Writer Paul Rice recently wrote an article for the Spare Change News discussing the response that Bad Day LA is garnering from some homeless advocates and coalitions. Seems there is some confusion over stereotypes vs. reality, satirical social commentary vs. uninformed disparagement. Remarks from both sides in the article below…
Video Game Divides Activists
By Paul Rice
Spare Change News
A forthcoming video game has some anti-homelessness activists up in arms over its portrayal of a homeless black man caught in an apocalyptic day in Los Angeles.
â€œBad Day L.A.,â€ currently in development, puts the player in the well-worn shoes of Anthony Williams, a former Hollywood agent who voluntarily rejects the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown to live on the streets and ignore a society he despises.
During the story, the worst possible disasters that could happen to a megalopolis like Los Angeles all occur in a 12-hour period: the release of a bio-weapon that turns people into zombies, meteor showers raining down on skyscrapers, plane crashes and a tsunami, as well as numerous riots induced by such events.
Through all this tribulation, Williams inadvertently finds himself fighting for the lives of people about whom he could care less â€“ people who would normally avoid him at every turn.
Homelessness in the game, however, seems to be more than just a character trait. The first video game to feature a homeless main character, â€œBad Day L.A.â€ is drawing a lot of interest from a variety of communities.
â€œDo we really want our children to see homeless people as gun-toting, African-American â€˜wackosâ€™ and â€˜bums,â€™ despite the failed attempt at some veiled redeeming moral theme?â€ asks Bob Erlenbusch, head of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness in a letter to city and state officials. The letter calls for Enlight Software, the gameâ€™s distributor, to cease production immediately.
Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., agrees.
â€œThis is really bad,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a bad product probably thought up by some people who have stereotypical attitudes and beliefs about low-income and homeless people. We will do all we can to fight it.â€
American McGee, the gameâ€™s designer, responds by saying that â€œbeing homeless is what gives [Anthony] his strength â€“ it is his superpower.â€
There are advocates for the homeless who would agree, like Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change News in Seattle. â€œAlienated homeless guy saves city and reluctantly defends people who normally wouldn’t give him the time of day,â€ he said. â€œWhat’s not to like?â€
James Shearer, a formerly homeless person who is a co-founder of and columnist for Spare Change News, shared Harrisâ€™ sentiments.
â€œIâ€™m an activist, but Iâ€™m also a realist,â€ he said. â€œAnd there are times when I wish these agencies would just shut up. Bob Erlenbusch is the same type of homeless activist who didnâ€™t want to see Spare Change News survive.â€
American McGee is a legendary figure in the gaming community, known for creating unusual, narrative-based gaming. His largest success to date is a game called â€œAlice,â€ which let players take on the role of Lewis Carrollâ€™s famous fledgling as she fights her way through a twisted looking glass.
In an interview with SCN, McGee explained his decision to create a homeless main character:
â€œThe choice came out of my initial thoughts about what sort of person would really be able to survive, alone, on the most apocalyptic day this side of Armageddon,â€ he said. â€œAnd when you think about it, the homeless are the closest thing you’ve got to urban survivalists.â€
Questioned further on Anthony Williamsâ€™ choice to embrace homelessness rather than a rich lifestyle, McGee said: â€œThe concept of â€˜homeless by choiceâ€™ is something that is alien to Americans who aren’t familiar with homelessness beyond throwing a quarter into a cup from time to time.â€
â€œThis game is saying, â€˜if you aren’t happy, you have other options. Even options that sound as insane as giving up on everything you’ve ever been told is right. Go and find your own solution.â€™â€
Finding solutions is the only way to progress through a video game. Although â€œBad Day L.A.â€ wonâ€™t offer a solution to homelessness, perhaps it will â€œstart a conversation,â€ as McGee put it. And for some homeless advocates, thatâ€™s more than they could ask for.