Why games need to stop letting everyone save the world

This week, our partnership with Critical Distance brings us a look inside the cheerful pacifist adventure game Undertale as well as Life is Strange's final chapter.

Kill Screen's Frances Chiem argues that the “gut punch” of futility in Life is Strange’s conclusion is effective because it transcends genre cliches. Protagonist Max doesn’t get to be the hero. As the title of Chiem’s article succinctly argues, "We Need to Stop Letting Everyone Save the World."

Writing for FemHype, the writer known as Nightmare takes on the staggeringly popular Undertale, "the RPG game where you don't have to destroy anyone." The game has become a hit for its charming characters and broad, inclusive representation, as well as its emphasis on pacifist resolutions, which Nightmare argues speaks especially to LGBT+ players.

At Ludus Novus, Gregory Avery-Weir explains how Skyrim’s city of Riften is doomed to perpetual crime and poverty because the thieves and thugs running it are “essential” in the game’s code and therefore can’t be removed:

When games portray fictional worlds, they make implicit statements about the nature of the real world. By placing the Thieves Guild—one of the game’s three major employers—in a corrupt town ruled by a coldhearted mead magnate, Skyrim makes a statement about criminals and morality. Criminals come from bad places, and there’s nothing you can do to improve the situation.

Bianca Batti of Not Your Mama’s Gamer takes a look at women-driven horror games like Among the Sleep and Alien: Isolation and concludes that they, too, often 'hard code' their mother figures as either victims or monsters:

In these two texts, motherhood becomes binaristically constructed between the two poles of good mothering and bad mothering, with no other options for maternal identity made available.

Finally, speaking at a recent Queerness in Games Conference local event, Critical Distance's own Kris Ligman discusses Dark Souls and sex as an extended metaphor on the cultural gatekeeping of playing the 'right' games:

It seems funny to me that even within my own social circles, frequently self-identified as progressive and inclusive, we police each other in this way. ‘What do you mean you haven’t played this critical darling indie game because you work two full-time jobs to keep a roof over your head, and even if you could play a game in your off hours your machine is too outdated to run it? What do you mean a game is too physically demanding for you, and you already can’t afford to go to the doctor? What do you mean you’re just not into that sort of game?’

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