So, some of you might remember this list of so called “Social Justice Warriors” that called out video game journalist that advocate for social change. I think. To be honest, I’m not really sure what specifically the beef with these people was, other than someone wanted a nice label to discredit people with an opposing viewpoint. This list and the label was trotted out again during the online shit-show that is/was #GamerGate, which is where I first heard about it.
I’ve avoided weighing in on any other this, mostly because I find all of these names and labels horribly diminishing and serve only to reduce discussions on diversity and video games to “us versus them,” which means everyone is preaching to the converted and nothing really changes. But, the terms “justice” and “warrior” seem to be pulled straight from video game jargon, so the appearance of a Social Justice Warriors game was really only a matter of time.
The honour of the first game (that I’m aware of) to use the title Social Justice Warrior belongs to indie dev Nonadecimal. Rather than taking a hard stand supporting one view or another, Nonadecimal’s game is instead a pure satire of the way we engage in online discussions. Players get to choose from one of 4 RPG inspired Warriors: Paladin, Cleric, Mage or Rogue. Each class also has their own preferred mode of battle and 4 unique attacks, plus special attacks that are unlocked at the threshold of one of two meters (more on that in a minute). Paladins battle in 140 characters, Clerics have the support of a subreddit deity, Mages pen online articles and Rogues emerge from the shadows of the internet to slay trolls and support the other classes.
Gameplay involves choosing between your 4 attacks in order to defeat a never ending succession of trolls of various flavours. The player must also keep track of their Sanity and Reputation meters in order to stay in the game. For example, inflammatory attacks can inflict more damage, put they come at the cost of your Reputation. If either of your meters reaches zero, the game is over.
Nonadecimal is quick to point out that their intention wasn’t really to present one side as better than the other. In fact, on their developer’s blog they have a great post about the differing reactions people have had to the game, and their eagerness to label it as “pro-SJW” or “anti-SJW” based on the player’s own prejudices.
While moderates like myself may prefer to stick to logic arguments, any of the trolls you face will be immune to such attacks, forcing you to resort to personal attacks which damage your reputation. This means that there is no “high road” in Social Justice Warriors, although the whole thing is really just a text-based version of the very non-PC adage I try to adhere to whenever I feel myself being goaded into a political discussion online.
The other striking thing about Social Justice Warriors is that there is no real “win state.” Yes, you can defeat trolls, but each troll you vanquish is immediately replaced with a nearly identical purveyor of ad hominem arguments. Your accomplishments, as hollow as they may be, are simply displayed in the Hall of Champions, with silly descriptions that you can choose to tweet with the #SocialJusticeWarrior hashtag. This is arguably the most enjoyable part of the game.
While I’d be lying if I said I genuinely enjoyed myself while playing Social Justice Warriors, I also understand that this is part of the point Nonadecimal is trying to make. I’d say the game is about exactly as much fun as arguing with a troll.
Instead of exhausting our sanity by engaging in one-on-one shouting matches where no one is likely to change their minds, maybe we should be focusing our energies on more creative pursuits that help people think more critically, both about the way we engage in online discourse and about social justice issues in general.