When Did Choice Become a Bad Thing?
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Over the last few weeks, one corner of the inter-webs has gone completely agog over the buried and resurfaced comments of one Jennifer Hepler and her opinion of games.
It’s no big deal at all that people on the internet have an opinion of another person’s opinion; when you throw one comment out into a sea of millions, logic dictates that there will be responses. What’s most surprising of all is that an essentially harmless comment about wanting to bring more choice to games has resulted in said holder of opinion becoming the recipient of hate, misogyny and even death threats. I am, frankly, amazed in a Not Good Way. How can a region of the world that prides itself on freedom want to kill someone for putting forth an opinion that tries to offer even more freedom? Why are people who are always screaming for more choice in games threatening to burn someone to death for saying the same thing?
For those that haven’t been following, Jennifer Hepler made some comments in an interview six years ago, that got resurrected on the website Reddit. For some reason, the opinion that went unnoticed in 2006 now provoked a rabid reaction in the internet that was so severe, BioWare, Ms. Hepler’s employers, stepped in and announced they were making a $1000 donation to Bullying Canada in response to the numerous threats, insults and other personal attacks that she suffered in the wake of the Reddit story. And what was Jennifer Hepler’s crime? When the journalist asked her what games needed to be more accessible to a broader audience she replied:
A fast-forward button. Games almost always include a way to “button through” dialogue without paying attention, because they understand that some players don’t enjoy listening to dialogue and they don’t want to stop their fun. Yet they persist in practically coming into your living room and forcing you to play through the combats even if you’re a player who only enjoys the dialogue. In a game with sufficient story to be interesting without the fighting, there is no reason on earth that you can’t have a little button at the corner of the screen that you can click to skip to the end of the fighting.
For that one opinion about giving people an option, a segment of the Internet decided that this woman needed to die.
The most astounding part of this is conditions surrounding the controversy. Why did it take six years for people to get angry? Where were these gamers that held mechanical conventions so sacred in 2006? And even more importantly, Ms. Hepler’s opinion was prescient; a game came out last year that did exactly this and it was called L.A. Noire. As an option, it allowed people to skip over the combat sequence of the game if they were more interested in the detective and interrogation work.
Why did a woman’s six year old opinion get raked over the coals when the very thing she was being vilified for actually occurred without anyone so much as sending a death threat, or personal insult, to Team Bondi who made the game? You’d think that if someone deserved to die for putting forth an opinion like that, then the people that made it a reality should have been hunted down in their own homes and shot. But that didn’t happen. In fact, many critics actually remarked that the option was an interesting addition. No one on Team Bondi got stalked on the internet and flooded with hate remarks. Why did Team Bondi get left alone for actually making a game that did this, while Jennifer Hepler was the victim of a smear campaign for merely suggesting it six years ago? There is so much inconsistency in the behavior happening here that I don’t even know where to start, it’s almost like trying to make sense out of the behavior of a blind, deaf, rabid dog.
But to me the most baffling thing about this is that the reaction happened at all. This kind of passionate denial is usually reserved as a reaction to the curbing of human rights, maybe the protest of a dictator taking power, and certainly it can be targeted at an invading force during an occupation of one’s country. But when someone speaks up on an opinion that actually has no impact on you whatsoever, except insofar as it’s another choice that you can accept or refuse at your leisure… how is that worthy of hate?
It reminds me a bit of a similar reaction BioWare endured when people decided that they didn’t like the idea of characters being bisexual in various BioWare games. This was simply an option. There was no one pointing a gun to anyone’s head saying “Your character must have a same sex, virtual relationship with this NPC or I will kill you,” and yet, people protested as if that that was exactly what was happening.
In some ways, it almost seems like some gamers are saying, “You have to keep those choices away from us, because if they are present, we can’t help but exercise them. I secretly hate combat, and am a closet homosexual, and if you make those choices available to me, I will skip combat, and be involved in gay relationships in my game. That’s why I’m mad at the inclusion of these choices.”
Seriously. Are some gamers really that feeble minded that they can’t exercise personal preference? Is that why the possibility of such design choices is so threatening? Their very existence guarantees usage and an admission of shameful desires?
If that’s the case, I don’t think the problem is with game developers having these opinions, it’s with gamers who need to exercise more will power.