Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
Emails from the Edge - Redux

Robert B. Marks | 10 Jun 2015 16:00
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Garwulf's Corner

All things considered, I may need to rename these installments "Forum Posts from the Edge" in the future. There's tradition behind it, however - Garwulf's Corner was inspired in large part by a Harlan Ellison column titled An Edge in my Voice - "Emails from the Edge" is a tribute to that column.

Regardless, welcome to the first feedback installment of the resurrected, reincarnated Garwulf's Corner! Back when the column first ran on, every seventh installment involved me sifting through my reader mail and sharing some of the best and most interesting comments. But, that was 2000-2002, and this is 2015 - back in the 'day, there weren't any forums attached to the column, so the feedback came directly to me. Today, most of the discussions take place on The Escapist forums ... so that is where we shall go.

(I wish I could quote more than a small fraction of the comments, but there is a space constraint, and I can only do two or three comments per installment at most. So, please forgive me if your comment wasn't quoted - there were a lot of worthy ones that I had to pass by.)

Installment number 1, "Riding the Waves of Controversy and the Strange Case of Loot," generated a delightful and active discussion. Fappy started it off with:

Riding controversy is a valid tactic. You can call these people opportunists all you want, but in the end it's the suckers who fall for their facade that bring them success. Sure, you can resent the person for it, but it doesn't make them any less clever for playing you like a fiddle and laughing all the way to the bank.

MoltenSilver was one of a number of readers who questioned just what was behind the Reddit rant that started it all:

Usually I'm the very first person to disagree with Hanlon's Razor (For those not aware, Hanlon's Razor is: 'Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity') but even I find weighing 'Ego-defending incompetent film-maker looking to externalize his problems' vs 'Cold-blooded PR genius' to be a rather one-sided competition given the evidence. That's not to say that since it's happened the person might be trying to exploit it, but I sincerely doubt this was some master plan from the start.

Issue #2, "Steve and the Diversity Onion", was also the start of a great discussion, on no less than two separate sub-forums. Jardinsky raised a point that game developers might just see protagonists like "Steve" as the safer option:

I think a large part of the reason game writers stick with Steve is you can do anything you want to him. You can stab him, shoot him, poison him, set him on fire, pull out his teeth, threaten to rape him, actually rape him, cut off limbs, and blow him up. Now make him gay and wait for the games media to write articles about your studio is homophobic. Or make him a woman and wait for the games media to write articles about your studio is misogynistic. Or make him black and wait for the games media to write articles about your studio is racist. Or you can just stick with Steve and just have to deal with articles complaining that characters in games aren't diverse enough.

Bentusi16 suggested that the call for diversity might be a bit premature:

The call for diversity is nice and all, but until we get to the point where we are creating COMPELLING characters, slapping "Stephanie" on there is not actually furthering the goal of having good, interesting female characters. Because we can't even get good, interesting MALE characters yet. We just happen to have a lot of them.

And LaoJim suggested that perhaps things are not quite as bad as I had suggested:

So sure there are a more than a few Steve's there, but I'd hardly call it endemic. Possibly if we looked back a few years the picture would be a bit different. And there are definitely some games where the Stevieness of the characters is particularly jarring (I stopped playing Red Faction Armageddon half-way through recently, mainly due to the utter blandness and unlikability of the protag). Clearly women protags don't have parity with men, but we still get at least some big budget games with female protags and games like Sunset Overdrive, which once would probably have had a fixed (male) protag are now offering customization. It's also noticeable that there is not a single game which has a black protag as its main character. I guess what I'm saying is things are neither as bad as they are made out to be, or as good as they could be in terms of representation.

It was a wonderful discussion, and about the only thing I'd add is to point out that, in the end, diversity is about adding new perspectives - if you're implementing it by replacing or taking away perspectives, you're doing it wrong.

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