24 Aug 2010

Of Polygons and Principles

I’m taking a break from my regular Warcraft posts to ask a basic question – is there a game that you have chosen not to play purely for moral reasons? That’s not to say that the style of game isn’t one you enjoy, but instead that you object to the content or creative direction a game takes.

Let me give you an example. I don’t play anything with FIFA in the title because I don’t like sports games as a genre. I’m not morally opposed to them though, even though my hatred of football (soccer, not American football) is fairly well known. On the other hand I know people who won’t play World War II shooters out of respect of those close to them who lost their lives. It’s this latter kind of objection I wanted to look at.

So why bring it up? Well, it turns out that I may have found the first game that I’d object to buying or playing on moral grounds. It’s surprising because it was one I’d been interested in playing for a while. Since then it seems that the focus of development has shifted somewhat.

When I started looking at TERA, I was intrigued by the style they were planning to use. Giant city-wide machinery, sprawling vistas and gorgeous models all combined to give an image of a game I wanted to play. Couple that with a new skill based combat system and a character set that seemed to tick all the boxes, and I was all set to buy this one. The way that spellcasters were split into both Sorcerers and Mystics appealed to me, making me want to dig further.

Since then my perception of the game has changed. A hands-on video of Castanics, one of the playable races in the game, managed to put me off completely. If you listen to the commentary, it’s the way the camera tilts to give an upskirt view when the character runs (even though she’s bent almost double to achieve this). Later on there’s a lapdance-style casting animation, which just adds to the whole tacky image.

TERA is an unfortunate creation. Designed and built by Korean developers Bluehole, it’s now going through a reconstruction and regionalisation by En Masse in the US. Even so, that doesn’t really excuse what seems to be a significant shift in the way the game is being marketed and promoted.

Do a Google image search for TERA Online and you’ll find a heavy abundance of the Castanics race in a large chunk of their promotional bumpf. Whether it’s wallpapers, box art or in-game screenshots, it seems that the big focus ins now on emphasising the scantily clad character type as much as possible.

So what’s the big deal? After all, it’s just polygons, right? Doesn’t World of Warcraft have this kind of thing with the infamous Black Mageweave set? Don’t single player games like Bayonetta or Dead Or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball have similar content? Well, yes and no.

You see, Warcraft is an MMO. And like other social games, one of the big draws is playing with (and against) other people. Blizzard’s creation works well, in that it appeals to a broad spectrum of people from all demographics. You never know who you’ll meet from one encounter to the next. By overly sexualising content in the way TERA have done, you focus on a niche market. Will you get the same rich melting-pot community? Unlikely.

Also, Blizzard’s marketing and advertising has been done to showcase the world, the environment and the rich lore and potential for adventure. To me, TERA’s advertising has been focused on the appeal of one race.

The other big issue I have is where it takes gaming as a hobby. I’m one of the lucky ones – I’ve been playing videogames since I was two years old. That’s nearly thirty years experience of mashing buttons and pressing start. There are others that haven’t been so lucky, who only wandered into this by accident. Part of it is because the industry has “grown up” – it’s no longer the reserved club of the geeky white teenaged male, and is now accessible and relevant to huge numbers of people. Games like TERA are a step back for us as gamers – they hark back to a white male exclusive past. They ignore the progress we’ve made, both as gamers and as part of a wider gaming community.

There’s also the feel of the game. Do I need to play a game which is tinged with something slightly creepy, slightly seedy? Not really. I mean, if those games were popular then Leisure Suit Larry would be making a fortune. Ideally, I’d like a game to stand on it’s graphics engine and mechanics, not on a few strategically placed polygons from the modelling team.

I like being an inclusive gamer – I get to meet people I’d never bump into otherwise, and believe me people are fascinating. But by the same token I want to play games that are also inclusive, that have wide appeal. When a game tries to appeal so hard to a target audience that it handicaps itself from others, it moves away from that ideal.

So how about you? Is there anything you wouldn’t play? Can you see yourself giving TERA a go?

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24 Responses to Of Polygons and Principles

  1. Benjamin K says:

    Meh, sex sells. Warcraft has been showcasing night elves for years and there’s always the Dead or Alive franchise for some gratuitous boob physics in gaming. It’s a game targeted at adults, it will appeal to adults. Why are Americans so puritanical about sex?

    Anyways, to answer the more fundamental question are there games I don’t play for moral reasons, yes. I don’t use any product made by Microsoft. No X-Box, No age of Empires, No Windows, No Bing. Sure, I’m cutting myself off from some games I would probably enjoy but Microsoft is an evil company who has done great harm to the entire computer industry and the internet in the past. Until they become a responsible member of the community I will continue to boycott their products.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’m not American, I’m British 🙂

      I don’t think it’s being puritanical, it’s just that I expect better from firms developing MMO games – these are social games, so I’d like to think that they’d be more socially aware. Yep, Warcraft has Night Elves, but you don’t find them in a thong and bodypaint as Blizzard’s core advertising, right? besides, i don’t think these are targeted at adults – it feels like they’re squarely aiming for the 16-25 male demographic. Do I want to play an MMO with just those people? Nope.

      Looking at it another way, would you buy a tabletop sourcebook if you knew you’d struggle to get a game because people wouldn’t be comfortable with the subject matter? Sure, you might read through it once if it had an interesting rules set, but if it’s your bog standard D20 then you’d probably just skip it in favour of something you know your friends would be up for. The subtle difference here is where you’ve heard about a game on the grapevine, only for the focus to shift before it hits the printers. Would you still go for it, or leave it on the shelf?

  2. Vrykerion says:

    /opens Oblivion fan made mod site.
    /searches for “clothing”

    …I think the “gamer community” has disproven your arguement, sir. 😀

    (Also, Leisure Suit Larry was HILARIOUS)
    Vrykerion recently posted..The Ultimate Showdown- Thrall vs SylvanasMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      There are always going to be fan made mods out there, but I think you’re missing the point a little.

      In LittleBigPlanet you can create your own levels. It’s a big selling point of the game, something that’s improved the lifespan of it far beyond what would normally be possible. Yes, it’s possible to populate your level with penises and boobs, but it’s not designed with that in mind. More importantly though, it’s not advertised as such.

      Can you imagine if Will Wright stood up to promote Spore by saying that you can create your own army out of a race of cockmonsters? Yeah, some people would giggle and have a laugh over it, but others (like me) would find it a little cringeworthy. It’s one thing to make something possible in-game, it’s another thing entirely to make it a solid focus of your advertising campaign.

      • Vrykerion says:

        I was more so taking issue with this concept: “They ignore the progress we’ve made, both as gamers and as part of a wider gaming community.” You’re assuming that the mentality of you and yours extends to gamers as a whole, and it doesn’t. At all. You don’t have to go out of the way to find that “gamers as a whole” haven’t made the type of progress you’re claiming here.

        Well, no more than people who say “all liberals want communism”, “All asians are good at math” or “Everyone Loves Raymond”.
        Vrykerion recently posted..The Ultimate Showdown- Thrall vs SylvanasMy Profile

        • Alisi says:

          Everyone does love Raymond. Sucks to be Chris though.

        • RPA says:

          I really do think that he does have a point when he says that the gaming community has moved on.
          Where in the past it was only done by really big nerds that played it behind closed doors.
          Nowadays the gaming industry is a much more widely accepted passtime for a much wider audience. As a result it has evolved along that line to speak to a much larger community.
          This means, wether or not counting the first gamers as having evolved and grown older and more mature, that the industry has made progress because the clientele has made progress. If that were not the case the gaming industry would have stopped at tetris.

          And the analogy you make when trying to say it has no more evolved then saying all liberals want communism is just stupid. If only because that is a much larger change.
          Nor does that analogy, or any of the others for that matter, make any sense in this context.

  3. Borsk says:

    “Do I need to play a game which is tinged with something slightly creepy, slightly seedy?”
    That’s kind of a silly question, you don’t need to play anything.

    “By overly sexualising content in the way TERA have done, you focus on a niche market. Will you get the same rich melting-pot community? Unlikely.”
    Then their model will fail and those opposed to this kind of game will be victorious. Other developers will take note and not invest in those kinds of endeavors.

    One of the most popular gaming franchises out, Call of Duty, focuses on a very tight demographic and is insanely popular with that demographic. Just because the developers of Tera go the sex route and not the violence route, doesn’t make it better/worse. Also the fact that it’s an MMO and it should be “socially aware” is also false. Every MMO, and fantasy based game, has heavy tones of racism and pseudo-religion ingrained in their lore.

    If the races of WoW existed in real life, no one would ever be allowed to make a “Gnome Punting” joke or talk about Orcs as “green-skins” or Draenei as “space goats.”
    Borsk recently posted..Perspective- Decisions- Goals- A Raid Leader’s DilemmaMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      On your last point, I think MMOs need to be socially aware to a point in order to be successful. An MMO costs a large amount of money to develop and operate purely because of the amount of backend infrastructure involved. If they’re going to shift units, win subscriptions and ultimately turn a profit then they need to get enough players interested. I can’t help but think that by focusing their advertising in this way, they’re putting people off the game entirely. And you’re right – if the game fails as a result, developers will take note and things will move on.

      On your other point though, about sex or violence being key selling points, I’d ask if they really needed to be? CoD has some finely tuned gameplay mechanics. Warcraft has an intuitive interface, a solid gameplay experience and a rich and immersive world. Both are fun, satisfying and rewarding to play. As a result, they tend to last longer as games and win more subscribers.

      I might be getting old, but do I need an advertiser to push a product using a few primal triggers? Not really. I tend to go for something that appeals for other reasons. In the same way that a good SF or Fantasy author doesn’t need this on the cover of their book to sell copies, a good game just doesn’t need this kind of content.

  4. Rigg says:

    This is one of those things that seems like more of a warning sign than a reason to flat-out blackball the game, but it’s a warning sign with klaxons and flashing red lights. I’d happily download the demo — the mechanics and environments are very appealing — but I would expect an even lower quality from the general social scene than I see in WoW trade chat on a Saturday night. Furthermore, if this teenage-boy mentality has affected the artwork, what if it also reaches into the stories? Immature artwork combined with immature storytelling would not make for a compelling game experience.

    Of course, the point is probably moot. My elderly laptop barely plays WoW; I expect TERA would make it burst into flames before the opening cinematic could fade to black.

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  6. Lou Gagliardi says:

    I think that if you’re going to blast TERA you also need to blast WoW. Chain mail bikinis, ALL females being relatively the same size in the breasts and figure over all, Jaina being nothing more then a glorified barbie doll that cries all the time instead of studying. Sylvanas is seen as an evil $*%)%*. Blood elves being called by people such as Medros of All Things Azeroth , “flaming homos”.

    If one game in a genre is bad, then they are all bad. It’s like the Bible, you can’t pick and choose which ones you like (scriptures/games) and which one you don’t. Either you like/follow all, or you don’t.

    I also think people–not necessarily you but other bloggers come to mind–get upset over a fantasy game for no reason. That is of course my opinion, and I’m entitled to be told I’m wrong.

    To answer you’re question, would there be a game I won’t buy because of moral reasons? No. Not becuse I don’t have morals or anything; but because I separate fantasy video games from real life.

    • Gazimoff says:

      Sorry Lou, I disagree.

      You *can* pick and choose. Maybe it’s because I’m not a religious person that I’m flexible enough to pick just the stories that I find relevant to me. Just like I can pick the metal artists I like the sound of, or the pasta I want to cook with.

      Stretching out the analogy a little, do I need a picture of a scantily clad girl in order to help me with my pasta purchasing decisions? Would it make me buy more cannelloni if there was an attractive woman on the box? Of course not. All I’m interested in is getting the right pasta for the job, be it lasagne, mac and cheese, etc.

      Am I torches-and-pitchforks upset? Nope. Disappointed maybe. Partly because I was looking forward to playing the game, and partly because I think the way it’s being advertised is, to quote a Britishism, “bloody stupid”. Yes, WoW has it’s Black Mageweave set. But do they use it as a major selling point? Nope.

      • Lou Gagliardi says:

        No, you’re right they don’t. But once you get into the game, and play a female, that’s generally all you see with rare exception. I mean in the opening of vanilla (at the 1:29 mark if on youtube)..what’s that? oh yeah! it’s a night elf female in a barely there top, and nothing more then a thong.

        Burning Crusade–blood elf female in a major cleavage showing instant at 1:20 in if on youtube.

        My point is if you’re going to think Tera’s advertising is “bloody stupid” again to use a phrase from you John Bulls, then so is wow’s opening cinematic in both the original game and the next expansion pack after that.

        Furthermore, if you look at the Sentinel in Darkshore, or Darnassus, what do you see? Oh, right, the same barely there top and thong, only sometimes riding a nightsaber.

        It’s simply not fair to call one game ANYTHING and then look at the game you play and be okay with the exact same thing. I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of hypocrisy in the wow community (again not saying you!), and I am so glad I’m leaving it soon.

        • spinks says:

          It is perfectly OK to say “OK, this one crosses the line, where this other one doesn’t.”

          You seem to be saying that if you like WoW then clearly you must also be fine with goat.se, 2 girls one cup, hard porn, et al because hey, look how much they all have in common? It’s a crappy debating tactic designed to derail a perfectly valid conversation on exactly where different people draw the line.

          • Lou Gagliardi says:

            No, what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t, and can’t, call one game out for it’s “sexist” behavior, or it’s use of overly sexified portrayal of things and not call out a game of the same genre for the same thing.

            You yourself just pulled a crappy debating tactic by putting words into my mouth that never existed.

  7. I’m a bit shocked you’ve gotten so many disagreements here.

    While it’s obvious there’s quite a bit of sexuality of females in WoW… God, I can certainly post a link to my Pally tanking *panties* for starters…

    I’ve never seen something quite so obnoxiously silly as that girl bending over double running. Dear god. I’m fine with characters being a bit flirty or wearing things a little revealing. But the point of that absurd and awkward running animation when you can already see her panties stand int upright? Overkill. It’s not sexy to me it’s just stupid. And I’m a woman who likes pretty girls half dressed.
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    • Pewter says:

      Completely agree. I know I criticise WoW a lot, and it gets a lot of things wrong, but I was really looking forward to trying TERA and this round of marketing and the animation for that race have completely put me off.
      Pewter recently posted..Games &amp DemographicsMy Profile

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  10. Rivs says:

    “Speak of the devil and he appears” ~ Shakespeare.

    Since Spinks muttered 2 girls and one cup, and other porn references were mentioned. I game for one reason…gameplay.

    There are many games out there that do sex, or try to sell the sexiness of the game, but let’s face it the games that are overt about it, have they really been good other then the 15 minutes you play to get the chick naked.

    Also lets look at the culture these games from. Asian Culture is still probably not that high in regards to their treatment of women, from what I read, I could be wrong since I’m not asian. They are a different culture though then western ideals. heck in america it’s easier to show a head blown off, then a pair of breasts, which I find a little disturbing in itself.

    Is there a game I won’t play cause of a morale choice, yea Second Life, yea way too many dudes playing as chicks in that game…it scares me.
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  11. RPA says:

    I donot really have any games I wouldn’t play out of moral reasons. I can seperate games about the second world war pretty easily from what really happened in that time (and I am a history teacher at a highschool in my country).

    All I truly want in a game is that it plays well. that the controls are good, and there is a good storyline.

    Too many games these days focus too much on graphics and then forget about the gameplay. I could give a few examples if it weren’t 1:43 at night right now so too tired to come up with names.
    But there are plenty of games outthere that look great (for their respective times) but play crap.
    On the other hand you have gammes that play great but don’t have amazing graphics. Even for their respective times. Best example of that I can think of right now is Starcraft (original haven’t played the new one yet) It had good graphics for it’s time, but nothing really special. But it was rated good enough to be played at the world cyber games right up untill I think it was warcraft 3 came out.
    My point is. playability and story always go above graphics. The story because it can keep pulling you back even after a few years. As Starcraft has done for me many times.

  12. Ahlis says:

    I admit, TERA has me interested and most likely I will try it out, simply because the game is gorgeous and the real-time combat environment has me intrigued. HOWEVER, the points you bring up are ones I understand and relate to. I’ve pretty much sworn off Castanics as a race simply because the models shown thus far, with clothing mind you, are completely tasteless and only makes them look like sex-bots. I am pretty much narrowing my choice for female characters to humans for now because of it, and that’s a pity. Not even the high elves have been immune to the “butt-wiggle” dancing when spells are cast…who knows how the human females are too?

    But, regardless, I am probably gonna give it a whirl when a week or so after its launch is complete and see what initial reviews are saying. I’ve learned my lesson in bad MMOs in yeas past not to pre-order or try to buy on launch day, heh.