The P words: Privilege and Politics
I’m aware that putting one of the p words in a title is an automatic shut-off for many people. In recent years, the two main ‘p’ words (politics and privilege) have effectively become swear words in popular culture. That two seemingly innocent words have become live grenades is an alarming testament to the ever-growing division in public opinion. There are three prevailing groups here; those who think that equality is not worth discussing, those still willing to back the right horse, and those who simply don’t have the option of avoiding the issue.
Privilege, in this context, is having an unearned advantage simply by belonging to a specific group. It’s usually so ingrained that we don’t even notice it. There’s a great analogy about this that I’m borrowing from Alex Feinmen, who uses being right-handed as an analogy. If you’re right-handed, you may not notice that things are designed for your use. Scissors, tin-openers, jean zips, cup holders, door handles, the list goes on and on. These are things that you simply wouldn’t notice or likely be bothered by unless you were left-handed. Similarly, white people like myself may not be aware of everyday barriers that black people face. Because we simply don’t experience them.
Privilege is a societal issue – but it manifests everywhere. A recent example of this is the backlash around the suggested inclusion of an easy mode in Sekiro. For many people, having an easy mode isn’t about the difficulty of the game. For many people with disabilities, including myself, having an easy mode makes the game actually playable. My dyspraxia makes it difficult for me to aim at anything. I have a fucking hell of a time playing any game with guns. Similarly, I find it difficult to coordinate blocking whenever timing is involved, so having an increased timing window or taking less damage makes it possible for me to play the game for more than five minutes.
However, the rage that met this suggestion was startling – this was the inclusion of a mode that in no way affected them. It didn’t affect the quality of their playthrough or the difficulty. All they would have to do was select a higher difficulty. Much of the vitriol stemmed from a gatekeeping mentality. That people who weren’t skilled shouldn’t play the game or should just ‘git gud’. The fact is, with certain, but not all disabilities, this is impossible. I can’t cure my dyspraxia by playing Sekiro for 120 hours – my brain is just wired differently. The people who responded with outrage to this are painfully ignorant of their privilege. Disregarding the elitist rhetoric, they either haven’t considered or don’t care that some people experience physical barriers to playing a game.
Ignorance is one thing – it’s easily rectified through education. Lack of compassion is a more sinister beast. This is where the other ‘p’ word comes in. Politics in the gaming community is a word used when game developers step outside of the norm – aka the straight white male experience – in terms of character design or story narrative. It’s usually used to imply that game developers are ‘pandering’ to a particular community. Including a female protagonist – politics. Having an accessibility mode – politics. Including one or more LGBT characters in a game – one of whom doesn’t meet the female archetype of long legs and a massive bosom – politics.
Once of the arguments used to justify this is ‘historical accuracy’. Battlefield 5 is a great example of this. When Battlefield 5 announced that it would include female playable characters, it was almost immediately denounced as ‘politics’ because it wasn’t “historically accurate”. Naturally the same people disregarded that the weapons, technology and vehicles in the game were not historically accurate. When this was pointed out, GamersTM resorted to upholding the honour of those who died in the wars the games emulate. Casually ignoring that the games are entertainment borne of the most horrific human suffering in recent history. The same backlash happened with Battlefield 1, because it featured a black soldier on the cover. The irony being that it was in fact historically accurate, as the man was a member of the Harlem Hellfighters. It was just an excuse – an excuse used to try to exclude the representation of anyone who wasn’t a white male.
In itself, the concept of politics is an extremely damaging thing. It’s used frequently by GamersTM to imply that characters and stories should focus solely on the straight white experience, and that (ignorant to the irony) anyone who thinks otherwise is an SJW. The between-the-lines message here is that people should be satisfied with a specific type of character, and if they aren’t, they’re not welcome in the gaming community. By asking for a ‘politics’ free space, you’re effectively saying “I want a space where I don’t have to care about other people or their problems”. Which frankly, makes you a bit of a dick.
Naturally, politics and privilege often come hand in hand. For some people, it seems that the concept of privilege is a personal insult that strips the agency from their achievements and scorches the hardship from their lives. I generally try to approach things from multiple viewpoints – what is it like to be one of GamersTM, who are clearly so threatened by diversity and representation. It’s more difficult with this article, because we have to distinguish between the people who aren’t aware of their privilege, to the people that belligerently embrace it, fuck everyone else and all that.
To the first group, I will say this – privilege is not about diminishing your achievements or your struggles. White men still can and have to live difficult lives. Privilege is not about attacking you, or stripping away things that you’ve earned. It’s about taking a good look at the world around us, noticing the differences and realising that everyone deserves the same opportunities – even if it’s just seeing themselves in a video game.
The second group, my message is starker – take your head out of your ass. You’re not the only person on this earth, you’re not special and you don’t deserve to be indulged because you make up a narrow majority.
In conclusion, I’ll say this; it’s natural to see the world in the context of your own experiences. The problem is when we assume that our experiences are the only thing that matters. The ultimate expression of this is assuming that representation is ‘pandering’, and that games should only represent your experiences. The world is not the place it is in games and books and movies. It’s diverse – and it deserves to be seen. So, open your eyes.
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