The games industry has certainly seen no shortage of outrage as of late. From that weird 'sexy nuns' Hitman: Absolution trailer to the executive producer of Tomb Raider saying that players will have to protect Lara Croft from being raped as a plot device and its subsequent uproar, people from both inside and outside of the gaming media bubble have recently had plenty of opportunities to get angry.
So when word got out earlier this month that Alex Hutchinson, the creative director of Assassin's Creed 3, accused certain games journalists of displaying "subtle racism" when they review particular Japanese titles, I wasn't all that surprised to see many of my fellow games writers completely lose their minds over the Internet. Let's just say that I felt compelled to hit the "unfollow" button on many a Twitter account that day, if only because my poor feed couldn't take the abuse.
So let's take a closer look at the entirety of Hutchinson's ire-inducing statements. In an interview with CVG, Hutchinson was asked why companies like Nintendo are able to push out yearly iterations of the same franchises without significant critical backlash. Here's what he said:
"You want my real answer? I think there's a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists' side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do. I think it's condescending to do this.
"Just think about how many Japanese games are released where their stories are literally gibberish. Literally gibberish. There's no way you could write it with a straight face, and the journalists say 'oh it is brilliant'.
"Then Gears of War comes out and apparently it's the worst written narrative in a game ever. I'll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any time.
"It's patronizing to say, 'oh those Japanese stories, they don't really mean what they're doing'.
"I just think the simple question should be; is the story any good?"
Naturally, if you call a group of people "subtly" racist, you should expect that group to react none too kindly to your accusations. I'm not going to dwell on the "racism" part of Hutchinson's statements here though; that defense has been made on approximately 400 billion blogs at this point, so I have nothing significant to contribute to that conversation.
(But if you have to ask, no, I don't call it racism when I enjoy Bayonetta's utterly nonsensical yet completely entertaining insanity a little bit more than Gears of War's meatheaded male power fantasy types. I call it my opinion. But that's neither here nor there.)
Instead, let's take the "subtle racism" part out of Hutchinson's quote, since it's more or less pointless, and consider the larger message he seemed to be getting at: Do games writers more readily forgive Eastern games developers compared to their Western counterparts?
For me, Hutchinson's biggest mistake here is a simple one: he used the word "literally" incorrectly.
In all seriousness, I find it a mistake to conflate the concept of "gibberish" video game stories with solely those from Japanese developers. Are games like Bayonetta nonsensical? Of course they are. But so are testosterone-and-splosion fests like Modern Warfare 3. The only difference lies in the way we as a Western audience perceive and relate to each culture's respective tropes.