Sony Online Entertainment’s Free Realms takes the essentials of online role-playing games and tries to make them accessible to the whole family. Games like World of Warcraft are relatively adult in terms of the tone, violence, and interaction between players, so Free Realms aims to reign in these elements. The game made this intent clear to me the second I started playing.
You start by creating a character. The game asks the basics: are you a male or female? Both genders have equal ability (because everyone can do everything!). You then choose between playing a human or a pixie. You customize your face and physique — your body choices range from fit to pleasantly plump. There is no obesity in Free Realms. Any way you go, the human choice is inevitably a young, mid-twenties attractive male or female with perfectly gelled hair. There are no one-armed or acne-stained people in this world: despite the pre-modern society Free Realms places you into, everyone is in perfect health.
I, of course, chose a different route and opted to be a female pixie, which is essentially a smaller human with frilly wings. Then the game presents you with your most important choice: the outfit. It’s like having all those Barbie outfits that your mother never bought in one place. A couple of hours later, my pixie was looking fab-tastic, and I was ready to play.
The last thing left was to create a name. I immediately typed in the name I use for all games: Sarah Barracuda (a reference to Sarah Palin’s nickname). The screen then promptly informed me that my name must be “checked” for any possible offensive meanings or innuendo, to guard against all the “Bigpenis Chodemothers” that crowd other online worlds. In the meantime, I had to choose a name from a designated list of generated words.
Shortly thereafter, I was informed that Sarah Barracuda was indeed offensive and thus not allowed. I had to keep my predetermined name. From that moment, my character’s name was Natasha Glitterytracer, female pixie. I hail from a long line of glitter-tracing fairy adventurers, never shirking from a new quest and always looking fabulous while doing so.
The game world topography is a bright, colorful land. The inhabitants are all oddly cheerful creatures, and there seem to be no parents in sight. Places of interest range from Snowhill, a god-forsaken frozen city high in the mountains, to Merry Vale, a flowery, hippie paradise no doubt full of farming communes and acid houses. I asked a local where I could score some “giggleweed” (the internet told me it meant marijuana), but he appeared incredulous and thought I was referring to some new powerup item. Powerup item indeed, my friend.
The game encourages you to work on leveling up your character in different classes, like Chef or Demo Derby Driver. (That’s right, there are demolition derbies, though the cars are probably powered by fairy-magic rather than crude oil since that’s icky.)
Rather than work through the preset class system, though, I preferred to travel my way around Free Realms and visit the common folk. My adventures, however, revealed a hidden horror in this fanciful realm. It became apparent to me that my own people, the pixies, were obviously the “other” race in this realm of Anglo-white privilege. I saw that pixies played second-fiddle to humans, who always held positions of power. All of the important non-playable characters were human. Oh sure, there were pixies too, but they were guards or just trainers for the lamer classes. I mean, all the postmen are pixies! Who wants to be a postman?
I noticed other races, too, but they didn’t even merit the privilege of citizenship. Though these other creatures seemed perfectly innocent, I was constantly told to go “save the village” from pillaging monsters. There was also a race called the “Chugwugs” (likely a racist term) who were confined to their village Wugachug up north. This nefarious racism ran deep throughout the realms, obviously perpetuated by a sociopolitical paradigm of human privilege.
I continued to travel the realms, though a little more paranoid than before. Mimicking the “buy local” movement, I began to buy from only pixie vendors (trust in your brothers). And though always jovial in public situations, I occasionally let slip an incisive comment or two: “Pixie brothers and sisters we are being OPPRESSED!” or “I will not cower in the shadow of HUMAN DOMINATION.”
Reactions were mixed. Most people just ignored me; they were too busy leveling up their Chef class to bother recognizing the rampant injustice taking place around them. I tried talking to individuals as well, seeing if I could find any like-minded radicals. I would ask, “Have you read Michel Foucault?”. I was astonished to find that no one could explicate Foucaultian power analytics or biopower theory. Most replied with muted enthusiasm or just confusion. Sometimes I couldn’t help but feel like I was communicating with a bunch of eight year olds.
Despite such setbacks, I have continued to press the issue onto a world that is ignorant of the problem. My new task is to bring the message of race struggle to the people. This will likely get me banned. I wonder, perhaps, if Sony could be persuaded to add “Radical Activist” as a new class?