One Big Online Cafeteria
Fascinating thing to try with “Monaco.” It’s almost like they’re taking Journey’s “you can only do positive things to each other” co-op nature and pushing it. Bravo.
“Ryan” posted this stellar comment in reply to the article:
This article makes me wonder why someone hasn’t found a better way to connect legit human beings together when it comes to gaming. I can’t stand admitting I’m a gamer because being one aligns you with these shit dick ass clowns, let alone the fact that they make multiplayer gaming a tremendous annoyance.
Multiplayer modes are excellent, computer AI blows in comparison. Nothing beats a game where you can legitimately outsmart someone as opposed to finding the non human “quirk” to defeat an AI. Yet, in this arena, you’re subjected to playing with absolute cretin’s who not only are total tremendous douchebro’s, but thrive off out douching each other at a rational person’s expense.
I wish developers were more involved in this arena, finding ways to segregate quality gamers from the mass of fuckwads out there. It ultimately turns people off gaming, thus future lost sales does it not? How does one simply find enjoyment in going online to listen to some (teammate) kid scream bloody racism in your ear, while teabagging your corpse because he’s hopped on on Rockstar and Mommy isn’t home.
I want an online experience, application, service, that is devoid of this shit. I can’t imagine I’m alone and I can’t imagine people wouldn’t mind paying for it either. I know these businesses look at money as money, and they don’t want to upset these wretched creatures…but they can still do something to help.
I wish there were more online co-op oriented games like Monaco, and I think there would be if this wasn’t such a huge problem in online gaming.
Makes me wonder about the future of Xbox Live and other similar services. Look at Reddit. The ass clowns get voted down into oblivion every single time. The person who makes the most useful or insightful comment boils up to the top of the thread. Often the string of replies to that are an entertaining battle of banter and wit.
Could online gaming services learn important lessons from other online communities about how to better self police?
I’ve said it before that I think allowing anonymous voice chat by default on Xbox Live was one of its biggest limiting factors. It doesn’t matter how many fun interactions with random strangers you have because you’re going to have many more with people who see anonymity as a free pass to act like a bonobo slinging feces.
My old co-worker, @mrleeperry used to tell us stories about the time he spent in Alaska growing up. One story that always stood out to me was the one about the cafeterias they’d have and lunch hour. See, due to the extreme lengths of day/night in that part of the world the schools have very few, if any, windows.
Even in the cafeteria.
Occasionally the power would drop at these schools.
And, sometimes this would happen during lunch break.
You can guess what would happen next. Every. Single. Time.
When the lights would come on and 100 students were found to be covered in chocolate milk, jello, and stale pizza the only thing the teachers could really do was tell the kids how disappointed they all were in their behavior.
Now, you mean to tell me if you were one of those students and this opportunity presented itself to you you wouldn’t do the same?
Online anonymous gaming (and behavior) is the same thing. Sometimes it’s just fun to be an asshole. It’s one big cafeteria out there and it’s our job to make sure the lights stay on, or that there are community enforced rules that are built to encourage keeping that food on your plate.
Because when the lights go out there’s nothing the teachers can do to stop that age old urge to toss your pudding cup.
“Deal With It”
Yesterday reports that Adam Orth, the guy who somehow caused this shitstorm, is no longer at Microsoft.
Let’s pay attention to the wording here. Resigned. Not fired.
Now, beyond all of the use of the impact font and the “Haha let’s make an internet meme out of this guy we’ve never met” let’s also remember that what happened between Adam and his employer is now between the two of them. His comments may have exploded on the internet, but it’s actually quite possible that he was eyeing a departure, or he was getting bad reviews, or was tired of the perpetual overcast nature of the Pacific Northwest and timing may have been right for him to move on.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When someone leaves a company there’s what publicly is stated and there’s what really happened.
And you’re likely to never, ever know it.
I have never met Adam, but I have friends who know him and have told me first hand that he’s a good guy. Maybe he’s got a mortgage. Maybe he has kids. Bills to pay, just like you and I.
It’s awfully easy to sit on an anonymous forum or venue and sling mud at someone who has put themselves out there. Show me a person who hasn’t said something dumb or incorrect or yes, even cocky on the internet and he should cast the first stone.
We’ve all been there.
Let’s also keep in mind that Adam was not an official spokesperson for Microsoft.
But, Cliff, as an employee of a large company you should know better?
But if I departed from Epic every time I said something dumb I wouldn’t have made it the last 10 years there. (P.S. Mike Capps was right…the Wii was a virus after all.) People make mistakes and sometimes it’s hard to actually convey a proper emotion, intent or meaning in 140 characters. (Hell if I had a nickel for every email that was misinterpreted when I was at Epic.)
Now, I don’t know as much as you’d think I know about Microsoft’s future plans. Even if I did I wouldn’t go blogging about it like some sort of fool.
My gut is telling me that an always online future is probably coming. It’s coming fast, and possibly to the majority of the devices you enjoy. Adam’s analogies weren’t that far off; although the vacuum one was kind of weird. Sim City, with all of its’ troubles on launch, seems to be selling briskly. Diablo 3, the poster child of a messy launch, is estimated to be at 12 million units. (Remember the internet rage over the art style shift? I barely do. But it seemed so important at the time!) I would bet money that without the always online elements of Diablo 3 that it would have sold half of that.
“I’m so angry about this game treating me like a thief!” ::alt tabs over to bit torrent::
Remember when Microsoft made the decision to only allow broadband on Xbox Live? It was a bold move back then; broadband penetration wasn’t anywhere near what it is now. And yet the march of progress continued. Sooner or later our government, or Google, or any number of providers are going to get their shit together and we’ll have universally fast internet for the majority of the first world.
Or at least the ability to stream Dawson’s Creek on fucking Netflix at decent quality.
And here’s the thing. I’d be willing to say that any early adopter for any new piece of technology is probably going to have some sort of solid internet connection. Also, and I’ve stated this before, keeping that umbilical cord connected might not always require some sort of insane fat pipe. Sometimes just 3G might be enough.
Even then, it doesn’t matter. If you’re on a forum raging about Adam’s comments there’s a whole new generation of kids who are growing up always online who won’t really give a shit. And all that anger, all of that vitrol, all of that lynch mobbing that the internet seems to love to do lately will be for naught and forgotten.
My wife and I were discussing these issues this afternoon and she mentioned the example of “Hey what if I’m a gamer who wants to go to a cabin in the woods for a week and I don’t have online access there?” My response was “Unplugging entirely sometimes isn’t always a bad thing. And that’s the edge case…the week-long vacation to the cabin is only 30 hours of not playing a game or a device that’s built for much more.
Technology doesn’t advance by worrying about the edge case.
If a service is good then people don’t mind paying for it. My Ipad is always connected because I love browsing Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook. I love the ecosystem of Itunes and the App store. If the ecosystem of an always connected device is fantastic then suddenly people don’t really seem to notice any more. When electricity came along and people had to have meters attached to their house they didn’t mind because they loved the idea of light bulbs, electric ranges, and refrigeration.
If we don’t have devices that aren’t fully always online you can bet your ass that we’ll have devices that encourage you to return to the online ecosystem in order to “check in” and make sure everything on the system is legit. Could you hack/jailbreak such a device? Sure, but that crowd will almost always be the die hard/enthusiast crowd that’s not the average user and makes up a small percentage of the potential sales.
“Well that escalated quickly.”
I find it disgusting that an online community would revel in the fact that they may have potentially contributed to a person losing their job. Even then, if they didn’t have anything to do with it at the end of the day, that they have the collective ego to think that they could do that. In a world of Indie-go-go and Kickstarter, where we can do great things in numbers, we should know better.
I’d rather live in a world where someone can slip up, say something that the world doesn’t agree with, and not have the collective internet lynch mob up their ass.
Well behaved people rarely make history.
Deal with it.
I seldom blog more than once about a game, if ever, but god dammit Bioshock Infinite won’t leave my head.
SPOILERS AGAIN AHEAD
I’m lucky in the fact that my wife is a die hard gamer. Even more so than I am sometimes. (We’re playing Bioshock Infinite on the Xbox right now because we haven’t gotten our home office finished yet and then we’re planning on getting a face melting PC rig, so back off, PC Master Race!) So when I sat down to grind through Columbia she sat in the other room doing other things with her headset on. Yes, we could have purchased a second copy, but I had a plan. I wanted to go through the game first and then watch her go through it herself, often live-tweeting it.
As I type this she’s battling Lady Comstock’s kinda-sorta-ghost-maybe-trans-dimensional being and is nearing the final act. I’ve read some fantastic articles summarizing the story, thoughts about the music, and the impact the game has had on even the most jaded journalists. I’ve also blocked a few trolls on my Twitter feed who say the game is overrated and called me a Faget for liking it.
Ken Levine is to games as Chris Nolan is to film. A dedicated visionary that is able to pull something off that few others can - an intelligent blockbuster. Are you shooting people in the face in this game and rescuing a girl? Yes. But are you also questioning who you’re fighting for and why while also unraveling a complex father daughter time loop puzzle? Indeed. You want a fantastic game? Take a defiant visionary, his or her stellar team, and give them money and GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY.
Or you can fund another COD clone.
I haven’t had a game hit me this hard since Silent Hill 2. I’m addicted to reading the deconstruction of it on NeoGaf and in the various aforementioned articles. I also am fortunate enough to know Ken and his wife on a personal level, so the next time we’re able to all have dinner he’s going to be rolling his eyes at an epic level with all of my questions.
I wonder how much living in New England - outside of Boston, to be precise - influenced the universe. See, I grew up near there also, and for field trips we’d always go to these various patriotic stage shows and or museums. You can’t sling a baked bean in Boston and not find some cool aspect of the area’s history. Paul Revere. Boston Tea Party. The Battle of Bunker Hill (took place on Breed’s hill, look it up.) We had the history of this nation crammed down our throats from an early age. The mechanized patriots feel like they’ve been lifted out of some sort of Boston area Hall of Presidents.
We also had religion. I used to attend mass at St. Michael’s right there in North Andover. My father’s funeral was there. I’ve written off most organized religions in my adult life; I believe the best way to control any section of the populace is to claim to know what happens when you die and then use that to keep people having kids so you grow your ranks. (One of the reasons “Martyrs” is one of my favorite movies of all time.)
But I digress. How many game designers out there are even daring to touch these themes in games? Themes of race, religious tithes, babies sold for gambling debts, trans dimensional twins that might have been just one person at one time?
And then there are the moments, the little ones.
The time that I played through I didn’t find the guitar in the bar basement in Shantytown. Lauren did. The little tableau in which you strum as Elizabeth sings “will the circle be unbroken” and hands the orange to the frightened little boy…beautiful.
After learning that Comstock charges a 50% tithe hearing Booker say “I need to get into the prophet business.” After beating the game… well played, Ken.
When Elizabeth goes into the arcade and talks about that one game that “was delayed multiple times, I hope it’s good.”
Even then, one of the final shots after Elizabeth drowns you, closing the “loop” and you see the other versions of her vanish and then before we see if the remaining one vanished we go to black. Classic Nolan Inception Top Spinning Cut right there, folks.
And then, the after credits scene. Waking up in that damned room again, only to hear…Anna in her crib? A fresh start?
Behind me the Songbird just snatched Elizabeth and she reached out to Booker with her tear streamed face. My wife is about to hit the final stretch. Words cannot express how excited I am to go to dinner tonight, have some wine, and geek out with her about what it all meant. What moments moved her. And how darned good she was at capping those Handymen in the heart.
Shocking, isn’t it? (BIOSHOCK SPOILERS AHEAD)
I finished Bioshock Infinite today and I’d like to burst out some thoughts while they’re still in my head.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
ARE YOU SERIOUS CLOSE THIS TAB AND GO BACK TO THE GAME
Okay, here we go.
I’ve always been vocal of my support of Bioshock and, yes, even Bioshock 2 was a solid experience even though it wasn’t the original team. One of my old blog posts on www.cliffyb.com was an extensive rant about what I loved about the first game. If you had told me that a game with a giant diving suit on the cover would go on to sell millions then I would have laughed at you. What we got was not only a critical success but, thankfully, a commercial hit. (Remember, this is a business, and if folks don’t buy games like this then we won’t see many more of them!)
So the credits have rolled, I’ve read the threads dissecting the narrative, I’ve seen Youtube videos praising and also attempting to shred the plot holes they perceive in the game. See, in this day and age it’s not enough to just enjoy an entertainment experience, you have to get online and share your two cents about it. I can’t count the number of movies I’ve seen opening weekend only to find that by Sunday there are a myriad of posts and videos tearing it apart. We now have “plot hole and continuity error discovery by way of crowd sourcing.”
Whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. On one hand this sourcing can make you think “Maybe I didn’t enjoy that game/movie as much as I originally thought” yet on one hand hey, any press is good press and you’d rather have people discussing your product than not, right? That’s part of the problem with the Internet. Everyone’s out to prove how fucking intelligent they are under the guise of anonymity.
Back to the game. I’m not going to do a study on the branching paths or what it all means. (Go here for that.) I’m going to talk about my experience as someone who loved the first one, followed the development of the sequel closely, and also happened to have made a few games in my day. Also, please keep in mind that I range from close personal friends to drinking buddies with a variety of members of the team that worked their asses off to make this game, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m going to gush, but I’m also going to nitpick, because hey, I’m also out to prove how fucking intelligent I am.
I’m just not afraid to attach my name to it.
First off, I love the world. For starters, the original Bioshock felt claustrophobic, dark, and oppressive. I felt buried in that game and, while it added to the atmosphere and world I can’t help but wonder if it steered a few people away from the world. The shift to a city in the sky is a brilliant move; hell, just gorgeous skyboxes and vistas are half of the battle. (Hello, Halo!) The vibrant colors. The sunny skies. It’s a world that I want to go off the tracks and live in.
Until you start to realize how very ugly it is. I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret as a white male. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s relevant to this article. There’s a certain type of white person that, when there are only white people around, pull the “You’re racist like me, right?” card. My response is always that I’ve met as many black and hispanic cool people as I’ve met assholes, and the same goes for white people. (This gets worse when you’re around a certain type of white person with money, but that’s another blog entirely.)
By the time I got to the infamous “throw the first ball” moment I had such conflicted feelings about the world. This is a country that has constantly been at odds with its own xenophobia. I’ve always loved this Family Guy clip; shame I can’t find a better quality one. I rarely talk about politics because I’m afraid that I’ll only reveal how ignorant I am about them. There’s always that one friend in the room who makes it his or her job to spend more time studying them that will one up you with their facts. (You can always find a study to support whatever it is you want to believe.)
So here’s the thing about the tension in this game between the white, upper crust society of Columbia and the largely immigrant working class Vox. In the hands of a lesser visionary and team the game would have simply been “Join the Vox and defeat Comstock!” Scene. But that wasn’t enough. Ken and Irrational then went on to show the uglier side of what happens whenever a regime changes. It’s not pretty. Sometimes the person who led the revolution ultimately proves to be just as bad if not worse than the original fool in charge of the other side.
Playing and beating this game I feel like I’ve gone through a tear and I’m in an alternate reality in which this game actually exists. It should not. From reading the turmoil that went over at Irrational, to my old Ninja producer friend Rod going over there to help ship it, it’s a miracle that it saw the light of day. The world itself…themes of racism, the violence, the sidekick aspects, hell a ROBOTIC GEORGE WASHINGTON are you KIDDING ME? I’ve been in publisher pitch meetings. The one where the marketing guy goes “Yeah, so it’s like Call of Duty meets Pac Man with a twist of BMX XXX, right? We haven’t seen that genre do well yet, so we’re not sure if we’re going to market it.” (Same thing from the numbers guy.)
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that Randy Pitchford and I were discussing. When your marketing guy and numbers guy and others are kind of confused about how to market and sell your game, double down on it. It means you have something unique. When you release a copy of a copy of a copy it’s going to feel faded and most customers will call bullshit and ignore it.
So, the guy that brought you a chainsaw gun would now like to get on his soap box about violence. Have fun judging me.
This is one of the few games that I’ve loved that I felt the violence actually detracted from the experience. The first time I dug my skyhook into someone I actually winced. I love shocking people in these games (it’s not called BioShootBeesAtThem) and I found that nearly every foe I zapped to death had their heads explode, Gallagher style. After the 400th head I was like “come on, already!”
Funny, right? That I’d say that? I know, it’s weird. Maybe it’s the fact that they did such a fantastic job of making this nuanced world that hitting you over the head with those moments felt out of place for me. From the initial “meet cute” with Elizabeth I fell for her. She is the first videogame Disney princess that I’ve ever seen or had the joy of getting to know. Towards the end when I heard her screaming for me it drove me mad; I had to get to her. Later when I heard her lamenting how I never came for her broke my heart; I had the same feeling when I watch this infamous scene.
With all of the discussion of misogyny in the industry lately, from sexual harassment, to “if you cosplay then you ask for it” mentality to the Tropes Vs. Women question of “Why’s it always the damsel in distress?” I’m dying to know what the women of the industry think of the depiction of Elizabeth. I actually wanted to see her “tear things up” in another way more often. (There’s that Whedon fanboy coming out in me again.) I was hoping for a moment similar to the end of Lunar. (High five if you get the reference.)
Still, the moment when the Songbird snagged her away from me, or when we were cowered behind the desk together, or when she put my hand on her throat and asked me to finish her if she was going to have to go back…I was moved. During the (incredible) ending I had chills. This is the mother of all videogame endings, the new standard by which all will be judged. This is some Looper, Memento, Source Code, Moon, Usual Suspects, Fight Club, M. Night Shyamalamadingdong stuff. Next level work that can only be brought to you by a talented team and one defiant visionary.
I’m especially glad that the game also dealt with the fact that Booker (and you, playing) are stone cold killers. And hey, it’s justified because they all shoot at you first! (Uncharted 2 did this at the end, which I loved.) Here’s a game that’s about the nuanced relationship between what is later revealed to be a father and daughter, trying to discover each other again, much like the most heart wrenching scenes in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Yes one is father daughter, the other is former lovers, but similar “feels” happened for me.)
Overall, the combat and combat bowls were good, but to be honest, a tad “loose” in spots. This article actually summarizes my feelings rather well without having to re-type everything. There were moments when I went into a space and I could tell when the combat shit was going to hit the fan. I also could feel the pacing of enemies. Start with the fodder, introduce the heavier flame and rocket guys, then end with a Handyman or Motorized Patriot. As that article states rather well there were times when the combat just felt a bit too … busy… and I missed the clarity and smoothness of, say, a Halo experience.
I digress and I’m nitpicking now. Because overall the pacing of the game was excellent and I’m thinking about going through it as I type this. Pacing is extremely hard to get right in a 14 hour or so experience. There was one moment when I was starting to lose interest, however briefly…when I was getting the guns for the Vox. Right when I was on what felt like the Ultimate Fetch Quest the tables turned due to the tear and the game picked right up and smacked me square in the face.
We live in a world of ADD, whereas Twitter sometimes feels too long so we just browse Instagram and Pintrest. I’d wager many of my Twitter followers won’t read this blog. We live in the TL;DR world, as I’ve said before, the alt-tab nation. The fact that such a rich and deep experience exists gives me hope. Hell, I’m thankful that Game of Thrones can still do amazingly well in this world. Ken and co have made a game that you play, you finish, and you then go to pour over the discussions, the theories, and yes, the occasional plot hole or perceived problem with the ride.
Finally, I’d like to call out one element that I haven’t seen mentioned much. The use of music in the experience. I haven’t seen mood inducing music used this well since the recent Fallout games. The retro sounds of it…the barbershop quartet…the phonographs… it felt like there was a new song right around every corner. I tweeted earlier that I got a “O Brother Where Art Thou” vibe from it. Right at the start, when I’m going through the baptism area, I kept thinking about the Siren and baptism scenes from that film. It sets the scene in Infinite and brings it from a great experience into an amazing, transcendent one.
Right at the tail end of a console generation, when the PC is looking sweeter than ever, Ken and his folks have delivered a true classic for the ages. Bravo, bravo, bravo. Now go take a break someplace warm before starting the Next Big Thing. You’ve got one hell of an act to follow, and I can promise you that you’ve made one designer completely rethink what a video game can be.
GDC, Indie games, and “Triple Hate”
I think I might have finally recovered from GDC this year. Not actually having to be at the Epic Booth by 10am allowed me to burn the midnight oil each night, imbibing with old friends, meeting new ones, and generally letting our hair down.
This about summarizes what the double dose of PAX and GDC did to my wife and I.
(Yes, we got upgraded with frequent flyer miles, no, I rarely pay for first class as it’s a waste of money.)
One thing about my life right now is that there’s no lack of well meaning people telling me what I should do next professionally. I’ve had several folks that I consider to be close friends suggest that I should dial back my activity on social media whereas every other person who came up to me thanked me for something I’ve said in the last six or so months. Business folks who applauded the EA blog. Gaming professionals who loved my defense of Tropes Vs. Women. And gamers who like my vulgar sense of humor and appreciate it.
This picture summarizes my unemployed GDC experience in one moment.
I’m like the Lazy College Senior of the industry right now. Right in the middle of the W lobby, playing a multi-arcade table top with my wife, Anchor Steam in full effect.
My favorite part of the show, besides catching up with everyone, is the indie game love that’s shown at the Moscone. I love checking out all of the titles and meeting with the younger developers who are getting started in this business. They’re fresh faced. They’re not burnt out.
They’re not jaded.
PAX was a blast in regards to fans recognizing us; it’s always great to meet gamers. (Some of them actually shake, I’ll never ever get used to that.) GDC is a different mix. One minute I’ll be talking with my first PR rep who I haven’t seen in years (Hi, Andrea!) and the next someone who is an aspiring developer will come up right when Yu Suzuki and Kojima-san go by with Mark Cerny.
I was at the indie games section and I saw a game that looked like some sort of Gunstar Heroes/Treasure type of experience.
INTRUSION 2! (I didn’t know there was a first!)
There were giant sprites scaling and flying everywhere. A scene when you’re in this giant box and a huge robot is trying to pry you out of it. It was pretty sweet. Turns out that the entire damned game was put together by one very young quiet (Russian, I believe) guy. I guess he recognized me because when he turned around and let us take the controls he wouldn’t make eye contact and was all jumpy and excited. I realized that this guy and I had more in common than most would think. I made my own platformer when I was roughly his age. (Granted, I had help.)
I came from Shareware.
The original Indie scene.
(Yes, I just made this on Quickmeme about myself and Epic. Unemployed Cliff means more meme time.)
I literally sold my first adventure game out of my bedroom when I was a teenager. I mailed every order out myself, copied the discs, all of it.
Now, I’m no Miyamoto, but to see this young developer getting all excited reminded me of the first time we showed Unreal at E3 many years ago. Miyamoto came over to check out the game and play it and I was starstruck beyond belief. This was a very similar situation, only played out in reverse after all these years.
(My god I need to return to this business in the near future.)
Moving on, something clicked in my head about GDC lately after I read this article in which the Leigh Alexander was quoted in and linked to:
(Leigh and I have the special kind of relationship when she can tell me that I’m full of shit or wrong about something and then cheers one another.)
There’s this wonderful, organic, beautiful movement going on in the indie game space. The buzz is intense and all of those developers who have struggled for years to make personal projects, projects that push the envelope in unique ways, projects that are outside the norm.
I liked Phil Fish before it was cool.
The thing about the indie scene is that there are two vibes I get from it. The first is the warm happy “we’re killing it, look how far we’ve come, we can do anything!” which I love.
Then there’s the complete and utter loathing and disdain for all things mainstream and triple A. It’s a weird and angry defensive hipster attitude that I don’t quite understand. Indie games are doing great and it doesn’t have to come at the expense of triple A titles. They can coexist. They’re not mutually exclusive of one another.
My copy of Bioshock Infinite is sitting right next to me. I’m going to finally dive into Columbia after a many year long wait. If indie games can do their thing and succeed and Bioshock Infinite can move me what’s the problem in that? When did it go from “Yay Indies” to “Fuck triple A?!”
So, guys, I guess what I’m asking is to ease up on the Triple Hate.
There’s room for everyone in this business.
Post PAX Blues
NOTE: As of the time I’ve written this my Storytime does not appear to be online yet. As soon as it’s up I’ll post the link, I promise.
I’ve only started attending the Penny Arcade Expos as of several years ago. Working in game development you learn to love and hate conferences. They’re a ton of fun, but that fun comes at an expense. You wind up physically and emotionally and mentally drained. Your feet throb, you don’t get enough sleep, and chances are there were entirely too many wine filled dinners and booze fueled late nights. Interview after interview and literally hundreds of social interactions drain your brain and your voice is often hoarse by the third day.
So when I set out to my first PAX I expected more of the same. What I’d find would be quite different.
PAX is a gamer’s mecca. Experiencing the show as a gamer is fun enough. Now, put yourselves in my shoes. See, I have the best kind of fame in the world. I only get noticed once a week when I’m not at a show. But at PAX it’s nonstop. And it’s not only fun, it’s hilarious.
Coming out of a pub one night I turned to my wife and said “I can see why some actors turn into raging alcoholics.” If you have “real” fame you can go into any bar virtually anywhere and everyone will know your name. To show your appreciation of the fans love of your work you’ll buy them a drink. They’ll buy you a drink. And for one fun, hazy night you can have the best single serving friends. You get a fun time and feel like Someone and they have a great story about how they met you and You Weren’t A Dick.
When the fellas at Penny Arcade asked me to do their “Storytime” keynote I wasn’t sure what I would speak of. Would I talk about microtransactions and free to play? My favorite classic games? Multiplayer lessons? Balancing weapons with artificial intelligence? I decided to get personal.
See, there’s something very freeing about being able to say what you really think about, well, anything. Since I departed Epic in October I’ve had a series of tweets and blog posts that are sometimes funny, outrageous, or downright vulgar. And sometimes I’ll actually make a solid point.
I was told that the livestream of the keynote ran around 20,000 concurrent users. There were 4000 live gamers who came to see me speak. I couldn’t let them down. No pressure! With the walls fallen I decided to get incredibly intimate with 24,000 people; the majority of whom I haven’t met and may very well never meet. I spoke about growing up in New England. Bullying. The death of my father. Finding the love of my life. And how videogames have all been a part of that.
There were moments in that auditorium when you could hear a pin drop. There were also moments of uproarious laughter. I felt like I was conducting a live orchestra of nerd love. And I feel like I was able to cut through all of the pre-scripted “on message” points that interviews require you to hit and say to everyone “hey, I’m just that gamer guy and I’m here because I love it.”
When I cut to the slide talking about marrying Lauren and they broke into spontaneous applause I got actual chills. It threw me off. I then realized walking around the show how many gamer couples there were. A generation of kids who were raised in gaming and never abandoned their hobby. (oh, and lots of girls with blue or pink or purple hair, which is totally cute.)
So when the show’s over and you’re watching the striking of the booths you can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. It reminds me of when we’d finish a theater show when I was younger. For a brief period that set was your home away from home. PAX was my home away from home, with all sorts of new friends who were all thrilled to say hello, shake your hand, and sometimes get a picture together.
Funny thing about fame. I was on the second floor of my hotel when a statuesque blonde glided out of the elevator. Several things went through my head in a matter of seconds:
That woman is gorgeous.
Wow she’s pretty tall.
Is that an African American baby in her arms?
Holy shit that’s Charlize Theron.
Jeez she looks 25.
By then she was gone. One night she was running around the hotel with her LA entourage, doing god knows what. I smiled to myself and thought about what was going through her head in this hotel that had been taken over by the Gamer Nation. No one seemed to notice her. No one stopped her or asked for a picture.
The gamers were all there for each other, for the love of the game, and to occasionally press the flesh with folks like Ken Levine, Tim Schafer, and sometimes, myself.
SHOUT OUTS to:
The guy who DESTROYED me in Tetris Attack in the classic gaming room. (Walking in there to find the first Nintendo Power and pointing out my name was fun too!)
All Irrational folks I was able to hang out with. You guys are a blast.
Everyone who helped make my Storytime work from a logistical standpoint.
Everyone who works for Penny Arcade.
Enforcers. Y’all are some bad motherfuckers.
Jeff from Philly who we had drinks with.
Lenny and Dawn who weren’t there for the show but were more than happy to learn all about what the hell was going on in the hotel.
Ken and Mer. Go someplace warm.
Everyone who I harassed or got a picture with as Fruit Fucker. That was the most fun I had all week.
Pizza Regina employees. Call me about franchise opportunities please.
Uber. You make Boston a navigable place.
Oh, and my apologies to that Volition guy who thinks Sasha Grey is his friend and ran out of the bar angrily when I called her “filthy.” I meant it as a compliment.
Anonymous Internet Boy Taliban Tropes
Disclaimer: I was a key creative in what is often considered one of the more “dudebro” franchises out there, Gears of War. I’d also like to remind everyone out there that I went out of my way in working with our team, the writers, and Epic’s artists to make sure that female characters are represented well in that franchise. By the time we got around to Gears 3 the female soldiers were kicking butt right alongside the men in outfits that weren’t drastically different than the men’s, and with a restrained depiction of hair and makeup. (I was just tired of seeing stripper looking female game characters after all of those years…ironic, considering how exaggerated the men were.)
(I’m also not the best person to post about misogyny on the internet as I’ll be the first one to post a sexy picture of my wife or give young boys tips on how to flirt with girls.)
However, I can’t let this one slip, because there’s a deeper cancer plaguing our business.
Let’s talk about Anita Sarkeesian.
The “Tropes Vs. Women” controversy caught my attention when I noticed, right on Anita’s main Kickstarter image for her campaign, that there was Anya, front and center. I was surprised and a bit confused by this. As I mentioned above, she wasn’t an object to “win” in the Gears franchise. She was far from helpless as the franchise matured. Even then the franchise was famous or characters such as fan favorite Bernie, who was an older woman who kicked plenty of enemy butt as well.
Once her first video launched, I found it to be smart, informative, and well put together. She clearly knows what she’s doing and, even if you knew a lot of the information she was sharing it’s worth watching for the nostalgia of how comedic the repetitive nature the business has been with the Damsel in Distress motif. After watching the video I went to my Twitter feed to see what the fuss was about … were there really people out there who were still so very angry at what this woman was doing?
As it turns out, yes, there were. I heard a variety of responses. Before we dive into some of the thinking behind them, let’s look at some of the Kickstarter numbers and break it down a bit.
Anita was asking for 6000$ for her campaign. News hit the internet of the campaign, and the Taliban of videogaming responded in droves. Who was this…this…woman who wanted to analyze women in video games? How dare she! An army of bold (and, naturally, largely anonymous) men…no, wait, boys, because even adult males that acted in this manner are boys – proceeded to give her a digital stoning. We saw a public display that mirrored the worst of what the anonymous internet male culture has to offer. That young guy who assumes that a girl playing an online game is fat, ugly or slutty now had a CAUSE to rally behind!
And then a funny thing happened. Anita shared some of the heinous virtual abuse – bullying, in fact – on her website and people rallied behind her to the tune of over 150K. Folks who responded to my Twitter query were enraged by this fact! How dare she ask for money and then get … well, a whole lot more money! One guy even made a flash game where you can beat her up. How much of a bored, hateful loser must you be to even consider doing something like that?!
I’d like to take this moment and remind everyone out there that my good friends at Doublefine, not so long ago, also killed it on Kickstarter. After asking for 400K on Kickstarter they wound up with a final tally of 3.3m. Now, I read the Kickstarter page about campaigns that succeed and I didn’t find a single line about doing too well at Kickstarter. As far as I can tell, if you put up a campaign where you ask for 500 bucks to artistically photograph your ham sandwich and it becomes a thing online you’re welcome to do whatever you need to with the difference as long as you fulfill your promises to each backer.
So let me get this straight. Doublefine can win Kickstarter but a woman who wants to analyze the treatment of her gender in our business is somehow…exempt from this?
What color is the sky in the world you trolls live in?
I’m assuming you can do a decent web series for a pretty low amount of money. $6,000 sounds like a healthy budget, even maybe a bit much for what the Anonymous Internet Boy Taliban thought was needed for the videos. Here’s the thing, though, boys. It’s not your call on how much the series should cost, or how much she should be allowed to make on Kickstarter. (The Boys were so enraged by this as they believed she “scammed” money out of people. One man’s “scammed” is another’s “shut up and take my money.”)
You know, maybe people were just happy to donate money to a project that should see the light of day because of irrational immature male fear on the internet. It’s called voting with your dollars.
So let’s assume that Anita fulfills the promises to all of her backers and is then left with $144,000.00. I’m gathering this project is a self employed gig, so she most likely has to pay self employment tax. Fulfilling everything to the donors also costs money. When you earn that amount of money you are also in a higher tax bracket and you make more, you pay more. I’m not an accountant, but I’d estimate that when all is said and done and this project takes her a year then she might actually be able to pay herself a (gasp) good salary for her year’s work.
How dare she!
Heaven forbid a woman actually take a magnifying glass to our beloved hobby and actually try to unravel and figure out why things are the way they are in the effort that somehow she might change things? Why aren’t there more female protagonists? Are you protecting Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider or are you empowering her? And god dammit, where’s my Buffy game?
Shame on all of you.
My wife and I had dinner with the always amazing Warren Spector and his brilliant (and sharp tongued) wife Caroline last night and this very subject came up. Caroline was rather eager to speak up about it. We went back and forth on the subject and, I’m paraphrasing, but the takeaway that she said to me (and I’m sure she’ll do a great talk or article about it) is that we’re not supposed to be this crowd.
We’re the gamers, the dorks. We’re the ones who were on our computers during prom. We’re the ones that were in the back of the lunch room who were playing D&D instead of tossing a football around on the quad. We were supposed to be the open, friendly ones, the ones who welcomed all into our wonderful geeky circle.
We’re not supposed to be a mob that’s storming the gates with our pitchforks and torches.
We’re not the bullies. And that’s what happened to Anita.
Recently at the DICE summit in Las Vegas David Cage called on the industry to “grow up.” In some ways, David, I agree… we can do better in many, many areas. We can make more mature and engaging plot lines and explore unique game mechanics beyond sawing someone in half. The reason we haven’t? It’s because it’s fucking hard and we’re looking at an industry that is ever more risk averse as more and more money is needed to craft product.
However if we’re going to grow up as an industry we’re going to need the consumer to grow up a bit as well. The latent racism, homophobia, and misogyny online are black marks on an otherwise great hobby. Anonymity is the gasoline on the fire of hate that flares up on forums, chat rooms, and Xbox Live on daily basis.
Why are there so many shooters? Because it’s easy to make a trace in code to see if you virtually “tagged” someone. Why were there so many princesses in need of rescue? Because it was easy, and for many years we didn’t have the tools or desire to try something else. Why did Mario have a moustache originally? Because they didn’t have the graphical fidelity to depict much more. The purpose of research is to encourage rational thought in areas where there may have not been much before. If, by watching Anita’s videos I, as a developer, can reconsider how I depict women in any future product of mine then her work may very well be worth it.
And maybe, as a result of this, years later we may see more and more girls who are comfortable playing games, online or off, or going to a conference …or joining the industry in a professional manner.
This is where change sometimes starts, merely by asking “Why?”
A Quick War Story
Had dinner with Julia and her military boyfriend Brian last night. Good dude. Not sure what division of the military he is in, but I always love hearing stories from these brave fellas…if they feel inclined.
While bored in Afghanastan apparently the fellas collect critters. Scorpions and yes, the dreaded Camel Spider. They even make them fight each other and bet on the results.
He told us the story about how the last time he was out his fellas got 100 bucks together in order to bribe their buddy to stick his penis in the jar with the camel spider in it.
He did, and narrowly escaped harm.
I told him they all would have been in shock if he got bit/stung and the next day the guy’s dick magically doubled in size.
“Geek and Gamer Gurlz”
So this article came up today.
The “GURL GAMER” debate is one that, seemingly, will never die.
EDIT: Chris Kohler pointed out that the article is calling out how silly those “rules” are. Cool. Still enjoyed talking about them. :)
Now, at a fundamental level I, as a man, it would seem as if I have no right to comment on this any more than the GOP has any right to comment on women’s health issues. (“What is real rape!?”, anyone? Ugh.)
I also learned that if you ever blog or have an opinion on any gender issue you’re bound to piss people off but hey, that’s the Internet.
However, there are a few touch points that are directly related to significant personal events in my life that I feel I can offer a bit of insight into. I know for a fact that my wife would have plenty to say on the subject, but she’s extremely busy questing in Guild Wars 2 right now and she doesn’t like blogging as much as I do, so I may speak for her a bit in this article.
And yes, I’m giving the original article traffic by linking to it, because the subject won’t die and I find the conflict within the female gamer community to be somewhat fascinating. (Plus it was kind of funny.)
A few points on the article and the subject.
1. This article basically calls Jessica Chobot a whore in a roundabout Fox News sort of way. Jess is a very good friend of ours and is a smart, tough woman who got to where she is with a lot of hard work and kicking and screaming. Jess used that infamous picture of her licking the PSP to gain internet infamy and then spent years proving that she’s the real deal. (It’s almost like people…came for the graphics and stayed for the gameplay!) That’s part of the problem, by the way, if you’re pretty and you play…you actually have to work EXTRA hard to prove your “nerd cred” to cynical guys.
(Also, shout out to www.fatuglyorslutty.com here.)
We’re close friends with many visible women in gaming media and technology and the amount of shit they’ve had to endure online and in real life would fill up a dozen books. You really have no idea…even going back to Killcreek. (Not my story to tell it here, but needless to say, you’d be fucking mortified.)
2. The article says that girl gamers shouldn’t announce themselves as a gamer. I disagree with this, quite simply, because this is what led me to the love of my life - my wife! The fact that my now wife exploded on the internet as a gamer was what attracted me to her. (It didn’t hurt that I found her to be beautiful, so much to the point that I held off on contacting her for quite some time because I didn’t think I had a shot.)
Here’s the thing about us Gamer Guys. We love our hobby, more than anything.
I’m going to let you in on a secret from the videogame development community. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of developer wives. There are those that game with the husband and those that the husband, deep down, wishes some day he could make a game that his wife actually plays and enjoys. (Because she doesn’t game. Some marriages are just fine this way, of course.)
3. Here’s part of the problem, and this is one that drives Lauren BONKERS. There are plenty of great females *who happen to game* now, more than ever. That’s amazing! (and that Capitalist Pig side of me that I’ve been bold enough to have shared with you says “Yay, profits!”)
However, there’s a giant rash of Fake Nerd Gurlz who are using the fact that they played Mario Kart once at a friend’s house when they were 12 as an excuse to leverage nerd and gamer culture for internet and sometimes, very real, fame. Those of you who follow my Twitter know who I’m talking about here. One fake Gamer Nerd Gurl manages to get Comic Con wrapped around her finger and BOOM next thing you know she’s living the Hollywood dream has led to a rash of these fake nerds.
There’s a reason why, in our own wedding invitations, we used the phrase “Co-op buddies for life” because it’s not just in games that we overcome adversaries, it’s also in real life. One day we may be stomping Necromorphs together and the next we may be dealing with obnoxious travel delays. In a relationship it’s important to be yourself, but it’s also important to have things that you enjoy together.
It’s not that different than the football nut who finds a companion who loves Football together. Now, every Sunday, they can both sit down and enjoy their pastime together. That’s a beautiful thing and it can really help solidify the bond between a man and a woman. Growing up with a house full of brothers who loved football and a mother who eye-rolled it it’s encouraging to go to a sports bar on a Sunday and see the girlfriends and wives rooting right along with their spouses.
Those of you who are so enraged by the different representations of females who happen to also game please understand the following, from us guys who happen to game. For so long my generation (and the generation after mine) has yearned for a companion that will play with us.
It was the Great White Buffalo for decades. (I have a fun story in my upcoming PAX East keynote about this, by the way.)
Just know that if you’re a fake nerd we’ll know within 30 seconds of playing co-op or versus with you and you’re in the FPS looking at the ground the entire time.
4. Now, just for a minute, let’s forget the girls that don’t game and hold a controller over their bits or the ones that offer to play with guys while they have cyber sex on a per minute basis. There ARE girls out there who ARE real gamers who have CHOSEN to show themselves off, say, a bit more than others. Raychul comes to mind. You can Google her and find any number of PG-13 pictures that are borderline R/NSFW. It’s her choice to show herself off in the context of gaming because it’s her right to do so. And, while some may disagree with her choice, at least she PLAYS games and knows what she’s talking about. (Whether or not the sex-ification of gaming girls is a good thing or a bad thing I’m going to leave up for debate. I’d bet Leigh Alexander could write up an article worthy of the ages on this topic!)
5. In conclusion - just like any particular demographic, it seems like there’s no one type of “girl gamer.” (Forget the fake ones, as they don’t count, we’ve known all types.) I’m talking about the real ones.
The TV hosts who game. The aspiring actresses. The models. The comedians. And the quiet blogger or community manager, or the girl who doesn’t show her face or reveal her identity as female. That’s why this is such a complicated manner for everyone to digest and deal with. The human mind LOVES to sort people into tiny little buckets (this is why, sadly, racism will always be around…) and a “girl gamer” is seemingly now a whole lot of different types of women … who happen to love to game.
We as lonely guys are just excited to finally have the chance to find a spouse who will sit down and pop heads with us on the sofa now. A spouse that knows Valve related memes and will build a castle together with us in Minecraft. A spouse that will go to PAX with you and enthusiastically play every game and excitedly meet developers.
The couple that plays together, stays together.
p.s. All of you fuckers need to lay off of Team Unicorn. They’re legit.