GG: Dear internet, it’s okay to criticise games about things

This week, Polygon’s Chris Plante made a mistake. A “mistake”, I mean, because criticising Bethesda’s Rage 2 about its questionable use of a facial deformity isn’t actually a mistake, it’s an opinion backed up by the writer’s personal experience as somebody with the same facial deformity, and a thought-provoking exposé of social and cultural prejudices perpetuated through entertainment.

But first, some perspective.

A cleft lip or palate is a somewhat uncommon birth defect – about one or two in 1000 kids are born with it. Besides presenting some speech difficulties and other physical complications, it’s aesthetically… not exactly glamorous, and the stigma associated with that – especially in more undeveloped countries – is very real. In 2016, for example, a Chinese man murdered his own grandson for it. In much of Africa, people with cleft lips or palates endure the same disgrace, with one study in Nigeria finding that “35.3 percent of respondents believed the deformities were an act of God”.

Some of the game’s enemies have this facial deformity, but it’s hardly the first game, or movie, or book, or whatever, to use something like this to distinguish between the protagonists and the bad guys. In fact, it’s such a pervasive feature that TV Tropes has multiple entries on it. And, obviously, some exceptions exist – I could probably cite one or two almost without thinking, but I couldn’t even start to count those that include a villain with some very conspicuous facial deformity, or other disability, or even just being fat because if you’re not conventionally super hot, you’re plotting to end the universe. Those are the rules.


But should those be the rules? Let’s talk about it.

And that’s the important thing. Criticising Rage 2 for this doesn’t mean it’s a totally shit game and should be banned forever and THIS IS POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD AND WHAT NEXT CENSORSHIP. And somebody criticising a game for other things – like sexism or racism, maybe, or its awkward moral panic propaganda – doesn’t mean that you can’t play and enjoy it, anyway. Unless your own opinions are prescribed by other people’s opinions, but that’s like an entirely different problem and I can’t help you with it. I don’t even want to help you with it, but I suppose I could recommend an Intro to Art 101 curriculum instead.

And that’s also an important thing, because in the last five years or so, there’s been this increasingly vehement opposition on the internet to meaningful analysis and criticism of games (and movies, and books, and whatever), at about the same time as gamers have been claiming that games are art. As a post-graduate with a literature degree – and for the purposes of this discussion, literature includes games, movies, books, whatever – this is totally incomprehensible to me, because being subject to criticism is a fundamental and absolutely necessary basis for this definition.

It’s okay to criticise games. And you know what, you don’t even have to get involved in that discussion if you want to kill things for XP, and so what. That’s okay too.

But this?

This isn’t okay. This is shutting down the discussion for everybody else.

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