Rimworld is very much one of my favorite games. It just hits all the right spots for me: a focus on creating procedural drama, loads of character - or in this case colony - expression, a vast array of interesting items, creatures, buildings, and variables to tinker with, and a modding community pumping out more mods than you could ever play. So it's no wonder that even after an astonishing 674 hours played I still can't get enough of it. But in all this time I couldn't ignore the more problematic aspects of it either. I don't feel like they are super bad or anything but I think they are an interesting case study of how game systems sometimes send messages not anticipated beforehand. Also I don't think there was any malicious intent on the game creators side either, nor would I particularly be interested in it, if it was the case. I'm much more one of these "Death of the Author"-kind of people. As the last note, in no way I claim these are all the problematic aspects of the game, they are just a small selection I recognized as interesting and even recognized in the first place.
Each colonist in Rimworld has a selection of Traits. There's a vast amount of them with varying degrees of impact on the colonists. Pyromaniacs will start fires from time to time and are incapable of putting any out, Brawlers will be unhappy when carrying ranged weapons but are much more capable with melee ones, and colonists with the Kind Trait will be much more well regarded by the others just to name a few. Thing is, these Traits cannot change in any way. Colonists are just the way they are and will be forever. A depressive colonist will be that from the day of appearing at your colony until the day he dies of an infected squirrel bite. There's no understanding that these colonists are complex people who are formed by their experiences and might learn to change their ways to their surroundings. A Wimp was a wimp yesterday, is one now, and will be one tomorrow. There also is no understanding of causes of these Traits. No, depressed colonists are just depressed cause they spawned in like it. There was nothing in their past that caused it and there will be nothing in the future to change it. While this works better for some traits, it often sends a message of bad people do bad because their bad, we hear all to often instead of a more nuanced take.
Furthermore the amount of Traits a colonist is limited. In my opinion this works for Traits like Depressive in a way: There certainly were times in my life where my depression diminished parts my personality, my Traits if you will. With other Traits however it sends a very cruel message:
Pretty or Ugly colonists have less character defining Traits because their looks already taken some up. That plays in a damaging cliche of pretty people being shallow, and a cruel tendency to treat looks as determining one's character more generally. And the idea that the looks of people can be judged universally across different people and peoples is just absurd.
Gay is a Trait. Straight colonist will always have the possibility to have more other Traits than gay ones. This sends a horrible heteronormative message, where your non-straight sexuality quite literally takes away from your personality. I hope I don't have to get into this any further.
All colonists are monogamous. Needles to say monogamy isn't some universal human characteristic. Suggesting people universally would love like puritans on some fuck off planet light years from here in some distant future quite frankly weirds me out.
While we're on the theme of weird takes on sexuality: Rimworld presented a very weird gender essentialist take on sexuality that this article explains better than I could ever do. I'm not sure that's still in the game but there was a commercially available version with this stuff out at least back then, so I'm including it here, too.
Ok, let's get to what i expect the most controversial point. Cannibalism, as portrayed in Rimworld, is a very much savage activity. Cannibalistic colonists will get a huge mood buff after eating meals prepared with human meat and an even bigger buff when eating raw human meat. They also get buffs for wearing clothing made out of human skin, while non-cannibal colonists won't even wear them unless forced to and will get a debuff for it. Portraying cannibalism as an essentially cruel and sadistic act that is indulged in in some Rammstein-esque act sends some colonial (the real world concept now) vibes. An act of big spiritual meaning to many peoples is reduced to a grotesque depiction of human skin jackets wearing perverts out of a horror film. A people that eat parts of their loved ones after they died in an act of mourning and an respectful manner doesn't and cannot exist in Rimworld. Cannibals here just love to eat - preferably raw - meat from any human and wearing their skin as a cowboy hat. And while that is wacky and kind of funny and may be fine for a shock horror comedy film, Rimworld portrays it as a universal and essential characteristic of cannibalism worlds and cultures over.
Ok, so this was my fist - pretty rambley - blog post. Thanks for reading :)