This thing only goes to eleven
A quick, late-night chat this, but I saw something today that brought home a thought I'd been having for a while. Specifically, it was about Cyberpunk 2077 and the developers' decision to go first-person with it, but the issue goes a far bit deeper than that.
Now, I'm not all that happy with CDPR's decision, but here's the thing- that's as far as it goes. On the miff-o-meter, it's a 4 at most- miffed, possibly even grumpy, but that's it. To read the Internet headlines, however, I'm apparently part of a 'backlash' or I'm 'outraged' or 'furious'. A lot has been said recently about how gaming, be it video-gaming, hobby games like 40k, PnP RPGs or whatever needs to be more 'inclusive' and one of the things used to justify that statement is a perception that gamers are angry man-children who won't hesitate to throw their toys out of the pram the instant something in their favourite pastime isn't exactly as they want it to be.
That suits the internet news machine, of course. It's much more click-worthy to talk about gamers being 'outraged' at women being depicted as front-line troops in a WWII game than it is to say that they're scratching their heads at the idea a bit from a historical perspective. A nice juicy wrapper of misogyny makes the argument far more likely to explode into an ad-revenue generating flame-war. Never mind that many of the people raising the historical points had no problem with women in FPS games in a more modern setting where it makes sense- if they complain, they must be knuckle-dragging chauvinists. And of course you can rely on a few useful idiots to send Twitter death-threats to the developers into the bargain.
There's a related issue there about whether games set in historical periods should be criticised for not sticking to the social norms of those eras. This one cuts both ways- I've commented before on the (terrible) pirate-themed game "Raven's Cry" being pilloried because its cast were violet, foul-mouthed racists despite the fact that by all accounts pirates of the 17th century most certainly were all that and worse. It seems to me that there's a thin wedge being driven in here- if we say that historical accuracy isn't important, it makes it harder to use it as an 'excuse' for content and attitudes in a game that people consider 'problematic'- people say you're using the setting because you want to push those attitudes. But I digress to the extent that I'm going to stick this paragraph in italics.
To get back to the point- I think we've known for some time that the internet has a problem with nuanced discussion. It's hard, though by no means impossible, to find any forum or thread discussing a contentious point without someone getting angry and personal about it. The media, or at least that part of it that relies on clicks to survive, doesn't help, turning every disagreement into a massive, community-splitting Armageddon. I think that much of the time, the truth of the matter is quite different, and many of these things actually only have the majority of the relevant communities wanting their quite sensible points to be heard. The problem is that as soon as the Red Lanterns of the internet turn up- and if they aren't there initially, some hack will soon see to it that they're summoned-that's it. The reasonable people check out or watch silently in despair as someone claiming to agree with them proceeds to act like Pol Pot has possessed their keyboard.
The problems with this are twofold. Firstly, it allows people with an agenda against a given community- and it can be any community, from gamers to S&M devotees to Vegans- to paint that community as a bunch of angry cretins. Secondly, it allows developers, film producers and other creatives to make hideously bad decisions and then often look like heroes for standing by them because the Red Lanterns turned up to attack them over it. Other times, of course, those same creatives are simply making a decision that's unpopular with a small but vocal clique of their so-called fans and standing by it is exactly the right thing to do. The problem is that in an online world where everything only goes to eleven, those two situations look very much the same.