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Tuesday, Sep 8, 2009
A closer look at a study on men and their relationship with hypersexualized female avatars.
From Mass Effect

From Mass Effect


Several surveys over the past year have pointed out the glaring discrepancy between the treatment of men and women in video games. Although most games show men that have bodies that are just as physically absurd as women, the difference is that women are almost all sexualized and objectified in video games. This often does not vary even if I am actually playing as the character myself. Considering that this a video game, one has to wonder if a player is relating to their avatar in the game the same way that they do an NPC.


The logic behind having me play as a woman in a skimpy outfit with large breasts goes back to a fairly simple discovery in advertising: heterosexual men will pay attention to you if you have one in your commercial. There are basic rules for how to maximize this effect. Skimpy clothing is obviously a factor, but it’s a bit more complicated than just getting naked. A pursed, open mouth indicates submission. Shoulders wide, arms to the side and hanging also arouse attention. Characterizing this sexuality in terms of dialog usually involves the female asking lots of questions or needing the male figure to do something for them. As a consequence of these classic Hollywood and advertising formulas, video games are overflowing with them. Why do you think so many games have a woman, typically very attractive, constantly portrayed as the one giving you orders and asking you to do things? In a medium that targets men with empowerment fantasies, the objectified women in them are often just another part of that formula. And yet when you change the hypersexualized female from a person I’m observing into one that I’m playing as my avatar, none of these concepts work anymore. You are not sexualizing an object for the player’s desire, you are sexualizing the player.


From Tomb Raider

From Tomb Raider


This is the same issue that a study raised a while back, and they were kind enough to post the results on the internet. They applied a two part test to a group of men and women. First, a picture of a hypersexualized female game character was shown to them and they were asked what role they thought she played in the game. The second test presented the subject with two types of games: an FPS where you play a woman and a third person game where you play as either a hypersexualized avatar or a curvy, more reasonably proportioned avatar. Players would randomly start on one kind of game and could switch to the other whenever they chose. They had a set amount of time to play either game. Afterwards the subject filled out a lengthy questionnaire asking how well they identified with the avatar and which game they preferred. The results are not what you’d expect.


For the first part of the study, both men and women immediately noticed the hypersexualized state of the avatar. Although there was a portion of men who thought she might be the damsel in distress, for both genders the overall reaction was to assume that the avatar was the villain or a secondary character. That is, men did not rate the character any more positively than women in terms of liking her.


To summarize the study’s brief description of the sexualized versus curvy avatar, a hypersexual body is a comic book style figure, Curvy is a more normalized ratio of breasts to waist. That is, something that’s physically reasonable. Men both preferred playing as and rated more highly the curvy avatar. Women preferred playing as the hypersexualized avatar. The questionnaire asked men if they would recommend the game to a friend along with their sense of immersion or presence. The study explains, “Men had higher responses on presence and recommending to a male friend when playing as the Curvy figure, whereas women were higher at the Hypersexual figure. In fact, both of these interactions were strengthened. In addition to these two variables, two other engagement variables became significant in the control groups…Men said they would recommend the game to a female friend more often when they played as the Curvy character, while women again indicated higher recommendation when playing the hypersexual avatar.”


From SuicideGirls.com

From SuicideGirls.com


The reasons behind this radical departure from expectation are guessed at in the survey. It explains, “The men may be rejecting the hypersexual’s abnormal stature as ridiculous, as one male participant relayed how they often laugh at such portrayals when they play games featuring such characters. A more realistic body type, while still somewhat idealized in terms of voluptuousness, may provide a better draw for male gamers.” Given the inherently empowering nature of a video game, they further speculated that the discovery that women preferred playing the hypersexual avatar says more about the media’s message to women more than anything else. The study notes, “It cannot be simply concluded that women want to play as such characters, as they did not indicate enjoying playing as these characters, nor were they overtly supportive of them in their appraisals. While they might have had some negative perceptions of the character, this did not prevent them engaging with the game more when playing as that character.” That is, they didn’t particularly like the avatar, but they were more engaged and felt more powerful playing as the hypersexualized one. The study theorizes, “A woman may see such a body type as desirable due to the positioning it has in society as the form required to achieve success, particularly in regards to heterosexual romantic relationships. If women perceive this is what men want, and there is an importance ascribed to being attractive to men, then they may be more likely to accept at some level the hypersexual portrayal as the goal.”


A film critic named Laura Mulvey outlined the distinction between when a film is sexualizing a woman and when she is shown as ‘possessed’ by the male character in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. The male audience is first shown the character as voluptuous and beautiful. Every character in the film is in awe of her beauty. But as the hero wins her over and she becomes his romantic interest, her sexuality is played down. The male hero, the male viewer is supposed to be empathizing with, asserts his dominance and this dominance then should not be contested by having other people interested in his objectified female. The problem with video games is that the player is both the hero and audience. The avatar who is sexualized is also the person that we are identifying with anytime we are playing the game. As Mulvey points out most men, “cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist image.”


From X-Blades

From X-Blades


The issue of objectified and hypersexualized women in video games is often glibly dismissed because the target demographic for games is still 18 to 35 year old heterosexual men. That’s why the study is really interesting, it disputes the entire notion that this demographic enjoys playing as these hypersexualized avatars. Mulvey’s explanation for this discrepancy obviously comes with caveats: a great deal of this comes from Western Culture instead of any universal rule for men. Still, it’s important to realize that appreciating the trailer and images from Bayonetta engages this group with the usual formulas taken from film and advertising, but playing the game is another deal entirely. Perhaps the reason a game like X-Blades bombed was not just the shoddy gameplay, it’s that no one in the primary demographic that is targeted by it wants to play as a woman in a thong.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Sep 4, 2009
There is social commentary in games, but it must stay hidden in the fiction or face controversy.

It seems that whenever the subjects of games and social values crossover, it’s always in a negative way. Earlier this year, Resident Evil 5 faced accusations of racism for its portrayal of African natives. There’s no doubt that the game did contain some loaded imagery, but the game itself didn’t have anything to say about racism. Just a couple weeks ago Shadow Complex was caught up in a controversy over its association with Orson Scott Card. Some gamers were reluctant to purchase the game, giving money to Card, an outspoken opponent of gay rights. Yet once again, the game itself didn’t have anything to say on the subject. But that’s not an argument in defense of these games, it’s more of a criticism of the industry. There seems to be a lack of social commentary in games.


This game wasn't supposed to be real and that was OK.

This game wasn’t supposed to be real and that was OK.


In fact, it seems that most games go out of their way to avoid it. As more effort and thought is put into video game narratives, there’s also more effort put into avoiding any social commentary. The games that do have something to say only tackle vague, general themes. Far Cry 2 explores man’s inhumanity to man. Shadow of the Colossus explores love and loneliness. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a powerful war story when certain aspects of its gameplay are taken into account, but it’s also set in a fictional Middle Eastern country. It may say something about war, but it doesn’t say anything about a war. It stays within the safe boundaries of ambiguity. What does it say about the industry when Resident Evil 5 is the closest any game has come to commenting on racism, or that, despite its title, no Call of Duty has actually explored a citizen’s duty to serve in war?


But there is social commentary in games, it’s just hidden in the fiction. Fallout 3 is filled with examples of this: the mission, Oasis, is all about euthanasia, but instead of killing a senior citizen, which would probably have generated controversy, we’re asked to kill a tree mutant. Tenpenny Tower is all about prejudice, but Fallout 3 makes mutant ghouls the discriminated minority instead of a specific race or gender. Then you have the Grand Theft Auto games that take on immigration, gang life, and the pursuit of the American Dream, but they are set in fictional cities. They may be imitations of real cities, but they are still fake. Nothing is really real. 


This game was supposed to be real and that wasn't OK.

This game was supposed to be real and that wasn’t OK.


It makes sense that games would avoid directly addressing such topics immediately after seeing the public reaction to previous games that have tried to do so. Six Days in Fallujah was a war game set during the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, and would have followed a squad of Marines over the course of six days as they fought in the city. The game was widely criticized by gamers and non-gamers alike. Non-gamers criticized the entire medium as inappropriate for such a subject, and gamers criticized certain mechanics in the game as inappropriate. Then there’s the case of Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, a game that gave players a unique perspective of the events at Columbine (without condoning them) while inviting discussion about them. It was naturally met with hostility by the mainstream press and many gaming outlets, and even after being selected as a finalist for the Slamdance festival’s Guerilla Gamemaker Competition, it was quickly removed from the competition by the event’s organizer. But unlike Six Days in Fallujah, Super Columbine Massacre RPG! was a finished product that anyone could play and judge for themselves, and as such, it had many supporters within the gaming industry who appreciated its attempt at social commentary.


Super Columbine Massacre RPG!

Super Columbine Massacre RPG!


Considering people’s reactions to these games, it seems that games are free to comment on societal issues as long as the commentary remains allegorical. When games try to portray something real, an actual war or actual violence, there’s a backlash from non-gamers who see this as insulting to the source and from certain gamers who wish to keep games “fun.”


But there’s another angle in all this to consider as well: the impact of player choice. Super Columbine Massacre RPG! was a direct commentary; it was saying something about the events and wasn’t leaving much room for interpretation or at least leaving no more room for interpretation than any other standard narrative, whereas Fallout 3, took on all sides of an issue at once. The latter game didn’t directly comment on euthanasia, whether it’s good or bad, it just gave the player a choice, and through the consequences of that choice, the player was able to form his own opinions. Did you feel bad killing Harold, or did you feel it was noble? Did you feel bad forcing him to live, or did you feel it was for the best despite his wishes?


If you did feel bad about your decision, you could always reload a save and do something different. In this way, games have the innate ability to show both sides of an issue. Of course, this does dilute the significance of our actions since we can always rewind time and make a different decision, but this issue of permanence is another discussion entirely. As it stands now, some gamers are guaranteed to play though a choice-driven game multiple times, and that’s when games can take advantage of their branching paths by imbuing each path with a different message.


Games should not be limited to this kind of diplomatic social commentary. They should be able to offer a direct opinion without being stigmatized for it, but I think the former approach is better for the medium as it takes advantage of the interactivity of games. After all, any medium can preach a message to its audience, but only games can let us experience and analyze both sides of an issue without preaching a single thing.


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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Sep 2, 2009
In the case of fashion, rules exist that can at least be conformed to and learned in order to succeed. And isn't that the nature of playing a game anyway?

Game critics and journalists have been talking for years now about the appeal or lack thereof of video games for a female audience.  While there are numerous attempts at creating games for girls, the deluge of low budget Barbie and Bratz games doesn’t do much to capture a more mature audience.  The Sims is one of the most overtly successful attempts to tap into this demographic, though the virtual doll house that The Sims essentially is was successful among both male and female gamers. It was even called Doll House in its earliest conception –- assumedly the change had to do with capturing the attention of gamers across gender lines.  The resulting game was treated with a bit more maturity and had an addictive and well thought out style of game play.


While female gamers have always been interested in other genres like shooters, RPGs, puzzle games and the like, The Sims managed to capture a model of traditional female activity (playing “house”) and actually make it into a game that women would want to play.  As a result, such success makes me wonder how what might be considered traditionally feminine interests might be translated into games that girls could grow up with and continue to enjoy as adults.  The thought has crossed my mind that televisions shows with high female demographics, like Project Runway or America’s Top Model have the potential to be winners as game licenses.  The problem, however, for dealing with translating games oriented towards evaluating style and image is that “style” and “image” seem like concepts that on the face of them are difficult to quantify and become then very difficult to translate into game mechanics.


If one were to play a digital version of Project Runway, which is in and of itself a competition and thus at least game-like, how would an outfit that a player designed be evaluated by a virtual Nina Garcia or Michael Kors?  Because it is assumed that making judgments about what seems to (as Tim Gunn might say) simply come down to “a matter of taste,” any scoring in the game would come down to arbitrary decisions that are either based on the player conforming their taste to a game mechanic or to sheer caprice.  However, that everything is simply a matter of taste when it comes to fashion is simply not true to anyone who is aware of how fashion actually “works.” 


Several games have already confronted some issues related to style and image and been fairly successful in at least providing the gamer with choices about style.  The most obvious example of style and customization is the now nearly ubiquitous convention in games that allows the player to select what their character is supposed to look like and how they dress.  Role playing games are an obvious good fit for such a system where much of the interest of the game lies in developing a character of your own.  Many open world games like Saint’s Row, Grand Theft Auto, and Bully also allow you to either design the overall look of the character that the player will be using or at least make some choices about how the character dresses, and thus, how the character will be viewed by others in their virtual world. There is something very pleasing about styling a character in a game and this in and of itself is “play worthy.”  Intriguingly, around the time of its release, many players of the massively multiplayer online role playing game City of Heroes reported in online forums that they often found themselves spending hours with that game’s character creation system, simply because designing a superhero’s costume was often as fun as, if not more fun, than playing as a superhero. 


That players want to “play” with the creator enough that some of them have called it a “game” in and of itself testifies to the potential pleasure that could be derived from a game based on styling. Cryptic’s new title, Champions Online and character creator has yet to be released (at my writing) but it is already provoking comments like these that indicate a fascination with styling characters:


After seeing the character creator video and having read a lot about the character creator experience I was thinking it would be great if Cryptic did what SOE did with EQII’s release. There was a pre-order (as usual) that contained the character creator as a stand-alone app that allowed you to save a template file to load for later use.


I’m thinking, that one, it would give Cryptic a big pre-order campaign boost to include such a thing, and two would give us a chance to work on making our characters before the game launches since it will probably take a LONG time to do that. Win Win, IMHO.


The sheer robustness of Cryptic’s character creator (which allows for potentially hundreds of thousands of styling options) at the very least suggests that a fashion oriented game could be generated with sufficient tools to create a lot more style options than a DS game would provide.  The question of course remains, how would an artificial intelligence determine whether or not a clothing design is actually any good?


Before answering that question, first, I want to return to my other potentially image oriented game license, America’s Next Top Model, to consider how its interests as a competition would have mechanics that prior games have created precedents for.  Taking photographs is something that a game can obviously (and has) emulated in the past. Limited ways have existed to evaluate the successfulness of photography in video games like Grand Theft Auto and Playboy: The Mansion. In GTA missions in which your rather unscrupulous character has to take blackmail pictures largely just boil down to a very limited evaluation of precision: did you manage to get the intended blackmail victims and their questionable antics in frame?  Playboy: The Mansion, which is a game about putting together issues of Playboy, and thus, photography becomes a major component, treat evaluation in a seemingly less elegant way.  Given the Sims-style networking component of the game, players network in order to provide content for the magazine. From a pragmatic standpoint, the relationship that exists between a Playmate and their photographer coupled with the photographer’s skill is somewhat sensible in determining the quality of pictures produced during a shoot.  One would assume that collaboration of model and artist would matter in saome way.  But it is a limiting factor in that the actual test (in terms of the game’s mechanics) of whether or not the actual images created are erotic is completely arbitrary.  A picture of a model’s elbow can become a 5-star issue cover if the model and photographer really get along well.


The immediate sensibility of the mechanic, though, does begin to touch on one element of style that is obviously important: relationships.  The somewhat less successful fashion oriented version of The Sims, The Urbz, demonstrates this importance and a much more interesting and thoughtful approach to evaluating what “taste” might mean.  The Urbz is predicated on the idea that the character that you will be playing is interested in becoming a fashionista of sorts. Doing so is determined by how well the player fits into various counter cultures that are largely defined by style choices.  Moving between various parts of the city, our urban sim is forced to redesign their own look each time that they meet a new group of people, be they punks, skaters, ravers, or the upper classes.  Character creation, or more appropriately, character recreation becomes a critical element of The Urbz, and while the choices that one makes are not specifically evaluated (as long as you wear clothes that are associated with punk, the punks will like you), it acknowledges an actual rule of fashion and style: consensus. 


Fashion choices like these suggest that “taste” is not the only factor in determining successful style.  Such choices are very much social constructions that depend not only on what the individual likes but how the people that individual interacts with respond to those choices.  The Urbz at least successfully simulates how the consensus of cultures and subcultures effects choices and how conforming to that consensus is potentially beneficial.


Playboy: The Mansion suggests that it is a reasonable guideline that successful photographs depend upon some degree of chemistry between photographer and subject, which shows that there may be other mechanics to help govern a player’s “fashion” score.  Part of what distinguishes games from play is that games tend to need purposes, boundaries, and goals to determine how successful the player is.  The Urbz likewise acknowledges that fashion and style is also governed by social boundaries. This is a major step in recognizing how style needs rules in order to be played like a game and that it already is one.


Watching an episode of What Not To Wear will rather quickly educate the uninitiated in the “rules” of such a game.  Both Stacy London and Clinton Kelly spout copious amounts of rules about what looks best on what kind of body type, how to visually lengthen the leg, enhance the figure, etc.  Likewise, Project Runway‘s Tim Gunn has written a Guide To Style that suggests many similar rules that govern broader social concerns with how to “play the game” of looking good correctly and successfully.  But as anyone schooled in the visual arts knows, illusions are the nature of visual design.  Getting a flat piece of paper to represent distance, depth, and texture are governed by “rules” that actually work.  Surely some of London, Kelly, and Gunn’s rules could be translated into ways of measuring the success of virtual garments or models?


For that matter, much of art history has been interested in examining the way that the mind reacts to visual imagery and what is pleasing or not pleasing to the eye.  From the discovery of and influence of the The Golden Ratio on music, painting, and architecture to psychological studies on the pleasant and unpleasant nature of symmetry and asymmetry, there are a great many choices of rules to help in governing how one can evaluate style with criteria that might allow for a degree of objectivity.  In the case of fashion, rules exist that can at least be conformed to and learned in order to succeed.  And isn’t that the nature of playing a game anyway?


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Sep 1, 2009
Some of the ideas in Scott McCloud's classic piece offer some interesting insights when applied to games.

When they are first starting out, all forms of media borrow from other forms until they are able to stand on their own two feet. Movies mostly often recreated plays and books for their first few decades to give a recent example. At a certain point, this act of borrowing becomes problematic because the medium must eventually rely on its strengths, yet appropriating new ideas is always a useful tool for innovation. One of the most interesting borrowing of techniques that’s going on in video games is borrowings from graphic novels. For a variety of reasons, abstract concepts in the form of visual symbolism are constantly applied in video games. This is something that is still relevant to both 8-bit graphics and the still awkward characters seen today. Matthew Gallant pointed out in the comments of the above post that Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics develops this concept and lately I’ve been seeing a lot of game designers reference it in their blogs. So, here’s a breakdown of what the book brings to video games.


The most important thing McCloud outlines in his book is how abstraction works in comics. A photograph is an example of something with no abstraction; it is a visual approximation of a person’s face. A smiley face is the ultimate abstraction because it could potentially represent anyone. As McCloud explains, “The more cartoony a face is…the more people it could be said to describe.” (31) Most comics fall somewhere in the middle of these two standards because abstraction allows a person to psychologically project themselves into a character. Citing Marshall McLuhan’s research into driving and inanimate objects, this concept can even extend to vehicles. They become “an extension of our body. It absorbs our sense of identity. We become the car.” (38) This is extremely important to grasp when looking at a video game. They are constantly balancing between enough abstraction that you project yourself into the avatar while at the same time supporting more realistic graphics and art styles. Many developers balance out their graphics with techniques like the silent avatar or by never letting us see a character’s face. Others rely more heavily on comic book styles by keeping the visual environment that characters inhabit within a comic book or anime template. In all games, some degree of abstraction is needed to allow for projection.


The more complex levels of abstraction come from communicating a projected identity back to the player. McLuhan’s car example is a good one for understanding the inherent problems in this process: nothing physical is actually happening in the game. This relates to the second point that McCloud makes in his book on how symbolism works. The letters that you are reading right now are technically phonetic symbols strung together that represent what these words sound like when spoken aloud. This is only one kind of symbol, another example would a the red circle of a no smoking sign or the icons on your computer. These are visual representations. The phonetic symbol is less abstract than the visual symbol. There is nothing to project into when you are looking at the written word, instead you are thinking about what it means and internalizing that. As McCloud explains, “[Visual] icons demand our participation to make them work. There is no life [t]here except that which you give to it.” (59) He uses the example of a drawing of only his upper body, explaining that our mind is filling in the rest of the details and thinking of him as a whole person despite the literal depiction. 


In terms of games, the most readily applicable place for these ideas is the HUD. A bar that decreases until the red better communicates the player’s health rather than a sentence saying “You are hurt.” One is more abstract and requires our mind to engage with it, while the other is just informing us of information. Where this representation really starts to come into play are in complex RPGs and other games that have extensive interfaces. A game like Fallout 3, which relies heavily on numbers, has to balance this quantatative infromation with other elements like coloring and bars. Sound effects and direction indicators for where damage is coming from also build on this principle of finding ways for the player to project into the game. A fully realized abstract interface should be able to allow the player to visually observe information and physically flinch in a manner relative to that information. The sizzle and dwindling health of your character when they fall into lava, the flash of red when a bullet tags you, these are all ways of feeding information back to the player more smoothly and thus make them “feel” it more.


This is possible because of a principle in comics that McCloud refers to as “closure.” That is, I don’t have to punch you in the face to make you sense a mild approximation of that feeling. Take the example of only seeing part of McCloud’s body yet assuming he is a whole person and transfer that to the notion of action itself. A picture of a man swinging an ax at another person can be followed by an “EEYAA!!” without having to show me an axe mutilated corpse, I can infer the action that has occurred. McCloud explains, “Every act committed to paper by the comics artist is aided and abetted by a silent accomplice. An equal partner in crime known as the reader.” (68) In film, this would be the same thing as showing a couple kissing and falling into bed before cutting to a shot of the next morning as they lay sleeping together. You don’t have to show the audience a scene of the couple having sex to get the point.


In application to video games, closure highlights yet another reason why comparing film and video games breaks down fairly quickly. Cutting the player’s visual feedback for any reason is problematic, much less removing the visual reaction to an act that they have performed. The player is going to want to see the ax connect, the couple having sex, etc. because they instigated it. Where closure does kick in is explaining the bridge between seeing a bullet hit my avatar and inferring that I have been hurt. The abstract symbols of the HUD, along with its visual representation, communicate that the event happened. The process of closure, due to the abstractions creating it, is what makes the player feel this moment. Like seeing the visual image of a man swinging an axe at a person and feeling horrified, seeing a bullet hit our avatar is communicated through our imagination. The player must actively participate with the game’s imagery and HUD for it to create an immersive experience.


Other portions of the book are interesting but difficult to apply to games. McCloud touts the importance of balancing words and imagery and relying on both to properly communicate a story (156). He highlights several techniques for doing this and the cultural origins of them. The final chapter presents a useful diagram for how an artistic creation starts (idea), develops through a tool (a pen for comics), is observed by a reader (eyeball), and leads to them forming their own ideas. He explains, “Media convert thoughts into forms that can traverse the physical world and be re-converted by one or more senses back into thoughts.” (195) He considers this process a kind of artistic gauntlet and laments how hard that it is to maintain an artistic vision as one makes their way over all of these hurdles.


One can’t help but wonder what a visual diagram for a video game would look like. There have been attempts at it numerous times, but it always ends up a jumbled mess of circles and lines going between developer and player that all connect into a giant explosion in the middle. A few things do remain consistent though. As with all other media, eventually the game leaves the developer’s head and has quite a journey to make before it becomes an idea in the the head of the player.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Aug 28, 2009
A look at the controversy surrounding Shadow Complex and Orson Scott Card.

When Shadow Complex came out last week, it was met with an unusual controversy, which Christian Nutt explored in an article on Gamasutra. The controversy centered around some gamers’ decision to boycott Shadow Complex because of its connection to Orson Scott Card, an outspoken opponent of gay rights. Card wrote Empire, a novel about a leftist army taking over the capital, and Shadow Complex is a prequel to that story.


The decision to boycott raises some interesting questions: Is it fair to boycott the game for its connection to Card? Games are not made by a single person, and Card’s contributions to the game are already slim. Before Nutt (who is himself gay) learned of the controversy around the game, he met with Donald Mustard, the creative director and co-founder of Chair Entertainment, the developer behind Shadow Complex, and wrote, “…over an hour after I had initially mentioned it, he wished me well in my long distance relationship with my boyfriend in Michigan. “It worked for us,” he said, referring to himself and his wife Laura.”


That show of support lies in direct contrast to Card’s stated beliefs. In addition, the game is written by Peter David, described by GayGamer in their own look at the controversy as “a straight but extremely gay-friendly comic book writer…He also just “outed” two characters, Shatterstar and Richter, in Marvel’s X-Force, giving the company its highest profile gay relationship yet.” So now there are two conflicting views represented in the creative talent behind the game. To support one is to support the other and to hurt one is to hurt the other. But if we’re taking Card’s, Mustard’s, and David’s ideologies into account, what about the many others who worked on the game? At what point do you draw the line?


And what of the game itself? Shadow Complex actually has nothing to say about homosexuality. It offers no commentary, no opinion, and no mention of anything even remotely related to sexual orientation. However overblown the cries of racism in Resident Evil 5 were, the game did contain some potentially insensitive imagery, so at least there was something in the game itself to get upset over. Not so in Shadow Complex. In fact, Nutt quotes a friend of his in saying “it subverts the Empire universe severely.”


However, Card has been very vocal in his opposition. He’s part of the board of directors for the National Organization for Marriage, a group that seeks to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage, and he’s been quoted saying “Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.” Certainly the degree and high-profile nature of his opposition makes it understandable for someone to want to boycott his works, or anything he’s worked on, out of principal.


To that end, that’s all one can go on: principle. Are you so opposed to Card that you’re willing to hurt David and Chair Entertainment financially? Or vice versa? There is no right or wrong answer; it’s people’s personal beliefs conflicting with the purchase of a video game. The article on GayGamer suggested a rather elegant compromise: “if you’re obviously too disgusted to enjoy the game, avoid it, and speak out. However, if you want to play the game, play it. Enjoy it, but offset the hate: if you buy Shadow Complex, donate $5, $10, $15 if you can spare it to a gay charity.” While the game may say nothing about the controversy now, with more thought and effort being put into game narratives, I wonder how long until the personal and political beliefs of the creators start to find their way into their games. And would this really be a bad thing? As Nutt says, “If we can have meaningful political discussion in other media, we can have it in games.” If anything, it would certainly spur some interesting discussion.


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