Politics And Games  Tagged Articles RSS Feed | GameSkinny.com Politics And Games  RSS Feed on GameSkinny.com https://www.gameskinny.com/ en Launch Media Network Mass Effect: The Ultimate Meritocracy? https://www.gameskinny.com/dwy25/mass-effect-the-ultimate-meritocracy https://www.gameskinny.com/dwy25/mass-effect-the-ultimate-meritocracy Fri, 17 Feb 2017 08:00:01 -0500 Samuel Schenerman

Tali: Is it common for human women to be front-rank fighters, Chief Williams? I know that salarian women do not serve in the military.

Ashley: It’s becoming more common, but it took a long time to prove that “ladies” could handle an assault rifle or a shotgun.

Tali: On the flotilla, we don’t have the luxury of sexism. We need the best hands for every available job.

Ashley: Sounds nice, but I don’t think I could get used to the uniform.

The above quote from Mass Effect 1 perfectly summarizes in a nutshell the argument of this post: that BioWare's massively successful RPG series shows a universe that, while obviously flawed, portrays a place where merit and ability above all else determines one's lot in life. Mass Effect does plenty of things right; it's three games tell a compelling story, the third person shooter mechanics are tons of fun, the dialogue options offer a real sense of player agency, and much more. One thing that the best science fiction does is to take complex philosophical and/or political issues and comment upon them while at the same time telling a gripping story of future happenings, events, and technology. Star Trek, in particular, is famous for tackling issues such as racism, climate change, and war (among many other important topics) in its' 726 episodes and 13 movies.

The writers at BioWare, like Gene Roddenberry, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and other great science fiction authors and visionaries, portray real life issues before, during, and after the galaxy wide conflict with the Reapers. Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, in particular, grapple with what it means to be a person and self determination in the face of negativity, specifically in relation to the Geth and their search for true sentience. The same conflict between the Quarians and Geth explores how prejudice and ignorance can hamper, and (if the player's decisions go the wrong way) ultimately, foil any possibility of peaceful coexistence for the two races.

However, what this post deals with is BioWare's treatment of social mobility and meritocracy across the various space faring species of the Milky Way galaxy. The following are various examples of a progressive worldview the races of the Mass Effect universe share in relation to merit, not species, class, etc.

Commander Shepard

At the start of the game the player customizes Shepard's appearance. His or her race, gender, and various other appearance based attributes can be and are changed at will. This basic fact makes meritocracy a default setting at least in the Systems Alliance. A black woman, an asian man, skinny or fat, old or young, all are welcome in the Systems Alliance and all are allowed to succeed or fail on their own abilities.

As part of the customization in the first game, the background history of Shepard can be customized. Either option, whether she/he grew up in space, an orphan on the hard scrabble streets of Earth, or on a small colony world, Shepard only got where he/she is because of their (from now on I'll just use their for convenience sake) talents and drive to succeed. The psychological profile as much as the pre-service history shows how no matter the path, Shephard got their promotion to Commander through hard work and ability, not family connections or personal wealth.

Whether holding off hordes of enemies to protect squadmates, surviving while the rest died, or simple ruthless determination, all psychological profiles show a person whose drive and talent put them on track to become the first Human Spectre. Their last name wasn't Udina, or Grisham, or Anderson, but they were still able to become a symbol, not just for Humanity, but for the whole galaxy. 

Equal treatment of LGBTQ+

The most influential and powerful Human in the galaxy, if the player chooses, can be gay. Or lesbian. Or bi sexual. Or any gender/sexual orientation. Through its' romance system (and character customization), Mass Effect allows its' player to choose their character's sexual orientation. This shows that the Mass Effect universe's races don't judge their members by gender or sexual orientation. This, however, was not without real world pushback. 

Mass Effect 3 garnered a ton of controversy for including gay romance options. Steve Cortez, the shuttle pilot on the Normandy, turns out to be homosexual. However, tragically, he is also a widow. Romancing him takes a lot of finesse, tolerance, and patience. Even if you (like me) choose to play as Femshep, or just don't pursue a relationship with him, Cortez is still a great character with a ton of depth and backstory. BioWare, as usual, put a significant amount of time and effort fleshing out Cortez as a character, and not just the obligatory gay man put in for affect.

Although lesbian relationships had been included in the previous game (ME2) with Kelly Chambers, the final game in the trilogy opened up options for same sex relationships for the male Shepard as well as the female gendered hero. Both games have bi-sexual characters; the aforementioned Chambers in ME2, and Samantha Traynor in ME3. For the first time in a flagship AAA game, both males and females had the option of engaging in same-sex relationships in game with the same characters. True meritocracies discount gender identity and sexual preference in determining the "winners" and "losers" of society. And this is the case with the species that populate BioWare's ME universe.

The Asari

If you count Liara, then all three Mass Effect games include same sex relationships. However, I don't count her. Although in appearance all Asari resemble human females (and the voice actors match said gender), they are most definitely not. They aren't all women. Or all men. Or gender fluid. They are mono-gendered. Asari biology allows for reproduction with any gender of any species. So, as a society, Asari not only won't, but CAN'T judge other Asari by gender or sexual preference. Take it a step further, and when dealing with other species, Asari in particular are truly gender blind.

If there is one race whose sexual freedom is truly progressive and accepting, it's the Asari. For a species that lives more than 1000 years, sexual and reproductive rights are trivial and don't generate controversy like they do on present day Earth. As long as it's consensual, Asari are free to copulate with whomever they like. Whether it's a female Hanar, a male Elcor (well, it probably happens), another Asari, and so on, all Asari can, and do, have consensual sex with any willing partner.

In addition, the idea of "mother" and "father" can have very different meanings for Asari. So there is no stigma attached to having "two mothers" or "two fathers," like there is in many places of 2017 Earth. Below are some snippets of conversations between Liara and her "father," Matriarch Aethyta:

Aethyta: So, yeah. My dad was a krogan.
Liara: Yes, I'm aware of that.
Aethyta: So that makes you a quarter krogan. 
Liara: That's... not how it works.
Aethyta: I'm a thousand years old. I've had kids with hanar. Don't tell me how Asari reproduction works.
Liara: Wait... I have a half sister who's part hanar?
Aethyta: I thought that wasn't how it worked.

Aethyta: Just take care of yourself out there, okay kid?
Liara: I will, Dad. 
Aethyat: Hey, I've called a few friends. Commandos. Eclipse girls who owe me some favors. They're all yours. Just tell 'em where to go.
Liara: You're giving me... Asari commandos?
Aethyat: We'll, you're too old for me to buy you a damn pony.
Liara: You're the best father a girl could wish for.

Talk about gender identity meaning nothing. If taken out of context and just given the audio transcript, most would think it odd that a "female" called their "female" parent "dad." However, Asari aren't males or females. They treat everyone equally, regardless of their parents race or sexual preference. If nepotism occurs, it occurs in a meritocratic way as well. I guess 1000+ year lifespan truly does impart wisdom.


At first glance, this may seem like an odd choice. After all, Krogan society is heavily gender biased. However, this is simply due to numbers. With the Genophage severely curtailing Krogan births, female Krogan are guarded fiercely. This has resulted in a society divided on classic male/female gender roles (i.e. males as hunters and warriors, females as childcare providers). However, unlike in human society, this gender divide did not make female Krogan second class citizens in comparison with their male counterparts.

Putting gender aside, Krogans are fiercely egalitarian, in the most Darwinian and harsh sense. Although fiercely selfish and bloodthirsty in nature, Krogan respect others simply on their merits, nothing else. I mean it literally, NOTHING else. One of their most damning insults is, "you're not worth killing". That's as Darwinian as you can get.

Natural selection doesn't take into account the color of a turtle's skin, or the gender of a slug. Similarly, Krogans don't care if you're Human, Asari, Turian, Salarian, or a Thresher Maw. If you show yourself to be capable, then you're accepted. When the rare Krogan is born, its' status is decided purely upon the survival of the fittest principle.

When coming of age, only those Krogan who pass the Rite of Passage are allowed membership into their Clan. In ME2, Shepard helps Grunt pass his Rite of Passage by, among other things, killing a Thresher Maw -- this test many, many Krogan don't survive. In order for Clan Urdnot to approve his membership, Grunt must show that his inclusion in Wrex's Clan is merited. His skill as a warrior and survivor are proven by his successful completion of the Rite.

Wrex is able to see that Grunt is a good judge of character by Grunt's pick of Shepard as his ally in the Rite. So, for all their regressive views of violence and its' role in problem solving, Krogans are meritocratic to a fault in choosing the members of their clans.

 Gender and Racial Equality

I touched on this before with Commander Shepard, but I'd like to go into more detail with this entry, specifically among Humanity.

By the 2180s, Humanity seems to have mostly abandoned any racial, ethnic, or gender bias (at the very least among its' own kind). Depending on your choices, Captain Anderson can be a Council Member (either way he gets promoted to Admiral and already almost was the first Human Spectre), a former female convict becomes an invaluable Alliance instructor for young biotics (Jack), a clearly crippled individual is allowed to pilot one of the Alliance's most important ships (Joker), and a clearly Middle Eastern (and possibly Muslim) criminal is allowed to redeem himself and become an integral member of the player's squad (Zaeed).

Religion, ethnicity, skin color, gender, they all don't seem to matter to Humans. Even the ultra xenophobic Cerberus employs Zaeed, Jacob, Miranda, and Kasumi. When given the chance, even criminals such as Kasumi and (technically) Shepard are allowed to re-assimilate into society after having proven their good qualities and their intentions. Just because Kasumi is Asian, Zaeed is Middle Eastern, and Miranda was genetically engineered, it doesn't mean they can't succeed in the universe of Mass Effect.

The Squad

Ultimately, the greatest sign of meritocracy in the Mass Effect universe has to be your squad mates. All species, all genders, even artificial intelligences are represented in your squad across all 3 games -- hell, even a friggin' Prothean is accepted as part of the gang, and he just woke up after 50,000 years of hibernation.

If you look at the picture above, Humans aren't the majority. For Commander Shepard and their team, all that matters is that you are the best in the Galaxy at what you do, and you're useful to Shepards mission. What other group includes the first truly sentient Geth, a Prothean, EDI, two Krogans, and a bunch of former criminals (Jack, Jacob, Miranda, Kasumi, Zaeed, Thane, and technically Shepard themselves)?

If you need one example of how Mass Effect is a meritocracy, then look no further than the squad mates Shephard recruits to their cause.

Donald Trump would make Dungeons & Dragons great again. https://www.gameskinny.com/osnyn/donald-trump-would-make-dungeons-dragons-great-again https://www.gameskinny.com/osnyn/donald-trump-would-make-dungeons-dragons-great-again Tue, 02 Aug 2016 06:07:19 -0400 Joshua Potter

America's new president will take office in January 2017. Simply put, our current campaign has been an absolute mess. Both frontrunners in the race have pretty high disapproval ratings, which is sad considering they have an almost 100% name recognition rating. Donald Trump's approval is only a peg above the record low of Richard Nixon JUST AFTER his Watergate scandal. No one else even comes close to those numbers in recorded history.

Considering he is absolutely awful as a presidential candidate, perhaps there's another campaign Donald Trump could run? Twitter user @dungeonsdonald has come up with the genius idea of putting a man who is normally thought of AS a monster in control of monsters. And look at how happy he looks behind that DM screen.

Now when he makes racist, homophobic, theophobic, and misogynistic statements it will all be in the sake of roleplay, and not what he's actually thinking. Thank goodness. 

Here's some of the best ways @dungeonsdonald has evolved our "Republican" showboater from a rambling racketeer to a daring dungeon master.


Here he is making his character with fellow running mate Mike Pence


Here's Trump showing off his knowledge of the Alignment System.


Some of his posts are topical to current events.


He even gives out great advice, instead of praising political despots' tactics.

Truly we could learn a lot from this Trump -- a man whose not afraid to wipe the party. A man who knows that sometimes you gotta touch the mimic in order to get to the sweet +3 adamantine sword it's guarding.

A tough and unfair DM can really add a lot to a campaign, and it will help you appreciate your victories even more. Having the fear of death looming overhead  really makes you appreciate life and all that it offers.

If only that were true for a presidency.

The Violent Video Game Debate https://www.gameskinny.com/0co4l/the-violent-video-game-debate https://www.gameskinny.com/0co4l/the-violent-video-game-debate Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:14:01 -0400 mchiu

I stumbled onto this video earlier on Kotaku from Christina Hoff Sommers, criticizing the feminist movement against video game culture. At first glance, I thought to myself, "Oh boy, here we go again. Another feminist criticizing video games as being too violent and sexist". 

Are Video Games Too Violent and Sexist?

At first, she references an ESA report showing that gamers are now mostly women. At first it is shocking to discover this statistic until she uncovers that the ESA report is also including casual games such as Bejeweled and Angry Birds. To set up her points, she throws out these casual games, and instead, focuses on the core gamers. Citing a UCLA research report, she notices that the ratio between male-to-female core gamers is 7:1. At this point, I'm ready to listen to her rant about how video games are still a very male dominated past time that leads to violence and misogyny.

Do Video Games Promote Violence and Sexism in RL?

However, I'm surprised when she definitively says that this is simply not true. She backs this claim up by several research reports showing that there is no correlation between video games and increased violence or sexism. In fact, one report shows that as video game playing becomes more popular, youth crime has dropped. 

Critics Want Male Video Game Culture to Die

Where things got really interesting was when she started criticizing "a new army of critics: gender activists and, I don't know, hipsters with a degree in cultural studies." These people attack gaming asking why it isn't more inclusive, why must it always be male heroes, and why are women always damsels in distress or sex objects? She points out that although there are a vast amount of games now that are more inclusive, and are not purely games with male heroes and sexy women, it seems that the activists and hipsters just want to see male video game culture to just die.

She then compares this as if men started to criticize Oprah, The View, and Cosmopolitan magazine for presenting a women's perspective to the world. There was even a funny clip asking "So what exactly are you criticizing men of in the video game industry? Of not being women? Guilty!"

Gamers are Cool!

Finally, one really cool thing she points out that I really liked was that she actually spent some time talking to gamers and learning about gamer culture, and discovered that that it is a very vibrant and lively group of mostly tech-savvy men, and a very small group of very cool women, who don't care about age, sex, ethnicity, etc., but only care to game.

Video Games Are Not Guns

In a totally separate article on Joystiq, the District Attorney of Marin County is doing a buyback of toy guns and violent video games. WTF? To add insult to injury, this is being done in conjunction with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, so in exchange for the toy guns and violent video games, participants will receive free ice cream. You can be sure that I won't be eating Ben & Jerry's ever again.

I can understand the buyback of toy guns, but the buyback of violent video games is complete and utter BS. 

"As we know, domestic violence incidents almost always have children present and these children develop over time imprinted images of the family violence. These children then carry those experiences into their adult lives and often repeat the pattern of violence in their own family units." -- Marin County DA, Ed Berberian

I'm not sure how he makes the link between video games and domestic violence. Maybe he's using Leland Yee logic.

Currently, video games are the newest scapegoat for violence in the US. It used to be rock and roll, and later with movies. If anything, bad parenting is probably more to blame, but it just seems that no one wants to take the blame for it, and instead, point to video games as the root cause. 

On GameSkinny, I'm going to guess that the majority of the readers agree that violent video games do not lead to violent behavior, but a 2013 poll conducted by Harris Poll showed that 58% of adults in America believe that there is a correlation between video games and violence

It all just makes me shake my head...

Thailand Bans "Dictator Simulator" Game Tropico 5 https://www.gameskinny.com/7pnot/thailand-bans-dictator-simulator-game-tropico-5 https://www.gameskinny.com/7pnot/thailand-bans-dictator-simulator-game-tropico-5 Tue, 05 Aug 2014 06:15:02 -0400 PencilPusha

Thailand has been going through a lot of drastic changes for the past three months. According to the Associated Press via ABCNews.com:

"Thailand has been under a military dictatorship since May 22, when soldiers overthrew a civilian government in a coup. The junta has issued several edicts that critics say infringe on media freedom and free speech."

That must be why the new "dictator simulator," Tropico 5, was recently banned by the Film and Censorship Office of Thailand, which is conveniently under military 'junta' supervision. It's an extremely popular video game but it has very strong political - and possibly influential - themes to it. According to the game's official website, WorldofTropico.com, the game features the ability to dictate "from the early colonial period to beyond the 21st century." The game also features challenges such as "advanced trading mechanics, technology, scientific research, exploration" and a co-op/competitive multiplayer experience allowing up to four players to play together.

Unfortunately, the gamers of Thailand won't be able to experience the game. Perhaps the Film and Censorship Office believes that the democratic influence - or the possibility of another type of government other than a dictatorship - could cause an uprising or revolt from the people. As a result, the Film and Censorship Office banned the game, saying that "some contents of the game are not appropriate for the current situation," according to GameSpot.com.

But here's the kicker: the game's cover art has an image of Fidel Castro and Abraham Lincoln look-alikes, back-to-back while smiling, with the world right beneath their elbows. Cuba's long-time dictator and one of America's most memorable presidents back-to-back on the cover? This game is definitely trying to make a political statement, but with some humor involved since their smiles look creepy and too wide to be believed. Kalypso Media, past distributor of Tropico 3 and Tropico 4 in Thailand, had this to say about the Tropico 5 situation:

"Tropico 3 and 4 both enjoyed successful releases in the country and although the Tropico brand does have a realistic political element to it, the scenarios and content are all delivered with a certain trademark tongue in cheek humor."

Oddly enough, the game was released in May, the same month when the current dictatorship in Thailand began. And since the dictatorship has been in place, it's been strict on its people. According to ABCNews.com, Thailand television viewers, for example, see only blurred images of things like cigarrettes and alcohol and almost completely eradicate suggestive sexual themes or things that might go against the dictatorship way of life.

How would you like to rule an island as its president and build it the way you see fit, controlling everything, right down to the media? Sound familiar? Seems similar to SimCity or something like an Island Tycoon-type of computer game! The only difference is that the dictator of Thailand sees this game as a way of letting others know how they could possible overthrow him either by another dictator or by a revolt of the people. And he's obviously not about to let that happen.

Tropico 5 is set to be released on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 4 later on this year. For more information on the game, check out their official website.

National Liberty Federation Page Posts Bioshock Infinite Image https://www.gameskinny.com/sze4r/national-liberty-federation-page-posts-bioshock-infinite-image https://www.gameskinny.com/sze4r/national-liberty-federation-page-posts-bioshock-infinite-image Sun, 15 Dec 2013 11:10:17 -0500 Amanda Wallace

This could be satire. It's so spot on, low-balling that I can't imagine that they didn't do it intentionally. 

First, some background. The National Liberty Federation is a group dedicated to "promoting awareness regarding our inalienable rights." Based in West Palm Beach, FL, the organization seeks to focus on important government values like "free enterprise, limited government, fiscal responsibility, individual liberty and American heritage." You could call the organization right-wing, though they call themselves non-partisan. 

On December 14, they posted the following image: 

Which you might recognize as a piece of digital game art from the city of Columbia, in the game Bioshock Infinite. In the game, Columbia is a city built on the tenants of faith and love of the United States government, to the point where they worship the Founding Fathers as deities. They are also almost cartoonishly racist (the citizens of Columbia, not the users of  National Liberty Federation). 

The comments (now buried under people pointing out that there is actually a Native American being counted among the foreign hordes and commentors pointing out that this is from a game) are a litany of anti-immigrant posts, including: 

if these Illegal imigrants, can't come into our country like most of our forefathers did, and ,accept our English language, they can be deported right back where they came from

I'm wondering why we ever took the Statue of LIberty from France. It has at times (& will be again I'm sure) a Trojan Horse!!

Yes, so we need to eliminate the ILLEGAL ALIENS by whatever means that we have including death if so needed. 

That includes immigrants that want to change our heritage!!

By posting this image, the National Liberty Federation are inviting commentary on their own connection to the backwards, hyper-nationalist, racists of Columbia, which I'm not sure was their intention. 

Here is the link to the Facebook post, as well as one final quote from a commentor that seems to be on the nose: 

You're kidding, right? This is why they don't take us seriously. Ugh! And who is that holding up the "For God and Country" sign? Superwoman? 

What is your opinion on the usage of this piece of Bioshock Infinite Art