Monday Links, 10-13-04

The sky is white and it’s raining, and there are bright northern parakeets flitting among the wet autumn trees. They’re called rose-ringed parakeets, and their tails fan out when they fly, bright yellow on one side, vivid blue on the other. They will be here even into the winter.

I did a new Lo-Fi Let’s Play at Rock Paper Shotgun. The Colonel’s Bequest is one of my favorite adventure games, and it’s perfect for October, when — let’s be real — spooky manors are in. I’m seriously considering recording a full-length video of a scary old game as a Halloween present for you, and that game is one of the candidates!

As Twin Peaks is set to return in 2016, I wrote an article about the series at Boing Boing, in search of a modern context for it. Why did my generation suddenly turn around and get ‘into’ it? What’s its role in a television (and social) climate where we don’t so readily see small-town police as ‘good guys’ anymore?

Twine creator Chris Klimas never expected the revolution in game creation the tool would launch. Here, we talk about the beta of version 2.0 and what’s next — including ways to reach even more people and public computers.

Last year I got very into A Dark Room, and creator Doublespeak Games has a new puzzle sure to keep you nurturing a single browser tab. I did an interview with creator Michael Townsend about his work, and his fascination with the supply chain.

Buying Clipping Through, my book about the games industry, is currently the best way to support me and my colleague Liz Ryerson, who designed the cover and contributed an afterword. At a time when most women have to talk themselves into feeling like it’s worth it to do this work, I gotta be honest — money starts to become more compelling than ‘you’re doing the right thing!’ If you want to hear an audio chapter of Clipping Through before you buy, my colleague Ann Scantlebury helped me record one at RNIB Talking Book Studios.

However, I’m doing great, and I appreciate all the support. Here is some more exciting news — I’m going to be joining the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast in the coming weeks, beginning as a contributor with a view toward hopefully becoming a presenter soon. So there’ll be yet another venue where we can find each other.

Over the past month or so I’ve been in TIME, on NPR, talked at two conferences, my criticism and my editorial stance reached the New York Times, The Week, and many others. Ultimately I think the episodes of the last several weeks will be viewed by history as an important turning point in conversations about games and tech culture — and that I and  the people and causes I care about will only have more opportunities as a result of all this in the end.

List of ethical concerns in video games (partial)

A list of real ethical concerns in video games:

Video games are used to covertly advance the political agendas of arms manufacturers.

The aggressive marketing of capitalist war games is an inspiration to the U.S. military, which could take a page out of games marketing’s book in order to push unpopular ideas on the public.

Games like Littleloud’s Sweatshop or Molleindustria’s Phone Story are forbidden from Apple’s mobile storefronts, because they question (arguably deservedly) the ethics of manufacturing operations in impoverished areas.

This site and this one are just a couple of the sites game developers can pay for reviews that make unproven promises to improve games’ positioning on mobile storefronts.

Developers who invest in design and publishing on mobile storefronts can expect to have free, unsanctioned clones of their games steal their revenue and come ahead of the original on charts with no action taken from the companies that own those storefronts.

YouTubers have and continue to accept money to put games before their fervent consumer audiences and are not meaningfully obligated to disclose those relationships. They can then occupy leading curation spaces on a major storefront like Steam, Currently Steam curation’s discoverability algorithms mean the most powerful forces — many of whom, again, earn money from some game developers and not from others — only become more powerful.

The labor practices of the traditional game industry are exploitive and abhorrent. The industry’s historical production model involves staffing up, demanding extreme work weeks, and then letting go of the ‘excess’ talent after a product ships. Speaking out against these conditions is socially sanctioned, and developers who speak to the press at any time other than when marketing wants them to risk being fired.

An entire product and studio network — and by extension, a regional economy around games — can tank because of political posturing, and there is no accountability nor information provided to ameliorate the human collateral damage.

One of the U.S.’ most long-running and successful print game publications is owned by one of the world’s best-known game retailers, and few of the magazine’s consumers seem aware of what, if any impact that relationship might have.

In the name of objectivity, the consumer-facing games press largely releases material on a mutually-agreed upon set of terms and schedules dictated by game companies. It routinely accepts travel arrangements to tour studios and look at in-development games on financial obligation to those game companies and on those companies’ terms. Attempting to subvert this process by inserting personal opinion is viewed as ‘bias’.

In many of the above cases even when disclosure is obligated and made, disclosure does little to purify the overall effect on the climate and its perspectives.

Despite this, only the games press exists to question these ethical problems and attempt to inform the consumer. No one would care otherwise.

Women in games are routinely abused, bullied and harassed while their professional community, and the industry’s largest companies, tend to remain silent. Interrogating this culture or attempting to advance this conversation can result in censure or punishment.

Not currently ethical concerns: Women’s sex lives, independent game developers’ Patreons, the personal perspectives of game critics, people having contentious or controversial opinions, who knows who in a close-knit industry (as if one could name an industry where people don’t know each other or work together).


Perfect stealth

Would you like to hear me read a chapter from my new book, Clipping Through? My friend Ann Scantlebury of of RNIB Talking Book Studios had me around her recording space to read out loud! It was lots of fun, and now I have an audio chapter to give you. It’s the “Pigeon” chapter, which most people have told me is their favorite. I hope you enjoy hearing it.

It’s been a very busy month — I gave a talk at XOXO in Portland,  then went directly to Zurich to talk at Ludicious and serve on the international competition jury.  I didn’t know much about the Swiss game development scene til now — it’s unique to see an indie culture that’s sort of sprung up fully formed, as Switzerland has no heritage of traditional game studios. I spoke to some journalists there and learned the main gripe people have about Swiss indies is they care too much about art and not enough about making money. Interesting!

Of course, I wrote this, and then I was in TIME, and on Grantland’s amazing Girls in Hoodies podcast, and on National Public Radio, and of course I’m all finished talking about that.

Lo-Fi Let’s Plays continue every week at Rock Paper Shotgun — the latest one is the crude but pure Man-Eng, Master of Evil, although I’m pretty pleased with how the Neuromancer one served.

My Vice column continues; newest one is about the ‘self’ in games, and the unique sensation of watching my boyfriend make himself a very lovely Destiny avatar.

At Gamasutra, I spoke to Bennett Foddy about his 16-player deathmatch Speed Chess. As usual, he is full of great ideas — especially when it comes to what game designers can learn from the Momofuku cookbook.

With all these long flights, I finally had the time to invest in teaching myself Crusader Kings 2. I finally became the King of Ireland, which is immensely satisfying I also played through most of the endings for Hatoful Boyfriend — Laura Hudson’s piece on it says basically what I would say.

Merritt Kopas’ new little game Dee’s Big Night is great, especially with YOUR ASSHOLE DAD’S CASTLE IS BACK AGAIN as companion reading. The Lion’s Song is also a cute, atmospheric little work.

If there really was such a thing as universal collusion among the games press, I would hope it conspires to make Justin Smith’s Desert Golfing the game of the year 2014. Wouldn’t that just be the best, under the circumstances. It could happen.

Love Always

I’ve committed to trying to do a ‘Monday digest’ here at this site, not just rounding up my own work from the past week, but pointing to other articles and new games I like. Of course, it’s now Wednesday, so, uh. How do you think that plan is going so far?

I was in Cologne last week for GDC Europe and a little bit of Gamescom, so I’m a bit behind, but before I get to that, I want to comment on something that’s been upsetting the hell out of me lately.

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Announcing Clipping Through: A new book and a new content plan!

I’m excited to announce I’ve written a new ebook, available now! It’s called Clipping Through: One Mad Week In Video Games. It centers on my travels earlier this year from London through New York to GDC 2014 and it documents my time there. It’s available in PDF, Kindle, iBooks and hell, DOCX format, because why not.

This isn’t just a book to me: Please read on!

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The page and the words

I have a couple of cool things to announce — one is that I’ll have a biweekly column at VICE UK from now on called Understanding Games. The first episode is up, and in it I come to terms with the language of mainstream video games via Snowpiercer (“BioShock on a Train”) a movie I liked a lot. There are only vague spoilers for the film, if you haven’t seen it.

Also, from now on, Lo-Fi Let’s Plays will be syndicated every Wednesday at Rock Paper Shotgun, with additional commentary and even interviews where I can get them. Super excited!

In the Guardian, I wrote about the endless investment and crude labor of multiplayer online games, after being struck weirdly by the kind of “participation” the Destiny beta offered (and inspired by a Jenn Frank article, linked therein).

At Gamasutra, I explore the incredible portfolio of Devine Lu Linvega, after some wonderful sleepless nights with the odd, intimate alien diplomacy simulator Ledoliel. I also did an interview about Variable State’s upcoming Twin Peaks-ish story game Virginia, including a chat about what it means to be “Twin Peaks-ish”. In other story game news, I catch up with unstoppable Simogo about winsome The Sailor’s DreamDef watch the lovely trailer at the head of the article.

I spent the weekend climbing Mam Tor in the Peak District via a sheep trail, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was playing a lot of Meg Jayanth/Inkle’s gorgeous 80Days (very fond of Inkle, as their creation platform Inklewriter supports the only text game of mine that has ever been shown in a festival).

The game is just lovely — as you might know I’ve written extensively about my hoped-for future of text games on touch devices and e-readers, and if you need more convincing to try 80Days for yourself, you can read Mike Rose’s interview or the inimitable Emily Short’s comprehensive look.

I also played Matthew Burns’ Arboretum, which I think is fairly interesting as a story about first love, how vague, complicated — and yet permanent — our teen feelings can be. Structurally I think it’s a really good use of the form; I think my own failure to attach to either of the characters might be a consequence of their nature and not of the writing, as Burns is one of my favorite writers in games.

Finally, I’ve done an interview about the exciting, up-and-coming Girls Make Games series of summer camps focused on teaching girls ages 9-16 how to make games (and that they can, confidently). It’s an awesome initiative and you should check it out and give your support if you can.

Your readership is dear to me, and your sharing articles of mine that you enjoy via social media is wildly and madly appreciated.

New New News

I’ve been making some adjustments regarding my relationship to social media lately. I talk about it a little bit in my critique of Mountain, the new work from multimedia artist David OReilly. There is nothing to “do” in Mountain, and as such it provides me immense relief.

I’ve finished a draft of a new ebook, a sort of diary of my thoughts and conversations on the game industry, pinned to a week of traveling to and from this year’s Game Developers Conference. I’m editing it now and as I’m self-publishing this time I’m not sure yet when it’ll launch, but the exciting thing for me is I’ve hired Liz Ryerson to contribute art for the cover. My long-term plan involves self-publishing long-form work that also allows me to pay people whom I admire and want to promote, and I’ll be able to tell you more about that soon.

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been able to do a new Lo-Fi Let’s Play — the last one was on Chuck Sommerville and Joseph Dudar’s Gruds in Space, where we watch the Apple IIe draw lonesome, Saturnine landscapes and learn to manipulate teleport controls. There’ll be a new one as soon as I have spare time, but in the meanwhile I was lucky to get a second-hand copy of Bob Redrup’s classic Adventure Gamer’s Manual, and have been digging into the fascinating design of traditional adventure games (the complicated text puzzles which preceded the “put souffle on atomizer” school of LucasArts and Sierra stuff that people normally think of as “adventure games”). I’ll be doing more coverage of these designs because I think they’re amazing, along with interviews from folks that worked in that era.

I have been revisiting Final Fantasy X, and wrote a piece on the JRPG heyday and what all us stormy kids got out of these pretty-looking games about running around the world map and opening treasure chests. 

Not long ago I went to Brighton to visit The Chinese Room, who’s currently developing Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. I learned a lot about the studio — brilliant folks who have a great attitude to culture — as well as the game itself. It’s melancholy, “very very English” “cozy catastrophe fiction.”

In this interview I talked with Michael “Brainy Gamer” Abbott (making a much-welcomed return to the writing space!) Robin Hunicke and Ricky Haggett about creating joy in games — Michael did some interesting research of the imagery shown at E3 and found a predominance of violent imagery as a sort of shortcut to intensity and “maturity”, but can joy be another quality of adulthood?

Current obsession: Blendo Games’ Quadrilateral Cowboy. It’s so excellent — read this interview. And it’s not the only game about coding and hacking within the game world I’m excited about. This is kind of a “thing” right now — although driven heavily by story, Erik Svedang & Niklas Akerblad’s Else Heartbreak uses a similar “feature”. Read that one, too. I can’t stop looking at Else Heartbreak’s imagery — I want it, in a sort of “it’s 1999 and I have a Dreamcast and I saw some pictures in a magazine” kind of way, and that almost never happens to me anymore.

Pitched in on the news at Shut Up & Sit Down earlier this week. It’s summer in London and I just want to go to the pool, but the Yelp reviews for the one near me are very depressing.

But WHAT CAN BE DONE: Dos and Don’ts To Combat Online Sexism

You may notice that a lot of things happen to do with sexism on the internet. Sometimes someone has done a sexist thing and people are talking about it. Sometimes someone has written an article about the time they experienced sexism and other people are having feelings about it.  Sometimes a particular woman or women is being harassed on Twitter and you are witnessing it.

As you know, sexism is bad, and when bad things happen, you might have feelings about it too. But how can you help? What should be done? Here is a guide:

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Critical mass

There’s a new Lo-Fi Let’s Play for you from the weekend: I play Critical Mass, a game where I travel the world to try to stop a nuclear meltdown. In practice this involves me kicking Telex machines, drinking soup out of alleyways, and being scarred for life by a plummeting elevator. 

I was particularly excited to get to Let’s Play Critical Mass for you — It’s one of the games that has stuck with me forever, and one of the coolest moments in my life writing about games was  a couple of years ago, when I got to have a correspondence with the guy who made it (and some of my other well-worn childhood favorites). I wrote an “open letter”, never in the world expecting a reply, but I got one! 

Last week, I also joined the nice gentlemen of Shut Up & Sit Down for a session of a pen and paper Star Wars RPG. Playing a Star Wars pen and paper roleplaying game is the kind of thing I don’t really do unless someone dares me, but we had a lot of fun — and we recorded our prologue story session, with voice performances and everything, in case you want to join us.

I also went on NPR’s Morning Edition, along with Aisha Tyler, for a segment about the lack of diversity at E3 and some of the Assassin’s Creed snafu stuff that went on last week. I was really happy with how it came out — in particular, it’s nice to be joined by another outspoken woman in a situation like this. I’m used to feeling alone, fearful of ire, fearful of how “combative” I sound (or will be assumed to sound).

NPR also did a follow up with Aisha, to include more of her views — I don’t necessarily agree with her about Lara Croft as an example of progress for our industry, but I think what she says about including more women on the development side and taking steps to encourage more women toward tech literacy is important.

Related to Lara Croft, I talked about some of the ‘damaged women’ trailers I saw at this year’s E3 to talk about a trend in how we build our women heroes that often bugs me. It often seems that when we want to show how a woman becomes a hero, we have to hurt her first. And when we want to show how a man becomes a hero, we have to hurt… also a woman, first. Odd.

There was some great discussion across social media about my piece last week, and I’m really grateful for that. I also received not even one hateful comment,. The most exciting thing to happen to me during E3 was this evidence that the discourse is evolving.

Also the part where Nintendo’s press conference featured TINY KNIT YOSHIS tucked into the suit lapels of Japanese game directors. TINY KNIT YOSHIS. I hope everyone just does video pressers like this from now on.