Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Steven Poole re­jects games aid­ing hu­man­ity’s worst for re­al­ism’s sake

The joy of videogames is that they let us live out cathar­tic fan­tasies, whether that be swing­ing through Man­hat­tan as Spi­der-Man, de­feat­ing hordes of mon­sters as a bald space ma­rine, or push­ing levers as a pony­tailed bur­glar of an­cient trea­sures. But what if your fan­tasy is to beat up and kill fem­i­nists? Not to worry: that too is now pos­si­ble, thanks to Red Dead Redemp­tion 2.

Rock­star’s cowboy epic is not, of course, pri­mar­ily de­signed as a fem­i­nist-abus­ing sim­u­la­tor, but it can cer­tainly be played that way, as a YouTu­ber known as Shirrako has mono­man­i­cally demon­strated on YouTube. One video, en­ti­tled An­noy­ing Fem­i­nist Fed To Al­li­ga­tor, does just what it says on the tin. In an­other, Shirrako stands in front of a suf­fragette on the street while she says: “Women and men both de­serve to de­cide the fu­ture. This is meant to be the land of lib­erty, but some­how I am not free to vote? Who says that?” (That last line is highly anachro­nis­tic, of course, be­ing a quite mod­ern ex­pres­sion of in­credulity.) He then punches her in the face, las­sos her and ties her up, takes her on his horse to a hand­ily lit cave, and then throws her off a high ledge.

Nat­u­rally these videos have be­come rather con­tro­ver­sial. But some peo­ple yawn. What’s new? After all, in ear­lier Rock­star games you could, no­to­ri­ously, mur­der a sex worker to get your money back. But no one is forc­ing you to do these bad things! It’s just that the game is such a broad and deep sim­u­la­tor that you can play it how­ever you like. If you choose to be evil, that’s on you. In­deed, in RDR2 you can also mur­der mem­bers of the Ku Klux Klan, and no one has com­plained about that. Why all the whin­ing?

It’s nat­u­ral to present some ver­sion of this ar­gu­ment in re­ac­tion to moral con­tro­ver­sies over games, but I don’t think it was good enough back in the GTA days, and it’s not good enough now. Be­cause Rock­star has never made a sim­u­la­tor where just any­thing can hap­pen. In RDR2, you can brew a can of cof­fee over your camp­fire, but you can’t ac­tu­ally say what­ever you like to the suf­fragette and have a real po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. Nor, for that mat­ter, can you sex­u­ally as­sault her. Imag­ine if Rock­star in­cluded a ‘rape’ but­ton in its games. Would any­one care to de­fend them by say­ing you don’t have to use it? In fact, de­sign­ers are al­ways mak­ing moral and po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions about what to sim­u­late and what not to.

The truth of the mat­ter, then, is that Rock­star has de­lib­er­ately cho­sen to al­low such ac­tions in the game, and can’t just blame the per­ver­sity of its play­ers. Peo­ple like Shirrako are show­ing some­thing that is in the game by de­sign, and if we want to de­fend the cre­ators we need a dif­fer­ent ar­gu­ment. You might, for ex­am­ple, want to plead that mak­ing suf­fragettes uniquely in­vul­ner­a­ble to vi­o­lence would com­pro­mise the re­al­is­tic im­mer­sion of the ex­pe­ri­ence, but I’m not sure that’s a ter­ri­bly good line ei­ther. So many other things al­ready com­pro­mise the re­al­is­tic im­mer­sion of the ex­pe­ri­ence – for in­stance, the fact that your cowboy is so su­per­hu­manly strong that he is able to drag a trussed-up suf­fragette on the end of a lasso be­hind his horse with only one hand, or that said trussed-up suf­fragette doesn’t scream her­self hoarse on the way to her ex­e­cu­tion – that one more would hardly tip the bal­ance.

The other thing that has changed since the old GTA hook­ers con­tro­versy, of course, is that, thanks to stream­ing and YouTube, videogames are now weapons in the wider cul­ture wars. When Shirrako un­veiled his first suf­fragette-killing videos, a horde of in­cels and other pa­thetic spec­i­mens of mas­culin­ity posted ap­prov­ing com­ments say­ing they wished they could kill fem­i­nists in real life in such pic­turesque ways. When this was widely re­ported by ap­palled lib­er­als, Shirrako felt spurred to keep trolling, and made a new video in which he shot a suf­fragette and fed her to pigs. “See­ing SJWs on twit­ter mo­ti­vated me to con­tinue the se­ries,” he wrote. “The more tears they shed, the more cre­ative we’ll get. Ac­cept that it’s JUST a game or run out of tears.”

But of course it’s not just a game. It’s never just a game, like a novel is never just a few hun­dred pieces of pa­per sewn to­gether. Videogames have a prob­lem with vi­o­lence, and as long as the rest of us pre­fer to turn a blind eye to it, peo­ple like Shirrako are un­in­ten­tion­ally per­form­ing a pub­lic ser­vice by glee­fully point­ing out the ex­tent of that prob­lem.

It’s never just a game, like a novel is never just a few hun­dred pieces of pa­per sewn to­gether

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