For the past year, I’ve been working on an abstract tile-sliding game. At a certain point I realized that I could use some MOBA mechanics, and I decided to use the “Battle Blast” theme, a satirical theme I had already been working with on and off for the past few years.
Battle Blast is truly awful. All of the female characters are super sexualized in the grossest ways possible. An absurd level of violence glorification and outright celebration of things like mass murder and torture. There’s “good guys and bad guys” – “bad guys” are almost like another species of human being. Almost all of the characters are white, and the remainder are ridiculous stereotypes and cultural appropriations.
The dialogue, action and plot are always totally transparent – you can always detect that there is some ulterior, masturbatory motive behind everything that happens in the books.
Either that, or it’s arbitrary. Why is this character a solid chocolate rooster? Because that’s what the author felt like writing. Which is itself another ulterior, masturbatory motive.
Beyond anything else, the primary message of Battle Blast was a rejection of the self indulgence of action/fantasy media.
And that’s what I always liked about it. I always wanted Battle Blast to be this thing people could point to, if they’re watching some terrible action movie and some character makes some transparent, God-awful one liner, they could say “Jesus, it’s like Battle Blast.”
So I have been excited about the prospect of bringing people into that world via videogames. Until recently.
Battle Blast: Lanes of Death
I posted earlier this evening about a Steam Greenlight that I put up for Battle Blast: Lanes of Death – the abstract game that I had long since applied the Battle Blast theme to. I pretty quickly got this comment:
“I’m sorry. I had to vote no on the greenlight due to how uncomfortable the trailer for this game made me. The three female characters depicted in the promotional video are sexualized to a degree that is extremely off-putting. Maybe people around here appreciate seeing thongs and cleavage, but as a female gamer it makes me very uncomfortable. I like MOBAs and Roguelikes, but the theme of this game really turns me off of playing it.”
I was – and still am – mortified to have gotten this response. Because some part of my brain already knew that people would react this way, but I think I kind of wrote it off in a “well of course, it won’t be for everyone” sort of way. I really don’t mind if my games aren’t for everyone, but that isn’t the problem here.
The problem is that because of the way things are right now in videogames, in media, in our culture, in our politics—it is exceedingly difficult to make it clear to people that your thing is satire. (I mean, how exactly are you going to satirize this, for example?)
Actually, some things might be easy to satirize. I think it could be pretty easy to satirize the monetization schemes of modern F2P games. I think Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker did a decently clear job of satirizing the ridiculous monotony of idle/clicker games of the time.
But you can do satire of those things, because most people know that those things are problematic. The things that Battle Blast is commenting on—violence glorification, the sexual objectification of women, unbridled self-indulgence—these things are such a part of the tapestry of videogames and videogame culture right now that attempts to do satire on that axis just doesn’t read.
The Onion was able to do a successful satire for two reasons: one, it already has an iron-clad reputation as a source of satire, and two, it laser-focused on violence glorification with this piece.
By contrast, Battle Blast is trying to hit a much wider array of problems, while I don’t have the reputation that The Onion does.
Just a Joke
The funny thing is, even if I were to have the phase “THIS IS SATIRE” printed on the screen at all times, even that wouldn’t do the trick. That’s largely because the pattern of saying or doing something harmful and then following it up with “God, I’m just kidding, can’t you take a joke” or something similar has been identified.
In other words, even if I tell people that I mean this purely as a criticism of these ideas, that defense doesn’t really work anymore. Especially not now, in the era of alt-right Donald Trump 4-chan dominance.
There is some question about how many people on the internet are “just joking” and “just trying to get a rise out of people” and don’t really believe the awful things they say on social media. I liked this video’s take on the matter.
Essentially, his point is that it doesn’t much matter what internet trolls’ true motivations are. The effects are the same: you have people on the internet yelling horrible things, hurting people and perpetuating bad ideas, whether they mean to or not.
As ridiculous as I tried to make Battle Blast, I know that people are going to see it and just think I’m some gross misogynistic macho dude-bro. It doesn’t help that I’m a young white gamer guy and that I totally do come out of that kind of toxic-masculinity landscape. (If you saw me at 15 years old, you’d have to guess odds of me becoming a GamerGater later in life would have been high.)
I don’t want to contribute to the cacophony of horribleness coming out of videogames, even inadvertently. And if I feel like most people won’t get that what I’m doing is satire, then I by extension know that I’ll be doing more harm than good
And so, it pains me to say this, but I just shouldn’t do it. No more Battle Blast. It pains me because I’m quite attached to it. I’ve done a ton of artwork and other work with this world. And I love doing satire.
But it feels like not a good time for satire right now. People are too raw and too vulnerable. I haven’t mentioned Donald Trump really yet, but I didn’t know how else to short-hand refer to the time and place we seem to be in right now. The distance between the socially ridiculous and those social progressives who would be doing the ridicule is just too vast right now. It feels like society has diverged dramatically apart, with the alt-right anti-PC types going way off in their direction, and social progressives going way off in their direction. Let me be clear in stating that I don’t consider these equivalent; I think more social progress is always good, and people going the other way are out and out wrong. But ultimately, the outcome is the same.
We have a horribly divided society, and on top of the fact that I may be confused for one of them, it’s also worth noting that I’m not going to reach the other side on issues like these by mocking those people.
So, going forward, I will strive to not only make things which are daring and original, but also positive. Things that maybe bring people together, that everyone (or almost everyone) is likely to enjoy. I think we need more of that.
This has been a really costly learning process for me. As to Battle Blast: Lanes of Death, it’s still happening and on course.
If it feels like this article ends abruptly, that’s because I have a shitload of new art to make.
Thanks for reading.
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