Feeling discomfort about something in Wasteland 2

Discussing the story & setting of Wasteland 2. Beware spoilers. Please avoid spoilers in thread titles.

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Solomize
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Feeling discomfort about something in Wasteland 2

Post by Solomize » October 19th, 2016, 2:29 am

It's something I wanted to talk about for a long time, but Brian Fargo's answers in an interview with a shitty right-wing website with a notoriously toxic writer is some kind of trigger. People who feel an urge to say I must go away because it's not interesting or it is political-bullshit, please, just refrain. And relax! you are not endangered (how could you? you're all over).

https://heatst.com/entertainment/interv ... deo-games/

It's about prostitution, not about this article. However, inXile's insights expressed here are interesting.
“Well, we had prostitutes in Wasteland 2 and they gave you venereal disease,” says Fargo. “We’re really not afraid to hit on just about almost any subject. (...) Again, we’re not trying to preach or be social justice warriors, either. We’re just trying to give a gritty world that smells like the one we’re in now.”
So I phrased this topic vaguely on purpose because I don't want to attract fast-clickers. I'm not declaring a flame war here. And I don't want to derail another thread, so let's keep it civil and inside this one. I just wanted to express my feelings about Wasteland 2 and prostitution. I'm disturbed and annoyed, and I'll try to explain why.

Brian is "not afraid" to put prostitution in Wasteland 2 as if it was something courageous in itself. I understand it's not neutral, it carries a heavy societal load so maybe it is (courageous) to some extend. Once that said, the way prostitution is depicted in Wasteland 2 is all but courageous however. Women as a sexual commodity, a reward or whatnot is an old habit, and Wasteland 2 does not challenge that nor does challenge prostitution itself.
“I think the important thing though is that if you’re going to hit on strong subjects, you need to have an opposite, so it’s one thing to put prostitutes in but you know what? You better have some women leaders in there, too. That can’t be your only representative of that particular subject. So I say we want to keep it balanced with whatever subject we hit.”
He could have added "and we make sure half prostitutes are men, because we're so progressive". What Wasteland 2 says is this: prostitution is fine, and prostitutes have power as long as the pimp is a madam and as long as men are on the menu. The problem is, this is exactly what the prostitution lobby is saying today, ie one side of the argument. The other argument, the fact that prostitution is organized rape, is not heard and the player cannot add weight to this side of balance. The only thing you can do is to not rape them, which the game does not acknowledge anyway (I also think it makes you miss a special reward (weapon?), and probably some meta-game achievements).

It has been disturbing to me. Not "prostitution" in itself, I'm fine with prostitution being in a videogame. What is disturbing to me is the fact that InXile team took the side of prostitution advocates, which is the side of pimps and johns and noisy, popular Twitter-libertarians, disguised itself as progressive. In this mental world, there is nothing wrong in prostitution. In fact, prostitution is empowering, as long as you "freely" embrace it. In a miserable post-apocalyptic world. Sure.
spoilers:
In Rail Nomad camp, there is a prostitute, you can either do her or not interact with her.
In LA's brothel location, you have to "save" the lives of prostitutes, and leave them in the brothel.
In Rodia, you can choose to fuck three prostitutes or to not interact with them. Save Rodia, the prostitutes will just stay here and spread their thights (or is it a bug? casino's patrons say they've left, but they haven't).
In Hollywood, you can choose who's going to benefit from the prositutes' exploitation (madam A or madam B?), prostitutes themselves are one-liners.

The only situation that comes to mind where you can help sexually abused people is the Pitbull's kenel story. But the women in the cages are not prostitutes, because they are locked up, tortured and not paid. A happy sexually-exploited woman is a prostitute "by choice" (in a place where people are starving and killing each other for "scrap"), who is "strong" (so she can say no and she can "choose" her clients), and who is paid (because it's a job just like any other, don't you know?).

You can be successful in a far-fetched peace treaty between Palestine and Israel (or Atchison and Topekan), you can free slaves as in "the door is open, run!", you can "save the world". But prostitutes? at best, you help them removing a non-paying client. At worse, you fuck them and make their life worse. WTF, rangers?

Wasteland 2 does not challenge an old, toxic, running cliché in videogames. The stories told here definitely take place in a living "in real world" debate in which inXile chose the pimp lobby's side. It's not cool, it's not original and it's certainly not courageous.

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Re: Feeling discomfort about something in Wasteland 2

Post by Drool » October 19th, 2016, 2:24 pm

Solomize wrote:Wasteland 2 does not challenge an old, toxic, running cliché in videogames.
That's not its job and I couldn't care less.
inXile chose the pimp lobby's side
Sigh. Most sex workers advocating for legalized prostitution are escorts and legal prostitutes in non-Las Vegas, Nevada, not pimps. Independent contractors, in other words. Pimps aren't going to advocate for legalization any more than drug dealers are going to advocate for drug legalization. Their profit margins depend wholly on it being a black market.


But the interview was certainly a mistake if it's going to spawn endless threads like this.
Alwa nasci korliri das.

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paultakeda
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Re: Feeling discomfort about something in Wasteland 2

Post by paultakeda » October 19th, 2016, 3:53 pm

I find this a more interesting discussion on how to represent a vision of the future in Wasteland 3 than yet another endless discussion on save scumming.

My takeaway from this is that I don't think morals should be dictated by the game script. Unfortunately, the vision of an open world is harder to implement and we end up with option A/B decisions, most of the time where one is clearly "evil" and the other clearly "good". This works for certain types of games where the writing is fairly tight and the denouement is dependent on those actions, but in an RPG where the ambition is to create a complex world with complex ramifications, it would be nice to somehow transform NPC caricatures into more rounded out individuals with personal agendas.

I don't really think this is possible given our current state of technology; we're gonna have to wait for the holodeck or somesuch. But introducing a little bit more complexity would be nice. Prostitution can be legal, it can be slavery, it can be exploitation or emancipation; it can be many things depending on context. Moreover, a single situation can have more than one opinion (a brothel where one prostitute happily does her work while another feels exploited and another feels trapped, for example). This may still be scripted rather tightly, but now the story can be nuanced... I'm all for nuance in these little quests. They also result in multiple game plays (and back to save scumming, I may want to branch my quest lines out and so save accordingly).

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Re: Feeling discomfort about something in Wasteland 2

Post by IHaveHugeNick » October 20th, 2016, 6:43 am

So the way prostitution is portrayed in WL2 made you feel discomfort, anger and anxiety? Great news, that's the whole point. Good art is meant to be disturbing and thought provoking, and it should be up to you - the player - to decide what is moral and what isn't.

If you were hoping to find a safe space where everything is just and fair, Wasteland might not be for you. Try Disneyland.
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Solomize
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Re: Feeling discomfort about something in Wasteland 2

Post by Solomize » October 21st, 2016, 6:09 am

paultakeda wrote:I don't really think this is possible given our current state of technology; we're gonna have to wait for the holodeck or somesuch. But introducing a little bit more complexity would be nice. Prostitution can be legal, it can be slavery, it can be exploitation or emancipation; it can be many things depending on context. Moreover, a single situation can have more than one opinion (a brothel where one prostitute happily does her work while another feels exploited and another feels trapped, for example). This may still be scripted rather tightly, but now the story can be nuanced... I'm all for nuance in these little quests. They also result in multiple game plays (and back to save scumming, I may want to branch my quest lines out and so save accordingly).
I think I get your point, paultakeda. You cannot give the players each and every choice one would have in a real situation, or a tabletop RPG. Therefore, writers/designers must decide to include a few relevant choices to script, in the hope most players get the impression they could roleplay their PCs as they wanted (while telling a cool story). I totally get that. This is what make cRPGs not RPGs, one could say and it's also where a talented cRPG writer can shine.

And inXile's are shiny, most of the time. My point is, on this topic, they lack some perspective. The way a real-life issue is depicted falls flat. When it comes to gangs, loonies, alcohol, cheaters, pauverty, hunger, epidemic, fanatics, survivalists, charlatans, thievery, guerilla, ghettoization, apartheid, etc. they are good. I gave examples. Typically, you have two factions fighting each other. You can choose to:
  • Help one faction win the war
  • Help both make peace
With nuances (betray, kill everybody, ...). But each side is a full set of people who want to be free (optionally, they want to be the only free ones).

When it comes to prostitution, the quests are made the same way. But whatever you choose, women stay prostitutes. What the game tells the player is that prostitution is something women choose to do. And that is an oriented way to say what prostitution is. This is the starting point, from which they make the quests, with the available options they can afford in the available production time. Either you choose the prostitutes' side or not, at the end of they day, they are still prostitutes. Because that's their "choice". Saying prostitution is a "choice" is statistically not true, and it is a well known libertarian bullshit. From game-makers who "don't like to push social agendas", it is a dud.

As for the "pimp lobby" I mention, it naturally comes to mind when I think about the Hollywood brothel and the situation in France. Here the loudest one (so called "sex-workers union") is mostly composed of... men and sadomasochistic mistresses. They claim to speak for the vast majority of prostitutes and they are the ones we see and hear when the media pretend to give "prostitutes" a voice. Videogames do the same, including Wasteland 2, and that is what makes me uncomfortable and the reason I said it was not bold.

(as for the trolls: thank you for your time, but I was aware ignorance did not prevent having an opinion)

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Re: Feeling discomfort about something in Wasteland 2

Post by Stuurminator » October 22nd, 2016, 8:51 am

Solomize wrote:When it comes to prostitution, the quests are made the same way. But whatever you choose, women stay prostitutes. What the game tells the player is that prostitution is something women choose to do. And that is an oriented way to say what prostitution is. This is the starting point, from which they make the quests, with the available options they can afford in the available production time. Either you choose the prostitutes' side or not, at the end of they day, they are still prostitutes. Because that's their "choice". Saying prostitution is a "choice" is statistically not true, and it is a well known libertarian bullshit. From game-makers who "don't like to push social agendas", it is a dud.
It seems to imply that prostitution is the only way these prostitutes can get enough money to eat, or at least, they'd get more money this way than any other way. There's no institutionalized social welfare or affordable, accessible education in Wasteland 2's setting, so they can't survive without marketable skills and they have no realistic way to develop those skills. What alternative do they have besides prostitution? What alternatives can the rangers provide them?

I suppose the rangers could forbid them from prostitution, but that would just condemn them to death by starvation. It would be more humane just to shoot them.

Solomize
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Re: Feeling discomfort about something in Wasteland 2

Post by Solomize » October 23rd, 2016, 1:56 am

True enough, I should have given examples of choices and consequences that would have felt less frustrating to me. It's just that I'm not a game-maker, so I won't necessarily pin it. Maybe there's a brothel "to be saved" (because that's what rangers do, they save people), but the starting point would be different. Instead of having NPCs who want to be prostitutes, minus some threat to their way of life, you would have NPCs who are being sold into sex trade, who never knew anything else, or who want to get out of it and just need a helping hand. Maybe some of them are weak due to drugs, young age, maybe they are physically threatened. Maybe they thought being a prostitute would be cool and empowering until diseases, the vaginal bleeding, the slurs, the stench, the constant negotiation with the johns, the crazies, the ass filed thirty times per day, the difficulties to have a sentimental life to themselves, the post-traumatic syndromes most prostitutes live with, or the idea of being nothing but an object at men's disposal, took their toll on them.

Then, you give the player the choices you can afford to give him/her. Some example of A/B choice (beside kill everybody / not do anything) could be:
  • quell a growing revolt (side with the madam)
  • get rid of the madam (through violence or diplomacy)
So it would not be about "forbidding them to be prostitutes", it would be about ending the sex trade, just like you do not "forbid" a slave to be a slave when you open her cage, nor do you condemn her to starve. If that's a thing, allow the player to negotiate an alliance with a farming community, strengthen the fence, discover a weapon cache, reprogram a killer robot, teach fighting skills, recruit them as rangers, let them restart and manage by themselves the pre-war factory where they had been exploited until then. Imagination is not my job so I'm sure a dev could come up with cool and cost-effective ideas. But it all begins with a different starting point.

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