Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Tilting at the DiGRA Windmill

This past weekend, DiGRA held their annual games conference in Germany, which can mean only one thing: clearly it was time for #GamerGate to send in the welcoming committee, flooding the hashtag with a load of unwelcome hate for the attendees to enjoy – a playbook that #GamerGate has seemed to decided to copy from their attempts to do the same to GDC and the Calgary Expo.  Because it turns out, if you are trying to reach a whole bunch of people who are skeptical about your cause, the best thing you can do is to hijack their hashtag and fill it with anime, porn, and mockery of their life’s work.  In this case, it didn’t work out so well – the usual cranks didn’t discover the conference was happening until it was almost over, and since they were on European time, most of the worst flooding happened while the academics were all out partying.   At any rate, it proved to be another excellent excuse for those of us in the know to educate people about the AutoBlocker tool.

DiGRA has about as much to do with ‘ethics in games journalism’ as a plate of oatmeal cookies.  The haters are merely riding ridiculous conspiracy theories founded by a YouTube eCeleb named Sargon of Akkad who attempted to forge a link between the organization and journalists last autumn, particularly the ‘Gamers are Over’ articles which the gamergate teeming throngs continually willfully misinterpret as an attack on all gamers, as opposed to an open condemnation of the minority of gamers who were attacking Anita and Zoe, followed by a call to the rest of gamers to not ‘give press to the harassers. Don’t blame an entire industry for a few bad apples.’   But I digress.

The point is that DiGRA has been  a tertiary satellite of this whole #GamerGate thing since late last year, when the hardedged footsoldiers of the Gate embarked upon military jingoistically titled “#Operation Digging DiGRA”, an op where they would fact check and peer review DiGRA’s papers in order to search for bias, error and, of course, the influence of the evil feminists in the world of academia.  As near as I can tell, they never found much – possibly because there was nothing to find, but in fact it probably largely due to them realizing that reading many academic papers is about as interesting to most lay people as watching paint dry.  Still, DiGRA had the all-time  best response to this – they offered and encouraged gamergaters to read their papers and send in or publish their comments, if those participants were willing to participate with academic rigor!  Probably because academics, too, know that laymen find reading academic papers about as interesting as watching flies fuck.

At any rate, I don’t want to cast any real aspersions of how dumb you’d have to be to have a lot of knowledge about the inner workings of the industry and academia’s relationship to it, and still think that DiGRA posed any kind of existential threat to the ‘Gamer’ populace as a whole.  So of course Mark Kern was involved, offering such chestnuts such as decrying some presentations as libelous, and implying that anyone who hasn’t shipped a game before isn’t worth listening to.  I think I also saw somewhere that he demanded to know how DiGRA is funded, but ironically, Mark has blocked me on Twitter, so confirming is a pain in the ass.

The truth of the matter is that we went from a world that had no game studies or game creation college programs, to fully fledged programs aimed at helping students build, examine and understand the mechanics, in a shockingly short period of time.  Hell, I helped create one of these college programs myself at a community college here in Austin, although the program I worked on had a lot more hands-on vocational skills we need in local studios in Austin, rather than the navelgazing that DiGRA excels in.  Still, this eruption of new college programs across the world actually demonstrates how games have fully risen from being a backroom oddity played by antisocial nerds to being massively important cultural forces that the whole world enjoys.  Which is to say, DiGRA is a result of the fact that games are, in modern society, a hugely important cultural product that merits that level of examination and study.  Which is to say, people who truly love games should celebrate DiGRA’s existence, not fear it.

At any rate, you would think that some Gators would be excited that one of the prepared talks was about a study showing that game use doesn’t correlate to increased sexism.  This study conflicts with the findings of some others, and clearly the methodology of the various studies will need to be compared and contrasted in order to explain the discrepencies between the findings, or identify the next study that needs to happen to resolve these differences.  Still, this is how knowledge is SUPPOSED to grow, not by choosing a stance and then ignoring all information that conflicts with your belief system.

 

Anita and Mad Max

Anita Sarkeesian had an unpopular opinion today.

Gosh darn you, Sarkeesian, for being magnanimous and conceding that your opinion may not match the opinions of other people!  And gosh darn if the SJW-o-sphere hasn’t just broken out in civil and interesting conversations about the topic, as if we can have reasonable and interesting debates about these issues!

All joking aside, I came away from Mad Max: Fury Road with a vastly different impression of the film.  I went in pretty much expecting  this article to be a ridiculous mockery of this article.  I was also expecting to see a decent popcorn flick.  I walked away blown away, not just by the quality of the action film itself, but also by the sheer audacity and scope of the feminist themes running throughout it.

No, it is not an Andrea Dworkin biopic by any stretch of the imagination.  However, if  you imagine feminism as a slider from 1-10, I’d qualify this film as an easy eight.  It’s easily more feminist than, say, 99% of the action films out there, but also probably more so than 90% of the twaddle on the Lifetime Channel.  Places where I’d differ from Anita after the break because, you know, spoilers.
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Loving Things You Criticize

You know that guy I was talking about over the weekend, whose hobby is to be as ridiculously thin-skinned and hyperbolic as the imaginary social justice strawmen poisoning the gaming press and industry that he’s invented in his head?  Well, he’s back, and he wants to help out all you imaginary haters who want to write clickbait reviews !

A few things there, Adrian.

  1.  Saying that a game missed an opportunity to be more diverse or inclusive is not the same thing as saying the game is racist, and claiming otherwise is being needlessly hyberbolic and alarmist.
  2. Saying that the world is misogynist does not necessarily mean that the game is misogynist.  As one example, the recently released Mad Max is a world that has interesting and strong female characters who solve things in interesting and inspiring ways, despite the fact that the world is deeply, DEEPLY misogynist.  You know who loved that film?  Your old buddy, Arthur Geis.  That being said, even if you believe that sexual violence is important for a story or game, how that sexual violence is handled is deeply relevant to some audiences
  3. If you are the sort of person who thinks that women dressing like harem girls for battle is inappropriate, then the fact that the women who rule the world are dressed in dental floss is not going to impress you.  I’m going to stress, I’m not one of those people – what can I say, I came of age to my dad’s hidden stash of Vallejo books.  However, it is a sizable, SIZABLE number of the people – mostly but not entirely women – and considering that the audience for RPGs is now believed to be majority women, actually giving a shit about their opinion may be worth something a designer interested in expanding the audience of their AAA game might want to, you know, at least not mock.  It certainly merits a mention in a review, as it is the sort of thing that these women may choose not to buy a game over.

Oh, one more thing:  I do tend to frequent more than a couple of SJW hives of scum and villainy and you know what?  They’re all super-excited about the Witcher 3.  Even as they discuss, criticize and explore these issues deeper, the excitement for this title has been building for weeks.  Because progressive gamers are still gamers, too, they just place valuation on different things.  Many of them loved the previous two Witchers as well.

It turns out that it is possible to enjoy and even love a work of art that you criticize.  But Adrian knows this.  His twitter feed is currently filled with criticisms of the game collected from the first day of play – opening area may be too long, and bad quest design results in lost time.  Standard RPG issue of failed sense of impending objectives clashing with side objectives.   A lengthy discussion of the failure of art direction driven mostly by the foliage of the game.  A general sense that it’s not as polished as it should be.  These are all valid topics of criticism and discussion amongst adults.

So is that social justice stuff.

 

On Tokenism

Hidden among Adrian’s tirade against Polygon for the mindcrime of daring to care about SJW issues, is this chestnut.  This is not a particularly new argument, but Adrian captures it more eloquently than most.

Note that I am not sure that adding “strangers from the strange lands” to the game would solve anything for the chronically offended. Based on everything I learned about them in the last year, and I learned a lot, if you put a person or a few from any non-white race, they would be called “token characters”. It is the Token Minority trope after all — and, as we know thanks to the megaphoned dilettantes, tropes are bad, mmkay?

The only way to please the outrage factory would be to have every race, every gender, every minority imaginable represented equally. As long as the hero, Geralt, is not a straight white male. And whoever replaced him, they would certainly not be allowed to be nicknamed The White Wolf.

If you think I am exaggerating, then you haven’t been paying attention lately, have you? I so envy you — and I’m not even kidding.

TLDR: We shouldn’t care about adding diversity to games because it’s hard.  And it’s hard because you can’t make those blasted Social Justice Warriors happy anyway.  I’ve seen many variants of this discussion point over the last few months – often in much more profane terms, I proffer, and as such have had much time to reflect on this point.  Here are several thoughts that spring in counter to thoughts similar to these.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

There are those who think that you should not see Mad Max: Fury Road because it will turn you into a raving feminist.  Yes, these people are idiots.  Still, while MM:FR is clearly about tough women surviving, adapting, and excelling in a deeply, deeply misogynistic post-apocalyptic world, that’s not why you should go see it.

You should go see it because it is a wonderful, beautiful cacophony of destruction and violence.  Never before has a post-apocalyptic hellhole looked so beautiful. and the movie kept finding ways to surprise me in providing problems for our heroes to solve, and ingenius solutions they managed to juryrig along the way.

Even more importantly, the effects are clearly largely practical effects, as most of the carnage feels elaborately weighted and real.  If you love action films and practical effects, I predict you will want to buy this on DVD, in case it has a ‘making of’ featurette on it.

Also, you should read up on the making of the flamethrowing guitar player nicknamed the ‘Doof Warrior’.

If you love action movies and have no problem with a strong ‘R’ level of violence, you should see this movie.

In a World Where Devs Get Offended by 8.0s

Adrian Chmielarz throws out his gauntlet, right from the start.

I consider Polygon’s review of The Witcher 3 poisonous to the industry: to gamers, to game developers, to game journalists.

Oh, geez, what horrible thing did Polygon say in their review, which earned an 8/10?

The result is still a game that often feels like a stunningly confident, competent shot across the bow of the open world genre, folding in an incredibly strong narrative and a good sense of consequence to the decisions that present themselves throughout, presenting a fun bit of combat creativity into a genre that desperately needs it. With that going for it, The Witcher 3 is a great game though it isn’t a classic — and it can carry a somewhat qualified recommendation.

Those monsters!  No, wait, what?  Let’s cut back to Adrian.

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On the Abuse of Developers

Over in my old stomping grounds on SWTOR, yesterday the lead community manager was forced to scold players for being self-entitled jerks.

However, following the posts John made yesterday, a few players formed a witch-hunt against John. These players tracked him down on some of his personal accounts and in some extreme cases, even those of his family members with the sole purpose of harassing, insulting, and threatening him based on those forum posts. The purpose of our forums, of our subreddit, and other official channels is to have a dialog. We know that sometimes we may disagree, and that’s ok. We want to have those hard conversations, we want to talk about what we can do to improve, and to pass on our thoughts on how we see things from the Development side. But taking that conversation off of official channels to make personal attacks against Developers is completely unacceptable.

Please understand John didn’t need to communicate his perspective about the class. John and the Combat team knew giving their views on Sentinels and Marauders, in some cases, would not be received well, but he did it anyway. The alternative, is that we stay silent.

Emphasis his, but I’m in full agreement – and in no way am I considering this unique to that game’s community.  Game developers want to be able to talk to their fans, but when the response to us talking is not criticism but steps outside of our work lives and into our home lives, the natural impulse of developers is to shut down that communication.  And when that happens, the dev attitude pretty much is forced into ‘you’ll take what you get and you’ll like it’.

I’ve written in the past about what we’ve lost in the recent catastrofuck – the desire for developers,  to engage wanes when they think that there is actual real risk – risk to their job, or risk to their family – from engaging with their playerbase.  But this is a problem that predates recent events, and runs parallel to them.  Jennifer Hepler and Jade Raymonde.  Ask the Call of Duty dev who was piled on by death threats for nerfing a gun.  Or the Bungie executive who was swatted.  Or for that matter, Brad Wardell, who I can remember mentioning at some point (I can’t find the link) that angry customers started reaching out to his family.

All of the above is not cool.

Criticism is fine.  Disagreement is fine.  Being opposed to changes in your favorite game is fine.  Designers aren’t always right.  Players aren’t always privy to all of the reasons that developers need to make changes.  Shit happens.  But when people stop arguing based on facts and start reaching directly for an attempt to indimidate, this ends up with a chilling effect for player/developer communications in the future.

 

 

The SPJ Kerfuffle

So last week, the Society for Professional Journalists had ethics week, complete with their own hash tag (#SPJEthicsWeek).  Once GamerGate got wind of it, they – in their typically fair-minded and even-handed manner – proceeded to dogpile the hashtag to such a degree that the organizers of the event felt compelled to abandon the hashtag.  As one person from the SPJ wrote:

Abandoning the Twitter hashtag was simply the best course of action once the posts became sexist, homophobic, threatening, pornographic and – frankly – disgusting. I received some concerning messages, which were mostly deleted within a few hours. One person told me on Twitter, “man have you seen the giant mudslide of reckage[sic] we know as your (expletive) wake?”

This is, of course, not a new phenomenon.  #GamerGate recently dogpiled the Calgary Expo.  They recently dogpiled the GDC hashtag, and then got the vapors — lawd have mercy! — when the game development community openly rejected and shrugged off their attempts at intimidation and obfuscation.  #GamerGate dogpiled AbleGamers, for the crime of saying ‘we’d really like to NOT be associated either way with this brouhaha.’  In short, attempting to bully people on twitter is pretty much the MO for this hashtag.  In fact, leaders of their cause will happily direct these efforts, and then act SHOCKED when overzealous followers take it too far. Continue reading

On the Topic of the Avengers 2

Shortly after the launch of Avengers 2, Joss Whedon decided to take a break from Twitter.  This prompted the Outrage Machine to spin up and announce that Joss’ departure was based on the shrill response he got from feminists based on the depiction of Black Widow in the movie.  Joss has since replied that this notion is ‘horseshit’.

“I saw a lot of people say, ‘Well, the social justice warriors destroyed one of their own!’ It’s like, Nope. That didn’t happen,” he continued. “I saw someone tweet it’s because Feminist Frequency pissed on Avengers 2, which for all I know they may have. But literally the second person to write me to ask if I was OK when I dropped out was [Feminist Frequency founder] Anita [Sarkeesian].”

For the record, I didn’t see Anita say anything on twitter personally, but I did see her partner Josh McIntosh wonder why the Avengers 2 has so much darned violence in it.  The answer is simple: because it’s the FUCKING AVENGERS.  You don’t make a movie starring the Hulk, for example, and then have him not smash things in an orgy of violence the whole time.  Unless you’re Ang Lee.  Note: this is probably something that most directors consider a cautionary tale.  I sure do. Continue reading

GamerGate Bomb Threat

Hey, whoever phoned in a bomb threat to the GamerGate meetup in Washington, DC: you’re an asshole.  Seriously.  Stop it.

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