Hey gamers! Let's all be dismissive and hostile towards minority groups!

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paynoattention.jpgBecause that's what happens every time some social issue is raised in gamer space.

Women pointing out that gaming being overly focused on masculine, juvenile power fantasies? Shouted down.

African-Americans cringing about that first Resident Evil 5 trailer being at best unsettling and at the worst outright racist? Shouted down.

Muslims complaining that a song in LittleBigPlanet features a vocal interpretation from their holy text, which some would find terribly offensive? Shouted down.

PETA making a parody of Cooking Mama in another attention-grab for their animal cruelty cause? Shouted down.

And now, homosexuals vowing not to buy Shadow Complex on the 360 because it comes from the works of noted anti-gay rights activist Orson Scott Card? Shouted down.

This latest sortie comes barely a week after a public service campaign - Think B4 U Speak (or some such title marred by trendy internet spelling) - released a magazine ad trying to get gamers to stop using homosexual insults online. I've seen this campaign in other forms, and it is not entirely focused on gamers, just teens in general. Penny Arcade responded with agreement to the message but noted that it was doomed to fail because it assumes "a level of humanity in [the] target audience that frankly doesn't exist."

But it's not just teens, is it? The gaming universe is not 100% hyper-aggro slacker wastrels. There's a good portion of adult gamers out there, and they seem ready and willing to write off any perceived attacks on the hobby from outsiders. (I know I'm generalizing, but white heterosexual Christian meat-eating male is realistically a good yardstick for gamers in America... therefore all others are outsiders.) There will be no discussion. There will be no understanding. There will be no compromise. If you have a complaint, you're stupid, wasting your time, irrational. It's just a game, after all. That's all that matters.

The "perceived" adjective is especially apropos in this case, as the Shadow Complex boycott is really just a continuation of an ongoing Orson Scott Card boycott. By all accounts, the game itself is great stuff. If Shadow Complex was a television miniseries, the gay community would urge the same boycott, and happy fragging gamers would not even know it happened. K-pow, k-pow, they would say from behind their Gears of War sights. Pew pew pew pew pew.

The catalyst piece seems to have been this editorial by Gamasutra writer Christian Nutt. Nutt, you may note, has been in games journalism for a reasonably long time. I remember seeing his byline in magazines, that's how long he's been doing this. He also happens to be gay, and he quite plainly struggles with the complicated issue... Does it matter that the game is based on Card's work, even if Card didn't actually have much to do with the game? (Peter David wrote it, presumably based on Card's world bible.) Does it matter that the game is apparently really good? Does it matter that homophobes are no doubt sprinkled all over entertainment media, without our knowing? Does it matter that Card is particularly virulent on the issue, calling gays "tragic genetic mix-ups" and gay marriage an "end to democracy"?

I went through the reader comments for Nutt's article and changed by mind probably half a dozen times. Particularly when Peter David shows up, a little miffed, and has his say. David says he always separates the creator from the creation. I don't think I can do that, particularly when the Orson-verse engages in such delightful gay-baiting as blowing up San Francisco. How can you not read between the lines on that one.

David also remarks that a boycott will produce functionally miniscule results, and I'm sure he's right about that. But still, if you don't want to give money to a homophobe who has placed himself on his own bully pulpit and runs in circles high enough to actually bring his small-minded threats to fruition, I don't think it matters HOW much money you're technically keeping from him. Even a penny is too much.

(David has a GREAT rejoinder when a commentor tries to turn the table on him, asking if he would buy a product made by somebody who specifically hated and persecuted Peter David.

"Absolutely," David asserts. "Case in point: I regularly buy the work of John Byrne who has called me a jerk and worse, and he's been doing it for years.")

The larger issue for gamers is: Why are we so afraid to talk about this? Why is every civil rights action met with immediate dismissal, as if each one was manufactured by complete crackpots? While I'm sure that crackpots exist, and I'm not saying that every single complaint has merit, I have seen normally reasonable people brush off this particular topic as if it was of no importance at all. Even worse, many graduate to fully insulting those doing the complaining. And all the while, some claim to be sympathetic to the gay rights movement... but that gays should find something else to attack. Something more important to their cause, presumably. Because a video game couldn't possibly matter.

But all great art forms are met with challenges. It's what happens as any particular media expands and evolves. Gamers get justifiably upset when Roger Ebert says games aren't art ("We are!" "We're important!" "We're digital magic!"), but if you dare suggest Shadow Complex may somehow be connected to a known homophobe, you're told to "get over it" because "it's just a game." We can't have it both ways.

Another point I feel many gamers miss - and many white Americans miss in general - is that it is one thing for a minority group to complain about the majority... and quite, quite another for the majority to complain about the minority. You'd think something like this would be blatantly obvious, but a hive mind mentality rules inside any group. And the larger the group, the more invisibly oppressive the hive mind can become. Without minority groups constantly reminding the majority of what's it's like to be the minority, we continually run the risk of the majority slowly creeping toward ignoring the minority entirely. Which could get deadly. And has.

What I mean by this, it is very easy to stand up and lambast something when you know you're going to get backed up by another dozen commentators. There is nothing brave about telling gays to "get over it," because a legion of "yeah, get over it"s will follow.

I think white Christian hetero American males simply lack a cause. They're already on top of the world, so they can't fathom when a minority group's hackles are raised. Everything is already going the gamers' way, so what's to get upset about? This fault is all the more pronounced in a pop culture-based community that contains a wide swath of younger males who lack critical thinking and social understanding. The only cause that the stereotypical gamer can get behind is the one where mainstream media or the government come after gaming for being too violent, too sexy or too immature.

On Aeropause, I mentioned that, as an atheist, I'm very likely sending my money off to plenty of Christianist causes without knowing it. But if the creator(s)/creation(s) are obviously pro-Christian - my examples being Left Behind and VeggieTales - then you can bet I am not sending a thin dime in that direction. It's a matter of degree and it's a matter of knowing the enemy's location and intent. Orson Scott Card, a name brand sci-fi author, has been extremely hateful and vocal on the topic; he has made himself public. In comparison, a behind-the-scenes writer on Game X who sends half his paycheck to his church is quite a few steps below that. It's not black and white. I think this puts the lie to the gamer retort that essentially goes "if you look hard enough, you'll find somebody who doesn't think as you do, so why look at all."

If you care about any given topic, you can't not look. And the counsel of "don't bother looking at all" is the siren song of blind majority conformity.

In the end, the Shadow Complex issue isn't even a great artistic challenge for gaming, as it has very little to do with the game itself. If Shadow Complex was indeed rife with Card's personal ideology - even deeper than destroying San Fran - than we'd have a real discussion. So I can see where the Gaming Popular Opinion is coming from. Nevertheless, I can't believe that so many gamers instantly dismiss the complaint, no doubt without ever venturing into Nutt's article, or similarly thoughtful entries from Sexy Videogameland and Gay Gamer.net. If somebody disagrees with an artist, in our free society they have every right to not buy his work and to tell their friends about it. And those who agree with the artist can buy all they like... and tell their friends the same. But instantly slamming a group in the fashion we've seen over the past few weeks is not only thoughtless, but aggressively prejudicial.

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