Originally published June 10, 2015
If there was a “secret weapon” that this column had for enabling civil discussion and creating a bona fide marketplace of ideas, it was these feedback installments. Once you prove that you aren’t just talking about wanting a marketplace of ideas, but are willing to create one and tolerate opposing viewpoints without judgement, readers will not only start meeting you half-way when you write about something controversial, but they’ll keep doing it for as long as you’re willing to throw ideas around.
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 Diabloii.net, 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 Steves 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.
Garwulf #3, “Why Interstellar is An Important Science Movie, and Other Matters” didn’t generate quite the heated debate of the previous installments, but an active and fascinating discussion arose nonetheless. Freaper’s comment was so good, it deserves to be quoted almost in full:
Looking at things like the facebook page “I love science” or just the sheer amount of technological gadgets being produced over the past few decades would make you believe that hard science couldn’t have found more fertile soil. But you’re right, our faith in science as a driving force for human advancement seems to have declined, faith here being the keyword.
I believe science should be viewed as a religion, not the dogmatic, bullshit-feeding kind, but the genuine, all-encompassing type. Whether or not this is what science is about — it’s not — is really not important, but the fact that the global community can rally behind this itch for discovery is, to me, a beautiful thing, and Interstellar managed to scratch that itch for me, too.
In a long post that is well worth the read, Therumancer challenged the idea that science and religion will come into conflict when they meet:
…at the end of the day I think the problem with scientific advancement has less to do with religion in a general sense, at least not in the first world, and far more to do with politics, culture, and human nature. As a general rule religion and science can get along quite well, the foundations for a lot of modern scientists actually came from some rather ingenious monks who over the years fathered fields of study like genetics. There have of course been exceptions, but as a general rule evolution is one of the few places where science and religion conflict that heavily, there are others, but usually they work themselves out.
And, to Rutger5000, who quite correctly chided me for dropping the bombshell that we managed to break the light barrier years ago without providing a link, here is one to the experiment I was talking about: <http://physics.aps.org/story/v5/st23> — sorry about that, Rutger, and good catch.
If a minority character in a story shares space with non-minority characters and should play and equal role in telling the story but doesn’t, you also have a token character. If I were to write a story about 4 women who are fleeing their abusive husbands and I spend time exploring the backgrounds of three white women in depth and detail and then hand-wave the black woman’s backstory, I will have made a token character of her whether her race is important to that backstory or not.
Dyspaper took issue with my example of Gwen from Merlin, stating that I had overlooked something:
With magic, dragons, ghosts, trolls and a menagerie of other mythical entities that are more than capable of being a real threat, the shade of someone’s skin in the “us vs. them” mentality that drives most of the ‘-isms’ would be about as relevant as the colour of their hair. In that scenario it makes perfect sense for her ethnicity to have little to no impact in relation to the character or her interactions with others, while drawing attention to it would have moved her into the realm of being a token.
The final word on Garwulf #4, I think, should go to RJ Dalton, who pointed out that:
…there are times when the character’s race having no meaning actually is the point. Uhura from Star Trek…is an example. Star Trek was aiming to present a world in which humanity had evolved beyond the prejudices of the old world, so casting a black woman as a person having a major role on the ship and then drawing no attention to it whatsoever actually made a heavy point, IE “This is what the world should be like.”
I don’t have much background with the British Robot Wars but I was around BattleBots. From a competitor’s point of view much more was allowed at BattleBots and it had a higher maximum weight. Robot Wars allowed fire but wouldn’t have allowed lot of the more destructive robots that competed at BattleBots because of the safety issues of an open topped arena.
The British show was definitely easier to watch though. Though, to give an idea of what the attendees of BattleBots thought about presentation, I remember that Carmen couldn’t get the audience to give the sound guys a cheer. As for the competitors in the pits they were just there to have fun and hang out with other people who shared their passion. The events themselves were a blast full of activity where the best seats in the house were on an AC duct near the ceiling and half the bathrooms didn’t work. Great times.
Captain1nsaneo-J also recommends, for those who are interested in checking out some of the smaller events, looking into Robogames.
Garwulf #6, “Hatred and the Blank Slate,” generated a relatively active discussion, but also one which may have suffered a bit from “Hatred controversy fatigue” (for lack of a better term). SecondPrize disagreed with me, suggesting that:
A NPC representing any enemy doesn’t cover placing an arsenal of plastic explosives just behind them and giggling when you trigger them. If we attached any weight to the context presented, we’d act like robots, doing what we needed to get past obstacles and that’s it. We don’t do that. We play around. We test the engine. We test the limits of what we can do. We do this because the only context that actually sticks is that these are games. In that context, Hatred is exactly the same as any other shooter.
Ishal suggested that Hatred crosses the line into art:
I’ve heard people say games should be considered art. In regards to ART, I’ve often heard that art is supposed to ask a question. The developers have stated, “Player has to ask himself, what can push any human being to mass murder?”
In a world where this kind of thing is so depressingly commonplace, is this not a pertinent question to ask? Is there no value for art to be asking this question?
For some to write this off as valueless because it doesn’t fit in with their own understanding of art, that is the absolute pinnacle of shallowness and shallow thought.
And on that note, it’s time to bring this “Emails from the Edge” to a close. So, until next time, keep reading and keep commenting!