Who Should You Believe: Tobold or Will Wright?

Occasionally religion and politics intersects the world of video games. As this is a blog that deals with MMO’s, I normally avoid discussing those issues as they are usually fraught with acrimony and contention. However, on August 14, 2008 GamePolitics.com published an article entitled: Militant Atheists Upset Over Spore. Will Wright revealed that the game has been under attack from atheists upset with Spore — not religious players:

Will Wright: But so far I’ve had no critical feedback at all from anybody who is religious feeling that we were misrepresenting religion or it was bad to represent religion in the game. It was really the atheists!

This story reminded me of a few weeks ago when Tobold, one of the most prolific MMO bloggers around pondered whether the “religious right” would be protesting Spore because of the assumed evolutionary basis of the gameplay. It looks like he got it very wrong according to recent comments by luminary Will Wright — the creator of Spore who unlike Tobold has actually designed a series of wildly successful and important games.

The fact is the underlying premise of his article was rather shaky and silly. Fantasizing about the religious right protesting Spore was needlessly disrespectful to anyone that happens to be religious and right of center politically. He used loaded phrases like “religious right” and “religious crowd”.  I told him so in a comment I made on his blog:


With all due respect you should be wary of injecting religion and politics in a blog about gaming. The term “religious right” has a lot of baggage and is a pejorative used by some on the left in America and in other parts of the world to castigate people who don’t agree with them.

Using labels to stereotype and pigeonhole people is wrong. There seems to be this notion held by the intelligentsia in Europe that the so-called religious right in America is a Taliban-like group of crusaders that go around burning books, CD’s and video games.

I myself am religious and right of center in my political leanings. In America that is not a crime (yet) as we have freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association. Am I then part of the “religious right”?

Yet I am a game designer. I enjoy playing games on many platforms and especially MMO’s. America has over 300 million people* that purchase and enjoy video games. I would assume that many of them are religious and lean to the right. Are they part of the religious right as well?

I do appreciate your points about creationism and intelligent design with regard to Spore. However, I think there is no need to use a politically charged moniker like “religious right” to make your point. Thank you.

* I later clarified that statement in a subsequent correction

Here is his less then charitable response which borders on invoking Godwin’s Law with a reference to fascism:

“If I call a group “religious right”, I imply that a) they are religious, and b) they are opposite of the left side in the political spectrum. If you think that is an insult, the insult is purely created in your own head, thus you are the solely responsible for it. That doesn’t require me to change my language. “Liberal” isn’t an insult either, so I’d use it as well. The whole political correctness language fascism is just bullsh*t.”

It’s not about political correctness — which by the way, I am personally opposed to. It’s about being accountable for unfair and unfounded speculations directed at a particular group of people. Let’s be honest here, the term the religious right is a heavily loaded phrase which any intelligent observer of the world like Tobold would most certainly know.

From a Wikopedia article on the term Christian Right:

The term Christian right is considered pejorative by some observers who suggest the term, and similarly, Religious Right is used primarily by the political left.

Tobold loves to invoke the right to free speech but he sometimes fails to realize that freedom of speech goes both ways. Those that use words should be expected to be scrutinized and challenged for what they say. With freedom comes responsibility.

So which *actual* group of people is Tobold talking about? No one knows because he has failed to identify any such group. I have checked the Internet and news organizations: there are no protests for the upcoming release of Spore or any other video game nor are any planned by anyone. The only news item I could find about a video game protest was back in 2006 by left wing and progressive Christian groups protesting a Christian video game called “Left Behind” — not the religious right at all.

In the final analysis, his concerns that the so-called “religious right” will be protesting Spore were completely unfounded and intellectually dishonest. Why manufacture outrage if none exists? Also, he didn’t provide one shred of evidence that this group of people:

  1. cares about this issue
  2. has any appreciable detrimental effect on the video game industry
  3. has any substantive past history of protests against video games

Instead, he needed a convenient straw man as the talking point to launch his article and the bogeyman of the religious right fit the bill perfectly. It must have been a slow MMO news day. Crying “wolf” by creating imaginary enemies and scapegoats doesn’t do anyone any good. Will Wright’s observation that it was not the religious right but the militant atheists is further evidence how unfounded Tobold’s concern was in the first place and gives us some insight as to who really has a deficit of tolerance. Again a quote from the interview with Will Wright points this out:

Will Wright: our bigger fear was that we didn’t want to offend any religious people; but looking at the discussion that unfolded from this thing, what we had was a good sizable group of players that we might call militant atheists, and the rest of the players seemed very tolerant, including all of the religious players…

The moral of the story is this: think before you blog. Not every idle thought, feeling or fantasy deserves to exist in text form and shared with the world at large — especially when it concerns people’s deeply held beliefs like politics and religion. Better to be silent and thought a fool then speak and leave no doubt.


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