Options in Games – Dealing with Discrimination
Now for your regularly scheduled post. Today’s writing is inspired by the news that Electronic Arts is being targeted for their optional same-sex relationships in their games (namely, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3). People like Stephen Fry are helping to direct people to support EA and encourage them to not bow to the likes of the hateful, fearful people who can only be classified as anti-preferences-different-from-theirs in this situation.
I’ve been to college. I have a degree. I’ve been overseas to study abroad. I’ve read a lot of books (mostly science fiction and fantasy, but still). I’ve played a lot of games. I’ve met a lot of people and creatures, both fictional and real, human and otherwise. Nowhere in any of my experiences, fictional or factual, have I found that discrimination against people based on their personal preferences is actually helpful or friendly or society and world building. Sure, I’ll discriminate against certain foods I don’t like (allergies suck) or I won’t buy from one company due to past experiences with their products, but these things don’t apply to people in the same way.
Let me try to put this another way…
When you sit down to enjoy a game or television show or movie or book or movement of music or piece of art… do you particularly care about the preferences of the person or persons who contributed to the creation of that thing you’re about to enjoy? I know I don’t and I have a feeling that most people don’t. How about that meal you’re about to go out and enjoy? Will you still eat it if you know the person who made that pizza (or whatever) has preferences counter to your own? Of course you will, you’re still hungry. How does knowing that an artist has homosexual preferences keep you from enjoying his or her art? It’s irrelevant information to the object at hand and the painting is still beautiful, the music still stirring, the book still compelling, the movie still entertaining, the game still fun.
Now, let’s take this a step further… games are one of the only artistic mediums where you can choose your experience as it happens. You can’t choose to just skip portions of a book or movie because they’re linear mediums: taken in order and from beginning to end. Music and art are entirely subjective, so they don’t enter into this (basically, you see what you want to see in music and art, so in a sense, if you’re seeing homosexuality in some of those things, you’re probably seeing more of yourself in them than you know… just saying it’s possible). Games on the other hand can be non-linear. You can miss things, skip others, react differently in the game than your friends and have wholly different experiences now. In Mass Effect, you could choose to have a relationship (as a male) with Liara, Ashley, or no one or (as a female) with Liara, Kaiden, or no one (admittedly, Liara is a special case as she’s not HUMAN so she doesn’t really count). In Mass Effect 2, they added a lot more potential relationships, but it wasn’t until Mass Effect 3 that they allowed for truly homosexual same species relationships (for the males, there’s Cortez and Kaiden and for the females, Traynor and Ashley). I recall from my experiences, I sat down with Kaiden at a table on the Presidium Commons to have a heart to heart and patch stuff up from the previous game and I was surprised that I even had the option to pursue a relationship with him. It wasn’t my thing, so I CHOSE to pass on it. He’s my friend and my brother, but more importantly, I didn’t get forced into doing something I didn’t want to do. You know, just like in real life.
I understand being afraid of things that are different. I’m terrified of spiders and Reapers, Borg, Zombies, and anything else I can’t potentially negotiate with… however, that’s no reason to be selfish about it. Just because I can’t stand spiders doesn’t mean other people can’t have them as pets. Hey, if they stay out of my way, I’m cool with them more or less (but God help them if they get within sight of me AND I’m at home… they aren’t paying rent and they’re creepy as hell!).
So, to those of you who are angry at a game developer for providing options I say, play around it. There’s a workaround in the game, so create a workaround in your life. Besides, what are you really truly afraid of? Scared you’ll see something you like in the infinite possibilities out there? I didn’t like a lot of things until I tried them… guacamole for one (seriously, it’s tasty). The old adage “don’t knock it until you try it” applies here, but also Wheaton’s Law: don’t be a dick. Seriously, get over it. People are different from you and if you want those people to treat you nicely and with deference to your perspectives and opinions you’re going to have to bite the bullet and treat THEM nicely and with deference to THEIR perspectives and opinions.
Speaking of Wheaton, let me put forth this: in Star Trek, we don’t see these issues so much. In Star Trek there’s this utopian society on Earth. We got rid of poverty and starvation, disease is being fought off and we’re winning against it. There’s no economy because we got rid of currency and now everyone can just focus on being themselves and working together for the betterment of their community, their city, county, state, country, world, and the United Federation of Planets. In Star Trek, socialism is a reality but it’s not that evil phrase that people bandy about today. There may be episodes here and there that have discrimination in it, but on Earth, in Starfleet, you can do what you want, be who you want, and still be a respected and valued member of society. That’s all that anyone wants… to be respected and valued. Think towards the future and respect and value your fellows regardless of their perspectives and they will respect and value you regardless of yours and when we achieve that, we will have reached the heights of humanity.
A final thought here and then I’ll put this to bed… art as a whole encourages us to think, to bear witness to our environment… it makes us smile, cry, laugh, yell, scream, and all the other things. It helps us remember that one professor from a time long ago or is emblematic of something less tangible. Art is powerful and it speaks to the humanity inside all of us. The art in question today, Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, aren’t just games, they’re social conventions that have brought millions together with shared and diverse experiences. The joy and glory is in the choices we’re allowed to make in these games. I’m certain many people have similar experiences, but no two people will have exactly the same one. It comes down to the person sitting at the keys or controller… the game is the same, but the decisions you make, the battles you fight, they are yours. If you choose to be in a homosexual relationship, you get to reap the rewards of your decision to do so. You are not penalized for being you. There are a thousand ways to climb the mountain and there may be a thousand more we haven’t found. Take pride in being special, but be humble enough to take pride in other people’s special qualities as well.
Until next time, be good to each other. We’re all we have.
P.S. “Every day, here and at home, we are warned about the enemy. But who is the enemy? Is it the alien? Well, we are all alien to one another. Is it the one who believes differently than we do? No, oh no, my friends. The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you. And that same hate will destroy you.” – Reverend Dexter, Babylon 5 “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place”
P.P.S. “The Universe speaks in many languages but only one voice. A language which is not Narn or Human or Centauri or Gaim or Minbari. It speaks in the language of hope. It speaks in the language of trust. It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion. It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul; but always it is the same voice; it is the voice of our ancestors speaking through us, and the voice of our inheritors waiting to be born; it is the small still voice that says: “We are one.” No matter the blood, no matter the skin, no matter the world, no matter the star. We are one. No matter the pain, no matter the darkness, no matter the loss, no matter the fear. We are one. Here, gathered together in common cause we agree to recognize this singular truth and this singular rule: that we must be kind to one another. Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us, and each voice lost diminishes us. We are the voice of the universe, the soul of creation, the fire that will light the way to a better future. We are one.” – G’Kar’s Declaration of Principles for the Interstellar Alliance, Babylon 5 “A Paragon of Animals”
P.P.P.S. “Now, if this bothers you, I suggest you stay in your quarters, stick your fingers in your ears, and hum real loud until it’s over! Unless you’d like to try something as breathtakingly rational as trying to open up a dialog?” – John Sheridan, Babylon 5 “The Coming of Shadows”