Offense And Critique Are Not The Same Thing

I’m here today to talk about a very important thing that seems to have flown over the head of many people who write about video games for a living: Offense and critique are not the same thing. Pointing out problems about how certain things are dealt with in video games is not suppressing anyone’s free speech. Saying that maybe Crystal Dynamics could handle a girl going through some hellish scenario better if they took an approach other than Lara Croft: Moe Raider is not suppressing anyone’s expression. But that will apparently never stop people from screeching about how their rights about being trampled on.

Today’s edition of “I Can Say What I Want Because Free Speech America!!!” is brought to you by Colin Moriarty’s fantastically amazing opinion piece at IGN entitled “The Problem With Political Correctness in Video Games“. From that headline alone you know you are getting a treat, yes? The fact is that 9 out of 10  (and I may be underestimating here) times someone waves the “political correctness is evil” flag what they are really saying is that they don’t want to think about something critically. Moriarty’s piece is a shining example of this. It’s a lazy way to dismiss people and ideas that challenge your worldview.

I’m going to directly address the major problems I found in Moriarty’s piece. Everything in blockquotes is pulled straight from the piece and I am doing my best to not remove context.

It’s already happened with games such as Six Days in Fallujah and Tomb Raider. Should we succumb to the plight of political correctness and let it ruin the creativity of our industry like it’s corrupted so many other artistic avenues? Or should we stand up and say “anything goes” and encourage the creative minds that give us the games we love to push the envelope, social consequences be damned?

What other artistic avenues have been corrupted by political correctness? Moriarty gives no examples, probably because there are none if you actually think about it. If he thinks that movies and television are not pushing the envelope he is woefully out of touch with those mediums. In the last few years we’ve had movies like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Antichrist and City of Life and Death to name a few. All of these films approach serious topics in very different manners and all of them were unafraid to push that envelope as far as possible. Are you going to tell me an industry that features and celebrates talents like Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick and Michael Haneke has been corrupted and had their creativity ruined? Give me a break. And television has never pushed the envelope harder than it is right now with shows like Breaking Bad and Homeland.

Don’t get me wrong; you can be offended by anything you want. You can let other people’s words, deeds and art get to you however you deem fit. But the second you start confusing your own subjective notion of good taste with what that means for everyone else and project your own offended posture on the rest of us, you’ve crossed the line. When it comes to the game Smite and to the offense the Universal Society of Hinduism takes over the inclusion of Hindu gods in the game, we as a group of dedicated, money-spending enthusiasts should say “enough is enough.” If you don’t like it, don’t consume it. But don’t tell others that they can’t, and don’t ridicule the creators of something because their vision doesn’t fit your own. A trend such as this could very well obliterate developers giving us fresh stories and experiences in gaming moving forward.

This is extremely hypocritical. Moriarty can tell us what to think (“If you don’t like it, don’t consume it”) but we cannot critique anything (“don’t ridicule the creators”). I’m sorry but I think that Hindu people have every right to take offense to their pantheon being exploited (sexy big booby Kali woo!) and complain about it. And since when is a complaint the same as ridicule anyway now that I think about it? And how exactly is sexy Kali a “fresh story”? Oh man, sexy ladies and buff dudes in video games what a fantastic idea never seen that one before. Using pantheons of gods in a game is not a new trope either unless you’ve wiped out the entire MegaTen universe and didn’t tell me.

The recent episode over Tomb Raider illustrates this point rather vividly. Developer Crystal Dynamics dared to allude to sexual assault in protagonist Lara Croft’s story, something deemed over-the-top and inappropriate in gaming by some commentators. This even coerced one of the game’s producers to backtrack on earlier comments, stating that the game has no undertones of sexual assault even though it clearly does. But why should someone feel bad about including something like this in a game? Have you ever seen an episode of Law & Order: SVU? How about the movie The Accused? Why are games held to an entirely different – and completely hypocritical and unfair – standard?

Well maybe if Tomb Raider were addressing the issue like The Accused did people would not have been angry. I mean when the game’s producers comments are “We want you to feel like you have to protect her?” that just shows they are going down the wrong path. I am not even sure how you could bring up The Accused as any kind of comparison here unless the game is actually about Lara Croft fighting the justice system that is stacked against her due to her reputation as a slut.

Before the game producers opened their mouths I had really hoped that it was going to take it seriously and maturely and defended it. I have seen a lot of bad exploitation movies that treat rape as a titillating topic and I didn’t see it in the trailer. When the producers opened their mouths and started talking about Lara Croft–who has been established in other games as a smart, extremely strong lady–as Yet Another Moe Character is ridiculous. How about you treat her like any other character in a game, you are playing as her you should relate to her. You are directly controlling Croft in the game, you are not putting bread crumbs down the NO RAPE HERE path and hoping she follows them.

If you can find a large number of mainstream game that handle sexual violence and the issues that surround it in the same manner of a movie like The Accused or The Virgin Spring you can talk about how games are held to a higher standard.

I could write you a 10,000-word essay on the things that offend me and the issues that are personal. For instance, my father is a now-retired FDNY firefighter. Obviously, as the son of a New York City firefighter, 9/11 hit very close to home for me and my family. We knew a lot of people that died and it instilled something in us that’s indescribable. But when United 93 was released, I didn’t boycott the movie. When people want to rail on and on about conspiracy theories concerning what happened that day, I let them have at it. When some people said that we deserved what happened to us, I profoundly disagree. But I would never, ever tell them that I’m so outright offended by all of this that they should stop and that no one else should hear them out.

This is such a weird paragraph. United 93 is by all accounts a thoughtful and tasteful look at the events that happened on the flight. How on Earth can you equate it to 9/11 truthers? Have you ever thought that if the video game industry handled subjects the same way United 93 handles itself that people wouldn’t have to point out the things it’s doing wrong so often? I mean really if you’re going to complain about any movie dealing with 9/11 it should be Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center. And you know what? People did.

When are we going to acknowledge that this mentality is destructive? When are we going to come to terms with the fact that by strangling creativity because of abstract notions of being offended and hurt feelings, we are doing a major disservice not only to ourselves, but to the people who want to give us new stories full of new ideas? By refusing to address this problem, we are stripping gaming of its ability to be ingenious. We’re telling game creators not to challenge us, not to make us think, not to make us uncomfortable. But I say to game developers, make me think. Challenge me. Make me uncomfortable.

On the contrary when we don’t challenge, think about and critique what game creators give us we are telling them that we don’t want them to rock the boat. Including sexual assault in a game is not rocking the boat just because sexual assault is a terrible thing. Something being uncomfortable does not mean it’s automatically challenging. It can simply mean that it’s morally repugnant. The infamous rape scene in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs or the entirety of the first half of I Spit On Your Grave are both very uncomfortable. But they are not uncomfortable because they are challenging the viewer, they are uncomfortable because they are making terrible acts something to ogle at.

I love video games, and I have played and for the most part liked some video games that have stuff in them that turns my stomach (such as the weird transformation scenes in Ar Tonelico 3). It is because I respect the medium and want to see it grow that I challenge and critique the content in the games that I play. I am somewhat appalled that a member of the media covering video games doesn’t want to challenge things in it and then complains that they’re treated different from movies. That he doesn’t understand the difference between people taking offense and demanding censorship and people pointing out problems. If you want video games to be taken seriously you must treat them like they are serious. That doesn’t mean defending big boobied Kali against detractors, that means examining and challenging stereotypes and topics and encouraging developers to do the same.