Don’t mess with Lo Wang, a/k/a Shadow Warrior. He digests fortune cookies for health, speaks with an accent that Jackie Chan would find hard to understand, and chases after “coolies,” bomb-crazy Japanese zombies whose “whole mission in life,” the Web site explains, “is to see you and make a screaming, yelling, kamikaze run toward you, detonating their TNT when near.” The word coolie, as many people are aware, is an offensive term for Chinese laborers.
Welcome to the high-tech world of deliberately revolting online interactive video games. 3D Realms’s Shadow Warrior and its predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D, run the gamut of blood and guts, foul language, and outrageous stereotypes.
“Our games are anti-p.c. by design,” brags Scott Miller, president of Apogee Software, 3D Realms’s parent company. “We do not shrink away from issues that would send p.c.-anal companies running with their tails tucked between their legs.”
And they sell. Armed with top-of-the-line 3D graphics, they draw players like blood draws flies, making them instant hits. Duke Nukem, starring an ass-kicking misogynist bent on wiping aliens off the face of the earth, sold a million copies in 1996, its first year of release. Shadow Warrior, which Apogee claims was intended as an innocent parody of bad kung fu flicks, is one of the hottest games ofthis year.
It has also drawn fire from Asian critics. In recent months, both PC World Online games reviewer Amy Ng and Computer Gaming World columnist Elliot Chin have attacked the game. “For Pete’s sake,” wrote Chin, “coolie hats are associated with Chinese, not Japanese, immigrant workers. It’s bad enough to use blatant stereotypes in a game’s design, but 3D Realms can’t even get their own stereotypes right.”
Miller seems gleeful about such complaints, which he regards as an overreaction that only gives his company and games more free publicity. “We’re not trying to be National Geographic here,” Miller said in the response he posted online. “We are having fun with the whole Asian culture.”
Indeed, Miller is having fun all the way to the bank. Apogee was founded 10 years ago in Garland, Texas. Miller’s profitable innovation was allowing users to download parts of his games using shareware, so they could test-drive them for free. Sales took off. In 1994, Miller created the 3D Realms division. Its line of spectacularly violent 3D video games has become an Apogee staple.
Today Apogee employs 25 game designers and has revenues in the millions. Miller was recently selected as one of the 15 most influential people in the game industry by Computer Gaming World magazine and Gamespot. His games have spawned equally crude imitations, like Interplay’s Redneck Rampage, whose homepage offers this enticing invitation: “A Blood-Soaked 3D Killin’ Spree: All the Killin’, Twice the Humor, Half the Intelligence.”
Critics argue that being offensive for the sake of irritating p.c. police is beside the point of a good game. A few also believe it is possible to play off popular stereotypes without being racist. For example, John Romero, the lead programmer for the legendary shooter games DOOM and QUAKE, is about to come out with Daikatana, a game set in Japan, circa 2455 A.D. In this predominantly Japanese game, one ofthe characters is a well-muscled African American, Superfly Johnson.
Romero says he wanted a “large, menacing character” who wasn’t “snow white.” “I won’t be sitting down doing hardcore research on Asian or African culture,” he says, “but I will avoid doing characterizations that demean the character’s culture. You won’t hear Superfly say, ‘That’s a bad mofo!’ Likewise, you won’t hear Mikiko say, ‘Me love you long time!”‘
Miller has no interest in such refinements. He rejected Ng’s call that he attach an apology to the Shadow Warrior game. “We’ve been contacted by 100-plus Asians who said they took the game for what it was and did not feel it was demeaning,” Miller says. As for Ng, she was shocked by the e-mail response to her column, “which ranged from flat-out disagreements to racial epithets.” But she hasn’t given up. She has spread the word about Shadow Warrior to various Asian advocacy groups and hopes they will take action. “As a game, it’s worthy of consideration,” she says, but “I wouldn’t play it or advocate playing it.”
It seems at times that Miller could be described by slogans in Shadow Warrior, such as “Too Many Bullets…Not Enough Enemies.” In his letter, he concludes, “Anyone we’ve offended has probably taken this game way too seriously. If this game offends you or anyone, go play another game. We won’t mind.’