No One May Have Any Fun

A strident but foolish article on "Medieval-themed" video games.

Skyrim is a massively popular medieval-themed video game.... Skyrim is home to the Nords (Stormcloaks), a pseudo-Viking race. Tall, fair-haired, and pale, they are a sea-faring warrior society that values honour, family and glory.... Players associate themselves with the Nords/Stormcloaks because the Imperial soldiers remind them of Roman Britain, and they feel connected to Northern people, their plight, and this sense of “Englishness”. The Stormcloaks legitimise their cultural heritage. In players who identify as Scottish and Northern English, the Nords/Stormcloaks stimulate a sense of a northern, white nostalgia, that is ancestrally connected to a medieval place. Cooper suggests that, ‘medievally-themed video games are a space where whiteness can be anchored, in a “happy history” where a world is free of multiculturalism and white guilt’.
I've played Skyrim. It's the furthest thing from a world "free of multiculturalism." You'll deal with several cultures -- including representatives of real-world Arabs, Africans, Central and Southern Europeans, traditional British (who are even called 'Bretons' and who are not the Roman-like Imperials), as well as fantasy cultures like elves of various kinds, orcs, cat people, snake people, etc. These races all have different cultures, but they are treated as almost completely equal in terms of game play: though they each have advantages, they are balanced so that all races are equally playable.

The game is designed to treat males and females as completely interchangeable. There is no difference at all, not even a balanced difference, between men and women. The only difference in playing a male character versus a female one is physical appearance. The game is full of female warriors (indeed, over the course of the game you will kill hundreds of women who are swinging swords at you). The very limited love/romance aspects of the game also treat sex as fully disposable as a concept: not only is same-sex marriage possible, but characters who are potential marriage candidates are available to your male or your female character. If you want to play a male homosexual, very male Nordic characters will present themselves to you for same-sex marriage (which is quite out of line with actual Viking values). If you want to play a female, those same characters will present themselves as candidates for marriage. The same with lesbians, etc.

In other words, the world couldn't be more in line with hardline academic feminism's stated values around sexual and cultural equality. The complaint against having a Nordic culture represented suggests to me that the desire is to move away from representing all cultures equally. As usual, equality really turns out to mean inequality. The real issue is to punish the players:
However forcefully players maintain their arguments, many gamers continue to map their identity, heritage, and ancestry onto these games. They claim to be apolitical, yet in the same breath, refuse to acknowledge the politics behind these games. According to Cooper, they subscribe to the popular idea of the Middle Ages as ‘gritty, white, male, and powerful’. They cling to the notion that women didn’t fight in the Middle Ages, fiercely stating this as ‘as fact’, and steadfastly refusing to allow women agency in warrior roles.

Unfortunately for gamers, the tide is turning and the inspection of their identities is happening whether they like it or not, and will continue to gain momentum. Games like Skyrim, and The Elder Scrolls are only the tip of the iceberg. What Gamergate tried to shut down, instead, opened a Pandora’s Box that can never be closed. Academics, like Cooper, will continue to challenge, examine and illustrate the ways these groups misappropriate medieval history.
Emphasis added. They claim to be apolitical, and "in the same breath" don't want to talk about politics? Imagine.

UPDATE: In case this post has given you the idea that Skyrim is about feminism and violence against women (somehow at the same time?), here's what the game is really about:

You can, perhaps, now better understand the appeal.


E Hines said...

I don't know. I'm pretty free of "white guilt." Chancellor Merkel expressed her view of multiculturalism a bit ago.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

It's another foolish thing about the complaint, actually. Now that I think about it, there's a subplot in which Stormcloak followers have to deal with the fact that their faction of Nords are tremendously racist and unfair to the Dark Elves. So it's not even absent.

It's like she wrote this book about how horrid the games are without actually encountering the games.

MikeD said...

Psssh, you're implying she should debase herself and actually PLAY this misogynistic/racist piece of filth before passing judgment on it? What kind of cultural rapist are you!?!? It's like you're making her only 3/5th of a researcher with your unrealistic demands like that!


Grim said...

It's an interesting question. I would have thought the objection would be the casual violence against women in the game -- as I mentioned, you really can't play it without killing women all the time. Somehow, that doesn't ruffle feathers.

But then again, it doesn't appear that she actually played the game. She just concluded what it must be like from what she assumes about her opponents -- punching down, as usual, from a position of elevated education and the privilege of having her opinion taken seriously because she is an academic.

Oh, wait, we aren't supposed to apply "privilege" tests here, are we? It's fine to punch down, as long as you're punching the right people.