Archive for the 'Essays' Category

What Ferguson Can Teach Us About Video Games (and the media in general)

This post was inspired by one of the most ill-conceived articles I’ve encountered, courtesy of Polygon. I’m not going to link to it, because fuck that site for running such a piece, but it was essentially a piece of Watch_Dogs advertising posed as commentary on the events ongoing in Ferguson, under the incredible title “What Watch_Dogs Can Teach Us About #Ferguson” (to which the correct answer is, of course, not a fucking thing, you fucking cretins).

BUT! It did make me realise that there’s certainly something worth discussing on the flip-side of that headline. Which is to say, just what the democracy-flouting, culpability-shirking, demonising actions of the militarised police in Ferguson, Missouri highlight about the problems in the media generally, and video games specifically.*

Because for all that Polygon’s ill-thought-out article (as well as a tone-deaf Kotaku article discussing the way in which militarised police were ‘damaging the image’ of games like Battlefield) is next to worthless, a major element of both of them – that the events in Ferguson resemble a computer game – is one worth considering. They’re just looking at it from the least useful angle.

The thing is, Ferguson does resemble a lot of computer games. Too many computer games, in fact. A ridiculous proportion of big-budget computer games throw the player into exactly the role you can see the Ferguson police assuming: that of the authority-wielding, gun-toting, white (probably American, certainly western) hero; fighting predominantly non-white terrorists and/or criminals with extreme prejudice. Whether soldier or policeman, your Justice is assured, your Authority undeniable, and anybody challenging either of those things is Bad and deserves no quarter.

That’s the accepted narrative, whether you’re playing a Call of Duty, a Medal of Honor, or an awkwardly-timed Battlefield: War On Crime Edition. Or, indeed, if you’re a news outlet where peaceful protests become “riots”, where speaking out against police abuse becomes inappropriate, where protest becomes shameful.

It’s a powerful narrative, and it’s pervasive; when you’re immersed in a culture which glorifies the bravery of white men quelling dangerous non-white elements with violence, is it really any surprise when a tooled-up policeman starts to see all challenges as threats and overreacts to a perceived threat with disastrous consequences? Is it any surprise that his boss then sees the large, public response to that as a further threat, as a sign that something Bad is happening and must be quashed, with the Just Authority of the police employing all measures of suppression and enforcement as they see fit, where any who threaten your actions, even by reporting on them, become guilty of a criminal act and valid targets for attack?

No, it’s not a surprise. And the people responsible for crafting these narratives – in the news, in movies, on TV, in video games, anywhere – need to think long and hard about that. We keep repeating these narratives – of the Good White Authority Figure and the Bad Non-White Rebel – and we help to convince people that these actions, these disgusting actions, are not just acceptable, they’re justified.

*because that’s the medium I’m most aware of, not because I think it’s any more relevant than other media to the issues highlighted.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger – or why anger at Hitman: Absolution’s advertising campaigns is misplaced

Over the past day there has been a brief controversy over an advertising campaign put into play (and promptly removed from play) by Square Enix and creative agency Ralph. Much has been made of the campaign – which offered fans the opportunity to craft a virtual hit on their friends via Facebook – for encouraging cyber bullying, and in particular for its disturbing choice of said target’s identifiable features, including “shit hair”, “small tits” and “tiny penis”.*

Similarly, a long while before the game was released, IO Interactive were roundly criticised for a CG trailer released for Hitman: Absolution which showed a variety of women, all dressed up in latex nuns’ outfits, attacking Agent 47 only to be brutally executed by him, with dramatic slowdown and close-up shots of his most vicious attacks.

I’m here to say that the criticism of these two separate campaigns is misplaced. Not because the adverts were inoffensive: they patently were not. No, I say that the criticism was misplaced because these adverts were perfectly representative of the game they sought to advertise. The ever-brilliant Leigh Alexander wrote a piece in response to the more recent campaign about how she wished that marketers would start caring about the video games that they chose to represent. It was an excellent article, and relevant to a very many adverts for games – but not, I feel, this one.
No, the problem with the advertising campaigns for Hitman: Absolution stems from one source, and one source only: the nature of Hitman: Absolution itself.

Continue reading ‘Don’t Shoot The Messenger – or why anger at Hitman: Absolution’s advertising campaigns is misplaced’

Destructive Criticism, or how not to argue your position

This is a post inspired by a slew of recent articles, including discussions of the language used in Batman: Arkham City; critical reviews of a popular game; coverage of a questionable choice of song at Blizzcon; and reports of being treated differently as a journalist because of your sex. A very many of the latter, in fact. Only, it’s not so much inspired by the articles as the responses they’ve garnered.

Responses are important. Arguments demand counter-arguments, and direct comments allow for immediate challenges to be made – challenges which can be important and useful. Unfortunately, the useful, considered arguments that could help develop a dialog are regularly drowned out by the cacophony of mindless prattle that fills comment threads, prattle which serves no purpose beyond boosting the ego of the petty people behind them, and that’s a damned shame. So it’s to these commentators that this piece is addressed. Rather than taking to task individual comments from specific articles, I’m going to tackle the generic forms of, and subjects covered by, these comments.

Continue reading ‘Destructive Criticism, or how not to argue your position’

Blizzard, Diablo 3 and sweatshops – part two

Believe it or not, I’ve had quite a response to my previous piece on Blizzard’s Diablo 3 announcements, what they mean to gold farming, and what gold farming has to do with sweatshops. I say believe it or not, because the responses have been exclusively conveyed to me on other websites and via social media. Rather than, you know, in the comments thread of the actual article. So, as I think that those debates deserve to be aired in public – it’s clear that people disagree with me, and I don’t want my website to pretend otherwise – I’ve collected some of the arguments I’ve heard, and my responses to said arguments.

Continue reading ‘Blizzard, Diablo 3 and sweatshops – part two’

Blizzard, Diablo 3, and sweatshops

A few weeks ago developers Littleloud released a game about sweatshops called, funnily enough, Sweatshop. It used tower defence gameplay as a way to get players thinking about the nature of sweatshops, encouraging them into the mindset of a sweatshop manager, even as it reminded them of just how many everyday items come from such places. It was an intelligent, effective piece of edutainment. It’s also a game that certain members of Blizzard would do well to play, perhaps while reading up on gold farming.

Continue reading ‘Blizzard, Diablo 3, and sweatshops’

Give me consequence or give me death!

I’m not speaking figuratively.

At the GameCamp unconference earlier this year, one of the talks given was on The Failure of the Failstate; a debate in which the speaker was arguing that gaming’s traditional punishment for failure – the Game Over screen – had been invalidated by save states and checkpoints. I didn’t completely agree – I felt that was far too much of a blanket statement – but it’s an issue worth addressing. This, several months later, is my contribution to the argument.
Continue reading ‘Give me consequence or give me death!’

Gamers & Dolls: a psychological fable

Boys don’t play with dolls. Common knowledge. It’s just one of the things boys don’t do, along with liking cute animals, or flowers, or dancing, or the colour pink. Unless they’re that way inclined. You should definitely visualise someone rolling their eyes as they say that: “that way inclined”. There, you’ve got it.

It’s just not natural, you see. Men are coded to want to hunt and fight for things. Women are coded to want to make themselves attractive and to look after things. Hence girls like dolls, and boys like toy guns.

That’s why boys stick with action games, and only girls play The Sims. Which is a shame, because as we all know, girls don’t play computer games at all, which is why The Sims was such a failure. Similarly, boys hate those girly dress-up games, and girls just don’t get those shooters. Can you imagine a company trying to take a game aimed that only boys would like – like, say, a multiplayer first-person shooter – and then ask them to pay real money make themselves look different? Ha! It’d never work, because as we all know, boys don’t want to play dress-up, and even if a girl did somehow think to play with a computer, as all girls hate shooting things she would never go near the game in the first place.
Continue reading ‘Gamers & Dolls: a psychological fable’


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