The term “Social Justice Warrior” has been used to disrupt conversation about various civil rights issues across the internet, and has become increasingly apparent across social media over the last few years in particular. One game developer saw this situation, and decided to take a satirical look at the futility of ugly name-calling, side-taking, and the effects on arguments and discussions on the internet as a result.
The game is Social Justice Warriors, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek RPG of sorts that plays on familiar phrases witnessed online. You take up arms as a “Social Justice Warrior” and battle different “Trolls” through written-word sparring. The reaction to the game was varied and hard to swallow, so I decided to sit down one-on-one with Eric Ford from Nonadecimal and get to the bottom of the entire thing.
LET’S START WITH THE OBVIOUS: WHERE DID SOMETHING LIKE THIS COME FROM?
Eric: I hadn’t heard the phrase “social justice warrior” until that image circulated with the list of SJW journalists to avoid. It struck me as a silly phrase to use to silence people since the words contained within it usually have positive connotations.
HOW INVOLVED HAVE YOU BEEN IN ONLINE DISCUSSION/DEBATE OVER CIVIL ISSUES IN THE PAST? IT ISN’T A TERM THAT HAS ESCAPED THE VOCABULARY OF THE PEOPLE INVOLVED TOO MUCH YET. AND THERE HAS BEEN A SENSE OF “TAKING IT BACK” FROM THOSE GIVEN THAT TITLE LATELY.
I hadn’t been exposed to it at all prior to that. And when I did, it was filtered through the context of video games. So, it inspired a videogame-based response.
SO, FROM AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE, HOW DID YOU PERCIEVE THE IMPACT OF THE TERM? DID IT SEEM TO CARRY AS MUCH WEIGHT AS IT OBVIOUSLY DOES WITH PEOPLE, OR DID IT SEEM MORE OR A BROAD, EMPTY TERM LIKE IT’S POLAR-OPPOSITE IN THE GAME, A “TROLL”?
Well, without any of the background, it seemed like a silly term. Not the kind of thing that someone would be offended to have someone call them. I certainly didn’t think anybody self-identified as a social justice warrior either when I started making the game. From Google searches, it seemed like it was used exclusively to try to dismiss people’s opinions.
I’VE BEEN CALLED BOTH A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR AND A TROLL ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS, AND I NEVER SAW THE INCLUSION OF THE TERM IN THE GAME AS PURPOSEFULLY INSULTING. IT MORE JUST POKED AT THE POINTLESSNESS IN USING OVER-BLOWN TERMINOLOGY TO DISMISS A POINT. WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE BACKLASH YOU RECEIVED FROM SOME PEOPLE IN THE GAMING COMMUNITY THAT BELIEVED THE USE OF THE TERM PERPETUATED THE NEGATIVE VIEWS CAST ON THEM FOR TAKING THE SIDE OF SOCIAL “JUSTICE”?
The most surprising thing to me about the game’s reception was how varied it was. In one region of the internet, people were complaining that the game was promoting the SJW agenda, calling me a SJW, saying the game was clearly made in an attempt to get back at people who called me a SJW. Then, other groups of people were complaining that the game was mocking SJWs and trying to undermine their agenda and that it was made to get back at them.
Obviously I was not trying to do any of those things. I think a lot of people saw the game’s title and immediately interpreted it in the context of what they were going through at the time. Whereas if they had played the game, they might have viewed it differently.
THAT REALLY DOES SPEAK TO THE DUALITY THAT THE GAME ITSELF POKES FUN AT. A CERTAIN ONE-OR-THE-OTHER SIDE-TAKING. TWO EXTREMES IN VIEWS WITHOUT A REAL MIDDLE GROUND. IT ALMOST PROVES THE GAME’S POINT, REALLY. THE FUNNY THING OF COURSE BEING THAT IT SEEMED TO UPSET SOME PEOPLE OF EACH “SIDE” WHILE OTHER PEOPLE SAW IT AS A DEVICE TO USE TO FURTHER MOCK THE OTHER “SIDE” AS WELL. DID IT SURPRISE YOU THAT IT SEEMED TO EFFECT BOTH VIEWPOINTS RATHER EQUALLY?
When I made the game, I was trying to take these two dismissive labels and put people into a role where they could choose how to react to ignorance and reflect on the utility of those actions and the responses they provoke. I don’t think there are people who are innately “Social Justice Warriors” or “Trolls,” those are just labels that people assign us. Really, any human has the potential to be labeled as one or the other. Like you said, you’ve been called both.
So the game was really made to look at how all people interact online, not just ones that had been labeled this way in the past. I think maybe it was because of this inclusiveness that everyone saw what they wanted to see in it. Because the game wasn’t overtly attacking anyone in particular. Aside from ignorance itself, which was clearly portrayed negatively.
WELL, THAT AND IT REALLY PLAYS TO THE “FEW BAD APPLES” CONCEPT. BOTH SIDES OF ANY DISAGREEMENT HAVE THOSE RATHER LOUD PEOPLE WHO MISREPRESENT THE GROUP AS A WHOLE. THERE ARE EXTREMES ON BOTH SIDES THAT MAKE PEOPLE LOOK MEAN-SPIRITED, IGNORANT, OR OUT-RIGHT STUPID BY ASSOCIATION. AS SOMEONE THAT TENDS TO SIDE WITH THE “SJWS” QUITE OFTEN, I RECOGNIZED SOME FAMILIAR THINGS THAT CAUSE ME CONCERN SOMETIMES FROM THE EXAGGERATED “WEAPONS” AT THE PLAYER’S DISPOSAL. BUT DO YOU THINK THAT BY SHOWING THOSE EXTREMES THAT OFTEN LABEL US INCORRECTLY, THAT IT MAY HAVE DREDGED UP THOSE SAME FEELINGS IN OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE TRYING TO ESCAPE BEING SEEN AS THOSE EXTREMES?
Well, in making the game I set up a scenario without any of the ambiguity of real life. The person on the other end is saying blatantly offensive or hostile comments. So the justification is there to confront them. But because I was also trying to conform to the form of an old role-playing game with the attacks and health bars, there was a necessity to have these attacks with which to respond.
I could have only given the player response options that would have reflected positively on them but I think that would have made the game shallower and more one-sided. I think giving the player the choice to be as equally abrasive as their opposition as a strategic move in the game gives the player an actual moral decision to consider. Do I attack this person on their own level to stay in the game or am I never justified to respond with anything other than respect and reason?
AND I THINK IT’S FAIR TO ASSUME THAT WHILE PEOPLE ON ONE SIDE ARE TIRED OF BEING LABELLED “SJW” FOR THEIR CAUSES, THE SAME CAN BE SAID FOR PEOPLE WHO TRY TO DISAGREE WITH THOSE PEOPLE, EVEN INTELLECTUALLY OR WITHOUT ILL-INTENT, BEING IMMEDIATELY DISMISSED AS A “TROLL”. DO YOU THINK SOMETIMES IT’S HARD FOR US TO REALIZE THAT “TROLL” CAN SOMETIMES BE JUST AS HURTFUL AND FRUSTRATING OF A TERM TO BE THROWN AROUND IN A DISCUSSION OR DEBATE?
That was the kind of thing I wanted people to think about outside the context of the game after they’ve played.
PERHAPS THAT WAS WHERE THE PROBLEM CAME IN, PEOPLE OFTEN LABELLED “SJW”, MYSELF INCLUDED, DON’T LIKE TO VIEW OURSELVES AS OCCASIONALLY COMING ACROSS AS ABRASIVE OR OVERLY INSULTING. BUT IT DOES HAPPEN. I KNOW I HAVE ACCIDENTALLY OVER-STEPPED MY BOUNDS AND COME ACROSS AS DISRESPECTFUL TO PEOPLE THAT WEREN’T BEING UNFAIR IN DISCUSSION. DO YOU FEEL SOME OF THE SENSITIVITIES TOWARDS THE GAME COME FROM PEOPLE UNWILLING TO ADMIT THAT SOMETIMES THAT SIDE OF THE DISCUSSION CAN BE A BIT OFF-PUTISH, EVEN IF THE INTENTIONS ARE GOOD?
Well, again, I didn’t view this game as only being about SJWs and how they respond to people. I’ve never been called a SJW but I have reacted poorly to things people have said online. I hoped that was something that everyone could relate to, no matter what social stances they have.
I did my best to make the game and its mechanics accessible to many people, not just one particular group.
I THINK IT IS, IT’S JUST HARD FOR US TO ADMIT THAT SOMETIMES. IT’S ADMITTING FAULT IN REGARDS TO SOMETHING WE CONSIDER INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. I MEAN, WHEN YOU’RE REPRESENTING SOMETHING SUCH AS FEMINISM OR CIVIL RIGHTS, ON EITHER SIDE, IT’S HARD TO ADMIT YOU MAY HAVE SAID SOMETHING POORLY. BUT WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES IN WORDING OR REACTING. IT’S ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT ONLINE WHERE TONE ISN’T AS EASILY CONVEYED.
That’s true. Like I mentioned, I tried to make the game an unambiguous thought experiment. If the person on the other side is clearly in the wrong, what is okay or not okay for me to say to them? What will saying these things achieve in a broader context? What will happen to me as a result?
THUS THE”REPUTATION” BAR.
While real life is not as easy to simplify into those clear-cut conclusions, I thought that asking those questions through the game might change how we look at our real life interactions on the internet.
In the game, there’s only 3 possible outcomes when you engage a hostile individual in a discussion. You get fatigued mentally, your reputation gets dragged through the mud by their accusations or how you comport yourself, or you lose your patience with them and give up. Those correspond with my own observations of how most of these types of discussions go online.
I SEE A POSSIBILITY FOR A MOTION-CONTROL SEQUEL! NOW WITH “S**** THIS!” TABLE F******* ACTION!
I’ve yet to see someone recant their racist or sexist views after one of these conversations.
SADLY, THAT’S MOSTLY TRUE. THOUGH I HAVE BEEN SURPRISED ON OCCASION IN THAT REGARD.
I’m sure it’s happened, but it doesn’t seem to happen often.
DID YOU EVER CONSIDER HAVING AN OPTION TO PLAY AS THE TROLLS? TO SHOW THAT ASPECT OF NOT ADMITTING THAT YOU MAY HAVE BEEN WRONG OR SEXIST/RACIST/ETC.?
A game where you play as a racist or sexist? I didn’t consider that angle. I’m pretty sure there would have been a much more unified backlash to that game.
WELL, NOT NECESSARILY EVEN THAT, BUT AS SOMEONE THAT IS ON A MORE CONSERVATIVE SIDE OF A CIVIL RIGHTS DISCUSSION? SO REALLY, ULTIMATELY, THE GAME LEANS MORE TOWARDS THE SIDE OF ALLYING ITSELF WITH SJWS THAN IT DOES WITH THOSE THAT ARE AGAINST THEM?
Well, I actually took a lot of effort to portray the trolls’ comments as primarily born of ignorance and fallacy. That was my attempt to show how easy it can be to think that logic is supporting your argument.
OR IN SOME CASES, NOT EVEN IGNORANCE, BUT STRAIGHT-UP MEAN-SPIRITEDNESS. SOME OF THE THINGS THEY SAY ARE JUST N**** FOR THE SAKE OF BEING N****, WHICH I’VE DEFINITELY COME ACROSS IN CONVERSATION FREQUENTLY ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE AS VERY TRUE TO LIFE. I THINK THE RESPONSE FROM YOUR CHARACTER IS USUALLY “HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING?”
I did include some of that but it’s confined to a specific class of troll within the game, the Rabid Troll.
COMPLETELY BREAKING DOWN THE CONVERSATION INTO A MESSY ATTACK. RABID IS A GOOD WORD FOR IT.
The others typically only use logical fallacies like “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” or arguments based on their limited real life experience. “I’ve never met a successful female businesswoman so she must not exist.” Plus, a few of the always popular ad hominem attacks where you discredit your opponent to discredit their argument. Calling someone a fascist or socialist is always popular.
AND BOTH SIDES CAN ALWAYS BE GUILTY OF THAT ONE, UNFORTUNATELY.
That’s true, I suppose.
THE DIALOGUE IS RATHER WELL WRITTEN FOR BOTH SIDES OF THE FIGHT. I FOUND MYSELF CHUCKLING QUITE A BIT AT HOW FAMILIAR PHRASES FROM BOTH SIDES WERE, WITH A GENTLE SLATHERING OF HYPERBOLE ON TOP TO GIVE IT A REAL SENSE OF SATIRE WHILE STILL CONTAINING THE BITE NECESSARY TO GET THE POINT ACROSS. HOW MUCH OF THE DIALOGUE WAS INFLUENCED BY STUFF YOU CAME ACROSS WHILE RESEARCHING THE TERMS FOR THE GAME?
All of the troll’s starter quotes are based on things I found people saying online.
WHICH IS ALARMING, REALLY.
It was actually really difficult to try to build up a substantial pool of them because a majority of what I found was just outright hate or too offensive to include in the game. Lots of comments that weren’t even real sentences once you removed the racial/homophobic slurs and profanity.
NO “YOUTUBE TROLL” FOR THE GAME THEN? HAH.
No, although I did spend a fair amount of time on youtube looking for comments. The player reactions to the troll were sometimes inspired by how people in fact reacted, although they were mostly my own reactions. I did try to embellish them to match a variety of the players’ own reactions too.
SO YOUR SANITY METER TOOK QUITE A HIT WHILE MAKING THIS GAME! I USED TO DO A “YOUTUBE COMMENT ROUND-UP” FOR MY OLD PODCAST WHERE WE READ SOME OF THE BEST INSANE YOUTUBE COMMENTS ON GAMING VIDEOS. IT REALLY COULD BE QUITE DAMAGING TO YOUR SANITY, SO THE INCLUSION OF THAT METER REALLY MAKES A LOT OF SENSE.
Yes, actively searching to find hate online was not a pleasant experience and not something I’d care to do again. You’d find it in the weirdest places too.
THAT MAY SPEAK TO WHY SOME PEOPLE HAD A PROBLEM WITH THE GAME. DO YOU FEEL LIKE SOME PEOPLE WERE WORRIED THAT A GAME LIKE THIS WOULD BRING MORE OF THAT HATE TO THE SURFACE?
I’m not sure. In what way?
WELL, AS YOU SAID, SOME VIEWED IT AS A PROJECTION OF THE SJW AGENDA. PERHAPS SOME OF THE “TROLLS” MAY HAVE SEEN IT AS ANOTHER THING TO BE ANGRY AT AND COME OUT TO YELL AT PEOPLE SOME MORE. I MEAN, THE GREENLIGHT COMMENTS WEREN’T PARTICULARLY LOVELY TO READ THROUGH. SOME OF THEM WERE OUT-RIGHT HORRIBLE.
I don’t think I’ve seen any response to the game yet that accused it of encouraging hate, so it’s not something I’d considered. Of course there was a lot of vitriol on the Greenlight page, but I think it’s coming from the kinds of people who are determined to be angry about anything and everything.
FAIR ENOUGH. I’M NOT TRYING TO IMPLY THAT IT IS. JUST THINKING MAYBE SOME PEOPLE CALLED “SJW” WERE WORRIED IT COULD BE SEEN AS GIVING THE NEGATIVE PEOPLE SOME KIND OF FOOTING OR REASON TO BE MORE VILE.
I don’t think this game would inspire them to go out on the internet and redouble their efforts to be twice as racist as before, just to counter whatever good the game might have done.
I’M JUST TRYING TO FIND THE EXACT REASONS WHY YOU RECEIVED A LOT OF THE BACKLASH THAT YOU DID. I FELT IT WAS VERY UNFAIR HOW SOME PEOPLE REACTED TO YOU PERSONALLY. DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH THE REACTION WAS UNFAIR? OR IS IT A RESULT OF SOME THINGS THAT DIDN’T WORK QUITE AS YOU INTENDED?
Obviously, video games are an interaction so they create a subjective experience. I didn’t expect there to be one interpretation of the game and I didn’t expect every person who played to reach the same conclusions that I tried to build into its gameplay or any of them even. The thing that did disappoint me was that many of the people talking the loudest about the game do not seem to have actually played it. I hoped that people would play it, then talk about their reaction to it. While I didn’t view the game as something that would fix any societal problems or change the world, I did hope it would at least get people talking about the problems and talking about potential solutions.
THIS IS THE GAMING COMMUNITY WE’RE TALKING ABOUT HERE. WE LOVE TO JUDGE A FULL PRODUCT BY THINGS LIKE IT’S COVER ART (FAR CRY 4…) OR A COUPLE SCREEN SHOTS. H***, SOMETIMES WE’LL JUST DISMISS A GAME BECAUSE IT CONTAINS WORDS WE DON’T LIKE IN THE TITLE. THE NEXT CALL OF DUTY IS DISMISSED BEFORE IT’S EVEN MADE HALF THE TIME. SO, SEEING THE RESPONSES AND HEARING DIFFERENT REACTIONS TO THE GAME, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’D HAVE CHANGED OR DONE DIFFERENTLY? ANYTHING YOU WISH YOU’D HAVE THOUGHT OF PRIOR TO RELEASING THE GAME TO THE PUBLIC EYE?
Well, making the game was really an impulsive reaction on my part. I saw that SJW journalist image and dropped my long-term project to start making this game as quickly as possible. I didn’t know for sure how people would react to it or how it would be received, I just wanted to get it out there in the hope that it would get people talking and thinking about how they treat each other. I think it’s still too soon for me to judge if it’s had that effect or not or to think about what I would have done differently.
I did witness one positive moment in a chat room where someone was talking about how frustrated they were with an online argument and someone else in the room linked them to my then-unpublished dev build and told them to play it and decide whether they should keep arguing or not. I feel like even if that was the only person who was inspired by the game, I can feel positive that the game at least did one moment of good.
SO, SINCE IT HAS GOTTEN SOME POSITIVE REACTION, IS THERE A FUTURE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS? ARE YOU INTENDING ON WORKING ON IT ANYMORE, ADDING MORE CONTENT? CLEARLY WITH IT STILL ON GREENLIGHT, THIS ISN’T THE END OF MARKETING IT, BUT WOULD YOU CONSIDER WORKING ON IT MORE IN THE FUTURE IN TERMS OF CONTENT, PERHAPS WITH SOME OF THE FEEDBACK IN MIND?
I haven’t looked through all the comments yet but I’m not sure anyone has given any constructive feedback that I could apply toward modifying the game.
I do want to make an update just to fix a few bugs that have surfaced and tune the difficulty a little better but I have no plans to continue working on it otherwise. I feel like I said what I wanted to say and achieved (maybe) what I wanted to achieve. I think I’ve delivered an appropriately valued experience for the $1 that’s being charged for it.
I THINK THAT ABOUT COVERS WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID UNLESS YOU HAVE ANYTHING MORE TO ADD. SO LET ME END WITH ONE LAST QUESTION. PERHAPS IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: PALADIN, CLERIC, MAGE, OR ROGUE?
For some reason, it seemed like I played as a Cleric more than any other during testing. I wouldn’t read anything into that though because I barely frequent Reddit or understand it as a community.
IT’S OK, NONE OF US UNDERSTAND REDDIT AS A COMMUNITY. IF PEOPLE WHO HAVE SAID STUFF ABOUT ME RECENTLY ARE TO BE BELIEVED, THAN I’M CLEARLY A PALADIN. THE SUBTWEET FEINT IS MY SPECIAL ATTACK FOR SURE! ALRIGHT, THAT ABOUT COVERS SJW. THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME. WHAT’S THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR NONADECIMAL? WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON, AND WHERE CAN PEOPLE LEARN MORE OR FOLLOW YOUR FUTURE?
I’m going to continue my break from my long-term game Afterdeath and make a few more smaller game experiments in Unity. The next games will be focused on fun and mostly devoid of social commentary. I’ll post more info on my site as they develop. I’m active in the game dev community on Twitter and that’s the best way to keep track of what I’m doing. And of course, I encourage people to try Social Justice Warriors themselves and form their own views about the experience. If they think it has value, please give it a vote on Greenlight!
I’d like to take the time to thank Eric for sitting down with me and digging deeper into his game and the resulting reaction from the gamer community. I hope this shines a bit more light on his intentions, as well as encourages people to give the game a quick look. If you’d like to hear more from Eric on the topic of developing the game, I urge you to check out the blogs he has written about the entire process.