Saturday, 24 May 2014

You can't be inclusive and have fun, apparently.

So I was going to blog today about how half the political parties listed on the ballot for the European Parliament elections we had on Thursday were one-issue anti-Europe parties (a situation so ridiculously satirical that it has somehow passed out the far side of satire and into actually happening), but then I read this and changed my mind.

The article is a critique of certain remarks by officials at Blizzard Entertainment (who make World of Warcraft) and Nintendo in which, roughly, they argued that their games are focussed on 'fun', and that this is incompatible with presenting ethnic, gender and sexual diversity in a responsible manner. As the article puts it, they "position 'gameplay' and 'fun' in direct opposition to producing socially-conscious content."

And the article does a wonderful job of criticising this attitude, pointing out that it's equivalent to saying that a world where Blizzard and Nintendo don't have to respect other people's lives and lifestyles is simpler or more fun (I'm summarising pretty brutally - seriously, read the original article, it does a much better job of this than I can). Originally, I was just going to re-share the article to boost signal, but then I realised there was something in it I'd like to expand on.

That's the matter of how this dichotomy between fun and inclusive came to be. Why is it that the 'fun' gets spoiled when game developers (or movie studios, or book publishers etc.) try to be inclusive? I suppose there's a risk of them getting it wrong, and producing something that condescends to the groups it attempts to include. Some might think that it would add expense, in the form of making development more complex, but as this follow-up suggests, that's certainly not true for Blizzard or Nintendo in this case.

The truth, of course, is that when you get inclusive, particularly in the videogame world, the douchebags come out of the woodwork. A small minority - far smaller than any of the 'minority' groups which inclusiveness in the media should reach out to - make a big fuss and direct it at the developers, producers and other creatives. Here is one example from a couple of years ago.

And I can well imagine that this does spoil the fun, for the developers. Nobody likes having to deal with these bigots. It potentially spoils the fun for anyone who ends up paying attention to them, too - we all know that youtube comment threads are the new train wrecks, right? You just can't look away, no matter how much revulsion you feel.

But treating such bigotry and hatred as unbeatable is part of the problem. In saying that 'fun' is incompatible with inclusion, developers like Blizzard are surrendering the field without a fight. It's particularly weak of them in respect of World of Warcraft, where they could replace every non-player character with a gay black woman and only one player in a thousand would even notice.

Blizzard bigwig Rob Pardo is quoted in the article as having said of inclusion, "I wouldn't say that's really a value for us. It's not something that we're against either....", but that's not a fence you can sit on. Failing to uphold inclusion as a value is acting against it, because it allows a toxic status quo to persist. Failing to challenge the douchebags is letting them win.

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