GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
I’m really getting tired of having to write columns about so-called adults throwing a toddler-style* temper tantrum over video games, but here we are, only a week after the last one, and dummies are once again being spat out so fast and hard they’re breaking the sound barrier. If you’ve been a video games fan or simply following the gaming press over the last few years, the cause of this week’s meltdown so be no great surprise: there’s a new Mass Effect game out in the shops, so naturally the community’s toads** have come squelching out from underneath their collective rock to croak at the internet.
What’s the problem this time? Well, apparently Mass Effect: Andromeda is “SJW propaganda”. Because…
I actually can’t believe I have to type this.
Apparently, because there are human characters who are not white or straight (sometimes neither! *gasp*) and none of the female characters are “video game hot” or wearing figure-hugging, revealing attire. In a video game set in deep, uncharted space. With unknown dangers. Where maybe, just maybe, thick body armour and insulated space suits are a really, really good idea. But mainly, you know, the “hot women” thing.
Seriously, look at these comments (taken from a single thread on a popular website):
“The females are not nearly as attractive as the males this time around so either the people who modelled the females were incompetent or it was a deliberate decision. If it was the latter then it fits right in with how SJW always complain about sexualisation of women in media.”
In point of fact, from what I’ve seen – I pre-ordered the game but haven’t had the time to play yet, as I’m still halfway through Breath of the Wild – the character models for all genders in Mass Effect: Andromeda look pretty much as they did in the first game of the original trilogy; like real people, albeit in a slightly “uncanny valley” kind of way. But hey, there are no impractical leather catsuits (seriously, as much as I love Tali how in the hell does that skin-tight outfit keeping her alive not get torn or ruptured every five minutes? Especially in combat?), no marketing deals with lingerie manufacturers and no geekgasm celebrities being used as facial models for characters, so hot damn, they must be appeasing feminists!
The focus of this column, however, is not the imagined complaints of an immature, vocal minority who apparently can’t play a video game unless they are in some way aroused, but their subsequent behaviour. You know, I can’t stand football or fetishized military shooters, so I don’t buy, play or offer opinions on the FIFA, Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises. They are not for me, both in terms of gameplay and, yes, personal politics. And you know what? Life goes on. There are literally hundreds of video games released every year that do appeal to me, and I don’t possibly have time to play them all. But this isn’t good enough for the Toddlers; if they don’t like something, if they feel that one title out of one hundred isn’t targeted specifically at them, they have to try to destroy it. So, cue two campaigns of hate.
The first is something which is becoming depressingly common; meta-bombing. Meta-bombing is the act of spamming sites which allow user reviews, such as Amazon, with negative comments and low ratings in order to lower the corresponding aggregate score on sites like Metacritic. The idea is to make the game look terrible so that people who rely on those sites for purchasing advice don’t buy the game, and to “send a message” to the game’s publisher – that message being, of course, “all video games should cater exclusively to white, straight right-wingers starving for masturbation material”. The act has a twisted kind of logic to it, granted, but there are two issues with that: 1) it’s completely arrogant and childish and 2) very few people rely on Metacritic for purchasing advice.
The second is altogether more disturbing. The alt-right elements within the Toddler backlash are attacking one of the game’s designers, Manveer Heir, with a sustained campaign of abuse via blogs, Twitter and publisher EA’s website. In a horrendously strong case of “for every finger that you point there are three more pointing back at you”, Heir is being accused of racism – specifically, in case you couldn’t guess, anti-white sentiment. A look at Heir’s Twitter feed confirms that yes, he is entirely tired of white privilege impacting negatively on his life, and certainly that breeds a certain, understandable level of anger and intolerance, but mostly what he dislikes are oblivious, self-entitled alt-righters yelling abuse at him over the internet because they don’t like a video game that he spent a brief period of his life working on. The saddest part is that Heir no longer works for Bioware or EA; he has his own studio –a fact that is displayed prominently on his profile page – and has no connection the game or its franchise anymore. This doesn’t seem to stop these people from mounting petitions for EA to fire him, however, which only serves to prove that they are bandwagoning against something they know absolutely nothing about.
It is utterly incredible that these things are happening because a video game didn’t meet specific criteria – criteria met by almost every other game on the market - and yet this sort of behaviour seems to be par for the course whenever straight, white men – who, to paraphrase Manveer Heir himself, hate being called straight, white men because they consider themselves “normal” and “the default” – are unhappy that they are not the focus of attention for once. They’re doing nothing but scoring an own-goal, either; every time something like this occurs it achieves nothing but devaluing gamer culture and giving the traditional media and politicians an excuse to attack the industry. They convince people outside the hobby that games are for the immature and the stupid, that games cannot possibly be art when they inspire such childishness; meanwhile, the developers who want to include non-binary, non-cis, non-white, non-male and non-heterosexual characters and plotlines continue to do so, because they are adults making the art that they want to make.
If you’re one of these people throwing a paddy over Mass Effect: Andromeda, I invite you to examine what you’re doing and what you hope to achieve. The game exists, and it’s not going anywhere. You will not stop them getting made because these tantrums are always seen for exactly what they are. Ask yourself whether this is worthy of your time – time that you could spend playing a game that you do like, making your own art, or otherwise putting something positive out into the world. Ask yourself, are your dying words, decades from now, going to be “If only Bioware had made all of the women in Mass Effect look like supermodels…”?
*The temptation these days is to say “Trump-style”, and unsurprisingly there’s distinct overlap between his supporters and the sorts of people who attack the gaming industry when they don’t get their way.
**Not to be confused with ACTUAL toads who, in my experience, are actually quite useful.
With a nod, once again, to Hugh K. David for inspiring the title.
With a nod, once again, to Hugh K. David for inspiring the title.