearly everyone. I have a follow up post planned. I think I can clear some of it up, or at least seem like less of a jerk.

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      • Well I don’t feel any need to be bashing you for your opinions. We all have our own opinions. You clearly are a person who cares I can see that, you just want your hobby to be left out of these issues.
        I do however feel the need to bash people for not caring at all. You care outside the game, that is enough for me.

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  2. Firstly, thank you for your comments. I appreciate it. It’s a hard thing to jump into, especially when you have some personal things to say from your own experience and just want to share with people while also sharing your view point.

    As for your points. I know, from another position it must be hard to see the effects but i see them regularly. I sometimes forget, other times i don’t let them bother me and yet some I see it and I can’t help but link it back to personal experience and stories.

    The thing that gets people arched up her is comparisons because the comparisons are just different. No one is putting down your experiences but when it’s as high as 1 to 5, or when it isn’t just a one off relationship but felt when they walk down the street, leave uni late at night or go clubbing with friends.

    I’ve posted this cartoon before but it’s a pretty apt analysis of the discussion here.
    http://cardboard-crack.com/post/80131321528/sexism
    Women want video games as an escape too; we don’t want to have to deal with sexism during this time but it so often finds us. If not the players it’s the design of the story and characters.

    Funny thing is, Women want to enjoy power in their fantasies too. To be strong and devoted; cunning and courageous; to be valiant or vicious and a lot more interesting provocations and motivations. They also want to see far more diversity in the roles played, the flawed hero for one. But we don’t get to see or play this very often; we get sexpot A or sexpot B.. or you know, that girl who’s the boyfriend of that other guy.

    I remember playing that original resident evil as jill valentine. That was a really important experience, it made you feel strong and confident.. and more like your fantasy. i want more of that, more of what used to be around but has been increasingly lost as games become more narratively focused and, as such makes it harder to provide such choice.

    Now i’m not saying every game has to be the most diverse thing every, there doesn’t need to be a gay rainbow shooting unicorn piloted by some bitchy butch girl just more on average than we are currently getting. hell, I’m about to write how broforce is da best game EVA and it’s just a bunch of dudebros blowing shit up.

    Ice cream.. best analogy ever. How i would explain it is imagine ice cream is mostly supplied by a few big chains. There’s Ben and jerrie’s who serves chocolate ice cream with a few interesting additives: one with cherries, another with choc chips and one with sprinkles. The other major chain, Cold rock has Chocolate too: one with a nice caramel swirl and they have some nice toppings too. And there are a couple other chains that stock chocolate ice cream with their own take.

    Now this stuff taste amazing. These stores make there ice cream to perfection and while you still do love ice cream you really want some vanilla. Vanilla is what you’ve really liked to start off with and all chocolate has been is a nice filler.

    But the only place that regularly has this is some corner store on the other end of town, one that neither has the capabilities or the abilities to make really, really REALLy good vanilla ice cream. Of course then there is other inconsistencies to it. It melts a little quickly, and well.. you still know there are some bits of bugs ground up in their somewhere. OH, there’s also the the hipster couple up the road that make it too, but there’s is always filled with some really weird flavour concoctions.

    Now the Big ice cream chains do have vanilla occasionally, during some sort of special event and you can better believe you guzzle that down as much, and as fast as you can but it doesn’t last and just leaves you hungering for more vanilla.

    OK that went on too long and now I’m going to the freezer and nomming some ice cream… vanilla with cookie dough =p

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  3. I think that “escape” isn’t the right way to look at much of this. We’re not playing games to “escape” per se, but we’re playing games for enjoyment, achievement, social interaction and reward, too. I see little personal difference in me attaining my awesome gear after a long grind and me fixing that fence out back that’s falling down: both are an accomplishment in different areas of my life with different contexts. I brag to non-gamers about the fence; I brag to gamers about the gear.

    The biggest thing that always seems to be vacant from the conversation is that we should all be working to create and maintain communities and worlds that work for us. When WoW was the only MMO in town (essentially) you HAD to play WoW. Now there are more options for social gaming than ever before. We need to be constructing servers that work for us and our community, and not always keep trying to make a space one’s own when it never can be.

    You’ll never eliminate poor behavior and terrible, shock-value language. But you can find the places that work for you. This is what we do already, it just needs more focus. There are MMOs I play like solo games because the communities are horrific and unpleasant. There are MMOs with mature, adult communities where instead of the teenager yelling vile horrors you get the elitists who just look down on the filthy casuals.

    In every case, this is about finding what works for you. There are more spaces in gaming I don’t want to be a part of than those I do. There are far, far, far, far more games that I have no interest in than those I’m dying to get lost within. When it comes down to games in which any character is well-written, deep and meaningful you have a fairly short list.

    I like to inject this example into these topical conversations: One of my favorite games from the last few years has been Spec Ops: The Line. There you have a story about three men who interact with other men and, aside from refugees and “extras” there aren’t any women at all. The game is certainly going to score low on an acceptable social justice scale, and there are moments where the game makes you REALLY uncomfortable if you’re sensitive to things like representation.

    But damn. That story. You can never, ever go wrong with looking to Conrad for inspiration, and Heart of Darkness is such a personal, human story that the modern retellings can often be immensely worthwhile. The depth of character and the journey and the MORAL gravity is just overwhelming. It’s one of a few games that I feel actually made me think about more than surface issues. I was experiencing the story, and that was something profound because they actually did things like hire a professional writer and not just some committee of former QA testers with English degrees. And what you get is a piece of art that stands aside from being a game. At the end of the experience you’re better for it and it makes no difference that you’re following an American Military white man around.

    The larger issue is that games like Spec Ops: The Line or The Longest Journey or Planescape: Torment are the exception to the rule. We started with narrative storytelling in text adventures and now we’re at a place where we’ve pretty much eliminated narrative from most AAA games aside from as a mechanism to drive gameplay (and these days cash-shops and DLC). Any of us could write the next Assassin’s Creed game in a weekend if we wanted and the level of quality wouldn’t be too far off.

    Until we can begin to take the idea that games can have actual meaning seriously in the AAA industry we’ll be in the same boat. A few good devs out there will make good narrative, meaningful games and the rest is all just this year’s iteration of last year’s iteration. And those devs doing a good job will keep doing a good job.

    Dreamfall: Chapters is going to be amazing. But not everyone is Ragnar Tornquist. Spec Ops: The Line may not spur any spiritual successors. We’re in the age of AAA studios who are working on “Call of Duty 32” and “Assassin’s Creed 22” which is set at the zoo and includes a goat petting minigame.

    I don’t know a solution to all this, but I do know that unless we can address the fact that issues, meaning and narrative barely matter we’ll never see much better aside from the small corner of adventure games or whatever Tornquist gets his hands on next (which will be a horror game steeped in Norwegian myth and legend– lots of history and integrity).

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    • One game I had a similar experience with was The Last of Us. I truly cared about the characters, Joel’s real daughter dying had a saddening effect, other prominent characters dying also affected me. Ellie was one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever seen, and she was amazing throughout. I don’t remember the character’s name, but he was the gay representation in the game, and I truly cared about him and wondered what happened to him after we left him behind. That game had it all, and I’d play any number of games that had that level of inclusiveness. That wouldn’t ruin my escape, it would enhance it.

      I wasn’t originally trying to be a dick or dismissive. It just came out that way.

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    • The problem I keep having with this outcry is that WoW’s content is not degrading towards women, nor does it hypersexualize them or overwhelmingly portray them as helpless vessels. Looking at the vast majority of WoW’s content, these statements hold true. Yet a games journalist took a bunch of quotes out of context to make Pardo and company look like a bunch of brosephs, and the reaction was swift and mostly full of unnecessary hysterics. Now I think by and large gaming communities, like all mobs, are horrible and crude, because anonymity brings out the worst in us. I also have cringed at some of the things I’ve heard in voice comms coming from fellow males while females are present, and that’s is why guild officers should be proactive. But that’s not the games fault is it?

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      • You’re definitely not going to find much success with that argument. I don’t play WoW and when I did for a short time I don’t remember examples of sexism, but I didn’t really care enough to pay attention. The argument isn’t necessarily just about WoW’s representation of women, but the representation of women across all forms of media.

        This isn’t my final thoughts on the topic. Look for my post “Foot in Mouth” for more discussion.

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