Kim Wong refuses to buy the new Xbox 360 game Shadow Complex. Revolted by the political views of a novelist associated with the game, the 27-year old gamer's conscience holds him back. But there's another side to the story.
For the past week or so, some gamers and game reporters online have begun discussing the newly-released Xbox Live Arcade side-scrolling adventure game Shadow Complex in ways not intended by its creators. Stepping away from a discussion about how the game is one of the biggest downloadable titles ever made, a collaboration between a leading studio and some bright young talents, a love letter to the classic, but neglected, designs of Nintendo's early Metroid adventures, some gamers have instead debated whether buying Shadow Complex is an intolerable act of support for someone they view as an opponent of gay rights, novelist Orson Scott Card.
The debate around the game has provoked a rare discussion about whether the political, moral or religious views of people involved with making or promoting a video game — views so rarely discussed publicly by video game creators — should or would affect whether a person buys a particular title. Fun factor's got nothing to do with it. Or does it?
Kim Wong has discovered that moral views of creators do matter to him. He cannot countenance the involvement with Shadow Complex of Card. The acclaimed science fiction author has written that practicing homosexuals should not be treated as equal citizens and has described gay rights as a "collective delusion." He has supported legal movements to block laws that would allow gay people to marry.
In a phone interview this week, Wong told me: "I decided I could not in good conscience support a product of a person whose views I find abhorrent and knowingly give him money. In my everyday life I probably give enough money unknowingly to bigots or at least to people whose personal and political views I find distasteful."
Card was not the main creator of Shadow Complex. He did not conceive it nor code it. His name has been used in the game's promotion by its developers and publisher, Microsoft, to trade both on the renown for his classic novel, Ender's Game, as well his 2006 book, Empire, which was based on the same fiction as Shadow Complex: a Right-Wing-vs.-Left-Wing future American civil war crafted by members of the new game's development studio, Chair Entertainment.
Card, who has expressed his views about homosexuality in more detail than can be summarized in a sound bite, has, for years, bristled at accusations that he is a homophobe, establishing his views about homosexuality in the context of his faith as member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith, like those of Catholics, that deems the practice of homosexuality as a sin. (Card did not return Kotaku's requests to comment for this article.)
While Card's writings and efforts to ban gay marriage have sparked outcry from Wong and other gamers who say they won't buy Shadow Complex, those involved in the creation of the game had not commented publicly about this debate until now.
The Creators Speak
"Card's political beliefs sure didn't come up during the game's development," Mark Rein, vice president of Gears of War development studio Epic Games, which owns Chair Entertainment, told Kotaku. He was speaking on behalf of Epic and Chair. "Even if they had, we don't discriminate when hiring or choosing partners based on people's personal beliefs. Heck, Gears of War was made by Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and even a few Canadians like me. It takes all kinds to make great creative games."
Game developers don't often flash their party affiliation or state their positions on ethical debates. Reporters like me rarely ask. We wind up knowing more about the moral beliefs of Hollywood stars and politicians than we do whether the person who created the year's biggest game thinks abortion should be illegal or that the Israelis or Palestinians are right or wrong. Will Wright's contributions to the Republican Party and Alex Rigopulos' to the Democrats become public in legally required campaign filings but neither the promotion of Spore nor Rock Band involves the discussion of America's Right and Left. If there is a block of Conservatives who are planning on not buying Beatles: Rock Band, I am unaware of them.
Even marginally more public statements about social issues don't seem to stir much gamer reaction. Two weeks ago at QuakeCon, programming legend John Carmack mocked the green movement and described the eco-friendly selling point of the Tesla electric car as a "sham," to little reaction and certainly no major debate about whether the next Doom he creates should be bought by those who consider themselves eco-conscious.