Wednesday, 15 August 2012

On "Days of Nothing"

Every day this week I've read something via Twitter that's made me want to rush home and (angrily) write something. Monday, Girlfriend mode: a topic so toxic and over-discussed that I realised after a paragraph I could say nothing original or useful or that would make me feel in any way good. Yesterday, rape culture in gaming and something I'm quite proud of. Today, Robert Florence's problematic Days of Nothing article. This isn't going to be a particularly considered, reasoned or well written piece - some other time hopefully - I'm tired and annoyed and I just want to get this shit out of my head and into words so I can stop thinking about it.

I actually kind of agree with the central point: don't only take action when something goes wrong. Make positive decisions all the time and call out sexism (or whatever you disagree with) wherever you see it, rather than just on the "headline" days. I fit somewhere into the "3. Gamers" category and I like to think I'm generally doing what is described (hence yesterday, hence not buying games with objectionable content or marketing - sorry Borderlands 2 I was quite looking forward to you. A slip up it may have been, but given uncle Duke I really can't give you the benefit of the doubt).

But AAAARG this giant, stupid fallacy that there's some special sexism unique to gaming. This insane idea that we've somehow created a toxic environment out pure excess testosterone in an otherwise tolerant world, which we need to band together as gamers and be "embarrassed" and "ashamed" of. Why do we need to not only subscribe to the counter-productive "outsider" notion that we're part of some specially problematic (and for that matter distinct, discrete and homogeneous) sub culture, but actively encourage this attitude? For fucks sake.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

On "Rape": An Open Letter to My Gaming Friends

Hi Guys

I must say I've been enjoying our Monday night co-op sessions - long may they continue - a great deal, but something has been bothering me for a few weeks and I'm writing this in an attempt to help you understand why. I'll try to keep this brief, but I'd rather my point be appreciated and fully taken on board than simply acknowledged and grudgingly complied with, as you're all open minded, intelligent people capable of getting this. I also want to make it clear that I don't speak from some saintly moral high ground - this is a social norm that I'm trying to overcome as well.

What I'm talking about is the casual and unthinking use of the word "rape", mainly in the setting of multiplayer video games, and anywhere else that it occurs as well. My intent here is not to police or censor, but to ask you to take an honest look - as I have been doing - at whether you're the sort of person who is comfortable with the casual use of the term, used with malicious intent (which I know it never is) or not.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

On "The Old MMO Problem"

Over on bit-Gamer, Joe Martin writes about "The Old MMO Problem":

Now, there are a lot of reasons why The Old Republic specifically has struggled since release and there'll doubtlessly be a lot of other critics pointing out the holes in EA's online strategy, the issues with Bioware's design and so on. Personally though, I don't think the issues we should be concerned with are exclusive to The Old Republic. I look at the other big MMOs which have faced the same transition - Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek Online - and wonder if there isn't a wider problem with MMO design.

There's actually a lot in the article that I take issue with: for a start the equating of going free to play with failure, and the equating of the failure of subscriptions to a problem with traditional MMO design. I would also question the statement that SW:TOR would be "unable to run on subscriptions after less than a year" - I think it would, but it will make more money as a free to play title - but perhaps Joe has more information than I do there. Finally, I don't fully agree that traditional MMO design makes for games that "are not entertainment; they are traps." I'm actually quite a fan of traditionally designed MMOs done well, largely for reasons I've detailed here, although I do agree that the traditional MMO structure can often be prone to cynical, uninteresting design and the manipulation of players.

But these are debates I'd like to have with Joe over a friendly pint rather than on the impersonal internet. The point is that I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that the WoW model of MMO design - good or bad - is a vastly overused and played out game structure and that the "Massively Multiplayer" genre is safe and samey to an extent that would make Call of Duty blush. What's frustrating about this, as Joe points out, is that these games seem to tap so little of the potential for social interaction that a persistent multiplayer environment offers. As we reach the point where traditional MMOs are, if not in decline, at least reaching some kind of maximum sustainable population of both players and titles, it's perhaps time to think about why this is and what else can be done with the concept. While I'm always deeply cautious about theoretical, nebulous "games should be this" and "games must do that" arguments, I'm talking about something with a decent number of more or less successful and more or less relevant precedents that could not only provide a new lease of life for the MMO experiment, but also lead to some of the most profound and amazing gaming experiences available.