The formation of a natural diamond is a process of geological specificity. They require specific conditions to form, and only three places are known to produce them: the Earth’s mantle, with its ever-shifting continents; the impact site of meteorites; and the hands of the Old Spice Man. If you want diamonds, you’ll need to take a space rock to the face or apply pressure, and lots of it.
More on this in a bit.
So the newly updated Stanley Parable has been released, and game critics love it. It seems to be getting a lot more traction with the general gamer as well, in comparison to other walkabout genre standouts like Gone Home and Dear Esther.
But recently, the game came under fire (although it’s not the only thing on fire in this story) for a particular sequence of images depicted in a faux instructional video on “choice”. In it, a white businessman first lights a cigarette for a stereotypical black third-world child — making his world a better place, obviously — and then in the next image is setting the child alight after dousing him with fuel.
Understandably, some people were a little put-off. But, in a surprising turn of events, creator Davey Wreden immediately engaged in open, civil dialogue with the objectors, worked through their rationale and has since promised to change the images to something that better conveys his original joke. Scandal!
Of course, a lot of gamers are up in arms, claiming the concession is tantamount to censorship. But they’re wrong. They misunderstand the increasingly critical body of enthusiasts, journalists and gamers who are willing to put the games they love under pressure.
A game is a form of entertainment, but it is also art (says this author while Roger Ebert spins mournfully in his grave). And the strength of any narrative, audio or visual choice should stand up to critical review. Ebert understood this. He was a sterling critic of film, and wasn’t afraid to call bullshit when someone used something in lazy-handed fashion, sentimentally or for shock value.
What people seem to be decrying is that the criticism exists at all. Criticising a poorly implemented idea or artistic choice is not the same as a call for censorship — and even if it was, the more we have of it, the better. The status of many controversial works, like Slaughterhouse-Five and Lolita, were affirmed through constant challenge.
Wreden understands the import of changing the images: “It’s actually really tough to respond to complaints about someone being offended,” he explains in an email to Polygon. But he’s changing it anyway, because — I assume — it was more important that people focus on what he was trying to convey in the first place and the images, while not problematic to him personally, detracted from that.
You’ve got to push games on their bad ideas. And you’ve got to be ready when developers push back. Because if you want diamonds, you’re gonna have to apply a bit of pressure.