essay

Nobler Cause Stories

I’m still following the thread as Andrew Meade jumps from site to site. The newest, of course, is yesterday’s A Nobler Cause over at #AltDevBlogADay. In this latest post, there are a number of choice quotes. However, I feel this paragraph is probably the best one:

People wonder if being socially responsible is our duty. I say yes. I say it’s our duty because we are humans, and we have a responsible to other humans to do right by them. Why am I focusing on games? If I worked in any other field, I would be pushing this topic, but I’m not. I make games. WE make games. We can make some amazing experiences that touch and enlighten, and in the process we can maybe teach a little bit of tolerance, and spread a bit of love. Isn’t it our business to craft innovative experiences, or have we just given up before we’ve even started? Are we just resigned to churn out formulaic drivel? I would hope we aren’t.” (emphasis added)

Again, I am put into the position of reading something and nodding. Yes, yes, we should be doing better. When we make games or write stories, we should inclusive to ideas, beliefs and even lifestyles that are outside the heteronormative hegemony — yes, I’ve done some reading up since yesterday’s post too. We should make experiences that can teach about others. Because, that is essentially what stories are for: putting us, as readers, into another world so that we can see from their eyes, hear from their ears, think their thoughts and, hopefully, when we return to our own minds, be changed in the process — be changed for the better.

The best stories are those that teach in little ways, that point out how, with this viewpoint or action, that this one person changed their world. Even when it’s as seemingly simple as a woman in a room by herself (“The Story of An Hour“), we become sucked into their thoughts, their way of viewing the world. We, in the process of reading, produce from the text a story that is, in part, ourselves in that role. That’s the power of stories and, more importantly, that’s the power of games too. Just as we can live through, in a linear fashion, the life experiences of a character in a story, we can, with a game, become our own character.

That is what is so jarring about being so caught up on the male gaze (from last post). Who is it helping to have desire personified as a women? Who, that is, other than straight male players? Those other players and readers who have characters and thoughts about differing views of sexuality are not welcome there. It’s not for them. When I play as a straight woman character (not an uncommon choice), I don’t want that. And for me the player, as someone who has, from time to time, found the female form attractive, I still don’t want that. Some skinny, half-naked female demon feeling herself up? Really? She seems, if you will pardon the joke here, to have herself in hand. She obviously doesn’t need me and I don’t want her.

What is so bad, what is so terribly bad is that I noticed this simple, small example in a single game when, for others, their whole life is like that. The popular culture, the advertising and even most television shows push a sexuality that is not theirs, that is, best case, slightly off or, worst case, completely opposite from their own. It frightens me that such obvious examples have been out there for years and I have, since I have not thought about my media consumption much, missed them. All it takes is small lights like Andrew Meade’s recent posts and such bonfires as The Border House to remind me, from time to time, that I am, in fact, often in the dark about things around me.

Okay, now for something more.

It’s easy to get angry, to rant and rave. I could easily complain here, but I’m not going to right now. I want to do something more. I want to set an example and provide something of value other than being part of an echo chamber — as blogs too often are. I want to add something to this conversation. Andrew Meade ended his post with some story ideas and then, later in the comments, challenged others to provide their own. I am a writer, after all. I should be able to come up with a few story ideas for games.

  • A gay waiter tries to prepare the best meal for a customer that keeps coming in, week after week. You spend the initial part of the game catching bits and pieces of information about their favorite parts of the meal over short dialogues and then, once you ask him out, get to cook that perfect meal for him for the date.
  • You just started working on a mining asteroid and are never out of your suit. There are numerous others on the station too and them, like you, have never seen the physical appearance of another person who works there since all of you started at the same time. The only opportunity you have to take your suit off is once a rotation and, even then, only for about twenty minutes. You can romance only a select few people (who are randomly chosen each session) but will only get to see the person, get to be with them during that singular period each rotation. Oh, and did I mention that you only talk via text messages to each other because of the poisonous gases?
  • You start in an apartment and the screen starts ticking down the time until your date arrives. You must help Jesse, a transgender woman, clean up her apartment, take care of any chores and choose the right clothes for her date that arrives in, oh look, just seconds. *Ding, dong!*
  • You, as a female tennis star, start to notice, several volleys into the game, that the other girl is flirting with you through how she hits certain shots. You have the choice of just continuing to play as if you had not noticed or upping the ante with certain choices that mirror her own. If you decide to flirt, you are limit to the verb set of tennis maneuvers and shot techniques. Your mother, who is also your coach, may confront you if you play too poorly as well.
  • You have just received a call from your mother. Your father, who kicked you out of his house after you told him you were gay, is in town for the first time in years. He is on his way to your apartment. You have just a few minutes to decide if you want to confront him, no matter the outcome, or just leave the apartment. If you leave, play jumps to the father’s perspective as he approaches the now (to the player’s knowledge) empty apartment.
  • “He kissed me.” That thought lights up your mind, causes your heart to dance and your feet to want to turn around and see if you can get second helpings. As you walk back to your apartment, you think over the journey, as reflected in the objects you find on the way, of how you finally got up the courage to ask him out and how you discovered you are, indeed, gay.
  • She winks at you. Or, at least, you think she does. You both work on different conveyor  belts. The only way you can see her face, her beautiful eyes and golden smile is to make sure that you keep up with the pace of the containers as they come down the belt. If you time yourself to her movements, you can discover if she was truly smiling at you, finally noticing you or if, God forbid, she just had something in her eye — better get moving, here come the containers!
  • You notice him across the room. Him. He’s back at court and you, as King, might be able to ask him for some… private time. But you have to be discreet. Your wife, who knows you only married her to unite the kingdoms, watches you. If she catches you, she might finally have something to blackmail you into giving her more power in decisions for the empire. [Inspired by the third idea in Skyler’s comment.]