Games for Everybody

I came here to talk about spiders.

Or maybe I came here to talk about homosexuality but you should stay for the spiders.  Either/or.

I should add as a disclaimer that I haven’t played Dragon Age.  But I’m going to write about what people have written about Dragon Age. I hope that’s OK and apologize if anything uninformed slips out.  I have basically read a lot of spoilers for this game because I’m not sure when I’m going to get around to it ever.

So now that all the disclaimers are over here’s another warning that you may want to stop reading if you are offended by homosexuals or spiders.

I’m loving this post-GDC writeup by Joel Burgess about motivating players in open world games.  This is a great wealth of info for how to tackle these design needs, so if you’d like to read that first and then come back here, I’ll wait.

In the bottom half of this there is a section called “Goals and Priority.”  Quote:

When we announced Skyrim a few months back, I was lurking on the forums and saw a speculation thread about spiders. The poster, it turned out, was curious if we’d have spiders as an enemy type in some dungeons, and if we’d include an option to disable them. I thought this was silly at first, but then I skimmed the thread and saw that other people chimed in with the same sentiment.

Some people are deathly afraid of spiders. Or they are just mildly afraid of them.  They don’t want to encounter them, ever. But they want to enjoy what will likely be a huge, highly-talked-about, open-world game… without encountering the spiders.

Me, I’m weird. I love spiders.  Love watching their fascinating motion across webs as their legs crawl all around, passing inside and slipping outside of one another as they effortlessly glide, crawl and sew. I can watch one for hours.  Obviously there are people who might feel the same way, and the game might include spiders for those people who think they are awesome.  But for the arachnophobic people, spiders  would bother them, so, I suppose to accommodate those people we might have a no-spiders option.

So RPS reports that someone on the Bioware forums doesn’t like a homosexual character making a pass at him.  Because he’s a “straight male gamer” and that is obviously not for him.  Maybe it bothers him to have a homosexual advance made on his character. He’d rather not encounter that, not see it. So make it like the spiders. I like the comment from someone further down the thread about adding some sort of “gayness slider.”

Bulletstorm thought their dialog might offend people, since it’s kind of over-the-top, so they included a no-swears option, though you have to dig for it in the options menu.  “No Russian” is skippable.  The title of my post is “Games for Everybody.” Games are for you…. even if you’re arachnophobic or homophobic or you don’t like swears, or if you’re okay with shooting “the bad guys” but not comfortable with a theoretical firing of your weapon in to innocent crowds.

And I get the point but I don’t know.  I guess I’ve always been a fan of the idea of games with “teeth,” but the truth of reality is that the bigger the game, the more you have to appeal to as many people as possible with the game, which means you have to worry about things that are going to bother people.  This is one reason why horror games now are different from horror games of my youth – a bigger audience needs slightly bigger training wheels in horror. Games traditionally have been the opposite of content-conservative, with plenty of games coming out trying on purpose to be as crass as possible to see where they can push the envelope.  But they’re conservative in a lot of other ways – particularly in the choice of protagonist character and what story that character is put there to tell.  And in a world where you’re afraid to offend someone, trying new stories with new protagonists is difficult.

Imagine if you went to a movie. And before the movie there was a warning about all the content you were about to see, a big checklist of every button that might possibly be ticked… and then an option to turn that part off.  Hm, no, that’s a terrible analogy. But maybe I would’ve wished for that in Cloverfield when I was not adequately warned that the camera was going to make me throw up in my popcorn…

Okay, imagine you went to a theme park. And before doing anything…  Well, theme parks sort of do this. The warnings say “don’t ride this if you have heart problems or are pregnant.”  They aren’t truly content warnings but warnings about the experience.  They can serve two purposes with this kind of warning… they can actually warn people who shouldn’t be on the ride, and, they can also build anticipation for what people are about to see and do.  If a ride has a sign that says “Warning: you will get wet on this ride,” that’s one code phrase for “oo, fun!”  But everybody might not wanna get on that ride. And there is no “change the ride so I don’t get wet” option.

There’s an awesome disclaimer in front of many of the Silent Hill games.  A screen flashes up with a warning to the effect of  “sequences in this game may be violent and cruel.”  Typically this is overlaid over an image of something violent and cruel happening.  It’s a warning, sure, but, what it really does is reinforce that you’re about to get what you paid for, presuming you knew what you were doing when you picked up a game called Silent Hill.

But Silent Hill is like the water ride. It’s not for everyone. Maybe I didn’t come to the theme park to get wet today.  Maybe I didn’t want to see anything violent or cruel today.  There is no option to turn off the cruelness.  (Sometimes there is an option to change the blood color, at least for enemies, presuming that bothers you.)  That’s because if you want to turn that off the game isn’t for you in the first place.

But Call of Duty, say, is supposed to be a game for everyone. Even if it’s not, particularly, the game for me.

So the more mainstream you want to be, as a AAA game, and the more units you want to sell, the more pressure there is to add an option to remove anything that’s going to potentially put off a certain percent of your audience. Even if that thing is spiders.

I don’t have a particular answer for that conundrum.  I just find it something interesting to muse out loud about.

3 thoughts on “Games for Everybody”

  1. I think it’s a lot like the question of how to deal with triggers in Internet discussions. It’s certainly polite to attach trigger warnings to the big obvious things that might cause problems, like “graphic descriptions of rape” or whatever. But it’s very possible for people to have serious triggers associated with mundane things like, I don’t know, hairbrushes, and it would just be absolutely unworkable in a public space to attach a trigger warning to every mention of hairbrushes, just in case someone happens to have that trigger.

    In general, I think it’s generally understood that people are expected to own their triggers and be prepared to deal with them in their own way if they come up. Similarly, I think someone with a major phobia of spiders mostly just needs to be aware that giant spider monsters are a genre convention in RPGs, and be prepared to risk encountering them.

  2. I don’t think you can meaningfully compare these scenarios. If you’re afraid of spiders, or allergic to shaky cameras or blood, it’s worth adding an option to disable that. since it’s not your fault and such issues shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the game.

    If, however, someone is homophobic (or sexist, for that matter), such bigotry is their own fault, and making an option to appease to them is a concession against social liberation.

  3. > presuming you knew what you were doing when you picked up a game called Silent Hill.

    It’s about a hill that’s silent, no? 🙂

    (just kidding.)

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