A space bounty hunter is sent to a remote deserted planet, a place void of hospitality, filled with all kinds of dangers and crawling with enemies so great that the galactic federation has not been able too much to deal with them. Against all odds this lone warrior infiltrates this incredibly dangerous zone, takes out their high ranks and escapes triumphantly after barely surviving the battle with their leader. This is the simple plot that spawned one of the most successful franchises in videogames. The game? Metroid. The bounty hunter’s name? Samus Aran. Its gender? Female. Would the mentioned game have enjoyed the same success if players knew they were incarnating a woman from the start during the mentioned journey instead of said fact be revealed in the game’s ending? unlikely.
A former elite force police officer turned special anti bio terrorism agent heads to Africa to investigate the signs of the resurrection of an organization that he has pursued for ten years for its crimes against humanity, destroying his once peaceful life and to avenge the death of his partner. Once there he is forced to engage in combat against locals that have been infected with mind controlling parasites and other monstrosities created by one remaining agent of the aforementioned organization. The game? Resident Evil 5. the mainstream media response to the game announcement trailer? negative. What was the reason of said response? allegations of racism.
An special covert agent is sent to infiltrate a terrorist group, to keep his cover he is forced to actively participate in terrorist acts that cause the deaths of innocent civilians or at the very least do absolutely nothing to prevent said actions, all this under the guise of achieving the greater goal against terrorism. The game? Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The mainstream media critic’s response? From disappointment about the depiction of such scenes
to overwhelmingly negative
What links all previous stories is public opinion or to be more specific the way it was handled, in Metroid’s case Samus gender was kept secret in order to prevent a negative perception from gamers to a main female protagonist, something quite rare in games back in the 80’s. In RE5’s case it was Capcom’s error was trusting that all people have at least a little common sense, after all when you think about fighting human enemies in Africa you know that at the very minimum a part of them will be black people, not doing so would be similar to imagining a kung fu beat-em-up set in the heart of China and expect not to see/fight a few Asians. Now in the MW2 case things reach IMHO even greater levels of hypocrisy as people, defense groups and most media personalities seem incredibly outraged by the events depicted in the game while completely overlook that those very events (an agent incurring in terrorism for an alleged greater good) might have happened (or are still be happening) in real life, what they focus on is not that a fellow compatriot and soldier trained to protect the innocent might be doing the exact opposite by orders of a government agency, no, what bothers them is that people are getting to feel that experience through a video game, even when similar plots where a character steps over the line for the mission sake has been used before in other games, movies and tv long before.
Samus, failing? unthinkable today, a real posibility 20 years ago
The key difference between the first and the last two examples presented is the situation and age they were released in, in Metroid’s case hiding the characters gender was a logical step to an environment where straying too much from established conventions was could bring doom even if the product quality was the best, where gaming journalism was beginning to crawl and where old somewhat misogynist values, word of mouth or simply looking at the cover art of a game had more weight on purchase decision than a full review (mostly due to the scarcity of said reviews). In the cases of RE5 and MW2 the situation is completely different, we live in an age where information runs (mostly) free, for better or worse, where a simple blogger has as much of a chance to be heard as the most respected writer or newscaster, where interracial couples can be together without causing major outrage and gay marriage is starting to be acknowledged, and if so, why listen to the concern of a few archaic minded so sunk in their ancient vision of the world and neurosis that see demon worshiping in Halloween costumes and potential killer dogs in puppies?.
All of the above causes won their recognition not by abiding to the rules set by those in power, but by doing the exact opposite and pushing the envelope, by bravely standing and opposing them, by seeking options away from the established parameters and by assuming the risks and going against the established traditions. This principle can be applied to almost every aspect of human history. When conventions based on tradition and “how it’s always been done” are scrapped for new ideas based on wise thinking, the results tend to be 90% positive, this in turn sets a precedent that becomes the first step for the change of the old rules.
Game developers shouldn’t have to prostrate to the empty political correctness cries of “insert-cause-here advocates”; they don’t like your product? Who cares, they are not your customers, and it’s them that you should keep in mind not the whining defense groups. Most of the times these associations have taken their once noble ideals to the extreme of the irrational or ludicrous, take PETA for example with their sea kittens
campaign or the Christians associations against Harry Potter
. How about overzealous censors? Don’t publish your product in their country; you as a developer are doing much more for change of outdated censorship laws by making potential customers feel the burn of not being able to enjoy your product thanks to a stubborn few than by butchering your carefully crafted work in order to make people feel better about their bad parenting, their obsolete values or inability to accept change. If a developer still wants to release a game in a censorship-full country at least make a little math to see if it’s worth it.
No one winks if this happens in movies, but heaven forbid if happens in a videogame
The level of harshness the mainstream media shows the video game industry’s evolution is rarely seen against any other industry, why is that?, we have seen greater displays of senseless violence
, foul language
and sexual situations
in music, tv or movies in mainstream media than most video games. The reason is simply that it’s much easier to bash and demonize a raising industry that has still to gain true mainstream acceptance, especially when said industry keeps allowing it by accepting and kneeling to the critics every complaint.
Some of the news as of the time of this writing seem to give glimmers of hope for a change, Sega deciding not to publish Aliens vs Predator in Germany
rather than having to completely alter the game to comply to the strict laws that country is famous for seems a like a bold and brave move aimed at making people aware to the need for better, updated laws. Australia’s only man holding back the creation of a 18+ rating seems to be facing an imminent firing
from his position thanks to voters tired of putting up with the constant deprivation of quality games aimed at adults, getting a watered down version
or paying extra money to import a non-censored version on account of said man’s near sighted opinion. Even the display of common sense by England’s Labour MP Tom Watson in response to Keith Vaz’s distortion of the truth
(something rarely seen in the world of politics) is incredibly encouraging.
Video games truly began shedding the “gamez r 4 kidz lol” image quite a while ago. The release of IPs like God of War which features an unapologetic violent and dark main character that is clearly aimed at an adult public, the upcoming Heavy Rain which promises a whole new level of maturity in storytelling and even the Wii’s influence in bringing gaming to previously apathetic or even opposing crowds (soccer moms and senior people) has created a really positive atmosphere for the acceptance of gaming as the art form and powerful narrative medium it IS.
One of the internet’s pearls of wisdom is “don’t feed the troll”, following that same idea, publishers MUST stop feeding the shallow political correctness and scapegoating seen so often in politicians, defense groups and so called professionals journalists, the first step to do that is stop being submissive and running to make excuses about your design decisions every time one of the aforementioned feels like getting a little ego boost or support from people by using populist attacks against your work. Bad parenting, unscrupulous salesmen that sell kids adult material and politicians low approval rates are not your responsibility, proper mechanisms to control the distribution of games to their intended audience have been created already and the fact that they are poorly or not enforced ant all it’s not your fault, so stop apologizing and taking the blame for it. Make us proud to be your followers and customers, take the brave first step by disregarding ignorance when spewed at you or if you feel truly bold simply answer “FUCK OFF!” and we’ll be right there to support you.
Note: i took the liberty of using an image from an old post from this site, if there is a problem with that let me know and i'll nuke it.
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