Social Justice Wars in Video Games:
A Review of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption
Last summer, Transolar Games released Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, a role-playing adventure game which the creators characterized as the “spiritual successor to our Quest for Glory series.” The title stands as an interesting study of how far video game developers are now under the spell of social justice in terms of issues such as race and gender, and to what degree they can still express independent thoughts.
The hero of the story is Shawn O’Conner, an aspiring thief and, unbeknownst to him for most of the game, the son of the former King of Thieves. Shawn is an underdog character, the son of a deceased father, who is only enrolled at the school at the insistence of a mysterious stranger who offers this path as an alternative to prison. The heroic underdog is a common theme in the American imagination dating back many generations, but it also fits with the righteous victim identity of Social Justice Warriors and their imagined role as champions of the despised and marginalized.
As the title implies, the story takes place in a university for heroes, particularly in the program for a type of hero known as the Rogue. The Rogue class officially does not exist, as other authority figures at the school do not approve of it. Rogue instructor Gerhard von Urwald explains the contrast between Thieves, who are purely predatory, and Rogues, who use similar skills for ethical ends.
As with Shawn’s character, whether the Rogue class is an example of social justice messaging is ambiguous. Certainly, SJWs imagine themselves as rebels, and would agree in the abstract with some of the values expressed by Shawn’s classmates when asked what it means to be a Rogue. These include following “his or her heart . . . to make the world safer and more fair,” and refusing to allow the conventions of society to place limits on their behavior. Antifa could be compared to Rogues in that they use underhanded and often illegal tactics to pursue supposedly righteous ends.
On the other hand, defiance of social conventions and obedience to one’s conscience in the current year often means being aligned with the Dissident Right. Today, white men can see anti-white and anti-male conventions expressed in everything from the news and entertainment media to major corporations’ public relations campaigns. Since the message is that it is wrong to be a white man, many will inevitably conclude that society is indeed “plac[ing] limits on . . . who [they] can be,” as Shawn’s classmate Katie puts it, and follow her example in refusing to accept this.
Further, Rogues are identified with other qualities more appropriate to the Dissident Right than their opponents. The Rogue Guild’s mascot is the fox, and as Master von Urwald explains, he is known for his “sense of humor and mischief.” Nationalists are well-known for their use of jokes and satire, while their opposition displays the sort of mental rigidity which makes humor practically impossible. Indeed, social justice activists are noted for their intolerance of politically incorrect comedy, and even managed to prosecute one such artist for a joke in the infamous Count Dankula case.
Shawn’s classmate Katie is obviously a dominant woman, having learned from her mother how to run an inn and “how to keep troublemakers in their place,” and initially has typical feminist ambitions. She aims to prove to her skeptical father that a woman can indeed be a sailor or a ship’s captain, and much like a feminist in the real world, she is known for antagonizing others. She even chastises the hero for generalizing about pirates, explaining that NAPALT (Not All pirates are Like That) – they are not all black-hearted scoundrels, and they do not all say “arrrrrh.”
Along with Katie’s father, two other men in the story fit the feminist fantasy that wicked men are holding women back from realizing their legitimate ambitions in life. Caesari Sosi is an arrogant exponent of a noble family who has bullied another student into doing his assignments for him, uses entrapment in an attempt to get the hero expelled from the school, and is otherwise despicable. At one point, Sosi taunts Katie in front of the entire class, telling her that she could never come close to being his equal, and that “the best you’ll ever be is a tavern wench or gallowsbait when you get out of here.” This sort of ostentatious contempt fits with exaggerated feminist images of men as cruel and egotistical.
Katie is further criticized in a “sexist” manner by an abusive and corrupt disciplinary authority, Terk. Terk’s private notes reveal his view that she is wasting her time studying when she “should be using her obvious endowments to find a husband.” The hero implies that Katie would kill him if he made such comments to her face.
However, Katie is not ultimately the feminist icon which all this would imply, as she matures later in the story into someone less interested in proving herself to men. In line with the real-life experience of many women in more male-oriented fields such as engineering, she eventually admits that she is not cut out for piracy and opts for something more feminine. In accord with women’s real-life predominance in the helping professions, she decides to convert the family inn into a home for retired sailors.
Esme, a young woman of thinly-veiled gypsy heritage, also serves to reinforce social justice ideology in some ways and contradicts it in others. She is especially capable at mechanical tasks such as lock-picking, as well as athletic pursuits, while confessing that “I do not read good.” This is a masculine personality type which comes across as an effort to defy “oppressive” traditional gender roles.
Esme is also portrayed as the victim of prejudice, a key aspect of identity in social justice thinking. The school’s gossipy receptionist, Sophia Miranda, tells the hero never to trust a “Rover,” this term being the game’s attempt at avoiding the word “gypsy.” Rovers are “a secretive, sneaky people,” and come from “Mordavia, a nasty place by anyone’s standards.” Esme must even overcome her own internalized misogypsy, confessing at the end of the game that before coming to the school, she had been ashamed of her “sneaky skills” and what she was. She ultimately declares her pride in being both a Rover and a Rogue.
Ultimately, though, Esme rejects a key concept in SJW thinking, namely the “safe space.” She confesses to coming to the university out of a desire for safety and security, having lived a nomadic and chaotic life up to that point. But she finds no one at the school who can make her feel safe, and instead accepts that “danger is everyvere,” and that “the only vay to deal vith uncertainty and fear” is to face it and stand up to any threat.
Another female character spends most of the game as the school’s resident healer, a typically feminine role, but is also a mighty paladin who is still capable of slaying monsters with a flaming sword. This is an unfortunate expression of the feminist claim that women can “have it all” – that is, that they can have unlimited and even conflicting virtues and abilities, disregarding the practical limitations of real life.
A race of humanoid rodents called the Ratties serve as another underdog group, and repeats the theme of racial prejudice. The school’s general store is staffed by a Ratty named Gregor, who explains that humans see his people as a race of thieves and as being similar to a type of vermin, but less delicious. For the most part, Ratties “have to hide from humans,” although in his homeland of Silmaria, humans consider them useful for unknown reasons, and thus “mostly ignore” them.
Interestingly, despite his presentation of them as a victim group, Gregor does not show “Ratty pride,” but rather expresses dissatisfaction with Ratty culture. Having brought an injured human child to the school’s resident healer, Gregor has apparently won the approval of the school’s authorities, and seems quite happy to be associated with the human institution. He describes Ratties as highly conventional, preferring their lives to be “normal and predictable,” and contrasts himself with the majority of his race by expressing his love for magic and for things that “change and grow.”
The Ratties may be analogous to Third World people, with Gregor standing in as an immigrant to the West. His complaint about the close-mindedness of his co-ethnics and his preference for his host culture echoes those of some migrants from the Muslim world, such as the Somali-American women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Of course, such people are not actually treated as harshly by their host countries as Gregor tells us Ratties are. The implication that such people would need to hide from Westerners, as if they feared violence at their hands, is absurd, but this sort of exaggerated victim mentality fits with activists’ thinking, who characterize any criticism of foreign cultures as a type of malice or “phobia.”
The only black character in the game is a perpetually smiling woman named Ifetaya Kinah, who makes thinly-fictionalized references to Africa and the Caribbean in describing her ancestry. Refreshingly, in contrast with many contemporary depictions of women and blacks in pop culture, there is no attempt to cast her as an action hero, a brilliant hacker, or anything else of the sort. Instead, she is the chef, as well as an authority on communicating with the dead, in line with the common belief in witchcraft among contemporary black Africans.
Ifetaya does display unladylike assertiveness, although such dominant behavior might be expected in matriarchal African societies. Another character reports that Ifetaya essentially hired herself, simply showing up at the university uninvited and explaining that she would be teaching a hitherto nonexistent culinary class. In a nod to the ideology of the “global citizen,” she justifies her position by lecturing the headmaster about the role of cooking in bringing “the people of the world together,” and states elsewhere that the entire world is her homeland.
There is, however, an interesting hint of opposition to the social justice mindset in one room of the game world, which is full of wanted posters. The game was funded through Kickstarter, where the developers promised to include tributes to their major donors in the game itself; this is presumably the posters’ purpose. One of them displays an offender by the name of Richard Bruce Baxter, and lists offenses including “challenging equalists, mocking the inquisitors,” and “decrying mediocracy.” The first two are references to the fact that advocates for “equality” are extremely intolerant of disagreement, let alone mockery, while the latter term mainly refers to rule by the mediocre, and was coined as the title of a 2006 book by the economist Fabian Tassano. This work criticized egalitarianism and political correctness for, among other things, their tendency to dumb things down.
A Richard Baxter is listed among the game’s “heroes,” and is also named as a tester. Along with these contributions, presumably he is being thanked for efforts to defend the game’s creators against the fanatics who have attempted to force game developers into the mindset of the most offended members of society.
Any non-derogatory reference to or identification with European heritage is liable to offend social justice activists. Thus, it is worth noting that the Rogue instructor, Master Gerhard von Urwald, makes no effort to avoid this. He refers to the folklore of what he calls “Europa,” and explains to the class that Rogues reflect the qualities of Reynard the Fox, a “trickster” character from actual British folklore. He belongs to a thinly-fictionalized version of the German race, and even speaks the language, using German terms for Rogue-related concepts several times. There is no attempt to make his character or his teaching “multicultural.”
Master von Urwald explains that, as a younger man, he believed that aristocrats were “inherently superior to lower classes and deserved to rule them.” He was disillusioned by “the stupidity of the ceaseless warring in Germania and blatant injustices done in the name of rulers.” Following the social justice model, one would expect this to be a reference to Nazi Germany, in an attempt to dilute his German identity by associating it with the shame of a particularly egregious state. However, needless warfare and blatant injustices committed by the authorities are so common throughout all of world history that this could apply to any nation. The same is true for the idea of the inherent superiority of the ruling class.
Further, von Urwald refers to the idea that “rules and laws were necessary and good for society” as part of his youthful naïveté, as if he now rejects it. Apparently, he is rejecting all governments on principle rather than criticizing his homeland and its rulers in particular. This anarchism is professed by some members of the Antifa, but could just as well be accepted by libertarians, so it is not a clear example of social justice messaging.
Overall, the game reinforces a progressive or social justice mindset more often than not. Its deviation from this mold was not enough to catch other reviewers’ attention. One instead criticized the efforts to be “diverse and inclusive” to the point that no character will refuse your romantic advances, regardless of gender. Indeed, even the possibility of polyamory or infidelity is suggested, as giving another character a ring designating them as your “one and only” does not prevent you from continuing to flirt with others. Similar to other contemporary social justice-influenced works, such as superhero movies, this comes across as childish wish-fulfillment: an absurd “no limits” scenario catering to those who are too immature to accept the inevitable boundaries and disappointments of real life.
Game creators Lori and Cori Cole are very well-established developers, known for popular Sierra titles such as the Quest for Glory and King’s Quest series, and developed the game through their own independent company. This, plus the fact that the project was crowdfunded rather than produced by a corporation, suggests that they had more leeway in their decisions than many other developers might. However, it is still refreshing to see even limited resistance against SJW dogma by major figures in an industry infamous for its social justice slant.