I have an interesting dilemma. We have 16 player races for Earth Eternal, but the world is not black and white like, say, WoW’s (where either you are on the Horde side or the Alliance side, and what race you pick completely determines that. There is no real possibility within their story/world/game rules for a human (Alliance side) to decide that the Tauren are noble creatures worth allying with and effectively switching sides as a result. This certainly simplifies things in some ways as you’re able to, 100% of the time, easily identify an enemy or a potential friend by just glancing at his/her race.

I find that kind of over-simplification essentially encourages people to think of racial groups as having unalterable personality characteristics and thus subtly promotes real-life racism the same way (but to a lesser extent) that most fantasy does. (Tolkien’s work is especially guilty. Almost without exception the lighter the skin someone has the nobler that individual is portrayed and vice-versa.) It’s an unfortunate, very hack-ish tendency that many content creators of all types fall back on, from movies, to games, to books. (And no, I don’t buy the excuse that there’s a fundamental difference between attributing universal motives to a dwarf person or an elf person vs. doing the same to an asian person or hispanic person. Same thing, regardless of whatever world fiction you wrap around it.) I’m certainly not innocent of it myself, but I had a vague hope that I could largely avoid the issue with EE.

Here I am though, doing some world design, and running up against the same problems that cause so many content creators to take the “bad guys wear black, good guys wear white” approach. I have a camp of Beasts doing some clear-cutting of the forests and they need stopping by the players. When I try to imagine myself as a typical new-ish player (it’s not a newbie area but it’s not too far past that), I feel as if I (as a player) need the bad guys to fit all the ridiculous stereotypes. In the context of games I’ve been so conditioned to make moral judgements based on visual clues that I find it almost impossible to fully visualize these clear-cutting scumballs as my enemy unless I throw in some visual clue, however small: Perhaps a jagged facial scar, or a nasty sneer, or an “evil-looking” symbol on their woodsman clothing.

I will probably end up going the default route out of sheer pragmatism. These visual indicators are the shorthand we’ve been heavily conditioned with and I suspect that it’d be commercial suicide for someone our size to try and buck them. Even in our text MUDs, where we can (and do) run storylines far more nuanced and elaborate than in anything triple-A, we fall back over and over again on unwarranted representative imagery.

Oh well. Life as a commercial whore I guess. I look forward to the day where the games industry can take a look at something like the recent (and quite explicitly violent) David Cronenberg movie “Eastern Promises” and not have to feel horribly embarassed about itself for holding up a zombie-shooter game (Bioshock) as an answer to it. Are games art? Who gives a shit. Bad art isn’t something to aspire to. Good craft, on the other hand, is. (So is good art but consumers don’t pay for that in games, yet.)

And there’s the answer to my dilemma, I suppose.