Dissecting the problems with political correctness arguments in gaming
Politically correctness (otherwise known as "PC") has been the subject of controversy among American gamers. Some think a healthy dose of PC is due in a landscape that has a long, ugly history of discrimination. Some are more cautionary, thinking that worrying about being PC is ruining the creative freedom of developers.
Ironically, the term was brought into the modern day by Toni Bambara as a way to call out those who hid behind the wall of being publically "polite" to continue holding their bigotted attitudes and avoid discussion of social change. As we know it today, it has been warped to simply mean "adhere to proper social standards and watch what you say," which is exactly the opposite of what Bambara wanted. In the gaming community, political correctness simply has two sides: you're for or against it.
However, both of these ways of thinking have one huge flaw: Being politically correct or not politically correct has nothing to do with games. Half of the problem with games are the anti-PC crowd, and the other half is the pro-PC crowd. Let's look at the flaws of both of these ideologies.
The problem with the anti-Politically Correct crowd
It's easy to think of the anti-PC crowd as one that is anti-progress, stuck in the 1800s with how they think people should or should not behave. For the liberal, they are the Conservatives "ruining" the country's potential and stuck in a past where it was OK to be discriminatory.
In the gaming world, the anti-PC crowd is half of the problem. Arguments include: games are fantasy so being realistic is unnecessary, some games are realistic and that includes politically incorrect things, if you don't like a game don't buy it, make your own PC games, and PC ruins creative freedom.
Let's dissect these arguments:
- Games are fantasy so being realistic is unnecessary
When it comes to games set in real-life settings, this argument pops up that the video game world is fantasy. If someone complains about how someone is represented, whether that be body image or stereotypes, people are quick to say that it's "just a game" and no one should take them seriously. Developers have a creative take on history and can spin it as they please to make a fantastic game. However, the problem with this train of thought is that it throws out any accountability for real-life issues that bleed into the gaming world and reinforces outdated ideas.
It's a psychological fact that seeing the same ideas in our entertainment without criticizing it does, in fact, affect us. This particular study is an easy example of how race is portrayed in games and is only one of dozens of studies that come out annually on the subject. All games don't need to be realistic, but they certainly don't all need the same exact fantasy either.
- Some games are realistic, and that includes politically incorrect things
If someone complains about the lack of women soldiers or ethnic minorities in a Call of Duty game, people are quick to say that it's meant to be realistic, as there are far less women than men in active duty combat. That's true. But it's also true that Call of Duty is a hyper-fantasy game. If it were meant to be realistic in any way, there would be a lot less shooting, a lot more sitting around waiting for orders, and no way to heal your bullet wounds by simply ducking behind a counter. In fact, it would look exactly like this:
This argument falls flat on the notion that your typical video game is realistic in any way. People can't pick and choose what they deem to be a necessary "realism" factor without becoming hypocritical.
- If you don't like a game, don't buy it
Without constructive criticism, games can't get better.
This argument is the most understandable. If you don't support an organization's ideals for any reason, you're in your rights to boycott said organization. However, the thing about entertainment is that it is made by humans who are flawed and have opinions. If someone were to only buy, watch, or play things that perfectly lined up with their worldview, the entertainment industry would have shriveled up decades ago and we'd all be outside.
The world is not a perfect place, but it is one full of the means to better it. With open communication and internet, it is easy to voice your concerns and find others to support you. In the end, this argument falls flat because it's one against constructive criticism. Without constructive criticism, games can't get better. People will buy what they enjoy, but they can also be aware of its shortcomings.
- Make your own PC games
Possibly the most political answer of them all is this one. People are already making their own diverse games that they feel represent them better. The problem is that the gaming industry is like any other American industry––discriminatory, biased, and under the thumb of mostly white men. It's difficult for an indie company to break into the "AAA" side, but statistically, it's even harder for those who are in the minority.
A more appropriate response would be to tell people to support the already existing alternatives or tell companies to take diverse initiatives if they haven't already. Ultimately, this response is one of ignorance. There are already PC games, but it is up to the gamer, whether pro- or anti-PC, to seek them out in a world that typically does not support them and relies on the consumer to vote with dollars.
- PCness ruins creative freedom
This is the most ironic response of them all, considering creative freedom is already ruined. The creative process is stifled by publishers forcing developers to appeal to their wanted demographic. Typically, this is a white man. Being PC in this case would actually encourage creative freedom. Having to create the same, heroic, white, and muscular man with a scruffy beard, "hard" personality, and who probably lost a loved one is an old trope that is mostly prevalent not because developers like creating the same person over and over, but for safe marketing purposes.
There's nothing wrong with creating a character you identify with, but when that character becomes indistinguishable from the rest, it's hard to believe that it's anything but intentional. The white, scruffy, heroic man can work - but not every game has a Joel from The Last of Us. In conclusion, this response is an insult not just to the creatives, but to all white men who don't think of themselves as a singular audience who need pandering to.
The problem with the pro-PC crowd
On the flip side, some can find the pro-PC crowd as one that is ridiculous, touting freedom of expression while also demonizing those who don't agree with them. For the conservative, they are the Liberals "ruining" the country with their need to feel fawned over and don't care about the realities of things like money or politics.
In the gaming world, the pro-PC crowd are the other half of the problem. Arguments include: games can have social consequences, games are fantasy and should not be subject to real-life statistics, if the game industry wants to be taken seriously it should conduct itself in a more responsible manner, and appealing to more demographics increases profitability.
Let's dissect these arguments:
- Games can have social consequences
Of course. As already discussed, games are a form of entertainment and like all entertainment, subconsciously reinforce or debunk cultural biases. However, because of the prevalence of entertainment, this is a moot point. If people are playing a game with a positive representation of Native American women, that's great! But chances are they might go watch Peter Pan right after, and it ultimately doesn't matter. Cultural biases do not just exist inside the realm of gaming; they are a complex network with influences anywhere from television, advertisements, radio talk shows, and clothing.
Even if every single game in the world were to suddenly be politically correct, the world would most likely not change in the slightest. Attacking games exclusively then becomes an "easy way out" for social change, where efforts should be divided if people truly want positive change.
- Games are fantasy and should not be subject to real-life statistics
Exactly, so why should a game need to have a certain amount of representation? It would be just dandy if every game had a diverse set of characters so anyone could feel represented, but this argument falls under nitpicking when the outward appearance is a sole concern. Sure, it statistically would make a lot more sense for most game characters to have brown eyes, but people pick and choose their battles.
It statistically would make a lot more sense for most game characters to have brown eyes.
It's not too difficult to find real-life statistics, but it is difficult to have a checklist of characters to make to not fall under scrutiny. Furthermore, people write what they know, and unless you want more stereotyped characters to reinforce negative biases, it's actually better to not include them if the creator is doing things for their empty sake of diversity. Developers who don't know anything about other demographics do not include diversity for any reason other than to pander and do more harm than good. This is the flip side of the "Games are fantasy so being realistic is unnecessary" argument.
- If the game industry wants to be taken seriously it should conduct itself in a more responsible manner
Sorry, but the game industry is already taken very seriously, considering it's one of the most profitable things in the entire world and bigger than Hollywood. To be fair, other entertainment industries don't conduct themselves in a "responsible manner" either, but they still are taken very seriously. Money talks and money listens.
To use this argument is to be in denial about the reality of this country and media industries. The people at the top of the food chain can be morally corrupt and sometimes it impacts their business if enough consumers are aware, which they're usually not. Being PC has monetary and PR benefits, but gamers have to be aware that they're commonly eating up garbage. Source? Current discrimination practices, despite "initiatives" and "policies." Private email and phone leaks tell the truth about people, not PR stunts.
- Appealing to more demographics increases profitability
Statistically, this is true. But the problem is that companies themselves simply don't care enough. Many higher ups are in denial about the benefits of having "deviating" leads, and -as a result- give those titles less marketing, advertising, and even funding. It creates an illusion of being less profitable, creating a vicious cycle and reinforcement bias.
The problem isn't just appealing to more demographics; it's more demographics creating games and having other options. Truthfully, people are going to continue buying their favorite franchise even if it has a terrible legacy of representing them because it's simply what they love and what they're used to. If you look back at the "Make your own PC games" argument, you can see how this becomes a loop.
Being politically correct or not politically correct has nothing to do with games
The issues that both side present have their points, but in conclusion, are weak.
The problems with games are a result of the society they are created in (which is a surprise to no one) and 'fixing' games is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. There's no way to truly even fix them without serious social effort on the side of gamers to support developers, major or indie, who they feel are doing the right thing. Gamers can't force companies to get rid of their subconscious biases and hire diverse developers, but they certainly can help each other become better-than-average developers to be hired despite them.
Gamers are what drives the industry forward, and they have a much bigger impact because it is on their dollar that the industry survives.
'Fixing' games is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
There's no real way to tell how putting good representation of queer people in everyday television helped push the legalization of same-sex marriage. But we do know that it helped. The problems with gaming culture are much bigger than what people want to believe. Solving big cultural problems trickles down to smaller ones. When same-sex marriage legalized, suddenly every game company had rainbow flags and others even removed orientation restrictions they previously had in their games.
At the end of the day, the anti-PC crowd needs to re-evaluate the hypocrisy of their own arguments, and the pro-PC crowd needs to be realistic about where the problems are. Games are going to stay the same as long as those receiving their profits do.