She’s there to ask one thing: is this game being ignorant?
July 5, 2019 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Kate Edwards helps game developers think about the geography and symbolism in their games in an interview with RPS and a talk from GDC 2016.
Day to day, that means she is there to spot the wayward symbols that pop up in a fantasy game, for example. If the wallpaper in the lava level has a Star of David, Edwards will be the person to ask: why is that there? But there are more complicated examples.

“Some games will take people from a certain culture, and then they make them do things in the game that that culture will never do. Which then makes it instantly a type of cultural or political statement about that particular group which the game developers never intended.”
posted by Stark (6 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I just read that article! Hadn't seen the GDC talk, but I'll be adding it to my YouTube queue for sure.

It's a little depressing, though, that it seems like a lot of her job just involves asking people to think for like two seconds about an aesthetic choice they didn't even realise was an aesthetic choice.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:25 AM on July 5, 2019


Just read the article over at RPS as well! Even post-acquisition, RPS tends to be on the positive side of "places that write about computer games." They just did a really nice little post on MeFi's Own Heather Flowers' Extreme Meatpunks Forever, too, which is worth a read, and a look!

I think it's a good thing that studios pay someone to perform this service, of providing 3rd-party feedback on the cultural geography of games. I think it will continue to be a good thing even if developers and artists become more culturally aware and aware of their own privilege over time -- my experience as someone who makes things for a living is that it's very easy, as even a creator with good intentions, to miss seemingly-obvious things on all sorts of levels from the mechanical to the ideological. That's why writers have editors, programmers have peer code reviews and so forth. One change I'd like to see is people getting less defensive about feedback like she describes, but that goes hand-in-hand with dismantling white privilege and the patriarchy, IMO.

The bad news is, I had no idea that a role like this existed! It's a bit cringe-y to think, given how cringe-y a lot of games have been, how cringe-y it would be without this type of feedback loop.
posted by Alterscape at 7:40 AM on July 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


I am somewhat skeptical that a single person -- and in particular, a single white person -- has all the cultural competence necessary to identify more than obvious surface problems like 'Hey, Bolivia won't actually be thrilled if you portray their country as being run by drug cartels.' It's still better than nobody even trying to think about these issues, though. I assume (hope) she identifies and hires people with specific expertise when necessary.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:19 AM on July 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I wish they'd hired her to review Skyrim when they were designing the Forsworn.

If you haven't played Skyrim: the Forsworn are the native people of the Reach, the western part of the continent. Their technology and material culture are clearly meant to evoke Native Americans: bows and arrows, headdresses, clothes made from hides and skins, etc. (They also have skulls on their belts, just to underscore the message that they're savages.) They've been subjugated by the Nords – a more technologically advanced, European-esque culture from the east which is colonizing their lands. They are, understandably, rebelling against this. And you're given quests to raid their camps and slaughter them.

(There is, in fact, no option to side with the Forsworn in this struggle – they attack you on sight, and exist solely to be killed by the player, just like the bandits and zombies and wolves.)

Soooo...yeah. You shouldn't really need a culturalization expert to see the red flags with that one.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:53 AM on July 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Wearing a skull on a belt, like drinking out of cup made from a skull, is a lot more cumbersome than most people realize.

Also, those quests sound horrible.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:19 PM on July 5, 2019


You're right about the trappings Bethesda put on the Forsworn, but aren't they Bretons who moved into Skyrim during one of the times in between Nord empires?

FWIW, I didn't read them as ersatz Native Americans but as doubling-down on the particularly hardass parts of being Magical Stereotypical Vikings.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:47 PM on July 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


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