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Games and Morals: Do They Mix?

For a while there it looked like it wasn't going to make it, and yet somehow within the final 24 hours of their Kickstarter campaign the pledges for Armikrog, Doug TenNapel's spiritual successor to The Neverhood, managed to sail past the $900,000 goal.


The Neverhood, and the later Playstation title Skullmonkeys, were never hits with the critics or at retail but they remain cult favourites with gamers. Fans remember them fondly for the claymation, slapstick comedy and the bizarre worlds these games were set in. Older gamers will more likely remember TenNapel's earlier creation, Earthworm Jim. In some way TenNapel's works have endured and kept a following; at least enough to expect them to sail past that Kickstarter goal with ease.


But the big thing holding Armikrog back was that news was starting to spread about Doug TenNapel's primitive attitudes about homosexuality and other dubious beliefs. If you go digging deeper you'll find the words of a man whose attitudes seem like a parody of conservative 'murricuns. Utterly childish too, making really poor AIDS jabs at gay gamers on, and his opinion columns where he says that women should stop "screeching" about feminism and that America is the best country in the world due to it being 78% Christian.


It's hard not to feel a bit icky about the man, but on the other hand, his brand of slapstick is genuinely funny, and he is in general a creative guy.

Where does one draw the line, though? I don't think there is a right answer. An immediate response might be to simply not support the guy's work due to his views. But that smartphone you love so much, how much of it was manufactured in sweat shops in China and Malaysia, or at places like Foxconn? When you hear Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries play, do you feel the emotion the song conveys, or do you remember that Wagner was a Nazi sympathiser? Have you read Orson Scott Card's novels, or will you be watching the upcoming Ender's Game adaptation? Or perhaps you loved the insults that Scott Card wrote for The Secrets of Monkey Island: Special Edition? Did you know that Orson Scott Card isn't just anti-gay - he has actively campaigned for punishments for gay people?


If you've read many of my blatherings you might have realised that I have some gripes with Microsoft, EA and perhaps a bucket and a half of other companies. Some of these have now also been revealed to be on the poop-end of the morality scale by eavesdropping on the world on behalf of the US government.

How about EA, then, that megalith of anti-consumerist poopooing and gross abuses towards anyone they own thinking they have a stable job? If we all just stopped buying EA games, the end result is that we also then stop supporting big-budget games. We stop supporting the art and the artists behind it. We kill a game development studio that, despite dubious employment practices, does give jobs to many aspiring game developers. We in some way then become a part of the problem.

But do we know the personal views and opinions of every member of a development team? Is everyone at EA/Bioware a bunch of liberal modern-thinking hippies, or are there some of them who are sexist, racist, rapist, cultist, gerbilist or any other kind of bad -ist?


I guess in some practical way, boycotting Microsoft, Google etc. make sense, since you don't want to contribute to their sordid ways. But if we really had to adjust our consumer behaviour to match our morality-radar, I'm afraid we'd all end up as hermits in the woods. Except then we'd all be in the woods, and no longer hermits, and soon we'll be trading furs, and then a war would break out between the not-hermits and the PETA-not-hermits. And we'll be back to the same dilemmas that we have now. We have needs, and these needs are easy to fulfill, but they often come at a cost.

It's easy to ignore it all though. The crummy conditions under which your smartphone was made are cunningly concealed behind that shiny casing and logo of a lemon with a bite out of it. You don't have to do much not-thinking to not think about it. Same goes with the aforementioned EA/Bioware, or other studios. Mostly all you know is that the game was created by CompanyTM.

Coming back to Armikrog and Doug TenNapel, it's less easy to ignore. It's a small team, and his name is attached to the project as prominently as Peter Molyneux's is to Populous. The game will likely just be unoffensive slapstick with the brand of creativity the creator is known for, with little of his personal beliefs thrust upon it, but how does one ignore that feeling of ick from knowing who made it?


If you decide to take the "I'm supporting the art, not the artist" route, people might think you are supporting the artist's views. You'll quickly find yourself in the middle of a highly polarised debate that never leads anywhere.

So what are you gonna do? It's a tough call. While I don't want to see a death of big game studios and the (mostly) great games they put out, I do think that the industry needs a shake-up; and I'm very reluctant to support something that was created by an individual whose personal beliefs clash so strongly with my own. I can't in good conscience give my money, love or any other kind of endorsement to a product created by a homophobic, misogynistic bigot; I'd feel dirty. I'd feel like I'd betrayed my own moral compass, or that said compass was pointless (ahahah!) if I wasn't going to let it be my guide. And yeah, I know that's cutting my nose off to spite my face, but if it's an ugly, uncouth, immoral bastard of a nose then I don't want it on my face in the first place. Nyah.

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