Monday, 20 December 2010

false dichotomy

So, this dude made a post about certain things he liked in RPGs. Another blog (not me) took mild offense at some of the implications and snarked about them, and he snarked back and then locked his post so people wouldn't comment further. (Which is completely within his rights to do of course!) Just another day on the internets.

Well, this is my blog so I'm still going to muse.

One thing he said is:

I liked The Witcher because the setting was authentic: it didn't mix pseudo-Medieval oppression of the peasantry with modern-day values on gender quality or empowerment; commoner NPCs used appropriate syntax and vocabulary (including curses) rather than spouting out like thesauruses; the art direction was stunning and stunningly detailed; and Geralt was an anti-hero with a believable character rather than a shining paragon/monstrous fiend, who dealt with the problems the world threw at him the best he could. He's a womanizer, but such a flaw is in keeping entirely with his experiences and lifestyle. The game doesn't foist 21st-century relationship protocol upon a wandering monster-slayer because that would be silly and disingenuous.

Caveat: I have not yet played The Witcher, so my discussion is based solely on the impressions I've gotten from a couple of reviews and the references he makes here.

In the post, he gives the impression that he thinks Dragon Age lacks artistic integrity because it contains more gender equality than The Witcher. And he seems confused as to why anyone should take offense to that statement.

First off - The idea that there is perfect modern gender equality in Dragon Age is completely false. (For one thing, the idea that there is perfect gender equality in the modern age is ALSO completely false.) Yes, the position of women in DA is better than it is in a lot of 'traditional' fantasy. They clearly can take up arms and hold leadership positions. On the other hand, there's still within the setting a general assumption of women being made for sex and home-making, and if you're playing a female character (especially if you're a female city elf, as I was first!) you will definitely get the point made to you early on that you're an unusual woman. Power balance may vary between cultures within the setting, as well; I got the impression dwarven women were 'more equal' than Dalish women, for example. But neutered and dulled and homogenised to avoid offending anyone? Take another look at the fates female characters are threatened with that the male characters are not. (Also, some players WERE offended by the existence of gay characters or the handling of some of the options at the brothel. Not that that's important to the overall point, just a reminder that the game wasn't, and wasn't trying to be, blandly inoffensive.)

Second - There's something quite disturbing about the notion that it cannot be artistic to be inclusive. No, art is not and should not be ALWAYS perfectly inclusive to everyone, that would greatly limit what stories you could tell. But suggesting that anything that isn't smack full of racism/sexism/whatever lacks is not proper art is ALSO stupidly limiting.

Third - People in general are quite stupid about 'authenticity'. They know that in modern times we're generally trying to lower the amount of racism/sexism/etc. Therefore in past times there must have been a lot more of it. Okay. But then they extend that to thinking that NO individual in past times EVER was anything more than a leering caricature of evil. Just because women weren't allowed to do X in public doesn't mean absolutely everybody thought women were mindless beasts who should never be spoken to outside of the kitchen or the bedroom. Just because there weren't an awful lot of black people wandering around Elizabethan England doesn't mean that every single Englishman, upon meeting one, would be obliged to set him on fire. Outspoken women did exist in the past. Men who thought women deserved more respect did exist in the past. People of other races did exist in the past. Gay people did exist in the past, despite more-modern history's attempt to gloss over that! Including these things does not magically make your setting hollow.

From what I understand, the main character of the Witcher is kinda a jerk and chases everything with a skirt. Fine! That's who he is. I don't object to there being such characters. I think it's good to see characters with a variety of views. And in general it's interesting when the views don't all coincide with what's expected - heroes have what we see as terrible flaws, villains are actually quite progressive in certain ways while being horrible in others.

However, I do object to the idea that it's better to be horrible, and to create worlds where people (lesser people, not the hero, oh no) are oppressed and miserable, and that anything else would lack artistic integrity. He claims that by promoting these negative games he's promoting variety. But if you promote ONLY these negative games and protest that games for other people are mush and shouldn't be made, you're not exactly espousing variety...

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