Zen Of Design

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

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Rescuing Princesses in Arkham Knight

I generally like Anita’s work.  However, one place where I’ve felt it to be weak is in regards to Damseling.  It’s not that I don’t agree that it’s an overused trope.  The issue is that a number of issues converge to make damseling difficult to fix. These same issues make the Bechdel Test worthless for games.  To wit:

1) Story-based games tend to center on one character.  Unlike an ensemble movie, like say the Avengers, pretty much all interactions must center on the main character and his conflicts. All core characters are defined by their relation to that main character.  If that main character’s gender is preset as male (as it is frequently, especially in licensed games such as an Arkham game), then all other relationships, male or female, will effectively be defined by that character.

2) While Anita & other cultural critics find it tiring to talk about women continually being rescue targets and motivations, the truth of the matter is that virtually any experienced screenwriter will tell you that saving an ally or loved one is a far more compelling narrative than saving the world by finding/disabling/destroying some interchangeable quest foozle.  Most game stories have TWENTY or so of these quest foozles to pad out a 20 hour playtime, and need to have rescues and similar ‘personal’ missions in order to relieve the banality and add more personal stake Which means that if you want to include female allies in your game, it’s hard NOT to trip over one of these tropes unless you put your female characters in a closet where they aren’t actually interacting with the plot much at all – obviously not desirable either.

So yeah, I tend to think that handwringing over damseling tends to be overwrought.  As such, I was fully prepared to pooh pooh this writeup on the game.  But once I sat down and made time to play, I found Arkham Knight to be pretty disquieting in this regard.  Which is an odd step backwards for a game that’s a sequel to a game that gave us a significantly playable and awesome Catwoman.

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Kern Being Kern: Part Gazillion

You may remember Mark Kern from his little temper tantrum from earlier this year – a temper tantrum that may or may not have resulted in him being shown the door from the company he founded. Whether this was due to his spending all of his time shitposting rather than getting work done, or whether there were more egregious problems, who knows. All I know is that this time around, they didn’t involve a $3 Million dollar bus for what was probably the most awesome planned Speed update of all time.

Welp, he’s back and he’s declared that he’s…. no longer neutral!

Yes, previously, he was being neutral as he slammed the press, coddled idiotic conspiracy theories and then cheered on the trolls of GamerGate as they brigaded the #GDC hashtag with insults, ad hominem attacks on game developers and anime porn, among other filth. But now he’s committed to #GamerGate because some people saw that the new Deus Ex is using the term ‘mechanical apartheid’ to describe their story, and some tiny number of that thought that merited a conversation.

For what it’s worth, I think that ‘mechanical apartheid’ is an awesome starting point that’s completely appropriate for the Deus Ex I know and love, and ties directly into the time-honored tradition of using alleghory in sci-fi and geek culture to discuss tricky and controversial subjects in modern society. Where Deus Ex’ narrative was going in their previous release was reminiscent to me of how Marvel Comics used the X-Men as an alleghory for the struggle of the Gay Rights movement. In a note to KiA, the game devs discussed how that was actually their plans. But hey, it’s just the start of a conversation, and if some are offended, we could actually listen to them and see if they have something worthwhile to say, right?

Ha ha, just kidding. Instead people like Mark are just going to freak the fuck out. Once again, the outrage from the Perpetual Outrage Machine that is KiA and GG vastly outstrips the supposed outrage from the other side. Seriously, I have a fair number of supposed SJWs in my twitter feed, and saw nary a kerfuffle in casual observation. Certainly nothing that compared to KiA’s utter shitstorm, or Mark Kern’s continued meltdown into nonsensical blather.

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.

 

Just a Couple More Tidbits on Blocklists

Welp, I was hoping that the last post would be my last word on blocklists.  However, there’ve been a couple relevant and interesting bits to share.  First off, notorious libertarian legal snarkmeister Popehat has given his opinion about Why Mean Blockbots Probably Aren’t Defamatory. He does close with a couple of caveats.

I speak here of the rule of law, not the rule of feels. I understand many people feel as though BlockBot designations are defamatory. So they have that going for them, which is nice.

Meanwhile, the team that did The Block Bot (this is the Athiesm+ blockbot, not Randi’s GG blockbot) announced that Blockbot will undergo a significant rewrite, to help it deal with it’s unexpected popularity.

In this developmental stage, the following features for this new platform are being discussed:

  • Facilitating the formation of more than one blocking team.
  • Allowing users to opt-in or opt-out of individual blocker’s blocks.
  • Creating clear policies for adding and removing blockers and admins.
  • Handling appeals more consistently.
  • Expanding users’ block-list choices.
  • Soliciting feedback from users more effectively.
  • Providing a more robust system for users to suggest blocks.

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins (who is on the Atheism+ blocklist because, well, he’s been Richard Dawkins on twitter lately) is not impressed.

Intel Steps It Up On Diversity

Yesterday, Intel made a major announcement, effectively setting a dare up for other tech companies by declaring a $300 Million dollar investment in Diversity, including the goal of a fully representative workplace by 2020. This is a pretty staggeringly ambitious goal for a large, major international company, and by at least this account, we largely have GamerGate to thank.

In October, though, Intel unwittingly became a villain in a controversy over the treatment of women in gaming, which has come to be known as GamerGate. A loose-knit brigade of Internet users lobbied the company to pull an advertising campaign on the game website Gamasutra because it had run an essay attacking the male dominance of games culture.

Intel, which was caught off guard by the ensuing controversy over its actions, eventually resumed advertising on the site. Mr. Krzanich said he used the incident as an opportunity to think more deeply about the broader issue of diversity in the tech industry. The issue resonated with him personally.

“I have two daughters of my own coming up on college age,” he said. “I want them to have a world that’s got equal opportunity for them.”

Note that this hilariously seems to not quite match Breitbart’s super secret report of Intel’s super secret GamerGate fanboyism.  The remaining dregs of Gamergate were not pleased, largely because both Anita Sarkeesian and the IGDA were listed as key partners of the initiative.

GamerGate adherents are already are planning a counter-email campaign, making sure, as always, to hide their GamerGate affiliation specifically to avoid getting filtered.  They continue to unload on Anita as a  ‘member of a hate group‘ and a ‘demagogue’ among other old, debunked crap,  (as frequently noted, she’s not always right but she’s definitely enlightening, and her voice should be welcomed).  As for the IGDA, GamerGate adherents have that organization on the shit list for at one point having a link to Randi’s GG Autoblocker on their website to help out game developers felt under siege (unlike ).  As an amusing artifact of history, this all happened while there was a bug in the blocker, which resulted in KFC’s official twitter account being included, which is why you’ll occasionally hear a Gator cry out ‘KFC!’ in Twitter the same way Braveheart shouted ‘Freedom!’

If you pay attention to the zombie-like shuffling husk that is the GamerGate saga nowadays, this last paragraph is what you’re going to get –petty, unworthy bullshit  peppered by anonymous harassment targeting individuals on both sides of the fence.  Many, particularly the moderates on both sides, have backed out — there was a particularly large egress on the topic in the week when people were discussing the relative defensibility of various child-porn like substances that ultimately cost 8chan their Patreon.  Reddit banned KiA from posting the email addresses of boycott targets to prevent witchhunts  which caused some on KiA to declare reddit a left-wing enemy of free speech (really), and some suggesting starting their own reddit, only with blackjack and hookers.

Doxing and swatting remain hot topics, though usually sourced to theoretically unrelated 8chan boards famous for stirring shit up for the lulz.   The Mens Rights Activists continue to eagerly throw their cancerous opinions into the fray.  Some asshole told TotalBiscuit that he hopes he dies of the cancer he’s currently battling (anti-GG forces are being blamed, though no one knows who the fuck the tweeter is).  Randi Harper pointed out that many Facebook GamerGate user groups were set improperly to be public, which caused a freakout that she ‘doxed 9000 people’.

The actual time spent discussing anything that looks like what reasonable people consider ‘ethics in journalism’ continues to approach zero.  For their part, the games press continues to mostly ignore the whole nine yards, other than occasionally doing things like having fun with disclaimers.

So yeah, the whole shitstorm is still a complete and total cesspool of suck that most journalists and developers do and should avoid.  For those who were smarter than me and stayed away, congratulations, and I envy you!  For those who were not, perhaps this one man’s tale of dealing with Post-GamerGate Depression may aid you.

 

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