Sunday, August 31, 2014

Read this one too

Here's a more intelligent interpretation of recent events than I attempted to write: Tadgh Kelly's "The Sad State of Gaming's Truthers and their #Gamergate"

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Game Culture's Ugly Transition: Team Social Justice Warrior vs Team Gamer

Holy shit.

If you're in any way part of the online videogame community, you probably know that this has been an awful goddamn week. For those of you who don't know...

What the Heck Happened
Zoe Quinn, developer of Depression Quest, has been accused of sleeping with games journalists to receive favorable reviews. Upon hearing this, many gamers have rallied in opposition to this supposed corruption. In response, many game journalists rose to Zoe's defense. This resulted in aforementioned gamers accusing game journalism of Social Justice Warrior corruption, which has resulted in aforementioned journalists, as well as indie developers, to declare the irrelevance of the gamer subculture. Now, the gamers are organizing a reactionary protest, called Gamergate, at the convention PAX , calling attention to corruption in games reporting and the SJW agenda.*

The story's a bit more complicated than that, Quin and numerous others have gotten doxed and harassed, but that's the condensed version. The main point is, there's an awful, horrendous debate raging between reactionary gamers and progressive devs and journalists. Everyone's pissed.

There people hate fun. I guess?

Look, guys, it's a fucking shitstorm. Lots of people don't know what the hell's going on, others feel victimized, and others still are banging their head against the wall wondering why other people just don't get it. I myself tried to contribute to the discussion on Twitter, and I regret it so, so much. I hope I don't regret writing this.

But wait! Here's the kicker. The original allegations of corruption are false. Zoe Quinn has not slept with anyone who has reviewed her game. The review in question does not exist. There was not corruption in the coverage of Depression Quest at all. No sex was exchanged for reviews.  No positive reviews were given to Depression Quest on account of Zoe Quinn's sex life. No corruption occurred.  Zoe Quinn and journalists behaved ethically. There was (initially) nothing to be upset about.

(and, frankly, if this corruption had occurred, a single person's sex life, which is nobody else's business, shouldn't have motivated a reactionary response of such a large degree).

EDIT: There exist two articles written by journalist Nathan Grayson, who dated Zoe, which cover her and Depression Quest. However, neither of these articles are reviews, both cover her in an ethical fashion, and, most importantly, they were written before they dated.

This whole battle has nothing to do with corruption in games journalism. Corruption's been going on for a while now, but gamers are, for some reason, only mobilizing around the Zoe Quinn scandal. Is it because she made an interactive fiction game about depression, one that isn't made for the traditional gamer demographic? Is it because of her own alignment on Team SJW? Is it because the alleged corruption happened because a woman, god forbid, had sex? I don't know the reason, but I do know this: the outrage is not because of the non-existent corruption. This issue was never about corruption to begin with.

Why the Heck This Happened
 This battle is really about long existing tension in the game community between so-called Social Justice Warriors and the traditional gamer demographic. In recent years, less and less players have used the phrase "gamer" to describe themselves. Many devs I know on Twitter have been tweeting about their own distance from the gamer identity and its subculture. I myself have been steadily working on another essay about my own alienation from gamer culture. The essay is now totally irrelevant.

Meanwhile, many gamers are under the impression that their favorite hobby is under attack. They think that SJWs don't want them to have their fun. They think that SJWs are hijacking game culture for their own purposes. No, really. Some of them are trying to make a documentary called The Sarkeesian Effect about "how gaming and tech culture have been hijacked by Social Justice Warriors."  

As an important side note: by gamer, I'm not referring to someone who simply plays games, those are players. I am referring to a specific demographic and its respective subculture. Publishers that market to gamers, or "hardcore" gamers, are marketing to young white men with sufficient free time and money. This is not an exaggeration, this is simply the target demographic for most blockbuster titles. Yes, there are people outside of this demographic who play blockbuster games, and, yes, many of these people identify as gamers. However, they are not representative of the demographic.  It is an industry standard to market games to a specific gender and age range, and that demographic becomes the bulk of the consumer base. Let me repeat that: this is industry standard. Gamer culture is insular, and it is largely due to market forces.

Recently, users of 4chan created the character Vivan James, the anti-feminist girl mascot of gamer culture.
She looks like such a nice person.

The point is, I've felt tension between the so-called SJWs and the reactionary gamers building for a while. The event that caused this cultural conflict, the false allegations of corruption, is irrelevant. This conflict has been in the making for a long time. It could have been sparked by nearly any other "scandal." It was imminent. It was inevitable.

What's Gonna Happen Next
Leigh Alexander recently wrote that "gamers are over." She likely didn't mean this literally, since gamers, clearly, are still around. However, the gamer identity is currently in the process of dying, or, perhaps, the process of being transformed.

People have been begging for years for games to leave their awkward adolescence and grow into a fully mature art form. For that to happen, games need to become more culturally relevant. The only way to do this is to expand the demographics of mainstream game players, introduce new genres into mainstream gaming, and explore subject matter not previously explored in mainstream games.

This means that women and older players will need to become part of the new core player demographic. This means that so-called casual games will need to actually be considered as legitimate games. This means that genres not preferred by the current gamer demographic, such as visual novels and art games, will need to be considered as legitimate games. This means that mainstream games will need to include works with more accessible game mechanics. This means that mainstream games will need to incorporate relevant themes such as oppression, mental illness, poverty, politics, sex, and peace, and not just tell stories of wizards and space marines.

It also will eventually mean no more misogyny, no more racism, no more trolling, no more harassment, no more doxing, and no more hatred.**

The maturity of our medium means no more casual gamers, no more hardcore gamers, no more supposed fake gamer girls. It means no more gamers.

You want our medium, our culture, to grow up? First, we have to wade through this social media shitstorm. But, I hope, it'll be worth it, because on the other side, a more mature, egalitarian, and inclusive gaming culture is waiting, and I can't wait to see what it will bring.

BONUS: A Few Respectful Notes to Any of You Who are Angry Gamers Right Now
  • We don't hate you. Really. I know some of the writing has been inflammatory, especially Leigh Alexander's piece. However, many of us who are critical of gamer culture are critical of its homogeneity and insularity, not of the people themselves. I know many wonderful gamers! We don't hate you unless you do something like, for example, call a game developer over the phone and say she's a whore. Then you're an asshole.***
  • If you play games, that doesn't mean you're part of the gamer demographic that we refer to. I wrote a paragraph about this a while back. If you self-identify as such, that's a different story. As I wrote previously, the gamer is an actual demographic which represents the minority of the whole population, but dominates games culture. Yes, most gamers are fine people, but their cultural positioning is crucial to understanding the behavior of the few assholes. Not to mention that the gamer demographic constitutes a "Hegemony of Play" that excludes the majority of people from gaming culture.
  • So-called SJW journalists and developers actually really love games.  Engaging in, for example, a feminist critique of  a work doesn't mean you hate the work. Literally every other art form has feminist criticism. Would Anita Sarkeesian keep making Feminist Frequency videos in the face of violent threats if she didn't genuinely care about games?
    SJW journalists and developers are in the games industry for a reason. Our criticisms are out of love for games, not hate for gamers. We're not outsiders.
  • You're not being censored. I personally haven't seen anyone on Team SJW tell anyone on Team Gamer to abandon discourse altogether, but if they are, there's nothing stopping you from contributing to the discussion. You're fine.   EDIT: I was just made aware of the Reddit censorship. However, it seems pretty clear that it was done by Reddit moderators, and its just run-of-the-mill moderation.
  • If you see someone being an asshole, please stop them. I'm checking out #gamergate on Twitter, and one person's suggesting that you guys "run down, expose, shame, and tear these scum [devs and journos] into the ground." I don't know about you, but I don't want to see anyone else get doxed, harassed, or threatened. The climate's pretty scary right now, let's keep things civil. Let's not hurt anymore people.
  • If you are confused as to why some of us are so critical of gamer culture, please do some research. If you didn't click on the link a few bullets above, this article's a great place to start, if you don't mind a little academic reading. Most of us on Team SJW aren't doing this to feel good about ourselves, or to get attention. Most of us genuinely want to improve society, and many of us have spent quite a bit of time thinking, reading, and studying about social politics.  
  • Finally, I will admit, some of us are being unfair. Lots of people are angry, lots of people are making generalizations. I've seen people on my ideological side of the fence say some pretty mean shit, and decrying the gamer demographic so abruptly and, perhaps, with insufficient nuance, was a tactical mistake, if not an ethical one. I've tried to keep this essay as fair and nuanced as I could, but I'm sure I failed in some respects. I'm sorry about that.  

*Oh god some of the #GamerGate tweets are really, really gross. I'm sorry. 
**Seriously, have you heard of the shit Anita Sarkeesian's been through lately? She's so, so brave.
***This has happened to Zoe Quinn at least once this week.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Toilets, Meat, and Drugs Update, Waker and Void Hero Blues Non-Update

TM&D now has too many monsters. Up to 25 playable beasties:
You kind of have to view it full screen.

There's been a slew of tiny changes, the most significant of which is that NPCs now spawn, grow and evolve as the player grows. Not only does this mean that the game's difficulty automatically adjusts with the player's ability, but previously explored areas never grow dull and constantly change. It breathes a lot of fresh life into the game! The end game is pretty epic when a random assortment of miniature gods crawl across the landscape.

I'm also about halfway done with the new areas. The new game world will be over twice the size of the old one. I also only have 2 more new monsters to program. Once I'm done with both of those things, I just need to rework the story, update the tutorial, write the music, and finish the thing!

Then I'll get back to Waker and The Void Hero Blues. VHB needs to be done by December, so it'll take priority. I'll then focus all of my energy on Waker and try not to be diverted by any more side projects. When I started Waker, I didn't have very many quality games in my catalog, and I felt a need to flesh it out. While Empty Chambers is awfully pretty, and Digital Toilet World has it's charm, both are pretty tiny games, and don't really show off what I can do as a developer.

TM&D is the first mechanically rich game I've made in a long time, is pretty substantial in scope, and really rounds out my collection of work. As a matter of fact, it reminds me a lot of the games I made in my early adolescence. I honestly haven't made a (complete) game of such length, or with such a large world, since I was 14, nor have I found myself pouring so many hours into a game's development. The graphics are pretty shitty too, just as they were back then.

Making games with crude, minimalist, punk graphics is so liberating. Give it a shot.

But, yeah, after this, no more goddamn side projects. Starting next year, all Waker, all the time. Oh, I think Waker's second birthday was sometime last month. Shit. I feel pretty awful, I couldn't work on it at all this summer - by the time my broken wrist was pulled out of the cast, I had been totally derailed by TM&D. So, so sorry.