Monday, December 20, 2010

Story depth, sexism and equality

"Jeanne, next time just keep the long hair, ask nicely for that breastplate and bring your girlfriend too."

(Edit 21. Dec.: to avoid any confusion, the blog entries and comments I quoted have now disappeared)

Ah, reality check today. This is going to be long again. A few days ago I linked you people to Alazander's community check during my long Obsidian rant. Who would've thought it'd stir up the trouble it did? I don't ask you to read it all, instead I'll quote a few passages that lead to the argument. It raises some interesting thoughts really.

"I see 300+ page threads dedicated to an upcoming companion's chest hair, and I wonder if the earnest D&D or RPG enthusiasts of the past are now huddling in a corner staring in slack-jawed terror at the teenage girls who have taken over the establishment."

Aahh... my my, bad mistake. Seriously, in the whole context of that long post I didn't stumble over that one, or let's better say, I got the bigger meaning without assuming he's actually blaming girls for the downfall of all roleplaying communities. It was a cynical remark, irrelevant. Let's hop into the comments section now...

"But I'm sorry - the problem with the RPG community today is that teenage girls have "taken over"? Are you serious?"

Other points made in that comment are totally valid, it was just that I hadn't read the same into the post as this person did... moving on in the comments it's getting too much to quote really, people got really upset about this one line and that Alazandar called The Witcher's gritty setting "refreshing" compared to Bioware's "we cater everyone" policy.

"I always like to use The Witcher as a good example of game that sails close to the edge to present a believable world, at the risk of offending or alienating significant groups of people. Not that I think that is a good thing in general, but it’s a breath of fresh occasionally."

That was apparently just feeding the fire and even took it over to other blogs with statements like...

"I think I’m most amused/bewildered by the claim that political correctness is so rampant that games with sexist/oppressive settings and content are a “breath of fresh air”. Like tossca said, I… really don’t know where to start. :/"

"I think statements about how misogyny or other sorts of oppressiveness are “a breath of fresh air” are a bit indicative of what the person in question thinks the world should be like.
Which is clearly indicative that nobody should take them seriously, because that’s really self centered thinking and yeah. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t seem to have caught on."

"His breath of fresh air stinks for everyone else."

Now, short break here, to get that part out of the way. Up to the point where the first person argued about the truth behind the "teenage girl" statement I can agree that the words weren't exactly well chosen. The "girls part" was meaningless to me, I think those of us who stare in awe at the Bioware Social Community all get the bigger meaning... those boards appear like a chatroom with so much babbling about nonsense like, cough... chest hair... that one's getting close to a seizure. I was following the boards when Dragon Age was new and yes, they changed faster than lines in a chatroom, with the most frequented topics being about character look and who's the cutest bunny and that.

It's not important if it was teenage girls or males who started those, although we all know girls chat faster ;-) (yeah, joke, but call me sexist now if you like). Moving on to the part about male sexism on those boards and teenage males opening dozens of threads about boob size... all valid, sure, teenage males are horrible, teenage girls too, can we move on? The point is that more serious modders feel a bit lost in the kindergarden, not if it's teenage girls or teenage males who started it.

But, since the sexism topic came up now, let's stay there and look at Alazander's new post.

I don't want gaming to become the equivalent of Mass Effect's medi-gel and omni-tools: all-purpose, all-inclusive, homogenized. I refer to the mechanics, yes, but also the stories, the characters, the themes. This is particularly important for RPGs because they form so much of the experience. When one comes along that doesn't knowingly dull its edges to avoid potentially offending someone -- and even BioWare's games do, on occasion -- I'll stand and applaud the artistic integrity instead of screaming blue murder.

Phew... so much for the background... you might've noticed I left a comment there already long enough for a blog post.

Let's make this part short now. Yes, I agree completely with him and I think the Witcher is a great, great game, to a large part for being so different to the homogenized rest. What are we really looking for in a fantasy game? A truly medieval feel or rather a game that caters everyone at the same level? If the latter, how many opportunities for a great story are really there and how many lost? A matter of taste maybe?

So, if I want to make a commercially successful Middleforest, I'll make sure that the world feels all the same to men, women, lesbians, gays, probably a few more. Yes, that's the Bioware recipe. Modern canadian liberal political correctness, as Alazandar called it. May I add.... boring?

Yes, I think Bioware games get more boring lately. I still enjoyed Mass Effect 2, but I don't feel the urge to play it again.
Dragon Age was great, and I especially loved it for the origins, but it dulls out a bit after those.

Let's not forget by the way that DA:O was years in development, they started long before being bought up by EA. Now, the latest developments though don't really spike my interest anymore. I don't care much for Mass Effect 3, and for sure not for Dragon Age 2 which appears to be just a medieval Mass Effect. And may I add that I have my doubts that these games can be really deep and epic anymore with only one year of development and always following the same successful recipe?

No, a game I want to make would be closer to the Witcher's world than to Bioware's standards now.
Do you read into that that I want to make a world in that only heterosexual male players are catered, that female players, or homosexuals or whatever fun you have in your life, characters are not welcome? No, dammit, they should be strong in numbers! But please, don't expect the same treatment. Why? Because it's absolutely unrealistic, it's boring, it ignores so many opportunities for great stories.

Even Bioware was still doing it at one point - play the female City Elf origin in Dragon Age: Origins.
Sadly, they didn't continue this way throughout the game... but even without the gender now... how many people thought it was a brilliant idea that elves or the lower born dwarves are the outcasts, the scum, nothing but slaves in that game and had to fight against all the odds?

Ah yes, as long as it's just a fantasy race, it's a great idea... but telling a story about a woman who has to fight against the odds in a realistic sexist and gritty world is no good idea? Or a gay warrior who has to keep his orientation a secret in a world that would burn him for his sin? That wouldn't make fantastic stories?
Well, just look at literature and real history. Who'd give a damn f*uck what Jeanne d'Arc has done if every second soldier/knight in the army had been a woman during that time? She'd surely not be holy by now, she'd be forgotten.
Would Mary Read and Anne Bonnie still be remembered? What for? There were more successful pirates at the time, they had no males to fight against, and since female sailors/pirates who dress like males and have a same gender affair are considered utterly normal and plain boring...

"Just a snapshot of some average girls in their day job, nothing to see here.

In my comment I took "The Pillars Of The Earth" as an example. Did this book cause an uprise among female readers (who apparently bought it) for treating women not politically correct? The women in this book are usually treated like scum, most of them raped at least once, and yet they are the most memorable characters... because they fight against all odds.

The Witcher created a world that is not even that gritty, but surely closer to medieval society than Bioware's games are. And yet, most players still remember most of the female NPCs clearly because they stood out. And not for their boobs. It's just been three months since I played Mass Effect 2, I barely remember the storyline or the characters anymore. Sure I remember Liara-cutiepie still, but honestly, isn't she just a sweet little modern teenager with not much depht at all? I wasn't really impressed by any of those characters, and if there's anything I remember of that Miranda Lawson in Mass Effect 2, it's surely her rearside and a suit so detailed that I'd call it more sexist than the whole tarot card collection in The Witcher.

"Miranda Lawson (Mass Effect 2) - modelling that gap between her legs was surely a necessity. Honi soit qui mal y pense."

Triss Merigold though, I surely remember her from the Witcher, and I'm sure her character would eat any of the Mass Effect chicks for breakfast.

Last, because I'm only rambling again and will probably edit every 2nd sentence later for making sure I'm not misunderstood - Michael has posted a great blog entry a (long) while ago, he's a much better writer and much smarter than me anyway. Make sure to read all of it, not just this little quote that should conclude this post.

"We can't solve the ills of society in a little blog post. But, by extension, neither can we solve them in a game. And really, should we? If conflict is the center of storytelling, isn't the base conflict of woman versus the limitations of society compelling? I've seen character backstories by the truckload that deal with a woman being driven to a life of adventure to escape the chains of an arranged marriage, and nine times out of ten, the conflict stops there. Women in fantasy, it seems, are only chained by society at some distant point in the past. They make a decision to not be the puppets of men and then everything is roses from there. Surely, fantasy is a wondrous thing!


Being a woman in S&S takes strength. Being a woman and an adventurer, doubly so. The conflict that births that strength should be played up, not down; such resolve in the face of injustice is the thing people tell stories about long after things have changed... if they ever do."

1 comment:

Michael A. Sinclair said...

Well said! And not just because you quoted me. :)

Fantasy is, or should be, a mirror that we hold up to reality. It's a way to see what truly is by examining it from some other, refreshing angle. And yes, it's wonderful to have a fantasy in which you see things as they could be rather than as they are. However, presenting a utopian (in whole or in part) world is both an irresponsible and ineffective way to do that. Victory is found not through the fiat of the author but through the struggle of the characters. It cheapens the story and, by extension, the accomplishments of those who have been in the story.

Would write more, but this is your blog, not mine. :P