Todd-Harper-MIT

How One SJW Developer Accidentally Made Some Sense At GDC

Today, I found myself agreeing with a social justice warrior game developer.

At GDC 2014, many individuals stepped up to a podium and complained about how terrible, sexist, racist, homophobic, bigoted, etc., the game industry supposedly is. Most of those individuals said nothing new, novel, or worthwhile.

Alas, Todd Harper did.

“More importantly,” Harper said, “if you don’t want [to make inclusive games], if you feel like you shouldn’t have to care, then leave. We don’t need you. Increasingly. We don’t need you.” His matter of fact statement was met with applause.

To be sure, Harper’s statement was couched in the caustic, tired sort of frothing hostility often employed by those advocating for social justice issues to be addressed in video games. But beneath all his bullshit, Todd Harper managed to stumble upon a brilliant truth, one that is very inconvenient for those who like to scapegoat “the industry” for their personal issues.

When Todd Harper says “we don’t need you,” he is presumably speaking of those in AAA development who have no inclination toward making the protagonist of a $50m+ project adhere to a sociology/gender studies textbook. And you know what? He’s right. Those who make games focused on a LGBT audience (or any sort of nontraditional game) do not need large publishers with deep pockets to make their games. More importantly, these developers should not expect that a company will give them huge sums of money to make experimental games that will only sell a fraction of any given big-budget shooter.

Todd went on to suggest that one way to add LGBT elements to games is to spin existing characters: “”Did you make a bald, white, cismale space marine?” he asked. “Okay. Now make it a half-shaved head, purple haired, trans-woman Latina space marine. Did you tragically kill of a man’s wife to motivate his quest to save his daughter? … Go back and give him a husband and a kid. Keep them alive. Let him fight to protect them and keep them safe.”

The question, of course, is why Todd Harper believes companies have any sort of obligation, moral or otherwise, to change a project to suit his tastes. Ultimately, this is where Harper’s earlier statement of “We don’t need you” comes into play: If Todd Harper wants to play a game where the hero is a purple-haired trans-woman of color, he– or any of the developers on stage with him– can make it. If he wants to have a game where a gay man fights to keep his husband and kid alive, he can do that too. There have never been more options for people to develop games on their own. These tools may not be suited for crafting the next Gears of War or Call of Duty, but if encouraging diversity in gaming is truly the end goal for Todd and his ilk, that shouldn’t matter.

Whether he realized it or not, when Todd Harper said “We don’t need you,” he effectively admitted that nobody is oppressing minority developers or suppressing their ability to create. The truth of his words signals it is time for the social justice warrior contingent of game developers to “be the change” they want by employing the plethora of tools and platforms available to them, rather than tirelessly, angrily focusing on the perceived shortcomings of a few dozen yearly blockbuster titles.

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