Is It Ever Okay to like Problematic Things?


#1

After reading the review of “Shadow of the Tomb Raider”, and some of the discussion afterwards, I’m starting to think that that it is not okay to like Problematic Things - and I think this is probably enough of a topic for discussion that it’s worth spinning off into its own thread separate from the review discussion.

That, by nature of being Problematic, they are also societally harmful - that by being problematic those works are intrinsically connected to harmful elements of society - racism, sexism, and other works of bigotry, and any attempt to redeem those works simply calls attention to those elements and heightens them further. You can’t make Tomb Raider less colonialist, and you can’t make Conan less racist and misogynist.

As a person with Autism who also likes film, one of the things I run into is depictions of autism in media that are generally never played by people who are on spectrum (the classic example being Dustin Hoffman in Rainman), or characters who are coded as being on-spectrum but who are explicitly stated as not on-spectrum (as in Big Bang Theory). These works are easier to reject, but on the other hand, the anime New Game! has a character who is coded (but not explicitly stated) as on-spectrum who I think is well written - but that show is absolutely covered in the male gaze, and has normalized depictions of workplace harassment, making it extremely problematic, so I feel uncomfortable having recommended it (or even had anything nice to say about it at all) in the past.

Am I wrong to feel this way? Are problematic works inherently irredeemable and consequently we should completely reject them outright - or is it okay to enjoy problematic works provided that we acknowledge what is wrong with them?


#2

I’m sure someone else will come along and say this more eloquently but there’s no piece of media that is 100% good and pure.

There’s no reason for someone to beat themselves up over enjoying something that has Problematic elements. Most things do. The best we can do is acknowledge what’s Problematic and advocate for improvements in the future.


#3

Even with that review I might still give Tomb Raider 3 a try because I wasn’t looking for a deep anti-colonialist narrative anyway, I just wanted to kill things with a bow and arrow again.

Also with all the shit in the world enjoy what you enjoy. You can acknowledge all the problems of everything but constantly doing that is exhausting and you’ll give yourself wrinkles. We all need dumb entertainment at some point. Not every game will save the world and we don’t need them all to.


#4

Of course it’s okay. If you are only allowed to like art that is without any problematic elements whatsoever it doesn’t leave much art left to enjoy.

Being cognizant of problematic elements is valuable, but nobody should try to be so galaxy brain woke that they wholly reject all art with problematic elements. It’s just about being informed and making your own judgement calls.


#5

Wait, does BBT actually claim Sheldon is not on the spectrum?


#6

It’s fairly easy to say it’s okay to like problematic things (and it is okay!) but I think I definitely understand the thought behind this thread.

I have noticed that, in certain threads, usually when a very well written review like Dia’s is posted, there are some takes that read very much as disapproving of any enjoyment of problematic media at all and often it reads as unnuanced and reactionary to me.

You read enough of those kinds of opinions and it’s not hard to end up asking yourself, “am I a bad person?”

If you’re here, reading Waypoint articles and being critical, I’m inclined to say you probably aren’t a bad person. But I also wish I didn’t see so many cynical takes that could lead to that question to begin with. But maybe those kinds of posts are cathartic for people. I don’t know.


#7

They bust out the “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested” canard.


#8

I think it’s absolutely ok to like Problematic Things™. And as @Soiyer says, please don’t beat yourself up over it.

What I find important is to engage critically with the problematic elements, rather than just accepting them.


#9

This is a great point. If you’re aware enough to even think about whether you should be enjoying these things, then you’re already ahead of the game.


#10

Coming up with an internal list of things you are and are not comfortable with and at what point you stop cold is an ongoing process. There is no person on this earth that has a 100% consistent track record with their own internal logic either. Where you decide you fall on the greater spectrum of things is up to you, and I think that being open and honest to discussions about the context of things and not just knee jerk reacting to any criticism as “PC SJW nonsense” certainly helps.

Let’s be honest here, as people who play games we have to very intentionally set aside TONS of problematic things to enjoy our hobbies. Even if we took all of the colonialism out of Tomb Raider we would still have a very rich woman murdering tons of people and wild animals for treasure which is horrifying in real life. Spider-Man is a vigilante beating the shit out of people with no due-process causing countless amounts of damage to infrastructure because he can. Pokémon involves capturing wild animals, enslaving them in miniature prisons, and forcing them to fight until they pass out. Universal paperclips has you destroy all of existence.


#11

There can be a very tiresome chain of one-upping around these kinds of things. It adds nothing useful to the discussion and it gets old fast. Discourse!


#12

Mirroring the above, not only is liking problematic things normal but also it is necessary because everything is problematic (and living in a void of never engaging with anything, unable to like, does not sound like where most people should live their best lives). Being aware of those elements and always open to learning more is the important factor, not trying to hack your self-understanding of what you enjoy to try and only enjoy the purest of media.

But also there is a darker side to the idea that problematic is tied to something to be avoided (collectively, personally you can enjoy or ignore whatever you like) or considered irredeemable: you’re living under late capitalism and even if that wasn’t the case you’re going to be stuck with imperfect information. Capitalism just means that it is profitable for many groups to ensure that imperfect information is exploitable.

If you seek out media primarily based on a perceived absence of problematic elements then you will both blind yourself to problematic elements (as your diet is being chosen to hide any that do exist so they look like they don’t exist) and walk into any capitalist traps built for you. This is actually related to conspicuous consumption, even if it is not being used by you as part of a push to increase your own social status. This is the diet industry; this is “lifestyle brands” like Goop. This is buying products with a big PR statement about being “free from slavery or sweat-shop labour” while actually being made by people rounded up by police (from their former lives) and told they’re either going to prison or can say they’re victims if they join a re-education service (possibly with some wages taken for this “service” and “education”) where they make the things you’re buying - sounds a lot like forced labour because that’s exactly what it is and yet this is a business model used by several brands that have a White woman proudly saying how much buying their clothes does to fight slavery.

And as for the lorry that carries any “ethically produced” items to the local depot, the system works similarly all around the world (like this from the US - note the content warnings at the top). Again, this is part of a wider picture of a system explicitly marketed as being how to stop the very issue it perpetrates. All systems of big cogs are lubricated by people, so as we are forced for survival to engage with capitalism then we are going to engage with systems that chew up people, including where it is advertised as explicitly not doing that.


#13

Like everyone else has said, it’s literally impossible to cut problematic content out of your media diet, and that isn’t the point, anyway. The point is to be able to engage critically with things and recognize flaws that you might otherwise be blind to because they’re outside of your experience. I do think at some point if the source is toxic enough you need to think about whether or not engaging with it does anyone any good; I’m not about to go out and buy Alex Jones’ latest book/muscle powder/whatever, but that’s obviously an extreme example.

If Dia’s article is any indication, at least some of people who worked on Rise of the Tomb Raider cared about the issues surrounding representation and colonialism and put some real thought into how they should be addressed; just because their work wasn’t executed perfectly, or was diluted by others, doesn’t mean we need to throw away the entire game. If anything, that means we need to dissect it that much more carefully, praise it for what it does right, and point out where it goes wrong so that others can continue that work in the future.

I’m not going to pretend I know exactly where the line is that causes something to become unsalvageable, partly because it’s so subjective. I just know that when something crosses it, it’s very obvious to me. Just try your best to consume media critically and know that you’re not doing anything wrong by enjoying something with problematic elements; the fact that you recognized that it’s problematic means you’re doing something right.


#14

Your thread’s title sets up an impossible inverse. There exists no “unproblematic” work, and the word “ever” implies that there exists a situation wherein there are no problems to a work, and that situation’s never going to exist. Problems can arise out of anything, contextually, systemically, mechanically, you can’t escape the society, which will always have problems, that contextualizes media, and you can’t escape that people, who will always have problems, are the ones creating media.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth it to strive for something better than, say, another work, I guess, but the search for something perfect will always leave you disappointed. “Perfection” is impossible, especially as games get more complex and stories cover more reedy ground. I understand the urge to be perfect, and I don’t even think it’s necessarily a bad thing to be always striving to be better, but I’m kind of tired of always having this conversation about where lines are supposed to be drawn. A person has to take agency to make their own definition of what’s a problem to them and what isn’t. But if you’re looking for a green light to enjoy something from someone else, for someone else to draw that line for you, that’s just not really feasible. You have to define that, and while it’s important for others’ testimonies and lived experiences to play into that consideration, there needs to be some personal responsibility taken.

I’m not going to say - Well, it’s all impossible, so why give a shit? Play whatever you want! - because that’s too simple of an answer for too complex of a problem. A lot, and in fact I’d say most of this is up to you.


#15

The problem I personally have with any question or statment nowdays that amounts to ‘it’s (not) fine to enjoy problematic things’ is that… it can LITERALLY MEAN ANYTHING. People will call show that has clumsy written trans woman but one that still makes her a sympathetic character that is shown to be worth of respect problematic as well as show that has a trans woman portrayed as a depraved serial murder problematic. Two extremly different things.

And people know that and use it to their advantage. How many tweets there are about how it’s okay to like problematic content that got retweeted widely only to find out the op wrote that tweet after someone said to them ‘you know, I think it’s very creepy to ship 10 years old boy with someone thirce his age’? A lot.

I am not criticizing anyone in this thread for using this word cause ‘problematic’ can be usefull cause it can apply to many thing instead of being specific like racism or homophobia. But that’s also why it can be used in real nasty ways by people (like I mentioned above).

Ultimately this may be slight off-topic post but I think instead of using very vague terms like ‘I like this film but it’s problematic’ we should use specific terms ‘I like this film but it’s homophobic’. And I get that then it causes problems like ‘what do we say about things that have multiple cases of various bad shit?’ cause, yeah, ‘problematic’ can be a very good shortcut! But the way this word developed on internet just kinda ruined the word for me and makes it very easy to hide behind it. It’s way harder to criticise someone who champions ‘problematic content’ rather than one who champions ‘racist content’.

And is it okay to like ‘problematic’ content? As other people have said, no work is without it’s problems but at the end of the day it is your decision to make. ‘Am I comfortable engaging with this work despited parts of it?’ is a question only you can answer, and you should base it one whever on how harmful the content is, how prominent it is (part of central message or a sidenote?), will me talking about it help to popularize it etc, etc.

Again, I am not criticizing anyone in this thread for using this word nor the op for the thread title, but personally I wish more people acknowledged how meaningless the word ‘problematic’ has become on internet.

So I guess the summary of this post would be: the word ‘problematic’ is problematic.


#16

Ditto to what everyone above said.

Adding to all these great points, part of the importance of allowing yourself to consume problematic media is that the media is very rarely completely compromised and often has strengths or redeeming qualities.

As an example, I love The Adventure Zone so much. For a variety of reasons it could be considered a problematic work, it has problems. It is also a piece of media that holds deep importance for me as a queer person and has helped my personal growth immensely. If I had shut it out of my life on the grounds of it being problematic, which it is, I really doubt my life would be better for it.


#17

100% to everything already said on this thread.

Just to add another example, I went and saw Crazy Rich Asians over the weekend, a film that as it turns out is both incredibly important for Asian-American cultural representation in media and hella problematic in terms of how it paints wealth and income inequality (and that’s not mentioning how it glosses over real racial conflicts in Singapore). But at the same time, asking a two-hour romantic dramady to address all of that in a nuanced manner is honestly kinda impossible. And for this one that’s not its mission—it’s playing to a specific audience, and I’ve seen what it means to a lot of my friends who are first and second-gen Asian-Americans to have a film about that kind of cultural conflict in a theater. Any piece of media is only ever going to be able to show part of a story, and there will always be more intersections that it can’t capture. And that’s fine.


#18

“Problematic” has become such a snarl word that it makes my eyes glaze over like half the time. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m too old and insufficiently Online or what but I see it used as a means to shut down debate (or just dunk) far more than as an actual means to contribute to discussion.


#19

Gaming.

There’s the environmental damage and pollution inherent to the production of all equipment required in its consumption. The minerals involved also use heavily exploited labor in their extraction.

Is it wrong to like gaming?


#20

I like ancient greek statuary but :clap:those :clap: dudes :clap:owned :clap:slaves