I belong to a video game group where people share all kinds of video game related (and non) content. This week, my friend shared an article written by Chris Plante at Polygon titled: Rage 2 Is A Fun Game That Makes Me Feel Like Garbage. It’s a well-written article that gave me pause.
To briefly summarize, Plante pointed out that, “Rage 2 uses my birth defect as a rude shorthand for mutant freak.”
I was embarrassed I’d never thought about this.
If you have a moment, I highly recommend reading Plante’s article. I’m going to continue here assuming you’ve done so.
My friend who shared the article, also shared one about Catherine sometime back. I never played Catherine, myself, rather I watched my partner play a significant portion of it in passing. I remembered a lot of the word EDGE and that there was a bar called the Stray Sheep. It turns out, there was a transwoman who worked at the bar (Erica) and the main guys from the story treated her like crap because she was trans and I never knew that. The situation got even grosser when going about the remaster, and I decided for sure I didn’t need to support Atlus on this one.
When she shared the article about Rage 2, I was surprised I’d not already considered the situation and immediately felt ashamed. Distilled down, the article made me think: in games, why are we often decimating people/creatures who look different, while we look “normal?” Someone in the comments on the thread where she shared the article mentioned Borderlands and how they were always uncomfortable with the use of midgets as an enemy type, something I’d always felt weird about, too. People started wondering if Gearbox would omit that enemy type for Borderlands 3 but none of us felt too certain they would be sensitive in that regard. Another person pointed out that a particular enemy type in the Borderlands series even has a vestigial arm. The concern was also that no one with such physical characteristics was simply an NPC or someone on your side. This only reinforced the US vs. THEM or the “NORMALS” vs. “ABNORMALS” situation.
I felt very weird about that.
If a game had characters with physical abnormalities, I’d be fine with it if it were across the board or if they weren’t inherently enemies and seen as “bad.” If your character also had those characteristics, great. If the NPCs had those characteristics, great. If some of the enemies did, too, great. But when, in the situation of Rage 2, your character is “normal” and the enemies you’re fighting are “abnormal” and often objectified (Plante talks about this in his article), that feels gross.
I wrote to my friend and told her I wasn’t comfortable commenting publicly on the article she shared because I felt ashamed and embarrassed the whole thing hadn’t occurred to be before. She was very kind and told me there was no need to be either of those things, she just felt it was worth sharing, and I agree. Plante talks about playing the game during development at an event and being able to talk to id Software’s studio director about his concern. The director was receptive at the time, however seemed to double down on the offensive depictions in the final build and that confused Plante.
It would confuse me, too.
I don’t have a point beyond hoping we continue to see more diversity and positive representation in games. I know some argue, “they’re just games,” and to that I say it still matters. Whether games are art is a discussion for another time (personally I think they are, in fact, art), but representation in all types of media matters. Whether a character is female, male, gay, straight, bi, black, white, Asian, trans, whatever, positive representation MATTERS. There are so many stories to be told with any number of characteristics for the protagonist (and surrounding characters), why not try? Why not give someone a character they can look at and be proud of? I’m by no means saying there aren’t any out there, merely that I’d love to see more.
I wish I’d read Plante’s article before I bought Rage 2; I’d pre-ordered it when the game was announced. The game arrived yesterday and I sat there and looked at it. I’m still going to play it, if for no other reason than to see for myself how it makes me feel. I’m fairly certain I’m going to feel a whole lot like Plante.