It keeps coming up and I’m breaking one of my own manifesto items by addressing it again since, I suppose, technically, pressing ‘don’t have an agenda’ is an agenda.
Anyway, screw that.
To reiterate what I said before it’s not so much that having an agenda is wrong per se, rather that clubbing people over the head with it every step of the way is both boring and intrusive. Letting an agenda emerge through play, through setting, without necessarily spelling it out. That’s a much better way to go and that’s why I have so wholeheartedly approved of Farewell to Fear, despite it being associated with the kind of attitude I’m normally considered to be scathing of.
I draw a sharp delineation between fantasy and reality and I think that’s where the disconnect between me and so many of this ‘new wave’ of ethical designers comes in. We spent so long fighting the idea that RPGs had influence, that they could make you a Satanist or get you lost in steam tunnels that cottoning to the idea that they might make you sexist (or whatever) is anathema (as well as being wrong).
If we absorb the things we’re told, that gender, race etc don’t matter then you can’t help but be nonplussed that they seem to matter very much to the very people who are telling you that they don’t matter. The idea that we can draw new people into the hobby from under-represented sectors with a few bits of inclusive art is patronising and even insulting. It also creates a lot of pressure on creators to the point where they may end up making the ‘ethical’ choice over the best choice. The scare quotes are there around the word ethical because it rarely is anything at all to do with ethics.
One person I’ve discussed this with made the valid point that they spend all day every day dealing with racism/sexism etc and it was nice to have a break in a game that didn’t involve it. That’s a fair thing to say even if it severely limits the available conflicts in a game world and if it ignores the cathartic ability to do something about it in a game. Still, there’s another side to this, the ability to play in a world, enjoy fantasy art, act as someone different to yourself without internally checking every single action and word for potential offence and political orthodoxy.
If we want more people from different demography to be into games it’s going to take something more than a tip of the hat to minorities in the artwork or the end of the chainmail halter-top. Gaming by its very nature appeals to people who read, who have space, who have a certain grasp over school subjects, a degree of disposable income. The demographics of gaming as a hobby are much more to do with these socio-economic factors than what colour skin the Paladin on Page 34 has, or whether the Space Ranger in the Terra sourcebook is wearing an urban camo bikini.
One just needs to look at mass media to see that people overwhelmingly couldn’t give two tugs of a dead dog’s cock about the issues that fire up this ‘ethical gaming’ push, which means that the whole ‘popularise and spread the hobby’ line is a lie, a pious lie at best. That’s not what it’s about at all, it’s about creating the kind of games that this minority of players and creators believes in and wants. Indeed our preoccupation and self-flagellation over this issue is dreadfully middle-class, white guilt infused, itself alienating
That’s fine, that’s great, I’m firm believer in making the games you want to see but dressing it up as some sort of moral superiority and promoting it by denigrating others is not only self-deluded, but unethical itself.
We make and share fantasy worlds, utopias, dystopias, sex and violence galore, moral quandries, immoral characters, good, evil and everything in between. We merely provide the tools to make these stories we have our visions and those who play them have their own, let ’em, the ethics are much more their concern than ours.
Images taken from Saint’s Row III, a prime example of how fun things can be if you just say ‘Ah, fuck it’.