Games Blog

Reviews, thoughts and options from the word of paper-and-pencil roleplaying games.

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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#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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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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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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D&D Consultantgate refuses to die down

This post contains more RPG drama relating to the D&D consultant issue. If you don’t want to read another word about this ongoing shitstorm, then move along, there’s nothing to see. Continue reading

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So a bunch of gamers are celebrating the release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons by burning their 4th Edition books. It seems the D&D Edition Warriors now make Yes lineup purists look like rank amateurs. Accusing me of being the president of their record company for writing a three-star review of their new album just can’t compete.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments

D&D5 and Internet Outrage

So the first release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition has caused an internet shitstorm. And this time it has absolutely nothing to do with any content of the actual game, but the names of two of the list of people credited as consultants. People are talking of boycotting the game, or making donations to an appropriate charity instead of buying D&D products.

Admittedly those two names have a reputation as rather abrasive characters who do not suffer fools gladly, and referring to opponents as “Psuedoactivist Swine” is not the best way to make friends and influence people. But nothing excuses smears and blatant lies such as wholly false claims of racism and homophobia. The whole thing seems to be driven by long-running personal feuds and opposing cliques, some of which goes back to the elitism coming out of The Forge a decade ago.

I’m reminded of the “Satanic Panic” back in the 1980s, when a bunch of fundamentalists declared than D&D was a gateway to devil worship and a significant cause of teenage suicide. These small-minded and censorious authoritarians managed to do a great deal of harm to the RPG hobby, for example getting the game banned in schools. They succeeded in this because D&D was little known and little understood, and too few people outside the RPG hobby understood how much their claims were paranoid nonsense.

A decade later they tried the same thing against the far more mainstream Harry Potter fandom, and they just got steamrollered. Enough of a critical mass of people had read the actual books, so that nobody outside the fundamentalist bubble could take the devil-worship arguments seriously.

The same has happened with the so-called “Outrage brigade”. When they went after relatively little-known small-press writers people who ought to have known better bought their lies and smears. Once they went after the biggest game in the RPG hobby it was the equivalent of the moral minority versus Harry Potter. They were revealed as a small clique, deserving irrelevance beyond their little echo chambers.

It does need to be said that there has been some thoroughly toxic behaviour on both sides, bad things said in anger that keep on fuelling the fires. School playgound level name-calling and “Die in a fire” ad-hominems are never acceptable behaviour regardless of the provocation. As my mother always said “Two wrongs don’t make a right”. Some people really need to grow up and let go of old grudges.

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