Monday, August 4, 2014

"Transporter Chief: Empathize!": Dev Engages Community & Preserves Artist Vision

Learning about community and inclusiveness with  Redshirt
Image courtesy of  Mitu Khandaker
Leigh Alexander has another great article on Gamasutra, this time on Mitu  Khandaker's game "Redshirt", a career/life sim game that takes the Utopian ideals of being a Starfleet-esque space cadet and turns it on its head. In "Redshirts" you advance by amassing social capital, popularity, and engaging in some good ol' fashioned career ruthlessness in climbing the organizational ladder.

But the pie-in-the-sky view of career advancement isn't the only thing that "Redshirt" skewers-- and when some aspects of the game end up hurting a player, the developer responds with understanding. As the article outlines:
Khandaker wanted to show the harmful side of the “sexy green alien" trope so common in science fiction — the trope is a character often sketched as more advanced and intellectual than humans, but also profoundly "othered" and objectified. In Redshirt, players can be a member of the green-skinned Asrion species for a chance to explore what the experience of the “green-skinned space babe” might be like within a believable infrastructure — playing as an Asrion can bring more unsolicited, demeaning romantic attention than playing as other species on the ship. The behavior of characters in the Redshirt world depends on sliders that players can edit if they choose, including a “bigotry” slider. Male characters with high bigotry are likely to persistently harass Asrion women, sometimes with sexual undertones, even if the player selected to play a character who is only interested in other women. 
Late last year, this element upset a player who wrote that she felt triggered by the unwelcome attention of characters in the Redshirt universe, and especially by the fact she’d lose points for refusing to interact with them, and had no option to “block” them as she could on real Facebook. The player posted about her negative experience, and Khandaker quickly replied. She apologized for the player’s troubling experience, and explained her design decisions — not in self-defense, but to explain how the player and others in her circumstance could switch off the “bigotry” sliders in order to ensure the game characters wouldn’t perform the harassing behavior... 
"I definitely thought some of the reaction to my addressing that concern and changing the game was strange," she [Khandaker] reflects. "After all, it was simply someone pointing out something to me which I hadn't previously considered. Someone who has been subject to that kind of unwanted attention and harassment and, crucially, wasn't prepared for encountering it in a game, would find the experience distressing," she says. "For some reason, even though I agreed wholeheartedly with the concerns that were addressed by the player who had been triggered, some people saw the whole situation as my having capitulated to some kind of unreasonable demand -- which is completely ridiculous," Khandaker continues. "Yes, the existence of that particular dynamic in the game was intended to make a statement about sexism (and racial fetishization), but art should never be at the expense of those it is defending."
I think this is a pretty good way to balance the concerns of players along with sticking to what you feel are important things a game has to say, myself. She listened to feedback, empathized with the player, explained why she made the choices she did, and showed how certain problematic parts could be adjusted-- a far cry from capitulation in my book. Also Khandaker hit upon something very important that artists would do well to keep in mind- even if your motives are good, and your intentions benign, your art should not come at the expense of those you're using your art to defend.

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