Part of me wants to be able to put up a wall between creators and the products they create. Does it matter to me that the artist of the comic, the coder on the game, or the writer of the book I’m trying to read can sometimes be an asshole on Twitter? Not if I don’t notice! But as soon as I notice, that’s going to put me off. And that happened this week.
People are talking a lot about “playable female characters” right now—something I always find important, but is in the spotlight particularly after the people behind Assassin’s Creed said at E3 that they couldn’t add a lady because it would have "doubled the work" on the game, something that simply isn't true, and lazy, in the face of a pretty important subject.* So it seemed pretty reasonable when someone on Twitter asked developer Garry Newman whether there would be a female avatar in his game Rust, a game I've been looking forward to.
Sure, he’s probably trying to be funny—but not all of this is a joke. He probably isn’t going to put a female avatar in Rust. Is that because women are silly? Or because he’s lazy and including 50 percent of the world’s population just isn’t important to him? I don’t really want to go off on Newman in particular, because seriously, he’s just a guy, a guy with an opinion, and my problem isn’t him—it’s that this opinion is popular, the sentiment is systemic, and it's followed by the fomenting bowl of hate that is the internet. For every popular videogame developer who says something “only a little bit sexist” as a joke, there are tens of thousands of fanboys of that guy who are looking for an opportunity to pick up a banner and fight for what they believe in (sexism). If Newman just let the art speak for itself? I'd probably play Rust. But because he's out there unwittingly leading an army, I'm not interested.
There's an interesting video going around the internet right now about Phil Fish—the Fez developer (and outspoken not-super-nice-guy) whom people love to hate. It says a lot about the nature of fame and the internet, but one of the points I found interesting is that people—media, developers, and people who played his games—were mad at Fish because the public made him famous. They enjoyed his game and spread the word about it... and then, once he had notoriety, he turned out to be not the kind of person they had assumed he was to start with.
So here’s what I’m doing. I feel sick when I feel betrayed by the creators of the media I consume. I don’t want to care, but I do. And that’s okay. So before I play something, I’m just gonna ask. The developers are right there on Twitter, why not? If I find out they want to outwardly state their opinion, then I'm gonna make my decision based on that.
For example, in a fit of internet abbreviations, I had a chat with developer Chris Chung, who is Kickstarting his game "Catlateral Damage" right now.
See? I feel better already. I'm shedding one of those responsibilities women in games feel—we think we have to play popular games because if we don't, we're "fake" and we don't have a right to participate. But I honestly don't give a crap. If you actively want to make my life worse, I'm not going to give you money. And there are lots of games made by people who care about women, about minorities, about making game culture one that moves forward instead of reflecting the worst of society—like Portland's own Fullbright Company, of course, and Logan Bonner, a writer on the tabletop Pathfinder games at Paizo Publishing.
And that? That just makes me want to play Pathfinder.
Yes, this may mean I’m playing fewer games. And no, I don’t think my stance is going to make people change anyone's minds. But it will make me feel better. And I’m spending too much time at my man-hating feminist meetings to play everything anyway.
*I don’t want to go off too hard on why having lady characters is important—because a lot has already been said, like they create role models, and teach boys that women are more than fleshbags with sex holes. And yes, while we're at it: videogames are an art form, and yes, they do have a responsibility to diversify. Even if creators don't think there's a female audience, and even if they just want to “make games." Creators who're fighting this, please shut up: You’re making a piece of media that is going to be consumed longer than a movie or a TV episode, and you have a responsibility to move our culture forward, and honestly, it’s not that hard. Especially if you decide not to do jiggle physics. (And yes, I know there are no female characters in Minecraft.)