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What does in-game bigotry say about us as a society?

I was playing Skyrim the other night, and I noticed that there were some things in the game that reflected a lot of what has been going on recently in the United States of America. It kind of hit me like a brick, and got me thinking. Following the recent election results, this country has seen a 67% increase in crime involving prejudicial notions towards PoC, people who practice non-Christian religions, the LGBTQ community, and others.

Follow me here, but I would bet that a lot of gamers haven’t really put much thought into the amount of games out there which have had some form of bigotry portrayed in them, even though we’ve come to love several of them.

For the writers of these titles, this is a subtle (yet occasionally effective) way to get a message across that these types of issues exist. Therefore, I wanted to put together a little piece about some of the games that have shown these issues, and talk about how they reflect our current sociopolitical climate.

This is by no means a complete list, just some of the ones that stick out in my head. So, without further ado, here we go:

Racism in Skyrim

In the world of Tamriel (specifically in Skyrim), Elves, Khajit, and Argonians are all shunned for various reasons. Many of these are almost in direct correlation to what we are seeing as human society today. This is no more readily obvious than in the way the races of the Khajit and the Argonians are treated.

Being “beastfolk”, the feline Khajit & the reptilian Argonians are seen as untrustworthy, and are looked down upon by the Nords. The Nords view the Khajit as liars, thieves, drug addicts, and criminals, and frequently use racial epithets like “cat”, “rug”, and “carpet” when referring to them. The Argonians are almost never seen in jobs that are anything above menial labor (servants, barmaids, etc.), and are seen as nothing more than a serf class of citizen.

The two races are also forced to live away from the rest of the populace. In the city of Windhelm, for instance, the Argonians are relegated to the Argonian Assemblage at the docks outside of town, while the Khajit are not allowed into any city in the province of Skyrim – simply because of their appearance.

Classism in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

While the denizens of the world of The Witcher series may be vastly more humanoid in appearance, there is no shortage of hatred & distrust for the different races & castes in the game.

Over the course of the three Witcher games, no secret has been made about the fact that the majority of the human world harbors a mistrust for the eponymous witcher caste. They are seen as child kidnappers, murderers, and freaks of nature (not unlike the monsters they hunt). Even though the citizenry has come to rely on the witchers to rid their lands of dangerous creatures, members of the Cat, Griffin, Bear, Wolf, Viper, and Manticore schools are all still shunned & insulted throughout the lands of Novigrad, No Man’s Land, the Skellige Isles, and beyond.

It’s not only the witcher class who are discriminated against, but magic users as well. During the core game of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a hunt for all magic users begins in the city of Novigrad, as the sorcerers, sorceresses, and alchemists are hunted down because the religious ruling class believes them to all be practitioners of evil magic. Their criteria for spotting their quarry in this witch hunt (pun intended) is just as flimsy as their rhetoric: “birthmarks in strange and arcane shapes, smooth skin on a matron aged more than thirty springs, and black cats kept in the yard”, and the torture they inflict on innocent lives in the name of religion is no less heinous than what has been committed by individuals in the United States in recent days.

Sexism in Harvest Moon 3

“But Doug!” I can hear you shout, “Weren’t you all just talking about what a good job Harvest Moon did with gender roles?” Well, yes. However, there is an aspect of the game which locks the player into their gender role in a pretty misogynistic way.

Let’s start with character stats. The male character in the game starts (and stays) with more stamina, which means that he can accomplish more in a day than the female character can. It’s almost like the developers want to imply that the female character has to go home to fix her hair or something.
Then, there’s ingenuity. In Harvest Moon 3, only the male character can make his farm tools more efficient by upgrading them. What, women can’t be good at engineering & building stuff?? I personally know several women who would adamantly disagree with this.

Finally, there’s the relationship aspect to the game… Players can choose to get married in the game, but the outcomes for each gender following the nuptuals are quite different, and may speak to the developer’s views on the life missions of men vs. women: When a male character ties the knot, the game continues on, and the male player character can ask his new wife to do chores for him. However, if a female player chooses to get married, the game just ends. Yep, that’s right. A final cutscene shows the happy couple with a child of their own, and then it’s Game Over.

So what did we see here today, dear readers? Have you ever played a game early on, only to go back to it later in life & see that there were more thematic elements at play than you realized? Do you usually recognize these elements right away? Let us know some examples in the comments!

About Doug T. (491 Articles)
A lifelong gamer, disabilities advocate, avowed geek, and serious foodie. Doug was born in South America, currently resides in Northern VA, and spends the majority of his time indulging in his current passions of gaming & food, while making sure not to take life or himself too seriously.

1 Comment on What does in-game bigotry say about us as a society?

  1. Though I never played that particular version of Harvest Moon, I did hear about that female/male ending cut-scene nonsense — and it is nonsense. I believe the developers did the same thing in HM: Back to Nature For Girls as well. Also stupid. Luckily, later Harvest Moon games (such as the GBA version More Friends of Mineral Town and the DS version) were created a bit more equally — the game no longer ends when the female players marries. Instead, the husband moves in and the game continues in precisely the same way that the male version does. Hooray! 🙂 Though I haven’t played more recent HM games, I do believe that the newer ones follow the same format.

    Also, fun fact: pregnancy is no big deal for a female protagonist. You can work right up until the day the baby is born. Unrealistic? Totally, but I appreciated that the game didn’t lower stamina/make the character weaker — instead, she remains the same level of awesome as she does throughout the rest of the (more equal) game.

    But either way, I think this is a good point to make, and I’m glad you made it!

    (And on another note, HM actually included a system for “roommates” that allowed for same-sex couples to live together. Not sure if they could ever adopt a child or anything, because unfortunately, that system was removed from the American version.)

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