The recent furore over Blizzard’s Overwatch and Beamdog’s Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear illustrates two very different approaches to game design and response to criticism.
Blizzard’s Overwatch is an upcoming multiplayer first person shooter. The original controversy began when people complained about a victory pose employed by the game’s first revealed character, Tracer, claiming that it turns her into a sex object. Blizzard quickly apologised for the so-called ‘butt pose‘, and replaced it with another victory pose…itself based on a pin-up.
I think the original complaint was overblown to begin with. Overwatch is Blizzard’s intellectual property, and they are free to design characters as they please. A bunch of pixels on a two-dimensional screen is hardly worth getting riled up about, but it’s what Social Justice Warriors do all the time.
Blizzard’s response is one for the textbooks. I don’t know enough about the game to decide whether the original pose suited the character in question. But I don’t see any wrongdoing there, and there’s nothing for Blizzard to apologise for. On the other hand, the new pose took the perspective off Tracer’s rear, defusing the original complaint, while retaining the aesthetics of the game and character, and gave anti-SJWs something to smile at. Blizzard turned a potential crisis on its head, showed its respect for its target audience, and even generated good PR for itself.
Dragonspear, on the other hand, was a mess. It was set in the Baldur’s Gate universe, in between the original and its sequel. The franchise has an existing canon, an established universe, an entrenched culture — and Beamdog inserted social justice memes into the series.
While designers are free to design what they wish, Beamdog interfered with the creative vision of another team of developers — and not in a way that built up the canon. Instead, they subverted the game universe to push their ideology, practically shoving it down gamers’ throats. For example, there is a transgender character named Mizhena. She says:
“When I was born, my parents thought me a boy and raised me as such. In time, we all came to understand I was truly a woman. I created my new name from syllables of different languages. All have special meaning to me; it is the truest reflection of who I am.”
The mindset revealed in this explanation points to a modern Western progressive mindset, one that is concerned about tolerance, gender fluidity, and casual linguistic appropriation. Most tellingly, the player character can only react in three ways: express approval, move on to another subject, or end the dialogue.
This is something you might expect to see in San Francisco, circa 2016. But tolerance, gender fluidity and casual linguistic appropriation have not been established as part of the in-game culture and memes of the original Baldur’s Gate. This is clearly a naked attempt to subvert an existing IP to shove politics down gamer’s throats.
When called out on it, Beamdog’s CEO doubled down, claiming that he will stand behind his staff. Beamdog proceeded to crack down on ‘harassment’ and ‘abuse’ on its online forums, banning users for thoughtcrime. The company also called for people to post positive reviews of the game online — which is a naked attempt to manipulate rating systems.
If people want to make social justice games, they are free to do so. It has never been easier to create, publish, sell and market a computer game in history. But Beamdog subverted an existing IP, disrespected its original creative vision, and alienated its target audience. And the icing on the cake: the game itself is buggy, riddled with glitches, and breaks other mods. Gamers may forgive social justice themes in games; they will not forgive broken games.
Beamdog’s approach is characteristic of social justice warriors: they subvert existing IP to ram their ideology down fans’ throats, they double down when called out on their behaviour, they lie about how good their work is, they project their insecurities and tendencies towards harassment on people who call them out, and if their new IP is fundamentally broken in some way they will redirect attention on the cultural conflict.
Developers should be like Blizzard: either create fresh IPs or build upon existing IPs, respect their target audience without backing down to SJWs, and focus their efforts on the game and the gamer.
Gamers care less about social justice than game mechanics and playability. Gamers do not want to be lectured or preached to; they want to have fun and escape the real world for a while. Developers who fail to recognise that are failures.