What’s so funny about peace, love, & a modicrum of creativity in our games?

Talarian has a rather excellent post out that you should all read. I had initially planned this response as a comment, but instead I wanted to flesh it more into a full post. Despite being on a hiatus of sorts still, I’m going to let this one slip through.

I do not disagree with Talarian in the slightest but there is a different angle I wanted to take on the matter. (Make sure you read Talarian’s post for full context before proceeding!)

“I’d say that one of the reasons we do sci fi and fantasy is that we’re kids at heart.” – Rob Pardo

Talarian cites an interview involving Rob Pardo when he was asked about Blizzard’s stance on representing diversity in their narrative designs for World of Warcraft. I point out the specific quote above because it ties in nicely to this wide-spread “We do everything to maximize fun” argument that gets spun in different directions by different people all the time. It also gives me a chance to talk about two genres I love.

I hate the ‘for fun’ argument with all the passion my heart can muster. In reality, it’s an excuse for talented non-artists to continue on working under self-imposed cultural limitations not to create fun but to maximize profit. Most major games (especially major MMORPGs) are created by committees of chefs, all wanting to create the most basic flavor for as many people to enjoy as they can without bothering to stir the pot at all.

Forget diversity; forget equality. Why are so many “artists” and “creatives” so happy to be so bland? I didn’t mean to say ‘talented non-artists’ in a hyperbolic sense. I mean it literally. Does your talent matter if all you do with it is create the 999th clone of Tolkien’s orcs? I used to laugh when Ultima Online’s idea of a new monster was an old one with a different color, but now I think of it as a meta-comment on the genre at large or at least what it has become. Same game, different color.

I also hate that people try to hide behind the genre as a cover. I assume, as fellow nerds, most game designers have read a few decent Sci-Fi or Fantasy novels at some point in time. Why then is everything a take on Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

I read these two genres (hereto known as Speculative Fiction) not because I love repeating the same tropes, but because I love exploring new ones. Limiting your diversity because you want things to be more fun is a subjective decision, but limiting your diversity because of your chosen genre? That’s a giant misunderstanding of what you are making in the first place.

Talarian points to something similar when he mentions World of Warcraft being about a world rather than other games in the Blizzard cannon, such as Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm. Speculative Fiction allows new worlds to be birthed into existence by the sheer will of human imagination. They are not limited by cultural boundaries and the tropes of their predecessors. They are limited only by their creators’ imaginations.

As a MMO developer, Blizzard and other companies can make whatever world they want. They can create strong females that aren’t just a set of tits with an arm firmly wrapped around a hulking behemoth of masculinity’s arm. They can explore completely alien cultures to our’s that might be matriarchal to a tyrannical level or a culture where each gender is predominantly homosexual yet must come together during mating season to procreate. One of my favorite sci-fi novels of all time, LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, involves an alien group that can be male or female during mating season but otherwise embodies characteristics of both the masculine and the feminine. There’s no excuse for the vanilla ice cream we are repeatedly force-fed because that’s what some businessman thinks is the only flavor we enjoy.

I get it: originality is difficult and doesn’t guarantee the asses in the seats like regurgitating Dungeons & Dragons does. That’s as much a problem with those who play games as it is with those who make it. We need to ask for more, demand more, and expect more. That certainly includes better representation for a large host of minority groups, but most important to me is un-trammeling our games from the same tired expectations.

That doesn’t mean I am asking for award-winning literature to be the backbone of my next MMO. I just refuse to believe in a completely false dichotomy that we can either have ‘fun’ or the ‘social justice stuff’. Why can’t we have ‘fun’ and ‘creativity’ and that latter part just happens to include a willingness to at least subvert genre norms for potentially more inclusive narratives?

Gaming’s equivalent to the Good Ol’ Boy is the Good Ol’ Nerd who is perfectly cool with a static universe because all they will ever want is orcs, dwarfs, and dragons. That means forgoing developed female characters, alternative sexualities to traditional dominant male/passive female couplings, etc. in favor of a cultural status quo that solely supports their viewpoint. The longer developers pretend that the only market they have consists entirely of young white dudes playing D&D in their mother’s basement and masturbating to character art, the longer the entire medium will be forced to stagnate into endless loops of the same shit over and over.

It seems pretty obvious to me that gaming has moved light years beyond THAT market and those out-dated stereotypes. Maybe the creativity that fuels our games should start reflecting new audiences.

#Diversity #Creativity #Worldbuilding
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7 thoughts on “What’s so funny about peace, love, & a modicrum of creativity in our games?”

  1. It’s my experience that big companies just take longer to get creative because their projects have to sell investors as much as creators. I don’t really expect money invested to lead to as good of a story as the creative freedom the cheap budgets indie games have give them. Admittedly, I like to game a generation behind and in flash, so I’m well out of the loop on this one.

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  2. As a lifelong comics fan I find the excuse that “our game developers are guys that grew up reading comic books” almost unbelievably ignorant. I’m gong to be charitable and not mention the vast wealth of non-American and non-Superhero comics that have been dealing in grown-up words and pictures for decades, but just sticking to the US mainstream, what the hell kind of comics were they reading?

    It’s not like I’m expecting them to have grown up reading Steve Gerber, Don McGregor or the rest of the existentialists and humanists who permeated both Marvel and DC throughout the 1970s but you might think they’d have read some Alan Moore or Grant Morrison reprints. Geez.

    And as for “one of the reasons we do sci fi and fantasy is that we’re kids at heart”, the guy who runs the SF dept. where I work would probably have a cardiac arrest if he read that. What kind of SF/F do these people mean? Hollywood movies? TV Series? Is that all they know? And even if it was, did they miss the entire subtext of Xena or Buffy? In fact, stuff the subtext, did they miss the text?

    I dunno. I stopped buying comics in the mid 90s. Maybe the medium went through some kind of three-decade retrogression that I never heard about. I kind of doubt it though. I didn’t stop reading SF and Fantasy though and I know Diversity didn’t end there in 1990.

    Maybe stop hiring nerds and start hiring writers? If you can actually find any willing to write for video games, that is. Which I doubt you can.

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  3. I posted my rather flippant comments already on the subject; yet I’ll add some concerning thoughts I have on the subject here.

    I’m a deep believer that the gaming industry has played to its strengths over the last 20 years. There are a core series of genres that have always been a “guys world”; first person shooters for example. We’ve seen some rather interesting storytelling done from that genre in games like Bioshock and the like. They’ve certainly approached issues that games as a whole have tended to stay FAR away from.

    Its a slow process and as can be seen by the rampant misogny flying around on twitter with that #allwoman thing going down this last weekend… not all guys are ready to accept it. Instead, developers are slowly inserting their personal causes into the games at a pace that isn’t alienating their core consumers.

    Its not something that is going to happen overnight, but progress is being made.

    I don’t think that any of the current approaches have worked or are likely to work in convincing the consumer base their precious gaming IPs must be adapted to be more inclusive and less sexist. I can’t honestly say what would work; but clearly Blizzard isn’t going to move on this issue. In the end, I think this is one of the few areas where if women “vote with their dollars” and quit the genres ignoring them; its actually more likely to encourage developers to keep on doing what they are doing.

    I hadn’t thought of that until just tonight and it makes me wonder what women CAN do to be heard.

    All I know is that I personally am not going to get involved for several reasons; it doesn’t impact me, and no ones made a convincing case that being more inclusive is going to lead to better games. In fact, all I can see right now is compromises in storytelling and development time to cater to an audience that frankly; can’t define what they want.

    An example; someone on Twitter was arguing with me about Blizzard only making “revealing” attire available for females. When I said how long it realistically takes to develop an additional set of armor thats less revealing (somewhere in the thousand+ man hours worth of work rendering for all shapes/races etc)… she couldn’t answer me which of her group would be the determining body that COULD approve the armor.

    One persons opinion on what is revealing, might not meet with the nexts. Who exactly sets the bar for how “revealing” attire should be in a game? A 40 year old mom with 3 daughters? A Blizzard exec? The voting population of a game before launch? How far does this go before people realize a developer should do what they want because not everyone can be made happy. How far do we take this before developers perhaps DON’T develop a game simply because working on a game incurs the wrath of X political correctness group.

    This is where I get frustrated because defining what is right and what is wrong is not a black and white issue. Also this issue of women’s rights and rape and not respecting women has absolutely NOTHING to do with the inclusive argument I was making on my last post. I am interested in moving forward the gaming genre that makes games more fun.

    I am vastly opposed to this latest movement in trying to overlay socio-political issues people care about onto my hobby, gaming.

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    1. I agree that women just up and leaving the industry with their consumer dollars is unlikely to actually do anything except elicit a sigh of relief from developers and the problematic gamers who provide the backlash whenever women bring this topic up.

      The “compromises” in storytelling and character design are what…you know what, that’s not even what is being asked here. What is being asked is that FUTURE games be designed with these issues in mind. Nobody realistically wants games that are released, that are out there in the wild to be retroactively changed to be more inclusive. What is being asked is that when a new expansion is developed, when a new game is developed, when a new iteration on an IP is developed, that they cater to a broader audience, which includes women, people of colour, lbgt+ people, etc.

      So to sit there and say that it’s silly or unreasonable to take those issues, those people – your audience, your market – into account when designing something is just insulting. Yes, women would not object to the more subtle issues like armour being retroactively balanced, but the vast majority of minorities would be content, even happy, to see changes in projects that are in development now and in the future, The reason Rob Pardo failed was that he confirmed that Blizzard management was not even remotely interested in even trying to address those issues. Not now, and not in the future.

      Regarding the armour issue in particular, I understand your frustration. I was once in the same place – there are so many women gamers who can’t agree on what is too revealing, what is acceptable and what is offensive. The resolution, however, is quite simple. The heart of the inequality lies in two areas: one, that the same armour piece is functional on a male character, and revealing/unnecessarily sexy on a female character. Don’t do that. Just, don’t. If it’s the same for both, there is no discrimination problem. Two. the trend is that it is much, much more likely to be sexy/slutty design if it is gear for a female character – there are some functional pieces, but it seems to be default that ladies get the sexed-up treatment. The opposite is true for gear designed for male characters – mostly functional, with some sexed up gear. All devs need to do is make a reasonably even spread of designs so that people can easily choose what they want to wear based on their personal tastes, not have to desperately search for something appropriate. These are design decisions that are so very easy to make and incorporate into design documents/policies. You see this in the Secret World, where clothes are cosmetic only. Both the male AND the female characters you see around the world have wildly varied outfits, from the probably-nsfw to the ultra-conservative. How hard can it be to do this in other MMOs?

      Likewise, in the same vein as the armour issue, the wider industry issue is not about changing the games that exist, but increasing the number of options for the broader audience of gamers. A higher percentage of games in the short term need to be designed with inclusiveness as a core value – then, when parity is achieved, gamers can easily choose games that are fun AND make them feel welcome.

      Sorry, this turned into another rant. But what you want is to “moving forward the gaming genre that makes games more fun.” Funnily enough, that is what the rest of us want, too. But for many minorities, the simplest route to having more fun is to simply feel respected as a person. We are dealing with an industry that does not understand that basic desire, and that is where the problem lies.

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  4. Pardo has always left me unimpressed. Not to dig on the guy, but you can just see how weak he is as a personality. I look in his eyes and I don’t see a leader or someone with independent thoughts. I see someone who is completely reliant on cultural norms to get through his everyday life.

    Looking at his physical reaction in the video, I imagine he knows what question is coming and he’s not happy about it. He knows he’s in trouble. The look on his face says he and some guys at the office have joked about evading precisely these kinds of questions. They talk about not talking about these issues. Part of their response mechanism is to pretend they don’t know or that they simply don’t think about these things. But interviews put them in an interesting position. They can’t say they didn’t know once that interview is over. So you can almost see a kind of willful ignorance in his response, a “we don’t want to know about these issue because then we’d have to re-evaluate our stuff and we’re not ready to do that.”

    Blizzard is so weak. And I say that as a supremely disappointed fan. Supremely. I know I’ve always said their success was accidental on WoW, and in a sense it was. But to see what they’ve done (or not done) with all their success …supremely disappointed.

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    1. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as far as joking around in the office about these questions, but he should be more prepared to answer them all the same. Though, it’s obvious Blizzard doesn’t want to say anything, let alone do anything to hurt their brand. That might’ve made sense before the massive success of World of Warcraft when their brand was a fairly young, majority male crowd.

      Now it isn’t. Now they need to change.

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