I didn’t expect to have quite as much fun as I’m having with Crossing Souls. It’s a pixel art action/adventure game with a little bit of 2D Zelda DNA, a touch of platforming, and RPG-style wandering, all done in a very deliberate 80s cartoon throwback style.
Great write-up Danielle. I have not played Crossing Souls myself so I can’t exactly speak to its content, but your criticism reminded me so much of the time I watched Sixteen Candles in a high school Rhetoric class. This was in 2003-04, but our teacher was an 80s kid who grew up loving John Hughes movies, and so why not analyze a movie that she loved from her youth. So we’re watching all the hijinks and out comes Long Duck Dong, the quintessential racist 80s character. It stopped me cold, and I could no longer appreciate the cinematography, the fashion, the dialogue that made this film so resonant with teenagers of that era. All I could think about was that put upon accent, and how being a non-white foreigner was inherently something to be laughed at. Afterwards, when discussing the movie, I did not speak up. I rationalized that maybe I was being sensitive as the only PoC in class, but it so soured me on the movie so much that I just can’t watch John Hughes movies anymore. But others love those movies, so is there something wrong with me?
Anyway, my point with this long digression is that I now realize that it’s ok to write off a piece of media if it does something you consider egregious. I’m cool skipping this game because of its racist (or sizist, or homophobic) depictions of PoCs. And that will continue to be true even if it comes to light that the game was created with PoC’s involved. So I appreciate someone pointing this out before I drop my money on the game.
I was excited about this game when I first heard about it a couple years(?) ago and grabbed it as soon as I saw it was out. I like the animation, and somehow its 80s trappings aren’t grating on me like so many others do. But man as soon as I ran into Quincy I was bummed out (the old mystic man struck me as more self-aware of the stereotype he was portraying and didn’t bother me quite as much, but to be fair I only talked to him the one time so I am probably missing something). The trailer park also really bothered me, because while it’s fine to have a character come from a poor background (and alcoholic fathers are a staple of 80s kids movies), the whole “all these people look the same because they’re all inbred morons” schtick is so tired and honestly is about as shitty as Quincy’s lisping stereotype and all the fat jokes about Big Joe. What kills me is that Charlie is an example of them pulling a better stereotype to serve their female character, so it’s not like they couldn’t have done that.
The real shame is that I’m enjoying it apart from that - but every time that stuff comes up it makes me frown. It’s a good game! It is gorgeous and fun and, unfortunately, imperfect like so many things are. I don’t regret buying it, and I’ll keep playing it, but it’s a shame I can’t enthusiastically recommend it to people because it went a little too hard in the 80s nostalgia paint and brought back the shitty parts with it.
Very well considered piece, as is so often the case with Waypoint. I think it is incredibly important that Danielle and crew are able call out a game for making these kinds of mistakes without it being construed as malevolent or cruel. These things have to be viewed through a critical lens that accounts for the underrepresented if we’re going to live in a world where people start getting treated (at least more) equally. I think Danielle does a fine job of being critical of this game without beating it up. She presents her perspective well and even laments the way that this damaged what might otherwise have been a very positive gaming experience. And I like that she points out that the conversation around games like this one should be more thoughtful than just “It’s good,” or “It’s bad.”
I love Waypoint for articles just like this one. Keep 'em coming.
But, I’m hyper-aware right now of the tenuous situation that exists when we critique a smaller developer’s work. I can give an honest, considered (and maybe even nuanced!) critique, putting that out in a world where said small dev gets approximately sixteen seconds of exposure for their game. The gaming internet tends to reduce complicated positions and feelings to extremes: “it’s great!” versus “it’s garbage!” Headlines and social media posts, including our own, tend to describe maximal positions, things you can love to read or love to hate. A conflicted critical opinion turns into a line in the sand, and everyone involved ends up having a bad week or month.
This is a pretty fundamental conflict in Waypoint’s mission. On one hand, it’s good to raise up games made by small often marginalized teams and giving them the attention they might not otherwise get, especially from a major outlet. On the other hand, the attention might not be all positive and suddenly exposing game’s flaws, regardless of whether they were made in good faith, also exposes that team to a degree of backlash and could seriously negatively impact their reputation and livelihood.
Ultimately, the source of this conflict is capitalism but since that’s the world we live in (for now) how much should the material precarity of an artist be considered when the attention economy of games is so volatile? If it matters at all, how can that be realistically addressed knowing what we know about how stories will get flattened short of not making the criticism in the first place?
If the game has problems, those problems should be discussed, no matter the size of the game. Small developers might be financially precarious, but a lot of us who are reading about these games also don’t have a ton of money or time to be spending on games, and even outside of that, someone’s day or week might be ruined by encountering these elements in a game without warning.
That said, circumstances around the size and resources of the developer, the publisher, etc. shouldn’t be ignored, either. The fact that Red Strings Club was made by a small team is part of the reason the coverage upset some of us, but not the whole reason. The main two issues were that it seemed as if the developers themselves were being put on blast between the tweets that were sent out and the discussions in the article and on the podcast, and that this was much harsher criticism than big budget games such as Breath of the Wild that had deeply problematic elements had previously received from Waypoint. (Obviously this is my opinion on the matter, others will likely have their own.)
I don’t know how to fix the issues with trying to cover these games in a thoughtful and responsible way, all I can do is point out where and why I think there is a problem with the coverage. Ideally, we could resolve these issues when they come up without any parties involved being subjected to abuse, but the internet is a trash heap, and I definitely don’t know how to fix that problem.
When I see the stereotype criticism, I am taken back abit. I mean the 80s weren’t exactly a utopia. Are we keeping a tally about these stereotypes? Would it be better Quincy was white and straight?
I’m mostly on a fence about it. But good articles like this let me further research.
I mean, as Danielle mentions in the article, these stereotypes “seem like uncritical, even loving homages.” It’s not as if she is making up tropes. The issues with the character’s portrayal she mentions are well established stereotypes, and are an issue because playing into a stereotype further cements that stereotype and other stereotypes into a person’s head whether they are aware or not. If she feels that the game was using these stereotypes not as a critique or subversion of them but just because, that is an issue at the very least worth mentioning.
While I can’t speak to Quincy’s sexuality (though it seems pretty clear the game wants you to think they are not straight), but isn’t that the issue? The game is pushing an established stereotype of a black, queer, man without doing much to defy that stereotype. And the biggest issue with stereotyping is that positive or negative one affirmation of a stereotype reinforces all stereotypes you have towards a group of people. If the character were white and straight, it might still be a poorly written character, but (I may be out of line here) at the very least it would not be reinforcing the stereotype of a black, queer, man.
Not to derail the thread, but this is exactly the reason I have no patience for anyone asking us to consider the dev team when passing on Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Like, I’m in this to play games and support creators I like, and if a studio fails because their lead designer is a racist shithead so be it. I’ll not shed a tear.
Having not played the game, I was using Danielle’s quote “Quincy Queen, a mashup of Michael Jackson and the swishy gay stereotype that was already tired in 1986.”, the gif in the article, and his name as my reference for who Quincy Queen might be. Though, yes, he could be Prince.
I basically came here to say this. It’s kind of irresponsible to go about using stereotypes and not adding some context to give them a bit of depth or maybe turn the stereotype on its heels in a meaningful way.
It sounds like this didn’t happen, and these characters are just cruel jokes.
If folks are going to use characters in this way the developers really need to think about what they are saying. None of this exists in a vacuum.