Games Blog

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

The lesson you learn from following people on both sides of #GamerGate on Twitter is the effect too much time in internet echo chambers has on people. It makes it far too easy to demonise large groups of people who don’t share your exact values, especially if all you see of them is their very worst, retweeted as “outrage porn”. And too many people appear unable to see the harm being done by elements of their own side.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Why #GamerGate must end, and why it needs a truce

Two months on and GamerGate is still going on, with every attempt to shut it down merely fanning the flames. But we are starting to see some rejection of the manicheanism and lack of nuance that’s a big part of the problem.

For example, this rant on Popehat that takes no prisoners. But while most of it is aimed at supporters of GamerGate, pointing out how ridiculous the majority of their claims are, he also takes some well-aimed shots at their opponents. In particular the proponents of knee-jerk outrage-driven call-out culture who are shocked to find their own tactics used against them.

If you cultivate a culture in which people react disproportionately to stupid or offensive jokes, sooner or later someone else is going to be freaking out — sincerely or cynically — over someone “on your side” telling a stupid joke.

If you cultivate a culture in which the internet lands on someone like a ton of bricks for being an asshole, sooner or later some segment of the internet is going to decide that you are the asshole, and pile on you.

It is pointed out that the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend:

Look, if you see #GamerGate as a vehicle to advance cultural conservative messages that you believe in, more power to you. That’s free speech. But if you are genuinely someone who only cares about journalistic integrity, and you promote Breitbart and Yiannopoulos, aren’t you being a useful idiot?

And both sides are guilty of that:

Yiannopoulos is by no means the only example. There’s also the feculent two-faced pack of scribblers at Gawker Media. Gawker Media, through Kotaku and Gawker and Jezebel, is consistently outraged at the misogyny of #GamerGate, and has retreated into pearl-clutching couch-fainting at the attacks it has recently endured on its own work. But Gawker Media loves feminism like a glutton loves his lunch.

Slate’s David Auerbach notes that there are all sorts of people for or against GamerGate, including feminists supporting it as a proxy war in a long-running feud between different generations of feminism. But it’s all reached the point where the human cost is just too high. It has to stop.

Whatever a troll does under the cover of Gamergate—such as doxxing actress Felicia Day or offering free game codes to accounts that send death threats—is guaranteed to get a lot of attention (far more than typical Internet harassment) and to be blamed not on the individual but on Gamergate collectively. For a troll, this is a perfect setup: maximum effect, minimal exposure. I could dox any woman in gaming, and Gamergate would get blamed. So as long as Gamergate drags on, trolls who care less about games than about causing chaos will wreak havoc

But he also makes the point that GamerGate, despite all the attendant toxicity, is going to continue for as long as the gaming media continues to use the highly visible misogyny and harassement to deflect attention away from things the media doesn’t want to talk about. His conclusion is that in order for GamerGate to come to an end, there has to be some sort of truce with those supporters who aren’t reactionary trolls. Parts of the media do need to clean up their acts, and he’s another to point an accusing finger at Gawker Media, who have not exactly been covering themselves in glory.

I’ve mentioned parallels with the culture wars across music a generation ago before. Back in those days entire genres of music had to fight for their right to exist. In a dishonest hit piece so notorious it’s remembered decades later, Rush and their fanbase were slandered as Nazis. We were told that guitar solos were misogynistic because the guitar was a phallic symbol. Well, perhaps not in those exact words, but that was surely the subtext behind Paul Morley’s ridiculous “Anti-Rockist” movement.

But all that was years ago, and it was really the growing pains of a far more diverse music scene that was rapidly fragmenting into multiple overlapping subcultures. Nowadays genres of music whose audiences are overwhelmingly white and male such as metal or progressive rock are allowed to exist without constantly having to defend themselves against charges of racism and sexism for that reason alone. And because the relative merits of different styles of music is largely divorced from identity politics we can have discussions about homophobia in the metal scene without getting derailed by “You should all be listening to dance-pop instead”.

Music’s bitter culture wars took place in a very different media environment, where a limited number of gatekeepers have far more power, and agenda-driven music journalists really did have the ability to make or break careers. It was far more of a zero-sum game in the days before the internet and the diversification of distribution channels.

Only the other hand, perhaps we’re lucky there was no Twitter during the Punk Wars.

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It seems as though “Gamers are over” is the new “Rock is dead”. We’ve been hearing that rock is dead from people that have never liked rock in the first place, but rock has always refused to go away.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

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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