Update: If you came here by clicking a link telling you this was a pro-SJW game or anti-SJW game, maybe you should read this post.
Last week (May 12, 2014) I released a satirical game called Social Justice Warriors.
Why I Made Social Justice Warriors
I first heard the phrase “social justice warrior” when the image of “SJW videogame journalists to avoid” circulated around the game dev community. I didn’t know anything about the journalists on the list, but it seemed ridiculous that someone was advocating ignoring more than twenty writers from prominent sites. After learning more about the phrase, it struck me as a strange label intended to unilaterally invalidate someone’s opinions and silence them. The words “justice” and “warrior” are too empowering to be wasted in a pejorative label so I decided to respond the best way I know: with a videogame.
I chose not to depict social justice warriors as the negative stereotype but as a symbol for any human standing up against ignorant people. By pairing social justice warriors with the opposing label used to dismiss someone online – troll – in a modernization of a medieval fantasy RPG, I hoped to get people talking about how we interact online. I have a bad habit of scrolling through the comments sections of every article I read. Even mundane articles about the third quarter earning reports of aluminum smelting companies are prone to random outbursts of racism and sexism.
There were plenty of tweets flying around turning the SJW journalist image into videogame jokes.
We need more Social Justice Warlocks.
— Fork Parker (@ForkParker) April 3, 2014
I was happy to make some of them a reality.
The Message in the Gameplay Mechanics
Obviously videogames are a subjective experience and they’ll mean something different to every person. Nonetheless, I tried to construct gameplay mechanics that could inspire certain perspectives. I did my best to make the game accessible to all people, not just ones with a specific stance on social issues.
1) The game is a thought experiment that removes the ambiguity of real life interaction. The trolls are blatantly bigoted and the warriors are justified in standing up against them. However, instead of only offering attack options that uphold that paragon virtue, I gave the player the choice to make an inflammatory character attack that is more effective against the troll at a small cost. Without this choice, the game would have just been a one-dimensional exercise.
The game’s high score table encourages the player to defeat more trolls, feeding the temptation to compromise virtual morality for an emotionally-driven triumph over each troll. After all, it’s only a troll. I hope people realize this danger of labels turning an argument into an us-vs-them scenario which shifts the focus onto their opponents instead of the social issue.
2) Players face an endless series of one-on-one arguments with trolls. There is no victory condition so only 3 eventual outcomes are possible for the player: their mental faculties are worn down by conflict, their reputation is obliterated by the troll’s defamation or their own, or they ragequit. I hope players become more cognizant of the personal cost of engaging caustic individuals relative to what society will gain from the argument.
I’m not advocating letting racism, sexism, and other injustices go unchecked. However, how often will arguing with a racist in the comments of a youtube music video change their worldview or their behavior? Surely there is a better way for a socially conscious individual to spend that same time on activism that can educate many open minds instead of one stubborn one.
3) I hope that bystanders might be more understanding when they see someone respond to a discussion about social issues with a hostile comment. Instead of branding that person a “social justice warrior” and dismissing them outright, maybe they’ll consider that this person might have just been attacked by 12 trolls straight and is dealing with a low sanity meter.
Likewise, a “troll” may just be a person speaking from their limited perspective of the world and the people in it, simply unable to empathize with your life experiences rather than being an inhuman monster.
I was in a chat room where someone was complaining about a heated online argument with a stranger in which they had become entangled. Another person advised them to play Social Justice Warriors and realize they were wasting their own time in conflict. That single reaction to the game made me feel justified that my game can have a positive impact.
Plus there’s always the chance that the game’s name and pixelated heroes will make the phrase “social justice warrior” seem so silly that people stop using it as a negative label altogether.
In light of these intentions, it was disappointing to watch people begin immediately assigning Social Justice Warriors dismissive labels of “pro-SJW game” and “anti-SJW game” after release. I’ll be back next week with another post analyzing these reactions and how they turned Social Justice Warriors into a meta game beyond my wildest imaginings.
You can try Social Justice Warriors yourself and see how it alters your perspective for just $
1 $8. If you think the game has value, please vote for it on Steam Greenlight. It was greenlit and releases on Steam February 27th. Thank you!