November 2nd

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Ahh, the weekend after Halloween. I hope you all had fun, dear readers? I know my cat did. Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Design Notes

At Eurogamer, Simon Parkin has yet another gem of a feature for us, this time on the origins of the political utopianism undergirding every modern MMO:

Bartle gave [the source code for multi-user dungeons] away not to get famous and not to get rich. He did it because, in this virtual world, he saw a better blueprint for society. MUD was a place in which players were able to succeed according to their actions and intelligence rather than an accident of birth into a certain social class or fortune. “We wanted the things that were in MUD to be reflected in the real world,” he says. “I wanted to change the world. MUD and every subsequent MMO that has adopted its designs are a political statement. I should know: I designed it that way. And if you want the world to change, then making people pay to read your message isn’t going to work. So we gave it away.”

This was also a great week for horror-themed close reads, as you might imagine. At Normally Rascal, Stephen Beirne runs through Fatal Frame 2‘s projector room with a fine-toothed comb, while at Videogames of the Oppressed, Mike Joffe concludes his three-part analysis of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with a meditation on the game’s setting as the childhood home of its protagonist.

These two sound-oriented articles pair nicely together. At Game Sound, Kenneth Young compares the auditory approaches used to introduce characters in two science fiction games, Destiny and The Swapper. And over at his personal blog, Harmonix’s Dan Bruno shares some notes on Mother 3‘s music-based battle system.

Context Cues

Taking notes from the recently released Bayonetta 2, Paste’s Maddy Myers argues that the term ‘male gaze,’ which game critics borrow from film studies, is in fact woefully inadequate for describing the ways sexualized game protagonists can be inhabited and made empowering by their players.

On the subject of sexuality and women, Todd Harper shares his impressions of the queer characters in Borderlands the Pre-Sequel, in particular how his impressions are inflected by how media has treated similar characters in the past.

On another subject, Marshall Sandoval showed up at PopMatters Moving Pixels again this past week to reflect on the recession’s influence on the recent uptick of cyberpunk in games.

Illustrated Herstories

Kill Screen’s Chris Priestman has a neat feature on Rachel Weil’s FEMICOM art installation, which Leigh Alexander also profiled earlier this year.

Actually It’s About…

At his review blog, Erik Twice notes that, indeed, games journalism is mired in very real problems, albeit ones which don’t seem to have crossed Gamergate’s radar.

Meanwhile, at Salon, Arthur Chu writes empathetically about the social ostracization and resentment behind much of the movement’s rage. And Zoe Quinn — who should need no introduction, if you’ve been following the Gamergate debacle at all — addresses latecomer ‘moderates’ to explain why good-faith discussion may no longer be possible, if it ever was:

This is not a debate with two sides. It never will be. It makes it really hard to have a conversation about anything when it feels like one side has a gun under the table. Even if the gun isn’t yours, even though you don’t condone it, it’s there all the same. Treating it as though it were a mere matter of difference of opinion when one group has been relentlessly ruining lives and trying to cover it up, and the other is made up of people targeted by that group, treating them equally is NOT fairness. It is NOT balance. It is falsely seeking the Golden Mean for the Golden Mean’s sake, while discarding the spirit of fairness it represents by asking victims of a group attacking them for weeks or months to defend their right to live their lives without that. Even if every single false justification that GamerGate has given for their existence was true, even if I was the Machiavellian hellbeast they make me out to be, no one deserves to be GamerGate’s target. No one deserves to have their real lives ruined over video games.

Someone punching you in the face isn’t a dialog, and it’s not something you should be called upon to prove yourself undeserving of.

Lastly, Laralyn McWilliams addressed her fellow developers in a Gamasutra blog, arguing that the games industry should look upon the hostility toward women it has created the same way it addresses a user experience problem:

These past few months have been challenging, to say the least. Personally, I hear more women in game development talk about leaving our industry every day than I usually see in several years. What has been happening and continues to happen is having a profound chilling effect on the women on our teams. It will be yet another reason women leave this line of work, and yet another reason many talented young women about to graduate will choose to use their skills and energy elsewhere in tech. Your opinion about whether those feelings are justified or correct doesn’t change the fact that the current climate and culture is alienating them. Your point of view on journalism and ethics and even on harassment doesn’t change their experience with the systems of our industry and the culture around it, and the impression left by those experiences.

Even if each of us didn’t make every element in the game they’re playing, each one of us is on the game development team for our culture as a whole. We’re watching the usability session in action — right now, today. Yes, it’s painful and frustrating. Yes, you may want to argue with the player on the other side of the one-way mirror who doesn’t understand your carefully crafted controls. Yes, you may feel shafted because a handful of malicious players are griefing a segment of the player base without your permission, and now you’re on the hook to fix it.

But as experienced developers, we all know the answer is not that “She’s playing it wrong.” The systems of our industry are failing her.

Speed Racer Was a Good Movie

Thank you to everyone for sending in your link recommendations by Twitter mention and email! Please keep it up!

The October Blogs of the Round Table has concluded and you can read its roundup here. And once you’re done with that, pop on over to November’s prompt post, “Home Sweet Home.”

Memory Insufficient has a new Call for Submissions, this time tackling the subject of alternative histories in games. Maybe we’ll see some more about Rachel Weil’s installation in this issue?

That’s it for this week! We’ll see you next time, and until the– hmm, what does the header for this section mean? Oh nothing. Just watch the movie. Here’s my cat dressed as the cat from Sailor Moon. Happy Halloween!