Apex Legends And Its BLM Badge
Why game shouldn’t shy away from positive politics, even if it’s controversial.
My friend dragged me into Apex Legends, and now, I can’t stop. Before this, I always found myself skeptical of these types of competitive games. I wasn’t very good at them, and, channeling my inner elitist, I thought that only single-player games with robust narratives were worth playing. I’d scoff at people who played Call of Duty or League of Legends all day. What was the point of playing what was ostensibly the same thing over and over for days on end? Nevertheless, I gave Apex a chance, and hundreds of matches later, I’m still playing.
I knew deep down inside I was not being fair with my disdain, and none of it was targeted at Apex Legends specifically. What players want from their games continues to change. When games were first being made, developers cared little about a game’s story. The focus was the game mechanics, design, and how much fun the game was. Doom, one of the most influential video games in history, is the poster child for this way of thinking, with one of its creators, John Carmack, famously saying, “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie.” As the graphics got better though and the gameplay mechanics grew more expansive, story in games began to get the attention that it deserved. Games started to become more than just a fun escape from reality but a vehicle to tell meaningful stories.
For me, the potential of storytelling in video games hit me hard when I first played through Halo: Combat Evolved. It was the first time I felt for the characters: Master Chief and Cortana. I felt terrified facing the Flood, and I felt emotional as Master Chief and Cortana raced to stop the Halo Ring from destroying all life in the universe. There are countless other examples. As it turns out, video games are really good at telling a gripping story. Their capacity for immersion is unrivaled.
The best films make you think. The best art pieces challenge you to consider. The best TV shows stick in your memory for years. The same thing is true for video games. The best ones don’t leave you easy. There are certain games that I always look back on fondly and even replay in some cases. There are periods where I play one game for months on end. Sometimes it’s an open-world game like Fallout 76, and in other cases, it’s a game like Apex Legends. Of course, the catch in all of this is the fact that how a game achieves that amorphous quality of stickiness varies widely. Often it can be the creators themselves, the design mechanics, or even the story that tank a game. In other cases, it can be a studio’s stance when it comes to political issues, or what’s more common is their lack of a clear stance altogether.
In controversial situations, there are usually two camps: the group that complains about “politics” ruining games and the group that welcomes a given political stance taken by a company. What’s essential for companies and gamers to realize is that while the former group may be much louder, they are the minority. The latter are the majority. This dynamic applies not just in gaming but every other sector of industry as well. Society has been moving faster and faster away from blissful corporate ignorance and towards people wanting the companies they interact with to share their own values for awhile now. You see the evidence of poorly thought out corporate statements or no statements at all play out on Twitter all the time. This stuff matters in a way it hasn’t before. It is wise for companies to pay attention.
The gaming industry isn’t immune to these whims or a special case. What’s been fresh on my mind is how heavily Blizzard was scolded by its fans for disciplining a Hearthstone player for displaying a pro-Hong Kong message in a match. So much so that the CEO of Blizzard offered an apology at the beginning of Blizzcon that year in the hopes of tampering down the crisis. While there is a question of many people truly cared about what was going on or were just jumping on the bandwagon, it still was a crucial moment. I think Blizzard was genuinely shocked at the reaction. The silver lining in all of that debacle was that a lot more people learned about what was going on in Hong Kong over those few turbulent months who didn’t know what was happening before this incident.
This brings us to Apex Legend’s new badge. Apex recently started a new season and since it coincided with Black History month, Respawn, the developers of Apex, awarded a Black Lives Matter badge to every account. A cursory investigation of all the various comment threads on posts promoting this new badge revealed rather predictably a litany of debate over whether or not Respawn should be adding politics, wokeness, SJW stuff, whatever they want to call it to Apex, all of it summed up in the line, “Why are they adding this? People don’t care about this stuff, and it does nothing for the game.”
Ignoring the fact that the people who say this stuff doesn’t matter are often the ones who make their feelings known the loudest, moves like these are important and should be encouraged. Games have long moved on from being a bubble immune to real-life issues; they’ve been telling authentic stories for decades no matter the type of game or the setting. Making a game fun is important and has been the gaming industry’s goal for a while, but making people feel good about the games they play should be the true target. It involves way more than just whether a game’s mechanics work. It involves the game creators and the gaming community. It’s a team effort, and it’s an objective that transcends any one particular game.
Every persons’ idea of what makes a game fun varies widely. It’s the reason why different game genres exist. Some people find Animal Crossing fun as opposed to Doom. For others, it’s Fortnite and not Sims. For many it’s a deep dive into World of Warcraft. That’s all about fun, but making people feel good is a much more noble goal. Feeling good about a game means whether or not gamers finally get to see someone like them in video games. It requires diversifying the stories told and the protagonists and antagonists that carry those stories. It’s about knowing the game developers you admire share your values, are inclusive, and subscribe to basic human decency. It’s about creating games that allow everyone the space to express their true selves without fear of harassment.
Making people feel good about the games they play should be the new standard for success. With this new BLM badge, Respawn took another small step in that direction.
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