SF and Gaming Blog

Thoughts, reviews and opinion on the overlapping worlds of science fiction and gaming.

Gamergate’s complaints about agenda-driven reviews make me wonder how on earth gamers would have reacted had the video game press been anything like as bad as the “mainstream” British music press has been for decades. Have there been reviews remotely equivalent to Dave McCulloch’s dismissive one-star review of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in Sounds? Are there any gaming journalists as appallingly bad as Julie Burchill?

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Critical Schools and Gatekeepers

Some thoughts triggered by a Google+ thread comparing some gamers’ narrow definitions of what counts as a “proper game” with the state of literary criticism in academia.

A healthy artistic scene, whether the medium is music, film, visual arts, literature or games needs many competing schools of criticism, all championing different aesthetics. If any one school gets so dominant that they can make their aesthetic the default and set themselves up as gatekeepers, it’s bad for the health of the medium as a whole. It gets worse if that dominance becomes entrenched.

This has happened in the world of literature, where the “serious novel” needs to conform to such a narrow palette of tropes that it’s become a thing of parody. Rock and pop criticism has run into the same problems many times in the past.

What can or should be done about it is another question.

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#GamerGate – An Issue With Two Sides

This is an insightful piece in TechCrunch about the #GamerGate controversy

Two sides have emerged, which believe in completely different realities. If you are to listen to the extreme of one side, you will hear that gamers are reactionary right-wingers who excuse harassment. If you listen to the extreme of the other side, every critic of GamerGate is a brainwashed activist who thinks liking Hitman Absolution or GTAV makes you worse than Hitler.

Holding up the extremes of both sides is a great way to avoid dialogue. It’s politics – not, as Tadhg Kelly suggests, in the sense of liberals versus conservatives, but in the more fundamental sense of “my side” versus “your side.”

Though I don’t share the author’s libertarian politics, having seen these same culture wars play out across the tabletop RPG hobby and Science Fiction fandom over the past two or three years, it’s very difficult to disagree with anything he says.

This is an issue where I’m unwilling to take sides because I believe both sides are wrong, and both sides have embraced the mistaken idea that these culture wars are a zero-sum game.

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We The People: A game or a Poe?

It is very difficult to tell whether We the People Fight Tyranny Game is intended to be a serious board game, or whether the whole thing is an elaborate parody of the world view of the all-American wingnut.

It purports to be both a “fun game” and an educational tool about American history, liberry and tyranny.

This is a sample of one of the cards in the game, which gives a flavour:

Sockal Justice

That one card really does speak volumes.

The website is filled with boilerplate rightwing screeds, but gives very little away about the gameplay.  But it leaves the impression that the game is a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly, two of the very worst board games in all history.

So combne two games which put people off board games for life, then marinade the whole thing in heavy-handed ideological propaganda.

And you wonder why it looks like an elaborate parody.

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Dalek Relaxation Tape

What it says….

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GamerGate vs Music Journalism

Gamergate still seems to show little sign of dying down, and forms part of the much larger cultural wars that have been raging across the tabletop RPG and SFF worlds over the past couple of years. As is usual for the internet, the loudest and most extreme voices are getting all the attention, and all nuance is lost.

I don’t really know much about the current state of video game journalism, so I don’t know quite how accurate the accusations and counter-accusations I’ve been seeing might be. But they do suggest there are parallels with the state of music journalism and criticism.

Good criticism is an important part of any artistic ecosystem. Critics certainly have a role in publicising and promoting great art. It should go without saying that constructive criticism plays a part in making good art better. And, whatever some fanboys might say, criticism does have a role in calling out bad art that’s undeserving of anyone’s time and money. There is much in the music world that is derivative, formulaic and clichéd. There is art that is tasteless and offensive for its own sake. And there is pretentious nonsense that is nowhere near as clever as it likes to think it is.

But as every music fan ought to know, there is as much bad criticism as there is bad music. There are reviews that seem little more than regurgitated press releases. There are unfairly negative reviews that fail to engage with what the artist is trying to do. There are reviews that have an obvious and unsubtle agenda shared by neither artist nor audience. And the cardinal sin of criticism is still reviewing the audience rather than the performance, usually accompanied by a sneer.

Does any of that sound familiar?

But ultimately both bad art and bad reviews have an absolute right to exist, and only become a problem when they start drowning out everything better. This has been a recurring problem in the music world, but has slowly faded away as the internet has eroded the powers of the old gatekeepers. Is it the same in the world of video games?

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Gamergate

The intensity of the #Gamergate shitstorm has me rolling my eyes in disbelief.

It is difficult to understand how the revelation that one game developer was sleeping with a reviewer represents wholesale corruption in the entire games industry. And it’s near impossible to believe the gaming press could be remotely as corrupt or as destructive as vast swathes of the music press have been for decades. Although it has to be said that one or two of the inflammatory editorials I’ve seen appear to have been written with the deliberate intention of pouring petrol on the flames.

I’m not into video games, but my social media feeds are filling up with it all the same. From the outside the whole thing looks like yet another round in the same culture wars we’ve been seeing across the SFF fandom and the Tabletop RPG worlds over the past couple of years. It’s the same mess of entrenched positions and exclusionary rhetoric where truth is the first casualty, and the internet is yet again amplifying the loudest and most polarising voices.

The way these things constantly blow up over relatively trivial issues is getting very wearing. I’m not surprised that I’m seeing good people quit social media, burned out by the never-ending outrage.

Of course, whenever there’s a shitstorm of this natures, the trolls descent like vultures, but we should be wary of claims tying those trolls to any wider demographic.

It shouldn’t need to be said that there is no justification for anonymous threats aimed at individuals, ever.

If you are one of those who thinks these wars are a fight to the death between “Us” and “Them”, and you consider a sizeable part of the fandom or hobby as “Them”, then you are part of the problem, regardless of which “side” you are rooting for.

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If a Dalek’s immune system is lots of tiny Beholders, are there little Gelatinous Cubes inside every Cyberman?

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James Desborough has got the licence for an RPG John Norman’s Gor, and has started Indiegogo campaign to fund it. No further comment is really necessary…

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Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Player’s Handbook

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugBack in the early days I played a lot of D&D. Most memorable was a lengthy campaign that started off using first edition AD&D, eventually progressing to second edition. After than I drifted away to more “realistic” systems such as Runequest and GURPS, and later still to various rules-lite systems tuned for one-shot convention play, the only gaming I do much of nowadays. I did buy the third edition at Gencon UK in way back in 2000, but passed on 3.5 and the controversial fourth edition entirely.

The fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons comes at a time when the D&D community had become fragmented. The fourth edition was a radically different game, emphasising tactical combat and set-piece battles at the expense of roleplaying, and has been described as being closer in spirit to Magic:The Gathering than to earlier editions of D&D. That alienated a significant part of their market, many of whom deserted the game in favour of rival systems based on the open-sourced rulesets of earlier editions. The highest profile of these was Pathfinder, derived from 3.5, and various OSR (Old School Renaissance) small press games based on much earlier editions. Continue reading

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