September 7th

Ah, September. School has returned, those summer nights get shorter, the first leaves begin to change and Mark turns into a human allergy attack. But fear not, for with this great power comes another This Week in Videogame Blogging!

American Presidential Scandals

Over the last three weeks there has been growing discussion around the journalistic standards of the games media. The event, dubbed GamerGate, was our focus last week, and even as it simmers down, it remains a widely talked about event.

Many writers implore moderates who are unaware or uninterested in the sexist roots of the campaign to take a close look at how its impacting people, such as L. Rhodes, who responds to the demands and criticisms of “Fair-Minded Proponents of #GamerGate” in a piece on Medium:

That isn’t news to you, of course. You were quick to disavow that sort of exclusion. #GamerGate, you told me, is about inclusion. That’s part of why you placed so much value on the term gamer, and why you were so frustrated at the recent spate of articles suggesting that the gamer identity is dead or dying. Gaming had connected you with a community where you felt accepted, and to have that repudiated felt like another form of exclusion.

If the sheer fact that they’re using your name to harass other gamers isn’t enough to motivate you, then maybe recognizing how they’ve worked to undermine your goals will.

Throughout his piece, Rhodes addresses the allegations of corruption many have brought up to him and to other writers.

Likewise, Andrew Plotkin seems to agree that there is little room for middle-ground, arguing that neutrality and silence during a harassment campaign of this size condones it.

In a similar vein, Mary Lee Sauder suggests concrete, positive reforms to reporting standards or design philosophies are all that will prevent ‘Gamerghazi’ from becoming a permanent fixture of the medium:

Nobody wants misogyny to become the unspoken and unchallenged dark reality of the video game community. But if all we do is shout at each other, then nothing will ever change. I propose that we use “GamerGate” as a jumping off point for an overhaul in harassment policies in our industry and community.

Lastly, at Silicon Sasquatch, guest columnist Brit McGinnis — who works as a journalist outside of games coverage — discusses how events like the ‘Gamer-Contra Affair’ become complicated in such a young and undefined area of journalism as gaming the press:

Because let’s face it: The standards of what makes an ethical video game review are far from etched in stone. The industry’s still in its infancy, for Pete’s sake. I ask myself, would I ever review a game made by one of my friends? A year ago, maybe I would have. But now, no. That wouldn’t be up to a journalistic standard of impartiality.

[…] The Zoe Quinn situation is a test case for this fledgling branch of journalism, and one probably couldn’t have asked for a better one.

Gamers Lost Like Tears in the Rain

One common reaction to the ‘Gamercake forgery’ has been a move to abandon the label “gamer” altogether. Aleks Samoylov of The Cloud Monster writes, “[gamers] don’t belong in our space, and they don’t deserve our attention, our time, our energy. Let us define new spaces as we see fit.” Samoylov calls for a smaller community, asking that those fed up with “gamer” culture shift their money and attention to more intimate projects.

Skeleton Sam takes a similar stance on their personal blog, comparing the homogeneity and potential for growth in games with comics at the turn of the century. They also make my job a lot easier by citing a plethora of related writing to back up their claims.

Of course, there are those that prefer to keep the term, such as Wendi Sierra of Not Your Mama’s Gamer, who believes that a sub-culture that identifies with the label does not constitute its whole:

I can certainly sympathize with those who want to get rid of the “gamer” label. Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of assumptions tied up with calling one’s self a gamer, and many of them aren’t positive. Still, rejecting the label altogether seems like missing the forest for the trees to me. Yes, there is a violent, angry, vocal contingent of players in the gaming world. The tools we have for collaborating with others and sharing our views make them highly visible, just as those same tools give Sarkeesian and others the chance to reframe how we think about games.

Steve Gibson takes to Njoystic with a similar view that “gamer” does not belong to trolls and that the term can be reclaimed.

Zoya Street provides an excerpt from his book, Delay: paying attention to energy mechanics for the Border House, where he elucidates the concept of shame and how it connects to gamers. It’s a worthwhile read right now for any current or former “gamers” whether they’re openly proud or ashamed of the baggage that comes with the term.

The Future is Now

Writing for Time, Leigh Alexander says that harassers represent the traditional gaming audience lashing out at a culture that has expanded beyond them:

There’s something for everyone in the modern gaming landscape, and the way games journalists parse all this for their readers is beginning to change, too. You’d think this would make people happy, but recently this culture shift would appear to have broken out into full-on culture war online.

[…] Some […] admit they’re afraid that “social justice warriors” will ruin video games.

Tobold Stoutfoot, on the other hand, interprets the shrinking influence of “core gamers” as the result of economic forces:

Games like they used to be have a problem in today’s market. Many of the core themes are not acceptable to a wider audience. It isn’t just as Anita Sarkeesian complains how women are shown as victims in the background decoration of games like Hitman. It is that games like Hitman which are exclusively about violence aren’t as appealing to a wider market than they were to the old core audience.

(Tobold is a self-styled moderate in this discussion and those who find our roundups “one-sided” are encouraged to check out his other posts on this subject for some parity. –ed)

At Geek Essays, Pixie reminds everyone involved that, even while rhetoric around these discussions intensifies, “you can’t build inclusion on exclusionary language.” It’s a salient point to keep in mind since advocates of both “sides” in the last few weeks have involved unfair assumptions about opponents’ sexuality, intelligence, and mental health.

Related, Charlotte Hyde back at Not Your Mama’s Gamer describes how difficult it is to be heard when opponents shout undue insults at her (content warning: discussion of sexist language):

Lately, it seems that I and many others have to fight to be heard and are being told for one reason or another that we don’t really have the right to even be in the conversation. I shouldn’t even say “lately” because it’s always been a battle to be heard, but lately, it seems to be an even more uphill battle.

Perhaps it needn’t be said, but this is an opportunity to listen.

The Past is Now… Also

Reflecting on the last few weeks, Anna Tito offers her own history of how she became a game developer, noting that women have always been in the geek world. While her whole story is worth reading, her conclusion provides such an emphatic memento for the discussions that will no doubt continue:

To those who believe that women are here to ruin their gaming world I say this: I have always been here. I have lived in the shadows of ‘your’ world unacknowledged and [been] dismissed, but this world is as much mine as it is yours.

BioWare developer Damion Schubert suggests that gaming’s troll culture arose with early MMORPGs and suggests that the genre’s success only arrived when developers learned to mitigate user harassment.

Launching off the sustained harassment campaigns, Roland reflects on the Grand Theft Auto series for 9pp, considering that the series — and by extension, videogames — have sophisticated the wrong things in their quest for legitimacy:

The two passes we issued back in the day — a pass because the crude themes were only vaguely realised, and a pass because the tech showed artistic potential — expired in 2002. Now we have vivid portrayals of sick activities, deliberately and careful created, and reiterated until they’re just right, using basically the same tech that every other game under the sun has been using since we went 3D. Now we’re just perverts.

Lastly, Shamus Young takes to his column at The Escapist to describe how his many years of gaming have left him craving novelty.

Future and Past

Before moving away from the ongoing charges of conspiracy and corruption, I think The New Inquiry has earned a slow clap for curating an extensive list of writing not only related to the current goings on, but women’s issues of representation and over the last several years. Their “Syllabus for Gaming and Feminism” is about as close to comprehensive as can be expected.

Games and Literature

Over at the Ontological Geek, Joey DiZoglio compares Little Inferno with Yvgeny Zamyatin’s “The Cave” as pieces that ask their audiences to tread the line between survival and civilization.

G. Christopher Williams, the final boss of the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, describes the race toward defeat in Spec-Ops: The Line as a videogame tragedy:

Walker and the player’s final choice in the game mark the tragedy of this downward spiral from badass video game hero to a character and player that is morally comprised by the very activity of playing hero.

James Wragg of Thrusting Sticks manages to write about Roger Ebert, ludonarrative dissonance and Citizen Kane without awakening the legion of fallen critics, evaluating games like Metal Gear Solid and The Last of Us as narratives cognitively constructed by play to argue how terms like immersion misdirect the real problem with the medium:

Games are a broken because they are stuck in a quagmire of juvenility. They are not being allowed to grow by a commercialised industry obsessed with eternally repackaging Time Crisis for a mass audience. And the problem is exacerbated tenfold by a woefully inadequate mainstream gaming press, which largely identifies the problem as a technical one (an imperfect simulation, or a lack of obvious synchronicity between play and narrative), rather than a thematic one.

Better Together

Back at Polygon, Alexa Ray Corriea writes about Kingdom Hearts and the way it brought her closer to her brothers:

I don’t really know how it started. I booted the game up immediately on our downstairs TV and began playing. A few days later, Raymond started watching in media res and got confused, so we started the game over, together. A day later, four-year-old Jake — who was really fond of wandering the house in his underwear — came and sat with us.

And that was that.

Leigh Harrison compares two mobile card games, one Doctor Who themed and the other WWE-themed, and found the latter, less ambitious of the two better:

Legacy wants to be a proper, respectable match three puzzle game first and foremost, just without the leper-like stigma of gating progress with an energy system (see above). SuperCards, I’d say, is pretty happy just being a quick-fire source of constant, bite sized stimulations.

Getting Hot in Here

Over at Polygon, Holly Green cites a number of studies that indicate how players relate to their avatar while describing how Fallout 3 produced that very experience for her:

My real emotions responded when my avatar communicated with her and shared concern. Christine was no longer just a series of digital signals and impulses to me. She was real.

Moreover, Green describes how Fallout helped her explore her sexuality in her early stages of discovering it.

Meanwhile, Cara Ellison enters the bizarre and unsettling world of Fuck Everything by Lena NW in a NSFW analysis for Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Finally, Jed Pressgrove praises Amazing Princess Sarah for using its new game plus “nudity” difficulty as a way to mechanically change how the game is played, even if he seems to be shaking his head in his palms over the game’s marketing, “Interestingly,” he writes, “[developer] Haruneko makes wet dreams into more than a marketing ploy.”

Revisiting Old Ideas

Matthew Weise thinks cutscenes deserve credit for their cinematic uses, not derision as distractions from play:

Tricks [in cutscenes] only work because cinematic cut-scenes make the domains of player and designer so painfully clear. It helps the player understand *exactly* what part of the story belongs to them and what part belongs to the storyteller. It helps them understand things like identity and abstraction.

Putting the U in Labour

Lana Polansky takes to her blog to discuss payola in videogames and how it cheapens writers and their craft in favour of established, monied game developers:

Of course it’s disingenuous to argue that a review copy or a preorder are somehow less tempting just because they’re less personal — or that supporting a person’s work generally implies more bias than receiving side compensation for individual projects. But what’s really pernicious about this is that, while a ban like [Kotaku’s] does absolute sweet fuck-all to address the wider systemic issues of collusion and corruption and corporate influence at play in games press, it also deflects all of the burden onto the associations of individual actors and away from an inherently unjust and opaque structure.

Elsewhere, at Paste, the tag-team duo of Ian Williams and Austin Walker condemn Blizzard for reinforcing the crunch-cycle with the language of their job ads:

None of us wants to let down our family and friends, but we can probably get away with letting down management. That social pressure is what keeps crunch time and other bad practices in place as a normal part of the industry.

According to Williams and Walker, Blizzard, one of the most stable companies in the industry—is promoting the exploitative ways that games are made.

Katie Cox expresses related frustrations at Your Critic is in Another Castle toward the limitations and expectations that come with crowdfunding:

I hate deciding which of my talented friends and peers deserves $2 for hard work well-done and which of them deserves $0.50. I hate deciding that I shouldn’t support friends who are popular, because I have less-popular friends who need the money more. I cringe at the thought that anyone might feel they owe me anything in their work, or that they owe me any work at all.

Finish

Well, it’s been a long one but as always it’s been a pleasure. Before I collapse into a gross ball of sneezes, let me tell you that our Blogs of the Round Table is still open for submissions and Lindsey and I are eager to give them a read.

Also, Critical Distance is handcrafted out of the links provided every week by our readers, so please submit any writing you’d like to see here to our email or through Twitter.

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