Yesterday, lots of gaming sites reported that Nintendo has fast-tracked Pencil Test Studios to become an officially licensed developer for the Wii U, a move related to specifically to the developer’s efforts to Kickstart their adventure game project, Armikrog. With 48 hours left before the funding period ends, the campaign is a bit over $160,000 short of its $900,000 goal, with a $950,000 stretch goal to make a Wii U port a possibility. From what I can see, the game looks pretty damn cool,
But despite the fact that the video game world might be a bit better with the presence of a game like Armikrog, I’m not going to be contributing. That’s because of the involvement of Doug TenNapel, the artist responsible for creating Earthworm Jim and on whose work this game is entirely based. Don’t get me wrong: I really dug Earthworm Jim back in the day, and I even liked his shortlived cartoon series Project G.eeK.eR. But I’ve discovered that TenNapel has made his views on the world pretty clear in his columns for Breitbart.com a few years ago, not to mention some unfortunate public comments about same-sex marriage. Every person has the right to express his or her opinion in whatever way they like, and that’s one of the most important rights we’ve got here in the United States. On that same note, I have the right to express my opposition to those views with my words and with my dollars—specifically withholding them.
Now, we’re running into some tricky gray area here. Shouldn’t I support the project despite the creator’s views? After all, the game doesn’t seem to have much to do with TenNapel, nor will contributing to it mean that I’ve suddenly changed my views. Many people can—and do—separate the artist from the art.
But over the years that I’ve been consuming art in various forms, be it film, novels, music, and games, I’ve tried to take a more conscious approach to what I support with my money, and what I don’t. And when it comes to Mr. TenNapel and the way he uses his platform as an artist, I have chosen not to support this project. I don’t want my contribution to help him find more ways to promote a worldview that I don’t agree with.
As an example, let’s talk about Orson Scott Card. His novel, Ender’s Game, is being made into a major blockbuster this fall, and the trailers look pretty great. But because of Card’s membership on the board of directors for the National Organization for Marriage, an organization with which I disagree pretty strongly, I decided that as much as I may have enjoyed his books, I don’t want my dollars going to a person who’s going to turn around and fund initiatives I despise. That was a choice I made, and one I’ll continue to make when Ender’s Game shows up in theaters later this year.
The act of “voting with your wallet” doesn’t end with people you might disagree with. Sometimes people who make art are particularly unappealing, like the by-now infamous Roman Polanski. There’s no doubt that his movies are fantastic—Chinatown is one of my favorites. But I find Polanski to be a reprehensible human being, and now that I’m old enough to understand that, I feel better about not supporting him despite missing out on what I’m sure are amazing films.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that by even participating in any level of consumer culture, I’m supporting entities that aren’t necessarily good for the world in one way or another. If I started adding up the good and bad things that companies like EA or Best Buy or Exxon do every day, I’d end up not buying or even doing anything. I’d have to go live under a bridge in rags I found in the river, subsisting off of moss and fish I caught with my bare hands. Simply put, your money always goes somewhere, and it’s impossible to live in society without engaging in some form of consumer hypocrisy. I love my smartphone, but I’m sure I wouldn’t love the conditions under which it was manufactured.
So I admit the fact that I have to accept a certain level of frustration with the way my money goes to places I don’t like. But the age of Kickstarter brings with it a certain amount of transparency and intimacy that games coming from big companies don’t have. That means that we as consumers and gamers can curate the kind of art and artists we want to succeed—and withholding support in the form of not contributing to Kickstarter campaigns means that we have more direct control over what kind of art populates our world.
I may have had problems with Square Enix’s Tomb Raider based on what I’d heard the game’s executive producer had said. But whether I bought it or not wouldn’t have changed the fact that the game was going to come out anyway. And whether or not I was right to skip it is kind of a moot point: the reimagined Tomb Raider is out in the world no matter what I thought. That’s one of the perils of big businesses producing art in the form of books, music, movies, and, yes, games.
Kickstarter gives consumers of culture the chance to bring the art we want into the world, and to support the artists whose work and worldview we believe in. Simultaneously, it offers us the chance to decide what art and artists we don’t want to support. That’s why, whether you agree or not, whether the game would be good or not, I’ve chosen not to support Armikrog. I’m glad that I know more about where my money would’ve gone, and that I have the power to keep it in my pocket and out of making the world into something I don’t like. And if the invisible cost of that choice is the possible loss of a great game, I’m okay with that.