Discrimination and gaming

Context

For two or three days there is quite some agitation around a video about the ordinary sexism. The video has been made for national Belgium news report and is then in French, but you’re favorite translators tool will give you some help to translate it.

So, since I have a lot of sociopaths, feminists and trolls in my inner circle there was quite some heat and animation. But that’s not how I entered the pool. I entered it by mis-understanding a woman attacking gameone (Gamers TV chans) for under-evaluating the issue of sexual harassment in the gamers community. Things get wild and I then spend the day arguing and fighting, using some trash arguments but I finally learned things (hey, why the heck would I lose time if it is not for learning?) both in the way to argue, and to have some documentation for this kind of harassment.

And, even if I do not agree with the way some specifics person refuses to evolve (on both sides – either by establishing the facts that males are de facto members of a dominating caste and so they cannot change and all of them are necessary the enemy or by reducing the magnitude and importance of the issue), I think that I have to write things down.

But I’m not really a member of the gaming community – I do prefer playing alone or with friends, rather than playing online. Too much people there – and I’ve already wrote once or twice about it in the hackers/geek community.

So, I was looking for an angle to speak about it. I even thought about speaking of me – sorry folks, not gonna happen now – and I then stumble upon this interview of one of The Witcher creator in Rock paper Shotgun.

And, as I was talking torture on a role-playing game forum of mine and the sometimes free nature of it, I think I would speak about it.

But, just before that, two points that are important to clarify first.

  • You are not your body, your body is just a part of you.
  • No one should endure discrimination for what they are and what they look like.

Now, let’s move on the topic.

Role-playing Games

I do like games. Really. Mainly because they faces me with a challenge and,in the case of role-playing games, gives me the possibility to live good stories and explore the mind of the games creators.

I enjoy going through a good story, even if it’s nit a happy one. I enjoy when the narrator have spend a lot of energy on detailing the place and the characters that will support the plot. I like when I’m surprised by unpredictable things.

Avatar – there’s no 3 meters tall Smurphs here

And to enjoy this story I have to choose an avatar. A projection of myself in the game universe. Well, not necessarily myself in fact. The characters I play are not me, neither they are something I want to be. They are something I build, with clay (the game universe) and that I could like or hate or think about.

I am an adept of exploring actions and the consequences. If I want to play a racist asshole that will assure the human supremacy over the galaxy (see Mass Effect 1) I should be able to play it and to see what’s happening. How people will react, how they will throw stones at me. If I’m going to kill civilians for no reasons, something must happen. If there’s kids, I must be able to enslave them and to kill them (it appears that kids in Fallout 3 can survive almost anything, including being shot with nuclear bombs) and the universe must react one way or another to those actions.

So, if I play a bastard it does not mean I’m one. It also does not mean the universe should just go with that for no reason. If I’m granted to harass people it must have an impact in the world or this ‘liberty’ is of no interests. I remember in Fallout / Fallout 2. You could be in the slave trade, but that was rewarded by most of the people in town throwing stones and shooting at you on sight.

And yes, discrimination, rape, diversity in sexual preferences and all those kind of things can be a thrilling engine for some fantastic plots or character. As long as it’s not free. Video games is a good media for this kind of set-up. I mean, the game developers can build a lot of constraint to the freedom of a player because they are coding the universe. If they condemn sexual harassment and sexual abuse, they can perfectly build a world where it is not possible, if you have no possibility to say ‘I would do you’ to a NPC, then you can’t. If it appears as an option then the developers have thought about this and they want you to be able to say that and so it is supposed to bring something to the story being told. If not, then why the hell did the developers spent some valuable time on it?

I mean, if they’re adding sex to a game without any purposes (and no realism is not one. I do not want realistic games, I want enjoyable games, I’m perfectly fine with driving a chicken into an insane space race, so fuck the realism, life is realistic enough. I want consistency), it is because they think people will enjoy the game more. It also means that the story is not good enough to appeal the player. Paying something to watch sex is pornography (or eroticism whatever you call it). It has nothing to do with games.

The avatar building is also a fun thing. My first adventures online goes back to Anarchy Online. When I chose my avatar, besides the classic gender / phenotype choice, I could personalize the whole body not only the face. I could do a fat girl, or a tin guy, I could choose the size of it, the breast/waist ratio, etc. I wasn’t bound to the game developer personal view of what’s appealing to play.

It bring a lot of diversity in the world, with people of different size or proportions, and, strangely, disproportionate female character were far from common. Then enter Blizzard and it’s World of Warcraft. They brag a lot about customisation of your characters but you can only customise the face (which is in most part hidden under a helmet or something equivalent). You cannot change your body. You cannot even choose your size. The good thing is that your avatar have no impact on the game. Being a female or a male in MMORPG does not gives you an edge, relatively to the game content.

However there is the problem about sexual dimorphism. Even if it exist in nature (that’s how we can tell apart male and female with a high enough error rate), in video games the dimorphism is generally over exaggerated (go take a look at this page on TV Tropes, and go for video games). It appears that, at least in the Blizzard case, the over exaggeration came from a wish of players.

Well, I guess it’s why a human wizard can probably defeat an Olympic weight lifter when he must have spend 90% of his life studying magic in a tower. While the warrior womens have shortest armour and, with a stripper body, can defeat a Tauren male at arm wrestling without any apparent muscle.

And this has been done due to the fan bases complaining about female being to weird or male not being strong enough. I think this is probably the bigger problem, and we’re back to porn. If people want to see nudity, exploited and abused women without consequences, they should rather head at youporn instead of play games. And the games creator shouldn’t focus on satisfying the fantasy of their fan – this is called fan services and it lead to crappy design and gameplay – they should rather focus on game content, story telling and game play.

Creating world

But yeah, that’s easy to tell. Well, it happens that I play a lot of role-playing games. Not the kind on computers, the kind with pen, papers, books and dice. And I’m also a game master.

From my point of view, playing such a game is building a story with all the players (including me) involved. And it needs a good plot and interesting characters.

I won’t talk about what I want as a player, I already spent a lot of words on that. I will rather talks about the responsibility of the game master. As a GM my goal is to animate the story and to do it in respect of my players wishes. And their main wish is, generally, to be excited and to spend an enjoyable moment (that can last between 4 and… 22h). And the trust me for that. They do not know where I’ll lead them. They will discover part of the plots, improvise some of it, act and react accordingly to their characters when faced to event and so on. And, depending on the game, I can lead them in hell.

Really. We can share horror stories. Stories in which horrible things will happen to the characters – from rape to torture to losing the loved one to commit genocide. I will give my players choice to make, I will question their ethics, I will explore an imaginary world with as much details and coherence I can find. It means random violence. It also means action must have consequences.

And I do need my players to trust me for that. I also need to know what do they want to play and where are their limits. And we have stop words. We can stop and pause the game anytime when someone feels uncomfortable.

But I can do this only with people I know. When I do demonstration gaming, or when I play a casual game, I have to respect my audience. I do not want to shock them, we haven’t established a trust link yet and so I cannot lead them in hell. Instead we’re going to explore other parts of the universe. And I have to depict it in an enjoyable way for all my players and to myself.

If their is segregation in the world, they must feel it. If it’s a world where the sexual practice is different, they have to feel it also. If it’s a police world, when they’ll shoot at strangers (and believe me, they will), I must use the police to strike them. If we’re in an anarchist outpost, then the bystanders will grabs their guns and shot at the players. Non playable characters have their own motivations and lives, they do not exist only for the players will.

If one of the player want to play Casanova, so be it. That’s not why all the woman in the world will fall for his sex appeal. Also, he can probably have some same-gender people that will start hitting on him.

Players can do whatever they want. I have to react to their actions, to anticipate them even, and to answer them with a reaction I feel is correct – not fair. They could play mafia boss with live or death power over each habitants of a district and they can decides to abuse their power and to get wild on the local population. To a point where the local population or other mafia bosses will take their chances and shot them down. Or worse.

See what I mean? You can use torture and rape in a game who tries to depict a world. You can even use racism, discrimination, oppression and all kind of things. You can even brings your players to have their characters acting in way that will question their players ethics. But if you do it, you have to do it on purposes.

Entertain the world

And I think it’s the problem of most of the entertainment industry. They had a strong male basis and they wanted to please them. They use sex and discrimination in way that brings nothing to the story. And they forget something. And, for people who thrives for business, it’s unforgettable. By doing this they can target, at bets, 50% of the population, the other one being female and won’t be entertained by hyper-sexualized women getting raped then saved by a hero. If the entertainment industry really wanted to tackle the woman audience, they will have adapted their product to satisfy both audience.

Instead of that they’d fell for the easy thing to get more man to buy their entertaining products. They use the arguments that "It’s what our fan base want". Well, then you won’t grow bigger than your fan bases. Also, you will look like an asshole.

As a story teller, my responsibility is to bring my players in places they’ve never been. Not in places where they are comfortable. And the entertainment industry should do it. You do not need to have brainless boobs when you want to have mega robots fighting with huge explosions. You do not need to have brainless boobs rescuing the endangered hobbits, especially when it’s not in the book your adapting your movie from. You do not need to have bad ass soldiers when you want a tactical FPS. It brings nothing to your story.

However, if you’re story is about a strip club, prostitution, slavery and the like, then it’s not a problem.

Morality?

Morality my ass. Stories aren’t meant to have a moral. People should not have moral in fact if you ask me. People should have ethics and ethics is personal (and you can explain it). I do not want a story to tell me that slavery is bad. However, I want a story that show me what is slavery, what are the consequences and the like. If you have a message to pass through a story, people should find it by themselves. They’re not stupid (and if they are, they do not care about your political views) and they’ll find out and think about it.

So yes, I have no problem with sexism in stories. When it’s justified by the stories, not by an advertisement need. If you can’t build a women character without raping her, you have to stop telling stories because you’re not even good at it.

If you want to depict a world where all women have been brain manipulated and are salved to all the male, go with it. Find an interesting story about it (and "boobs" is not a story) and assume it and do not try to find elusive justifications or blame your fan base.

If the gender of your character is of no interest of your story, so pick one at random (hey, that’s what I do), you can flip a coin or roll a dice if you want. And then you will have disparity. If it’s important because, in your world, women are not considered, then go with it (after all, that’s how it’s been dealt with in a Song of Fire and Ice). And that’s not a reason to remove all th women from your story.

So tell stories you want to tell, not ones that people want to hear. And I strongly believe that then you will have more entertaining problem, and less accusation of discrimination.

AFK

And, well, what happens In Character stays In Character. Especially when you play with stranger. Harassing a player based on what they have played or based on what they are is stupid. And from my point of view it ends up with a ban from my life if I do not know you and a strong blame if I know you since more time than the last ten minutes.

Speaking to someone Out Of Character is entering their area of intimacy. And you should at least asks for permission to do so. That’s how computers talks to each other (SYN,SYN/ACK,ACK) and that’s why "Hello" exist. Use it. And accept that the other one do not want to bear with you.

I’m done with you

For now. That’s quite a long post. Not sure if it is of some help, but at least I tried. Hope you enjoyed it. And you can reach me anywhere.

So long.

Addendum

Realism VS Consistency

SO, it appears that I made a mistake upper in this posts. I have no corrected it. I do not want realism in my entertainment. Realism is for reality not for imagination. I want consistency and coherence. If I’m driving a space cookie on a warp road through space to go faster than a squirrel, then I need the game universe to be consistent with that and so having "realistic" physics applied to this world is out of question.

However, if the law of physics in this world have told me that gravity is always in front of me, then I see no reason of having gravity suddenly switching for a earth like one.

Once you have set-up the rules that will bind your universe and your characters, then you have to stick with it. And you have to think about the implications. Having extremely thin female (in regards of the male) in a warrior world would probably imply that they cannot go on the front line in a battle. It does not mean they’ll have to stick to domestic task, but rather to more cerebral activities (like strategy, magic and the like). But if you want to have a truly egalitarian world, then the women who’ll go in battle will have more muscle and constitution than the one who will stay in more support roles (healers, casters, tacticians). And same goes for men. This is coherence, this is consistency. This is not realism (for this is not our world).