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The Boycott of Shadow Complex

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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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