My history with video games is this: when I was 6, Father Christmas brought a Commodore 64 and a cartridge for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Your Commodore magazine gave it a 94 percent rating. I was more skeptical. I got to level two, kept crashing my motorcycle, and ditched the whole enterprise for a decent Roald Dahl.
So I must confess I hadn’t heard of a game called Watch Dogs: Legion until I read that Atlantic staff writer Helen Lewis was to be erased from the game. I didn’t even realize Lewis, a well-regarded liberal journalist in the U.K., had a side hustle as Lara Croft, but I suppose COVID-19 has changed everyone’s work patterns. In fact, Lewis provided the voice of a journalist on a number of Legion’s in-game podcasts, documenting a futuristic dystopia in which London strains under the jackboot of fascism.
Legion’s publisher Ubisoft confirmed it was dropping Lewis after being “made aware of controversial remarks” she had made. The company didn’t specify but the gaming press is focusing on Lewis’s questioning of transgender ideology. The absurdity is twofold. For one, the dialogue Lewis speaks in the game has nothing to do with gender. For another, Ubisoft can’t elaborate on her “controversial” views because they don’t exist. Lewis is a supporter of trans rights and is even willing to recite the shibboleth (“trans women are women”); she just has concerns about the impact of gender identification on single-sex spaces. As she warned in 2017 during the Tory government’s (since-abandoned) rush to rewrite Britain’s gender laws: “Being a woman or a man is now entirely in your head. In this climate, who would challenge someone with a beard exposing their penis in a women’s changing room?”
Now Ubisoft will edit out her podcasts and “reinforce our background checks for partners in the future.”
Background checks. I think we’d all feel safer if opinionated women faced the same level of scrutiny as people trying to buy a handgun in Illinois. To recap: a gaming company is removing a character from a video game over views the character does not express and which the person who voices the character does not hold.
It’s not surprising that gaming, with its escapist fantasy and customizable identities, would be receptive to gender ideology. Like the campus, it is a consequence-free space in which victim narratives can flourish in resentful anonymity and mobbish vengeance is exacted on agreed-upon oppressors.
This might be a canny PR move rather than sincere safetyism, but it worked. One gaming journalist concludes: “No one deserves to feel unsafe while playing a video game, and it’s easy to see how the presence of someone like Helen Lewis could have that effect.” If you have been affected by listening to the voice of someone you hadn’t heard of until the Internet told you to hate them, I’m sure there’s a number you can call.
Perhaps you take as little interest in video games as I do and assume this cultural skirmish is far removed from your concerns. Do not be so naive. If a left-leaning feminist like Helen Lewis can be got — and got for views she doesn’t even hold — you can be got too.