Privileged White Men

Click bait worked?

I was reading Izlain over at his blog about Gender Swapping Heroes and started writing a long comment. It got to the point where I figured I should make a post instead.  When I cross the 200 word threshold in a comment I tend to do that. The basis of his discussion there was whether or not people should care if Link, from the Legend of Zelda can and should be a woman instead of a (presumed) male figure. While I don’t care what sex Link is in the game it did make me think about the space gaming fills in the world and the different ways I have been looking at that.

My struggle with this is around what kind of medium games are. If they are “art”, then it should be anything the “artists” want. Remember, people have made art out of feces (go ahead and click it, you know you want to. No one here is judging!) and put it on display. They can be far out, wacked out, main stream, boring.. all the things games are today.

If games are a business, then it should be anything the business wants. They will realize that different choices will affect the bottom line and program their business accordingly for maximum return. They can have male only protagonists, female only protagonists, alien only protagonists, whatever they want. Whatever they feel is the right business decision.

Sometimes – rightly or wrongly –  it feels like games are being asked to be community services. There is an expectation that they must be inclusive of everything so participants can participate unharmed in safe, inclusive spaces. At the end of the day, most of these games are about killing stuff. Inclusivity for murderous purposes is important, I agree! *smileyface emoticon*

Much like the Bartle taxonomy of gamer types gaming to different people (and different companies) are a mixture of different things. Many would probably assume in the Art Business Community (ABC) scale, Blizzard would be heavy on Business, extremely light on Art, and moderate on Community (Overwatch Assgate as an example). Indies might be heavier on Art and Community over Business. You get the idea. Just another worthless need to quantify things. You would hope that being creative and community minded would lead to good business (which may be true sometimes) but in general, non quantifiable mind you – the highest grossing games are rarely the most artistic or focused on improving historically marginalized communities.

Example – The Division. I rescued the Doctor (not THE doctor, but a doctor who can save New York) who is a largely forgettable main character. I don’t even know her name. This has nothing to do with her being a woman, or a doctor, but just a non-interesting NPC who you interact with on big missions that result in Medical Wing points to upgrade facilities. While largely uninteresting, at one cut scene she mentioned she lost her now deceased wife with the pandemic. Her being a lesbian did nothing for the story, and didn’t really make her much more interesting (although I do remember that she is a lesbian and not her name…) and while it may have been an attempt to tear jerk a bit (loss of a loved one) it wasn’t effective because I wasn’t that invested in her as a person. Now, to be fair, if she had lost her husband to the pandemic it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of how I felt at all either. When that happened it was chalk one up for the lesbians who have representation in a major side NPC in a blockbuster game. Did someone at Ubisoft check a box off to ensure they were inclusive in the title? Is this a mandated aspect to token-ize inclusivness or it was it a genuine effort by the company or a writer to make a LGBT person say “I can identify with her”?

I ask that in earnest, because I am a privileged white male, of course. An open minded and curious one at that.

I believe that games should be run as businesses, and the smart developers will be inclusive in order to make customers happy and get more customers. To add narrative elements to enhance the story or improve the experience – not as a public service of some sort. I think that is the method that feels the most empowering.  I am certainly more interested to learn the perspective of those hoping for more inclusiveness on what they think is most effective. What is the best way? Without the outcry or the threats of loss of dollars, would we really just continue to get all white, male games?  Do those games actually make more money, and do gamers actually NOT buy games because of lack of inclusiveness?

At the end of the day, none of those things impact my game play. I can be the lone white male in a sea of LGBT ethnic minorities and it won’t impact my enjoyment of any game. I would  play the Black LGBT only protagonist in a WW3 FPS  in story mode, as long as the game play and story is good. Sadly, I may be in the minority with that.

6 Comments

  1. knivesmith

    Counterpoint, does every inclusion of an LGBT or some other minority have to be presented in such a way that everyone finds them amazing and relatable? One of the steps to feeling inclusiveness is that minoroties become ubiquitous. The character is still just a random NPC; it’s not only major characters that have to be “different”.

    Reply
    1. Isey

      Great point and makes sense that it doesn’t, although I suspect with what seems like years of neglect a bigger part could be appreciate. My hope is to just understand better!

      Reply
  2. Pam

    I often hear the argument that story and well written characters are paramount. Who cares about the gender/race/sexuality of a character as long as they’re well written? This argument sounds fine, but is applied to very specific situations. Let’s be honest about games writing – a lot of the time it sucks. The characters (especially side characters) aren’t that well developed. A poorly developed straight white guy character is the status quo, so no one complains. However, introduce a poorly developed gay character and all of a sudden it’s forcing it down people’s throats or just checking a representation box. There’s a big double standard.

    Reply
    1. knivesmith

      Waaaaaay more concise than what I wrote.

      Reply
      1. knivesmith

        Or perhaps the right word is precise.

        Reply
    2. Isey (Post author)

      I equally dislike all terrible story lines (even the hetero white male ones), but admittedly have a low expectation for them to begin within the gaming medium (as you rightly point out!). Does that mean you are also a believer in the idea that the best way to be inclusive in gaming is to just make all characters (race, sexuality, religion) more proportionately, naturally represented in an equal way? Whether that is through equally terrible storytelling or just as natural parts of the community environment?

      Reply

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