Monthly Archives: February 2013

Religion & Video Games

At last we have come to the end of February, and the end of concept month. Over the last four weeks I’ve discussed: Violence, RacismRomance and Politics; and how each of these issues relates to video games. To close it out, this week’s topic is Religion. It may not seem evident right away, but many video games have used aspects of religion, at least as a concept to enhance the player’s experience.

Last week, I mentioned that Skyrim featured a civil war and that it allowed to the player to express a political viewpoint. I also mentioned that this war was essentially a religious war, being fought over ban on worshipping a particular deity. This isn’t the only example of religion in Skyrim. There are a set of side-quests that allow the player to interact with some of the gods, there are even temples that allow the player to pray and receive blessings from these same gods. It may not be as fleshed out as the politics, but Skyrim affords players the opportunity to make a small religious statement. This example, however, is looking at religion from a mythological perspective. It looks at the gods and creatures as if they were real, it’s a perspective that both of God of War and Devil May Cry use effectively. This is a cool thing for video games to draw inspiration from, but it leaves out the most interesting aspect of religion; faith.

“Do you have a moment to talk about Jesus?”

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Politics & Video Games

Politics is probably the last thing that most people have on their minds while playing a video game (that and the stock market maybe). This isn’t surprising after all most people play video games to get away from politics. The reason why I bring this up is because featuring politics is a very natural way to add depth to a video game’s story. In most instances, video games feature a bare-bones version of politics but the few games that don’t do this, are significantly deeper because they feature politics. Seeing as it is still the self-proclaimed concept month of February, I think it’s appropriate to discuss politics in video games.

As I said before, most video games that feature politics, have a stripped down version; it’s usually framed as a quest/mission. This is true for pretty much every role-playing-game. In most examples, political beliefs and morals are irrelevant as far as the player is concerned.The Mass Effect games do have  bit of politics in each installment, however most of the trilogy is spent fighting bad guys and flirting with sexy aliens (or humans). Unfortunately, the Mass Effect Trilogy, a franchise that is all about choice and consequence, misses the opportunity to allow the player to express themselves politically. There are moments in the trilogy (specifically in the first and third game) that resemble political issues but they are examined through a moral lens and not a political one. If a gun control debate, like the one currently going on in the US was brought up in Mass Effect, supporting gun control would probably be “Paragon” and opposing it would be “Renegade”. This doesn’t add any political themes to the game, it’s merely more content for the player to sift through.

To be fair, the Council would probably be more concerned about reporter security than gun control.

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Romance & Video Games

While most couples in the real world are probably busy sending each other chocolates or tacky Hallmark cards, I wonder how the numerous video game couples would spend their valentine’s day. I also wonder how Valentine’s Day would play in a video game. In a game like Mass Effect, you would probably have to talk down the florist by either persuading or threatening them to lower the price of roses. In a game like Final Fantasy, you would probably have to collect X amount of item A, which only drops from Monster B, which can only be found at location C (yeah you get the idea). After pondering this for a bit, it’s dawned on me that romance is rarely done well in video games. Seeing as it’s still the concept-themed month of February, and in honor of Saint Valentine, let’s talk about video games and romance.

For the sake of clarity let me define romance as follows: Romance is the event (either or developing or ongoing) in which two people form an emotional connection (ie: Love), either through a genuine bond or because the writer says so. Romance in video games is often reduced to a simplistic quest for a reward such as character insight, emotional support or the obligatory sex-scene (or all three if it’s Mass Effect). I hate to break it to you all, but romance in the real world does not work this way (what a shock). I haven’t been in a relationship myself, but I think it’s safe to assume that the relationship itself is its own reward. In video games, there’s always a point where the romance stops; where the romance is paused so that the main story can continue. The problem with this is that it doesn’t allow the romance to be ongoing or to naturally develop like it would in real life. This ultimately results in romances that are always separate from the narrative. It’s very rare for the romance to mesh with the narrative.

In a franchise otherwise devoid of good writing, the romance between the Master Chief and Cortana in the Halo games is one of the few relationships done well in a video game.

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Racism & Video Games

This past Saturday a twitter war broke out relating to probably the most sensitive issue, not just in gaming but in all media in general: Racism. If you haven’t been following I’ll give you the quick version. Gearbox released Borderlands 2 last September, like it’s predecessor it features of all sorts of quirky and fun characters, one of which is an unstable 13-year-old girl named Tiny Tina, who uses a vocabulary similar to “ghetto” African-Americans. This apparently made some certain players uncomfortable and one player in particular sent out this tweet. This resulted in several other tweets between Gearbox and various players. So, keeping in line with the theme of discussing larger concepts for the month of February, this week’s topic is going to be about the relationship between racism and video games.

To be fair, I would question the mental stability of anyone who has the word badonkadonk in their vocabulary.

I can’t help but feel frustrated by this news. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Tiny Tina’s “ghetto” vocabulary is invoking racial stereotypes, but not to show that she’s a racist character, but to show her naïvety. A mentally unstable thirteen-year-old girl probably lacks the wisdom to see past a racial stereotype. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume Tina thinks “ghetto” talk is cool; hence it’s easy to conclude she’s a naïve character. What bothers me even more is not just that most of the people who complained about Tina’s dialogue were white but that this event shows that regardless of context, video games aren’t “allowed” to use any racial stereotype. This is further reinforced by the fact that Anthony Burch (who wrote Tina’s dialogue) actually offered to change her character in response. Even though it’s a legitimate part of Tina’s character, the very person who knows the character best is being apologetic in the face of criticism. Burch isn’t at fault here; anything he says ultimately reflects Gearbox so he has reason not to say the wrong thing. This type of attitude however, reflects a deeper problem within the industry.

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