Shadow Complex, Chair Entertainment’s XBLA-available, Unreal 3.0-powered, side-scrolling, 2.5D send up to Super Metroid’s and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s beloved exploratory action platforming is by all accounts a pretty good game. I just started it, so I’ll withhold judgment, but it does look great so far.
Problem? Shadow Complex takes place in the fictional universe of Empire, a novel by acclaimed sci-fi-ist Orson Scott Card. Card consulted on the game’s development and has been very supportive of the title. In addition to being an acclaimed sci-fi-ist, though, Orson Scott Card is an acclaimed misogynistic bigot who’s particularly outspoken in his opposition to gay rights. As such, some gamers are boycotting the title, unwilling to support the author’s outmoded views despite the fact that the game’s really good.
As a liberal guy I am a strong supporter of equal rights for all people, gay or straight, man or woman, regardless of tint or creed. Frankly I think a person should be free to marry a horse if they want to (and the horse is willing); in the eyes of the government a union between two individuals is a tax status, not a social or religious statement. At the risk of spouting what’s become one of the weakest methods of advocacy, I have gay friends. I don’t like seeing them slighted in the rights department. I certainly don’t like worrying about them, and worry I do, that they might be victims of some awful hate crime. And I don’t like Orson Scott Card’s writing, and when I bought the game I admit I’d forgotten he was involved. Still, I’d have bought Shadow Complex knowing all this, though I fully support those who’ve chosen to boycott it.
Reactionaries have an amusing attack on those who support gay rights, similar to the one Dick Cheney uses when anyone votes anti-war. One time at lunch, a bunch of my co-workers were declaring loudly that they didn’t want to see Brokeback Mountain, that they “wouldn’t” see it. It was fairly clear why.
“I thought it was great,” I said.
This older gent – in his sixties – looks at me and sneers, “Are you gay, then?”
See, in their eyes, supporting gay rights – or even being willing to see a movie with gay characters in it – makes you gay, like voting Democrat makes you a terrorist sympathizer.
“No,” I said. “I’m not gay. I’m just not a bigot.”
Conversation went downhill from there.
And so it could be argued that just as straight bigots may boycott a movie that features gay themes, straight or gay rights advocates can and should boycott a game like Shadow Complex, even though the game content has nothing to do with gay themes. What they’re really boycotting is Orson Scott Card.
This is a double-edged sword though, and I wonder if it’s wise. Like conservative Christians boycotting Harry Potter because the word “witch” is used; like conservative Christians dry-humping the Narnia movies because that Liam Neeson lion is an allegory for Christ; like conservative Christians opposing the cervical cancer vaccine because they’ve got it in their head that it will sluttify young girls. It’s… it’s lateral logic, suspect logic. It doesn’t make much sense, at least not to me.
Would it not be better to lobby for more games that feature openly gay characters presented in a positive way? Much like the effort to promote the use of black characters as something other than stereotypes or criminals? Orson Scott Card’s views on many subjects are pretty disgusting to me, but I’m not sure it’s right to punish Shadow Complex for them. I’d certainly never buy a game that included as a feature the opportunity to victimize people because they’re gay; I’d never buy a game from a company that openly asserted, in or out of its games, an anti-gay (or anti-minority, or anti-woman) agenda of any kind. I just don’t feel Shadow Complex is guilty of any of these things. Moreover, I’m not certain it’s fair to victimize a game because of one individual’s views – I’d still buy Borderlands, for example, even if I learned that one of the 100-odd programmers working on it was a member of the Nazi party.
A similar flap happened recently with Resident Evil 5; the game, of course, was set in Africa and featured a very White dude gunning down some very Black zombies in a very… old west sort of way. The addition of a cappuccino-colored female sidekick didn’t defuse the situation, and Capcom took a lot of heat. While I personally didn’t understand the claims that the game was maliciously racist (it takes place in Africa, after all, many black people live there), I certainly understood the perceived racism. Arguments that no one complained about Resi 4, in which a white dude guns down Spanish zombies, fell flat with me because there’s no long history of mistreatment there, whereas Africa and the “white world” both have centuries of conflict that was racially motivated. It’s apples and oranges.
Anyway, I admire the people who are loudly discussing Shadow Complex’s association with Orson Scott Card. Publisher Epic and developer Chair are almost certainly unthrilled with the direction discussion of their game has taken, but that’s the risk you take when you choose to associate your game with an inflammatory figure. I find it exciting that games are tackling these issues, and that gamers are discussing them – and, at times, voting with their wallets. It will be interesting to see how this latest drama plays out.