Ethical Gaming Rants and Hissy Fits 12 Comments

Skipping Combat and Bioware Drama

Did y’all get a look at the Bioware “drama” yesterday concerning Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, and SWTOR writer Jennifer Hepler? Some dude found an article with her from 2006, literally put words in her mouth and took other statements out of context, and posted it to Reddit. Reddit took the bait of course, and Ms. Hepler was slammed with a wall of enraged dude gamers on forums, on her social media accounts, and even on the telephone. She received death threats, and was called “the cancer that is killing Bioware”, “no better than human waste”, and of course those perennial favorites, a “fat bitch” and “obese cunt”.

What were Ms. Hepler’s horrible crimes? At the time of the interview she was pregnant and lamented that she didn’t have much time to play games. She said that she had a hard time getting into a game if it doesn’t have a good story. And most incendiary of all, when asked how she would change games to better attract a female audience Hepler said that sometimes players just want the story and might enjoy a “fast-forward” button to skip combat, like the button to skip dialog that is available in most RPGs. Said Hepler, “A fast forward button would give all players — not just women — the same options that we have with books or DVDs — to skim past the parts we don’t like and savor the ones we do.”

And that, my friends, is apparently grounds for being harassed. Well, that and the crime of being a woman with an opinion in the gaming industry.

I wrote a post here a few weeks ago titled “Maybe SWTOR Wasn’t Meant For You” which was my attempt at a feminist-tinged critique of general player reaction to SWTOR. Yesterday’s nonsense only strengthens my belief that Bioware’s insistence on not making the typical “gamer dude” their sole target audience enrages some players to the point of insensibility. I don’t even think they know or can identify the root of their anger, but only that Things Are Different and they don’t like it.

Really, at the end of the day, what’s the problem with a “skip combat” button in theory? I certainly would have skipped a few bits in Mass Effect 2, and both Dragon Age games as well. My motivation to reach the end of the game is wrapped up in the story and the characters, and sometimes I found myself getting frustrated with having to clear yet another long hallway of bandits to see that story. Whether you’d use such a button or not, discussing it as part of a theory of game mechanics seems entirely reasonable.

But no — apparently we must fight in our games, or we are no better than a horrible wasting disease that kills people. I’m not even sure that saying “chicks dig plotlines” isn’t a gross generalization in itself, but the mere suggestion that games change slightly to allow options that appeal more broadly across genders is enough to cause a gamer dude meltdown. Heck, there was more than one tweet from Hepler-bashers accusing her of forcing them to play gay characters in Bioware games, which wasn’t even brought up in the original article! The gamer dudes doth protest too much.

I doubt any of these gamer dudes read this blog, but on the off-chance that one does: suck it up, buttercups. Games are going to keep changing to appeal to a wider, more diverse audience through capitalistic desire if nothing else, and I suspect that this will makes games BETTER as more people and more perspectives get involved in the industry. Mass Effect 3, in fact, has a option to choose “story mode” with less combat, while folks who love fighting can choose a mode with extra combat. Looks like Hepler and her evil band of lady-gamers already won this fight.

UPDATE: Bioware has released an official statement about this mess and has made a donation to Bullying Canada in Ms. Hepler’s name. Also, if you’re on Google+ we have a pretty good discussion on this stuff going on there.

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Telaan
    February 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Sigh. I first heard about this on Sunday and have been following it since then. I find the whole situation really disturbing, not just because of the hateful words and images directed at Hepler, or the fact that she was being harassed on her home telephone (they called her house?! They called her HOUSE?! Really?!), but mostly because I just can’t comprehend the level of vitriol over something that really isn’t going to affect hardcore gamers all that much. It’s not like Mass Effect 3 was released with only a story-mode and nothing else! There’s still the option to play it on higher difficulty. I just don’t get it. I mean, I don’t really like 3D movies, but I couldn’t care less if other people do because I can so easily just see movies in 2D instead.

    And that’s not even touching on the fact that this level of harassment is never okay no matter how much you disagree with someone. I’m completely disgusted by the whole situation and the gaming community has just taken a giant step backwards in my eyes.

    Thank god for blogs like this to give me hope though! <3

  • Reply
    Shintar
    February 21, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    /facepalm. The sad thing is, I distinctly remember people getting outraged about this exact quote by Hepler before. People just love to flog dead horses, don’t they?

    Incidentally, I’m not really in favour of simply skipping combat myself, since that would affect the pacing of the game and thus also the story, but I’m definitely in favour of the option of opting for less. I never managed to finish my second Dragon Age playthrough (even though I really enjoyed the game) because I just couldn’t stand the thought of wading through eleventy zillion darkspawn in the Deep Roads again.
    Shintar´s last post: Early Impressions of the Belsavis Dailies

  • Reply
    Harmlesse
    February 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I’ve joked about BioWare games being dating sims with a lot of grindy combat thrown in. This is such an established pattern for the studio, I kind of wonder why people who are so afraid of girl cooties or catching The Gay even play BioWare games to being with. Was there a sudden shortage of Tom Clancy games and they were all forced to play DA:O instead? Has BioWare/EA threatened to script gay romance subplots into Madden? As I am so repeatedly told whenever I mention sexist depictions of women in games by the same people who are raging about cancerous cunts–“If you don’t like it, go play something else.” Unlike me and my quest for compelling female characters in rational clothing, they have plenty of options.

  • Reply
    Liore
    February 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Telaan, Shintar, Harmlesse: wonderful comments. Thank you for sharing. :)

    Just in case someone doesn’t see the update in the post itself, Bioware has an official response now: http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/260/index/9381043/1

    I will say this whole discussion has got me thinking productively about low- and non-combat gaming and given me something to post about later in the week.

    • Reply
      Brian 'Psychochild' Green
      February 22, 2012 at 4:04 am

      As a developer, one of my talents is putting myself into someone else’s position. This means I can often understand a position on a logical level even if I find it distasteful on an emotional level.

      I also completely sympathize with Ms. Hepler. I’ve had people call me trying to press design issues, and others who have made threats toward my significant other. I think the threats are disgusting, but I know this is a tiny fraction of the gameplaying audience that is reacting so aggressively.

      My read of the situation is that there are some people who feel their favorite form of game threatened. Specifically fans of the older Bioware RPGs (Baldur’s Gate, etc.) feel that there has already been a severe shift away from heavy combat games have much more story. Slippery slope thinking then makes it so that a “skip combat” button is another step toward removing more and more combat from a game. So, people in this siege mentality gathered weapons and strike out at an “enemy”.

      Unfortuantely, Bioware was the last great company to make RPGs. RPGs tend to be really content-heavy and expensive, so it’s not like an indie company can come along and whip together an old-school Bioware type of RPG to keep them happy. Ultimately, it’s important to understand this reaction is emotional, not logical, and comes from feeling threatened.

      I will say this whole discussion has got me thinking productively about low- and non-combat gaming and given me something to post about later in the week.

      If you were a developer, this would be fuel for the fire. This is one reason a lot of devs prefer to remain quiet rather than talk honenstly, unfortunately.

      Again, I find the harassment to be awful and misguided, but I think I have some insight into the thoughts of this group.
      Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green´s last post: Clones… clones everywhere!

      • Reply
        Orpho
        February 22, 2012 at 7:54 am

        Sure, people feel threatened and they lash out, but I’d argue that this reaction has a lot more to do with reaction against gay pixels and their “contagion” than it does with loving RPGs.

        Feeling threatened about your sexuality is probably a lot deeper cut than feeling threatened about your RPGs.

        In the US at least, politicians wrap entire political campaigns up in this feeling – the “gays, gods, and guns”. I point you to the excerpts from former MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan’s book: http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/10/twelve_pretty_racist_or_just_crazy_quotes_from_pat_buchanans_new_book.php , that plays to just this sort of threatening of white straight Christian ‘Merika.

        But I’m sure the RPG-love has something to do with it.

      • Reply
        Liore
        February 22, 2012 at 11:53 am

        Thanks for the comment! I understand what you’re saying, but .. perhaps it’s my personal social justice bias, but I think saying that it’s just RPG-related angst is giving the harassers too much credit.

        Of course I can’t know for sure, but it seems to me that the reaction would not have been anywhere near the same if: a) Ms. Hepler were a woman; b) She hadn’t been talking about women in gaming; c) It wasn’t Bioware, a company already known for their soft stance on chicks and gay elves.

        I agree that there is certainly a healthy dollop of resistance to change in all this, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that a not insignificant amount of harassers resorted to gender-specific insults and homophobic nonsense. Based on that, I am more inclined to say that this was a skirmish in the war to making gaming more accessible for previously unwelcome groups than a battle to preserve the integrity of RPGs.

        Oh, and just in general while I’m posting a comment, this is a nice article on the whole deal: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielnyegriffiths/2012/02/21/bioware-hepler-harassment/

        • Reply
          Brian 'Psychochild' Green
          February 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm

          As I said, I’ve been the target of such harassment and I’m not female and the game I ran was an aggressive PvP game; about as far as Ms. Hepler’s situation as I could be. The scale was quite different, but I attribute that to the fact that my game was a niche title whereas Bioware is quite a bit more popular.

          Anonymous assholes on the internet will go after you any way they can when they lash out. Obviously, for a woman, they’ll resort to misogynistic slurs. When they attacked me, they attacked the quality of my genitals (to put it politely), posted edited pictures of me with abusive phrases, and threatened my significant other; they obviously wanted to provoke me in any way they could. Thankfully, neither myself or my loved ones came to any harm from these people, although it did disquiet me for a while.

          So, drawing from personal experience I don’t think this is a case of “(a [tiny] part of) gamer culture hates women.” Rather, I think it’s more that some part of gamer culture cannot or chooses not to express their anger in a constructive way. Could there be some misogyny fueling this? I can’t say for sure this isn’t a motivation. But, I think both of us know that, unfortunately, men who hate women tend to express it in more directly damaging ways than dredging up an old article.

  • Reply
    Doone
    February 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I followed the news of this from various forums and the border house blog. I wanted to have something to say about it, but it’s the kind of thing for which there are no words. I’m VERY glad to see Bioware stepping and saying that they support Hepler. The covert message is that they stand against these gamers who have taken it upon themselves to harrass her.

    As to skipping combat …this is actually not a novel concept at all. Playing a few of the turn-based strategy games out there over the past decade or so will show you that you have been able to skip combat in that genre for a long time. The Total War series and all the games like it all have an option to automate combat, wherein the player doesn’t have to go to the fight. Win or lose, the player can skip the combat altogether and deal with the problem politically.

    I’m not sure how this would translate in our RPGs. The interesting thing about them is they ALL rest on acts of violence. Besides The Sims, I don’t think I’ve played any games where taking out the combat wouldn’t have destroyed all the entertainment value. I guess I’m thinking there’s an underlying issue with design which relies on violence to deliver a fun game experience. That itself is problematic and pervasive.

    Not saying it can’t be done. I think it can, but it would require the kind of thinking none of us are used to in our violent societies.

  • Reply
    Farscry
    February 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    You know, it really bothers me that people are so quick to jump on the Bully Bandwagon, especially in the internet world for some reason. Unfortunately, it only serves to reinforce my general negative opinion on humanity. :(

    And on the topic of the “need for combat” in games, I find that equally disappointing.

    These people are the reason I don’t really want to self-identify as a “gamer”, but rather just that I enjoy playing games as one of my pasttimes.

  • Reply
    Logtar
    February 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Even though your content is not WoW exclusive now, you are still going to be CHALLENGED!

    http://logtar.com/wow/2012/02/and-then-there-were-six/
    Logtar´s last post: And then there were Six!

  • Reply
    margaret mays
    April 7, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Katlyn gunter you need to get a life you are jus.jealous im hotter than you.

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