Spoken interviews are a funny thing, because much of the context is stripped away. What did you and the interviewer discuss between the quotes that were chosen? What tone of voice did you use? And so on. Most of the time, this works out okay, but when dealing with touchy, hot-button issues, the result can be a minefield.
As a result, much confusion has arisen both about my creative goals for The Castle Doctrine and about my personal views that relate to the game. I will now set the record straight.
Of course, since the issues here are complex, I have to summarize. As the saying goes, if I could put it all down succinctly into words, I wouldn't have had to make the damn game.
The Gender Issue
Why can't I play a female character in this MMO?
First, though it is massively-multiplayer, it's not an MMORPG. Yes, a bunch of people play together on the same server, but that is all. There are no role-playing elements of any kind (character building, leveling up, etc.).
Like loads of non-RPG games, you play a specific character in this game. That character is a guy. In fact, he's the guy from this 1991 yellow page ad:
Or, more accurately, he's the guy this yellow page ad might be targeting. This game is a 1991 period piece about the social construction of manhood in that era. This is how I remember my security-obsessed father, and other fathers that I've met from that time share many of his traits. These guys were the burglar alarm generation. I suppose their paranoia wasn't completely unfounded, because the choice of 1991 is a loaded one (it was the peak of violent crime in the US---2012 was twice as safe, by comparison).
A lot has changed concerning gender roles in the past 22 years. But many aspects of the traditional, physical male role still lurk beneath the surface, which is why this topic is still interesting. Is a man still supposed to be a protector for his family? Is he supposed to be able to fight?
Disturbingly, even in a somewhat gender-bent, pacifist family like mine, that undercurrent is still there. As a particularly wimpy man (on the very-skinny end of the skinny bell curve), I'm not at all comfortable with that role. But that doesn't mean the role isn't thrust upon me anyway, especially when things get dicey.
Distilling all of this down, I amped up traditional, period gender roles in this game to the extreme. The girls even wear bows and dresses. The boys even have short hair. This is a cartoon of the iconic, nuclear family.
The Gun Issue
Obviously, no one is troubled by the presence of guns in this game, because then they'd be far more troubled by almost every other mainstream game. So, the concern is more like:
Do you really believe that guns should be legalized? That's crazy, man!
Yes, I do believe guns should be legalized. No, I'm not a gun owner, and have no plans to become one, but I have no desire to stop you from owning a gun. I also don't drink, but I don't want to stop you from drinking.
That's just my philosophical position. If you're not hurting anyone directly with your actions, I believe it should be legal. Thus, I think we should legalize guns, drugs, religion, suicide, fireworks, gambling, prostitution, all books, all movies, all video games, consensual sexual behavior of all kinds, gay marriage, polygamy, incandescent light bulbs, and on and on.
That might sound like a pretty whacky, incoherent list to you, but each of those things is currently illegal somewhere in the world, each involves consenting adults making their own choices, and each has no direct, third-party victim.
While the Germans don't get why Americans have such a problem with prostitution, the Americans can't imagine outlawing something like Wolfenstein, and so on.
But really, that philosophical discussion has very little bearing on The Castle Doctrine, which is not a game about legalizing anything, and barely even has guns in it. Guns are just a hot-button topic right now.
Firstly congratulations on the game it is a chillingly succinct and clever representation of fear and vulnerability.
At the most basic level when engaging in a game I feel I am putting my trust in the author to posit situations and mechanisms to make me think, and months ago when I first opened up Castle Doctrine that's exactly what I did. It resulted in me really questioning ALL of the points above, from the question of violence through to the pin-sharp feeling of emotional horror at realising I had killed somebody's child/wife and then finding out somebody had killed mine.
The fact that I was a 'father' through to the array of tools given - guns, brick, electrocution - were wonderfully apt and mundane framing devices that, as I ruminated on the experience, focussed exactly those thoughts you expressed above.
I can understand a certain level of chagrin about issues of 'non-representation' (i.e.. for the male/female issue) but the point that is being fudged is assuming the author is 'representing me' when playing a game rather than 'you are playing a character'.
Every nuanced level of the feeling of helplessness of Castle Doctrine, that 'society' is thrusting a role onto you, is expressed within the narrative (down to the very same level you state of 'man-is-forced-to-be-protector') purely through the unrelenting aspect of threat which you so wonderfully managed to convey. I was becoming a character in a story, being 'forced' to be a 'man' made that story harder to live, more desperate to not want to fail and felt richer when I succeeded. I, like you, don't want to be that man.
It is certainly not a game that I 'enjoyed' or was 'entertained by because it threw up so many uncomfortable situations, perhaps this is also what people are confusing the game as - a piece of optimistic enjoyment.
I think Castle Doctrine is tremendous - well written, well constructed, incredibly well balanced - and I am sorry that you are having to spend your time defending aspects of it and not basking in the glow of thanks from the people that its struck a chord with.
p.s. as an addendum, I have to say the game traumatised me so much that I have had to stop playing it. To my mind this exemplifies what a successful piece it is.
Last edited by jimlefevre (2013-07-24 13:08:24)
I'm curious: was there anything specific that prompted this post? I've noticed a handful of people consistently saying they won't buy the game until it has female characters, but I think that's been going for a few months at least.
I wrote a blog post about these two issues actually. Even though they're not really part of the game, I did find the community response interesting. I hope I haven't misrepresented anything.
[Hmm, nevermind... I think I've figured out what prompted this from some quick googling.]
Last edited by jere (2013-07-24 15:03:38)
Registered to say that I appreciate you taking the time to address concerns with your art in a "long form" public post.
Interesting to see that some of the more vocal critics have chosen to use crippled forums like Twitter to voice their opinions in almost passive-aggressive manner rather than trying to engage you directly but this does seem to be the order of the day for a lot of modern "discussion".
At any rate, keep up the good work & thank you for your art.
Yeah, Jere, the posting of the trailer and the resulting Kotaku coverage got everyone talking again. They dug up those old interviews and treated them like they were brand new again. OMG, Jason Rohrer is a monster, and all that.
In the past, I tried to respond in the comment rolls, and those responses are still there, but no one reads them, it seems.
So, I decided to write one final, well-considered, definitive stance on these issues.
I saw your three-part article, Jere. It was really solid.
Jimlefevre---you get it, you get it. Dead on.