Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Editorial - Political Correctness in Gaming

Spoiler Note: This editorial contains spoilers related to the Metal Gear franchise.

If you’ve been following news for Street Fighter V, you’ve likely heard about the characters to be featured in it, including a few original characters and a surprise return from fan-favorite R. Mika. In a rather surprising move, however, Capcom has decided to follow in Nintendo’s footsteps and censor their upcoming fighting game, specifically in the animations and camera angles related to R. Mika and Cammy. For camera angles, they were altered to hide R. Mika slapping her butt during her Critical and hide a crotch shot of Cammy during her entrance; the latter shot is now more 2D and less dynamic. At the end of R. Mika’s Critical, they also altered the animation so that she and her partner, Nadeshiko, no longer spread the opponent’s legs apart.

Though this may seem minor to some people, this is actually a symptom of the much larger problem of video game companies bending over backwards to placate puritan values held by the most easily offended minority on the planet. The changes for R. Mika not only alter her personality, but also take away from her wrestling theme a bit. The one change seen so far for Cammy also makes her entrance blander. In either case, Capcom has decided to change the generally silly tone of the series in a gutless act of political correctness.

Portrait of R. Mika in Street Fighter V

This isn’t the only time a company has appealed to such a minority crowd, however. The recently released Assassin’s Creed Syndicate features a “transgender” character named Ned Wynert, who seemed to be included as an attempt to pander to the very small transgender demographic. Since I have a copy of the game, I checked out Ned’s bio and it seems that Ubisoft was correct in that they were being “more accurate” in Ned’s depiction, but his backstory makes him seem more like a tomboy. In short, Ned’s actually a girl who disguised herself as a boy throughout her childhood and donned the persona of Ned Wynert to hide her true identity. When she was old enough, she ran away from home and adopted the Ned persona for good. While this may be what being a transgender person at the time was like, it seems that Ubisoft only labeled Ned that way to seem more “progressive.”

For those who aren’t aware or aren’t sure why the announcement of Ned didn’t make sense, one has to consider that the setting of Syndicate is Victorian London, during the Industrial Revolution in 1868. While the Assassin’s Creed series is admittedly pretty silly with its storyline, it still makes an effort to be historically accurate, especially since the Animus technology explores ancestral memories that would need to be accurate to a specific timeframe. In this case, a transgender character wouldn’t realistically exist, as the concept of transgender identity wasn’t around in Victorian London; in fact, the word transgender wouldn’t exist until the next century, with the actual surgery coming along some time after. They would much more likely have treated these identities as mental illnesses back then, so the main characters, Jacob and Evie Frye, would realistically laugh at such a person. Due to my schedule I have only reached Memory Sequence 5 as of this writing, but so far I don’t see this being addressed at all.

But this wouldn’t be the first run-in Ubisoft has had with the Political Correctness crowd. In fact, the inclusion of Ned Wynert also seems to be a response to the uproar invented over the fact that the previous game, Assassin’s Creed Unity, didn’t feature a playable female assassin. Admittedly, Ubisoft bumbled a bit when they tried to explain it. At the time, their explanation was originally that female characters are harder to program. This response only added more fuel to the fire, but it also got more people to come out of the woodwork and reveal just how little they themselves knew about game design; this included a former Ubisoft programmer, who obviously didn’t know how hard it was to make a game apart from placing fully designed characters into a polygonal space.

Later on, Ubisoft gave the real explanation as to why the multiplayer of Unity didn’t allow for female characters: everyone was playing as their own version of protagonist Arno Dorian, meaning it was tied to each player’s single player mode. Putting in a female playable character would have been more difficult, as they would have to design one from the ground up, record lines and make any necessary alterations to the story, which they didn’t have enough time to do because they had already set a release date. While this explanation would still probably have offended the thin-skinned, it would have lessened the backdraft they suffered over something so trivial.

The lack of a playable female assassin in Unity is also likely the reason for Jacob Frye fighting alongside his sister Evie Frye, who herself is playable for 25% of Syndicate’s single player mode. Naturally this still hasn’t fully satisfied the complainers who will never actually drop money on the full release, but they see this as a “victory” for finally having a playable female assassin in the series. It seems that they completely forgot about Aveline de Grandpré, a female assassin of French and African descent, who had her very own game on the PlayStation Vita, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, which also received the HD treatment as Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD for multiple platforms. It’s almost like they willfully ignore anything that goes against their agenda or something.

I guess being a female Assassin with a French and African
heritage living in 18th century New Orleans isn't good
enough for them to recognize her existence.

But of course, whenever women are represented in games, there’s always uproar over them being even remotely attractive, because clearly it is impossible for a woman to be both sexy and powerful, even in fiction. Take, for example, the controversy that cropped up over the character of Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. When she was first revealed, the PC police manufactured outrage over her design. Here’s what she looks like:

Quiet as she appears in The Phantom Pain

When Hideo Kojima worked with lead artist Yoji Shinkawa on the design of Quiet, he initially said that he wanted her to have a more “erotic” design. Once he started being pelted with criticism, he said that once we learned the in-universe reason for her design, we’d all feel ashamed of our words and deeds. The actual explanation turned out to be that her lungs were destroyed at the beginning of the game and she’s only alive due to parasites in her body that causes her to not only be photosynthetic, but also breath through her skin, meaning that wearing too much clothing would suffocate her; her muteness is explained by the fact that the parasite is a vocal parasite that will spread to and kill those around her if she begins speaking English.

Whether the player buys this explanation or not, Kojima should not have felt the need to backtrack and the PC crowd should not have immediately cried “sexism” towards her depiction. From discussions I’ve seen about Quiet’s design online, it seems there could easily have been a number of alternate explanations. These include the idea that Quiet was meant as a challenge for cosplayers or the idea that Quiet, in both her design and mannerisms, was probably meant as a modern take on the Japanese Yuki-onna spirit, or even the idea that Kojima simply wanted to have a sexy character in one of his games. No matter the explanation, the consensus seemed to be that Kojima should have been more defensive of his vision and that Quiet isn’t exactly out of place in Metal Gear, an otherwise realistic series that thrives on the nonsensical. After all, this is the same series that features cyborg ninjas, a psychic that can read memory cards, a bisexual “vampire,” nuclear-equipped bipedal tanks, a US Senator made of nanomachines, mushrooms that recharge batteries after eating them and a man who can throw bee grenades and use a bee Tommy Gun that fires “bullet bees” at his foes. Put simply, Metal Gear is the anime version of real life.

I wasn't joking about the bee powers.

Hell, Quiet’s design by itself, let alone her sexuality, isn’t exactly out of place within Metal Gear. Rather than list them off though, I’ll just show you some designs or situations that the PC crowd has evidently been okay with in previous games (and even within The Phantom Pain itself):

That’s not counting the other imagery or subjects tackled in the game which were evidently okay. Within The Phantom Pain alone, when not going for a Stealth/Pacifist Run with tranquilizers or stun-capable equipment, it is possible to murder enemy soldiers in a number of increasingly gruesome ways. Such equipment ranges from handguns and assault rifles to grenade and missile launchers, not to mention placed weaponry like C4 and claymore mines or the ability to summon a support chopper to shoot down soldiers with Gatling guns and rocket launchers; all hits on Venom Snake are accompanied by blood and dead soldiers have pools of blood around their bodies. It is even possible to have your Buddies be nearly killed and Fultoned away, one of which is a wolf-dog. Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain also respectively depict prisoners of war in Guantanamo-esque conditions and child soldiers. Going outside of the MGSV duology, we have the bloodiest example in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, in which a cyborg ninja with a high-frequency blade can slice enemies to bits with accompanying sprays of red blood (synthetic white blood in the Japanese version).

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots also features the FROGS, an elite enemy unit consisting entirely of women who can be gunned down; this extends to the Beauty and the Beast Unit, a group of killable in-game bosses who are also entirely women. However, neither group created any outrage, likely because the outrage police would never have actually played the game to see the context, let alone the soldiers.

So, yes, despite the presence of child soldiers, countless ways to potentially kill enemy combatants and increasingly intense scenes of outright torture, the only thing deemed worthy of focusing on in The Phantom Pain was an optional Buddy with sex appeal. If that doesn’t reek of puritan values, I don’t know what does. Hideo Kojima meant it when he said we would “feel ashamed of our words and deeds” when we learned the secret about Quiet’s design. Put simply, by complaining about Quiet as an objectified sex object, the complainers reduced her to nothing more than a sex object to be offended by.

As for Street Fighter V, since it’s still in Beta and has yet to release, there’s no telling whether or not they’ll end up reversing the censorship before launch. However, from the comments I’ve seen on gaming websites I visit, it seems that people are already cancelling their pre-orders to show their disapproval to Capcom. Until we learn exactly why the censorship occurred, it will feel like a slap in the face to Street Fighter fans and an attempt to pander to a vocal minority that very likely won’t even buy the game. As they say, “Censorship is a death by a thousand cuts.”

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