CD Projekt Red is in luke warm water (again) for the way in which it treats marginalized communities. I don’t want to relitigate for now. I will say I played the original Witcher. I’m still making my way through 2. I want to play them in order and I’m slow. I’m familiar with the way in which you can collect sexy ladies you bed. I’m not over it, but I have in some ways made my peace with the fact that overwhelmingly good games can have awful creators and problematic mechanisms. I tire of isolating myself from all the good games to send some paltry message to creators who, on balance, feel zero pain from my abstention. Instead, I pick my battles, and we’ll see where this leads, but I’m coming back to CD Projeckt Red later.
Right now I’m playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I love it despite the fact that I have always preferred the stealth-centric goals of the original few games. I was raised on Metal Gear Solid, and I find the challenge of making my way through a sea of enemies without confronting them more fun than dealing with them outright. That said, I think Ubisoft has done a wonderful job of allowing the player to weave in and out of alertness, so I don’t feel half as encumbered by the rare occasion where I deign to take everyone out with a heavy club. Sometimes, Kassandra and I have places to be. Time is of the essence.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I love playing as Kassandra. This was sorely missing from gaming when I was younger. There’s something powerful about seeing a person like you on screen, something that you don’t quite know is missing until it’s present, and even worse when taken away. I assume the latter part is why some of the gaming community resents the so-called incursion of under-represented minorities into “their” territory — territory I had been traversing long before many of them were born, mind you.
Much has already been written about the need for representation in gaming, both in who makes games and who shows up in games. I’ve walked that road but don’t feel like hashing out the academic argument of what it means to have diversity in games
Instead, I think about what it means to be a part of a community and to build a culture. See, for me, gaming is the thing that taught me how to read. It’s how I spent Sundays with my dad when it got dark at 4:00 pm during February. We’d fire up the Super Nintendo – I remember how many frustrating wires it took to set up the thing – and play through The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I tried, in vain, to pronounce Sahasrahla, and my dad waited patiently (kind of) while we took turns playing.
Now I see gaming friends raising kids, including a lot of daughters. It’s such an interesting flip. I met many of these now-fathers online when they were boys, usually on old VBulletin forums, before online gaming was ubiquitous and most of us were still playing Final Fantasy 7 and Silent Hill. I grew up with these guys; I can count the number of other girls on that site with one hand. I disagreed with them a lot on politics and gaming. The common refrain today is that the intersection of the two is novel. It’s not, though the sophistication, scale, and intentionality of the merger has upgraded.
I was raised in a Republican house and most of my peers were young liberals (I don’t want to speak to party identification because not everyone was American and these are loose affiliations at a young age.) Nevertheless, when it came to race and gender in games, we flipped. Suddenly I was contending that games needed more people, especially women, on screen, and that this made sense from a practical and artistic perspective. The guys handwaved the issue as a nice-to-have but that’s about it. I was questioning the value of an implied sexual assault scene in Silent Hill (note: I don’t enjoy horror games so I didn’t belabor this argument much as I didn’t have first hand experience with the specific scene.) Again, hand-waving.
This was before 4chan became the whole of gaming, so they were never trolling or threatening. This was not the ethos of the forum and proto-social networks were partitioned enough to avoid sub-cultural brigading. They simply didn’t think it was a big deal or a priority, which is almost peaceful and quaint compared to the energy gamers devote to gatekeeping today.
Anyone reading this might be wondering what all this has to do with CD Projekt Red. Here it is: I’m part of this community, and the people in it mean something to me. I’ve invested in the gaming sub-culture as much as, if not more, than the gamer standing next to me. More important, I respect a lot of people in it already, and I would like to respect more, but I don’t feel like they respect me.
When we talk about why people are upset about lack of representation, I don’t actually think it has much to do with the academic arguments we all make, and to which I subscribe. I think those arguments matter, but it’s not the thing that truly galvanizes me to speak up. Rather, these people are supposed to be peers with whom I have fun, and it is a profound mark of disrespect to dismiss out of hand what concerns your peers. More like it says “You’re not my peer,” and not in a good way.
That’s what grinds my gears. It’s not the exclusion per se, but the acute hurt that this is a space where I made friends and now the space we helped cultivate and grow summarily tossed me out. It tossed me out because a decent portrayal of women is seen as an affront to groups of people who, despite feeling marginalized by other groups, cannot step in the shoes of other truly marginalized groups, and welcome them into the fold.
I think a lot about the daughters my friends are raising. I wonder if they’ll go online in a few years and make friends and start playing games, much like I did. This whole ecosystem is vast and storied compared to what it looked like when I arrived on scene. There’s so much to be built and created, so many imaginative paths to walk down and pretend to be someone different or someone you dreamt up on your own (if the game includes you, anyway.) Will they be besieged by unwelcome messages and pictures? Will they tell their dads? Will their dads care, and will they appreciate that the culture we built is, at the least, enabling the mistreatment of their kids? Have their minds, like mine, changed?
The joke is that all roads lead to Gamergate – the internecine game magazine dispute that launched a thousand tweets and many, many bomb threats – but it’s not far off. My dad subsists on a steady diet of Fox News, PragerU, and Pajamas Media. He knows about Gamergate. I don’t talk to my dad much unless my mom asks me to. We’ve come a long way from playing Zelda together.