[note this was written in May 2014 following the game’s initial release]
As I explained in my last post, Making a Social Justice Warriors Game, I made a Social Justice Warriors game. I recommend reading that post to find out why I would do such a thing. Having made the game, the next step was to release it.
“It’s a pro-SJW game!” “No, it’s an anti-SJW game!”
I didn’t make this game with grand ambitions of changing the world, but intending to change a few open-minded people’s perspectives. It wasn’t meant to mock people who have been labeled as “social justice warriors” nor even the game’s opponents, “trolls”.
These terms, SJW and troll, are used by a small subset of the internet to dismiss people’s opinions. Every community tends to adopt similar language. On stock message boards you’ll see people calling each other out as “pumper” and “short” for the same reasons. However, since warriors and trolls match up perfectly with RPG fantasy tropes, the game was titled Social Justice Warriors and built to mimic online platforms for sharing opinions while conforming to typical RPG class attacks.
After the game was released, my web traffic exploded with thousands of hits coming from Reddit, Tumblr, Youtube, 4chan, and personal blogs. Following back all these links brought me to hundreds of assertions about the game and its creator, far outnumbering the number of people who had actually bought and played it. Many comments ironically resembled the troll comments from within the game – wild accusations, ad hominem attacks, and crude insults – but the most striking aspect of the comments was how they contradicted each other.
On one extreme, people insisted the game obviously was made by a SJW seeking revenge against everyone who argued with him on the internet by glorifying himself as a hero and demonizing them as trolls. Strangely enough, an equal number of people arrived at a completely opposite interpretation that the game was clearly made by someone trying to undermine and discredit the efforts of SJWs. Few people recognized that this contradiction suggests neither assumption is correct. It’s not a pro-SJW game or an anti-SJW game, it’s a human game.
If you’ve read my post about making the game, you’ll know I had much more moderate intentions. In fact, my only subversive agenda went completely unnoticed by all: filling the #SocialJusticeWarriors hashtag with silliness about Paladins dueling in the Crusade of the Endless Lance and Mages moralizing in the Summer of the Foul Gauntlet.
Of course, not everyone jumped to the same extreme conclusions. Jim Sterling from the list of journalists that inspired the game clearly knew what to expect from people online and was content to repost the game’s trailer “to watch the YouTube comments burn.” Others sought to use the game to advance their own goals or make political statements. Thanks Obama.
“Just who is this game making fun of anyway?”
The pattern that emerged from the comments was that for many people, determining whether it was a good game or a bad game depended on whether the game was making fun of the same people they mock or not. While I did introduce the game as satire from the start, which implies social criticism, that doesn’t mean it had to take sides with one group against the other. As I briefly explained in my last post, the game sought to expose fallacies, misunderstandings, and defamation on all sides. These are human traits not specific to just one labeled subset of humanity.
The trolls are presented in many flavors. Some wield the incensed rage and wild threats that have become common to see on any internet forum regardless of the topic. Others present themselves more rationally, making arguments from their personal experiences or their own brand of logic. This was meant to highlight the prevalence of logical fallacies in online arguments and how easy it is to think that the things we don’t see in our daily lives aren’t a problem elsewhere in the world for other people. Humans are very driven by personal experience simply because those are the only things we can verify as truth. Someone arguing with you on the internet is not necessarily a bad person, but could be unable to empathize with you or visualize your situation due to the disparity between their life experiences and your own.
If you looked at this game and thought that reducing a person to a “social justice cleric” who just does the same four things over and over is absurd, perhaps you see how calling a person a “social justice warrior” who represents an equally oversimplified characterization is equally absurd.
The player is presented with many choices of how to present themselves online. In verbal combat, there is the choice of responding with logical arguments or emotionally-charged character attacks. When choosing a character, the player is given an option to choose a more inflammatory character, the “social justice rogue”. Even from the very first menu option, players are given a choice to “Battle for Social Justice” or “Don’t Battle for Social Justice.” While there’s been lots of talk about the game’s title, I haven’t seen anyone talk about the menu.
To me, this is the most important choice both inside and outside the game. One of the messages of the game was to choose your confrontations wisely. If you set out to correct every incorrect assumption and hateful remark on the entire internet, you’ll promptly lose yourself in a sea of madness. Is refuting every person ready to argue with you on Twitter the best way to spend your limited free time?
The other way to interpret the menu options is asking yourself whether you choose to view it as a battle or not. If you consider every encounter to be a battlefield where you and your allies stand on one side and the enemies to your cause stand across from you trading shots, then the discussion will quickly turn to defamation and insults without any social progress.
If you look at this question the game’s menu poses and scoff because you already know better, then the game probably has nothing more to teach you and you can choose “Don’t Battle for Social Justice,” which will exit the game by way of the credits. In addition to recognizing Justin’s fantastic music and Maarten’s pixel warriors, the credits offer a quote attributed to Mark Twain, another person who often looked at the behavior of the people around him and found it absurd. “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” Good advice no matter what side of the battle you’re on.
Thanks for Playing
While preparing to release the game, I knew that people would play it and interpret it in different ways, only recognizing some or none of the concepts I encoded in its gameplay mechanics. I hoped that regardless of their interpretation, some good would still emerge through people reflecting on their reaction to the game and comparing it with other people. Unfortunately I didn’t anticipate that many people would make assumptions about the game without playing it first, given its tiny $1 price tag.
Nonetheless, I appreciate all the people who have played and sent me feedback about the game. It will help me refine my future games’ interactions with the players. I am especially grateful to all the people who generously paid more than $1 for Social Justice Warriors to support the artist, the composer, and myself.
It’s always gratifying when someone acknowledges a tiny detail that you put effort into crafting, like getting the letter spacing just right in the game’s cover image.
Or the one person who commented on the genderless characters. I discovered it’s a challenging request to ask a pixel artist to make humans with indistinguishable gender and race but I was very happy with the result, hunched over keyboards in the faint blue glow of their computer monitors.
Social Justice Warriors was an experiment for me, not just in human sociology, but in learning how to release a game and deal with what people say about it and its creator. I learned a lot from the experience and emerged, slightly singed, but prepared to do it again.
You can try Social Justice Warriors yourself and see if it’s a pro-SJW game or an anti-SJW game for less than $8.
If you think the game has value, please vote for it on Steam Greenlight. [It was greenlit and released on Steam February 27, 2015! Thank you for your support!] While you’re there, you can check out the more than 400 comments people have left and see how they compare to your own perception of the game.