14 June 2008

The difficulty of being... in games.

There was a post recently on one of the forums that i frequent about one of the member's fathers. This person had been tempted by World of Warcraft. He tried out a demo of it and came to this conclusion:

There's too many damn buttons. Why do I have to bind any goddamn thing? And how come there's never any brothers in this stuff? I remember seeing Lord Of The Rings, not a damn milk chocolate elf. They coulda put in one, give us one high yellow brother, give us something.

Now, you may have noticed from other posts that i'm a white male so my perspective is different... but reading that comment i was worried. I was worried about all the opportunities that are being wasted currently in gaming.

First off, yes there are a load of buttons to memorise, get used to etc. It's a big and confusing step even for veteran gamers - let alone people who haven't played many control-complex games over many years - and all of this is alongside learning the game mechanics as well. Making a game that is open to both learners and advanced players is a difficult enough task in itself, but making it a deep experience while retaining a shallow angle to allow players who want to stay at that level is almost impossible.

But let's leave that topic alone for the time being. I'm not in any position to be going into the depths of difficulty curves... however i would like to address the person's second comment. I mentioned above that i'm white. I'm male. I'm also middle-class. I'd like to leave that all behind but if we're being realistic no one can get away from their upbringing and stratum of social history. I've never played a game and thought,

"Wow, where are the white people?" and my immediate response to this comment was,

"Elves are a different race. Maybe they never lived in an environment where darker skin became a predominant biological evolution. Kind of like how you don't get blond Asian people. It's just an imaginary game world so what does it matter how the creators imagined it?"

Then i thought again and it got me wondering, "Why have i never considered it before and what other parts of society does it apply to?"

Thinking about the reason he felt the way he felt - although i had never experienced it in game form before - i decided that it must come down to feeling excluded. We define our physical selves by what we look at in the mirror or down, from our heads, towards our feet. I realised that if every game i played or race i tried to play in a game excluded my physical being from being recognised that i'd probably start to feel maligned and excluded from existence. It's like being ignored on a mass scale. It's important to feel included in the activities you partake in and, through no fault of the creators of WoW (and Lord of the Rings) they had excluded a whole section of society.

From that point i began to explore what other parts of society have been 'included' or excluded from the archetypes and tropes of gaming. Women were the original excluded populace. There were little to no mainstream female protagonists and even when women were portrayed in gaming they tended to be one of two stereotypes: helpless and sexually prolific in their appearance or strong, Amazonian, man-hating, warriors - some of which would eventually fall into the former category during the progress of the game. All of that came to a climax when Lara Croft became the first mainstream, strong but sexy (overly so) woman to be a useful character. Thinking in this way i realise how Lara (who is fairly two dimensional in some respects) has become the icon that she has.
Moving on from there i thought about obesity. The rising levels of obesity in the world have brought this physical form into the general concious mind and as a result many games have included the option to be fat - or physically big-boned (see games like City of Heroes). Apart from having a laugh, i can't see the appeal of being obese - even in a game... but sticking to the theory that people define themselves through their physical presence that i came to above, it makes sense that this has been included. Indeed, many of these same games also include the ability to be Asian or black.

Gay people have also been pretty maligned in society and i would also pose that female gay people tend to have it harder than male gay people due to the heterosexual masculine affinity for objectifying women. There have been certain games that have capitalised on this mentality with Fear Effect 2: Double Helix being a prominent example. The protagonists fell easily into the strong amazonian archetype which also has the possibility of being 'turned' by the right man.

The two remaining questions for me are:

When will there be a positive character for other parts of society to latch onto? Has there already been one? I can't think of a single game where i played a black or Asian character - in fact i'm really looking forward to Mirror's Edge, partly because of this interesting aspect of the game.

The second is more of a research type of question. Would white gamers feel maligned in the same way as other parts of society if there was a hugely popular game were you could play every different skin colour but not white. Does our social history preclude us from feeling this way or is it just down to individual personalities?

If anyone reads this, i'd love to hear what you think about this subject.

1 comment:

Tesh said...

I think that way too many people are looking to be offended. It's the "culture of victimhood", and it's absolutely idiotic. That said, I am surprised that more options aren't presented. Take Titan Quest, for example. It would have been very easy to put in different skin tones, but it just didn't get in there. It wouldn't have taken more than a day's work for a good artist.

As for sexual orientation, it's silly. Unless there's a pressing need for a strong narrative dealing with such (which I think would be exceedingly rare and probably ill-advised...but possible), I think that it has absolutely no place in games. There's no reason for an avatar to be identified by their sexual activity. It's certainly not advisable in something like an MMO.