Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Humans! Make! Games!

Two quick disclaimers.
One: When I say assholes, I do not mean racist/sexist/otherwise dead-end beliefs and the people that espouse them. I mean people with opinions that deviate from the "Bacon is a vegetable" folks of nerdom.
Two: The article I'm responding to here is a couple months old now.

My favorite games aren't my games. "My games" are the products of the vision of a specific studio. I play Blizzard games. I play Supergiant games. I play Runic games and so on ad infinitum. But I can't claim them as mine, except in the sense that I own a license.

Ben Kuchera's article, over at the Penny-Arcade Report (these days invaluable) largely avoids this point, when talking about assholes making your games, using Fish and Teasdale as examples. Fish, for saying hyperbolically what serious games commentators have being saying for years (Japan's games for this console cycle by and large have been disappointing or worse) and Teasdale for the mortal sin of being sick of space marines and off-brand Tolkien as settings for videogames.

The article uses a weak defense of personhood to throw a veil over Phil Fish or Mr. Teasdale. "Hey, guys, Phil Fish might piss you off on Twitter, but, hey, isn't Fez great" is the takeaway. That's weak and Kuchera ought to know better. A more vigorous defense might be: This person has an opinion contrary to your own. He is entitled to it. And, given that he's a game developer and a gamer himself, perhaps their criticisms are warranted.

And even that's weaker than the point that reminds us these people are individuals: They're allowed to be wrong and speak before his thoughts are fully formed.

Teasdale is an asshole for speaking his mind about sci-fi/fantasy games, apparently. He's probably just letting off steam. But more than that? He's right. Sci-fi and fantasy are well-trod settings for videogames, some incredible, most passable.

It's not a debatable premise that a setting involving American men with assault weapons in shiny space armor is tired. That's a fact of life in 2013. Same for the post-apocalyptic genre or off-brand Tolkein. Teasdale saying that he's not interested in those settings or trappings personally shows that he's a creative, discriminating human who has made those games for 15 years of his life already. And Kuchera ought to know better than to call that unreasonable.

For an example outside gaming: Go to any big comic convention and count how many male "zombification" artists or scantily clad women in zombie makeup you can see before you start taking sanity damage or lose interest in zombies as a storytelling device.

And yes, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal" is a thing Picasso said, but in the canon of videogames there's terribly few artists, or, I suppose, studios with a chosen aesthetic and the a) vision and b) talent to properly exploit it.

But beyond these comments speak to something else in life: Many people who consume art/entertainment/whatever are dismayed to learn that discrete persons with opinions create "their" media. Take any well-known creative on Twitter and they will tell you they get people telling them "why do you keep posting politics on my twitter or I unfollowed you because you had an opinion I dislike."

(We pass over the cardinal sin on Twitter, being a woman with an opinion. Whatever you do, don't do that.)

Saying: "Well, you followed me and if you don't like what I say or think the unfollow button is right there" gets you branded as an asshole. Put a different way: Asserting your right to discrete personhood in the space which you designate as yours for mental overflow is being an asshole.

You can see how that's worrisome.

And so the problem isn't with "asshole" devs, or people with opinions, but gamers ourselves. Though, I could also substitute people.

Gamers are by and large, scared of people's different, opposing opinions. I suspect it's a matter of how young the market for console shooters skews is, but it feeds into a larger human feeling that we don't know we want something new until an artist has already put in the time to envision, create and distribute it, we'd largely prefer a more precise, better variation on an idea that's come before.

Case in point: Grand Theft Auto 3.

To sum up: I hope we get more assholes making games, the same way I hope gamers can feel less defensive about a person trying to manifest their creative vision. We've got a long way to go.

It's a blog about ideas, so have a song called I've Got An Idea... by End Of A Year/Self Defense Family. Enjoy.
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