Thursday, January 10, 2013

I am not a racecar; I am not a man.

Kill Screen posted a single quotation today, and it struck me quite deeply.  From a Monopoly expert:

"It's very seldom that you see a player not care about what token represents them on the game board."

That's it. One sentence. And that sentence is about, quite literally, Monopoly game pieces.  And yet, in a certain way, it's one of the most revealing and useful things I've ever seen written about games.

The speaker, Monopoly expert Philip Orbanes, is right, of course.  Any of us who has ever played the game, particularly in childhood, knows the ritual.

"I call the thimble!"
"Dibs on the dog!"
"The racecar is mine!"
(Nobody ever wants the iron.)

The game world of Monopoly is in some ways as abstract as they come.  Its colorful painted squares represent streets, avenues, neighborhoods; they represent socioeconomic strata and an insurmountable class and economic system.  Those little pewter-toned chunks of daily life we steer in circles 'round the board are our avatars, representing us as we navigate this world.  Even in a system this abstract, avatar representation matters.

In video games, avatars run the gamut from completely abstract, as in Lim or Thomas Was Alone, to compulsively detailed, as in every AAA game of every year for the better part of two decades.  When those avatars are compulsively detailed, they are almost always white men.

It's like living in a world where the only Monopoly token one is allowed to choose is the racecar.  I don't want to be the racecar.  I took the racecar because it was the only option given to me, after everyone else involved had their say first, and decided my outlook didn't matter.

The story of the racecar has gotten boring.  I don't care how well-written a profile is; I am tired of the story of the man who wanted to find a girlfriend.  I don't care how well-written the supporting or alternate cast is; I am tired of them not being front and center.  I don't care about all of the daddy issues that show up in every damn game; I want a dramatic story about mothers.  Or women.  Or anything new at all, really.

Box art: Halo 4; Mass Effect 3; BioShock Infinite

Everyone seems to understand, instinctively, that it's okay to have strong feelings about your Monopoly piece.  From a young age, we got passionate about the dog, or the car, or the shoe (but never the iron), and that was all right.  So why does similar passion about digital avatars create such a hue and cry?  If you say you are tired of the slate of straight white men, you are a whiner.  You do not understand that "sex sells."  You are a troublemaker.  You are a "feminist bitch" and worse.

I am not a racecar.

I am not a man.

I am tired.