Saturday, 21 June 2014

Bad Guys Do Bad Things

Recently there's been a lot of controversy over the Far Cry 4 box art, with allegations of racism thrown at Ubisoft by a few parties and a number of large debates started around the subject.

One thing that I've seen again and again in comments and on twitter and a number of other places online where the controversy has flared is the idea that the developers could be racist for including this kind of content in their game, or for putting imagery that could be considered racist on the cover.

This reminds me very much of Batman: Arkham City and the accusations of sexism that were pointed at the developers around the time of release.
The controversial subject there being that villains would start to use the word "bitch" when playing as catwoman.
I even saw quite a few people taking offence to the racism touched on in Bioshock Infinite around release too, and began to make claims of Ken Levine and the developers at Irrational Games must be racist to include it in their game.
This strange lack of ability to disconnect an artist from their creation is actually quite worrying to me, but also seems very hypocritical in many ways.
Notice that all of these allegations are made only in the face of racism or sexism being displayed in a game, yet when news outlets claim that the extreme violence in games is concerning and express fear towards the developers the entire gaming community will unite in their defence.
Because we know that developers aren't murderous, violent people, and that the sometimes horrifically violent content they create is no reflection of who they are as human beings.

Just as it's possible to write violent content without being a violent person, it's every bit as possible to write racist, sexist and generally prejudiced content without in turn subscribing to any of those beliefs.
And why would you want to include prejudices in a game should you be against them?
Because they exist, and sad as that may be this continued existence earns them the right to a place in our media.
Racism is an aspect of human society that has had a drastic impact on numerous historic events and even today has a huge impact on peoples lives, and though we can create worlds within our media that never even acknowledge it's existence, deciding not to do so isn't an endorsement of racism, it's an acknowledgement that this issue still exists.

Of course there are creators out there who will make content that is genuinely racist and will attempt to spread a harmful message, but it's important that we isolate these as opposed to blaming anybody who approaches the subject.
Looking at a racist act taking place in a game isn't in its self racist, the context of the act however, is.
Should the game encourage and reward prejudiced acts from the player, and treats the acts as a positive thing then we have some cause for concern, but looking at examples such as Bioshock where it is quite clearly painted in a negative light, far more as a message against racism than anything in defence of it.

The first time we see racism in Bioshock also happens to be the moment Collumbia turns from a blissful paradise to a battleground, a location full of dehumanised villains for us to defeat.
When players act against the racism they are clearly rewarded for their actions later on in the game, where no such reward exists should you simply play to the crowd.
In all of the games mentioned the prejudices people are taking offence against are being performed by the villains in each tale.

Batman and other heroic character are not making sexist slanders towards catwoman, the murderous villains you are there to defeat are.
The one thing we know about the character on the box art of Far Cry 4 is that he is the villain.

Portraying bad people doing bad things is something that makes perfect sense.
It gives us reason to dislike these characters, it gives us reason to act against them.
People who dislike slander against women can see the difference in the way the villains and heroes treat catwoman and can punish the villains for their wrongdoing.
Obviously violence is often not the most productive way to deal with bad people, but in the fictional universes in which these games take place it often is.

The one big thing to take away from this is the consideration of the effect this may have on developers.
If every time a developer includes content like this in their game they are slandered regardless of context, we may just end up scaring a lot of developers away from the topics entirely.
But only those who might actually have something positive to contribute.
Including smaller messages about prejudices in game could pave the way to a developer dedicating a game to look at the topics in much greater detail, with Gone Home being a wonderful example of a developer looking at a prejudice and deciding to send out a message acting against it within the medium.

Ignoring problems doesn't cure them, and creating a world where developers are scared to show prejudices in their games is only leaving new generations to learn those disciplines from other places.
But if instead we can concentrate on weeding out the bad examples and allowing those games that show prejudices as bad things to continue spreading that message we will end up with a wonderful array of content that may just subtly lay a foundation against racism, sexism and homophobia in the minds of it's players.
Because we need to teach the world that it isn't right by example, not by averting our eyes.
Pretending that racism doesn't exist in the world is doing nothing to counteract it, but educating all we can about why it is bad is doing all we can to make sure future generations know better.
Be that a casual talk explaining things to somebody, or subliminally teaching them that those with the belief are the bad guys in cartoons or games.

Exposure is the key to enlightenment, knowledge is power.
Ignorance however, is very rarely the answer.