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