Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The superficial nature of video game protests

When Microsoft put the download-only Shadow Complex on sale this week for a mere $10, it renewed my amusement in a politically-motivated boycott of the game.

The reason for the boycott is a little drawn out. Shadow Complex takes place in the same world as Orson Scott Card's Empire novel. Besides being a sci-fi author, Card is also a vocal opponent of gay marriage. While Card was not directly involved in the development of the game and his unwelcome message is not included in the game, he did receive royalties from Epic Games.

While the Shadow Complex boycott failed to make a significant impact, it's mean-spiritedness and feigned outrage is reminiscent of the campaigns to scare away the advertisers of radio hosts Glenn Beck and Don Imus. The difference is the Shadow Complex protesters sound like they would indeed like to play the game, while the anti-radio protesters don't actually listen to those programs.

Other superficial video game protests included a push to not release Devil May Cry 4 on the Xbox 360 and a general whine-in that Left 4 Dead 2 came out too quickly after the first title.

When did gay marriage become the litmus test for human decency? Don't get me wrong, I'm a strong supporter of gay marriage and it will be a victory when it becomes the norm. That being said, it is not equal to the American civil rights struggle that peaked in the 1960's.

Some on the left try to compare the quest for the rights of blacks to the modern gay rights movement. You can't compare an era of reckless racial violence and oppression to a period with rude talk from religious figures. Indeed, it seems some on the left have a nostalgia for the civil rights struggle - when good and evil was easy to see - and wish they'd had the chance to participate in that noble effort.

While Card is on the wrong side of the gay marriage debate, his view is actually pretty common and his involvement in Shadow Complex is minimal. In addition, Card's view on gay marriage is completely separate from the Shadow Complex experience - one has to read up online to know anything on the subject.

Compare that to some of the direct progressive political messages in video games. The Mirror's Edge intro cutscene includes a left-wing fable about the evil police state beating up peaceful protesters. Every Mass Effect subplot involving a corporation reveals they have zero ethical standards and break the law whenever it can result in higher profits. Even the Fallout universe has an intact Republican party to draft evil presidents from.

While these sort of views may make me groan, I have learned that video games are just one more place I have to tolerate different ideas. Perhaps the people who really want to play Shadow Complex, but won't allow themselves to, haven't learned this lesson yet.


  1. I love Orson Scott Card. He is my absolute all-time favorite scifi/fantasy writer (after Tolkien) and is just an incredibly brilliant writer. I am also whole-heartedly pro-gay rights. The fact that Card is a Mormon and holds views that I find personally contemptible, however, is to me irrelevant in regards to my love for him and the books he writes. I am simply able to overlook it, and enjoy his works simply for the incredible joy they bring. I don’t discriminate against a person for the beliefs they hold, just their actions, which, granted, beliefs can lead to. But a person’s opinion is just that—their opinion.

    On the other hand, I do also believe people have both a right and a duty to express their opinions and convictions and to act accordingly on them. If they truly feel that by boycotting this video game, they are contributing to furthering a good cause, then by all means, absolutely, they should do so. I agree with Voltaire, as did also the script writer for the video game in question (stated in the link Michael provided): "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

  2. Nonsense. Should vegans protest organic vegetables since it's owned by the same corporation that supplies beef to McDonalds? In game companies, movie studios and in music production I can almost guarantee there's a few people who are against gay marriage or whatever opposing viewpoint they have with a certain part of their customer base.

    I'm against gay marriage and for civil unions with equal benefits. Gays and their supporters like to say that it's a matter of decency and equality for it to actually be called marriage, but I have no idea why they would want to be wed when the ceremony and union itself derive from books that contain brutal massacres and complete condemnation of any homosexual activity.

    Videogame boycotts are dumb and since the petitions come with internet anonymity there's no reason to have to hold up to your end of the bargain. There have been legit outcrys (Left4Dead2 is essentially left4dead expansion pack that has the price of a full game) but all the nerds that raged over these things can usually be seen playing the games within a few days of their release (see link for lulz).

  3. Zack, what's even funnier about the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott is that Valve defeated it by corrupting the movement. They flew some of the boycott leaders to their studio for a tour and showed them the game, and they caved to the bribery and ended the boycott.

    I was disappointed when I heard it was coming out so soon too, but in all fairness, it came out at $10 to $15 less than most new games.