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.