#oneaday Day 871: A Change of Heart

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It’s not easy to change your own opinions, for any reason. It’s even harder to change it when someone else makes a convincing argument as to why you are wrong and therefore a big dumb-dumb poopy-head. But sometimes it’s something you have to do in order to move with the times.

I have two very different issues in mind for which I’ve encountered the above concept. I’ll tackle them in order of difficulty to comment on.

First up is mobile gaming.

Last year, I wrote this post. In it, I described how I thought the supposed pressure from Nintendo’s investors for the Japanese giant to start developing for smartphones rather than its own proprietary hardware might not actually be a terrible idea. I actually still don’t think it’s an awful idea, but after a year of reflection, observation and immersion in the mobile gaming industry, it’s clear that what I describe and suggest in that post isn’t going to happen.

For all some iOS developers’ attempts to take the iPhone and iPad seriously for gaming purposes, there are at least ten times as many developers churning out free-to-play or quick-hit casual games. For every developer who is up front about the cost of their app and refuses to nickel-and-dime the player with additional in-app purchases, at least ten times as many incorporate some sort of means of endless monetization, be it an “energy” system, a means for players to buy in-game currency without earning it or the facility to unlock content without having to progress naturally through the game.

I don’t begrudge these developers their income, of course — games cost money to make, and every developer wants to make it big with their titles. But, unfortunately, the prevalence of such business models in the mobile gaming space makes it all but impossible for the “core” gaming community to take it seriously. As much as many of us moan about grinding for levels or money in games, a lot of us secretly quite enjoy it — it provides us with “war stories” about how we played Mahjong for six hours straight in Yakuza 2 in order to be able to afford a fancy dress to give to a girl, or how we accumulated fifteen bajillion souls in Demon’s Souls only to die and then die again on the way back to retrieving them, losing them all forever.

In short, the effort and personal sacrifice involved in accomplishing feats in some of these games is rendered meaningless if someone can just come along and pay ten quid to bypass all the pain and suffering. Sure, it’s convenient, but it renders achievements meaningless — particularly if the game’s monetization strategy features “pay to win” items, whereby players can pay real money in order to gain a significant in-game advantage, be it the ability to “continue” after death without score penalty or simply acquiring powerful new equipment.

What this means is that “core” gamers as a community don’t take mobile gaming seriously, which means that when developers do come along wanting to do something serious and non-exploitative, they often get ignored — particularly if their game is seen as “expensive” compared to the myriad free and 69p apps out there. If you want a recent example of this in action, just consider the Kickstarter campaign for Republique that I wrote about here. Despite starting as an effort to get “triple-A” games on iOS, the team behind the project gradually had to accept that this mission statement wasn’t going to get them the funding that they wanted, and eventually had to expand and promise PC and Mac versions. Even then, it looked for a long time like they weren’t going to make it.

Anyway. I was wrong. I accept that. Mobile gaming is its own thing, and that’s cool. I will continue to appreciate it when a developer treats me as a player rather than a customer (or worse, cash cow) and provides me with deep, meaningful, worthwhile experiences on iOS, but I’m no longer holding my breath for it to be the next big thing in portable gaming — at least not for the “core” audience. There is still a place for dedicated handhelds.

Now for the second issue. I kind of don’t want to talk about this much because there’s been a lot of angry table-thumping surrounding it in recent weeks. There are, too, a lot of very vocal commentators on the subject and I really don’t want to attract their ire — firstly, because that is by no means my intention, and secondly, because I’ve seen people really get laid into as a result of such arguments.

I am, of course, talking about gender issues and the question of whether or not the video games industry constitutes a rape culture.

Some context, first. Apologies to those whom the following offends, but it’s necessary to include it for context. (NSFW, duh.)

This trailer for the upcoming game Hitman Absolution made a lot of people very angry, for various reasons. The ridiculous nun disguises covering impractical porn-star dominatrix outfits. The question of how exactly a nun conceals a rocket-launcher inside her habit. The fact that this really didn’t look like the Hitman series people knew and loved.

By far the biggest concern, though, was the violence towards women depicted in the trailer.

I am not going to get into the broader discussion of whether or not this is indicative of a rape culture here as, to be frank and honest with you, I do not know enough about the subject and therefore feel ill-qualified to comment on it.

What I can discuss, however, is how my own thought processes went.

My initial reaction to the trailer was simply “WTF”. This was shortly followed by “that’s clearly sexist and unnecessary”, and I commented as such on Twitter around the time it was emerging. My opinion was that the trailer was the result of a horny marketing department making deliberately sexually-provocative promotional material in order to get people talking about the game. On that note, it certainly worked.

I thought little more of it for a while, until articles like this one started to appear, claiming that the trailer was indicative of a larger problem — the trailer was, to paraphrase Brendan’s piece, not simply sexist, but evidence of a culture that normalised violence against women, and specifically sexual violence. In short, a rape culture by its very definition.

I had no idea what “rape culture” meant when I saw the initial discussions surrounding this trailer. My initial reaction, like many others, was to assume that “rape culture” in fact meant “directly endorsing rape”. Despite being conscious of the fact that I had publicly spoken out against the trailer, the accusations flying around and the increasing anger of commenters on the subject — on both sides — made me feel deeply uncomfortable and, yes, defensive. No-one likes to be told that something they care deeply about has such an odious undercurrent, after all.

But I stepped back for a moment and considered what was going on. This was clearly a hot-button issue for a lot of people, and one that I knew wading into with ill-informed opinions would be desperately, desperately unwise. I’d already seen a few weeks previously that a friend who had inadvertently ventured into a similar discussion got very publicly torn a new one (a little unfairly, I feel — though that’s an altogether different story) as he attempted to discuss the matter.

So here’s what I did: I stepped away. I read through the various angry tweets, blog posts and articles with a degree of detachment, attempting to understand where these people were coming from and why those who were saying “it’s no problem, what’s the big deal?” were pissing them off so much. I read up a little on what “rape culture” as a term actually meant.

And I came out of it feeling differently to the defensiveness I felt before. I already knew there was a problem with sexism in the industry, but now I felt I had an increased (though by no means comprehensive) understanding of the issue. I am aware that there are still things I do not understand about issues of feminism, gender, sexuality, rape culture and cultural norms — people spend years studying these things, after all — but I am willing to at least learn about these subjects before sticking my oar into a debate I am currently ill-qualified to have. I am also aware that many of the commenters who feel so passionately about this issue are not, as might first appear, condemning the entire industry and everyone involved in it as sexist, misogynist perpetuators of a rape culture, because gross generalisations are never helpful.

Let’s get off the specifics because, as I’ve said several times, I don’t want to get into that particular discussion right now.

The key issue is that a little consideration and reflection goes a long way. Knee-jerk, immediate, passionate, emotional and ill-informed reactions might feel good in the short term, but often they leave you looking like a jackass. I’m glad that I stepped back and considered the way I felt about the discussion surrounding this issue — and why — before even thinking about jumping in and potentially making a twat of myself.

It pays to have flexible opinions, a willingness to educate yourself and, yes, the ability to admit you were wrong (and understand why), in short. That’s not to say that you should blindly follow the herd — quite the opposite, in fact. You should take the time to explore an issue, find out as much as possible and gather sufficient information for you to be able to accurately decide whether or not your initial reaction was, in fact, correct.

If it was — in your opinion, anyway — then you’ll be well-equipped to argue your case. And if it wasn’t, it’s important to be humble enough to admit it.

4 thoughts on “#oneaday Day 871: A Change of Heart

  1. Luke H

    Ditto.
    I totally agree that too many iOS developers see gamers as customers and not players. Great article.

    Reply
  2. slapshot82

    Hi Pete,

    I’m glad you touched brought up the subject of the Hitman: Absolution trailer. It really made me think quite deeply on this issue. Like you, I saw the video and pretty much laughed it off — it is quite ridiculous.

    I usually don’t think much on the issues of sexism, feminism, or any of the other controversial subjects that usually come about from someone being offended. I in no way agree with people offending others, but I do find it interesting when people are genuinely offended and seek to do something about it. Many times these result in blog post or published articles, and in them, if you look past the words, you’re actually getting to see the real side of these individuals. A chance to read into their innermost emotions’ that makeup the fabric of who they truly are as a human being. Sadly, idiotic people these days on the internet feel the incessant need to verbally abuse and insult others who don’t share their exact same opinions, and these articles/discussions quickly go downhill faster than an avalanche. It just shows how little respect some people have for each other, and how big of a coward these people are who hide themselves behind an online avatar and do these disgraceful deeds. The rough patches and hard things in life are what make us stronger, by bringing the depths of our emotions to the forefront — I truly believe this.

    As a spiritual man, I’ve found things in games that have made me shy away from them. SEGA’s (fantastic) Bayonetta was a game that is truly creative and a blast to play — epic boss fights! But, a few hours into it, the game’s story line content really pressed on my religious beliefs and I simply made the decision to stop playing the game. No petitions, articles and/or social outcries from me, even though I have that power if I desired to use it, and I’ve actually still recommended the game to many of my friends. The key here is this — it simply isn’t for me, and I think Hitman: Absolution isn’t either.

    Reply
    1. Pete Davison Post author

      Great points.

      I think the whole sexism/feminism debate is a serious one that needs to be addressed, but it needs to be addressed a lot more rationally than some commentators are doing. I understand why they’re angry — it’s immensely frustrating when you believe something and other people don’t seem to share your viewpoint, even going so far as to be abusive about it sometimes — but getting more and more angry about it only feeds the trolls.

      What we need is rational, considered discussion and clear action. Anita “Feminist Frequency” Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games Kickstarter is a good start. The article I linked, I’d argue, is the wrong way to go about it — thumping the table and getting angry is only going to convince people to respond in the same way. That’s not to say he didn’t have valid points, obviously.

      Reply

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