A Little Less Love

A friendly hello to all youse waging wars on the Internet. I’ve got not a whole lot to chime in with – too busy building this bunker while you’re pontificating the meaning of JLaw n00dz and ethical decay, Oof!  

I’ll continue to watch the dialogue unfold from afar into even more slimy David Cronenberg whatthefuckery, but for now let’s leave with this – Kurt Vonnegut on love and decency and making things work, from his semi-autobiography Slapstick, which you can buy here

I have had some experiences with love, or think I have, anyway, although the ones I have liked best could easily be described as “common decency.” I treated somebody well for a little while, or maybe even for a tremendously long time, and that person treated me well in turn. Love need not have had anything to do with it.

Also: I cannot distinguish between the love I have for people and the love I have for dogs.

When a child, and not watching comedians on film or listening to comedians on the radio, I used to spend a lot of time rolling around on rugs with uncritically affectionate dogs we had.

And I still do a lot of that. The dogs become tired and confused and embarassed long before I do. I could go on forever.

Hi ho.

One time, on his twenty-first birthday, one of my three adopted sons, who was about to leave for the Peace Corps in the Amazon Rain Forest, said to me, “You know – you’ve never hugged me.”

So I hugged him. We hugged each other. It was very nice. It was like rolling around on a rug with a Great Dane we used to have.

Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go looking for it, and I think it can often be poisonous.

I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, “Please – a little less love, and a little more common decency.”


The Games Industry Is Just A Spectator Sport

It started, as it always does, on the Internet. Xbox fans who moments earlier were imagining clasping their new Titanfall posters, a single community united as one under Microsoft, defiantly pointed to Sony’s business decisions as proof that the Xbox One was no bipartisan healer uniting console owners and guys who just want another way to watch Game of Thrones.

The Xbox fall-from-grace is the Vaudevillian macronarrative we the audience have been watching for, arguably, years. The gripes that persist between Sony and Microsoft are one thing media watchers have always been able to count on, a David/Goliath display normally relegated to the hallowed halls of Pay Per View wrestling narratives. But in recent years we’ve begun to see a new power struggle emerge from that pit. The role of the gamer is shifting, now playing a central part in a seachange in the games industry that is transforming how consumers relate to producers of entertainment.

It’s only at times like this – when the video games industry appears at the height of its own lawless turbulence – that words spoken by Vince McMahon, the heaving and beligerant patron-saint of professional wrestling, can have the resonance of a Zen Koan. 2013, a year that will introduce two new generations of consoles and cultivate two rabidly blustering schools of fans, marks another step in this industry’s transformation into populous theatre, in a way McMahon could only predict.

Because no one knows better just how important an audience is to a spectacle.

In the words of the venerable McMahon, the “crossover of whether [something is] entertainment or news is the biggest crock of B.S. in television today, because it’s all entertainment.” For McMahon, the face behind pro-wrestling behemoth World Wrestling Entertainment, that statement was central to the industry he helped build in the early ‘80s. His vision of the WWE was driven by a stoic sort of principle. “We [in the WWE] look at everything as an entertainment vehicle,” he said in a 2001 interview with Playboy. “Nothing is sacred.”

Today it’s safe to say that same philosophy has independently risen in our own industry. The games industry has unintentionally emerged as a symbol of modern spectacle that shares a defining and universal truth with McMahon’s ideology: It just isn’t clear where the entertainment ends anymore.

Where games once were the centrepiece of our industry, publishers, studios and even individuals are gaining a place alongside them as a part of the show; the result of a new kind of relationship between the participating audience and the entertainment itself.

Likewise, McMahon had made his business in blurring the already murky territory between business and entertainment, something that in an older era of entertainment was referred to as Kayfabe, a term originally used by carnival workers to mean the portrayal of fiction as reality. The walls typically seperating performance, business and audience members could be broken down with this, and as a result McMahon could capitalise on a theatrical call-and-response entertainment with levels of interaction.

Wrestlers assumed two possible personalities intended to either encourage the audience to cheer or to draw the ire of spectators. Narratives would be fabricated, an open-secret in its industry, while writers pieced together in-show subplots that often co-opted real-life problems ranging from contractual issues to injuries.

For McMahon, he used this to show above all a moral plotline of good versus evil. Often, individual matches would be part of a bigger plot arc that followed conflict between characters: the Babyfaces and the Heels, the morally just and the defiantly bad, respectively. The audience would help drive this. The idea of paying up is essential in wrestling, and leads to an immanent kind of justice – the baser the action from the antagonist, the more the crowd calls out for a deserved punishment.

It’s a familiar kind of story. It’s easy to feel the games industry is a spectacle to jeer at.

The balloons have dropped. The party’s over. The last unenthused body with a press pass has politely been escorted out of the conference hall and Don Mattrick stands languid in a dark room waiting for his next day at work to start. It’s months since the first reveal of Xbox One and in the meantime we’ve had all this time to think back on its message while we brace for the next comedy of errors to come out of the bowels of the games industry.

But for all the nihilistic machismo of the games industry, it – like McMahon’s ring-side theatre – is equally rooted in a deep sense of morality and justice.

Game fans – the would-be consumers of the industry – are finding a new role as commentators of our own theatre, and as a result manufacturers of entertainment have become the centrepiece of our attention. Now, seemingly ruled by a mass market that finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the entertainment makers and the entertainment, the games industry appears to be on a trajectory to becoming pure spectacle.

It’s only in recent years that popular social media has shown its talent for irrevocably breaking down the fourth wall separating consumers from the games industry. In an era of TMZ mentality, one where every action is followed by an equal or greater reaction, the Internet has for better or for worse become the world’s greatest barometer for knee-jerk justice. Now, like a theatre of the rounds, audience participation is at an all-time high.

We in the games industry have our own morality story, although I’m still unsure whether we’re aware of the narratives we help to build as an audience. Villains emerge, so do team allegiances. Gamers align with a protagonist, take in the inevitable plot twists that unfold moment to moment in sport. Ultimately there’s a feeling that we are directly involved with what we’re rooting for and connected to their rise and fall. Gamers and the media implicitly encourage the industry’s transformation into pure spectacle.

Now more than ever it’s the spectacle that appears to be running the show.

Congratulations, you are now a Kotaku commenter

“Congratulations, you are now a Kotaku commenter” is an interactive fiction game that puts you in the shoes of a Internet commenters during the fallout of the short #1ReasonWhy sociopolitical movement-turned-meme you might remember from earlier in the year. It’s written in response to the Men’s Rights commentators who turned up on games website Kotaku immediately after the site began corralling quotes from this Twitter dialogue which revealed some of the harsher realities of being a woman in the games industry. All quotes used are from actual real-world Kotaku commenters. It also has a great recipe for goulash!


Remembering Matt Hughes – Depression in the Games Industry

About four weeks ago Matt Hughes’ death was all but passed over thanks to another industry talking point that’s bellyached its way to top of games journalists’ list of professional tragedies.

Hughes was a freelance games journalist whose work appeared on Joystiq and GamesRadar among other sites. His apparent suicide, which was first reported all the way back at the beginning of November, should be remembered for two reasons.

One, because like most dealing with depression Hughes suffered it in silence, making it all the more necessary to put it back on table and onto the blog circuit where with any luck it will keep from getting swept back into obscurity. And two, for making almost no visible impact on the industry whatsoever.

Hughes’ death roughly coincided with the start of DoritosGate one month ago, out of which was born a full-blown journalist-led investigation into the blurring lines between professionalism and commercialism. Fits of anger are de rigueur among games bloggers right now. While the industry is being hauled out to the Stocks for possibly aligning itself too closely with commercial entities, particular effort has also gone into providing a cold bucket of water for any journalist who’s still enamoured with the way things are.

Regardless of where you stand on all of this, the result, at least in retrospect, has been an impressive show of what can happen when journalists throw their weight into their favourite pet issues. Weeks of extensive self-analysis in the industry.

About the same amount of time has passed since Hughes’ suicide, but the significance of this whole dreary saga of Lauren Wainwright, of corruption, and the now semi-iconic Geoff Keighley Emperor Palpatine impression has continued to read fresh because of the work of a few impassioned Internet users who have been burning the midnight oil on this stuff.

Comparatively, one week and a few blog posts following Hughes’ suicide, his death was already downgraded from a few online eulogies to a passing human interest story. It comes down to priorities. It’s nearing December now and the neighbourhood watch surrounding the Wainwright narrative seems to be quieting down. But now even in these brief moments of tranquility, of which in this industry there are very few, I think we’ve got our priorities all wrong.

Take it from me, depression is a monster of a thing but it can’t be dealt with alone.

It’s been sarcastically referred to as The Artist’s Reward, but I prefer this description, which I’ll paraphrase:

In military vernacular there is a term called “the fog of war.” This originated after the Napoleonic war, at a time before the invention of smokeless gun powder when shots from muskets would result in a fog so thick soldiers would lose sight of the enemy, making it impossible to tell apart friend from foe.

The first person to write about this in depth was the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, whose solution, in part, was this: “The first thing [needed] here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel out the truth with the measure of its judgment.”

Which makes Depression, perhaps, the ultimate expression of the fog of war. You can see the result of that enemy’s attacks but you can’t see the enemy, and worse, that fog can become your reality; Worrying then, when as Clausewitz says, we can only rely on our heads – Because it’s hard to rage against a war when it’s going on in you.

Which is why we need to rely on each other. And in the past month we’ve shown, even at its most maniacal, the industry can make a difference just by talking.

Date-A-Gamer From All Corners of the North

Internet website sensation Date-A-Gamer has had its video series teaching gamers how to fuck living women  pulled from YouTube, so DreadfulBlog commemorates it in text.

Exactly Why I Play League of Legends (or Lonesome No More!)

Whenever I see a fight break out I usually watch it unfold with the passivity of one of those characters you see drawn into the backdrop of Marmaduke cartoons. My arcane talents for looking disinterested even at the event horizon of unfolding shit will one day be studied by shamen, but the most notable thing about this is that lurking behind my zen apathy is a fuck lotta irascible bile.

I hate conflict. Like most pointless wars, they’re a dull battle of attrition, and with Internet conflict it’s cyclical, and it ravenously consumes itself, which results in impossible and cloudy ambiguities – I hate it. With that in mind, this is one of the first lines of an introduction by Kurt Vonnegut that makes up one of my favourite pieces of common sense:

Please – a little less love, a little more common decency.

The book is called Slapstick, on the basis that life shares similarities with the slapstick comedy of classic American comedians Laurel and Hardy – “because it is grotesque, situational poetry,” he says. I like this, because I think it offers a precise definition to what I consider generally indefinable. I like this too:

“The fundamental joke with Laurel and Hardy, it seems to me, was that they did their best with every test. They never failed to bargain in good faith with their destinies…”

Because it offers a recipe for success in what I generally consider a bewildering web of uncertainties.

I’ve spent the last month singing the praises of League of Legends for the same reason. I like LoL a lot. I like it because for all the bellyaching about parroting DotA, and for all the low-tier self-trolling from a thick-as-shit community, it’s still the antidote, the hemlock in the cup to all the ambiguity in the world I spend most of my time avoiding.

LoL is conflict streamlined into a series of quantifiable solutions. LoL caters to the reptilian part of the brain that looks for nothing more than the clarity of maths, mechanical down-to-the-second timing, and the sort of in-depth game theory that could have sorted Nam out in a matter of hours.

Got a problem? Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on to your calculator, John Nash – Spreadsheet it, calculate it, follow the meta that was formulated and modified by players thousands of hours before you ever logged on. LoL is black and white in its darkest and lightest and biggest and baddest, and all the grays have been relegated to the lowest Accrington Stanley division of irrelevance.

The result, granted, is like a broken fire hydrant, but the seemingly endless gallons of chaos pouring out its community are something you can trust will be just as unambiguously chaotic with or without your participation. The first rule of LoL is you are a turd, whether or not you really deserve to be called one – And if you can place your bets on anything it’s for LoL’s attitude about this to be consistent. The game breeds that special kind of Internet Toughguyism usually grown in the sublayers of 4chan and B3ta posts, and now comes to a rolling boil thanks to a combination of boilerplate free-to-play and online competitiveness. There’s a purity to that: if those sites are the Internet’s Id then LoL is the part of the system responsible for a kind of competitive Tourette’s, chronic tics which force it to be eternally direct with you.

Your place in its hierarchy is unambiguous  – You are a turd, but this is an extension of the game’s community, and those words can describe the lot of it, the special sort of nihilistic and meaningless trolling that drives it, and the grotesque, situational poetry that it consistently imitates. In reality the only identity that matters will rise to the top once your character is chosen, whose exact role was perfected after hours of being cultivated with strange maths in a crucible of nerd love-compulsion by people who do their best with every test and never failed to bargain in good faith with their destinies.

That’s why I play League of Legends; Please –  a little less love, a little more LoL.

To Hell With Girl Gamers

Aris Bakhtanians, Tekken coach turned culturo-political meme, has become the latest example of what you can find growing in the armpit of games culture. Aris is this year’s beacon of industry sexism that’s been spilling through the usual channels of gamer twitter feeds and news sites after he harassed a female player in a Capcom-backed reality show tournament.

His madman ramblings and breathless indignation about the opposite sex have made him only the most recent sacrificial lamb in a wider-spread issue in the industry – you can add this story to the pile of examples like website Fat, Ugly, or Slutty or the recent anti-Jennifer Hepler campaign for a look at how, when left unchecked, the collective unconscious of anonymous users and misanthropes can become a bustling Id of bigotry.

The reason I’m mentioning this is because this is an article about my personal experience of writing online while also being one of those people Aris doesn’t tolerate. And as one of those people this is an issue close to my heart.

The reason is, for the first nine months of my career I dropped gender altogether. Around 2009 when I first started writing professionally I dropped my first name for a gender-neutral pseudonym (that’s E. Gera, Google fans). This started when I was freelancing, and would ask my editors to drop my full name from the byline – not for fear of being victimised but to avoid another issue entirely.

In my case the decision to cloak-up was the sensible way to take my first awkward steps into journalism without my work becoming secondary to the novelty of my gender.

The girl gamer, she’s apparently still a thing of myth despite the fact that even your Mom has been playing Puzzle Pirates since roughly 2006. Still, we’ve already seen how the careers of some women in the industry have both been made and completely overshadowed by this tag. One look at Jade Raymond’s career is enough to script a telenovela. In 2007 a pretty 30-something rockets to producer position and while half of the Internet was either carefully sketching out bukake comics in her name or praising her for making it in a male-dominated industry, it’s safe to say by 2012 her professional life still hasn’t evolved past the novelty of being some hot XX chromosomes in an XY cesspool.

Countless articles have been written in the wake of ArisGate about the victimisation of women in the games – and yet for all the Internet Tough Guyisms that run through the veins of angry Reddit threads, for all the Mean Motherfucker self-image Aris himself has cultivated, it’s that collective that I’ve found are the easiest to tune out.

They’re loud, but they’re hapless. Griefers of the world are an irritation but it’s the softer side of the wild reactionaries that I often find to be the issue, who with slack-chinned glee will saint every woman who wanders into the games industry. We’re three years on since I first started out and I still question whether gender can have a face in the industry at all without novelty undermining legitimate work.

My duty as a writer is not to develop a female’s voice in the games industry; it is to create good content. And despite gender being unavoidable it’s secondary to everything else I do. Arguments and analysis is neither feminine nor masculine. Neither is the act of playing games, and that collar of girl gamerness is something I’ve long avoided.

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