BDLA Stirs Controversy

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.

“Bad Day L.A.,” 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 – 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, “Bad Day L.A.” is drawing a lot of interest from a variety of communities.

“Do we really want our children to see homeless people as gun-toting, African-American ‘wackos’ and ‘bums,’ despite the failed attempt at some veiled redeeming moral theme?” 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 game’s distributor, to cease production immediately.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., agrees.

“This is really bad,” he said. “It’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.”

American McGee, the game’s designer, responds by saying that “being homeless is what gives [Anthony] his strength – it is his superpower.”

There are advocates for the homeless who would agree, like Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change News in Seattle. “Alienated homeless guy saves city and reluctantly defends people who normally wouldn’t give him the time of day,” he said. “What’s not to like?”

James Shearer, a formerly homeless person who is a co-founder of and columnist for Spare Change News, shared Harris’ sentiments.

“I’m an activist, but I’m also a realist,” he said. “And there are times when I wish these agencies would just shut up. Bob Erlenbusch is the same type of homeless activist who didn’t want to see Spare Change News survive.”

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 “Alice,” which let players take on the role of Lewis Carroll’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:

“The 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,” he said. “And when you think about it, the homeless are the closest thing you’ve got to urban survivalists.”

Questioned further on Anthony Williams’ choice to embrace homelessness rather than a rich lifestyle, McGee said: “The concept of ‘homeless by choice’ is something that is alien to Americans who aren’t familiar with homelessness beyond throwing a quarter into a cup from time to time.”

“This game is saying, ‘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.’”

Finding solutions is the only way to progress through a video game. Although “Bad Day L.A.” won’t offer a solution to homelessness, perhaps it will “start a conversation,” as McGee put it. And for some homeless advocates, that’s more than they could ask for.


6 responses to “BDLA Stirs Controversy”

  1. And what about the rights of the meteors? Doesn’t anyone defend their rights, don’t they deserve fair treatment.
    Guess not.

    On wait, it’s a game. My bad.

  2. A news article discussing a game that DIDNT turn into mud slinging at the video game industry? Way to go, American! You also got in some wicked good quotes to throw in the faces of people who keep saying game devs are thoughtless violent hacks.

  3. Well, such controversy is expected. I live in New York, so I’m sure that some protests will arise from the families of 9/11 victims over the plane crashes, as if 9/11 is the only incident in world history involving kamikaze air pilots…

  4. If anything I think this game will be a positive step for homelessness in the states, anyway- in that people will recognize they exist in the first place; an otherwise ignored class of people that are stereotyped in much worse ways-

    You’re right. It will start a conversation. Good form.

  5. Are these people from the article all mad? It’s satirical! I couldn’t believe that they were serious.

  6. I love gaming. I was once homeless. The two facts are not related in any way. One is reality, the other is a “bypass time”. I f I ever thought for one moment that a game had anything to do with real life I would happily submit myself to any and all psychological treatments available.

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