Sunday, 11 May 2014

On Systematic Discrimination In Video Games

Some of you may have heard about some people getting very upset with Nintendo for publishing a game somewhat like the Sims, featuring relationships. The thing was that you can marry your avatar in the game to someone else's avatar, but only if one is female and the other male, or vice versa. Looking at this issue in a broader light it seems clear to me that the people upset about this are merely shooting the messenger. The simple fact is that Nintendo is a Japanese company, thus based in a country where same-sex marriage is illegal. It would likely result in a lot of trouble if Nintendo released this game in Japan with same-sex marriages as option. If anything Nintendo is the victim here, caught between a rock and a hard place.

And really, there is a much larger issue with this game. Actually it's something which is wrong with every single video game out there which features human beings or similar representations. They are all horribly discriminatory against a large group of people by completely excluding their existence. I'm of course talking about intersex individuals. If I wanted to I could whine at Nintendo for not including intersex/hermaphrodite characters within their Mii avatar system. I just don't see how it would solve anything. In the end it's an issue with society, not with a video game.

A recent video game which I thought was coming closest to not imposing some kind of moral or ethical system on the sexuality and gender preferences of its characters was Saints Row IV, though even if it didn't explicitly include any intersex characters. Then again, it makes sense to wonder about what it would add to the game and how it would make people regard intersex individuals in general. Maybe it would make more sense to introduce the concept of intersex in a mainstream video game in a more focused fashion instead of just cramming it into any random game.

I have been giving thought for a while now to a possible concept for a game which could feature a main character who is intersex. One option there of course is a game-version of something like my own story, shaped like a kind of survival and detective or puzzle game, with influences from games such as Silent Hill, Persona and similar strongly story-driven games with an ever-present sensation of something being wrong as things go from bad to worse. It could be a dramatized version of real-life stories, possibly with multiple endings depending on the choices one makes during the game.

Best thing I think would be to have the player get 'into' the main character to really understand its experiences and motivations. This would be better than merely having, say, a hermaphrodite character in a Sims-like game, as for the average player their programming would kick in and they'd just discard it as 'weird' while not feeling motivated to understand the character. As they say, you have to walk in a person's shoes before you can understand that person. Maybe a video game like this could make intersex suddenly an actually well-known thing.


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