Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
And no one in the gameplay does.
Lyle Masaki at AfterElton tested the new version of The Sims to see if gays and lesbians could get married. He reports: “…after a week of game time, I was able to get a male couple to plan a wedding party and tie the knot.”
We all know how much I really don’t care about gay marriage even though I blog about it often enough.
But The Sims series holds a very special place in my heart. The game, by Will Wright (Maxis), was released 1-2 years after we moved to the United States. My greatest struggle wasn’t just with the culture clash, but with confronting and coming to terms with my sexuality.
The game was a great expression of self-empowerment. It allowed us to pick our appearances right down to an earring, made us the sole decision-makers on how to run our lives. And two women and two men could actually live and sleep together, even though they couldn’t have children together. And the men could actually have babies (if abducted by aliens), but I digress. It was simply a great step forward in gender non-conformity and to give teenagers like me an opportunity to live the lives we wanted.
9 years later, we are still not there. But it was The Sims that went quite a long way in reinforcing that I was normal and loving someone of the same gender was not the big sin that everyone else made it out to be. And I am sure the bold move in The Sims 3 would reinforce this message to a younger generation.
Next two generations, if we survive global warming, I expect to hear – “Mom, this is so crazy. Once upon a time, gays couldn’t marry. WTF?!
This week I had the opportunity to give what little insight I had on a gaming project for the documentary Sands of Silence, produced by activist film-maker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle.
It is a first-person role-playing game where the gamer assumes the character of a girl from either Africa, Nepal or Mexico and is taken through the whole experience of trafficking. The point is to engage the gamer beyond just empathy and encourage action from a community—high school and university students—that may otherwise not know much about the issue.
Going into the project, my primary concern was with trivializing the experiences of sexual trafficking victims. There is absolutely no way to ever simulate the lived experiences of these young adolescents so I am quite ambivalent about the prospects of building genuine empathy through ‘gaming.’
There’s Fashion Wars and then there is Fashion the movie. Fashion Wars is all about seeing whose pose has more style, getting the biatches to gain more cash, and expanding a fashion empire. Fashion the movie takes one behind the camera to see the ugliness of glitz and glamour, into a world that demarcates women as cheap objects for show and sale. They were certainly not meant to be complimentary but how can we bridge the gap between the two platforms in a manner that is both sensitive and engaging?
The concern was somewhat alleviated with knowledge that the producer was an activist film-maker and that the stories in the gameplay were based on real life experiences. And then there was the voice in the back of my head saying if I could excuse and actually appreciate BreakThrough for ICED that simulated the experiences of undocumented immigrants in this country, I had no right to place objections over something I had not experienced or undergone.
The next problem I had was with the complete absence of boys from the gameplay. All the major characters were women. For the first time, I was irked by the absence of men and that awareness came from a queer perspective. We cannot ignore that boys are also sexually trafficked and that there is yet another community that we can reach by including that particular narrative. In our efforts to make women’s experiences more mainstream, let us not marginalize a population that is already afraid to speak out about abuse. De-stigmatize. Make relevant to as many people as possible.
My third concern dealt with how to draw attention to this game. Why would a teenager or university student play this game? I was told that inner-city youth in New York could relate to the project and could react with empathy that these horrendous things happened with their peers. Yet, it simply is not enough of a selling point for me as a gamer. We mostly play games to escape reality; not relive our pains and misfortunes. There has to be a ‘oh cool!’ factor to attract youth to this game and I hope whoever is given charge to market it can come up with the right catchphrase.
Ever since Will Wright’s The Sims, an explosion of the simulation genre has ensued in the gaming world. Games like Civilization have become Classics, whereas The Sims and Sim City with its plethora of expansion packs have multiplied across various gaming platforms and inspired new games based on the same genre (i.e. Black and White). Talk about the multiplicities and diffusion of power, control and simulation — playing God is cooler than a first-person wham-bam shooter.
So now a progressive group is releasing a game simulating the life of a young immigrant teenager in the United States — you are either a Mexican illegal immigrant or an Indian green-card holder or a student on a visa from Japan. The object is to avoid deportation and deal with the daily life and struggles of the international student or undocumented student.
I wonder how people who are actually in this situation or have been through the whole immigration process feel about this game trying to simulate their lives.
Cool? Not cool?