Discrimination and Escapism in Interactive Fiction


#1

This is a spinoff from a subject that came up in “Should Hosted Games be vetted more thoroughly.”

Generally, I am curious to hear people’s preferences and perspectives about the balance of writing content that deals with topics related to discrimination. I can certainly understand that when I just want some light, potentially escapist entertainment, this isn’t a theme I’d want to deal with then. But it’s also such a major theme that it can be a valuable part of literature… and interactive fiction is literature too. So I feel like this can be a difficult balancing act.

Here’s the post from the other thread… and I want to clarify that I’m not really creating this topic specifically in regards to the post I replied to there… it’s just what got me thinking about this topic…

Elaborating, I can see that writing about fantastical discrimination can raise some red flags when it’s a thinly veiled metaphor for a real world minority… for example, the bit about the “gangs” in Moreytown, which we were responding to, could be potentially concerning :worried: Still, I think that, when worldbuilding, depending on the setting, oppressive dynamics often make sense, though they should be based on the logic of the setting itself, rather than a contrivance, and they most certainly shouldn’t be exploited purely to make a setting seem more edgy.

When I was taking writing classes in college, oftentimes people would dismiss escapist writing as being less meaningful and less valid. I do believe that this is wrong; escapism can engage the emotions, and also just help people feel better, which is a perfectly nice thing to do. In particular, marginalized groups deserve to have just as much escapism as everybody else. Like, for me, I get really tired of it if everything I read about a gay guy deals with him struggling with being gay. Sometimes I just want a story about a gay guy being awesome, without any obstacles directly related to his sexuality :stuck_out_tongue: But, at the same time, I still like many stories that deal directly with homophobia, and I strongly believe that they are valuable.

Still, I feel like sometimes a writer would wish to explore less escapist themes in writing, which should be just as valuable in interactive fiction as in any other medium. The sorts of storylines where the main character might be struggling more, and that tackle a lot of weighty material. Especially if an author’s going for something that can reflect on major issues, or provoke particularly strong emotions.

Of course, it’s also possible to write something that isn’t escapist and also doesn’t deal with discrimination… there’s plenty of other challenges and bad things to throw at characters :stuck_out_tongue: And really, there’s a lot of middle ground… a story can deal in “big issues” and also include fun… if anything, providing that material would help maintain balance and keep the story engaging and not too preachy.

Anyway, I’d just be really curious to hear what other people’s preferences and perspectives are about this kind of thing. :slight_smile:


LGBTQ vs Realism
#2

Well for me it depends on one thing. Do I get to play the fantasy minority and not accept status quo?

I really like to be able to push against an unfair status quo, and I find it freeing and escaping to be able to that and not have it be about my personal specific minority identities (such as my asexuality, bi-romantism and genderfluidity). It feel like: Yes, I can dream fantasize about changing the world, I can identify with how these people feel and maybe I can get them accepted and if not I can let the world burn (that can be pretty catharic too), but I also don’t have to think about my own problems for a while.

On the other hand, if I am forced to uphold, play or even be the status qou the game is not for me. It is one of the thing slowly turning me off dragon age.

Of course my taste is not everyone else, but I do have a soft spot for fantasy discrimination because of the reasons mentioned above.


#3

From the “WritingforCoG-GamesNov2016rev” document, page 21:

  • Our games do not endorse or perpetuate rape culture, homophobia, or transphobia.
  • If your game includes rape, homophobia, or transphobia as part of the plot, those subjects should be treated seriously and with respect for the victims. The PC should not be the one expressing or perpetuating these ideologies.

For me, what this means in relation to games or stories that deal with discrimination, intolerance, or any other difficult subject, is that “The PC should not be the one expressing or perpetuating these ideologies.”

As for escapism… one of the issues with escaping from something is that whatever you escaped from temporarily, i.e. the problem, will be there when you get back from your escape.

For example… let’s say a college student uses sex as a means of coping with late assignments. The sex is only a temporary escape. Without actually doing the assignments, the stress will only compound as days keep passing by, because the work is still due, and now the student has to worry about an automatic point deduction based on how many days late the work is, or if the work will still even be accepted. If the student again resorts to sex as a method of coping, they may risk developing a sex addiction in addition to developing conditions which may need to be diagnosed by a licensed professional.

Escapism in fiction can of course be a way of encoding real life issues to make them more manageable.
I believe one of the things successful escapist fiction does is to offer a means of solving the original problem, and perhaps allow the person to come to an understanding of why this was a problem in the first place.


#4

My general preference is for a distinct lack of discrimination. While I do admit that stories about harsh realities are probably more meaningful than those about escapist fantasy, I find the world to be a quite harsh place already. Especially since the world is still pretty lacking in stories about “gay guys being awesome”. Worse, a poorly-written story about discrimination could end up inadvertently normalising (or even justifying) it, which an escapist story about equality wouldn’t do. But then again, stories that claim there’s no problem can make people think that there isn’t a problem in real life, when there quite clearly is. So, yeah, I’d say that both are valuable, in their own ways.

EDIT: @DreamingGames, I think that one of the main problems with the anti-mage sentiment in Dragon Age, is that it’s actually pretty justified. Sure, mages can’t help what they are, but they can accidentally transform into rage-demons which destroy everything nearby, so they are not equivalent to any real minorities.


#5

Good point. I definitely believe that when discrimination exists in a game, it should not just be a backdrop. Whether or not the character is able to change society, they should not be forced to support it.

Yeah, I do think it’s important to make it clear that discrimination is, you know, a bad thing…

Also a question of target audience… like if I’m writing something for other gay guys to share being awesome, or something to show other people what some of the difficulties are :disappointed_relieved:

I just happen to like a good story about overcoming oppression now and then, or even just about finding solidarity in the face of oppression :relaxed:


#6

Fiction is the metaphor through which we talk about reality
I don’t really believe that any piece of writing can be totally escapist in every regard. There might be some elements that help us evade from reality but I think that every piece of fiction should also help us to understand reality.

Sure, you might not fight dragons, have super powers or cast spells, but that’s just the surface. At the core of the writing there are emotions and themes like tragedy, ambition, betrayal, forgiveness, and yes even discrimination that are universal to everyone.

Yes, it’s always important to be respectful and It’s also perfectly ok to not want to play a game about discrimination, but the fact that we are able to explore this themes through fiction is what make this games, as an art form, more meaningful, more important and more layered.


#7

I’m sorry, but I’ve read this line a couple of times and I’m still not sure what the question is…


#8

Nope. We have had two-three countries which had mages in charge. More smaller group with free mages. The world still exist, thus the anti-mage sentiment is unjustified.

That a village might get killed by a mage sucks, but they might also get killed by a crow, a qunari who has lost his sword (sten, cough.) or a PC or PC-companion having a quest in that area. Obviously the solution is to give villages better guards.:wink: Thedas has a lot of people expectionally skilled in killing, and does very little to curb violence. (I would get deeper into the mage issue, but that would take us off track because there is a lot of aspects to it . Let’s just sum up to that I am pro-mage).

Besides it is not just mages. It is every oppressed minority. Playing a dalish mage in dai was terrible, because of the dalish not because of the mage. It got so bad that part of me, out of spite just wants to let a certain character burn the world. In fact, unless I have recovered by DA4 that is what I imagine happens in my version of Thedas. My warden is too lazy to try to save the world again. My Hawke is a zealot who is not going to get involved unless the one in need is a mage and unless DA4 really can bring me back to the franchise, my Inquisitor is going around to murder proto-protagonist before they get better than level 1 so there is no one to stop a certain person. She is properly laughing and saying: “Do you still think that I’m your ##### herald, do you chantry?” (Maybe people can sense that I really, really, really didn’t like daI. It pushed all my wrong buttons + I found the gameplay boring so it was not even fun to play.)

More seriously, though. I don’t care how dangerous the oppressed minority might or might not be. I just want to be able to play them, assuming its a game. It is my escapist fantasy: That I can change the world. It is half of what I read fantasy for.

(The other half is not the kind of fantasy that gets made into games very often. Or written very often.)


#9

Oh… apologies for the confusion… I’m not literally asking a question there. I’m more just saying that that is a matter for consideration as an author, what my purposes in writing would be… it’s something for authors to ask themselves in general. I hope that helps clarify :slight_smile:


#10

Here’s an old thread I started about this (it says poll, but polls were broken when I made it):

Discrimination in fiction is something that I think is often handled badly. First, there’s the trope of “oppressing the elves”, where some group (mages, mutants, faeries) are the group that’s discriminated against - the author wants to write about oppression, but not real-world oppression.

This is either done to show that the fantasy/sci-fi world is more enlightened (“we have moved beyond the simple skin-color based prejudices of your era”), or to avoid offending anyone and simplify research (“I know nothing about black history, so all humans are exactly the same, and I’ll make up new history for the elves.”) It fails on several levels, not least because the new oppressed group often has a good reason to be feared: gay people can’t start fires with their minds. When your minority metaphor is inhuman, mutated, or superpowered, it inevitably echoes back unpleasant tropes about human minorities being different or dangerous.

Another problem is adding real-world discrimination, but making it part of the backdrop: it’s there to add some color to the setting, not something you can interact with. I was pleasantly surprised when, in Dragon Age: Origins, I could give money to a beggar without expecting a reward, which made more beggars ask me for money. In many games, not only can’t you do anything to help, you can’t even talk to people on the street. They’re props to demonstrate How The World Is.

Another thing that happens is that discrimination is a big part of the story, but it’s introduced slowly to a character who knows nothing about it, like you’re adjusting a normal person to Wonderland. The lead is straight, white, rich, or otherwise not-the-subject-of-this-story. They must rely on minorities (which may be either humble and friendly, or hostile but helpful anyway) to teach them about their problems. Then, the outsider main character is the one to come up with the solution anyway.

I’m experimenting in my game with adding intersectionality to the oppressed monster trope; if you’re a queer vampire and someone irrationally hates you, you’re never quite sure which thing they object to. We’ll see how it works out.


#11

I remember some conversations we had in class at the time on vampire criticism (grad level English) and how one theory asserted that vampires were genderless because of their means of reproduction. This theory was, of course, applied to certain pieces of literature and may not apply to your particular story, but I would love to see how you present your queer vampire. :slight_smile:


#12

This is always an interesting debate. Some time ago I created a thread that ended up discussing the pros and cons of representing gender disrimination and gender segregation in CoG. Some people gave great arguments for and against. Feel free to check it out, it might help you understanding what, in your perspective, works and why.

https://forum.choiceofgames.com/t/preferability-of-non-gender-segregation-world-in-cog/22688?u=ruhenri


#13

Isn’t that called The White Saviour? I think I’ve seen that in a lot of movies. Still, I think that there is some value in introducing someone to a form of discrimination they might not have heard before. I kinda did this for a story that also had some fantasy discrimination.

It was about a young woman who was raised kind of out of touch with the rest of the world, and her viewpoint was more naive and idealistic than the reality. So, she didn’t understand discrimination at first, but she eventually sympathised with the victim of this opression. However, she was never the one to come up with the solution, she might had been a helpful allie, but it was the subjects of that discrimination the ones whose story arcs revolve around it. She could relate easily because she had to face other forms of discrimination, being a woman trying to work in a profesion that was unusual for them in that fictional world.

But, the point is that this trope can be a little problematic because it imparts that the ones whose are opressed can’t fight for themselves, and that they need the help of the dominant class to challenge the status quo, wich is a worse viewpoint even if it’s founded with good intentions. It’s not the same that just be sympathetic to a minority.


#14

So, I don’t know too much about the Dragon Age setting, so I can’t comment on the specifics, but while I can’t speak for @ParrotWatcher (or maybe I can? we tend to be on the same wavelength :stuck_out_tongue:), I think the major issue he was pointing out was that, when mage-based discrimination is used as a proxy for other forms of discrimination, that still implies a certain justification that simply doesn’t exist in real world discrimination. This doesn’t mean that the fantasy discrimination is right, either, just that it makes it look much more reasonable.

This does make me wonder and worry about portrayal of fantasy discrimination, though. Like a setting in which a nonhuman group is prejudiced against. We don’t want to just transfer real world stereotypes onto them, which further runs the risk of dehumanizing members of that very group. Just like racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the other forms of discrimination don’t work the same way as each other, we would expect that, say, anti-goblin sentiments would be different as well. But this does require a lot of worldbuilding, and I’m concerned about the pitfalls that would arise in conjunction with real world issues. And, then, there’s also a lot of potential issues for futuristic settings, with genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, contact with aliens, which could result in a whole bunch of different forms of intelligent life being in contact with each other, and there’s no way those dynamics would be at all the same as the forms of prejudice that exist now…

A lot of this dovetails into what @Sashira said right below, as well…

Plus there’s the issue there that it doesn’t really make them particularly enlightened to lack our prejudices if they have prejudices of their own… it just makes them a different kind of bigot :unamused:

Now I really want this as a setting :fire::grin::fire:

Yeah, the backdrop issue is one of the things I consider exploitative… if it’s an integrated part of the worldbuilding and not just flavor, then engage with it.

I’m really excited to see how this works out. I do think all of this is particularly significant for your game, because your monster do face a lot of problems and prejudice related to their monsterhood. (I mean… monster hunters don’t strike me as very tolerant people :sweat:) But as far as I’m aware, this develops naturally from the setting.

I think The Sea Eternal is another interesting work to consider, especially since the author blogged extensively about it, so there’s a look into the creative process. It dealt closely with racism and transphobia while illustrating fantastical prejudice in terms of merpeople marginalizing humans. It did get me thinking a great deal.

A very interesting thread; I posted there, in fact :stuck_out_tongue:

I think my biggest point was that if discrimination is to be presented, I prefer if it’s going to be addressed in a significant way. If it’s just little subtle things, that’s just tiring.


#15

Fantasy discrimination in dragon age is not one thing. (This is part of what they do right).

I’s not only on the mages. It’s on elves, dwarves and ‘Qunari’ too (and here it is important to be distinctive between qunari the race and Qunari the religion.

I have never seen a fantasy setting where somebody has extraordinary abilities and that makes them dangerous, so we are right to preemptively discriminate done convincingly. Dragon Age is full expectional people good a killing. We know that because we get them as companions in every single game. A mage might explode is nothing compared to the systematic violence of the world and the many, many people who die due to non mage related reasons.

Likewise Marvel. It is a world full of superpowered individuals, but the mutants are singled out as dangerous, But they are not more dangerous than seriously priviliged Iron Man who can get away with everything because he is rich.

Again, I don’t want a one to one allegory for my minority identity in my fantasy discrimination. If a story suddenly begun to deal with acephobia it would stop being escapism for me. Because acephobia is very real and it hurts me, but mages being discriminated against doesn’t hurt me.

And that is why I like fantasy discrimination. It allows me to transfer a real life feeling of being on the outside, of the world being against me onto a safe outlet and challenge a world. Heck, COGs espicially allow my to deal with these feelings of being on the outside while still being fully accepted for what real me am due to their inclusivity in gender and sexuality (Still not good at the ace-thing, though), which I cannot express how important that is to me. .

It doesn’t mean that there are not room for fantasy which deal with real life discrimination. (There is. And we properly need more. I even personally write it sometimes)

Nor does it mean that is always done right. No, lychanthrophy is a metafor for aids. No vampires are an straight up allegory for lgbt but always in straight relationship. If you do fantasy discrimination it is important that the reader can read what they want into it. So keep word of god shut and let the reader identify how and when they need to.

Nor does it mean that my escapism is everyone’s escapsim, Some people like to overcome their real world problem in fiction. I don’t because a cynical part of me don’t believe they can be overcome. Tomorrow, I have to go up and work with a woman who flat out told my that I don’t exist. And I have to do it with a smile and pretend nothing is wrong, because if I don’t not just I and she, but everyone else in our study group will fail our project. That’s the real world. It sucks and there is not much I can do about it.


#16

IDK…first off I like my settings to be as realistic as possible, if nothing else they’re easier to relate to and understand.

But I think it’s good to include discrimination, if it’s used as a fightback against the same discrimination being portrayed. One example could be the film “boys ‘n’ the hood” it takes a much more sympathetic view on deprived black americans than a lot of forms of media who portray literally all of them as gangstas. Same with say this is England, it takes a much more sympathetic view on the English working class, this in a time when we have shows like benefit street and people tweeting how people on that show should be exterminated.

I’d say more than that unless the game gives a reason as to why this discrimination isn’t present, Lucid’s mafia game comes to mind here, his version of the mafia isn’t sexist for example, then it almost feels offensive to me. I mean if discrimination is especially prevalent to a group, and the game depicts no discrimination what so ever and gives no explanation for this…Well I get the appeal of an escapist depiction, but if the person playing the game has no prior knowledge of the group, or an escapist depiction is the main portrayal of said group, to me it feels like the medium is just ignoring the issue, or maybe worse simply doesn’t care about it. So I think escapist games are good, but if discrimination for a certain group is an especially bad issue, I think media in general should try and bring light to this, and show how awful it is. This feels especially true for very small groups who people who might have little to no prior knowledge about who are discriminated against. But hey, those are just my thoughts :stuck_out_tongue: .


#17

I think both types of stories have their place. I also think you should have a clear idea of what you’re writing, and make sure the reader knows which you’re aiming for from pretty early on. If discrimination is a major theme in the story, make that clear from the very start. If you start off ignoring discrimination but jam it in halfway through the story, it’s gonna come off less like you’re treating it as a serious issue, more like you’re using it as a source of cheap, lazy drama.

And hey, if I’m looking for escapism, better to let me know right away if that’s not what you’re giving me. Then I can go read something more to my taste, no harm no foul.


#18

Oooh, I love all the threads cropping up about inclusivity and escapism the last couple of days. This is fantastic and seriously what I come to these forums for.

Alright, you guys have talked about race, but because I’m a cisgendered white woman, I’m gonna broach another view of this subject.

In the gay/bi importance thread, I stated that I prefer a diverse cast. This is still true.

I want to cover something even more…difficult than race or sexuality or even physical disability.

For me, I’d like to find a balance for mental health, as it is something incredibly important to me. I’m someone with Borderline Personality Disorder as well as rapid-cycling Bipolar II Disorder. It is something I cannot escape, just as one cannot escape that they’re African, Asian, black, white, European, Hispanic, heterosexual, homosexual, demisexual, aromantic, asexual, genderfluid, transgender, etc. etc. etc.

It’s also something that can be EXTREMELY triggering for people, particularly when you get into things like suicide, rape, self-harm or anxiety or depression.

However, I also think it’s incredibly important to normalize these things, beyond just “lol Sera was feeling anxious that day” or “Ben was suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper OCD over his project” (please never use OCD as a temporary thing. My youngest sister has yet to be diagnosed, but we’re fairly certain she has aggressive OCD. It’s difficult to live with, she’s difficult to live with, everything is awful when she gets compulsive. OCD can’t just be turned off so don’t use it as a temporary thing. Same goes for AD(H)D…)

This is something I’d really like to see opinions on. Everyone has an abundance of opinions on sexuality or discrimination based upon sexuality/gender/race, but I’ve yet to see people talk about the discrimination based upon mental health…

I want to see someone in a game or book fighting for the destigmatization of suicide attempts or stays in a mental ward. I want to feel the character’s sadness when he opens up about his suicide attempt in a group setting amongst friends…only to have one of his friends unable to look at him the same way. I want to see that friend attempt to learn and perhaps be unable to or unable to deal with the main character anymore.

I want to see mental health representation in a realistic, gut-wrenching way. I don’t fully feel like I can escape reality, when the main character doesn’t have remotely similar thoughts and feelings to myself.


#19

Representing neurodiverse characters is important to me, too.

As an author, that’s part of the human population. People with bipolar disorder, or OCD, or people who are autistic, absolutely deserve positive representation in our stories.

As a person, I’ve had a lot of family members, friends, and colleagues who have or had (some of them have passed on) bipolar, BPD, ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, and other conditions. That’s part of who they are, and the ups and downs are part of their personalities and their life stories. I want to include characters who reflect all sorts of people in my works, at least as much as I can.

Two resources I’ve found helpful for writing neurodiverse characters respectfully and accurately are ScriptAutistic, which is run by two autistic mods and also posts content from autistic followers, and ScriptShrink, which is from a psychiatric and psychological perspective. They both take queries.


#20

Our of our colleagues is losing the ability to see and talks with us about that with regards to their work environment. Discrimination in the workplace based on disability is also a very real thing, and (of course) needs to be treated with an appropriate level of sensitivity and research by aspiring authors.