I’ve recently been replaying GreedFall. In part because it is an interesting game, and in part because of The De Vespe Conspiracy, the DLC released (much) earlier this year.

Replaying it made me realise that either the developers at Spiders are aware of inequalities and want to shine a light on them, or they’re unaware and are still shining a light on inequalities.

Because it was a long time since I played the game the first time, I’m sort of rediscovering it, and the nuances of it. A particularly poignant exchange between the main character De Sardet and Mr. De Courcillion1, De Sardet’s teacher, makes me think that the writer has their finger firmly on the pulse of current events, or at least the politics of gender.

They’re discussing Lady Morange, the previous governor of Tír Fradí2. De Sardet asks why she was replaced, despite doing an excellent job. De Courcillion states, quite as if it is a totally natural thing, that Lady Morange was on the one hand becoming too powerful, and on the other hand, that a man needed her place to improve his career3.

This speaks to what Kate Mann calls male entitlement. The brilliant part of this exchange in game is of course that this seems to be all in order for De Courcillion, as if the deposing of governors – due to their sex and gender – is the most natural thing in the world. If this was the only instance where GreedFall did this, I would be concerned. But the game does it again when the player investigates the origins of the predominant religion in Thélème, an expedition is headed up by a researcher that also happens to be a woman. Her male colleague is obviously having a pretty hard time with the fact that she’s in charge of the expedition, to the point where he actively sabotages her and the rest of the expedition members. He’s prepared to kill to make sure she doesn’t succeed.

Both these behaviors, the removal of women doing a good job only to replace them with men without experience, and the active sabotage of women in power are behaviors I’ve come across in real life. Not to the point of killing people, but certainly to the point of sabotaging or almost sabotaging a project.

The reason I actually enjoy these two examples is not because I like seeing women be humiliated in this fashion – I see way too much of that in real life, thank you – but because that I at least in one of those instances have the power to act on the behalf of the woman, and support her as she goes through this mess. In real life, that power is often denied us, as we’re rarely in a situation where we’re powerful enough to make a difference4.

But GreedFall does more than this to create grayscale. There’s the ghost of colonialism hovering over the entire game, and even if they’re not getting everything right, the game (and presumably the game team) is trying, in part by making the colonial powers sit back and pay attention, and in part because the game tries to highlight horrors perpetrated by “the white savior”.

In one mission, a rogue representative of one of the tribes is poisoning the colonials, and while that may seem as if the game is siding with the colonialists, there is a grayscale. The poison could have been easily counteracted with an antidote – that the colonialists had eradicated through their destructive logging in the area. In other words, this is a problem that the colonialists could have avoided if they’d listened to the natives.

Another example includes the poisonous bite of a swamp living creature. The colonialists are not even considering going to the natives, but if the player does, of course there’s a way to counteract the poison.

While the horrors of slavery, forced conversion to a religion, and unethical scientific experimentation are being highlighted, there are of course ways this could have been done better, but I do appreciate the first steps that Spiders have taken towards at least lifting the issues and trying to look at them.

Being white and European myself, I realise that I might interpret some of the things GreedFall do in a too kind light. I am – after all – part of the problem. But I do think that playing GreedFall – and paying attention – it is clear that GreedFall points this pit as well. We are part of the problem, because we’re part of the colonising forces.

While the player character’s faction is not made out to be the worst perpetrator of atrocious crimes, that faction isn’t entirely spared either. The politics are present, at least, and plundering another civilisation’s home for its riches is not done without lessons learned. While this might not be enough, and it isn’t, not really, it is a decent start.

  1. Sometimes he’s Mr. Sometimes he’s Sir. Sometimes he’s Mr in the spoken words and Sir in the text. This drives home the very important point that you need to be consistent and maybe have several editors looking at text heavy games.
  2. Also a title (word?) that’s spelled all over the place. In some places it is Teer Fradee, in others it is Tír Fradí. Really. Editor.
  3. Yes, this has happened to me more than once. The last time it happened it was described as career development. Obviously it develops my career if I have to step down from the position I’m currently in, to one that isn’t as powerful. Think about it.
  4. Even as leads or project managers, dealing with people who are actively sabotaging or scheming to replace women is often futile if you can’t get the powers that be on your side. The powers that be are usually men, and most often they don’t care, can’t see or don’t want to get involved. Or they’re just as powerless to act as you are. I realise this is a pretty harsh statement, but for all my 21 years in game dev, I can count the men who have acted on a woman’s behalf (that I know of) on my fingers, and maybe a toe or two. It doesn’t happen a lot.