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I will think up a catchy name for this soon, but here is a list of submitted games that people want to see more criticism of that I took on Twitter. The only criteria I have for the list is that a suggestion doesn’t have 3 or more articles that show up on Critical Distance, which is arbitrary but I think it works just fine. I included the ones that didn’t make it at the bottom, in case someone still wants some motivation to write about it. If you end up writing about any of the games on the main list, contact me on here and I will link to your piece. As well, here are some important links for finding games often not covered by mainstream media:

Forest Ambassador
Free Indie Games
Indie Statik

Main List

Afrika
Alice: Madness Returns
Alter Ego
Anodyne
Antichamber
Awesomenauts
Banjo Tooie
Baroque
Baten Kaitos
Cave Cave Deus Videt
Cosmic Forest
Cubivore
CyberMedic
Dino Run
Dynamite Headdy
El Shaddai: Ascension
Flashback: The Quest For Identity
Folklore
FTL
Goat Up!
Gravity Bone
ilomilo
Jigsaw
Leviathan: Warships
Lock’s Quest
Lost Planet 3
Mel Gibson’s Safari
Miasmata
Nethack
Opera Omnia
Outland
Perspective
Pickle Wars
Problem Attic
PWN
Quantum Conundrum
Recettear
River City Ransom
Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally
Rule of Rose
Scarygirl
Seventh Cross Evolution
Shelter
Signal Ops
Super House of Dead Ninjas
A Tale in the Desert
They Bleed Pixels
Thirty Flights of Loving
To The Moon
Trauma Centre
The Undergarden
Will Fight For Food
Winter Voices
The Whispered World
X-Files

What Didn’t Make It

Amnesia: The Darkness Returns
Nier
Papers, Please
Papo & Yo
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Spec Ops: The Line
Year Walk

And there you go! Also submit suggestions that would make this list/possible project better for you!

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  • Question: Hey Mattie. I asked you a while back about your thoughts on how I (or men in general) could write better women. Better is a relative term, but I feel there's not place to go than up in the portrayal of women in media (namely fictitious). I'm writing this time, curious about what you thought of Carolyn Petit's article (Fear of a Woman Warrior), particularly the last bit about writing women as human's first should make it easier to write them. - Anonymous
  • Answer:

    I think Carolyn pretty much has it on point! Here are the main points to distill form her article:

    Men are considered standard, neutral, etc, and then women and other genders are considered a deviant from that. This also goes for all other privileged aspects of identity as well (you add in gay characters, they aren’t there by default like their heterosexual counterparts). Something that might make it more clear is the way Celia Pearce puts it- anyone who is not a man is a person of gender; if you’re not a man, your gender is brought in to override everything else about you, along with your other marginalized aspects of your identity. So when women get added into games, they have to be WOMEN, and all of their actions surround being just a woman and not a complicated being that is a woman among many things.

    Ultimately what Carolyn is saying is to take into account more about women than being a woman. Men get many aspects of their personality and humanity explored alongside their masculinity, but women are always women first and foremost. Don’t ignore that they are a woman, but don’t make that every single thing about them.

    Digging deeper, this also makes you consider what about “human” is actually “man.” We have a lot of expectations for people of whatever gender identity to be held up to men’s standards on top of the expectations of their own gender because we conflate neutral and masculinity. A really interesting exercise is to pick that out and see how much of a certain identity’s culture resides as a measuring stick for everyone else.

    But yeah, I would have said pretty much the exact thing as her! Hopefully I brought some more to that.

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I’m going to write about my personal experience writing about personal experience.

Context: I’ve been dragged to this point, by my hair, thrashing with my mascara running. I conducted myself publicly in a manner that would avoid having to make a post like this, but in order for things to stop and straighten itself out again, I feel like I need to document one of the many ways I deal with being a public persona in games criticism, and the game industry overall, as a minority. I know many people have quibbles with identity politics, and the definition of minority and the way American-centric discourse uses it, but this is a situation based on power relations where I am disadvantaged because of my identity, and not simply because of my actions or opinions in a vacuum. This is about a ‘conversation’ that involves me but I was never a part of. All of this is of consequence of other people and having me face the fallout.

It started with a reaction piece to my own. Jonas Kyratzes picked apart a piece I did on Nightmare Mode, Would You Kindly. Before I even got the chance to read it, the confrontation was on. Jonas linked his article with a quick caveat akin to ‘this isn’t transphobic.’ This instantly set many people in the social justice ring on edge, mostly because when someone in a place of privilege has to put out a warning like that, there’s usually something fishy going on. This, and his article, started an argument between Jonas and some of these people who are my friends that would set the tone of what would become a longer debate. The argument quickly became louder queer voices versus a subset of critics who typically have issues with said voices over how me and my work should be treated.

I had no say in how this conversation would go and what my opinions were

What I’m trying to say is there is a lot games criticism, let alone journalism, writing overall, and the industry has to learn when dealing with minority issues. I really don’t like it when I’m forced to be the lamb on the alter to make that change happen.

More people continued to dog-pile into the conversation because they found it interesting. Overall, I find everyone involved well-meaning. However, because this discussion got intense quick, it became black and white and I was guilty by association. I really appreciate my friends, in the queer movement of sorts in games. They are good at certain things I’m not, have a perspective and disposition I don’t. There are many times I disagree with how they do things, but I think it’s important to have that diversity. I find many of my friends’ anger and mistrust rational, even if I don’t share it and find it frustrating sometimes. I can understand that when Jonas tried to absolve himself from transphobia, that they smelt the BS and got on that. I don’t think what they did was necessarily wrong- just not what I would have done. The rest of the debate is framed in that way, in the way they deal with oppressive culture and how they move in the industry. It isn’t their fault they are discriminated against and oppressed, it isn’t their fault they found methods for safety that are considered abrasive and uncompromising. I will never, ever judge someone for their survival tactics, because that’s literally what it is. At the same time, this debate about me, surrounding me, was with my body on strings instead of my actual self because of how it was postered by my friends and the reaction by all sorts of people.

As well, it’s made worse by Jonas’ article actually being informed by cissexism he seems to refuse observing (I’m differentiating transphobia and cissexism on purpose; I don’t think Jonas is transphobic, but I do think he is blind to the cissexist aspect of his arguments). In essence, his thought experiment of a transgender person considering not transitioning or not transitioning in the way they want to quell a cisgender partner’s insecurities of being discriminated against being equal or better than a trans* person expecting their cis partner to get over themselves can only be logical by any stretch of the imagination in a thought process informed by cissexism. To consider the transgender person is being selfish for wanting to be who they are in a cissexist and transphobic culture is only possible in cissexist logic. You are equating one person fundamentally changing who they are because of the pressure of a discriminatory culture with a person who never has their identity questioned in such a way, and who could easily move through life without ever having that demand asked of them based on that aspect of their identity. With Jonas trying to absolve himself from confrontation, he actually became a model for how many allies and otherwise progressive people try to say they are such without acting it. He was stating he isn’t transphobic without considering how transphobia works within his own logic.

This is just the beginning that will be lost as the debate marches on, but it’s really important for me to point out. It shows the almost deterministic projection of everything, how someone excuses something problematic by hand-waving its legitimacy is up against an extremely vocal and quickly damning oppressed group. They both saw each other as lost causes before any understanding actually happened, and that my name was in it all, I was party to it, despite not having entered the scene.

I didn’t want to respond to Jonas’ article publicly. I offered to have a conversation with him in email, but eventually his frustration with those fighting for me had him unfollow and disengage with me, despite I only contacting him once for that email offer. Outsiders to this scuffle really wanted me to respond, and add to this ‘conversation.’ The problem is that this whole thing was being framed as a me versus Jonas debate, but no actual exchange of ideas came between us. It went to the point where I had to just snap at people because it didn’t seem to get through to the general public I had little to do with the drama going on.

There’s one main reason why I didn’t want to respond to Jonas’ article with another: he pretty much misinterpreted my article and ran with it, then creating this echo chamber of arguments that I would both have to undo and counter. It basically was turning into an ‘argument on the internet’ segment I really didn’t want to get to. Nuance is often lost, comments are polarizing, people are stricken with confirmation bias. What as the payoff for me? I get to deal with more people who disagree with me and get more support from those who already do? There would be nothing productive of me going through Jonas’ piece and correcting him besides for others’ rubbernecking pleasure.

For one, no where in my original piece did I trivialize the realities of war or the people in it. A large part of Jonas’ article is a strawman against a false reading of my piece. What I had critiqued were people who were not at all involved with war and the violence associated with it co-opting it for a ‘real’ kind of violence. The privileged class glorifying a false retelling of war to entertain them. It’s because this privileged class doesn’t often experience violence, especially systemic violence, and so they export that to a reality they can relate to a la socialization by culture. But by the time his article hit the internet, this aspect was parrotted like nothing else, and I before I could actually respond to parts of his article that were interesting, I’d have to unpack all this BS that I really didn’t feel like engaging. By this point, so many of my opinions in this argument were made up by other people, no joke, a mythology was created of who I was and what my viewpoints were, that I honestly didn’t have an interest in it. People just fell on a predictable divide of those who often identify with the ideologies surrounding identity politics and those who don’t. People began to criticize my lack of engagement, and it’s literally because nothing interesting was actually going on, at least, not with me.

But I did feel the need to write about something. Conversations about personal writing have been going on for a long time now, even before this article now treated as a touchstone for a critique against personal writing. I am interested in the politics surrounding personal writing and personal experience used in games. But people so badly wanted me to be a part of the ‘conversation’ that they didn’t look at what I’ve been critiquing with my recent work: that the current way we deal with criticism in both games and writing is marginalizing. We are constantly applying standards that are political and unquestioned. We aren’t looking at how and why personal experience is used, just questioning its existence. We want things in boxes all nice and neat and don’t realize we value one box over another because of inequality. I didn’t want to address anyone in particular because one or two people didn’t sum up my counter-argument. The framework to dive into the nuance of this argument is completely unappetizing, because of how polarized the topic is- most likely, people who already saw my points will continue agreeing with me (to be clear, there are people who talked about my arguments and understood them without me having to explain/engage about them, so I know it wasn’t just that my articles were simply bad or completely unclear) and those who won’t be satisfied with my explanations no matter how detailed I am. The best case scenario would be some in the middle might find it interesting food for thought. Yay.

Now if all of that existed in a vacuum, maybe people would have a hard time seeing why I wouldn’t engage with it. The problem is, every single time I post an article on touchy subjects, I am harassed, belittled, and marginalized. In an industry who values and wants my work to exist but won’t pay for it or offer me any way to live or feel invested in for the long-term. This is on top of the discrimination I get every day of my life, both the standard fare on the street and the systemic kind enforced by society. All of this, and then I deal with all the things that come with being a public figure, with people wanting my time without consideration of me having my own life. There are people actively campaigning against me, there are people who email me rape and death threats, there is an industry who wants to look progressive but won’t actually act that way.

Where am I in all of this?

In essence, my critique of the personal is rather too apt for comfort. The most obvious thing people could be discussing and thinking about, me, is completely left out. Irony has its ways.

Ultimately, it’s because of a discomfort of the personal. We’re in these discussions of ‘why are these feelings in my logics?’ because people aren’t interrogating themselves with how the personal experience relates to them. Which is why after it all, this well meaning response really put me over the edge. Here is me, being put up as an example, about how I’m doing this whole conversation wrong. The conversation I don’t want to be a part of. The conversation I was never a part of. This is when we’re getting to masturbatory levels, the debate for debate’s sake, when debate over the internet with people who really don’t give two fucks about processing others’ feelings is, surprisingly, not that appealing to me. An overture on how this entire mental exercise, or thought experiment as Jonas puts it, is still entangled in a value system that discounts the voices of people like me. No, I’m not going to sit online and play teacher with unwilling students. I’m not even going to with willing ones, I’m too busy trying to figure out how to make use of putting myself in debt so I can actually get paid, seeing the game industry doesn’t want to throw me a dime. Want me to write thousands of words on a particular topic with extensive specificity while dealing with the discriminatory backlash that always happens? I’d love to, pay up.

I don’t know what else to say really. Was this entire debacle worth commenting on? I needed to get this out of my system, and to show that the neat, simple things people think are just friendly debates are never that way for me. There aren’t papers for me to cite that speak to my personal experience because it is systemically pulled out of many a discourse.

As for my philosophy of it all, I do see things swinging towards hyperpersonalization, and I like it. It’s something I wish people could wrap their heads around already instead of deeming it lesser than the established way of doing things.

Sorry for all you Christine Love fans drawn here by the title, I got nothin’ for ya.

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The new year is always a time of reflection, and I want to do more to highlight my accomplishments and see the little ways I changed the world. While you can find my entire portfolio of articles, rants, and meditations at my site, I’m going to list off some of the ones I was particularly proud of doing. I feel like I can see an evolution of my writing this year from last, and it’d be fun to see if people notice the same! Here are the best articles of each month!


January : Narrative is a Game Mechanic

This was when I was still at Moving Pixels! It came from a certain leftover sentiment of the old gameplay vs story conversation that thankfully seems to be dead now. And really, it’s this sort of material I thought I’d be more known for. I went to school for literature, writing, and criticism, I am obsessed messing with narrative devices and how that manifests in games. This article was a response to Raph Koster’s piece on how narrative isn’t a game mechanic, and helped me bat back and forth with him and other developers at a much more contemporary and innovative way at looking at narrative. I can see the basis of my game Mainichi in what I wrote here.


February : Love Interest: Second Date – Ikezawa Hanako, a Trans* Narrative

I had a column at Nightmare Mode called Love Interest, which was a fun experiment to write about what I love most in games: romance! I went through dating sims and analyzed the identity politics of the characters you could date. This one in particular was the first time I brought in my personal story to flesh out another angle to Hanako’s story that I talked about in the column piece before this one. It was an early attempt of mine to put more voice and personal significance into my work. It also helped a lot of friends and allies understand both me and cissexism a little more, and I felt like that was a big accomplishment.


March : I’ll Never Be the Queen of Ferelden

A first for the year, my opening act in the Ctrl+Alt+Defeat magazine, which was another deeply personal, and maybe even embarrassing story. I talked about how I actually felt emotions for Alistair of Dragon Age: Origins and how strange that was for me. I’m interested in games and intimacy, so I used myself as a case study and worked through some emotions and shame that I felt. It was interesting to see the conflict of wish fulfillment for me, because I’m an under-served audience who may actually deserve to have a power fantasy, but the reality of the game world came into play when I throttled the game for my own pleasure. Also got me into some casual dialogue with BioWare people, who are all wonderful :)


April : The Type of Woman I Want Others to See: Why I Wore Heels to PAX East

Another personal piece! I think I’m seeing a trend! This was borne out of my frustration at both GDC and PAX East, having to always be dressed to the nines while everyone else is casual. I admit, these were the first times I’ve presented myself professionally outside of minimum wage job interviews, so I was working out some societal baggage for the first time. I wanted to show people that discrimination and oppression aren’t always purposeful actions. That there’s a system of oppression that we unknowingly participate in, and that someone like me wasn’t thought of when we made our social rules. It contextualized some of my more theoretical posts into reality. People who were there at those conferences might now have a better understanding of why I present myself the way I do, and it’s because of a feeling of having no choice.


May : Moving to San Francisco!

May was a busy time for me, so I didn’t really get to write. I got accepted to San Francisco State University and had to move across the continent, quit my job, got invited to do talks at PAX, IndieCade, and GDC Online, and had a birthday! I will look back at this month to see where things really started to take off for me!


June : The State of Diversity Criticism and “do your fuckin’ research”

The summer was rough on me. Paying work was hard to find and money issues were taking hold after an expensive move. That’s when I started this tumblr so I could say things in an essay-like form that wouldn’t really be appropriate for sites to put up. It was nice to have something that let me be blunt and call out things for what they were. I feel like this really grounded me as a public figure in any manner, less of an essayist and more of a personality. Which I like, because having conversation and engaging with audiences is what I like to do. I was always afraid of being ‘too angry,’ and posts like this one let me be angry when it was justified. It also tapped into a frustration I had that men writers who don’t have much knowledge of diversity issues are ask to write about minority issues in games and get paid for publishing demeaning content. It was around the same time I started talking to fellow writers offline and help give advice to those looking to engage with this issue.


July : Confessions of a Fake Geek Girl

Continuing my rants, this one was a little more mellow and lot more personal. The fake geek girl conversation still seems to come up, and it really affects me because of how people treat me at conferences and other game-related events. People assume that because I look the way I do, and mostly because I’m a woman, I can’t possibly have an extended knowledge of games. I related it to how I have trouble with society telling me what my gender is, and how I have to ‘earn’ being a woman. It’s also special because it helped change the mind of the guy who wrote the offending article, and a lot of people worked out feelings about how this was affecting geek culture. It was another time I felt like I was making a difference through conversation instead of sticking to my usual high-brow conversations with other critics.


August : 
Queer Explorers in an Intimate Frontier

My second piece for Ctrl+Alt+Defeat, this marks a memorable time for me because this is when I started to seriously think about making a game. More ideas that would end up in Mainichi are thought out loud here. I got to detach myself and be theoretical again after so much personal stuff, and it was fun because I got to talk about romance and queerness! It’s important because it builds on my idea of game design and the mechanics themselves being political, charged with identity politics and power relations. It was fun seeing that certain qualities were coming out of queer games that called out otherwise ‘straight’ games.


September : Pay Up – You are What You’re Worth

I’m cheating because this was actually in August, but it was just at the end and so good, I need to give it a shout out. Class and wealth politics aren’t talked about enough. And I’m party to that fault, as well. This was the first time I talked about my own class and money issues, and the nuanced place I’m in. It was very personal and actually cathartic. It’s a piece that I needed to write to work out my emotions, and I think that’s why it struck with others. We don’t know how to talk about class very well yet in the gaming circles, but there is a class assumption to being a gamer. As a game critic that doesn’t get paid, it’s hard to keep up, and it’s also hard to be political with my money when I don’t really have any. It was a time when I felt powerless because I was financially insignificant. I also had to work through a lot of my own classism, especially surrounding food. I imagine more like this are due to come.


October : Take us seriously, but please, none of that highbrow shit

My rants come back for a short second wind as I get frustrated with how we’re treating non-gamers’ reaction to games. Mostly because I hate the term ‘gamer’ because we’re moving to a stage where everyone will be playing games. I want to battle hegemony in all its forms, and we have a huge problem with accessibility. I think it’s because we’re in a vulnerable position now. Games are being treated as a legit thing now, so all eyes are on us to start acting it. I also felt there was something gendered about the response, and how we should be taking notes on why a mother of two would be so turned off by Mass Effect and not rolling our eyes.


November : No Exit: How Games Change People

This was a good month for me, finally having some more time between grad school and going to conferences. This one I particularly liked because I mixed the personal with the theoretical, a pattern I just noticed is reoccurring for me on this new manifestation of Nightmare Mode. I looped together my experience at IndieCade with Survivor games I used to play when I was younger. It allowed me to expand how we see rules, interactivity, and playing and apply it on a social level. I really liked this piece because it helped me further my own theories about design, and I got to be funky and experimental in its form.


December : Pursuing My True Self

Seemingly best for last, this piece was picked up for Critical Distance’s This Year in Video Game Blogging. It was a great piece to end the year on, as it showed my growth as a writer ever since I started writing criticism. This revisited an older piece of mine on Naoto of Persona 4, but instead of straight up analysis and polemics, and tied in my personal story, an experimental form, and threw in some old-school theory to give a rounded view on the topic. I think it reached a lot more people than my original post did, which was a lot more formal, aggressive, and stodgy. I think it represents me as a person and writer the best, and also ties in what I want to do with my games, how I want to affect people.


And that’s a wrap! I have to thank everyone who’s given me encouragement when I stumbled, and always made sure I knew I was doing a good job. The support of both just friends and the fundraisers I’ve done was way beyond what I imagined possible, and it’s hard not to feel loved, even when society can make it feel so. Thanks again for following me, and here’s to an even better year!

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This will be a design article on my game Mainichi, aiming to be insight to my thought process during its creation and serve as a guide for others to make games. To get the most out of this, download Mainichi here and then come back to read this! If the download is giving you problems, use my contact info and I’ll send you a copy. For extra reading, I also suggest getting a copy of anna anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, as I’ll be speaking to many of the ideas she advocates in it.



There is a movement. A movement that says “You can too.” It is growing in size, accessibility, and voice. Game design is, and always has been, for everyone, but the narrow path the industry took blocked off many peoples’ opportunity to join in on this artistic revolution. It’s assumed you must have the best graphics, know how to code, have the money to develop a game that can speak to the world.

I only know life with computers and video games in them. My father is a programmer and shared a love for technology with his children. I grew up surrounded by games and, naturally, wanted to make them. But my father never passed down the skill to code, and I never realized how important programming fit into making a game until I tried making them years later. Coding became a monster; I couldn’t get it and felt my creative energy dissipate every time I tried to learn. I entered university believing game design wasn’t for me and gave up on that dream to join the industry.

But now, I’ve come full circle. The industry badly needs to diversify and there’s still roadblocks. Publisher model game development is choked by putting profit above all else, and the monochromatic landscape of non-AAA development still values methods that require monetary investment and a previous buy-in to programming culture that many of us just don’t have. Despite this, I still had something to say, or rather, something I didn’t know how to say. I had something I needed others to play.

This is how Mainichi was born. It was an experiment in translating a personal experience into game mechanics, and also a push to prove to myself that I can make a game, even if the video game industry wouldn’t accept me. I want Mainichi to be a call to arms, a triumph of the personal. I made a game that only I could make, and I’m hoping this exercise empowers others to express a life that is uniquely theirs.

Choosing Vocal Chords

The biggest roadblock I had to overcome was choosing the program I would use to make my game. I asked for suggestions, consulted lists, and tried out many to no avail. I ran into many bumps; usually, the more free and open source something is, the more programming is integral to the making process. Though, some did come with their own scripting language that was easier to learn and a viable method for those who aren’t completely code-phobic like I am. Many of the more popular game makers are primed for certain types of games, like shooters or platformers. Looking to make something akin to an adventure game, the obtuse methods to simple get someone walking across the screen on a level plane and generating a textbox from an NPC were quick to grate my nerves.

If there was something I learned, it’s the increasing amount of tools for people to use all assume different competencies, wants, and conventions. Authoring programs are prepared for certain users, and make it easy or difficult to do particular things. This isn’t simply a practical thing to know, but political. Many programs assume you have the privilege, tastes, and wants of the hegemonic man. However, some of these tools come with communities that make it easier to subvert this assumption, and is, in particular, something I encourage others to factor in when choosing a program for themselves. Here is what I came up with for myself and the needs I perceived I needed for my game ideas:

*Programming unnecessary or extremely minimal/optional
*No to low cost
*Made it simple or easy for me to use textboxes, characters, variables, cutscenes
*Has an active enough community to provide custom content

These and other factors contributed to me picking RPG Maker VX, despite its price tag. Mostly, my personal disposition and skills overcame the cost for it after not feeling compatible with all my other options- I was familiar with the toolset already, had the skills to edit its art assets enough for my own devices, and most of my ideas would benefit from the assumption of an RPG/adventure game being made. There were narrow expectations about the kind of game I wanted to make inside those conventions, but there was room to subvert these paradigms. As an aside, RPGMVX does have a cheaper sibling, RPGMXP, that I ended up not choosing because I had the familiarity with the former. However, for those new to both and interested in using them, XP is as viable, just for different reasons. I think others can find similar, free programs and still do what I did with Mainichi, RPGMVX just happened to be right for me.

Training My Voice

It’s easy to have a story or an idea. What makes a game significant is its designed experience. Coming into this experiment, I knew that current attempts of doling out social awareness just through story devices plainly didn’t work. I had to choose methods of design to communicate the feelings of my experience to the player, because otherwise I could simply point them to an essay I’ve done. I would say Mainichi lets someone feel rather than tells them what to feel. It’s a key difference to create empathy instead of telling the player what’s right to think.

If this experiment is judged successful, I think it will be because of my philosophy of being hyper-personal, or like what my colleague Jenn Frank says is “alarmingly specific.” This applied not only to the topic but the design as well; I wanted to draw upon my ideas about sociology, postmodern art, ludonarrative resonance, and diversity politics in video games and have them influence the way the player interacted with the rules. I wanted this game to be dripping with the intersection of all of my influences, and create a new way of looking at design as a byproduct. I think for a personal piece like this to work, you have to speak to the world in general through a very specialized perspective.

How to design a game for social good is a fraught question. It’s difficult to position the player in a way that doesn’t have them exploit the minority and unknowingly replicate the problematic ideologies the game set out to defeat. This is why I stressed reactivity of the system and eliminated min/maxing of any sort. When you look at the system as a metaphor for society, the suffering that happens to the character doesn’t become something the player enables but joins ranks against.

There is something to be said about being too referential in a game, but I decided to be extremely so. I made the character after my likeness and named them after myself, I have a Japanese title, there’s a Dragon Age II cameo, etc. However, everything does have a personal link to add to the aesthetic and ‘meaning’ of the piece. Since the game is essentially interacting with a system, it could be replicated with numbers and without any sort of cultural representation. So it felt right to imbue as much of the game with my personal easter eggs because the game won’t make complete sense without the meta-awareness of how it fits in. And really, all games that try to mean something have to do that as well.

Speaking

I also recognized there would be audiences for my game, but no ‘perfect player.’ There is no one person that can absorb everything this game is meant to do. I’m not even the perfect player for my game. Rather, I knew that it would be released to the world and many people of different relationships to games would play it, including those who don’t game at all. So my game doesn’t have a target audience like many other games, and I didn’t have a genre in mind when making the game. However, I was aware of the different expectations people would bring to my game.

A lot of this game is speaking to the game development community. It is a community that finds making a game about minority issues near-impossible, so I ended up making one in about a week. There are also different paths for it to be analyzed, genealogy-wise, and one could see Mainichi as an offspring of Dys4ia and Passage. From Dys4ia I am intentionally making my game political through the personal, merely repeating the idea in a different format to diversify how we see, define, and interface with games. Another game in this lineage would be Merritt Kopas’ LIM, which also relies on mechanics replicating emotional experiences. I also see Mainichi as a critique to Passage in this regard; just because this isn’t AAA development doesn’t mean the types of games coming out of the indie scene aren’t dominated by heterosexual white men’s narratives. I want the community to know that some people don’t have the luxury of mulling over something as long term and general as the passage of life towards death or saving the world. Some of us have to worry for our physical safety every day we leave the house, some of us will live and die unequal citizens in a system that doesn’t care; the street scene in Mainichi hopes to be referential to the design of Passage for the community of developers that care about that sort of design canon.

Because of the look and that it is in fact made with an RPG Maker, I knew some players would be bringing the baggage that comes along with RPGs. I also have quite a lot to say about RPGs, how I think they are evolving, and my answer to ‘what is an RPG.’ So I specifically highlighted certain conventions, like choice, time management, NPCs, cause/effect, multiple paths to the end goal. I then proceeded to flip the expectations players would have with elements; the choices you make aren’t epic or demarcated by a clear morality, the player is taught to avoid as much interaction as possible, and the player will be depressed looking for the ‘good’ ending. Mainly, I find RPGs abstract things so we can interact with them, an exercise in turning something qualitative into a system. The player gains empathy through my attempt of abstracting how people gender me, and allowed the player to experiment in the system to realize the experiences I’ve been through.

Outside of the highbrow stuff, I wanted to communicate an experience that I couldn’t do with words alone. Ultimately, this could be a project in telling my best friend why I was often depressed despite the good intentions of my support group. Similarly, I wanted players with cisgender privilege to also empathize with one aspect of having a queer gender or presentation. It can also serve as a tool for a trans* person to share with their friends if they have the same trouble explaining like I did.

You Can Too

A huge reason I made Mainichi was to say that, yes, anyone can make a game of critical merit. You don’t have to be a programmer, you don’t need a whole bunch of disposable income, be on a triple digit design team, or a part of the indie in-crowd. The important thing is to know game design is something everyone has the capacity to work on, and the implementation into a program is the hard part.

This is important to note because video games aren’t the only types of games there are: I am currently working on a card game that will allow players to simulate and interrogate the dynamics of a first date or sex. In addition, as The Border House has already shown, there are also non-traditional formats of digital games that beg to be used and experimented with, like Twine and Ren’py. What I think a lot of the non-AAA developers forgot was that one leaves the publisher model behind in order to do something different. I’ve seen many failed projects because so many want to make the next Final Fantasy with RPG Maker and don’t see the dissonance in politics concerning that. Instead, take part in diversifying not only the characters and stories we see in games, but how we fundamentally interact with them as a whole.

(Originally posted at The Border House)

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The light was shining straight into my face. I didn’t complain because I was standing on a stage, addressing a section of the game design vanguard at IndieCade with Christine Love in a maid outfit sitting next to me. Instead, I was one of the first that weekend to speak about the political impact game designers have when making their games, whether or not they had an ‘agenda.’ I started off my talk with a Salman Rushdie quote, akin to ‘Art isn’t entertainment. It’s a revolution.’ More talks on the same stage would pound in the idea that game developers are artists; their work is political. There are many who are still resistant to this idea, that they design merely for fun and nothing else. I would say that’s the ideology of the majority of game developers  even though we like to bask in the benefits games being called art gets us. Eric Zimmerman gave ten or so tips on game design which were basically ‘how to manage being an artist,’ and Mary Flannigan reconstructed a history of computer science that showcased innovators striving to find beauty and meaning rather than technological advancement.

The gaming community, or let’s say the ones with voices- popular developers, media, and maybe celebrities if we have those- have a cake eating problem. We want to be taken seriously as an artform but don’t often value critical analysis. Game criticism and academia are held in disdain and shoved in corners, dubbed inapplicable. Recycling the same themes, mechanics, and ideologies of game design passes through reviews and feature articles without scrutiny. We are very happy to wallow in the same when all of the attention we get is for being something different, something new.

This was nailed in for me when I saw the reaction to Lucy Kellaway’s article on Financial Times, “Game theory.” Mostly, we get an outsider perspective on the cultural relevancy of video games from someone, actually a panel of people, who doesn’t really play games. She goes through her experiences, and ultimately sums up that for a non-gamer, she didn’t feel like there was much to talk about. This made a large section of gaming’s conversation upset, because of COURSE she just doesn’t GET IT. It’s like an illiterate critiquing the written word, the blind complaining about the irrelevancy of a Renoir.

Why, instead, didn’t we all stop and ask why? For instance, what would something of cultural relevance look like to her? To the general public that doesn’t play games? Or really, to anyone who actually analyzes games in any manner, since most people who play games know shit-all about game design. That all of the things that ‘require’ her to ‘get it’ are extremely inbred conventions that don’t mean much outside of navel-gazing rationalization? Why should someone be familiar with an X-Box controller (I’m not) to be able to comment on video games? Why should someone intuitively understand platformers (I don’t) to critique video games? Why should someone just understand that they have to empathize with a gun toting character that never has their sociopathic behavior commented on (still boggled about this)? Really, with all of the ways contemporary art and philosophy makes statements, video games very very very rarely do this. Notice in her analysis, she most connects to Proteus and Journey, the two games explicitly tagged as ‘art games’ in our gaming subconscious.

The honest truth is that we’re not at all in a stage to make a statement like Ulysses because we’re barely even trying to do as such. If affecting a person, if embodying philosophy was our intent as game designers, any person familiar with art and aesthetics would be able to get it. Video games are not in some special reality, they aren’t so different that you need some arcane knowledge to get it’s messages. Rather, we have many superficial, unexplained, and frankly discriminatory barriers to entry that have no reason to be there other than ‘that’s just how things are.’ Let’s not pretend that AAA games are looking to be artistically profound with every other motivation secondary, and hell, that goes for most non-AAA games too. With most games not being about reaching that artistic peak, it is honestly knee-jerky and myopic to be defensive.

If gamers are the only people who can decipher games, then there’s something on the game developers’ shoulders to address that. Art balances between the universal and specific- there is often a connection of the personal, special occurance through the accessibility of general experience. If someone ‘doesn’t get’ a painting or a movie, it’s not because they were unable to experience it, but in games, that’s where we’re at. Something tells me Lucy is a lot more acquainted with critical theory and philosophy than most developers, and if there was something to dig up, and she was allowed to, she would have. I think it’s possible that it’s us that doesn’t get it.

We talked about voice. I asked Christine and I asked the audience how we silence minority voices. We craft definitions and conventions that naturally exclude many people; game mechanics that imply the player is a boy or man, controllers for those experts at handling them, conventions that require an understanding acquired over years of gaming. Can you blame Lucy for shrugging her shoulders at something that is continually marketed and designed for 16-24 year old boys? Is that really the marketing demographic for things that are culturally relevant? We need to stop screeching at those who ‘don’t understand us,’ because we’ve made it that way. Instead, it’s time to open up this medium and actually work at making it say the things we want it to.

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Originally posted at The Border House

I’ve come to enjoy the scene of fog rolling down the hills. Where I’m from, fog is ephemeral; it rises from the dewy grass in the morning and floats off by noon. Walking to the market here feels like I’m on a movie set and zombies will shamble out at any moment. There’s a bounce in my step because shopping for food is one of my favorite things to do. I got swept up in the food-conscious mania that glorified organic products and watched The Food Network instead of X-Tube. So predictably, I made a face when passing by the McDonalds, watching the students and families cramming fries into their faces. But then it hit me as I noticed the change in races populating the fast food restaurant to Trader Joe’s: I was being racist again.

For the better part of two years, I’ve been actively battling internalized racism. I thought I was fine because it wasn’t like I was Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks or anything. But what I started to realize was that he ranted in the back of my mind about things I thought were legitimately true, and it revealed to me I had biases for monied culture. Wealth and class are highly organized by racism, as anything resembling white culture has to do with a disposable income. I came to understand many of my actions tried to avoid seeming hispanic or black, because I didn’t want to be associated with the poor.

My best friend inadvertently pointed it out to me when we lived together. I had recently grew zealous in the ‘advocate with your money’ ideology and picked up the Human Rights Campaign’s buying guide, which shows you how bigger companies stack up against each other with their stances on equal rights issues. For groceries, I remember Whole Foods being at the top, which was fine for me. Looking at the guide, my friend asked, “Mattie, you work at Starbucks and go to school. How can you afford all of this?” The truth was I couldn’t. It seemed more important to me to embody my ideologies, and through that, it meant I was represented by the amount of money I spent. It wasn’t long until I had to stop shopping at the places on the top of HRC’s buying guide, and I felt like a bad person. I turned around and left Trader Joe’s today because I only had double digits in my bank account until student loans came in. The cost of a meal at one place was the same price as the cheapest pound of meat at the other. I went back to McDonalds, ordered a cheeseburger, and cried.


This is analogous to my experience with my work in video games. The worth of my writing and advocacy is constantly augmented by my relationship to money. In order to keep up with critical conversation, I must constantly buy games. And not the cheaper ones, but the sixty dollar hits that many of my peers get for free. I feel compelled to constantly add to the sprawling Steam library and Kickstarter backing lists. Despite the growing debt, I have to get a new TV for my consoles, buy a gaming rig, and consider obtaining one of the latest handhelds. And for what? Gaming criticism, the one bastion for minority writers in games media, isn’t seen as valuable enough writing to pay. The only time publications want to talk about discrimination with any regularity are the ample gaffes developers give them. The paying stuff has little to do with the experiences and skills you yourself don’t invest in monetarily. Your self-worth is constantly measured by how much you make, or, if editors feel like you’re worth paying. Covering events is something you back yourself and hope you see return on, reviews mainly interrogate ‘should you buy this?’ The amount of white people in the higher paying brackets of the media isn’t coincidental.

Money also frames my activities with social justice activism here. Don’t click on Kotaku. Fund GaymerCon. Don’t go to PAX. While I believe in a plurality of methods to challenge oppressive systems, valuing activism by money makes someone of my socio-economic background powerless. Giving weight to financial power over other methods is problematic, because it often excises the contributions of people who care by their wallet. Making this the battle of the dollars gives disproportional agency to white people against other white people. If I only have twenty bucks on me, how can I significantly factor into that fight? This doesn’t invalidate the very real influence of money, but it challenges us to change the battlefield to where more can participate. We are constantly looking for more diversity in activism, but continue to use resources linked to finances as our main plan of attack. Choosing where your money goes seems like an effective tool because it’s easy; you continue living your life, but instead of going to Dunkin’ Doughnuts you go to Starbucks. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford coffee, especially the ones making your drinks.

The structure of games media and activism only leaves me the path of martyrdom, of sacrificing things I shouldn’t really give up. Why is it that we require a section of people to give up their well-being to be a significant force in things they care about? We wonder why writing and social justice is so white-washed; it’s because many can’t afford to pay the dues of these clubs.

My body is rejecting the McDonalds I ate, used to years of organic and specialty foods I shouldn’t have bought. The only method of eating three meals a day that factors in walking everywhere I go, arranging plans to network, and readying myself for school makes me want to throw up. I feel terrible, unable to write the pieces I won’t be paid for anyway. The fog outside hangs from the power lines like drapes of cotton, and I can’t tell where the sun is. None of my iPad games are entertaining me and I wish for the tech to play my PC games again. I want to do anything that makes me feel like I’m contributing to society, though I can’t help but make a face seeing its price tag.

Answer
  • Question: Hi Mattie! I just wanted to say that this blog has provided me with the critical discourse surrounding cultural issues in gaming that I didn't know I craved. Your coverage of issues via the use of specific case studies, while providing a link to the article being critiqued, has left me in awe. I hope that the sentence structure isn't too appalling to get the main point across. The main point is that you rock - and to keep up the brilliant work. - riot-meds
  • Answer:

    Thank you so much! I’m super excited that more people want to see deeper discourse on cultural issues in games. Very often popular media sites take a very topical glance at this, so we need readers to start emailing editors about featuring more culture editorials! Until then, let me take this chance to point you to some other material:

    Here is my portfolio of published work, mostly on gender, diversity initatives, sex, and narrative design: mattiebrice.blogspot.com. You can go to The Border House (borderhouseblog.com) for more articles and resources on minority issues. As well, Critical Distance (critical-distance.com) is a nice weekly digest of critical discourse and often includes culture topics.

    Here are some writers connected to the critical community that I suggest reading and following on Twitter that talk about these topics with some sort of regularity:

    Ben Abraham
    Brendan Keogh
    Cara Ellison
    Carolyn Petit
    Colette Bennett
    Elizabeth DeLoria
    Evan Narcisse
    Jenn Frank
    Kate Cox
    Katie Williams
    Kirk Hamilton
    Kris Ligman
    Lana Polansky
    Leigh Alexander
    Lesley Kinzel
    Maddy Myers
    Patricia Hernandez
    Tracey Lien
    Yannick LeJacq

    These range from big publication staffers that do mostly news and write culture criticism when they can to those who focus on it constantly. Some are very active on Twitter and others not so much as related to what we’re talking about. If anything, it’s a fine list of good people.

    Hopefully this is helpful and gets you more involved with discussion!

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Phony. I’m considered a fake in many facets of my identity. I’ve found out that it takes another person involved for me to be fake, that it isn’t an innate quality. Someone from a point of privilege makes a judgment of whether or not I’m authentic or real, and if I’m allowed into the club. Geek culture is full of people waiting to do nerd cred checks to make sure whether people like me are allowed at cons, publications, and merely being in the presence of others in a geek setting. One such person is Joe Peacock, who wrote on CNN’s Geek Out! blog about his distaste for falsies. At least, when it comes to deciding which beautiful women are geeky enough and are permitted to dress up as sexy elves. His piece reinforced my experience with this line drawing to be completely arbitrary to the person making the decision, since one’s exclusion of Felicia Day is OBVIOUSLY out of hand, but not these soul sucking attention mongers with nice boobies over here. Wait let me take a picture before you go.

Here’s the deal: Who put anyone in charge of deciding whether someone is authentic or not? What is blind rage-inducing about Joe’s piece is the unprecedented arrogance thinking he can make a decision like that. That for some reason, geekery is such a holy grail of attractiveness that a Batman shirt is all you need to go from a 6 to a 9 for Joe. Do you understand what you’re doing when you assume others’ intentions, and tell them they are not real?

It’s easy to see where this attitude comes from; the conversation always starts at how women are ruining things for the geek community. For some reason, these articles aren’t about how geek culture is predisposed to wanting women being sexy at all times. Instead, it’s women acting as sirens, striking at the weak spot geek men have for beautiful women. Obviously there’s no talk about how handsome men use their good looks to win favors, and there isn’t a question raised as to why that imbalance exists.

What I’d like to point out is how no matter their authenticity on the Peacock-o-meter, there is a correlation between successful women in geek spaces and having conventional beauty. When Joe regards other women accepted into the fold, he doesn’t talk about merits outside of sexy cosplay, because that’s mostly what men in geek spaces are focused on. My question is, why aren’t the men involved in geek structures promoting and highlighting women on their merits, but instead constantly talk about their looks? Why does Olivia Munn need to be “real” as according to you in order for her to be respected as a human being? How come a model hired to be a model MUST have geek credentials? It seems like Joe needed to turn this critique inwards and at other men for their inability to support the meritocracy they imply is in existence.

Women are not invaders into geek spaces. No, games are not that much more inclusive than ten, twenty years ago, it’s just that women and girls enjoyed games before they realized there was a huge sexism problem. Many didn’t realize it was just a boy thing until after they started playing. I know I didn’t find Paperboy especially masculine when I was four, I just really liked cracking up at that dude breakdancing in his driveway.

Let me parallel this to my own life. For the past seven or so years, I’ve been adjusting to a society that likes to tell me I’m not a woman. And I’ve met all sorts of different criteria for why I’m not considered a woman, but it usually falls into two camps: I wasn’t born female or I don’t try hard enough. I’ve been called deceptive, artificial, weak, and often denied my identity by others. Isn’t there a little bit of cognitive dissonance when you tell someone they aren’t who they feel they are? Saying someone isn’t a woman is disgusting mostly because you’re unaware of how much you actually don’t have a say in deciding someone’s identity. It also showed me that to be a “true” woman, I would need a lot of investment in my looks merely because we revolve so much of womanhood around men’s aesthetic sensibilities.

How does this relate to geek culture? I wrote a piece about why I felt compelled to wear heels every day I was at PAX East. I wasn’t there to cosplay, snag a modeling job, or pick up men. Rather, there is a silly notion that I’m becoming a professional in games media, and I’m extremely aware of the homogenous identities that make up publications and development studios. I know that because of my open transgender identity and the topics I write about, I better be damn well easy on the eyes if anyone is going to give me a chance. This isn’t speculation, but raw data from the life I live. I have others to vouch for my talent and authenticity, but in the face of what matters, it’s what makes heterosexual men comfortable. People who lie outside of that are constantly harassed and ignored, and we have examples at major sites and scenes of such happenings. And there’s no winning - men assume that because I put effort into my looks, I can’t be a serious gamer.

It’s easy to say that I, and other women, just don’t have the strength to weather through the crap and let our insides matter more than our looks. Unfortunately, if it wasn’t for cosmetics and sexy outfits, I would have anxiety and depression plunges multiple times a day. I’ve been there, and I resisted makeup and such adamantly until I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t take people making disgusted faces at me, fumbling with pronouns, treating me like they could catch The Gay if they stood too close. If there was this wand that guaranteed no one would even blink at seeing my morning face and assume I wasn’t a woman, I would throw every bottle of MAC I own out the window, laughing manically.

It isn’t me or sexy women that needs to change. It’s a culture that values women mostly on their looks that has to. It is hypocritical to say women are the problem when you are consuming geek media that has 90% of the women sexualized towards heterosexual men’s liking. And really, there is nothing wrong with men liking sexy women, and women enjoying being sexy for men. It’s just the culture doesn’t allow variance by shaming and ignoring women who don’t fit popular ideas of beauty. Geek men want everyone to stop treating them like adolescent boys, but this lack of self-awareness has to stop first.

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  • Question: I'm a guy and I've been eating up these stories about sexism in gaming. I'm also a amateur director. In what ways could I tackle subjects like sexism or sexuality in my stories that is credible and not self-congradulating? - Anonymous
  • Answer:

    Good question! The main problem to tackle is how to add in your voice without overpowering others’, which is really tricky. Right now, we have an issue that minorities are often ignored or scrutinized on speaking about these topics while heterosexual men are given a lot more leeway. This often creates tension, because said man will be saying things minorities have been talking about forever but no one one would listen.

    So, if possible, highlight the discussion you’re adding into. Let it be known that there’s a large group of voices currently working towards the same goal that you’re a part of. Feature minorities. And for what you can add in, I would say you’d be in the clear if you don’t do what is affectionately called “mansplain.” Basically, this is an attempt to “finally” be logical and even handed about these issues, and that only men can really communicate this to other men in a dude manner. This basically puts us back at square one, because people often derail minorities for not pandering to exactly how they want the discussion to go.

    As for content, there is actually a lot of room for men to contribute! There needs to be more stories of coming to grips with privilege, and how one unpacks it in order to stymie their contribution to oppression. Along with this, personal anecdotes of why men should care about sexism and such. We need more men talking about breaking out of the “man box,” what it is like to have an unsupportive culture to trying out something other than the stereotypical heterosexual man. Also discussions about violence, and how there are topics not unrelated to men, like rape and eating disorders.

    Hopefully that starts you off well enough!

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The topic of being offended has cropped back up, with comedians who favor rape jokes and ableist memes. The latest iteration, in response to being offensive, is often a cry out against sensitivity and censorship, that offended parties want a dictatorship with thought police. Making this relevant to our interests here, Colin Moriarty over at IGN adds in that what he describes as political correctness stifling out creativity and the exploration of controversial material.

Let’s get to the meat of this and save the nuance for dessert. As the existence of this post implies, there are many flaws about Colin’s approach to this topic. I will first meet him at his “Let the free market decide!” slant, which is both problematic and hypocritical. For one, the public saying they don’t like certain content isn’t censorship or any threat against the US’s (because Ben Franklin doesn’t speak about the constitution of the whole world, you see) concept of free speech. Our laws protect us from the government telling us what we can or cannot do, but businesses bend to consumers because of, wait for it, the free market! And, as well, businesses don’t bend to consumer pressure also because of said free market. Game developers can ignore as many angry people as they want and continue making problematic material, but some don’t because of whatever business model or philosophies they ascribe to. So let’s stop throwing around faux-intellectualism, no one’s country-given rights are at risk here. What’s at risk is things people like Colin enjoy might go away to the pressure of another force, and they don’t like that. Which leads me to how crappy it is to use the “free market” stance in the first place. It equates ethics and individuals’ value with money in a system that favors the rich. Gaming isn’t and hasn’t been a cheap hobby to upkeep, so to say those with the money should decide the kind of content of games is plain lazy when that is mostly white heterosexual men. The problem here is that the old guard is backed up against the wall as a diverse market demands games to change, and you get pieces like Colin’s resorting to arguments of privilege.

Moving on, Colin also makes the mistake of creating a straw man of the activism surrounding problematic material in games. We’ll use his example of the Tomb Raider mishap: Talking about rape isn’t what needs to go away. The possibility of games depicting rape isn’t bad either. What is the problem is developers handling complicated issues without understanding how it affects the audience. What Ron Rosenberg said fired off many alarms, that this is most likely another fudged attempt at using rape as a theme in a game (I understand that some who demoed it feel better about the game, but the argument centers around material the public has access to). Context matters here, because our society trivializes rape and there isn’t a game in my memory that properly utilized rape. And with gaming culture under large scrutiny for homogeny in development teams and sexism, the comments Ron made were legitimately criticized. It was all the language that settled back into using rape as a plot device and not treating it with the gravity it deserves. The problem here is that Ron and everyone else related to the PR of this Tomb Raider didn’t mean to be offensive. I would say the vast majority of the cases that people criticize games and publications for being offensive, the accused didn’t mean to be. THAT’S THE PROBLEM.

Without getting into theory, it is becoming more obvious that society has engrained problematic attitudes and behaviors into our everyday mentality, so we accidentally do and say sexist (among other) things. And none of these people want to be sexist, nor want to offend gender minorities. This is what needs to be fixed, and why people continue to mobilize whenever these topics arise! There is a difference between being unintentionally offensive and being intentionally so. When you accidentally offend someone you care about, you apologize and amend your behavior. But when you intentionally offend someone, you don’t care if they are offended and are doing it for a particular reason. This mobilization of activism isn’t targeting people who want to be offensive, rather, those saying things aren’t offensive because they themselves aren’t offended, so no one should care. Sound familiar? If we continued to ignore things we didn’t like, nothing would change. There are many things and people I want to offend. I don’t care if I offend those who are anti-marriage equality, shame kinky sex, or think the Men’s Rights Movement is a legitimate cause; I intentionally craft my messages to offend such people. However, if I found out that things I said offended people with disabilities, in poverty, of another nationality, or any other non-ideological descriptor based solely on these said qualities, I would apologize and change because I didn’t mean to and wouldn’t want to again unintentionally. That said, most MRAs can go fuck off.

Also, what is cute about the “save creativity!” angle is how much people like Colin are protecting incredibly old, entrenched attitudes. There’s a push against how video games deal with sex because it is incredibly UNcreative. Scantily clad women with no other purpose than to be so? What is creative about that? There is nothing creative of our western culture appropriating and exotifying other cultures, we’ve been doing that way before free speech was written into law. Or the glorification of a war we had no business initiating as another excuse to shoot brown people? Something tells me that’s not the “fresh” Colin is looking for. The people that Colin’s article represent don’t want anything to change, unless you consider figuring out how to get a girl as close to naked as possible without financial retribution creative.

This didn’t even get into the workings of the sexism, racism, and other problematic aspects of video games. And it doesn’t have to, though reading up on that conversation would probably have saved Colin from writing that piece. The reality is that it is becoming more and more unprofessional to be sexist and racist, even unintentionally so, and the public is making publications and developers aware of this social change. And as a company that focuses on games as things “guys enjoy,” IGN should take some notes.

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Alright folks, strap on in, because we’re going to be hitting a lot of points today. While this topic encompasses many writers and publications, the main focus of my post is a recent piece on 1UP by JP Kellams on gender topics in videogame criticism.

The theory in the middle is mostly okay stuff, but those who regularly engage in the critical circles of videogames will find them all rather familiar. JP starts and ends his piece basically saying that he hasn’t really looked into feminist critique enough, but there isn’t really any critical lens used in the gender debates currently going on. The loudest social justice members, apparently, are histrionic, irrational, and polemic in their efforts to discuss diversity issues within this great art form. JP goes on to posit some ideas for “rational” discussion, like the male gaze, concept of the Final Girl, and that the homogeneous makeup of development teams creating a very narrow range of games for other people to enjoy.

I’m just going to come out and say it: way to go, you are just another dude in the game industry who thinks they are saying something Smart about gender issues for the First Time that social justice proponents have been harping on and on about FOREVER. JP can find solace in that he’s not the only guy regurgitating critical lenses; it’s actually quite an epidemic.

I wanted to know why this kept happening. I figured that if JP was interested enough in calling the current social justice initiative ineffectual, he would at least be following the conversation? Ironically, the only person I saw him following on Twitter (where most of this discourse happens) that had anything to do with the English speaking diversity activism he was addressing was Kate Cox, who did a fucking three part piece on the male gaze as it pertains to videogames. The people writing, curating, and publicly promoting diversity discourse are more than aware of the concepts JP talks about, many trained academically in critical theory and consistantly use it. It’s there, and people who aren’t paid and are constantly ignored by bigger publications tirelessly engage developers and publications with problematic material using critical theory. If anyone is skeptical, you can go ahead and gander at my collection of writing, all unpaid and on my own time: mattiebrice.blogspot.com.

So, if publications like 1UP and Kill Screen (not the only ones, just showing the breadth of sites with this problem) have men reiterating what minority activists have been saying all along, or worse, positing ideas that rely on stereotyped, shallow knowledge of minority issues, what is the cause? Why is it 1UP would commission a piece about gender theory discourse from JP, who admits he’s not the best person to ask in his preamble, and not the many people in the trenches who ARE the experts? Why are the publications that do, like Kill Screen and Kotaku, continue to produce problematic material in opposition to these writers?

For one, there is this assumption that diversity issues are just a bunch of inflammatory/liberal opinions not really based in anything but feelings. Many of these men who are writing on social justice don’t do any research on it, despite being writers and having that as a part of their job. This activism is backed by years of research and critical theory with evidence and solid philosophical groundwork. There is a deserved amount of anger in this movement because despite all of this evidence, people dismiss minorities as self-serving. It’s not until a dude comes along with a stoic and detached demeanor to say something that it’s given any credit.

Risking alienating some of my friends, a lot of this lies in publications being structurally built against culture criticism and the minority writers who would be providing this rich and compelling argument for diversity initiatives and being extremely hesitant to change. Here’s the real talk: it doesn’t matter if behind closed doors you are totally sympathetic with minority issues; if you can’t publicly and systemically promote diversity issues, then you are part of the problem. And, yes, I know all the excuses; people need money, they need to keep the immature audience that reads their material, and bosses find talking about these issues too risky in the face of increased profit.

There is no way the community is going to become familiar with the critical side of social justice if publications continue to devalue this sort of discourse by barring culture critics exposure and pay, qualities decidedly considered being “professional.” The stuff that “actually matters.” Instead, people with the posistion to enact change exploit social justice circles by only reporting on and discussing extremely emotional and inflammatory topics. They look for the offended, they look for the victims, and ignore those continuing to work to change the discriminatory nature of videogame culture.

So, why is it that articles like JP’s happen? Because they are part of a “Gender, Sexuality, and Videogames” week. That means they are niche and only important for a small amount of time then get tucked away before anyone gets funny ideas. The painful part of this is that 1UP is churning out some really good stuff on this topic. But we don’t want a version of Black History Month, we want positive representation of diverse identities in our development teams, mastheads, and games.

Now.

And how do you do it? I dunno, maybe you can include the people who talk about it every. single. day. into your plans.

PS: Don’t even think of trying to tell me what’s “practical.” Practical is often code for intentionally settling for less because the ideal takes too much effort.

ETA: I am not the only nor first person to say something about the erasure of minorities from critical discourse. Check out this blog post written by Alex Raymond nearly three years ago basically critiquing the same thing. That slowly but surely change is taking its sweet ass time.

ETA2: I spoke with JP on Twitter, which was basically him using Tone argument to devalue my piece, that if I was nice and polite, he would have a conversation. This is after his original article that said the social justice movement is hysterical and irrational.

He also wanted to make clear that he wasn’t “taking sides” and was being even handed between social justice and the skeptics. He said I was turning it into a social justice thing and he never intended that. So he literally had no idea of the discourse and fell into every trap of dude trying to be logical where women cannot. And this isn’t even considering how super problematic a lot of his statements were, especially with Bayonetta. This whole “play it safe” without actual research on what has been done really needs to stop.

Here’s the deal: There ARE very valuable things people in a place of privilege can do and say that would contribute to this discourse. I would say the social justice movement badly needs more cis straight etc men to further grow its philosophy and reach. And there are already really awesome guys who are a part of it and I what I love about them is that they LISTEN FIRST. There’s usually a gut reaction, but after listening to what bothers a person, or what has already been said, they avoid the usual trappings of privilege. They also ASK QUESTIONS about their posistion and what they can do. I love my straight cis dude friends, and I’m learning more angles and skills because they help diversify the movement.

Answer
  • Question: Do you feel that there's more activism in the gaming industry lately or am I just becoming more aware of it? - Anonymous
  • Answer:

    Both! I think a lot of people noticed that as well, especially around this whole E3 thing. As more activists come out and speak, more people feel comfortable discussing the issue and sharing their experiences. We’ve also had many events that allowed the community to practice activism, if you will, and tell companies diversity topics are important. There have also be movements of support towards companies who defend their employees and products from sexist and otherwise discriminatory attitudes of the privileged gamer. So all of that has been building and building, and soon it will just be the norm until the industry readjusts itself. Things are moving forward, just have to keep going!

Answer
  • Question: What are some examples of games that do things right when it comes to feminism/women's rights? - Anonymous
  • Answer:

    Unfortunately, I don’t have many games that come to mind that I would feel comfortable recommending. However, non-AAA games seem to be filling up this space because more minorities exist in those companies. I particularly liked To the Moon (you will cry, I promise) because it deals with some ableist issues as well. Anna Anthropy’s work is constantly subverting the otherwise homogeneous of more known non-AAA devs. It could be something as simple as this game on Kickstarter, Lily Looking Through. It’s not about feminism, but a young girl going on adventures and practicing skills usually reserved for boys. And she’s not just a palette-swap. We’re not looking for YEAH FEMINISM but telling girls and women “you can too.”

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This bit is in response to a lot of the reaction to Katie Williams’ piece on her experience at E3. It’s a must read and I encourage everyone to give it a look and see some of the comments.

We need to talk about victim blaming. It comes in many forms and appears very often whenever minorities speak about experiencing discrimination. Taking a step past the obvious meaning, it lends absolution to those who act in discriminatory ways by assuming there’s nothing anyone can do to change them. So we go for the one perceived as weak and malleable to do something. If they didn’t dress so provocatively, they wouldn’t get raped. If they just would have stood up for themselves, the game industry wouldn’t be so sexist. This is often coming from allies with good intentions and persuasive rhetoric, like a response Susan Arendt did on the Cross Assualt fiasco. I point this out because Susan is a professional in the industry and obviously meant this post to be compassionate and encouraging. Though unintended, there is an implication that minorities, in both these cases women, are not doing enough or doing it wrong, and that’s why bad things happen to them. You can also read Susan’s amendments to further reinforce the nuance of the situation she was speaking to. It isn’t just immature men from the dark corners of the internet making things difficult; women also can contribute to putting the pressure on other women to be responsible for the state of the gaming community.

This reminds me of when someone at my undergrad university wanted me to do a speech on continuing activism into post-grad life. I didn’t know I was an activist. But when I finally got up to speak, I realized that merely existing in a discriminatory space is activism is “doing it right.” The idea that someone is obligated to be publicly angry and aggressive towards their abusers puts the responsibility of creating a post-sexist world on those who are negatively affected by it, and not those who have the power to change things. Katie didn’t only have snarling men criticizing her, but also women who insist she asked for it, because it doesn’t happen to them! Let’s take a step back and think about what it entails to be a woman videogame journalist. It means every single day, you’re most likely going to see something sexist and be expected to be okay with it. You are less likely to rise through the ranks of writer, and you are often forgotten since everyone still assumes videogames is just a boys’ thing. Your gender is never brought up when you crank away writing solid news pieces, but always whenever competency and sex appeal is brought into the conversation. You are often told that sexism is a risky subject and really just an opinion. So, on top of that, surrounded by booth babes, and eventually taking a chance to publish about it, is it completely unfathomable to think one just doesn’t want to deal with for a day?

If this is still too abstract, let me give a personal example. Here are the things other women who are transgender say to me whenever I speak about my experiences of discrimination:

Have you considered hormones?
Do you have a deep voice?
Maybe you need more makeup.
Why don’t you just go to LGBT safe spaces?
Just have surgery.
Why aren’t you more confident?
Don’t admit you’re transgender.

Instead of addressing culture’s cissexism (often erroneously called transphobia), I am told to change myself, literally to change my body, so I can be a happy person. I face discrimination every day and encounter depression triggers at least once a week. Those comments above claw at the back of my mind constantly and I’m super aware of how my frustration at being unable to control society encourages me to change myself. But what would that help, really? If I just magically changed my sex right now, how would the world become less discriminatory other than less people being rude towards me?

E3, the videogame industry, and patriarchy look immutable, but it isn’t true. They can change and we can change them. Just think what you’re asking of a person when you tell them to be an in-your-face revolutionary when they encounter multiple instances of sexism in just a day.