On Editors’ Roles in Faulty Games Journalism

There’s a hidden part of the games writing process – all writing, in fact –that creates headaches for both games journalists and fans alike.  I’m speaking of the editing process, wherein a third party, who is essentially unaccountable for their words, has a great deal of power over the content of the final article.  An editor can make changes, deletions, and additions to the original article which can change its meaning, and these changes are then published as the author’s words, sometimes without the author seeing the changes.

The process of working with a skilled, attentive editor is a joy.   It makes a writer’s work better, and every professional writer wants to keep getting better.  However, most editors are rushed, and take shortcuts that eliminate communication with the writer.  Many editors in games end up being an uncredited rewriter, leaving a writer on the hook for views they don’t actually hold.

A simple example from a recent encounter with an editor was a comment I made about superheroes too often turning into Hitler-wannabes, a reference to the Avengers scene with Loki and Captain America where some extra makes a direct reference to World War II.  An editor decided he didn’t want to “Godwin” the article, so he changed the line from “Hitler-wannabes” to “strongmen”.  The resulting comment made no sense.  Why the hell would I complain about superheroes being strongmen?  Superheroes are inherently strongmen.  They’re superheroes!

Had that article gone to print, I would have been stuck with an extremely stupid comment on my record.

One very serious change of this sort did end up in a national newspaper where an editor inserted a gamergate reference I had not made.  When my twitter blew up with people screaming at me, I had no idea what was going on.  It wasn’t until I checked the printed version of the article that I saw the change.  I was, understandably, furious, but it was fairly impotent fury.  All I could do was ask nicely for the comment to be removed.  I had no power.  Fortunately, the comment was removed… from the online edition.  The print copy couldn’t be changed, so it’s still out there.

After the line was removed, accusations started that I was passing off accountability on others.  People thought I was blaming an editor because I caught hell.  There was nothing I could do.  I knew what the truth was, but I couldn’t prove it.  I had no record of the changes because everything had happened so fast.  I’m paranoid, but not that paranoid.

One may wonder what an editor was thinking, throwing a unwitting games journalist into the middle of an ugly fight like gamergate.  And I wish I could say it happened only once.  Depending on the source you check, I’m either “clearly pro-gamergate” or “secretly anti-gamergate”, when in fact I was just a reporter looking to talk to credible sources on both sides.  At some point, the anti-gamergate side determined I was the enemy and refused to speak to me, so I gathered the facts I could because it was clearly a story people cared about.  Some folks on the pro-gamergate side tried to do the same thing, but a core group within those ranks made a point of keeping dialogue open, even though they didn’t like what I was saying a lot of the time.

I think it’s wrong to try to shame and blackmail journalists into backing away from something that requires unbiased documentation.  A journalist’s job is to talk to people.  Sometimes that means talking to people with whom you disagree, or even people you find disgusting.  The only reason to shut that down is if you believe a source is deliberately feeding you false information in an attempt to pollute the public record.

The thing is, editors and activists do these misguided things thinking they’re helping.  Unlike the reporters, they have no direct contact with the information that’s been collected, and in this vacuum, it’s very easy to alter things in a way that makes the story inaccurate.  The editor is then the one that makes the decision to issue a correction.  The reporter can make their case, but ultimately has no say.  A good editor makes a reporter better.  Not-so-good editors crush an eager reporter’s spirit.  This isn’t just true in gaming.  The turnover rate in media is high for a reason.

I’ve been on the other end of this as a subject of articles, especially during my TV days.  When I first took over as co-host of Ed and Red’s Night Party!, a supportive reporter offered to help promote the first female co-host in the history of the show.  In the editing process, a single word was changed in the first paragraph of the article that took a totally benign introduction and turned it into an implication that I’d gotten the job via the casting couch.  I was furious and the journalist was mortified.  He sent me the original story he’d written, which was actually radically different from what went to press.  The offending line wasn’t the only change.  The editor had gutted the article to shorten the word count.

It’s things like this that make journalists so cynical, and so seemingly uncaring when a mistake is made.  There’s nothing we can do about this part of the process.  If we complain too much, we lose work because we’re “trouble”.  Similarly, when you’re ahead of the curve in media, and you become so used to being picked apart that you become deaf to some criticisms that may actually be useful, simply due to the sheer amount of criticism you receive on a given day.  You can’t take all of it to heart.  An editor or producer is supposed to be someone you can trust to steer you in the right direction.  Sadly, that’s not the reality of many people in the media.

These issues are some of the reasons I’ve stepped away from games journalism and became an analyst instead.  I feel like I can do better work when my words aren’t filtered by a revolving door of editors I’ve never met in person.  I still do writing, but now I can walk away if my words aren’t my words, and I have a place where I can publish the original text of what I wrote.

On a human level, I also have empathy for other gamers who feel like they’re being unfairly depicted as monsters by their own enthusiast press.  I’ve found it’s too difficult to offer an alternative opinion under traditional media structures.  I can’t control how the establishment does business.  All I can do is inform people about what actually happens in the games press to the best of my ability.

I’m one of the few people in this business who has been on both sides of the media circus, so I know how infuriating and hurtful it is when the press gets it wrong, or worse, demonizes someone for clicks.  The thing that isn’t talked about enough is the fact that it often happens through broken telephone, not an intent to deceive.  It’s hard to believe how badly something can get warped, just through the intervention of an editor who wasn’t on the scene, or a producer who recuts a segment without sufficient knowledge of the facts.

Unless an editor is willing to explain a change to a writer, don’t make the change.  That sounds simple, but it’s harder than you think when everyone’s terrified of being fired because there are so many games professionals out of work.  It’s a system that’s made up of dogs eating dogs in a shark tank.

Forgive the circular sentence, but the games industry hurting is hurting the games industry.  It’s also hurting the games community, individual developers, and fans, and so we need to do better.  Talking to each other and being supportive professional partners isn’t the terrifying thing it’s made out to be.  Conflicts will happen; that’s okay as long as they’re properly resolved.  People make mistakes; that’s not an unforgiveable sin.

The things we can fix are the parts of games journalism that are structurally unaccountable, and structural issues can be addressed without assigning blame or fault.  The first step towards fixing this is to better inform the public regarding how games are made, and how articles get published.

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On Video Game Player, Character, and Developer Agency

In a strange pivot toward the absurd, Feminist Frequency’s most recent “Tropes versus Women” video, Lingerie is Not Armor waffled on the series’ previous complaints that female game characters lack agency to declare that fictional female characters have NO agency because they’re not real women.

This is, of course, patently false, and it’s important to explore why.  Character agency, along with developer agency and player agency, form a triangle of agency that’s essential to successful game design that tells a cohesive story while the player still feels meaningfully involved.  The balance and flow among these three types of agency is critical to creating a quality game.

Because the player and the character are locked in a partnership through a game’s control interface, character agency and player agency can be difficult to separate.  Complicating things further is that the developer is the one that grants both player and character agency within the game.  A simple example of the separation between player agency and character agency can be shown in Super Mario Bros.  At the beginning of the game, the player can make Mario do two things: run and jump.  If the player has Mario collect a red mushroom, Mario grows larger and can survive one collision with an enemy or projectile.  This is not something the player does.  This is a skill Mario innately has that allows him greater impact on the world.  Other power ups – note the name – give Mario the ability to fly, throw fireballs, and swim.  In Super Mario 2, different characters have different abilities, and those are the agency of those specific characters, not intrinsic to the player.  The skills don’t transfer from Peach to Luigi to Mario even though it’s the same player.

So there.  In one paragraph, we have proof that character agency is a real thing.  Players make choices about companions in video games not just for cosmetic reasons, but also the ability of these companions to act on their world.  Players, for instance, complained that Alan Wake didn’t have a melee attack, but developer Remedy deliberately didn’t give him that skill because he’s a noodly armed writer.

Furthermore, when a game includes a cut scene, these are moments where the player has absolutely no agency within the game.  For this reason, I believe cut scenes should be used only when necessary.  When you completely cut off a player, character or developer’s agency, your game becomes unbalanced.  Yanking control away from a player, making characters inconsistent, or a developer creating an unstructured sandbox that seems to ultimately result in a futile experience are all example of an unbalanced triangle of agency that leads to an unsatisfying experience.

The recent DOOM game is a great example of creating a clearly defined character through action.  The DOOM Marine, solves problems with his fists and guns.  This is his defining character trait.  So there are times in the game’s narrative where the DOOM marine makes choices without the player’s input, smashing consoles, opening doors with corpses, and generally being an asshole.  The glorious thing about how the game is designed is that these aren’t just moments of dark comedy.  They’re indications to the player that an aggressive play style will have the greatest chance of success.  DOOM is not an RPG, because the balance between player agency and character agency comes through the weapon select wheel.

To facilitate this, id Software chose to make the map progression fairly linear, and this is a valid choice.  Id owned its agency as a developer to create the game it wanted to make, instead of trying to make a game “for everyone”.  The successful results speak for themselves.

The thing is, there are no right or wrong answers for this formula, provided the three types of agency stay in balance.  In an RPG, players expect a much larger degree of narrative agency – they want to see the impacts they’ve made upon the world.  The fan outcry to Mass Effect 3 wasn’t just a response to a lack of player agency – that happens within the game, not through the ending.  No, what fans responded to was an unsatisfying end to Commander Shepard’s story.  Fans felt that the original abbreviated ending cut them off from the resolution to the stories of not just Shepard, but his or her companions as well.  They’d still “beat the game”.  The player’s agency was maintained.  But the character’s agency wasn’t respected, and the fans demanded more.

Now, some would argue that the fans wanted to save the world themselves, but I disagree that this was the reason for the outcry.  The disappointment was that there was no closure to the relationships made within the game – what happened to the Quarians?  The Geth?  The crew of the Normandy?  Players truly cared about happy endings – or at least endings that made sense – for the extended cast of the game.  That’s character agency, not player agency.

Of course, the insider rumblings at Bioware were that there were issues between publisher and developer that prevented them from really making the game they wanted to make.  Developers only have so much control – they have limited time, limited budget, and limited technology.  Developer agency matters greatly, because games aren’t just consumer products.  They’re also art.  Sometimes games are going to challenge the player and do things the player doesn’t like.  Deliberately.  Developers must continue to have that freedom to make the game they want.  Discussions about games must be reasoned and reasonable, not the stuff of shame mobs on the internet, looking to pummel developers into changing their content based on sheer numbers and noise.

“Death of the Author” is a principle that I don’t believe has a meaningful role in video game criticism because players work with the developer to author the story within a game.  A huge element of game criticism is whether a developer succeeds in what it intends to do with a game

Often, critics talk about developer intents when they’re actually making massive assumptions – for instance, the assertion that the outfits of sexy female characters are designed to make them appeal sexually available.  However, these critics don’t reach out to the developers themselves to ask them what their intents were, even though many developers are quite happy to answer those sorts of questions.

For instance, when the Tomb Raider reboot came out, there was a popular complaint that Crystal Dynamics had made Lara’s voice work sound deliberately pornographic.  I decided to ask a developer at Crystal Dynamics about this theory, and the poor guy blushed crimson, then explained that those were just the noises the actress had made while performing the physical motion capture.  That’s all it takes to eliminate speculation on intent.

But what if a developer actually wants to use sexuality and sexual entitlement against a player, the way the Metal Gear Solid games do?  This is a valid artistic decision, even when it doesn’t quite succeed in the experiment.  The Metal Gear Solid games juxtapose sex and trauma in a way that is deliberately disturbing – a mercenary may be very resistant to physical damage until he’s distracted by a cunningly placed porn magazine.  Men cartwheel naked through voids while the player is forced to watch.  It’s a decidedly alien approach to sexuality for a Western player.

Meanwhile, the Bayonetta games use the Male Gaze to make a point: the heroine of the game is seen as a villain to the Lumen Sages.  At the core of Bayonetta is a cautionary tale against oppressive sexual taboos.  The war between the Umbra Witches and the Lumen Sages started because of a child born in violation of the blood purity rules, and the ensuing slaughter nearly wipes out both groups.  Bayonetta, therefore, examines lust in a way that is often uncomfortable, even objectifying, to a modern player.  But this also allows the player to understand the strictures under which the Umbra Witches have lived.  Bayonetta’s empowerment comes from her gaming the system, and the sexualized camera angles help establish that in game reality for the player.  Is it comfortable or respectful?  No.  But it’s really powerful.  The developers deliberately empowered Bayonetta in a way that appears sexual to the player.  The player can beat the game, but they can’t overcome the pre-programmed moments when the heroine they identify with is treated like a piece of meat.  The player must choose to see past that and embrace Bayonetta as a whole person or reject her as a whore.  Welcome to being a woman who tries to publicly accomplish anything hard.

But where is the line between developer agency and player agency?  This is where I come back to the triangle of agency.  The connection between the player and the developer is both through the game the developer creates, and the character the player controls within game.  Different types of games grant the player varying degrees of agency within a game world.

Unfortunately, the video game industry is both cliquish and obsessed with trends.  We don’t get two first person shooters in a cycle.  We get six.  We don’t get a couple open world or team based combat games.  We get a glut of them.  This is limiting the number of meaningful consumer choices in gaming.  The success of Grand Theft Auto, The Sims, and World of Warcraft can be attributed, in part, to how different those game franchises were when they launched.  Player agency isn’t just about what a player can do within a game.  It’s about those market choices.  Fresh experiences, and an industry that shows respect for consumer dollars.  Player agency isn’t serviced by making every game an open world game, or a shooter, or a graphics-heavy epic.  The industry can better respect player agency by giving players greater freedom of choice regarding the types of games available.

And, yes, some players like games featuring sexy women, based on the assumption that these women are choosing to dress that way, not forced to. Being forced to do something isn’t sexy for a mentally healthy person.  Some players, on the other hand, don’t want that, and it is possible to provide products for both camps.  But this solution comes from encouraging the products that you like, not attacking the stuff that you don’t.  Personally, I prefer the Saints Row games to the Grand Theft Auto games, but I don’t need the Grand Theft Auto games to change as long as I have an alternative.  No game is going to appeal to everyone, so these waves of outrage seem to me like a waste of time.

Attacking every game with a scantily-clad Amazon character isn’t going to create better games.  Nor does it help to dump on the creative process by denying the in-game agency of fictional women.  Talking to each other and setting examples of respect for others is the only healthy path forward.  In our discussion of representation and inclusion in games, it’s important to remember that developer agency, character agency, and player agency are all real, they all matter, and they all have to work together.

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Pre E3 Game Marketing: Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying…

I’ve determined that I’m easily put off by empty advertising.  If an ad is full of bright colours and loud noises but tells me next to nothing about the product in question, I tend to develop a poor opinion of said product.  My attitude is that marketing should sell the tangible positives of the thing, not sell me a lifestyle connected to the thing.

Most days lately I feel like a cranky old person telling kids to get off my lawn.

Access to top titles is becoming increasingly hard to come by, especially in Canada where PR companies are being forced to work with smaller and smaller budgets while clients expect bigger returns.  So we’re reliant on game trailers to tell us what a game is about, and what we should expect from it.

The thing is, game trailers tend to do a terrible job at that, and the follow up information from developers isn’t really much better.  Secrecy is overvalued in gaming.  Communication is given short shrift.

Most game trailers are expertly edited, decidedly exciting, and great promotion if games were films.  However, they’re all starting to look very much the same.  And they tell us very little about how a game plays, which is the single most important element of a video game.  Since we know the game review system is seriously broken right now, and games are getting increasingly more expensive, it’s more important than ever that gamers know what they’re buying, but right now, they can only get that from Youtube Let’s Plays and Twitch streams which show them the actual game.

There has to be a happier, spoiler-free medium.

Game trailers should show the same “who, what, when, where, why and how” that articles about a game are expected to provide.

Who does the game appeal to?  — With the cost of games climbing, I’m not going to buy another military shooter unless I think I’m going to get some sort of innovation.  Other players want a strong community.  Others still want a lot of gameplay hours.  We’re so hung up on age, gender, and content rating that marketers are missing these other points.

What is it about? — “guys that shoot things” is an insufficient amount of detail.  A film trailer is expected to give you the basics of what a film is about.  Game trailers seem to forget that basic plot concept is extremely important for pulling in more casual gamers that TV ads will sway.  Everyone tends to copy the original Gears of War marketing while missing the fact that those ads worked because they actually represented what the games were about: killing monsters and big bro feels.

When is it coming out? — I can’t get excited by a teaser trailer without a release date, since release dates are guesstimates at best these days anyway.

Where is it available? — This may sound like common sense, but many busy people can’t keep straight which games are console exclusives and which ones are multiplatform.  Two seconds at the end of a trailer isn’t enough time for them to get that information.

Why is it worth buying this game?  — It’s amazing, but this is the element a lot of mediocre game marketing misses in its attempts to be like every other piece of game marketing out there.  That infamous Dead Space 2 campaign answered this question with “because your mom will hate it”… which I gotta admit would have swayed me at times when I was younger.  The celebrity World of Warcraft ads reminded people to play Warcraft because it had transcended being a video game and had become a cultural reference.  The why is the difference between an average ad and a great one.

How is this game going to be fun? — With the emphasis on seriousness in gaming right now, this point also gets missed a lot.  It’s really not that hard to do, but I think a lot of companies miss that it’s important to do.  For instance, the Overwatch ads show that you’ll have fun playing as a bright, colorful character shooting at other bright colorful characters.  Sometimes it’s as simple as that.  On the other hand, Xbox ran a big campaign for Rise of the Tomb Raider made the games look like Lara Croft movies.  They didn’t make it clear that a big part of the fun was solving very interesting puzzles and taking down enemies.  Too many ads make the game look very pretty, but kind of boring.  Lara exploring a cave with a torch isn’t enough to hook most people.  They need an emotional connection that gives them something to care about.

The sheer deluge of marketing this time of year is one of the reasons that the games press gets to cranky and apathetic.  So give us a break, game marketers, and give us some information we can pass on to our viewers and readers.  That’s much more important than another free t-shirt that rarely comes in the proper size anyway.

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The Sarkeesian Sexism in Uncharted 4

(Warning: Spoilers for Uncharted 4, blahblahblah)

I really enjoyed Uncharted 4, as I have enjoyed all the Uncharted games.  They’re top notch in many ways, and I recommend them.  What they are not, however, is feminist.  That’s okay.  They don’t have to be.  I still like them.

But it’s important to point out that the Uncharted games are homages to serial adventure stories, and those include some decidedly dated gender-based tropes. In order to effectively modernize the adventure serial, its important to recognize these tropes for what they are.

So it’s baffling to me that Anita Sarkeesian fan Neil Druckmann, the creative director on the game, decided to shame a playtester on Uncharted 4 who, among other things, had the reaction that many gamers are having to the second generation mercenary character, Nadine Ross.  He got pissed off that Nadine seemed like a “Strong Female Character” instead of a developed character.

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I totally disagree with the playtester’s additional opinions on giving Nate and Elena a daughter, but playtesting is supposed to be a confidential process where people are honest about their feelings.  People don’t sign up to be mocked by the devs for having an honest reaction because that reaction was wrong.  You want unfiltered feedback, even if its stupid.  You can’t get that if playtesters think you might mock them in the press for political correctness points.

And that playtester wasn’t wrong about Nadine Ross.

The very thing that creates weaknesses in Nadine as a character was the Sarkeesian-inspired thing Druckmann is patting himself on the back for: changing male characters into female ones “to be different” instead of creating female characters from the outset.

Nadine is a stock character with a makeover.  Remember the big sub boss dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark that Indiana Jones fought around the airplane?

That’s the role Nadine plays in Uncharted 4.  And yes, absolutely, that character kicks the crap out of the hero unless the hero fights dirty.  But there’s a physicality to that character trope that isn’t there with Nadine: these characters tend to look physically intimidating, not like retired supermodels on high protein diets with gym-sculpted shoulders.

Nadine fell into a trope that didn’t end up on Tropes vs Women: Superwoman Syndrome.  Superwoman Syndrome is a state recognized by post-second wave feminists as a “double enslavement” of women.  Not only are women now supposed to be perfect wives and homemakers, but we’re supposed to be perfect at everything else too.

The problem with Superwoman Syndrome is that it’s impossible to be perfect at everything.  So the ongoing attempts to be perfect at everything wear women down and make us physically and mentally sick.  It’s a uniquely profound issue for black women, something Nadine’s motion capture actress, Laura Bailey, couldn’t bring to the part because Naughty Dog cast a white woman.  That’s the developer’s right, but in light of how the character turned out, I think it’s fair to criticize them for that decision.

The film Deadpool uses the same type of character, but did it right.  When audiences first see Gina Carano’s Angel Dust character, they have the same reaction that they did to that guy in Indiana Jones,  “Oh my freaking god nothing is going to stop that human tank.”  Carano brought a physical presence that was appropriate for the part, and the very same guys complaining about Nadine absolutely love Carano in that role.  It isn’t about misogyny.  It’s about failing to replicate the requirements of the trope in the switch from male to female.

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With Superwoman Syndrome comes a tightening of the beauty myth.  Gina Carano smashed it in Deadpool because she was physically large, but still beautiful and desirable.  But she’s an exception that proves the larger rule that in most media, women look like models no matter what they’re supposed to be playing.  Cops look like models.  Firefighters look like models.  Doctors look like models.  So real life female cops don’t tend to look like the ones you see on TV, while real life male cops do.  That becomes a PR problem for real life first responders.

The social impact goes deeper than that, however.  The body type that keeps getting replicated is decidedly and profoundly white.  The b-to-c-cup breasts, boyish hips, and the lean muscle; the slightly freckled skin and “modest” Western dress that are the hallmarks of Sarkeesian-brand false-feminist character design… this rigid standard marginalizes the beauty paradigms of other cultures.  Latina and Black women have to reclaim their fuller hips and “Oakland booties” to get around accusations that their natural bodies are fat or obscene.  The fear of naked female bodies is colonial thinking.

All Sarkeesian’s followers have done is swap one set of racist, sexist ideals for another, instead of actually reducing racism and sexism.  They’ve just created another trope: The Sarkeesian.  It’s no less sexist to force a woman to conform to the Sarkeesian — a woman who is the embodiment of “strong” until the point that strength might threaten or offend — than, say, a Ms Male Character.

Ellie in The Last of Us and Angel Dust in Deadpool were embraced, because they are not Sarkeesians.  Trishka in Bulletstorm is not a Sarkeesian.  They have personalities and say and do deliberately offensive or “unfeminine” things.  Nadine doesn’t have quotable lines, a distinct look, or any sort of swagger or spark, because those might put someone off.  A Sarkeesian trope character never offends with intent.  That’s what makes them so offensive.

As I said, no one expects the Uncharted games to be paragons of political correctness.  The four most prominent characters in Uncharted 4 — Nate, Sully, Nate’s brother, and the main bad guy – are all white, cisgendered men.  Uncharted games have always been bromances, and that’s fine.  There’s a place for that.  Just don’t piss in my ear and tell me it’s raining feminism.

Furthermore, making a game about men doesn’t mean there’s license to get lazy with the writing of the female characters who ARE included.  There’s a distinct, if subtle, difference in how certain plot and character points are handled in Uncharted 4 than in the previous Uncharted games… when the games were written by a woman, Amy Hennig.  I have never been a big fan of Elena Fisher, but Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 did a lot to pull her away from her stock character “feisty Girl Friday love interest” origins in the original game.  Of course, a lot of men love Elena for the very reasons I despise her in Uncharted and Uncharted 4 – she enables Nate’s truly bad behaviour.

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Elena doesn’t, I believe, get nearly angry enough when Nate yet again lies to her for no good reason.  Of course, it’s very possible that Elena was furious when she first discovered her husband had lied to her a-gain, but we never see that, because her wifely rage happens off screen.  So despite the piles of laundry in their house, Elena is still a Superwoman: she doesn’t have limits or boundaries where a fully-formed woman would.

Nate, and the player, is never truly confronted with the depths of what lying does to your partner.  The game does not confront the player with Elena’s raw, authentic feelings in response to being deceived.  Where Ellie swore, yelled, cried, and smashed stuff in The Last of Us, Elena pouts and offers sage words of understanding.  We don’t see the depths and immediacy of Elena’s pain, we don’t empathize with her the way we do Ellie, because we never see Elena at her worst, so she’s not totally real.

Because Elena is the perfect wife who only gets angry in perfect, private ways.  I’m sure I’m not the only woman who plays this game who has been married long enough to go “Oh come on!  That’s BULLSHIT.”

Oh but we’re not supposed to have that reaction, see?  We’re supposed to be “understanding” and “supportive” partners.  Because when our husband FEELZ BAD, the dutiful wife understands that it’s okay that he acts like an irresponsible manchild instead of discussing the situation like a grown up.  We’re supposed to accept that this is just the way men are.

Bullshit.  Bullshit bullshit bullshit.  There are different ways to be a man, but grown up men are honest.  Lying to your spouse about important things is the fastest way to destroy a marriage.  Nate and Elena broke up multiple times because of his immaturity.  He was supposed to have grown up some at the end of Uncharted 3, which is why they got back together and everyone cheered.

But in Uncharted 4, he’s back to being a dishonest baby, and Elena lets him be a dishonest baby with smiles, loving stokes to his face, and little more than the occasional pout.  He’s worn her down, and at this point she’s accepted that he’s going to lie to her whenever it’s convenient for him to do so, as long as he’s sorry later.  When a partner lies for that long, that consistently, he’s going to keep lying.  He has to want to change not to stop her from leaving — which is still manipulating things to get a desired outcome — but because he realizes that lying to her shows her no respect.  (The same goes for when women lie.  Just in this case, Nate and Elena are a heterosexual couple and the lying partner is male.)

So Nate and Elena go off into domestic bliss, where she never again sets hard boundaries because he’ll just lie his way around them.  Yes, that’s not what the game is supposed to have us believe, but that’s what someone like me, who has been married for seventeen years, sees.  A hard lesson of marriage is that feeling bad isn’t enough.  In order for your partner to trust you, you can’t keep doing the same crap to them over and over.

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Nate and Elena do not have a believable, healthy marriage of equals.  They are a manboy married to a Superwoman.  That’s disappointing, because those marriages don’t tend to last in the real world.  A cycle of passive aggressive resentment forms because the Elena is constantly biting down her anger to be “supportive” and the Nate justifies a string of “white” lies because he doesn’t want to trouble the little wife with the truth.  If he does, she might say no.

These sorts of on-screen marriages are a sexist trope that gets replicated to falsely portray women as superior people in inferior positions.  Since we have to give cutesy names to all these tropes now, let’s call it “Wifey McAwesomesauce”.  Wifey McAwesomesauce is also seen in numerous sitcoms, in which no one can quite figure out why a mature, competent woman is married to Schlubby McScrewup.  Wifey McAwesomesauce has a great job, great clothes, great hair, and raised great kids.  Schlubby McScrewup is a misandrist stereotype who can’t change a diaper, make a school lunch, or drop the kids off without “hilarious” calamity.  And yet the show is always about Schlubby McScrewup because no one actually cares what’s going on in Wifey McAwesome’s mind.  Her perfect perfectness of perfection is only there to validate the comic struggles of her schlub husband.  It’s a rare sitcom, like All In The Family, Roseanne, and Blackish, where the spouses actually seem believably matched.  In these sitcoms, both partners screw up, and they actually yell at each other.  Like, really yell.  The way people do in real life.  The way Elena didn’t yell at Nate.

I’m not saying Naughty Dog should change any of this.  It’s a particular brand of escapist male fantasy, and that’s fine, since the tradition in which the games exist is soaking in that stuff.  But Naughty Dog doesn’t get to play in that sandbox and also collect “Great Male Feminist” points.  Elena may put on a few non-perfect post-baby pounds if they keep trying to have their cake and eat it too.

 

Note: Someone on twitter asked me what I would have changed in Elena’s reaction to make her seem more real.  There are various ways to do that.  A complex way would have been bonus content that allowed the player to play through, as Elena, discovering Nate lied, so we got to see her reaction.  A much faster way would be to have her be less damned nice to him right off the bat.  Saving his life is one thing, but it would have been more satisfying if she saved him without forgiving him right away.  We lost out on a lot of good potential dialogue because Elena was too nice to be fun.

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Farewell, Toy Box – Six Reasons Disney Infinity Suffered From Slow Growth

You may have heard by now that Disney Infinity is shutting down, and the reason given was slow growth in the toys to life market coupled with relatively high production costs. As a fan of toys to life games, and Disney Infinity in particular, I wanted to take a moment to detail some of the reasons why I think this is so, based purely from personal experience with writing and doing videos about these sorts of games.

1 – Overly aggressive DMCA and a disconnect with the games press 

I stopped covering Disney Infinity on my YouTube channel because I couldn’t make any money doing so. The music would get flagged by DMCA claims, and I’d lose all the revenue. Disney isn’t the only company making this mistake: Nintendo still doesn’t have a YouTube partnership program in Canada, so I don’t do videos on Amiibo either. At the end of the day, I love video games, but my YouTube channel is a business, so I focus on companies willing to do business with content creators like me. If they don’t appreciate what I bring to the table, I don’t cover their stuff. Simple. Again, this is a symptom of a much larger disconnect between multimedia properties and the games press. These brand managers are so afraid of the noise and the bad news that they don’t realize how powerful our relationships are with our audiences. People like me do have influence because our engagement levels are high. It’s just not the sort of influence that’s easily measured

2 – Toys to Life is expensive

To complete each yearly Skylanders set, parents are shelling out $300 on an annual basis. It’s the number one complaint I get from people who got their kids into Toys to Life stuff on my advice. Now that there are three Toys to Life franchises even without Disney – Skylanders, Lego Dimensions, and Nintendo’s Amiibo – that’s nearly a thousand bucks a year for those fully engaged. I can see parents wanting to have one fight and saying no to it all, instead of having to weigh the merits of purchasing every figure. Overall, I think that Toys to Life is currently too focused on the Toys part of the equation, instead of creating add-on content that can be played with toys you already own. It’s an imbalanced business model that in part is because core gaming sites neglected coverage of Toys to Life products, but that’s not completely an excuse for creating a buying churn instead of products that provide ongoing value for money. It would have kept parents happier if more game content had been developed for existing toys, because kids are going to want the cool new figures and cars anyway.

3 – Toys to Life creates a lot of clutter

I have no idea where to put any more figures. There is a critical point involving real life stuff where I don’t want to add another Rubbermaid bin to store all those figures. I’d been saying since Skylanders Giants came out that storage needs to be something that’s meaningfully addressed, but I didn’t see it happen. Instead, another 40 figures come out each year per game, and I ran out of places to put them. The difference between enduring brands and fads is that kids form an attachment to brands that endure, and this attachment doesn’t happen when a product focuses on quantity over quality time with each figure.

4 – The rarer figures were too hard to get

I heard about fights breaking out between parents in stores over certain figures. My husband had to contact the Disney PR people because the Stitch figure was completely sold out. People can’t buy figures they can’t find, and it seems that Toys to Life, across the board, has sacrificed accessibility for collector fever. These are products for kids, guys. Make the toys available to anyone who wants them, even if it means running a second issue of them.  Parents getting into fist fights isn’t the kind of press that’s healthy long term.

5 – Disney Infinity neglected story in favour of the Toy Box

I get the reasons that the Toy Box was originally the central focus – Disney Infinity‘s playtesting indicated that kids didn’t want to be told how to play the game as much as they wanted to make their own fun. But with subsequent waves came a marketing challenge: it’s easier to sell a new product than it is to sell improvements. Therefore, “Skylanders, NOW WITH CARS!” is an easier sell than “Toy Box 3.0” — so each cycle had diminishing returns because it wasn’t easy to explain why people should buy the latest thing when the previous one worked just fine. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to review a building tool as a game. The actual game element of Disney Infinity were Playsets that provided short campaign stories, and I don’t know why there weren’t more of those that matched some of the fan favourite characters. Going back to Stitch, there were levels for him, but no actual campaign. There was no feeling of completion. So I got two hours of enjoyment out of that figure instead of six, because my attention is too divided to play something without a narrative.

6 – The brands are just too lucrative to produce games in house

Why should Disney bother making Star Wars games when EA will do it for them and pay them a license that’s pure profit? Why should they tie up those Marvel characters when they can license them to a third party and again take no risk? These franchises are just too big for the profit margins that in-house video games can offer, since Disney’s internal approvals process is a slow, bottle-neck heavy ordeal. Disney is now free to license Star Wars and Marvel characters to Lego Dimensions, who already did Star Wars Lego games, and have Batman all through Dimensions. It’s smart: create an ally out of a competitor and cut your costs in the process.

It’s ironic that Disney bean counters now have the reigns of the company, but the balance sheets don’t lie: Disney knows how to make Intellectual Properties, but it’s never quite understood video games, so it makes more sense to do licensing business with game makers instead of trying to paddle around making chump change in a business they don’t get, and perhaps don’t even like. To Disney, video games are no different than bags, t-shirts, stuffed toys, and kids’ costumes, because they aren’t interested in developing unique game IPs for consoles and PC. Because of this, it makes financial sense for Disney to get out of the video game business. Long term, as video games become a more native form of entertainment, suffer from less stigma, and become a driver of all ages entertainment beyond Nintendo, this may be short sighted. But when that day comes, Disney can just hire on a new bunch of game makers and open up their interactive division again. They’re closing this door, not bricking it over.

(Note: A reader mentioned on twitter that the heavy restrictions on which characters could be used in Play Sets hampered their enjoyment of the game.  I don’t think this would have been an issue if more all-character-friendly Play Sets were produced, hence my point about more game content overall.  However, it is a specific criticism of Disney Infinity,  so I thought I’d add that my understanding was that these restrictions were imposed on the developers by Disney higher-ups.  The developers wanted more freedom but Disney brass thought the integrity of the characters was more important.)

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Uncharted 4 Single Player Review

 

Naughty Dog has been adamant that the story of Nathan Drake is coming to a close, and they decided to send him off in grand style. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a gigantic game, and its strengths and weaknesses are mostly connected to the sheer scope and grandeur of the game. At its best, it’s mind-blowingly awesome. At its weakest moments, it’s just trying to do too much in one game.

For me, Naughty Dog’s biggest achievement this go-round isn’t the astounding graphics, the masterful sound, or the awe-inspiring level designs. It’s the fact that the studio has finally overcome its traditional Achilles heel of a bug that let characters drift inside environmental objects. The game did freeze once, there was some minor frame rate lag from time to time, and I noticed a couple of object pop ins, but considering the size of the levels, the sheer amount of stuff going on in-game, and a general video game industry allowance for a level of sloppiness when games go beyond a certain scale, the profound absence of bugs in the single player campaign is a huge achievement for which Naughty Dog should be praised.

Now let’s dig into the stuff that most people care about more: gameplay and story. Drake is on the trail of Henry “the King of Pirates” Avery’s pirate loot. The focus on pirates feels a little stale after Assassin’s Creed put almost every pirate ever into their games, but the platforming puzzles are astoundingly good, with a nice flow that doesn’t sharply demarcate between puzzle portions, exploration portions, and combat elements. Gone are the days of one artificially-indicated path. Yes, those obvious ledges are still there, but there’s often more than one, with some dead ends. Exploration also pays off because of collectables, but there are also additional journal entries to find that give you a much better sense of the mystery that Drake is chasing this time around.

Uncharted games have traditionally been challenging – action adventure platformers tend to be more difficult and require you to think more than your average shooter. I think Uncharted 4 ups the ante a little, and there are a few downright frustrating moments. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but a “skip” option might have been nice for those playing just for the story.

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Though I wouldn’t recommend that. Uncharted plots have always been goofy in the spirit of the matinee serial films that inspire the series. The lighter tone has distinguished Uncharted’s obvious direct competitor: the Tomb Raider games. The plot of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End benefits by comparison to the garbage fire that was the story of Lara’s latest adventure, but that doesn’t mean that it’s great. The second half of the story is great. The first half is slow, scattered, humourless, and overly reliant on overlong cut scenes. Yes yes, it’s all very pretty, but I don’t want to watch a game. I want to play a game.

For some reason, Naughty Dog decided to sideline characters we know and love to introduce Sam Drake, Nate’s long lost brother. Sam is a pretty good character in his own right, but he hogs the screen time, and since this is perhaps the last we’re going to see of Elena and Sully, it’s frustrating that they’re not present for large portions of the game. At times, it feels like Naughty Dog is trying to recapture the bromance patter that made Uncharted 2 such a joy to play, but the game falls short, and of course it does: the loss of Amy Hennig’s light dialogue touch is profoundly felt, as is a seeming lack of understanding regarding what’s going on in the female characters’ heads. Many of Elena’s lines come across as products of “my wife said this to me once, so it must be profound” moments in the writers’ room. Accordingly, these lines come across as “perfect woman” platitudes that reminded me why I couldn’t stand Elena in the first game.

And Elena isn’t the only too-perfect female character in Uncharted 4. Nadine Ross is another “better than men at everything” character. The whole game just seems so self-conscious about having “positive” female representation that it doesn’t let these characters just be characters. None of them pop like Ellie does in The Last of Us, despite numerous other elements transferred over from that game.

After all, Nathan Drake is a great character precisely because he’s flawed. He screws up. He can’t always fix it. But some of his morally questionable actions this time around ring hollow. It left me with the distinct impression that Naughty Dog listened to their critics too much, and wanted very badly to explain why their charming rogue hero kills so many people. Who cares? Indiana Jones also shoots plenty of people. Shooting people in a video game is fun. Especially when they’re sociopathic mercenaries who are trying to kill my in-game avatar.

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The insecurity on display in the writing is a shame, because the characters who are just allowed to be characters are pretty awesome. Sully is very Sully when he makes his appearances, and this is good. Sam, as I mentioned, is good too. And the villain of the game is as legitimately scary as a guy without super powers other than ridiculous wealth can be. Every element of the guy made me want to punch him in the face in the very best of ways.

As I said, the second half of the game, once they cut through all the “serious emotional core” nonsense, is great. Once you’re exploring beautiful levels, experiencing the wonder of the glorious graphics and romantic scenarios, you forget about the cheeseball attempts at a “meaningful” story. The Madagascar level is one of the most glorious things I’ve experienced in a video game, and it’s one of many thoroughly gorgeous environments you’ll encounter. There’s so much eye candy, you’ll get retinal cavities. Lots of stuff blows up, lots of shooting happens, and what more do you really want from a video game?

I’ve hammered at Uncharted 4‘s flaws because I really do think the game is worth playing. Better, I think it’s worth paying full price, because technically, it’s a glimpse into the future of what video games can do. It’s not just graphics either. It’s everything: rope physics, driving mechanics, mud and gravel behaving realistically, weather effects being a subtle addition instead of LOOK THERE IS WEATHER! On top of this is sound design so artful there were times I stopped to appreciate the creaking of different types of flooring, the groan of a building, or a subtle environmental sound that just made the whole thing seem that much more magical. I still think the pause sound effect is one of the greatest game sounds ever. Is that enough sound nerding? I hope so.

Despite iffy writing, Uncharted 4 innovates. If you’ve got a PS4, give it a try.

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Text of my Canada’s Top 20 Countdown Segment on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

city_06This segment will air on Canada’s Top 20 Countdown syndicated radio show on Saturday.

IT’S ALMOST HERE! After numerous delays, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End finally gets released to the public on May 10th! But because I have special privileges… meaning a review code… I’ve already started playing it!

The graphics are, possibly, the best you’ve ever seen on a console, but more importantly, the game plays smoothly, thanks to subtle tweaks that make slippery surfaces and ropes move more realistically. And because it’s an exclusive, it’s optimized for the Playstation 4, but it also has a ton of audio and video customization options, as well as accessibility options, so everyone can get the experience they want.

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For those who haven’t played an Uncharted game before, it’s the story of globetrotting rogue Nathan Drake, and is an homage to classic adventure movies in the Indiana Jones type tradition. These games have always been technical showpieces for Playstation, and this one is no exception.

But what about the story? Playstation has sworn me – and pretty much every other journalist – to secrecy. But I’m sure plot spoilers will be all over the internet before launch, because a lot of games reviewers are angry jerks with no lives who live to spread their misery around like internet herpes whenever possible.

… oops, did I say that out loud?

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(I’ll have a full review up when I finish the game!)

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The problem with the godless worship of fantasy traditions in Game of Thrones

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(Note: this article references sexual assault.)

(Another note: the reference to The Lord of The Rings in this article are about the BOOK, not the films.  The films portray characters radically differently.)

I just read an article about why Game of Thrones is now nearly unwatchable.  I never found the plots or writing terribly compelling.  The show hauled along based on fantastic acting and really great sets and wardrobe.  It’s nihilistic eye-candy masquerading as “smart” television.  Misery is too often substituted for good storytelling.

The thing is, fantasy stories tend to get hauled down into that muck, because they all loop back to a desire to keep replicating J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic dark medievalist fantasy setting in The Lord of the Rings.  The only “innovations” in this template are how many characters get killed, and now that women are involved, how many of them get raped.

The Lord of the Rings is far from a perfect book.  It’s slow, overly reliant on exposition, and a host to flat, wooden characters and a lot of ponderous Christian metaphor… that is to say that Christian metaphor is not inherently ponderous, but Aragorn prattling on about Kingsfoil is unnecessarily long.

The problem is that The Lord of the Rings is revered among fantasy writers, so few dare to disrupt its various core formulas to tell a better story.  Video games are much better at reassembling the component parts of Tolkien, but that’s thanks to Ed Greenwood’s detour through the Forgotten Realms.  Greenwood infused humour, colour, and a pantheon of gods into Tolkien’s staunchly monotheistic fantasy, and it was made more human in the process.

The Forgotten Realms also supported a gamified system that forced narrative cohesion.  In other words, because the entire idea is for a group of players to fight monsters together, it sidestepped the other major narrative pitfall that’s rooted in The Lord of the Rings — The “Shattering of the Fellowship” device.

The Fellowship of the Ring ends up splitting into two main groups: the group that stands with Aragorn to fight the war, and the smaller group that goes with Frodo to destroy the ring.  Tolkien’s status as the child of a Catholic convert is critical to understanding some of the content of The Lord of the Rings, because of the way Catholicism treats femininity as a passive, hidden power which is often treated as a vessel sacrificed to a male deity.

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There are no female members of the Fellowship, and the bearer of the feminine ring symbol is Frodo.  The Lord of the Rings is a story of a war won through the resurrection of a masculine symbol — the sword Narsil/Anduril — and the destruction of the feminine symbol, the One Ring.  The One Ring’s powers mimic the Western monotheistic view of the sacred feminine: a mysterious negative space which gains the ring bearer hidden knowledge at the expense of his rational faculties.  Exposure to the One Ring makes a person more emotional and dependent, which were both qualities associated with femininity in Tolkien’s time.  The One Ring is even associated with a hidden member of the Fellowship — Gollum — Gollum is the one who actually destroys the One Ring, sacrificing himself in the process, because Frodo can’t do it himself.  Frodo is a biblical passive hero in the tradition of Isaac and Moses.  These passive males transfer divinity through them to the people, but they don’t take active steps themselves.  Isaac is bound.  Moses is given the tablets with the Ten Commandments.  But Isaac is such a passive figure that his father’s slave needed to find him a wife, and Moses was such a poor speaker that his brother Aaron did his talking for him.  This is symbolized in The Lord of the Rings by Sam and Gollum doing the heavy lifting for Frodo, who, like Moses and Isaac, were weakened by the burden of inherent divinity, just as mothers are said to be.

The actual women of The Lord of The Rings are similarly passive figures gifted with innate power or wisdom… with the exception of one woman, Eowyn, who assumes the role of a man to fight in the war.  While many of us see Eowyn as pretty badass, Tolkien himself described Eowyn’s transformation as a tragedy.  In fact, he saw it as an inherent tragedy of war that women had to assume male roles.

So how does this impact Game of Thrones, but NOT the Forgotten Realms branch of fantasy that inspired video game RPGs?  While Ed Greenwood took the step of making the sacred feminine of Toril an active voice, George R. R. Martin stuck with the theme of war and the destruction of the feminine.  Accordingly, there’s a lot less rape in Faerun than there is in Westeros.

In both The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, Fire is associated with the masculine — men “run hot”, women are a cooler force.  The other name for Aragorn’s sword “Anduril” is “The Flame of the West”.  This is likely because the Seraphim and the Rider on the White Horse who leads the armies of God in the Bible are flame bearers.

There is no definitive ice queen in The Lord of the Rings, in part because the book is inherently sexless.  But in the Game of Thrones, we of course have the icy Cersei Lannister, who is also sexually dysfunctional and cunning — emotionally more “like a man” than the “purer” female characters.   She is, of course, eventually subject to her own “slut walk of shame” as a form of politicized “atonement theatre” for her sexual misdeeds.

That sort of thing isn’t normalized in Faerun, because Greenwood and Gary Gygax hard wired gender equality into the game system and game world.  Essentially, in Dungeon and Dragons, women are equal participants, not some embodiment of the sacred or profane feminine.  In The Lord of the Rings, there is no profane feminine, and in Game of Thrones, nothing is sacred and no woman is inviolate; women are rendered impure even by their own periods.  Both of these omissions are weaknesses that The Forgotten Realms do not share.

tyrionBecause relegating women to passive or perverse forces in fantasy creates weak points, Game of Thrones has fractured now that its characters are scattered.  Martin and the show’s writers fractured a Fellowship that never existed.  Without the Christian symbolism allowing the narrative to thin out without shattering, Game of Thrones has scattered into a collection of parts with little significance.  The Frodo of the show, Tyrion Lannister, isn’t feminized.  He’s a “half man”, but still a man — bearded, sexual, and capable of violence.  The feminine in Game of Thrones is symbolized by menstruation, manipulations, and rapes, not rings, leaves, light and shadow.

These are legitimate artistic choices on HBO’s part, but it’s left Game of Thrones without symbolism tying the narrative together the way Frodo’s ring and Aragorn’s sword stopped Tolkien’s epic from flying apart.  The lack of a yin and yang in Game of Thrones implies that George Martin borrowed the R. R. from J. R. R. Tolkien without really understanding what pulled the masterpiece out of Tolkien’s flaws.  Game of Thrones lacks the spark of the divine that allowed The Lord of the Rings to become greater than the sum of its parts.

Don’t freak out, atheists, I’m referring to divinity as a narrative device here, not a literal god.  Divinity in fiction is the theme or narrative glue that makes the plot points resonate, and Game of Thrones says little beyond “people, when given power, are terrible to each other”.  It’s fictionalized historical treatise, not an allegory of an idea.

Where The Forgotten Realms took Tolkien and added girls and jokes, A Song of Ice and Fire took Tolkien and removed the mythic and sacred.  Therefore, there’s nothing left when innocence and people die, because Game of Thrones fails its saving throw against fatalism.

(EDIT: I removed the marijuana joke because it offended some people and I determined it was an unnecessary distraction that had nothing to do with the main point.  Typos also corrected.)

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The sorry state of gender in gaming in one photo from Destructoid

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Imagine if four female cosplayers were photographed in costumes that were essentially underwear at PAX East.  Jessica Nigri was wearing more when she was the subject of a scandal.

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Not only is Jessica more covered in both these images than the men in question, but she’s obviously put more time, more care, and more conscious thought into her costumes.  They fit better, and she’s better groomed.  But she’s considered lewd, while the guys are considered “fun” or “silly”.

This double standard — that men are allowed to be “harmlessly” nearly naked — and women aren’t?  THAT IS SEXISM IN THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY.

Note that the dude on the right is dangerously close to a testicular wardrobe malfunction.

I have no issue with the top photo on its own.  But I am bothered by the fact that female gamers can’t have this sort of fun without risking the wrath of the internet descending on them.

We need the same standards for men and women in all things in gaming.  Period.  PAX East just failed the He-Man and She-Ra test.

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The Toxic Practice of “Gatedropping”

There’s a continuing practice in some articles about “harassment in gaming” that is… I’m gonna go there… Toxic.  I’m referring to the practice of “Gatedropping” — referencing Gamergate in an otherwise unrelated article because it’s a “current event” in “current year”.

Gamergate, is, of course, a hashtag everyone likes to claim is about something else.  For some it’s about ethics in games journalism.  For others it’s about a culture war. For still others it’s about combating harassment.  And yes, for some, it’s about perfect conditions to troll for massive lulz.

There was also a cadre of political opportunists that raised the temperature on Gamergate much higher than it had to be.  Games journalists were an easy target for some e-celebs’ unwitting personal armies.  Other untrained “anti-harassment advocates” seem most skilled at advocating for media attention for themselves instead of their issue.  In the end, the gaming industry was temporarily left a less hospitable place for women, not because some gamers got angry, but because anyone who attempted to take a proactive stance got targeted by some special interest group.

Gaming is still nursing the wounds from the Jack Thompson era in the 1990s.  When I tried to ask Ed Boon about violence in video games, a Warner Bros publicist shut me down.  When I pitch alternate viewpoints to  the established narrative in services like the New York Times, I’m met with deafening silence.  When I try to point to scientific consensus and free speech rights, activists have some outlier study or biased poll ready to be brandished like Oppo Research.

Freelancing as a game journalist is less lucrative these days than unpaid internships.  Freelancing is frequently a pay to work paradigm where the measly bits of money you get paid never really cover your costs.  The reality is that, except in a minority of circumstances, games journalism isn’t seen as valuable enough to really pay for.  It’s satisfactory for monetized websites to get by on a churn of content via regurgitated press releases.

Gamergate had some positive impacts in that regard — the Society for Professional Journalists has taken an interest in games journalism, founding the Kunkel Award.  The SPJ has probably been the fairest handler of the Gamergate controversy, because it believes in reporting the story before offering an opinion on that story.

As an analyst, however, it’s my job to offer my informed opinion, and my opinion at present is that continuing to mention Gamergate in any article about a woman in video games is dehumanizing that woman by turning her into a statistic instead of telling her story.  But worse, it’s turning gamers into gremlins, instead of remembering that gamers are not trolls.  Gamers are people.

The latest round of Gatedropping has been the Alison Rapp/Nintendo scandal, and the brouhaha over an anti-bullying initiative called Social Autopsy.  I haven’t written about Social Autopsy here because I have not been able to get a response from its organizers.  Apparently they’ve been so deluged on social media that they’re unable to get back to people.  Though they did an interview with, of all things, a website with a direct connection to a troll group, I’ll take Social Autopsy at its word that it’s missing requests, including my own request for further details on their methodology, as well as their decision to agree to an interview by a known bully.  I’m not naming that bully here because this particular bully thrives on attention, and I won’t give them that.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have to comment on Social Autopsy: the service isn’t live yet, I have no informed access, and it has nothing to do with gaming, gamers, or Gamergate.  The link has been made between Social Autopsy and Gamergate because special interests wished that to be so, including a competing initiative that claims to fight online harassment..  Competing services are not neutral third parties, for obvious reasons.

I get why a lot of people are worried that Social Autopsy is too close to a dox site or a blackmail site for comfort.  I don’t have an fully formed opinion on this, however, because to quote Sherlock Holmes, “Data!  I can’t make bricks without clay.”

What I do know based on their blog posts is that Social Autopsy’s creators are not informed or even aware of the details of video game community scandals.  Nor should they be.  Gaming doesn’t own the cyberbullying issue, despite all the politicized attempts to make “gamer” synonymous with “harasser”.  It seems like Social Autopsy is most concerned with people who know each other in real life who decide to go Jekyll and Hyde on the internet.  They’ve said they’re not connecting real life names and information shared on social media with online pseudonyms, and until I’m given reason to believe otherwise, I’ll take them at their word.

Naming and shaming hasn’t been an especially effective tactic regarding bullying in the video game community, since it tends to become a tool of bullies who falsify “evidence” and twist words.  According to these name and shame tactics, I’m a bully.  But according to these name and shame tactics, it’s also okay to publish unflattering photos and nasty comments about my mother and husband and claim these photos were used under”fair use” internet principles, ignoring a private person’s rights of publicity.

In other applications, however, outing bullies has had some success has a harm reduction strategy, but tougher laws based on this principle have run afoul of free speech protections.  Free speech, however, applies to services like Social Autopsy having the right to make their attempt, provided they stay within the bounds of what is legal.  So-called “pro-Gamergate” advocates have this same right.

I’ve had practically every nasty thing under the sun said about me on the internet, and I’m still here, albeit as something of a pariah in the games industry.  Bullying works, because bullying makes people who are “minding their own business” afraid to be around a “controversial” figure.  Most of what was said and done to and about me has been 100% legal, because the media is a bloodsport.  Some of it wasn’t legal, and got taken down.  Some things were legal simply because the defamer had more money than I did, and it’s a sad reality that you can buy justice in a legal system driven by lawyers’ fees.

But the point is that I’m still here.  I’m still trying.  And I’m still talking.  And I won’t give up my right to express my views as long as I’m willing to accept the consequences of those views.  I’ll also defend to the death the right of any other person to express their views, even if I disagree with them.  This goes for services like Social Autopsy whom I disagree with, and this goes for people on both sides of the video game culture war with whom I have profound disagreements.

Only one side, however, has become synonymous with evil, and I have a problem with that.  It’s regressive politics at its worst.  Therefore, Gatedropping helps no one, and writers and editors should stop doing it.

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