Progress

One of the things I think is interesting about companies is that like Soylent Green, they're made of people. I think one of the big values of social media is that it lets people interact with companies in ways that would have been unheard of years ago. But the weird thing is that it's really weird to interact with companies, because companies aren't people.

If you've ever worked at a bigger company, or a place that's representing a "brand" of some kind, and you've been responsible for outward-facing communications, there's a lot of pressure to not offend. To not say anything interesting because it might alienate someone who might be part of your customer base, lessen your sales/profits/shareholder value/whatever, and then you get fired or reprimanded or blah blah blah.

And yeah, I get that in a big company, you want the company to represent a wide variety of people, and the easiest way to do that is to basically stay quiet on anything political or of social import, and stick to the brand message.

Well, one of the best things about starting your own company is that you don't have to worry about any of that shit. And yet, I still feel this weird pressure, that I'm not supposed to say anything that might offend someone or take a strong stance on something.

But like the previous post, written yesterday, as a company, one of the things we're about - fundamentally, philosophically - is that equality matters. And so it feels disingenuous not to say anything about how amazing today is - how incredible it is that we've now, as a country, extended equal marriage rights to everyone.

One of my first experiences in games was rewriting all the in-game logic for Seaman, on the Sega Dreamcast. It was a voice-controlled game where you talked to a half-man/half-fish. Yeah, and it's as weird as it sounds. But one of the things I had to program in was the ability for you, as the player, to be anyone. You could be any race. You could be any sexual orientation. You could have any kind of partner. Even stuff we couldn't think of, we had answers for. I wasn't responsible for writing the script (that was Jellyvision, the folks behind You Don't Know Jack, who are brilliant), probably a the direction of Yoot Saito, Seaman's creator.

And I remember thinking that it was neat that we were putting all this stuff in, and that it felt right. The kinds of people who played Seaman would likely have been folks who weren't in the mainstream, and part of the game was to really feel like the game knew you. And part of that was simply accounting properly for who you might be.

A few years later, I ended up working at Maxis, the creators of the Sims. And I was really happy to learn that there was simply nothing in the game's logic about who a character could love. It was just love. It's funny, because in a game, to limit the relationships requires adding code, and not removing it. Equality wasn't a matter of building something new, it was simply a matter of not building in inequality. But Maxis, as a company, had a culture where this was an accurate reflection of their values.

These were places where I learned how to make games. I learned who might play our games, and how to try to accommodate as many people and as many options as possible. Having worked on a game where you could be a transgender person & be treated with respect and humor (albeit a dry, sarcastic, obnoxious humor - the same as you'd get if you were a straight person) in 2000, and then working on a game where same-sex relationships were no problem in 2004, I have to constantly ask myself, "Am I doing better than that now?" Because if, 11 years later, the answer isn't "YES!" then I'm doing something wrong, and haven't learned from my mentors.

Games are full of strange legacy stuff. Nonwhite characters are extremely rare. Games with complex & interesting women (not just "strong" women) are hard to come by. Games that aren't developed around an 18-35 year old male audience are still shockingly uncommon. Yeah, even today. There are a lot more options, but if you zoom out a bit, things haven't moved that much for the big titles.

But things change quickly. The response to Ubisoft's hamfisted rambling about why there were no playable characters in Assassin's Creed: Unity is that this year's E3 is full of games with women as main characters. Look at comic books - Miles Morales is now the canonical Spider Man. Thor is a woman. The Batgirl of Burnside is a fantastic series.

Change is accelerating. There's little doubt of that. And I think a huge part of that has to do with how people are just exposed to more people now. With the internet, with online gaming, with a broader diversity of characters on TV, it's now difficult to go through life and hold on to the cartoonish stereotype of what a gay person "should" be. And so things have changed. And that's wonderful. It's just a start, and we've got a long way to go for real equality for women, for trans people, for minorities of many stripes, but black people at this moment in particular. And I hope change for all of them - for all of us - is accelerating as well.

Hell - when I was growing up, being a biracial kid was weird. I got teased a lot for looking like I did, and for my weird name. These days, people don't go, "HUH!?!??!" indignantly at the top of their voice when they hear my name, and I look "normal" enough (at least in the context of the Bay Area) that no one cares anymore. Things are different, now. Really different.

Cracked had a beautiful article that talks about the massive winning streak that humanity is on, and why there's a strong case to be made that a move toward social equality (Social justice? Whatever you want to call it, I'm happy to wear the label.) is a big driver of that winning streak. How we've unlocked the potential of so much more of humanity by giving more people opportunity and equal rights. And I think that's a wonderful way of thinking about equality and progress. 

Let's keep that winning streak going.