And a little more XCOM over on TLF… almost done!
And a little more XCOM over on TLF… almost done!
So my most recent As-I-Play of XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Part Seven – Girl Fight!) is up on TLF. It’s getting close to the end…
Coming up in a couple weeks, Borderlands 2… I’m looking forward to it!
Amid the toxic fallout from August in the gaming world is an idea that’s being championed by several feminist critics, including Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra, that the term “gamer” ought to be disposed with.
On the one hand, I completely sympathize with the sentiment that’s behind the argument. “Gamers,” by which she means the trollish minority of anti-feminist vocal MRA-supporting feminist-conspiracy-theory-touting subset of gamers, have of late been behaving like spoiled toddlers who have been told that they can’t eat their entire birthday cake because other people should also get a slice.
But on the other, I think the knee-jerk impulse to excise the term from our vocabulary runs the risk of erasing a lot of what is good about being a gamer. Identifying with the rest of gamer culture – sharing common fandoms and conversations; enjoying the thrill of victory, whether in solo, co-op, or competitive play; experiencing the excitement of new game mechanics or technologies… all those things are also a part of being a gamer. I’ve found more friends by identifying as a gamer (both board games and videogames) than I have by identifying as anything else. I’d hate to lose that.
I understand, too, the argument that games are becoming an increasingly ubiquitous part of our culture. They are. More people play games – especially casual mobile games – than ever before… or do they? Solitaire has been a staple of people’s lives since they could make cards. Dice (or knuckle-bones) can be solitaire, co-op, and competitive, too. In short, whether playing a sport, a board/card game, or a videogame, human beings have been gamers of varying degrees for all eternity. Just because more people play Candy Crush and Flappy Bird than used to play Minesweeper doesn’t mean that there isn’t a distinction between those folks who are gamers, and Gamers.
Certainly, there isn’t a level of monetary commitment one can give to become a Gamer (per a current argument), nor dedicated hours to gaming, nor ownership of a particular set of machinery. Being a Gamer is about attitude and ownership of the identity (not the paraphernalia). It’s about putting games before a lot of other things, and wanting to put games before other things because of the positives that gaming represents.
Being a Gamer, to me, means being willing to take risks. It also means wanting to never let go of the impulse to play. Playfulness, and the embrasure of the fantastic that comes with it, is something our society as a whole is sorely lacking. Playfulness can manifest in many ways, not just through gaming, but gaming is, to me at least, one of the most concrete ways that adults have the opportunity to remain playful in a world that is otherwise harsh, unfair, and stressful.
Play is important – physical play, cosplay, identity play, virtual play… all kinds of play that help us to define and redefine ourselves and our beliefs, to experiment with new patterns of thought and ways of engaging with the world, to work out our frustrations in a safe way. And Gamers are (some of the) people who value play more than most.
And that’s why I want to not just hold on to the Gamer identity, but to reclaim it and encourage people to embrace it.
Two groups are at opposite ends of this moment:
One side has folded its arms, slumped its shoulders while pouting like an obstinate child that has learned they are getting a little brother or sister but wants to remain the singular focus of his parents affection.
The other side has opened its arms, unable to contain its love and compassion, because they understand they are no longer alone.
This week, the obstinate child threw a temper tantrum, and the industry was stuck in the metaphorical grocery store as everyone was forced to suffer through it together. But unlike a child, the people behind these temper tantrums are hurting others. It’s time to grow up. Let’s not wait until next week to start.
It’s a fantastic summary of what’s happening between the so-called “hardcore” gaming fans (a group into which I’m pretty sure I fit by any definition other than one that involves gender- or physical hygiene- or dwelling-place-stereotypes) and gaming’s diversity critics (those talking about race and sexuality as well as gender). The final paragraph in particular sums up the horrible feeling of embarrassment that I have as a gamer and a critic over being forced not only to watch, but to take part (partially against my will), like the parent or babysitter or older sibling.
What can we, as the responsible party in this tantrum, do? As with small children, we can’t abandon them, we can’t smack them, and we don’t want to be seen with them, but they are our responsibility and even our family. They, like us, are a part of this community, even sometimes against both our wishes. So we have to do what good parents do: don’t encourage, don’t take the bait, and wait – patiently or impatiently, as the case may be – for the child to wear itself out and grow up.
In a (hopefully) much less controversial post – my latest As-I-Play post on XCOM: Enemy Unknown is up over at TLF.
In a side note, I’d originally titled the post “Stop, Don’t Shoot” when I started writing it the day before the Ferguson protests started. When I went back to keep updating the post I decided that would be a bit tasteless, so you get the title noted above instead.
Yesterday, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency released a new Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video – part two of “Women as Background Decoration.” As per usual, people seem to either love it or hate it (and I’m pretty sure most of them have come to their respective conclusions before ever clicking on the link or pushing play.
I did a write-up response over on TLF, also as per usual.
On a related but not-repeated-in-my-TLF-post note, I’m starting to become irritated by the people I think of as Sarkeesian cheerleaders (none of whom I know personally, by the way). Not anywhere near to the level with which I am disgusted by the trolls who attack her, mind you, but, I think, in large part because of them.
These are the people to whom Sarkessian can do or say no wrong. Every word, every clip, every tweet are sacrosanct nuggets of gold in the feminist fight against the ravening trollish hordes.
And, to be honest, I can sympathize with the impulse because she is fighting the proverbial good fight. She’s doing good work, or at least work for good (although arguably a little of each). I don’t want her to stop making her video series, nor do I want her to be subject to the harassment that characterizes (and escalates with) every release of another episode.
But I also think that to hold Sarkeesian up as the pillar of feminist criticism of videogames is problematic and does a disservice to criticism itself on a couple levels.
First – and most importantly as far as I’m concerned – it suggests that to engage with criticism (metacriticism, if you will) is to devalue it and render it meaningless. If that were the case, no academic ever would have a job. The purpose of criticism is to have a critical conversation, which includes discussion and dissent, that engages with both the primary material (here, videogames) and the other critics (Sarkeesian).
Second, the valorization of Sarkeesian as a paragon of feminist criticism creates a black-and-white template in which videogames are seen as either feminist or misogynist, with no room in the middle.
Finally, it polarizes the people surrounding the discussions. If I’m not with Sarkeesian 100%, then I must support the trolls. This is a false dichotomy that hurts feminists and intelligent criticism far more than it hurts the trolls.
Nuance is important. Critical conversations are important. If I take issue with Sarkeesian’s depiction of one game among many – Dishonored, for instance – then there should be no problem with me pointing that out. I’m not saying that her work is bad. I’m not saying that there is nothing of value in the episode. I am saying that I disagree with this one point – to criticize a single point is to engage her work in conversation, which, so long as it is done respectfully, ought to be the objective of any critic’s work.
So don’t wave your finger in my direction and say “But you only don’t like this one example” as a reason why my entire criticism is invalid. No, I don’t like that example, and that’s okay. As Sarkeesian herself says at the start of every episode, it is possible – even positive – for us to criticize the things we like. So instead of name-calling and accusations (from anyone), let’s have a conversation.
What did you like in this episode? What didn’t you like? Was there a game you thought was missing? A game you thought was misrepresented?
So recent events – of which I’m sure many of you are aware – in the games-journalism world have me thinking about the nature of sexism and how privilege corrupts the idea of social justice. Not only have people been throwing around the term “social justice warrior” as both a personal banner and an insult, depending on one’s political and social position, but I’ve seen several instances of “journalism is corrupt!” being thrown about without anyone really interrogating what that means.
First, and probably most obviously, is the Zoe Quinn debacle in which the developer of Depression Quest (which I’ve been meaning to play but haven’t gotten to in my queue just yet) had some sort of sexual relationship with a person who is not her boyfriend. I’m a little sketchy on the details and would mostly prefer to stay that way, but the end result is that her now-ex-boyfriend got hurt (emotionally and/or pridefully) and marshaled 4chan to recoup his tarnished honor.
I’m not questioning whether or not he has the right to feel hurt by adultery or betrayal or cheating or even being rapidly replaced or whatever it is that happened. He does, absolutely. It’s a shitty position in which to be. But that does not give him the right to attack his ex in the manner and to the degree in which he has. Getting a bunch of people to threaten the mental and physical well-being of another person, getting people to post private information and photographs to the public internet, and having people harass said person about her “integrity” and “ethics” while committing unconscionable acts of emotional assault are not appropriate and are in fact horrific and should be arrest-worthy.
Today, I saw this tweet:
— Subtle Blend (@subtleblend) August 24, 2014
This person’s feed is full of disparaging tweets about Quinn, and has now attacked Kotaku‘s Patricia Hernandez (via Stephen Totilo, editor for Kotaku) for supposed illicit affairs with game devs.
Totilo’s policy seems to be that so long as the developers aren’t gaining unfairly positive reviews from the relationships, and that the reporters just avoid reporting about those particular devs when possible, it’s fine:
My standard has long been this: reporters who are in any way close to people they might report on should recuse themselves …(3)
— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) August 19, 2014
…from reporting about those with whom their close. If they must report about them, disclosure is mandatory. Readers deserve that. (4)
— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) August 19, 2014
@subtleblend seems to think that in the really incredibly small developer-journalist community that any sort of human interaction qualifies as a “relationship.” Certainly, advocating about how awesome a developer’s game is when one is in a position to influence sales is problematic, but most of the “proof” offered by @subtleblend of bias are collections of quotes and links to Anna Anthropy’s blog or games site – not actual reviews. One of them did suggest that one of Anthropy’s creations is “cute,” but was not the kind of “drop-everything-and-buy-it” kind of review that one would expect from a biased journalist.
But even if there is something problematic about Hernandez’s friendship with Anthropy here, the question that no one has yet asked remains: why is it that all of a sudden “everyone” (men) is concerned with journalistic ethics specifically surrounding primarily female developers? Hernandez – who has received her share of harassment in the past simply for being female and a games journalist – is also female, and is therefore subject to this campaign, but notice how the person being harassed in the Zoe Quinn “scandal” is primarily Zoe – and not the other (male) party.
With the exception of Phil Fish (whose life has been thoroughly screwed-with), the subjects of these harassment campaigns are women: Anita Sarkeesian, Carolyn Petit, Anna Anthropy, Zoe Quinn, Patricia Hernandez. What the trollish hordes have concluded (*cough* manufactured *cough*) from this is that women are therefore a threat to journalistic ethics. Not my words, theirs, as Zoya Street explains on Border House. All of which comes down to the same sexist “fears” that women will somehow “corrupt” or “take away” the male-dominated arena of games – both development and journalism, which is – of course – complete bullshit.
Finally, this is the point where I feel the need to say that as a critic of games who is also married to a game developer, banning journalists and critics from any sort of fraternization with game devs is downright idiotic.Now I’m not in a position to give any noticeable benefit to said developer, so my ethics aren’t really in question, but I’ve written on games he’s developed and said both positive and negative things about them as a player and a critic because that’s my job. Would it be sketchy for me to say that a game my husband worked on is the best thing ever and everyone should buy it? Only if I didn’t really think so.
Totilo’s point that it’s “better” for journalists to be upfront about their relationship with developers allows readers to say “how honest is this? how much does the author’s liking of this developer influence their thoughts?” I get why that might be a good CYA for an editor, and why readers might want to be informed of all the elements going into a decision.
But. And this is a but that is mostly applicable for women, both journalists and devs, the disclosure of that information also leads to dismissal – “she’s only saying she likes it because she’s sleeping with him/he’s only saying that because she’s sleeping with him.” If that is true, it’s a problem, but the assumption typically comes with a heavy dose of sexist presumption (in both directions).
In any industry, people marry other people in the industry, people sleep with other people in the industry, and so on. It happens in movies, in music, in tv, in publishing, in games, in academia. Should there be cronyism policies in place? Probably to ensure avoidance of worst-case scenarios, but if both people are capable of conducting themselves like adults, then there shouldn’t be an issue. Obviously, there are cases where people can’t act like adults, where they publish nude photos and release private information out of spite, but then those are the people who should be punished.
The long and short of it is that people are people. People will become involved with other people in their field of interest because that’s what brings people together, whether romantically or platonically. Some of those people will be women. It’s time the games industry caught up with the rest of the planet, puts on its big-kid pants, and starts acting like an adult.
The fifth installment of my As-I-Play XCOM series is up over at TLF.
You can use the As-I-Play category tag to find the rest.
This week, Gamespot ran a piece on how Dontnod, the developer who made Remember Me and is currently working on Life is Strange, isn’t “trying to fix the industry” by featuring female leads. This struck me as odd on a couple of levels.
First, Dontnod is “trying to fix the industry” by having female leads, but not in a pushy kind of way, which is probably why they said what they did:
“That’s not us trying to be different for the sake of being different,” creative director Jean-Maxime Moris told Joystiq at Gamescom. “It’s not as if we’re trying to ‘fix the industry.’”
What this says to me is that Dontnod is trying to make games that are good, games that are unique or “fresh” (to use one of the buzzwords), games that aren’t the same cookie-cutter white-male-shooter games that everyone else seems to think is required for success. What that means, really, is that they are trying to be different, but not “for the sake of being different” – the idea is to make an original game because that’s a good thing, not just to shock people or stick out like a sore thumb.
I find it a little odd that people disparage the idea of being different “for the sake of being different” – that somehow wanting to make something original is not a legitimate goal in and of itself. But that is as it is. Certainly, if a company wants to be successful, they need to make a game that is fun, a game that is popular, but I’m not sure why Moris went out of his way to assure players that “being different” isn’t one of the goals.
Second, art director Michel Koch explains the presence of female leads by saying that
“We have women in the dev team–not that many because it’s still the video game industry and there are not that many women–but we have women working on the game,” Koch said. “And our writer, which is an American writer we’ve worked with before, he’s consulting with his nieces. He’s showing scripts to them, to read it and see if it feels genuine and fresh.”
There are women on the team. (Admittedly, having women on a development team is a thing that is sadly rare, but here seems more like an apology than a reasonable statement – but that could be the way it’s framed and not what Koch intended at all.) Women are a part of the development process, and the game has female leads. Sadly, this is as unusual and innovative as the article frames it – but it shouldn’t be.
But that aside, the headline – like the quote – also makes some basic assumptions about videogames and gamers that is still bothersome. It has become headline-worthy point when a developer makes not one, but two games in a row that feature female leads (that aren’t a series, like Tomb Raider). My god. I applaud Dontnod for doing it, mind you, but I’d rather see the headline be about the game instead of about a developer defending the choice to make two games in a row featuring female leads.
To be perfectly clear, this is not a post about games or gaming or the gaming community, although it is something that happens in the gaming community and could therefore be applicable. Mostly, it’s about something that happens when I go to the grocery store, and when women in general walk down the street, go shopping, or pretty much do anything: catcalling.
Catcalling can be insulting, raunchy, or phrased in the words of compliment. But it isn’t. Claire Zulkey tries to explain this in “A Conversation About Friendly Catcalling With My Husband,” posted on Jezebel. Her main point in the piece is that being catcalled – even, as in the case she describes, with a compliment – is disconcerting and disruptive. She also points out that there’s a difference between commenting on someone’s person and commenting on their clothes – a point that I think she’s right about.
She says that women generally comment on one another’s clothing choices or style – and I’ve noticed that when strangers (male or female) comment on my clothes I’m always significantly less creeped out than when they comment on my body, body parts, or general attractiveness. If someone passing me on a hiking trail says they like my Aperture Science shirt, I know they’re a geek and they get the joke. If someone likes my crazy striped tights, I know they have a sense of whimsy. Those things aren’t creepy.
When someone calls out “Hey baby” or “Hey beautiful!” or “Work it baby!” (all things that have been yelled at me while walking to and from the grocery store, although the oddest may be “I like your truck – wanna go for a ride in it?” in the grocery store parking lot). And these comments apply whether the catcall is positive or negative – calling out something about a person’s weight or poor fashion sense or hair or body odor or presumed sexuality is equally unacceptable.
To me, it isn’t just that catcalling is disconcerting (although it is). It’s that it assumes that I personally care what you, a random stranger, think about my body. (What you think about my clothes is only slightly more relevant, as I dress deliberately, but still not really, and I’d prefer that people I don’t know keep their opinions about both to themselves.)
Catcalling, most of the time, is aimed at women and perpetrated by men (although not always), and therefore presumes a certain level of domination and ownership. People who catcall – usually men – assume that their opinion about someone else’s appearance or self-presentation is more valid than that person’s own.
Worse, commenting on my physicality presumes not only that I care what you think about my body, but that you have a right to judge my body. You don’t. The only people allowed to judge my body are me, my spouse, and my medical professionals (although they hold questionable status so long as they rely on BMI instead of fitness as a measure – long story).
If you’re ever in a position where you have the urge to say something to someone, try this staple: “Hi.” Or “Good morning/afternoon/evening.” Or “How’s it going?” (which in many parts of the country does not actually require an answer in the conventional sense, but a “How’re you?” in response). If the person you address smiles and replies, then you’ve maybe made their day brighter. If they introduce themselves or begin a conversation, maybe you’ll make a friend. If they look startled, they have the default “Hello” or “Fine, and you?” response to make back, but do not pursue the conversation. They aren’t interested – but at least you haven’t made them feel horribly self-conscious or objectified in the process.