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In response to those who tell me how to write about diversity

This actually isn’t specifically about games. But this is the context.

A little while back, I wrote a review for a slo-mo, Nazi murder simulation called Sniper Elite 3: Afrika.

Video games.

I found the game problematic in a number of areas, notably the lack of character (development) or meaningful plot, dull graphics, dull story, and homogenous character models. That is, the game features absolutely no one who isn’t white or male. I indicated that this is indicative of a wider problem in gaming; that, worryingly, it’s something that probably didn’t even cross the creators’ minds. For a game subtitled “Afrika”, you’d think maybe other people aside from white males would be included.

A few people were not happy with my mentioning this, seeing it as yet another person “pushing/forcing” his agenda where it doesn’t, apparently, belong. I was told I should be reviewing the game, not the industry; I should be sticking to aspects of the game that made it enjoyable or awful as a playing experience; that if I wanted to talk about the industry or issues about games, I should’ve made it a separate article or an op-ed – rather than surprise people with such views in a review. (This paragraph summarises various criticisms, comments and communications.)

I was told, essentially, to please not talk about diversity.

It should strike on several levels what this kind of reaction means.

First, the very experience people were reading the article for – namely, my opinion about the game being reviewed – was being dismissed.

It says so much that these critics don’t care that perhaps, as a person who isn’t white, I’m deeply affected by a lack of racial diversity in a major creative industry and that strikes hardest while playing a game with only white characters for no good reason. This lack of diversity really did impact my playing of the game, more so than bland sound design or polygons. These tut-tutting comments and wagging fingers and people who think they’re my editors is precisely what I was writing about: because diversity is not an issue in a game for these critics of mine, they saw no reason for me to include it as a point of criticism. No, it wasn’t sound or gameplay, it was something silly and social and weird and real. That’s not games. Games are fictional, make-believe, things that happen on screen.

For many people, no doubt games are a distraction or “escapism” – just as books or films are. But, for some of us, these creative mediums are so much more. Our line of what games mean and should mean and should be doesn’t have to align with yours; I’m certainly not demanding every gamer take games as “seriously” as I do. Apparently, that’s a bad thing because obviously people don’t make a living from games, run crappy or amazing businesses, have their lives ruined or made by the industry, cry while playing games, experience great joy and sadness – nope, all games are all dumb and meaningless. I should stop taking it so seriously.

Well, no. I get to experience and appreciate my favourite medium however the hell I want to. To be told my experience doesn’t count, that my criticism of something that means a great deal to me and what I spend much of life writing on, is to made aware yet again of what a homogenous white straight male boys’ club gaming is. They’re just there to have fun and not think: how dare I come there with my “agenda”.

Which leads to the second assertion that I’m forcing an agenda.

I don’t deny I have an agenda. It is one of making spaces I care about safe and secure for people and to undermine bigotry. Again: you don’t “have” to, though I think we all have a moral duty to clean up communities and spaces we’re a part of, since we are the pieces that comprise that community. We make or break through purchasing power and participation; we are the ones who’s interest is air to the industry’s lungs made of business. To be silent or neutral is to essentially tolerate the existing inadequacies within the community or space you claim to love.

Of course, you can be blind or ignorant to these inadequacies, and there’s no law commanding you to find out just how bad – say – sexism is in gaming. There’s no rule that forces you to read articles talking about diversity. But clearly comments responding to my article have some opinion about diversity – indeed, they are telling me exactly how and why and when I am allowed to talk about it.  Me: the person who obviously cares more for it than they do (which, again, is fine), who’s written about diversity problems in other areas (most recently, women in the science world). Yes, I am the one that must be taught by those who so clearly do not care when and where and how and why I can write about a subject that means a great deal to me.

Lest they get… annoyed or something? I’m not quite sure, since these were commands from my non-editors rather than arguments.

One of the criticisms I noted was that it wasn’t so much that I spoke about diversity, but that I mentioned it in a game review (gasp!). It seems to have surprised them and, perhaps, this contradicts my point about them not having to read about it. After all, I was “forcing” them to deal with diversity issues.

I must again point out that, for me, the lack of diversity is an issue. Some gamers have an issue with frame-rate-per-second; others hate puzzles. Whatever it is, we don’t then tell the critic he’s wrong to have that gripe: we can ignore it if we actually love puzzles. If someone really hates puzzles, what do you hope to gain by telling him “Well, I personally don’t care about puzzles. Please don’t write about that in your review.” So why do so for diversity, which actually has a greater impact on individual lives?

We read different people to obtain different perspectives because difference is kind of interesting. (Of course, that just highlights how much difference is antithetical to gaming, doesn’t it?).

Further to this, why must diversity in games be an op-ed but not in reviews, but – say – graphics is allowed in both? Entire YouTube channels are dedicated to discussing graphics and framerate, just as there channels discussing sexism. Who gets to decide what is and isn’t allowed in game reviews? I certainly missed that memo. So apparently did the people paying me to write reviews for their site.

The vociferous nature of the responses no longer astounds. I find it strange and sad, more than anything, that people become so vocal about maintaining dudebrodom. I can’t fathom what makes them so afraid, dismissive – or just generally reactive – of diversity discussion that my mention of it prompts such responses. What is it that such people hope to achieve? Trying to control how those of us speaking of diversity are allowed to speak – only in an op-ed, not in a review, only a little, not so much – is belittling and highlighting the very problem we’re trying to focus on. There are other reviewers to read, too; talented people who will calmly put the made-up template of what constitutes a proper game review and mark according to what makes my critics happy. Good for them.

Diversity or social dynamics that mean a great deal to many of us, however, aren’t welcome. We simply can’t have that. This is games. And games are fun. Please stop taking them seriously or else we’ll have a serious conversation about how you can and should and must talk about your little issue.

What makes all this worse is that thinking wider and engaging with diversity makes games so much more fucking interesting – who wants another gravel-voiced, mid-thirties white-dude revenge power fantasy?

For example, even though I was talking about non-whites rather than women, in Sniper Elite 3: Afrika, critics yelled the usual “in World War 2, there were no women on the frontline” nonsense: Because of course creators are slaves to the story they create and time they use; things need to be real. Real, like one man by himself destroying an entire army or killing 10 snipers before being spotted; real like taking out tanks in slo-mo and seeing skeletons explode. Not unrealistic like women snipers!

If this doesn’t highlight the very problem of homogeneity and its continued existence in big creative mediums, beautifully, I don’t know what will. Please stand by while I continue with my agenda.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Co-fucking-signed. One of the reasons I love Mass Effect is that Ican be something like myself: a woman, and an older one. In GTA online, I can look like (a very thin, much hotter) version of me. And the games both include dialogue specifically recorded for and given only to women characters. In both, I can also play a WOC. And sometimes do.

    That’s a huge change, and it’s made playing otherwise white-dudebro games into a muchmore immersive game. And its presence has no loss to the dudebro gamer, who can simply keep playing himself…as he always gets to. All we want is the same chance. Who goes online to bash out an angry screed about how we shouldn’t even get to have those limited options?

  2. says

    I bought that game… it isn’t very good is it?

    In this case, I considered the complete lack of diversity to be a matter of Nazis being targets that very few people would complain about killing in massive numbers. Also, far better generic white dudes representing an evil that justifies their deaths than what they did in that one Resident Evil game with generic Africans carrying spears and wearing grass skirts or whatever the hell that was.

  3. Tauriq Moosa says

    @ Joe: No. It’s so unbelievably average and boring. Aye very true. I was thinking more in terms of multiplayer however: where it just doesn’t make sense to have only the models there. How hard is it to crank skin colour sliders, etc.?

    @Caitie:

    Preach.

  4. says

    A stated goal in education is to teach children to have empathy, to be able to consider things from another’s point of view, to accept other people’s views as legitimate.
    And we do this through texts (using the broad definition of text). You see where this becomes problematic: When so many texts (i.e. books, movies, games, song lyrics) are centred around white men, we grow people who are very good at considering the feelings, opinions and needs of white men.
    We are often asked to “justify” having an LGBTQ character, a non-white character, a female character. We’re being told that this is some sort of PC pedantry, that there needs to be a reason to have these characters.
    I would really like to turn this around: Whenever anybody writes a straight white male character, for any book, film, game, song, they need to justify this choice: What does his skin colour, sexual orientation, gender etc. add.

  5. says

    I recently decided that once I finish the current novel I’m working on, I’m going to go back and literally randomize the cultural background and gender of every character. And outside of physical impossibilities and cultural great unlikelihoods, I won’t change that (i.e., it not being science fiction or magical, it won’t have cis men being pregnant, and if someone’s an alcoholic, they probably won’t also be a devout teetotal-sect Christian, or a devout Muslim).

    Given the prevalence of POC in the world at large, I’m quite sure that the majority of my characters will end up being not white. I like that, and I think I’m going to try doing this with every story I write from now on.

    To the topic more directly, I noticed that I mentioned GTA Online above, but not Red Dead Redemption. I liked RDR’s story mode, and I’ve enjoyed the online too, except for one thing. There are 160+ models for men in the online game, including First Nations, Mexicans, Central Americans, Black men, and a wide selection of white men.

    There are three women characters, outside of the one category “Misc Women” (literally, that’s what it’s called; we’re a group, like “Mexicans” and “miners” and “US troops”), which has about ten more.

    Except…the Misc Women section doesn’t work. You can pick one of those ten, if you do so at the start, and if you never again enter the Outfitter, to upgrade a horse, change your display name or title, or anything else. If you do go into the Outfitter, your game is over, frozen, hard-boot time.

    So we’re left with three women (two USan white women, and one Mexican woman) we could reasonably be. Compared to over 160 models for men.

    In GTA, you can select your character when you first join by choosing four grandparents, and trying the randomizer to get different mixes of them. Then, the next time you log in (only), you are also given the option to go to the sliders, and bring the appearance where you want it to be. Men and women are available as playable genders (no others), and there’s no ambiguity or androgyny possible: mens’ and womens’ clothing inventories are quite different, and no way to cross the streams.

    So it’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than 3 models and a broken “Misc Women” section, which was itself a long step up from the “NOTHING” that came before it.

    And Jennifer Hale’s voice-acting on Mass Effect ## has been incredible.

    Not that I have strong opinions on this topic or anything. :)

  6. Tauriq Moosa says

    @ 4 Giliell

    Indeed. I think any one should be able to justify why they’re including any character whatsoever; that those who don’t fit that most ubiquitous of character types are seen as “deviant” is horrible. But I think instead of getting a free pass, everyone must think deeply.

    It’s just that that thinking deeply for those of us who want more non-whites, women, etc., try to justify it, but whatever justification is given its eroded to be meeting that awful “PC Standard” (because, you know, all those games with gay men kissing other gay men totally are everywhere!)

  7. Tauriq Moosa says

    @5 CaitieCat, getaway driver

    Awesome ideas. And yes: Ms Hale is a genius of performance art.

  8. Bruce says

    Imagine if someone rich such as Bill Gates were to buy up all the major game companies, recall all copies of the products, and re-issue them all showing men wearing dresses, for no reason. You know that most gamers would immediately say that they found this lack of realism distracting and interfering with their enjoyment of the games.
    In other words, the views of the complainers clearly depend on whether a possible change would make things more or less like themselves. Their views clearly do not depend on any other consistent principle. Thus, they are ridiculous.

  9. says

    Bruce

    You know that most gamers would immediately say that they found this lack of realism distracting and interfering with their enjoyment of the games.

    Thing is, their “realism” is usually the Vox Day orcs and elves but no women because of historic accuracy variety. Media culture doesn’t present a realistic view of society (of any aera). It presents a white-washed, male-washed, straight-washed, cis-washed version. Actual society, actual life is much more diverse. It’s almost like I can interact with women on a daily basis who are not exotic prostitutes. That even in my most stereotypical role as a mother I interact with other mothers who are also businesswomen and professionals. That I interact with eastern European immigrants on a daily basis and apparently none of them is a super-rich oligarch, a mafia-killer or again a prostitute*. Actually, many of them are between 3 and 7… That I interact with women in a position of power and have so far been most disappointed about the lack of offers to give me good grades in exchange for wild lesbian sex.

    Tauriq

    But I think instead of getting a free pass, everyone must think deeply.

    Definitely. Which brings me to another point: The white straight male cis protagonist is lazy writing. As mentioned before, we’re all used to the perspective of the white male straight cis protagonist, no matter how few or many of these adjectives also apply to us. It’s not difficult to write a believable wmsc protagonist. And indeed, many male authors (in the wider sense) usually complain that they can’t write women because they have no idea how women are (elves, otoh, are easy).
    And we need to think hard about our other choices. Caitie mentions that she wouldn’t write a pregnant cis guy. I want more. I want people to think about why they need that character pregnant and I demand hard thinking and good reasons and not a mystical pregnancy without any regard for the character to whom this happens. Same with sexual violence. It’s lazy. We all know what it looks like, we all know how the victims are supposed to feel like and react like. If you need to break a character, just add rape. Preferrably rape by proxy because it’s not something you want to do to your male protagonist. Instant plot. It’s to writing what Ramen noodles are to cooking.
    Sorry for the rant.
    It’s something that is very much on my mind atm and I seize every opportunity to bring it into text…

    *Ehm, this reads like whore phobia. Just to clarify, I’m talking about the stereotypical roles available to those women in media culture, not about the realities of sex-work.

  10. angharad says

    I’ve been pretty happy with Elder Scrolls Online in this regard. As with all the Elder Scrolls games the character customisation is extremely flexible. But in this one the ‘grunts’ (and bosses for that matter) seem to be about 50/50 split between the genders, and same sex marriage and relationships are mentioned frequently without fanfare (eg you might find a letter beside a skeleton deep in a cave in which the dead adventurer bids farewell to his beloved boyfriend, or a quest in which a pirate captain asks you to help rescue her wife).

    But hey, gaming industry – I have a lot money, I like games, but these days I pretty much won’t buy any game you can’t play as a woman. I am so over putting my head into places where I am invisible (if I wanted to do that I would go back to reading Isaac Asimov books).

  11. =8)-DX says

    I should be sticking to aspects of the game that made it enjoyable or awful as a playing experience

    Endless, semi-identical white males shooting each other does make games less enjoyable. Like pea soup. Nothing like a good pea soup. But if all there is is pea, any discerning consumer would get hungry for a little bacon, cream, carrots or something. At least *lentils*.

  12. says

    Oh, sure, bring your lentilarian propaganda here as usual, completely ignoring that peas have been good enough for everything before this. They’ve been served at every important meal ever, every important person (all of them suspiciously similar-looking) has enjoyed them, and it’s just you diversity freaks who need to push your creepy bent-ils down our throats. How many major genetic ideas were founded on breeding lentils, huh? Checkmate, lentilarian.

    My grandfather loved the pea; my father loved the pea; so pea is good enough for me and thee.

  13. culuriel says

    You’re only supposed to write about diversity, or a lack of it, in a forum that they don’t actually read. By writing about diversity in a forum they do read, you’re making them read about it. Which, I assure you, they don’t want to read about, ever. Which is why you’re supposed to restrict diversity talk to forums they never read themselves.

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  1. […] develop a culture that handles criticism properly, we need to care about people first. For example, those wanting “social issues” removed from game reviews are wanting solidification of the current state; the state that allows so many people to reach […]

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