Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Episode 28: "Complex Issues"

UPDATE: As of 9/13/11, this video can be found at THIS LINK

With appologies for the wait, a new episode has debuted on ScrewAttack:

Basic subject this time: The somewhat non-started boycott movement that arose around the XBLA title "Shadow Complex," which I SWEAR was still new news when I started this ;)


ThatFellowWithTheHat said...

Hmm, it might be a better idea to stray away from Zelda continuity, unless you want to be labeled an AVGN rip off by his more... "adoring" fans. An episode on Continuity in Video Games as a whole would be nice though, I mean, Mario pretty much has NO continuity except for his RPGs, I mean, look at how much Peach's Castle has changed from game to game.

As for this episode,I didn't even know about the whole Shadow Complex debate. I don't own a 360, so I can't exactly say anything about the game itself either. It looks fun though, and I probably wouldn't let the guy's political beliefs get in my way of buying it, mainly because I don't really think he alone with one game's sales behind him could do much to sway a nation's beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Now that's an interesting issue.

Okay...first thing's first. I think people should be allowed to make the games they want, and consumers should be free to comment on them via their purchase, exactly the sort of thing that is now being done with Shadow Complex. Now, I don't have the ability to play the game since I don't have XBL, but I am an enormous fan of Card's books, and bought many of them before I was aware of his political stance. (Almost) all of his books having nothing to do with that aspect of his political views though, and so I have no problem giving him my money. Its a product I want, and if he chooses to use the money I give him to fund a project I disagree with (however vehemently), I believe that's his right. Now, would I buy a book or game from him that specifically rebukes the allowance of gay marriage? No, I wouldn't. But as long as he he keeps his politics out of the product I actually want to buy, then I feel (fairly) comfortable giving him my money and allowing him to take advantage of our constitutional freedom to spend it as he sees fit. Now I would have to draw the line somewhere--would I give money to someone who privately advocates the overthrow of our government, or fund terrorism for example, even if their product had nothing to do with it? Well, no. But in Card's case, while I disagree strongly with his beliefs, I also strongly believe he has a right to them. (And, I also think people have the right NOT to give them money as they see fit too, of course.) for politics in games. Here's my take: if the whole point of a game is to make a political point (BioShock, for example), then I am okay with playing it even if it contradicts my own politics. Again, I probably have a mental line I wouldn't cross; issues that, if a game addressed them, I would probably choose not to play the game. However, I certainly wouldn't protest the right for the game to exist. My major problem would be if a game that has nothing to do with politics tries to inject political commentary into the game--as in your Mega Man example. Mega Man has nothing to do with politics and/or environmentalism, and if someone tried to shoehorn those issues into it, I'd be pissed. But if someone chose to make a new game with the same theme, I might disagree with their point, but I wouldn't be nearly as upset.

Amund said...

I think you got away from your aim, anything it was originally. Started with excuses, then about Shadow complex. Then you stated it's not about the game, okay, it's about the origins of its story. But it's not about it's story, you said, but the author's political standpoint. Witch isn't really political than belief or philosophical. Than suddenly you are talking about gay merriage. It really got twisted and we where nowhere in the video by that time...

A little story for the main issue: Ghost in the shell Stan Alone Complex for the PS2 was one messed up political intrigue story about rice...and the right for that rice in a cyberpunk cemoflage. Political tones doesn't make better games, neither deeper gameplay touch. They don't belong to the realm of videogames, that is what i believe.

In the end non of your questions was answered by yourself. What is your opinion? Or it was just a big, long and loud overthinked question? I fear you handled this matter too carefully.

But i still like it and missed the show. Keep it up.

Tim Martin said...

Excellent post Bob, I'm glad to see The Game Overthinker back.

It occurred to me that one potential problem with gaming is that you have to actively control a character rather than just observing it happening. In order for a game to be effective, you have to identify with the protagonist to some extent, but this will be an uncomfortable experience if it involves taking actions that you find morally unacceptable.

In a sense this is surprising, since one of the great things about gaming is that it lets you live experiences that aren't otherwise open to you, often by allowing you to indulge in actions you would find unacceptable in the real world - if shooting prostitutes is OK in Grand Theft Auto, then why worry about objectivism vs. relativism?

I think soldierhawk made a good point in reference to gratuitousness of political or moral content. I'm certainly much more tolerant of (indeed, glad of) political opinions in film and literature if they are driven by the plot and not needless proselytising.

Craig said...

Dood, I'd take a new Earthworm Jim game even if it was filled with all the previously noted nonsense. I just want a new Earthworm Jim.

And maybe reruns of the Cartoon, and maybe a DVD set of previous cartoon.

Hell, by law of averages, it would have to be the funniest, most irreverent whatever wing nonsense that'll be in a game.

NeoRanger said...

Great episode and I find the issue valid. Though I was unaware of the boycotting of Shadow Complex, because I don't own a 360 and the only time I've heard anything about it was during E3, I've been actively staying away from games the narrative of which I know will get in my nerves for years now. Not boycotting, but certainly not bothering with them.

Namely, the macho, uber-pro-American games that walk on the line of propaganda, which is why I stay away from many army games. And with shooters it's not that big a loss, but I'm a huge fan of stealth games and I never could get into Splinter Cell, despite its admittedly solid gameplay.

Der Opa said...

Since the MovieBob and TGO are two of my only connections to the real world, I thought I'd share this bit a came across. It's a series of maybe 100 in-game scenes, together with some beautiful music (less talk, I know, but a lot of work went into that, too):

Thomas said...

Honestly, if you want to boycott a game or any product based solely on a creator's political stance, that is your right. It does, however, make you a humorless, closed-minded individual with tunnel vision so bad that it's amazing that ANY light filters through to you. If you take politics that seriously, then you really are THAT guy at the party, just as bad as any fanboy. Fun fact! The composer behind many Dragon Quest games is a Japanese ultranationalist who denies the Nanjing Massacre! Think about that the next time you see a slime draw near.

Now, if, on the other hand, you avoided Bioshock because you are an avowed Objectivist, or (generally) if you wanted to avoid any product that directly offends your sensibilities, that's a little more understandable. Most people don't like to pay money for the chance to be infuriated.

At the end of the day, a product like a video game has a lot of hands in the pot. And by the law of averages, some of those hands will have political viewpoints you disagree with, and they might back their ideology with cash. At some point in time, unless you're living in a cabin in Montana, you're going to have to interact with a person you disagree with in a way that will benefit them economically. The question is, where is the line drawn? For me, the best line is drawn at the product itself. If the point of Shadow Complex was to stop gay marriage activists, then a boycott is reasonable. Otherwise, you may as well refuse to see The Pianist because of Polanski, or not buy a Volkswagen because Hitler founded the company.

Mark said...

great episode! Welcome back! again.......
please make more of these, so i don't have to keep saying "welcome back!"

but man, this is a toughie. I, like others in the comments, didn't know about shadow complex's boycott. But I did have a similar experience with Card's novels.

I read Ender's game like everybody else. loved it like everybody else. By the time i got most of the way through the Shadow series - and the story started to stink a little too much of post-911 anti-islam - i started to become a bit wary of his politics. Did I still read his books? yes. did i feel great about it.... i was waiting and seeing. after all, they're just his beliefs - I am start enough to filter through them and take what I want, yet not be negatively influenced, right?

But the donating tons of money to a cause I *don't* support (banning gay marriage) is when things change. then, by buying his books, I am working against my own beliefs. I don't give my money to Walmart, in a related example.

But then again, my father-in-law owns a carpet shop, and once lost a customer when she found out he had had his cats de-clawed. WTF!? Gray area, i guess.

This is very different than, say, the film and book "Thank You for Smoking," which was written by avid conservative (hint: i'm liberal) Charles Buckley. However, the book leaves things undecided - while it presents some strong "libertarianesque" ideas, it also fairly shows the bad side of that philosophy (i.e., the tobacco industry). This I have no problem supporting. Now, I don't know where Buckley spends his money, but he's willing to put things forward in a balanced and realistic way.

So, my point - if a game ever crossed THAT line, bursting with bad philosophy in a way that was intellectually dishonest (ahem, fox news), there'd be no way they'd get their money from me. Until that point, it'd have to be a case-by case thing, Like my relationship with Orson Scott Homophobe

Blake said...

Too long in between episodes!!!

Personally, I'd be willing to take the risk for some more intellectually challenging content. Whenever you try to do something new, whether it be in life, or in something as mundane as a video game, you have to be prepared to face adversity. Whether that is something quite literal or something as intangible as having your morals and ethical beliefs puked on by a game and then thrown in your face.

It's a chance I'm willing to take; I'm willing to bet many aren't though. Remember when Dogma came out? Yeah, Catholics didn't exactly like that. I don't think there is any reason to expect something similar wouldn't happen to a video game. Publishers don't want to get involved in this stuff either generally; it is bad for business.

Whoever takes a chance on it will have to have some big kahunas and tell their million dollar publisher that yes, they want to make a game that slams pro-life/pro-choice activists. Yeah... good luck with that.

Still, I think the gamers will win when someone gets the stones to try.

Ryan w said...

Nice blog, but i would like to add a perspective to your list. While objectivists may have an issue with some of bioshock's political overtones. Gamers who are religious, particularly catholic/christian have had several games that, while separated by a layer or two of abstraction, generally were set up to show that the pseudo-catholic church in the game world was ultimately corrupt, misleading and evil. off the top of my head, xenogears, vagrent story, final fantasy tactics, grandia 2, breath of fire 2, and slightly more abstracted in morrowind.

Part of the hostility could be explained as the church was a large powerful group, the kind that makes compelling antagonists. particularly in the medieval times portrayed in the games, and some real world analogues did happen during the feudal era, and also that almost all of the games were made in japan, where christianity is an extreme minority and was actively suppressed for centuries. the less pleasant fact was that several of these games were also amazing games, so you kind of had to bite your tongue and slog through to the good bits, or you stuck to your guns and avoided playing an amazing game.

So i dunno, I suppose its a case of other philosophies finally getting a feel for this kind of criticism, maybe it will give them a sense of perspective. It is an extreme action to abandon a hobby because it is consistently putting your beliefs down, but hopefully the progression of discourse allows for games that show you in a less unflattering light as well, such as...drawing a blank here...well, maybe growth comes with time.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I just happened to find this while reading Gamerpolitics:

That would be an example of a game I would draw the line at. I find it offensive not only politically, but morally. If it was being sold, I would certainly feel comfortable boycotting it. Nice illustration I happened to come across.

Eric said...

Good episode. Regarding your question posed at the end, I would welcome any game that presents an opinion that is contrary to my own - but under the condition that it is not absolutely, offensively blatant about it. I would not touch a hardcore fundamentalist Christian game, but one with a Christian message that promoted Christian values? I would not take the ideas seriously within the game, or otherwise. I can't say it wouldn't impact my perception and opinion of the game, but, if executed well, by presenting both sides of its fundamental issue, I don't think I'd complain too much.

BioShock, depending on your reading, can be either a praising of the ideal of Objectivism and an indictment of humanity, or a scathing critique of the philosophy and a raising up of traditional capitalist values, or any other number of things. Fallout is a criticism of the typical patriotic American, conservative, capitalist world-view, where technology is construed as both a blessing and also a curse depending on those using it. I think that sort of approach works the best: it does seem to have an overarching point, but does let the player come to his or her own conclusions by way of investigation. What is most important, I think, is that if political etc. opinions are discussed in a game, they are voiced as the opinions of characters within that game universe, and not the creators of the game themselves.

As for boycotting and Shadow Complex, people can choose to buy whatever they wish - that is the one fundamental freedom we seem to be afforded under the capitalist system that we have in place right now, unfortunately. I would not begrudge anyone for boycotting a game if it was a matter of personal taste or opinion on a political, religious or philosophical issue. If I were to look at you funny, it'd be because of your actual beliefs, and not the decision to boycott itself.

I'm glad to see you're discussing issues in a more in-depth way than some of your more recent episodes, but I think that you're being limited by your 10-minute format. Similarly, there is a lot of sociological and similar research being done on videogames right now that could prove useful in a lot of the topics hat you regularly discuss. I appreciate your video series immensely, but I do sometimes find myself wondering if you could take things to the "next level", as it were. If you have the time and effort available, you might want to get into writing some proper, full-length articles on the subjects - not to say your videos aren't, but having reputable academic sources as backup would both strengthen your arguments and add a lot of depth to the discussion. I do understand that you like to keep things "by gamers, for gamers", though, so I can understand why you may not want to get too nuts about it - not to mention your own mental health.

In any case, I'm very much looking forward to the next episode. Keep up the good work. :3

Tom R said...

Nice video, I really enjoyed it.

But I kind of have a problem. Around the 6 minute mark you argue that videogames of the past are/were somehow 'apolitical', and that the trade-off for games approaching more complex issues leads to more 'uneasy considerations for a lot of us to make' in terms of our political orientation as consumers.

But so many old games simply aren't apolitical, and we've always had a responsibility as consumers. Ok, maybe it's simply a matter of degree (you can't really vilify mario in his misogynistic treatment of princess peach)but you genuinely might not feel so good about the colonialist overtones in Tomb Raider or Civilization games for example. Games, like any other artifact are the product of the social, cultural, ideological & political conditions in which they are made. It's just very rare that anything is apolitical.

Hasn't this problem always been around? Isn't it dangerous to think that we only have a responsibility when the situation is as obvious as it is with Orson Scott Card/Shadow Complex?

How about Halo?
Splinter Cell?
The Sims?

Anonymous said...

I agree the 10-minute format is a bit limiting. I wonder if there's a possibility of being allowed more time, or maybe doing a follow up video/written entry about the video subject at least for the blog here, if Screw Attacks isn't interested in quite that much content. (Why they wouldn't be I have no idea, but I know they're kind of the boss at the moment.)

Alcibiades said...

I think you do this a disservice by treating it like any other political matter.

I don't think you'd see the same reaction, if, as you suggested, Richard Garriott donated to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

For the people boycotting the game owing to Card's views, this isn't a run of the mill political issue. We're not talking about farm subsidies, tax code changes, environmental regulations, or even foreign policy.

What we're dealing with here is bigotry, a person who is bound come hell or high water to make a large segment of our population be viewed as subhuman. I realize and respect that that's not the way all people see the issue. Nevertheless, if you want an analogy that rings true to most of the boycotters, you're better off citing David Duke rather than Hillary Clinton. How many of you guys could or would buy a game whose head designer belonged to the klan?

Anonymous said...

^ Hrmph. That's a good point, actually.

I'd have to think pretty hard on it. And that also makes me want to reevaluate my stance on Card's politics, since I disagree with what he says so much. Siiiigh...back to the drawing board.

iNs1d3tRiP said...

I agree. Any time some sort of "instruction" is included in Art it is diminished. I will quote Immanuel Kant here...

Beauty is the form of the purposiveness of an object, so far as this is perceived in it without any representation of a purpose.

Of course, I can think of many great works of Art which are meant to be dydactic: Pope's Rape of the Lock, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, The Bible... However, I think these works stand out because they are great, not because they try to "please and teach".

When attempting to create something it is extremely not to reflect your own opinions in that work. However, I think by doing so you jeopardize the work by reducing it from an aesthetical experience or even an intellectual experience. I'm really a big fan of Keat's Negative Capability; I think he was on to something there.

I really can't agree with you more, and while I'm not optimistic I do not think it has to be like this. However, we will need to completely change as a culture to move towards Negative Capability. I hate to sound like a hippy, but the reason why things are so political is because society is only concerned with one thing, profit. And the best way to profit is to gain political power, and promoting propaganda.

Blayne said...

Great job, your article/podcast/vblog?? Was very well done and tactfully so to the point that I am actually posting a link to it on the official website/forums for Orson Scott Card.

I am OSC fan and while I personally find some of his politics disillusioning I greatly enjoy his works (specifically the Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow series) and will continue to buy and read them for as long as he maintains his high writing standards.

Come to Hatrack bob, we're nice people.

Chromesthesia said...

Can't say I'm a huge fan of Orson Scott Card anymore because he's traded plot, prose and distinct characters for characters possessed to preach Mormon doctrine at the reader.
Which is not a bad thing if you like that, but it's just as annoying for someone liberal to turn an entire book into a screedy nag-fest.
But mostly the quality of his books has decreased substantially because of this. Ender in Exile was terrible. Why was all of that lecturing NECESSARY? Why was that book necessary?

This aside, I can't even buy this game as I don't have a Xbox 360 or any money for games or new books.
So it's not exactly boycotting him, but perhaps brokecotting.

You got to admit that when it comes to being a bigot towards gays, it's slightly more tolerated than being a bigot towards someone on the basis of race... The stuff he's said about gays was so harsh...
So rude...

Still, the video made some good points.

squall lee said...

That was quite a mouthful, and I had a bit of a problem grasping the content of this episode, but that's more because I don't understand this subject matter.

Anyway, for what I could gather it is a relatively new and different idea to let the influence of someone's idealisms get in the way of your potential purchase of something. But I say no one's ever going to completely succeed when it comes to "politics" or altering the world, so even though you may be helping them, realistically it isn't going to make much of a different.

I mean with Orson Scott Card, he might be able to succeed in postponing gays being able to get married for just awhile longer, but there's the extremely strong chance that he won't, and that things will stay the way they are or be different, regardless of how much time, money, and power he would invest into such a cause.

Everything works towards a state of balance.

But anyway, about that Mega Man thing, I think that might've been the plot of a story arc in Astro Boy.

Anonymous said...

The best argument against boycotting this sort of thing in order to deny Card money is that the distribution chain has a LOT more people in it than just Card, and if you were to apply that reasoning to everything you buy, you'd be unable to buy anything because someone, somewhere in the distribution chain is a horrible person.

Of course, that doesn't really attack the symbolic aspect. If you want to publicly proclaim the boycott in order to make a political statement, go for it.

Oh, and there's a big difference between refusing to buy a game because (one of) the creator(s) is a horrible person to whom you don't want to give money, and refusing to buy a game because the game's narrative message is offensive to you.

Sir Laguna said...

My favorite episode so far, IT really made me start to think about a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points, Bob (and indeed all the previous posters as well).

Ah, the age old question: if it hurts me, do I still want to play? Do I react with righteous anger at something that offends me, or do I examine it on it's own merits as art?

As a Non-Denominational Christian and a hardcore rpg geek, I have played plenty of stuff which seemed to depict my beliefs as monstrous or downright evil via the use of strawmen(Xenogears, Luminous Arc, The Shin Megami Tensei series, etc).

But I still loved the games for what they are: a gorgeous marriage of entertainment and art.

Do I disagree with what is said of me and those like me? Yes.

But would I take it out on the games themselves? No.

Like all (good) art, games are an expression of the inner feelings and deepest beliefs of their creator(s). I may not agree with the opinions therein, but I admire the beauty of it all, nonetheless.

Doug said...

I will argue with one point in your video; BioShock as 'fantastic'. Personally, I found BioShock very underwheming, and I'd never played System Shock before either. And whilst the plot of an underwater super-capitalist society interesting, the game, gameplay, and even graphics didn't impress me, and I've not finished it to date.

As for if politics will taint gaming, sadly, yeah, because American politics seems to send people sociopathically to all extremes without middle ground and, because the America's are one of the biggest markets for games, this'll affect all of us.

Nathan said...

Bioshock needed some Question and Steve Ditko references since you always use JLU Question as a card.

but yeah very divisive issue here and iapplaud many of your statements.

I live in San Francisco and got into hot water when I was buying Ender's Game comics because they were based on Card's work. It wasn't a back and white situation, and had to take some thinking since I read and loved Ender's Game before I had any notion of politics of that the thing between my legs was for anything other thank "tinkle"

Aaron said...

That phenomenon, where one tries to boycott something because of the political views of the creator, I am not sure what it is called. But I DO notice it. Certain reactionary groups tend to exhibit this behavior.

Aaron said...

I mean look at it this way, if my political rival made an epic game, I'd play it. Heck, I'd play it WITH him right before debating the crap out of him.

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