Review by Iyamtebist

Reviewed: 05/26/15

Never argue with a fool unless your playing Social Justice Warriors

Just to put a quick disclaimer at the start, I usually try to keep current political aspects out of my reviews. However, given the subject matter of this particular game, it is going to be hard to ignore. In particular, this game is incredibly relevant to a lot of controversial topics relating to the topic of social justice. As such, I will need to go into explaining some current events to describe some of the deeper thematic aspects of this game.

However, I will clarify that the intent of this review is not to give a political statement. I am not here to preach my opinions on social justice or on GamerGate. In fact, despite what one may expect, Social Justice Warriors is not made with that goal in mind either. The central theme of Social Justice Warriors, at its core, instead serves to satirize the practice of taking internet arguments as seriously as people do, and state that it may be best to just not get into arguments. One could try and look into the game’s subtext to determine what Nondecimal‘s stance on the matter is, but doing so would be completely missing the point of what the game exists for.

Social Justice Warriors manages to take a controversial and very heated aspect of gaming and turn it into something that is fun and light hearted; and quite simply put, it really does so at a time when we need it the most.

It’s Dangerous to Go Online

In Social Justice Warriors, you play as warriors fighting online to maintain the standards of justice against bigoted internet trolls. You fight against these trolls by arguing with them about various topics such as feminism, racism, homosexual and transgender rights, and other social justice issues. One can already tell that there is a various tongue in cheek tone to this game. The tone is clearly meant to represent how people tend to take internet arguments too seriously and seem to make an active career out of doing so.

In this game, the playable characters are represented as literal social justice warriors complete with the ability to start up a game choosing from four character classes. You have the social justice paladin, our standard jack of all stats class who focuses on dueling trolls using hashtags and sub mentions. You have the Social Justice Cleric who is backed up by a patron deity of your own choice (IE their echo chamber website with people who agree with them) and who attacks via serial down votes and sub deity smites. You have the Social Justice Mage who uses large blog posts and webs of logic. Lastly, you have the social Justice Rogue, who attacks using dirty tricks such as vitriolic barbs, smoke screening with alternate accounts, and exposing dark secrets from your opponents past.

From this nature, one can definitely tell that these “warriors of social justice” are not actually all that virtuous. This is actually a major theme of the game. Despite the fact that the game’s enemies are portrayed as generic trolls who spout fallacious arguments and hateful insults, they really aren’t shown to be much better than your guys. Yes one could argue that because the trolls are played as straw men that this must mean that the creators must have been pro SJW.

However, these people forget that this is only natural seeing as how this game is played out from the perspective of the social justice warriors, so of course they’d view their enemies as straw men. One may also counter this by claiming that this you playing as the social justice warriors in the first place must have meant that Nondecimal saw them as the good guys. However, making such an argument would be akin to saying that Vladimir Nabokov must have been pro pedophilia and incest because Lolita was written from the perspective of Humbert Humbert.

This is expressed even further through gameplay when one achieves the “social justice champion” status. When one of your two in game meters, reputation or sanity, reaches its highest point, one will upgrade from their current class to the social justice champion. Normally in these types of games, your attacks would be upgraded to become much stronger and more effective in taking down hordes of enemies. In Social Justice Warriors, however, it is the exact opposite. The social justice champion’s move set is based around coming to a mature conclusion and reaching a common ground with your opponent.

Despite this being the most virtuous path and what one should really strive for, it will be ineffective in stopping any trolls and you will either be defeated or have your meter drain which will restore you to your previous class. This has some heavy symbolic value in regards to the idea of internet flame wars to begin with. It implies that the idea of using your keyboard as a weapon to battle internet trolls is a rather immature one and that a real “social justice champion” would not be engaging in such activity.

This brings to mind a common argument that is made against the use of “social justice warrior” as a pejorative. Most of these arguments claim that the act of mocking people for believing in the concept of social justice is morally backwards and nonsensical. The reasons given often go along with claims that people like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King JR were “social justice warriors.” What these people get wrong is that only the first part of the phrase “social justice warrior” applies to those two people.

According to dictionary.com, the definition of warrior is “a person engaged or experience warfare; soldier.” I’m pretty sure it goes without saying that neither Gandhi nor Martin Luther King were “warriors.” Instead, the term “social justice warrior” is meant to describe a person who tries to forcibly spread their beliefs instead of doing so by respecting their opposition. The fact that the game manages to put you in this position by having your arguments be fights against “trolls” where the goal is to drain your opponent’s sanity; instead of treating your opponent as a human being.

This is represented in several other areas as well, such as how the character models for both the player character and the troll are exactly the same. This is meant to represent how the two are not really different from each other despite their differences in opinions. You will often hear recycled arguments from enemies that are clearly randomly generated and will not be consistent with a previous one. For example, at one point one may be talking about feminism, but then the next comment will be about immigration or racism. Normally something like this would be chalked up due to a lack of variety or lazy programming, and if you want you can still claim that it is. In this case, however, it can greatly symbolize how we dehumanize the people we argue with as either “trolls,” or “social justice warriors.”

As such, one can gather that the key message of Social Justice Warriors is to not bother with internet arguments, and that you don’t really get anything out of doing so. Having been around plenty of social media spaces myself, I can claim that I have been involved in plenty of these arguments myself, and I can attest to this game’s message, and to be honest, it may be part of why I clicked with this game.

Social Justice Warriors is perhaps the best examples of a game that can express commentary and themes through its gameplay instead of through cutscenes or narration. Very little of what I typed mentioned is told to you straight out. There are a few clues that lead to this message, such as having the victory music play and being shown Mark Twain’s “never argue with a fool” quote when you choose to quit the game. However, Social Justice Warriors is a game that is very subtle about its message. One would expect the opposite given that its title indicates what could be seen as a blatant propaganda piece for either side depending on how it is interpreted (and yes, according to Nondecimal’s website, this game ended up offending plenty of people on both sides of the argument who did not bother to look into the games subtext). Despite this, it chooses to actually have an important amount of depth to it which, in reality, makes it a far better artistic work than Depression Quest or Gone Home could ever hope to be.

In terms of production values, one will notice that Social Justice Warriors is very minimalistic. In fact, there is next to no animation in the game. Pretty much all you are given are a few menus, still images of character classes, and a few frame animation of your pixilated mess of a character typing away at a computer screen (as well as an amusing image of your enemies slamming the computer screen down in anger when they are defeated).

The music in the game is in very short supply with only three tracks in the entire game. One of these three tracks is a simplistic looping scale similar to Final Fantasy’s prelude. This one does a good job at reflecting the atmosphere of a retro rpg parody of internet arguments. The other two themes are both played during gameplay, both of which are enjoyable and memorable. The first sounds like what one would expect to be a typical battle theme in a retro rpg, and I now find it stuck in my head whenever I am in an internet debate. The other one sounds like what one would expect as a mini boss theme; not too over the top or dramatic yet energetic enough to be catchy and memorable.

A Troll Draws Near

Gameplay wise, Social Justice Warriors is enjoyable in short bursts. The battles against trolls are done in a turn based fashion where you attempt to drain one of your opponent’s two meters while keeping yours up. The first of these meters is the sanity meter that is based upon how much patience they have and decreases the more frustrated they get. The second one is the reputation meter, which is based on how others view you, and it is drained when your opponent makes you look stupid or you perform an action that makes you look bad.
Depending on which class you choose, you will have different moves you can take against an opponent. The social justice Paladin is your jack of all stats that specializes in either attacking with well timed responses and hashtags, as well as the ability to block an enemy in order to regain sanity. The Social Justice Cleric can attack with factual evidence, sarcasm, or backup from his or her patron deity (which I have a strong feeling is supposed to be Tumblr). The Social Justice Mage specializes in intelligent rebuttals and writing essays to influence the masses, but has no way of healing sanity. Lastly, you have the social justice rogue who attacks using dirty tricks such as vitriolic insults, bombarding your opponent with multiple accounts, and backstabbing them with hidden secrets from their pasts.

While it makes thing more interesting to have four different ways to play the game, there is a key problem with these classes; they are woefully unbalanced. The only one that you have a remote chance of getting anywhere with is the Social Justice Paladin. With any other classes, you have no way to heal yourself effectively without relying on the game’s random nature (which I will get to later). A big reason this is the case is because personal attacks and sarcastic remarks cause your reputation to fall regardless of context.
I am aware that this is meant to discourage using personal attacks on enemies in an attempt to be more realistic, but the problem is quite simple; it’s not realistic. Chances are, if I got into an internet argument with someone, people would not care if I used personal insults against a troll who just told me that he or she hopes I get cancer. Even in less extreme cases, a lot of people are quick to use personal attacks against people they see as trolls and it will often depend on context whether or not they were acceptable. Yes this game is trying to symbolize the dehumanizing nature of internet arguments, but you can’t just shift the typical outsider reaction to make things more fitting; not to mention that it makes the game much more frustrating without any efficient methods of taking down an enemy’s reputation.

As a result of this lack of balance, the social justice rogue class is nigh impossible to have any form of efficiency with. Every move the rogue has is a personal attack with the only difference being that some hurt your reputation more than others. There is also no option to do nothing so you are going to need to select one of those options even if your reputation meter is pretty much empty.

Expanding further on the social justice champion upgrade mentioned earlier, it is going to be far more of a hindrance if you get it (which chances are, you only will playing as the social justice paladin) than it is helpful. While it definitely works well in a metaphorical sense, it is unfortunately a pretty poor choice from a gameplay standpoint. The reason for this is that the transformation is automatic and you can’t simply choose not to undergo it. As such, the only way to revert back is to wait while you are attacked until you take enough hits to whichever meter filled up all the way.

This brings up another major issue with the game; it is based way too much on random chance that the player is unable to influence. As far as I know, there is no way to tell whether attacks hit or miss based on a random formula or based on current circumstances, and there is nothing in game to indicate this. As a result, I could end up trying to use a standard rebuttal to enemy attacks, but half the time you will be given a message about how the troll blindly smashes through your logic. As such, one cannot tell whether it is any more effective to keep using the same command as a result of its effectiveness being based on random chance, or if it is actually programmed to stop being effective depending on circumstances.

This is even more annoying with the assist characters. At random points during one of your battles, you will be assisted by a social justice bard, necromancer, ranger, or druid; each of which perform a certain action in battle. I will give credit in that all of these characters actually do assist you, aside from the druid. However, the key problem is, once again, their random nature. You have no idea when any of them will show up nor is there any way of planning things around them. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were not as effective as they are in keeping you alive and turning the tide of battle. This is the equivalent of if you needed to rely on critical hits most of the time in order to effectively defeat any enemy in an RPG. It is even worse with the social justice druid whose entire schtick is asking vague philosophical questions and healing or damaging you or the enemy based on your answer. This ends up being a problem because, oftentimes, the results have too vague of a connection to the answer to tell how they affected you. As a result, it basically becomes a guessing game where the wrong answer could end up with your opponent having their meter fully healed. I don’t know about any of you, but I honestly don’t remember having my sanity or reputation restored by a wizard during any internet arguments I have been in.

Conclusion (Don’t Feed the Trolls)

Social Justice Warriors is a game that is very well executed as a piece of satire and as a metaphor. It has a lot of deep subtext about internet arguments that is relevant now more than ever considering the recent events with Gamergate. It is done in a way that can apply to you regardless of what your opinions on the matter are and does not show a bias towards either side. As such, I can greatly appreciate that this game exists despite the lack of balance.

As a game, Social Justice Warriors is kind of mediocre due to having limited content, low production values, and unbalanced gameplay. However, the game has a very unique charm to it and it offers a lot of depth in its presentation. It is similar to DLC Quest in that most people will not remember it for its gameplay, but for its personality and themes. However I will say that Social Justice Warriors is overpriced at eight dollars.

I will say that this is a game I would like to see a sequel to simply because of how much more opportunities will be opened up. Social Justice Warriors already handled every symbolic aspect about as well as it could have, so it would be great to see a sequel more focused on gameplay and humor than this one. As such, it is recommended to check out Social Justice Warriors simply for that reason alone, and due to it having enough to it to at least be worth playing once.

Rating: 7

Product Release: Social Justice Warriors (US, 02/27/15)

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