Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
- Signature movements. As in the pic above, he flicks his cigarette lighter open with a confident swagger. He taps his collarbone when he's considering a problem.
- Identifiable interests. Turns out York is a film buff - not surprising, since SWERY studied film in college and his co-writer, Kenji Goda, is in fact a filmmaker. His encyclopedic knowledge of movies, revealed mostly during driving sequences, ranges from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace to the John Hughes oeuvre. And as York discusses films, the player gets a sense of how his analytical mind works, his attention to detail, context, history. By contrast, I don't know what Commander Shepard is into. Fish?
- An odd mix of the mundane and bizarre. Like many of us, York loves his coffee - but he also reads prophecies in the swirling of the milk. Over dinner with his new friends in the local police force, he casually describes horrific crimes (a man who uses victims' remains as kitchen utensils, a serial rapist with over 800 victims) while enjoying a steak and a beer, oblivious to his companions' shocked reactions. At one point early on, he seems more interested in the taste of a homemade biscuit than the details of the murder case he's investigating. York's odd way of processing information and making seemingly random connections - in a socially awkward way, of course - is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes. His speech patterns are also similarly strange, with resonant ruminations on the case, the town, and life interspersed with incomprehensible and colorful figurative language ("I'm in shock, like a weasel in an electric chair!"). Like Holmes, York's worldview is a combination of the esoteric and the mundane, and like Holmes, he's endearing because of this.
- A history. I can't get into too much detail here without verging into spoiler territory. But unlike other game protagonists, York's backstory - which is parceled out in tantalizing bits throughout the game - is rich, and, crucially, ambiguous. In one scene, York reveals he used to be a punk rocker in his youth, a lifestyle tellingly incongruous with his current professional, if eccentric, demeanor. It seems an offhand detail that, like so many of the offhand details in the game, simply feels like a whimsical way to flesh out the game world. Yet when you learn exactly what befell York in his childhood, the revelation that he embraced a punk lifestyle as an adolescent is incredibly fitting. (And while we're on the topic, I should mention that almost none of the offhand details in the game are truly "offhand"; most relate back to the story in distinct and interesting ways.) York's dedication to ritual - his morning coffee, his repetitive movements, even his signature greeting "Call me York. Everyone does" - not only makes him relatable, but also provokes questions. Mainly, how did he get this way? Who is he, really? I'm hard-pressed to name a game protagonist I've felt as invested in figuring out.
- Split personality. Early in the game you discover that York has an "imaginary friend" he calls Zach, a personality with whom he regularly converses - out loud and in front of others, no less. It becomes clear very quickly that you, as the player, are Zach; there is a sort of bending of the fourth wall as you realize that York is issuing you direct commands ("Just stop the car if there's something you want us to check out, Zach."). I can't stress how unique and interesting I found this conceit. It instantly renders York an unreliable narrator - when's the last time you played a game with one of those? - and gives you the nagging suspicion that some or all of this story may simply be a figment of York's imagination. Since Deadly Premonition is very much interested in playing with what's real and what isn't - and is heavily invested in bringing you into its strange world - employing the "Zach" conceit is a brilliantly tidy way of immersing the player. For a generation of games that prides itself on "immersion," only a few succeed in meaningful ways. The makers of Deadly Premonition understood that while games rich in environmental/incidental storytelling (e.g., BioShock, Red Dead Redemption) can go a long way toward inviting the player to inhabit the game world in an emotionally gripping way, only a protagonist as multifaceted as York.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Without further ado:
And once you've finished the game, check out this great conversation I had with indie developer Bredon "Switchbreak" Clay, who provides some excellent counterpoints in his own analysis.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
- Deadly Premonition. Finally finished this endearingly bizarre thriller a few nights ago, and holy crap was the ending a revelation. Actually, the whole game was a revelation, on so many levels. There's lots more to come from me on the subject, including some analysis of the many risks this game takes that the AAA blockbusters won't even touch. But for now, let me just say, without the "so bad it's good" irony common to many reviewers' takes, that Deadly Premonition is without a doubt the most ambitious, challenging (not difficult, though - more like subversive), and ultimately rewarding game I've played all year. It features easily the most memorable protagonist of any game in recent memory, and a story that oscillates between absurd and poignant with more frequency and dexterity than everyone's favorite Sean Connery-in-a-Speedo postapocalyptic film, Zardoz. Approached with an open mind, this game can be an amazingly resonant, if unrelentingly odd, experience. If you are even the slightest bit interested in Deadly Premonition - and are willing to endure some obvious and frustrating design and technical issues to get to the brilliance underneath - do yourself a favor and pick it up. And for God's sake, DO NOT indulge in spoilers. You're better than that.
- Dead Rising 2. Completed the last quarter of the story early this month, and I don't mind saying how touching it was to see Chuck save Fortune City wearing only Borat's banana hammock. The close-ups featuring our hero's bare ass as he shared a tender moment with his seven-year-old daughter were especially emotional.
- Red Dead Redemption. Well, I got to Mexico. And now I get it. For a game that's so high on so many GOTY lists, it drags like a sumbitch in the second act.
- Harvest Moon DS. Just as impenetrably directionless and cheerfully addicting as the SNES classic, this portable version makes me wonder how, and no offense to the 70 million of you doing so, anyone could play Farmville. Not because Farmville is a "blatantly cash-grubbing spamming app made by an evil company for the PopularStalkingPlatformBook" or "only moms play it" or "it's more interactive advertisement than game," although all these things are true, but because nobody can fuck with the cuteness of Harvest Moon. Yo, you seen that sheep? With that fresh-sheared look? Straight ADORABLE up in this bitch. "This bitch" being, of course, the barn.
- Dawn of War II and its expansion, Chaos Rising. It's been a mystifying but not entirely unwelcome journey into the Warhammer 40,000 universe this month, largely propelled by the very solidly-executed Dawn of War II. I'm not sure if this game qualifies as an "action RPG," "tactical RTS," or some other variety of "descriptor ACRONYM," but it's damn fun regardless. While I enjoy the resource-gathering and base-building of games like StarCraft and Age of Mythology, I'm generally lousy at adopting any other strategy than turtling. DoWII removes that temptation along with most of the intense micromanagement, freeing the player to aggressively pursue and destroy enemies the way any Space Marine worth his 41st millennium equivalent of stripes would. In many ways this game has more in common with Diablo or Torchlight than with StarCraft, but the distinction is academic: what I love most about these Warhammer games is the way their over-the-top weaponry and righteous pseudo-religious xenophobia give just enough context for me to jump in, guns blazing. Very much looking forward now to a game that would have never otherwise been on my radar, the upcoming 3rd-person shooter Space Marine.
Friday, November 19, 2010
- A very funny and insightful post by Margaret Robinson of UK studio Hide & Seek about the difference between - sigh - "gamification" and "pointsification."
- At Edge, Randy Smith spends five hours with Alan Wake.
- Wouldn't it be interesting if developers of big AAA games could study this weird proof of concept "game" about the subconscious of a man stood up for a dinner date, and insert that kind of intimate interaction into their grand narratives? What a fascinating way to inhabit a character.
- Hate to keep plugging the GWJ Conference Call every week (well, actually, I don't), but this episode's time capsule to 1998 was a trip. Had no idea it was such a banner year for gaming.
- On his blog Flash of Steel, Troy Goodfellow has begun an ambitious, and so far excellent, series of articles examining how the "character" of prominent nations/cultures have been portrayed in strategy games.
- David Carlton's post about "practice" in games stems from his experience with Rock Band 3, where the idea of pure training modes is a natural fit - but then goes on to make some interesting suggestions about extending that valuable opportunity to refine skills to other game genres.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Around the same time (age 11 or 12, I think) I read through Lord of the Rings for the first time. I suppose I enjoyed the adventure story, though I'm sure I didn't fully grasp it. But what sticks out the most in memory is poring over those huge appendices detailing the history of this imaginary world. The fact that Tolkien had gone to such lengths to invent extensive cultural, political, and linguistic backdrops for his novels blew my mind. There was a real lived-in feeling to this fantasy world, although much of it was (and is) so esoteric I could never commit to it on the level others could.
When I read Dune for the first time a few years later, I had a similar experience. There was, again, an extensive appendix, featuring a glossary of the pseudo-Arabic future space language, a timeline of significant historical events, assorted fragments of religious documents, even a satirical poem. Whatever the reasons - probably my growing maturity and reading comprehension skills combined with the availability of a feature film, a protagonist about my age with godlike powers, and Frank Herbert's slightly less opaque writing style - I latched onto the Dune universe much more strongly than I had any other fictional setting.
By the time I'd gotten to college and delved into the Wild West of campus network file-sharing - this was the pre-Napster early days, mind you - I had probably re-read the book and seen the David Lynch movie five times apiece. So when that untamed landscape of free software opened before me, I immediately jumped on the old DOS adventure game simply titled Dune and its not-really-sequel, the famous pioneer RTS game Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty.
But the real treasure was a massive PDF of The Dune Encyclopedia some kind soul had painstakingly scanned.
This giant tome, first published in 1984 with the bemused, if not entirely wholehearted, approval of Frank Herbert himself, is the finest example of "fan fiction" ever published. Come to think of it, the fact that it was published, period, speaks to its quality.
The volume's editor, Dr. Willis E. McNelly, and dozens of collaborators penned hundreds of entries on the ephemera of the Dune universe, everything from arcane descriptions of future weaponry to centuries-long histories of the novels' various factions and races. Although not canon, it was a brilliant compendium of background material, lovingly assembled in a brilliant way: in the form of an in-universe encyclopedia, referencing fictional texts throughout its extensive study of the Atreides Imperium. Dr. McNelly's collection was so thorough and so compelling that Westwood Studios, developer of Dune II and later Dune games, stole from it. The idea that there could be "primary sources" in a fictional universe was especially notable to me, buried as I was in my literature and writing studies; it lent the universe an air of legitimacy, however slight.
(Of course, this was all in the days before Frank's son Brian and his hack ghostwriter accomplice took a giant dump all over the series with their procession of abysmal cash-grab "canonical" prequels and sequels. And used the power of copyright and estate to muscle everyone else out of the Dune business in the process.)
Had The Dune Encyclopedia been compiled today, it would have undoubtedly been in wiki format, much like my recent insomnia cure. But in some ways, I think that might have missed the point.
To my mind, nothing can replace the feeling of a tangible artifact when it comes to building on a fictional world's reach. As a kid, I adored the "feelies" that came with some PC and NES games. Michael Abbott's great post about these in-box extras - paper maps, decoder puzzles, 3D glasses - links them to the in-game codex in Mass Effect 2, which functions as a digital encyclopedia of sorts to flesh out that fictional universe. His point that the codex contains "pertinent, not disposable lore" is well-taken. There is a lot of fascinating stuff in there for those players who choose to explore it. It makes for a much richer Mass Effect experience, helping set this particular game's story within a larger fictional space. I'm sure I'm not alone in appreciating the creativity and dedication it takes to construct an engaging universe for your game to take place in.
That said, I have to disagree with Michael's comment that this codex, or any in-game codex, really, is "well implemented." In ME2, as well as in that other high-profile BioWare opus, Dragon Age: Origins, navigating through the codex is a chore. In Dragon Age, the codex/quest menus (on 360) were especially difficult to manage; entries were not numbered and navigating to a new codex entry often meant inadvertently marking other unread entries as read - thus dropping them off my list of "new" material. It was even worse in Oblivion: while it was cool to be able to pick up and read books, it felt like a disruption to the flow of gameplay, even when the content of the supplementary material was interesting.
Thing is, I'm not sure there's anything developers can do. It's just a pain in the ass to read text on a large screen. It might be more palatable on a PC, but that's how I played Oblivion and it still felt like a distraction. The act of playing a game and the act of reading about that game's world feel like two distinct activities that, to me, are best enjoyed separately. It would be interesting to see if BioWare keeps stats on how thoroughly players explore the codex in, say, ME2. After all, it does serve a similar function to the appendices found in Lord of the Rings and Dune.
Yet while I understand the desire for an in-game codex to help players understand the fiction and immerse themselves in it, I can't help but think there are more effective, meaningful, and potentially profitable ways to extend your game's universe. And I'm not talking about Collector's Editions; most seem stuffed with demonstrably useless physical artifacts that are more marketing collateral than supplemental content. A figurine might be nice for a desk display, but it doesn't connect to the game experience in a meaningful way like the feelies of old did.
Honestly, I don't think that's just nostalgia for outdated copy-protection mechanisms: as Michael points out in his post, feelies were often essential components of the package, a (sigh) meta-game experience that brought the player out of the computer game, but not out of the game world. There's something psychologically interesting that happens there, I think. You are compelled to reflect upon the game and its fiction in a different way because of the switch in modality. The very act of reflection should be an important goal in itself.
Game developers often have to (and should) think like teachers: their students have different learning styles. Communicating content in different modes is crucial if you want to reach everyone. If you want to meaningfully extend a game world's fiction, I would argue, you've got to look outside the game itself.
Friday, November 5, 2010
In addition to regular hosts Shawn Andrich and Sean Sands, this week's podcast features Russ Pitts of The Escapist and Justin McElroy of Joystiq. The main topic stems from an open letter Russ recently wrote to game makers.
If there's one issue that should really dominate the conversation about videogames, it's the problem of half-baked "AAA" games being foisted on the oblivious consumer. When Fallout: New Vegas, which by all accounts is so buggy it's nigh-unplayable on any platform, costs the same $60 as more meticulously QA-tested games and somehow dominates them in sales, there's a bigger problem than what some film critic is saying. And yet, we bullshit about "art" and motion control and console wars and who wins trade shows.
So give the episode a listen, if for no other reason than to hear the phrase "We made who the king? The pattycake guy?"
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Seduced by the Steam sale last week, and despite its ridiculous name, I bought Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, the 2009 Relic hybrid RTS/RPG that, it turns out, is pretty great. It's like StarCraft with cover-based shooting and no building, or an isometric Gears of War with loot and leveling up. Both the game design and the fictional universe, or at least what little I've grasped of it, are curious blends of genre and style. And somehow, it all works. The single-player is damn fun, a well-balanced tactical RTS that's almost entirely combat-focused. I haven't jumped into multiplayer yet, but I've heard good things. Although my weak gaming setup - BootCamping into XP on a Mac Mini - necessitates turning down all the graphics settings, I'm assured the game looks great in higher resolutions.
Here's the premise of Dawn of War II: you command a squad of Space Marines (yes, they are actually called Space Marines) on a campaign to cleanse the galaxy of, no shit, Space Orcs, Space Elves, and the Xenomorphs from Alien. There's some kind of Fundamentalist Space Church that rules all of humanity, I guess, and your Space Marines - massive armored behemoths who look like the love child of Duke Nukem and The Hulk - have a sacred duty to whoop alien ass up and down the galaxy while dual-wielding flamthrowers and chainsaw swords. The voice acting brings a cheesetastic meatheadedness to the pitch-perfect melodramatic sci-fi dialogue. Your soldiers constantly refer to each other as "Brother," reinforcing the comforting thought that 38,000 years from now, just as today, society is dominated by bloodthirsty frat jocks.
The torture cults eroded the future of the Eldar as a viable galactic empire. While this debauchery would have been destructive within any society, it was even more damaging for the Eldar because of their powerful psychic abilities. Within the parallel dimensional realm of the Warp, the psychic emanations of these perverse activities began to gather, strengthened by the souls of departed Eldar hedonists and cultists. As the Eldar's vices grew, this dark mass of negative psychic energy did as well, producing the terrible Warp storms that defined humanity's Age of Strife and made all interstellar travel and communication impossible for the human colonies of this period. Eventually, this growing mass of negative psychic energy came into a life of its own and came to consciousness over ten thousand years ago at the end of the Age of Strife as the newborn Chaos God Slaanesh, the Devourer of Souls and the doom of the Eldar. The psychic scream of Slaanesh's birth tore the souls from all the Eldar within a thousand light years of it, sparing only those sheltered in the wraithbone hulls of the Craftworlds. The Prince of Pleasure's awakening was so forceful that it tore a hole between the physical realm and the Immaterium, plunging the Eldar homeworlds into a nightmare existence, trapped within the realm of Chaos. This region is now known as the Eye of Terror, and is the home of the forces of Chaos in the 41st millennium.
I've always loved the idea that the silly sci-fi stories and games I was into had a history, an evolutionary path you could trace. The world didn't have to make sense or even be particularly internally consistent; someone just had to care enough to draw up the imaginary playground.
I miss that part of being a kid. I miss leaping headfirst into stories about Space Marines fighting the Orc Hordes across the galaxy in the 41st millennium, without the detachment of irony or the vague guilt of the responsible adult. I miss living in other worlds and not needing to think about why I wanted to in the first place.
Still, it's not all bad. At least I'm not playing WoW.
Friday, October 29, 2010
- Not sure I fully agree with everything being claimed in this Atlantic article, but it does raise an interesting question - and no, it's not the tired one about "art." It's more the implied question: when is a game (or artistic product, really) "finished"? Does the ability to patch/fix games so easily undermine their value? In other words, how is the idea of a "published product" changing?
- An Australian columnist reads some serious political and moral subtext in Angry Birds.
- At Gamasutra, designer Ernest Adams' column on "joy" in games is a terrific read for aspiring developers and established pros alike. As a player, there's a lot of fun to be had in just screwing around in a game world.
- My favorite thing about Stallion83 - he of the quest for 1,000,000 Xbox achievement points - is the way even the most tongue-in-cheek fluff piece about him inspires crazy polarizing reactions.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
- Dead Rising 2. Happy(?) to report the game's unabashed, directionless sexism continues apace. That aside, I'm having fun with it. I've still never not finished last in the multiplayer, but the whole premise - a kind of American Gladiators spectacle with zombies - is so ridiculous I hardly care. I won't pretend I'm not a little let down by this sequel; as Brad Gallaway points out, there's really not much new or different in this iteration. Still, it has its bizarre charms. There's nothing quite like repeatedly smacking a zombie in the face with a foot-long purple "massager" while wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and boxer shorts. Unlike MY WIFE, I appreciate that Dead Rising 2 gives me the opportunity to do that. Regularly.
- Red Dead Redemption. I haven't progressed much since I wrote about RDR last week, mostly because I've been obsessed with:
- Deadly Premonition. Nothing, not even the aforementioned face-dildoing, comes close to the sheer WTF-erry of this budget-ass Twin Peaks ripoff. I'll write more about Premonition this week, but for now, let me just say that it has rapidly, unexpectedly, and thoroughly unironically shot up my "games of the year" list. In the meantime, go read Daniel Wiessenberger's excellent series of articles on the topic.
- Trauma Center: Under the Knife. Picked up this one, along with Harvest Moon DS, as a gift for Mrs. JPG. While the gameplay itself is fairly mediocre - it's a glorified pixel-hunt embedded into an anime-style medical drama - the real value of the title has been its voice clips. "Doctor Stiles?" Yeeeeeeessssssss, sexy nurse? Never gets old.
Friday, October 22, 2010
- This brief interview with the creator of Minecraft hints at an interesting, and I think worthwhile, take on videogame design - namely, that it should seek to emulate boardgames more.
- Troy Goodfellow's post about how his deep immersion in the "grammar" of strategy games has conditioned him to respond to games in other genres is another topic that deserves further discussion, and I hope to see more from him, and others, on the subject.
- As a nice companion piece to the above, check out Nels Anderson's recent post discussing the difference between "mastery" and "domination." A good read for game critics looking to build their lexicon.
- Darby McDevitt's feature "A Practical Guide to Game Writing" at Gamasutra delivers exactly what it promises.
- The reviews of Fallout: New Vegas are pouring in, and while I'm usually not big on reviews, Justin McElroy's and Russ Pitts' stand out. I've written before about how certain games seem impossible to quantify, and New Vegas seems like one of them. Where does that leave the reviewer, then? An experiential narrative style can go a long way in these cases.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Meandering to the edge of his pen, the little porker snuffled the grass for a few seconds, then hunched down his front legs and slowly rolled onto his side. After a moment's pause, he squirmed onto his back, hooves raised in contentment as he wiggled in the mud.
I wandered over to the newsstand and bought the latest Blackwater Ledger. At the bottom of the one-sheet was an advertisement for a combination dining room chair/commode. "Relieve yourself without having to leave the table!" it proclaimed. Shit where you eat, indeed.
As the sun set, I mounted my Kentucky Saddler and rode west, back toward the MacFarlane Ranch.
About halfway to my destination I dismounted to pick some herbs for old Billy West, who had asked me to help put together a bouquet for his wife, Annabel. Annabel, it later turned out, was a rotting corpse propped up in a rocking chair, Mother-of-Norman-Bates-style.
It was at this point in Red Dead Redemption, when the game referenced a famous Edgar Allen Poe poem, that I was finally won over.
Admittedly, I'd been ambivalent about picking up RDR. After my bad experience with GTA IV, I was hesitant about plunking down money for what had been described by more than one source as "Grand Theft Horse." And Rockstar's history of asshole protagonists we're supposed to enjoy embodying didn't bode well for its Wild West outing. (There are convincing arguments for why they do so, however.)
And so RDR was maybe the first game I've bought with the express purpose of "being part of the conversation." It had popped up on so many "Game of the Year" lists that I'd have felt negligent not at least giving it a shot.
So far, I'm glad I did.
There are, of course, problems with RDR. In addition to the inevitable open-world jankiness, there are some serious disconnects between the game's fictional world and its sandbox structure. Many of these are detailed by Michael Abbott in this excellent post, so I won't bother going into more detail. But I do want to quote a passage from Michael's piece that perfectly captures my sentiment about RDR:
The GTA template is easily seen in RDR, but Rockstar has filled its new sandbox with rich atmosphere and an iconic landscape rendered with extraordinary attention to detail. GTA IV impressed with its skewed fidelity to New York City, but RDR's take on the American West transcends it and approaches visual poetry. The lighting alone is worth a studious blog post. I've grown so fond of riding my horse at sunrise and sunset that I've timed my sleep/saves to make the most of them.
Landscape is mythos in Westerns. RDR's pictorialism and environmental ambiance convey a sense of place more effectively than any game I've played. Its evocative, understated soundtrack amplifies the visuals, and its score echoes Ennio Morricone without aping him.
Which is why it's especially ironic that for a game that almost gives the player too much to do - too many activities and too much freedom - its best moments are the quietest ones.
RDR's most impressive achievement is, as Michael says, transcendence: the scrupulous attention to environmental detail results in an experience that transcends its own sandbox trappings. As a player, having broad freedom of action is secondary to the powerful feeling the game creates of being in this place. One might even argue, if one were feeling mildly pretentious, that RDR even transcends the myth of the Western, presenting a world that, even within its own internal fiction, both challenges and reinforces that myth. The early 20th century was a time of rapid social and technological change - change that came at a high cost and faced lots of resistance in "the last frontier" - and to some degree, I suppose, RDR is more effective as an exploration of that tension than as a sandbox shooter, or even a "Western" game.
And it's odd to say this about a Rockstar game, but damned if there isn't a lot of love that went into Redemption.
Tomorrow I'll write about the specific elements I think make RDR a success, and elaborate on how they illustrate key issues in game design. Until then, pardner.
Friday, October 15, 2010
- Sad to see L.B. Jeffries put down his pen, but he's left us with a terrific piece on how to write about game design.
- At Cracked, Seanbaby explains "6 Signs Dead Rising 2 Suffers From Fetal Alcohol Syndrome."
- Kirk Hamilton's recent piece about diving back into the Bizarro World of PC settings-tweaking struck a chord; there is something weirdly exciting about that whole frustrating process, isn't there?
- Simon Parkin of Gamasutra writes about "The Curse of the Video Game Collectible."
- The fact that the anonymous ex-EA employee blog rant has not only been copied, but also become a meme, in less than a week is thoroughly ridiculous. Where will it end?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
(Image courtesy of Natalie Dee)
While enjoying my delicious Store-Brand Honey Cluster Cereal this morning, I happened upon a website full of critical essays by an author who was billed, by a poster to another site, as one of the few people out there writing worthwhile pieces about videogames.
What I found was a collection of some of the most vitriolic, pseudo-intellectual, downright hateful ranting I've ever seen. I'm not linking or naming names here for obvious reasons.
Might be because it was only 7:30 AM, but this stuff - which degenerated disturbingly quickly into misogyny and homophobia so thick they bordered on the legal definition of hate speech, and which was so obsessed with attacking other people that it almost parodied itself - really shook me. I'm not new to the Internet, but a level of trolling that pathological, that articulate, that thorough, was something I hadn't encountered before.
Lots of nuts couch their nuttery in a species of pseudo-philosophical justification, explaining away their meanness with a half-assed devotion to "living by principle," or some equally nebulous concept that only means something to people who think ideas will ever be more important than food or a warm bed or being loved. As if to say, the reason I'm an asshole is because I'm the only one out there who gets it, who's woken up, who's puzzled out the proper way to understand and interact with the world.
I don't want to engage with these people. At some point they've crossed a psychological threshold, lapsing into a persona that's incapable of being reasoned with and thrives on its own dysfunction.
There will always be wackjobs in the world - that's genetic, immutable. It's their followers we have to worry about.
These are the people, in politics as well as gaming, who are systematically devolving the level of discourse to the silliest playground ad hominem crap. And whether they realize or admit it, it's all in service of either attacking an enemy of their chosen champions or flattering the champions themselves. It doesn't matter whether these champions are human beings or ideas or "texts" like games; the intent is the same. There is a war to be fought, and I am a soldier in that war.
Thing about soldiers is, and with all respect to our actual armed forces: they're trained to not ask questions. They're trained to follow orders. Military discipline is not meant to inspire thoughtful debate, to make a soldier question his beliefs. It's meant to win wars. It's meant to keep our soldiers alive. And it works for this purpose.
But applying this doctrine to civilian life and particularly to any kind of discourse, especially around a topic as relatively trivial to human life as videogames, is not just silly. It's dangerous. Remember: without their armies of sycophants, the wackjobs are relegated to sandwich-board-street-corner status. No reasonable person bothers to engage with crazy people's ideas because, well, they're crazy. Give the nutballs a legion of followers, though, and pretty soon everyone has to engage with those crazy ideas, if only from sheer force of numbers.
Look: there are lots of passionate people in the gaming space, and I won't agree with a lot of them. I get that. I like that. But the level of casual incivility, exemplified particularly by the outright refusal to admit you might be wrong or reconsider your ideas, speaks to a larger problem. Some of us are so obsessed with tearing each other down, with proving incontrovertibly how vapid game journalism is or how the "games are art" debate is relevant/irrelevant or whatever the cause of the moment happens to be, that we are - at a time when gaming really is emerging into mainstream culture on an unprecedented scale - eating our own young. It's so ironic and sad. You can't be a soldier in the war for better game discourse if all you do is carpet-bomb anyone who might disagree with your dogma.
Since I started writing about games just six months ago, I've been lucky to receive encouragement, support, and the occasional friendly kick in the ass from a number of writers I admire and respect. I've met academics and developers and journalists at events, and corresponded with other industry folks - and without exception, they've all been really nice people. I may not always agree with their viewpoints, but they have interesting things to say, and they've never once retreated into rude, juvenile, or spiteful attacks - on games or on people.
And what characterizes this community more than anything else, I think, is an eagerness to listen, an almost childlike excitement to engage with differing viewpoints and invite doubt into their own beliefs. And accordingly, these folks often produce work that isn't interested in being "right" on some objective or philosophical level, but rather in exploring issues in gaming with nuance and precision and good humor.
So instead of feeding the troll, I'd like to end with some shout-outs to Chris Dahlen, Michael Abbott, Matt Weise, Rob Zacny, Leigh Alexander, Troy Goodfellow, Ryan Kuo, Gus Mastrapa, Kirk Hamilton, Dan Bruno, Ian Miles Cheong, Darius Kazemi, Chris Lepine, Justin McElroy, and of course, the whole Gamers With Jobs crew. Thanks, all, for the inspiration.