A Rebuttal: “Diversity is important because a video game is much more than its gameplay”

I don’t know how often I’ll be doing these types of articles, but every once in a while I read something that gets me so annoyed that I gotta let my thoughts out somewhere. Hopefully this 2019 doesn’t have me this upset all year round, but I’m not holding my breath.

Anyways, here‘s a link to the full article that was posted on VG247 on the 2nd of January this year, so you can read the entire thing if you want, as I’m only going to respond to certain paragraphs and excerpts. This way you can check whether or not I’m taking things out of context.

Also, at the bottom of the article I’ll actually brings up points I agree with in the article as well, just to show that I’m not just being a cynical, argumentative asshole.

So anyways, let’s talk about this article about the importance of diversity in games that was written by Kirk McKeand:

“Video games are crafted from so many parts, it’s difficult to pin down exactly where the ‘game’ exists.”

The first paragraph tells me right away how this whole article is going to go. In reality, it’s not that hard to tell where the bulk of a game exists. It all depends on the genre. I can tell you without question that the “game” in a JRPG is the story and its characters, while a FPS’ “game” lives more in its, well…gameplay, the shooting mechanics, the speed, the competition, etc.

It’s not really that hard, Kirk. You’re making things sound far more complicated than the actually are.

“Despite this hunger for more diversity within our stories and experiences, there are still people who push back, pining for the days when ‘gameplay’ was king. But what even does that word mean? For me, ‘gameplay’ means all the interactive parts: the running, jumping, driving, and shooting. It means the verbs.”

That’s because there are a ton of games that are being drastically changed to suit an audience that doesn’t normally play those games. Take the Battlefield series as a great example. Try and tell me that people who participate in the mass outrage culture would dare play a game that’s all about war and violence that spent most of its time in the two World Wars, where the enemies were Nazis and the people who participated in the war, tended more often than not, to be white men. Also, the people we see constantly writing articles like this, what do they usually play and talk endlessly about? Indie games, y’know platformers, visual novels, choose your own adventure games, puzzles, etc. How often are these journalists talking about shooty shooty bang bang games? Not that often, unless there’s clickbait controversy involved.

Before all this outrage, gameplay meant exactly what it says: the gameplay. The mechanics, not the racial or gender identities of the characters involved, but the actual mechanics of the game they were playing. We weren’t worrying about the skin color of characters when we were playing Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, or any other classics. We just cared about how good it played and if it was fun.

We’re not saying diversity isn’t bad, but when an over decade-long series suddenly changes to fit a racial/gender quota and concentrates less on improving the actual game, people are going to be irritated about it. And by the way, not all of these “racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic” gamers are white men. Remember that.

“Recently, Battlefield 5 came under criticism from some circles for its inclusion of female soldiers. While people are fine with gameplay mechanics that contradict its historical setting – respawning, killing helmet-clad soldiers with a single headbutt – there’s been criticism of the inclusion of women. Why? Because, for some, there’s no tangible gameplay benefit.”

Gamers understand that no matter how much time you spend creating a game, coding it, testing it for bugs, people will always find ways to “break” it. The videos of people jumping out of fighter jets, shooting someone in another jet and landing in their jet, of course that’s unrealistic. But no amount of coding and patches will fix that kind of problem. That’s a video game problem. What you’re talking about with the “women controversy” is a historical problem and that’s one that’s very easy to identify and very easy to fix if it’s deemed to be a problem.

Also, if a game was truly 100% realistic in every way, it wouldn’t be fun. The lack of speed, the difficulty aiming when you take into account distance, both in length and height, wind speeds, balance while holding a weapon, not to mention the actual accuracy of human eyesight. That all alone would create a difficult experience for the player, what would the fun in that be?

You can’t talk about gameplay benefits as if they’re a detriment, they are the most important problems that need to be addressed. A game is not a good one if it doesn’t feel good and isn’t fun to play, there’s no disputing this.

“Women want to feel represented in their hobby. It gives them more enjoyment than playing as a man.”

But you make it sound like there aren’t any games where you can play as a woman. Hell, even Feminist Frequency showed us that over half of all the games at E3 in 2018 allowed the player to play as a woman and they tried to pretend that was not good enough.

Also, why are you even speaking about what women want, Kirk? How would you know, you’re not a woman. I don’t pretend to know what “all” women want to play as in a video game, all I know is that I don’t always play as a male in games, hell I probably play more games as a female character than a male. Video games are like a fantasy, why would I play as something I already am, what’s the fantasy in that? I used to play games like Skyrim as a human male, what’s so interesting and different about that? Now I play much more varying kinds of characters, in terms of gender, skin color and sometimes the race of species.

I played Gone Home, a game that has three characters, all of them being white women. I love that game, even though there isn’t a single character in it who’s male, let alone white. When I played Mass Effect: Andromeda, my Ryder was a black woman with silver hair. All three of my Destiny 2 characters are female, including the robotic EXO. Yet I can play a Metal Gear Solid V and not care one way or the other than Snake is a white male, the same way I’m currently playing Yakuza Kiwami 2 and I’m playing a badass muscular Japanese male, while I’m a skinny white male who’s never thrown a punch in his life.

I don’t need to see myself in something to justify my existence. I care more about the personality and backstory of a character than the color of their skin, their gender, their sexuality. Stop basing the importance of a character on their surface characteristics, remember that what’s on the inside is supposed to count more.

“It’s not just women, either. You can count on one hand how many games feature an Arabic protagonist or a disabled hero.”

Given that over half of games these days feature character creators for the main protagonist, the Arabic argument doesn’t fit. Don’t play the “well what about games where you can’t customize your character” argument, because that’s up to the artist, you don’t get to define what race a writer/creator has to make their protagonist, they can do whatever they want.

And really? You’re going to play the disabled card? You tell me how to make a good FPS game with a disabled person that would be considered “realistic”? Because the only one I can think of off the top of my head is the recent Wolfenstein II and we all know how realistic that game is.

“If it improves the game for some and doesn’t affect others – because it shouldn’t bother you – then it is a quality of life addition in the same way gameplay mechanics and accessibility options are.”

Yet you expect not to be called out when you’re getting so upset when a game’s creators decide to make a story that revolves around male characters, or white characters. Again, that’s not for you to decide. You know when you get to decide how you feel? With your wallet when the game is released. As EA said, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

“What would Dishonored be without Dunwall, its hyper-real visual style, and the little stories dotted around? What would The Last of Us be without its characters?”

Dishonored could still thrive without Dunwall, the gameplay is what really got people interested in the first place. The Last of Us could still be a good game without its characters, maybe not Game of the Year as people have described it, but still a good game. I wouldn’t know, I think that series is overrated and I really didn’t enjoy the few hours I played of it.

I know what you’re trying to do, Kirk. You’re trying to make a case that characters are more important than gameplay. Unless we’re talking non-intensive games, you’re in a whole different world, bud. Don’t tell me that the characters in a Call of Duty game matter more than the gameplay. That’s just idiotic. They may enhance a game, but they’re not as essential as you seem to think they are.

Minecraft could literally be a bunch of white silhouettes walking around and it still would’ve been big. The original Mass Effect trilogy could’ve only had a female Shepard of any race and with that story and gameplay, it would’ve still thrived. Mario could’ve been Icelandic, Link could be a dark elf, hell Samus could still to this day be gender unknown. It would still be a great series.

“A truly historically-accurate WW2 experience wouldn’t make a ‘fun’ video game.”

Ah, we agree on something.

“If that was where the real issue was, people would be up in arms about any game that tried to create a virtual rendition of the conflict, not just the one where you can play as a woman.”

Apart from the anti-SJWs that are just as toxic as you and your brethren are on the other side, the majority of people upset were not mad “just because women were in the game”. They were upset because they saw that a series that had been made the same way for as long as it’s existed and had been successful for that period of time and enjoyed by everyone without anyone complaining about it until now…it was being changed into something that had little to do with the series title they’ve grown up with their entire lives.

Take the new Ghostbusters movie. Don’t lie to me, the vast majority of people were not mad at the initial trailer because it was an all-female team. They were mad because people were taking an already established product that was not just successful, but held legendary status, and changed it into something that looked like a terrible cash grab film. The trailer was garbage and people saw it for what it was, a lazy attempt at re-creating something that could not be re-created.

I could write a whole article about this, but I’ll sum up my feelings in one paragraph. Stop taking established properties and changing them to suit your own interests, make your own goddamn property. Stop leeching off good will and pre-established fortune, making something fresh and new from the ground up. But since that takes work, what’s the fun in that, right?

“Now, more than ever, we need games to let us be someone we’re not. We need to spend a while in someone else’s skin. Let’s start 2019 with a little more empathy.”

And this is where the article ends. So Kirk, let me ask you…have you ever played a video game before? Because here’s the list of games I can think of off the top of my head where I’ve played as something I’m not:

  • Every single video game

I have never played a video game where I played something other than something I’m not.

I’m not a plumber saving princesses. I’m not an elf with mad sword skills saving the world from an evil pig man. I’m not a space bounty hunter who can look good in a skin-tight suit. I’m not a soldier, I’m not a cop, I’m not a member of a crime syndicate, I’m not a heroic adventurer, hell I’m not even a guy who knows how to throw a goddamn punch.

I’m literally trying as hard as I can right now as I’m typing this to think of a game where I literally played as myself. Even in The Sims games, while some characters looks kinda like me, they still didn’t act like me. I’m not rich, I’m not living in a big house, I’m not capable of flirting with anyone and bedding them with ease. Like seriously, Kirk, what game is there that’s doesn’t let us be something we’re not?

The problem isn’t that games aren’t letting us be something we’re not, the problem is that games are suiting your definition of diversity. You think diversity is only skin deep, but the definition of diversity is more than that. It simply means being diverse, varied. And games are certainly that. You play people of different gender, race, age, body type, personality, physical capabilities, and even more minor things like hair/eye color, hobbies, hometowns, the friends they have.

Games have been and always will be diverse. You just want them to cater specifically to a select number of groups more than others. That’s not diversity, that’s racist and sexist. Let game creators make the games they want and you will over time get legitimate diversity. Because if you allow creators to make the games they want, they’ll spend more time making a good product, not an okay product that has to check off certain boxes.

My favourite game last year was a game where I created a character who was a dark-skinned muscular badass woman who fought giant monsters with dual blades. Don’t tell me that Monster Hunter: World doesn’t count as being diverse and don’t tell me that games aren’t diverse. Because that’s not true and anyone who stops to think for half a second knows this.

[end]

…OKAY! Things I agree with Kirk on.

“Interactive entertainment is getting increasingly complex and the goals of their creators are more varied than ever. Simply being ‘fun’ often isn’t enough. Multicultural teams work together to create virtual places that elicit various emotions as we explore their strange universes and inhabit personalities different from our own.”

I 100% agree with this, games are become more and more varied, more complex and a lot more games are trying to capitalize on the graphical realism we have today and using that to create more real-looking experiences, ones that thrive on bringing the emotion out of players. We have more games that are film quality in terms of storytelling, just 2018 alone we had games like Red Dead Redemption II and Detroit: Become Human, both which are very emotional games.

“Developers are starting to recognise that the audience wants more diverse experiences and they are reacting to this demand.”

That’s because the market has opened up more and more each passing year. Remember that in the Super Nintendo/SEGA Genesis era that video games were something nerds played, it wasn’t so widely accepted. Today, everyone plays video games, one way or another, it’s not something you’re bullied for liking anymore.

It’s a great thing that developers are trying to create more diverse experiences as the gaming market continues to widen. Of course I love seeing new games I’ve never played before, characters I’ve never experienced before. I’m always looking for things that are different, hence why I love a lot of what Japan exports to us in terms of games, anime, music and more.

Now if only developers continued to recognize the things beyond “diverse experiences” that their audience also wants, we’d be far better off. Looking at you EA, Activision Blizzard and Bethesda.

“You see, a video game is more than a collection of systems. You don’t need more than one type of tank in Battlefield 5, but choice is a good thing. You don’t need to have flashy visual effects such as dust particles and debris with each explosion, but they help craft an illusion. Choice and flavour are as integral to a game as the verbs.”

You know, I’m aware he’s about to pull this back to choice and flavour also referring to the skin color and gender of characters, but in the end, this line is not wrong.

Back in the NES days, we weren’t capable of choice as easily in terms of customization and variety in our games. Today, there’s no excuse not to have that variety of options. A multiplayer shooter released today that only had one type of pistol, one machine gun, one sniper rifle and one rocket launcher, that would be unacceptable in almost any case. Unless the game was undeniably fun and possibly the most well-made shooter in history, the lack of options for weapon types, clothing options, map variety and more would simply be unacceptable, no way around that.

And while flashy visual effects aren’t 100% necessary, the best games on the market tend to have them, which is why those games sell better. They may be as fun to play as other games, but they have that extra oomph, that special something that sets it apart from others. Just as yourself why Overwatch did better than games like Paladins and Battleborn. They all similar games, but Overwatch had just that extra something that brought more people in.

“Modern video games are more than just a series of actions. Think back to the most recent games you’ve played – the ones that have stuck with you – and I bet many of them linger because they triggered some kind of emotional response.”

The games that I remember the most from the past few years are indeed there because they invoked a larger emotional response than others. The Yakuza series has been some of the funniest shit I’ve played in years, yet its story is so serious and dramatic. Persona 5 hits emotional points with the struggles of its characters and especially its villains. I got really disgusted with the first villain in Kamoshida.

Keep in mind however that emotional responses are pretty vague. I mean, laughing your ass off is an emotional response, crying, disgust, anger, they’re all emotional responses. Like how I said games have always been diverse, games have always made us emotional. So while I agree with the general statement, let’s not limit this to modern games, Kirk. I got seriously emotional playing old games like Phantasy Star IV and Final Fantasy VI as well, it’s not something specific to the 3D era of gaming.

One comment

  1. […] S Radical has a rebuttal piece on an article written about diversity in gaming. I would suggest reading the article they are responding to (which is linked in the post) but this […]

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