It’s pretty easy to see that the world is becoming a very different place, in a very short span of time. Society’s honeymoon period with the Internet is well and truly over, and the era of anonymous message boards, cock jokes and zippocat are almost completely at an end. At some point, probably while everyone sane, reasoned and rational was out NOT throwing shit-fits over 140 character messages, it was agreed that everyone must be held accountable for the minutiae of everything they say and do online. The great pool of the internet now has one of those big signs with “pool rules” written on it in huge impact font. And one of those rules is “no horse-play”.
It’s understandable in some cases. Only a very few people enjoy death threats, and even less get off on the slander of the recently deceased, but the march doesn’t stop there. In the name of hurt feelings, the paladins of progressivism are going to ruin your fun by insisting that you’re not really having fun no matter how much you think you are, and that you’re hurting someone all the time. And that’s going to work, because most people don’t like the idea of hurting others, and would happily go out of their way and make a million tiny adjustments, just to avoid the possibility. The only group more odious (with the obvious exception of arseholes like me, sitting in the middle) are those that will do their best to censor you in exactly the same way but a different direction, be it for Jesus, or Mohammad, or fucking Zoroaster or whoever, and will insist that what you do or say must conform to their rules, if you wouldn’t mind, or you’d really be angering something you don’t believe exists. Which would apparently be a bad thing?
Look, I never said any of this shit made sense.
Which brings us (unfortunately) to videogames, because as a growing medium, gaming now has to contend with a larger number of perceived social issues, rather than in the good old days, where all we had to worry about were church groups crying about Catholic iconography in Castlevania. What’s more, none of it appears in the least bit important. It seems like every week there’s some fresh evil (though not really) being committed by some horrible (and no doubt heavily-closeted) games developer who happens to want to make a work of fiction that doesn’t check more politically correct boxes than the quality assurance guy at a gollywog factory. The question that must be asked, of course, is “why does any of this matter?” Why does it matter if games are politically correct or not? They’re never going to be historically accurate in the same way that books and films can be. Not when Joe Q. Gamer is given command at the beaches of Normandy and spends most of the battle crouching up and down on the faces of the fallen.
There really doesn’t seem to be any good answer to this, either. Now, we’re no real fans of Nintendo here, but in recent weeks, they have come under some particularly cringe-worthy criticism for various sundry nothings, and making the kind of honest and open comments about these problems that draw fire faster than a neon-green trophy buck at an NRA rally. The first title to come under fire was Tomodachi Life, one of those lacklustre-looking bugger-around-with-your-avatar games that should all rights be free. Regardless of whether it’s actually been released or not outside of Japan (spoilers: It hasn’t), this didn’t stop the game from being hammered for not including the option of same-sex marriage between your spud-faced little mii things, where traditional marriage is possible. Now, I can sort of understand why a couple of people might be actually disappointed, in a very trivial way. Nintendo has not chosen to support one aspect of their lifestyle in one particular game that is, at time of writing, available in one country in the world. “Oh well,” They might well intone, possibly while riding a hella-cool motorcycle. “Nintendo didn’t put in a same-sex marriage option, and I am a same-sex marriage kind of guy. This isn’t the game for me, I guess.” But then, we don’t live in a world without social justice warriors, and the internet shitstorm has yet to abate.
Nintendo’s response seemed only to stir up the pot further, probably due to the almost-complete obliviousness of it all:
“The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game, and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.”
Which makes sense to us, because one would have to be quite thoroughly deficient to believe that a so-far -Japan-only avatar game is the ideal battleground for socio-sexual politics , but there really is nowhere safe to stand against a criticism like this. Nintendo have replied as sensibly as possible, and one can almost see the clear confusion on the face of the PR guy who had to type that statement, telling the western world that a cutesy fantasy-island videogame wasn’t intended as a right-wing traditionalist staging post. Regardless, the battle still rages on, and several online petitions and hashtagged made-up words have been forwarded to right this egregious wrong. Not bad for a bunch of mini-games that nobody would have given two shits about otherwise. Even when a full-blown apology was made, it didn’t change matters for anyone involved.
Equally as silly is the charge of racism leveled at Nintendo over the release of Mario Kart 8, which seemed to cite ‘white privilege’ as one of the drawbacks, lacking a large enough roster of black and latino characters to be a good enough game about go-karting in the mushroom kingdom. The review, which we all sorely wish we had never read, states that:
When it comes to human characters, Mario Kart 8 is overwhelmingly white. Of the 29 drivers, 14 are human (including Toad and Toadette), and every single one of them is white. While it’d be atypical of Nintendo to introduce new characters into a Mario Kart game, it’s also where the deficit is the most obvious, and during play I found myself disappointed that Nintendo’s stable of characters so painfully fails to reflect the diversity of its audience.
There comes a point where all this sort of starts to look like taking the piss. Apart from the obvious fact that mushroom-people aren’t exactly human, and the playable character roster includes just as many apes, turtles, dinosaurs and skeletons in the mix, it’s a complete non-issue. There might be room on the internet for a few titillating articles on race in the mushroom kingdom, or how Princess Peach is a total tyrant, but these matters don’t have any place within a serious review, and the fact that they’re even there tells us that it’s perhaps time to cool our collective tits and take stock.
It’s a dangerous sign of the times, and it doesn’t come any closer to explaining why any of this shit actually matters, other than to those who, like with Castlevania’s crazy crucifix cull, think they have a right to censor the shit out of fictional worlds until they suit their own perceptions of ‘how things ought to be’. Not only is this grossly patronising, working on the assumption that the public isn’t morally and emotionally mature enough to handle the truth, but it ruins games faster than a promise from Peter Molyneux. No doubt there are still plenty of people who refuse to play the brilliantly well-made Tomb Raider remake over remarks that it was a glorified rape simulator, or those who will forever forego the sub-par allure of Resident Evil 5 over the racism outcry. It’s how Bioware went from being storytellers to a dating-sim joke.
Now, problems DO exist with these games (They can’t all be VTM: Bloodlines), but we don’t need to craft more. Ironically, if Tomb Raider did include rape, it would have dealt with it tactfully and decently. Videogames aren’t extant so that they can act as a constantly-cajoling moral compass. I would hope that no-one on Earth gets their sense of morality from New Vegas. They’re not here so that we can enjoy reasonable and bland facsimiles of our own world. They’re works of fiction, every last one. And the worlds they create do not have the obligation to mirror our own. If the makers of medieval fiction want to forego focus on certain races, it’s surely their own damned business, in their own damned fictional world, and we can either trust that they know what they’re doing or ignore their work completely. It makes as much sense to argue about this as it does to argue about the lack of a UN security council in the Pokemon universe. Their world, their rules.
If Hideo Kojima wants a scantily-clad character in his own fictional universe, what tyranny of majority has the right to deny it? Furthermore, why pick at this wholly-irrelevant aspect of the game, rather than other, more glaring faults that actually affect gameplay? It makes one wonder just who is allowed (and motivated enough) to do all this complaining. There aren’t many loud-mouthed social justice pundits decrying the latest Wolfenstein game for urging the player to kill Nazis (all of which are White Germans, we might add), for instance, and it’s hard to keep track of the number of sickeningly propagandist American military sims there are on shelves right now. But the question remains: Why censor at all?
Censorship and enforced representation are the true enemy of diversity, and a lack of diversity in videogames can only lead to stagnation. The days of gaming trying to ape the action-hero movie seem to be coming to an end, and we’re no longer satisfied with Colonel Beef Wallofflesh making the galaxy a safe place in which to fuck Roxy Breastphysics. I would sooner play just a single game that included a genuinely interesting same-sex couple than a hundred shoehorns, and that is only possible with good writers who understand their worlds, not a cynical marketing sleaze with a checklist of minorities to pander to for more money. However, the gaming public is rife with a new generation of rabble-rousing SJW who seem desperate to peddle the idea that not including a particular demographic in a videogame is akin to ‘erasing’ them, as though every person on the planet has the right to representation in fiction, where it really isn’t the case. What degree of representation everyone deserves in the real world is a matter of constant debate, but a fictional world is a closed set. If we’re not represented, then all we can do is enjoy the world for what it is, or move along. These are not our own personal alternate realities.
Videogames are a beautiful and startling medium, still in first flush, and have the unique ability to create fictional worlds that the player can interact with in ways that humanity has never before seen, even with a REALLY good DM. Why should the worlds created not challenge us and our perceptions of society and ourselves, rather than coddle us into thinking that everything is okay, and safe and happy because everyone there thinks the same way as you, minus a villain or two? Fiction is arguably the very best method by which to judge a society. When we focus so hard on rounding off the edges of our fiction to keep from offending anyone, what are we really saying about the state of our world?