In Social Justice Warriors (SJW), the player takes on the role of an internet crusader, fighting trolls wielding popular fallacies such as “Argument from Self-Knowledge”, “Ad Hominem Attack” and “Argument from Incredulity”. Taking inspiration from traditional role-playing games, SJW features four player-classes: Paladin, Cleric, Mage and Rogue.
Each round the player deals one of four attacks to manage their sanity and reputation levels whilst simultaneously destroying those of their opponents. The game ends when the player’s sanity, reputation, or both, are destroyed.
Initially inspired by a picture of “social justice warrior videogame journalists to avoid” that was making the rounds on social media, the game is a satire on human interaction online and the pains of internet debates.
I spoke with Eric Ford (A.K.A. Nondecimal), designer and programmer of SJW, to find out more about the inspiration behind the game, the process of making it, and public reaction since releasing it and putting it on Steam Greenlight.
What was the research process for SJW like?
Eric: I spent a couple weeks searching the internet for specific examples of things people say. All the troll quotes are based on actual things that have been said in internet comments.
Any sites in particular that you scouted?
Eric: I have no idea. It was a really painful process.
How did that affect your sanity?
Eric: Wow, it was really hard to get through. The worst part was that a lot of the things I found were too offensive to include in the game.
There are a lot more comments in the game about gender inequality than other issues because the things people had to say about gender were at least based in ignorance and fallacy.
When it comes to race and homosexuality, people tend to just say really offensive things or use lots of slurs and profanity. I didn’t want any of that in my game.
How did you come about using the names of fallacies to describe troll attacks?
Eric: Well I generally just read a lot of comments online and I saw patterns of illogic to it. So I wanted to expose people to the names of those types of fallacious reasoning so that they might at least become aware of it and avoid those missteps.
How did the research process/making the game/its reception weigh up to your prior online experiences?
Eric: Well, one of the things I mentioned in my write up [about SJW] was how you find that kind of bigoted thinking everywhere. Even in really unexpected places where you’d think people would be professional adults.
So when I set out to make the game, it wasn’t just supposed to be about people being called social justice warriors. I was making a game that was about all human interaction online. My frustrations with all of it, I mean. The phrase SJW [Social Justice Warriors] was just the trigger for it and a way I saw of framing the game.
You mentioned in your blog post that the 3 endings to the game are supposed to make people reflect upon the utility of online arguments.
What would you propose people do instead of engaging?
Eric: Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t make this game to propose solutions to the problem. Like I mentioned, I’m not really at the center of these issues. I just wanted to expose perspectives about the problems, in the hope that it would get people talking about them and potential solutions.
But to answer your question anyway, I think that actions that work to educate open-minded people would be a better approach. Instead of arguing with one person in a limited online venue, you could write articles, make videos, volunteer for programs that spread awareness, create your own programs.
I’m not familiar with the efforts that people are currently taking. But it just seems so exhausting trying to argue with one person. It’s the kind of thing that could make you want to give up on activism entirely.
What were your expectations pre-release?
I don’t think I had specific expectations going into it. This whole thing was a big experiment for me. I didn’t know what to expect once I released. It was a pretty big gamble for me.
I’m sort of a shy person who has trouble talking to others. I don’t like being at the center of attention. So making a potentially controversial game that could get lots of attention really took me out of my comfort zone.
How do you feel about it now?
Eric: Well, it’s a relief that it’s happened and behind me. Last week was the most intense stressful week I’ve had since finals weeks in college. Since I have a day job, it was really difficult to try to keep up with all the things people were saying about the game or even attempt to respond to them.
I ended up just taking my own game’s advice and not engaging with any individual comments. Instead I waited and listened to what everyone had to say and then put together that blog post to try to address all their questions.
Despite all the negative comments, I’m really grateful for some of the insightful and encouraging comments people have made.The negative people are definitely the loudest but there have been lots of kind people out there too. Someone even paid $11 for a copy of the game yesterday. Just to support us, I guess.
Do you think you’d ever do something like this again? Or do you feel SJW gets out a lot of what you had to say?
Eric: Well, my next game will definitely be a more mainstream project.
I think that videogames have a lot of potential for shaping our society. Potential that game developers don’t necessarily see, even.
What’s your response to people who say social commentary doesn’t belong in games?
Eric: It seems like a naïve way of looking at them. Every piece of media that people produce is a reflection on current societal and cultural issues. Books and movies are definitely a reflection of the times in which they were created.
What about people who say that social issues are disproportionately covered in video game journalism?
Eric: I don’t know about that because I don’t read much video game journalism. If people weren’t reading those articles, they probably wouldn’t be writing them, I imagine. So there must be people that care about it.
Which is when opponents then discuss the merits/downfalls of click-bait journalism.
Eric: All journalism has its issues.
The thing I like about videogames and the current internet culture is that it’s very easy for any person to make expressions of their views and easily share them with others. You don’t need to be somebody famous. People can just judge you by your words and thoughts. I think if you make reasonable and logical points, people will listen.
Jaymee Mak is a Game Design student at VFS and a winner of the Women in Games Scholarship