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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