RimWorld is a sci-fi, procedural story generator from developer Ludeon Studios that’s still in development via Early Access. Players start the game with three survivors as they attempt to colonize a planet, craft gear, and survive the harsh conditions of deep space. The game also includes relationships… and Rock, Paper, Shotgun took an opportunity to paint the developer, Tynan Sylvester, as some sort of gender politics troglodyte to their audience, resulting in the community attacking Sylvester over the unfinished game.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun [backup] freelancer Claudia Lo took a look into RimWorld’s code and racked Sylvester over the gender politics coals for making the women either bisexual or gay (meaning that they won’t initiate efforts to romanticize males) and for making men either straight or gay (so men are not bisexual).
Lo argues that the game doesn’t let you pamper the women from a state of depression for having to reject men but that you have to make men less sad for getting rejected, writing…
“In daily life, the feeling of having to constantly turn people down is not a nice feeling. But these negative feelings are only reflected mechanically for those being rejected, and because of the way romance initiation is handled, you end up having to cater for the sad rejected men, rather than the women who are always having to turn away these unwanted encounters.”
Lo argues that the game perpetuates a lot of gender norms and stereotypes in our current day society, and that the game essentially isn’t progressive enough in dealing with gendered interaction between men and women.
The article acknowledges that the game is not finished and that Sylvester even labeled some of the romantic features as a bug, but the author waves that off, and continues on to state…
“We could label that behaviour a bug, perhaps. But those are just the surface symptoms. Those are the easily-noticed, in-game consequences of a system whose base structure has literally encoded assumptions about how men and women operate.
“[…] Code is never neutral. All of these coded structures push a particular scenario over others, and most of the time this is fairly benign. However, this does not mean that it should escape scrutiny, because we can end up uncritically coding in harmful assumptions, which ultimately means we are constraining what our games could be while also alienating other players.”
Lo provides no numbers or even any empirical data to back up that there is some market alienation taking place for an unfinished bit of code relating to the relationships of men and women.
Sylvester left a comment at the bottom of the piece, deconstructing the misinformation and telling his side of the story since he wasn’t allowed to have his say posted unedited because Rock, Paper, Shotgun claimed it could open them up to legal consequences…
“The author of this anger-farming hit piece did email me asking if she could ask me some questions. However, she wanted to edit my responses. When I said I’d be willing to answer questions, but not if the responses were edited, she went silent. I guess she wasn’t willing to print the other side of the story if she didn’t have the power to edit it.”
“[…] It’s anger-farming, combined with a moralistic witch hunt. It’s the worst kind of click-bait – they type that generates anger on purpose, where none needed to exist, in a community that was perfectly at peace beforehand.
“Notice how it specifically skirts as close to calling me a “malicious” person as possible without actually making the claim.”
In the e-mail exchange with the Rock, Paper, Shotgun author, Sylvester tried explaining that the issue Lo was concerned with was already being addressed and it was a bug.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun stated that they weren’t going to edit the article and stood by Lo. Some of the community said that they would not be getting the game due to the story about an unfinished feature featuring romance and relationships.
Sylvester explained that he’s already tweaking the relationships between characters in the game because simulating human relationships is difficult. Even more than that, he mentions including things like “gaydar” so straight people will be less likely to try to romance homosexuals. Many of these features were already planned for release in upcoming builds of RimWorld.
However, the comment section in Rock, Paper, Shotgun contains a wide assortment of people claiming that Sylvester is perpetuating sexist stereotypes. A Reddit thread spawned a deep discussion centered on the topic, and even Kotaku was quick to throw up an article about the whole affair.
Interestingly enough, some of the people participating in the discussions on Reddit admitted that it was pretty obvious the Rock, Paper, Shotgun article did little else but inflame the situation.
I asked if Sylvester knew that the topic of the article would devolve into gender politics when Rock, Paper, Shotgun reached out, and he said that the author, Claudia Lo, mentioned that the subject would center around romantic relationships. I was also curious if Sylvester was expecting more of a game-oriented examination of the mechanics or sociopolitical punditry, and he responded via e-mail saying “I pretty much expected it to be as it turned out, really.”
He also addressed some of the other statements and issues brought up in the Rock, Paper, Shotgun piece and the comment section in a separate, lengthy Reddit post where he explains the paradigm for how relationships were structured in the game and why.
RimWorld is available right now in Early Access for $29.99 on the Steam store.
Honest talk: I absolutely abhor news like this. I recently wrote that Bethesda deserved to cut early review access to game journalists for reasons exactly like this. Why, as a developer, would you even entertain people like this to have access to a game when they’ll do nothing more than spin it into something to feed outrage culture and damage your brand? It doesn’t help gamers and it doesn’t help developers.
Politicizing an unfinished game to satiate rage-bait has diminished games journalism into a cesspit of misfeasance from self-serving, egotistical, ethically-challenged, millennial hipsters and is the reason games journalism needs to die in a dumpster fire.
The reason people hate SJWs is because they ruin games with needless politicking. So instead of spending this time focusing on informing people about the newest game to come out or help people with guides on the latest popular piece of software, I’m wasting time writing about a website that doesn’t know how to report on video games anymore.