Wednesday, 10 December 2014

New Ideas: Why Listening to Other Perspectives *Helps*

So, while it may not seem it, I've been working on a game at a glacial pace (Mainly because, before concentrating on gamedev, or reviewing, or a number of other things, I want my life to be stable, and, quite honestly? It isn't, not really...), and writing down other ideas for the time when I'm actually able to work on them.

But recent events, and new acquaintances (Hopefully friends, but I'm not going to be presumptuous and assume such) have encouraged me to go back to the drawing board. I actually rewrote that last sentence, because I said "made", when, in reality, "encouraged" is a much better word. I should also note that while I go into two folks here (and a third group), there are many more, so if I don't mention you, don't take that the wrong way, please!

You see, these perspectives have not only given me new ideas, but also, before they're even fully fleshed out, criticisms of those ideas, areas I can improve. And, as anyone who's worked on creative projects knows, a well constructed criticism before you've set your projects in at least clay is extremely useful. Obviously, a less well constructed (or destructive) criticism can sink a project, but since this isn't the case, we'll merely mention that, and move on to the folks I've met, and their perspectives.

Let's start with Veerender Jubbal . Veerender is one of the nicest people I've met in recent months, he happens to be a Person of Colour, and he happens to be a Sikh. Despite my saying "happens to be", these are actually both quite important. Because just like women, the video-games industry does not appear to have much of a PoC perspective, and Veerender was the first person in a while to remind me of this. More folks followed, and one group in particular will also be mentioned. But let's take a brief moment to digress on my main project (I'm not afraid of someone "stealing" the idea, because A: Not a lot of folks read my lil' ol' blog, and B: Each developer puts different touches on much the same basic idea. This is a kind of diversity, but not in the sense we're going to discuss.)

My main project at the moment is a game called Section M. It's inspired by three things: the works of Charles Stross (Which I may never live up to), the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft (Which, in a sense we're going to go into, I don't want to "live up to"), and Covert Action, by Microprose. Set in an alternate 1930s-50s (Still haven't *fully* decided yet), it is planned to have similar approaches to Covert Action (Minigames as a mechanic for the duties of a covert operative attempting to disrupt the plans of various organisations in a Cold War setting), but set in a world where the Great Old Ones were given temporary lease on the world, which led to horrors greater than World War II, changes to the geopolitical structure, and the bringing to the fore of the dangers and wonders of the supernatural.

Obviously, I am somewhat of an idiot for making this my first major game project (Which is why I'm also, when time permits, working on smaller games to make sure my skills are up to the task), but Veerender has highlighted a certain aspect of this idea that, to my shame, I didn't actually notice that much before.

Where are the Sikhs? Where are the People of Colour? Many games in the modern day (A little less so in earlier games, where characters were more of a Tabula Rasa (Blank slate you project yourself onto)) have all the main characters as white heterosexuals, often male, and when People of Colour are put into games, it's in roles already noted as ideologically contested (Meaning, generally, offensive stereotyping and creepiness... Not the best summary, but it'll do for now). The Spirit Warrior (Native American), the Token Black Guy Who Dies To Save The White Hero, The Mystic Indian... There's a big ol' list of stereotypes, and even many games today include them, unaware of how somewhere out there, there's an entire segment of folks they just pissed off with one character.

Now, this goes back into a comment I've thrown out a few paragraphs back: I don't want to emulate all of Lovecraft's themes. I specifically don't want to emulate the fact that he projected his own dislike/fear of People of Colour and his attitude toward "miscegenation" (Interracial relationships, and I put it in quotes because the term itself is... Well, not the most enlightened, as it deeply implies biological differences between white folks like me, and People of Colour that weren't, and aren't actually there.)

Go read a bit of Lovecraft. Notice that many of the villainous individuals and groups in his works are, in one form or another, interracial ethnicities. As an important aside, I grew up with the term "half-caste" for folks who are children of white and non-white groupings, and, even fully aware that it's considered an offensive term in the modern day, I have to edit myself not to use it as a description... Which, if you think I'm the tolerant and open-minded person I believe myself to have become, is a single example of why racism is so problematic to deal with... Because often, those of us who grew up with certain words still reflexively use them, even though they fully understand why it's not a good idea to do so. (Caste means "purity" or "race", so... Half-pure, half a "race".)

So this now leads me to feeling that I want to actually think about other cultures within this world, outside of "They exist", and to explore, somehow, somewhere, the cultural identity of these fantastical races that may have cropped up in universe. Which neatly ties into the next person I wish to talk about.

But before I do, let me link you to a stepping off point for exploring this yourself: I Need Diverse Games (and their Twitter feed), a Tumblr Blog exploring issues of race in videogames, and some other perspectives you may want to explore if you're a game dev.

Okay, so we mentioned cultural identity. Cultural identity encompasses a lot of things, because, surprise surprise, there are a lot of cultures out there, all with differing attitudes to beauty, women, men, LGBT issues, race issues, politics... And religion. Now, I fancy myself somewhat of a hobby scholar when it comes to religion, but there are those who seriously study the subject, and those who then apply this thought to the theory of game design. One of those individuals is Jenni Goodchild , who studies Theology and Philosophy. And she, also, has made me seriously consider aspects I am ashamed to say I had not considered seriously before. Namely, religion in video games.

I won't go into too much detail on that one, except to say that my own perspective is a syncretic belief, essentially pantheist in nature, that nonetheless does not place deities very highly on the trust scale. I'm also going to start by linking a video, specifically a recent talk Jenni presented for VideoBrains: Playing Games with Gods: Why Games Need Religion

Don't worry, this blog post won't go anywhere while you watch it, I can quite happily wait. Especially as it raises many valid points about how we don't really think about these things. And, because I wish to change this, I will quite happily own up to being guilty of this. Points to especially listen to so far include how Bioware might not have thought their "different" religion through, how Civilisation: Beyond Earth deals with religion in a very interesting way, and how the Elder Scrolls series, essentially... Doesn't (or rather, kludges it somewhat). That's just from the first half of the talk, by the way.

So now, I find myself quite happy with this "predicament", because both of these people have highlighted more places for me to potentially explore. Yes, okay, I now have more work to do before I can consider the game's setting, lore, and the mechanical support I may have to introduce into my project, but at the same time, these two people have, by drawing attention to how little I've previously thought about these things, opened up whole new cans of worms for me to slop my hands into, feel, and examine... If that sounds gross to you, many folks who work in creative fields, even as a hobby, think of concepts as things we can explore, dissect, get our hands dirty in, and we love it. We also love folks who give us ideas, especially by pointing out areas we can improve in, and, more to the point, how to improve them.

So be fully aware, game devs, that more perspectives may be, at times, confusing, distracting, more than a little heartbreaking... But by taking in, by wishing to know other viewpoints, and to understand how your viewpoint will nearly always be lacking in some area compared to someone else's, you can not only improve your games... You can improve yourself.

I only hope I do at least an okay job of that. And I hope you do too.

No comments:

Post a Comment