On Boycotting (or not) Orson Scott Card's SHADOW COMPLEX
Should you boycott a game written by an author whose views you can't stand?
If you are gay, love SF and video games, should you boycott SHADOW COMPLEX, the hit side-scrolling video game now available on the Xbox 360 Arcade?
If you didn't know, the story of SHADOW COMPLEX was created by Science Fiction writer Orson Scott Card, of ENDER'S GAME and the ALVIN MAKER novel series. Card is also an outspoken opponent of full equality for gays and lesbians, going so far as advocating the overthrow of the government in response to equality measures being enacted into law.
I've no longer a fan of his, having written about these and other noxious statements on on doorQ.com, especially after he joined the board of the National Organization for Marriage , an outfit actively opposing civil marriages for gay couples nationwide. I've argued that gay fans of his work shouldn't support him with their pink dollars, lest that money be filtered into anti-gay efforts.
Does that apply to SHADOW COMPLEX as well? It's based in the same universe as his EMPIRE and HIDDEN EMPIRE novels, about a second, modern American Civil War between the Leftist and Rightist movements. But beyond just providing the setting, he had very little to do with the actual workings of the game.
Indeed, much of the heavy lifting was done by Peter David, a straight writer-geek who is about as gay positive as you can get. And while the EMPIRE universe Card created depicts, according to Wikipedia, a
"...A radical leftist army calling itself the Progressive Restoration [that] takes over New York City and declares itself the rightful government of the United States," by most accounts, the game itself is very apolitical, and might, according to some writers, even subvert that entire premise.
Gus Mastrapa, writing at Wired, argues the game should be boycotted, even in light of the minimal role Card played, especially since there are "dozens of talented science fiction writers" who could have been brought onto the project, all without the baggage of Card.
The folks at Gaygamer, the video game site for gays and lesbians, argueto buy the game but donate to a pro-gay cause, too. Christian Nutt at Gamasutra is a bit conflicted, wondering if boycotting this game means that honesty and moral integrity requires also forgoing a lot of other products and projects based on the political associations of those involved.
For me, the tough part here is saying "Boycott the game!" But I wasn't going to purchase the game anyway. Side scrollers aren't my thing. RPGs are and this isn't one. But even with that being the case, does the patina of Card's homophobia tarnish the game or does all of the apolitical work of the countless developers and coders mitigate that?"
Peter David, the "real" writer on the game, wrote in to Gamasutra with his own take:
I believe the answer to free speech is always more free speech. If you believe that Orson Scott Card is saying things that are wrong at the top of his lungs, then you say so at the top of yours. If he's donating money to organizations dedicated to infringing gay rights, you donate money to organizations that support them....The disconnect comes from those people who believe that boycotts are likewise a form of free expression. They're not. Boycotts are the opposite: They are designed to be punitive... it's about attacking the person....That is antithetical to the notion of a free society because it promotes a chilling effect."
That's a view I can't agree with. Whether or not one thinks that SHADOW COMPLEX should be boycotted, I don't find anything chilling about calling or supporting such ventures. We live in an age where the ability to speak is as easy as signing up with Blogger or uploading a video to Youtube.
That ability is not going to dissapear short of a scenario akin to Card's EMPIRE.
Electing not to support a project, venture, or effort with your own time or money once you realize that, in doing so, that time or money is going to be used by those persons so supported to support yet another project, venture or effort you don't agree with is precisely what a free society is all about. It's why we value the freedom to be open so highly: all the cards, so to speak, are now on the table. Knowledge of what's going on gives us the power to act fully within the dictates of our consciences.
A boycott neither denies the ability of Card to speak, publish or anyone else to create video games based his work. Companies might choose to do something else if the money they though was there is no longer in it -- or might decide to damn the torpedoes and continue to carry on, in spite.
The question here is about SHADOW COMPLEX If electing to not support the makers of the game with our dollars because of the actions of Card is appropriate. Without being funny, it is a complex issue. Not purchasing Card's books are one thing. But the game itself, something he had some, but small, involvement? That's one of those hard questions. But it's supposed to be hard. That's what freedom is all about.