Hi, I'm Blake. My first game was '89 Doors', a rage game where you escape mazes whilst being pursued by an insatiable creature of hunger, and now I'm working on a tower defence game called 'Forgive Me My Henchman', where you play as a typical head 'bad guy', deploying henchman and sabotaging a building in an effort to stop a one man army action hero.
A petition was started to remove this game from the app store – I was one of the 60,000 people who quickly signed it. Yesterday evening, I saw on the news that the game had been removed from the app store. Yay!
So what was it about this game in particular that offended me so much? Why did I draw the line there? I wanted to blog to clarify my feelings.
I have spent time in countries where you have to guard what you say, because if you say something that disrupts the powers that be, or offends the general population, there can be real and dangerous consequences for it. To give some examples (from several Countries I haven’t been to), if I went to Dubai, and made an Allah joke, then it would have been smart for me to sort out my will first. If I went to Thailand, and said something against the monarchy, then my time there would likely not be spent on a beach. Even body language isn’t safe - if I went to the Philippines, and I did the beckoning gesture at someone, that gesture could land me in jail.
Even though I would not do any of these things (I have no desire to offend/provoke people for no reason), I find it uncomfortable that there would be such serious consequences for doing so. I am not sure I could ever feel completely comfortable in a country placing such strict limitations on what I say, because I feel that the role of a government is to allow its citizens to be as free as possible. What I love about being in Australia is that to a large extent I can say what I want without fear of jail, or even death. Even though I don’t use that privilege to be an asshole, it is a nice comfort to know that I could be an asshole if I choose to be (I don’t know why that is important to me, haha).
The thing is, I actually don’t have COMPLETE freedom of speech in Australia, there are limits to what I can legally say. The legal limit on my freedom of speech is that I can’t use my freedom of speech to incite hatred against a particular people or group.
This made me reflect on is how every government has limited freedom of speech in order to protect the order of its nation. Whether this is used justifiably or unjustifiably depends on the country. Whether this order is worth protecting or not also depends on the country. I believe that the limit Australia placed on freedom of speech – in this case* – still allow people to voice justified dissent, but also prevents people from acting like a bunch of Hitlers. That is why I am okay drawing the line at this point.
Contrast this to Survival Island 3 – it is not far removed from reality. The events that this game is based on actually happened, in a real country, to a real population, and it was tragic. Survival Island 3 attempts to make that very real tragedy entertaining, inconsequential and fun, and that is deeply offensive, especially since the tragedy of all those years ago (in addition to others caused by colonisation) has had repercussions that negatively effect the aboriginal population today as well.
Survival Island 3, on the other hand, only targeted the aboriginal population, and portrayed them as violent and dangerous. In contrast, there are no judgments made against the main character you play as: the white man. This negative judgment of aboriginals, coupled with the neutral judgment of the protagonist, shows that satire was not intended. Rather, this unbalanced portrayal of characters serves as a horrid reminder of the apathy and racism of the colonisers. Therefore, making this game was a reminder that - at least in a small percentage of the population - that attitude still exists today. Overall, the effect this has is that it makes the player feel that they are participating in and reenacting one of the most (if not the most) tragic events in Australian history and that it isn’t even being recognized as a tragedy. This – simply put – is wrong.
I don't believe that games should shy away from controversial issues. As a matter of fact, I believe that games have a unique opportunity to explore controversial issues because of the interactivity of the medium. However, Survival Island 3 has been an important reminder that delicate subjects and controversial issues should be treated with tact, or approached through satire. Otherwise, a game can cause a lot of harm, and propagate some really negative attitudes. It has also been a reminder that if you are lucky enough to live in a place that has freedom of expression - use it responsibly.
K, that is the end of this week's blog entry. I think there is a lot more to explore about where the line is (and indeed if there is one), but for now, I will stop writing and get back to programming for my upcoming game - kitten punching simulator
*Australia also has placed a limit on the freedom of speech on those who want to speak out about the horrible conditions at Manu Island (which is where Australia sends its Asylum seekers). Speaking about this can get you jail time. In this case, I am NOT okay with my freedom of speech being limited. What makes these cases different is that in the game example, limiting free speech prevents the aggravation and propagation of violence. In the Manu Island case, limiting free speech allows violence perpetrated by the government to continue.