This Is The End…Of The Year

A semester at school has come and gone. I’ve spent a lot of time gaming, sure, but as is evidenced by this blog, I’ve also spent a lot of time learning not only about the industry, but on how to really convey arguments and opinions in an interesting manner.

The gaming industry is fast-paced and constantly changing. Information about video games, whether about software, hardware, developers, or publishers comes comes out every single day. In order to meet this demand for info, websites need to constantly update and post the info. Of course, websites will also publish opinion pieces, but the reason we visit these websites is to find out more about the industry we know and love. Writing for this blog and learning how to research about the industry has taught me the importance of weeding out the factual or the intriguing, from the false and the boring. Even making a few posts here and there throughout the semester has really shown me the difficulty of being a journalist.

Games, much like blogs and news websites, make arguments of their own. Whether making metafictive arguments or bringing people together through online communities, gaming has improved and entertained the lives of many. Even the many numerous problems in the industry have helped to evolve gaming for the better. They teach us about critical thought, morality, teamwork, and, most important of all, gaming has entertained us.

More than movies and books, gaming is immersive entertainment because of its interactive nature. It makes us active in a story-telling, problem-solving, and sense-stimulating adventure all written on a disc or a cartridge. Gaming has taught me so much, and not just by playing, but by writing about them, too. New Year’s resolutions are often never truly accomplished, but I do want to make it my goal throughout the next year to post more blog entries, expand my critical and rhetorical argument abilities, and continue to immerse myself in the industry I love.

GamerGate

It is a common assertion that people are afraid of change. Why try something new and potentially uncomfortable, when you can stick with what you know? Unfortunately, this type of mindset impedes progress. Without change or new points of view, our perspectives stagnate, and culture suffers because of it. The video game industry is currently undergoing a similar type of change, albeit in a controversial way. This change is the GamerGate movement.


What is GamerGate?

GamerGate is a movement made to combat unethical video game journalism. The supporters believe that the journalistic side of the game industry is corrupt, relying on inter-personal relationships for praiseworthy reviews. However, an overwhelming majority of detractors state that the movement is built on foundations of misogyny, fighting against a diverse gaming community.

The movement was given its name by actor Adam Baldwin, who, on August 27, created the hashtag #GamerGate when posting links to videos by Internet Aristrocrat.

(Note: After recent attacks on his character and channel, Internet Aristocrat has removed his YouTube channel)

In the early years of gaming, the community was comprised primarily of men, and thus the industry catered to its largest audience: young males. As time went on, however, video games became more accessible and the community became more diverse. The introduction of casual games, like Bejeweled, created a clear dichotomy between “casual gamers” and “hardcore gamers”. The community now consists of gamers of all types, all genders, all peoples, united by a love of interactive entertainment. Nonetheless, the hardcore community began to feel as though their area of interest was being taken over by undeserving people. A superiority complex of sorts began to enter the minds of some of these more extreme gamers, even further creating a separation between themselves and the ever-diversifying community.


Anita Sarkeesian and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games

On May 17, 2012, Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian announced a Kickstarter for Tropes vs. Women in Video Gamesa YouTube series which would examine gender tropes in gaming. Asking for $6000 to produce five videos, the project quickly began to accommodate stretch goals as the base-amount needed for the project was funded within 24 hours. As well as praise from the gaming community for exploring an oft-discussed issue, Sarkeesian also received hate mail, death threats, and disparaging comments.

The first video in her series, “Damsel in Distress: Part 1” (shown above), was released on March 7, 2013, after nine months of development. Up until the release of the video, critics were wondering how Sarkeesian was utilizing the money from the campaign, going so far as to say that the entire crowdfund was a hoax in order to receive “free” money. After the videos began to come out, however, the harassment shifted to attempting to remove her videos from YouTube and giving the videos overwhelmingly negative ratings and comments. Sarkeesian was so affected by some of these comments and threats, she disclosed on Twitter:

So far, six videos have been released in the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, the most recent one being released on August 25, 2014.


Zoe Quinn

Critics and supporters of the GamerGate say that the movement essentially starts and ends with one woman: Zoe Quinn. Quinn is an independent video game developer and the creator of Depression Quest, an interactive fiction game. Shortly after Depression Quest was released to primarily positive reviews, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, created the blog The Zoe Post. Gjoni revealed information about his and Quinn’s relationship, including how she had been involved in an affair with a Kotaku journalist and others.

What some got out of The Zoe Post was that Quinn had been trading sexual favors in order to receive positive reviews under-the-table for her game. This belief made people furious, for the corruption inherent in so many other forms of media had, in their minds, come to light in their own industry.Quinn became the target of harassment, including the hacking of her Tumblr page, the posting of personal information online, and numerous death and rape threats.

Controversy around Quinn grew even larger after a game jam developed by The Fine Young Capitalists, a feminist group created to help establish initiatives for under-represented members of the video game industry, was attacked by Quinn on social media. TFYC stated that the jam would consist of pitches submitted only by women, five of which would be voted on and nominated for crowd-funding, and the game with the most money would be developed by a team of professional developers, with a portion going to the woman who pitched the project, a portion to TFYC for funding other projects, and the rest to charity. Quinn, using Twitter as her primary shouting-point, called the jam exploitative and transphobic. TFYC lost much of their support, until an unexpected intervention from 4chan. Members of 4chan helped to produce videos with TFYC about major female figures in the game industry, as well as donating over $5000 to the group’s Indiegogo campaign. As a reward for their donation, 4chan was allowed to create a character to appear in the winning game and, after much discussion, Vivian James, an ordinary female gamer, was created.

Vivian James, an average female gamer, conceptualized by 4chan.


What Each Side is Fighting For

Supporters of GamerGate believe that video game journalism is corrupt and needs to be reformed. Concerns of journalistic integrity became significantly more apparent after it was discovered that several game journalists were contributing to Zoe Quinn’s Patreon page, as well as Quinn receiving an award for an indie video game competition, judged by someone with whom she was having an affair. The movement’s supporters want fair representation in gaming media, for both men and women. Ultimately, it’s not even about gender or gaming to them; GamerGate is, in supporter’s minds, about how we define a shared culture identity.

Critics of GamerGate claim that the movement is motivated by misogyny and creating a clear divide between male and female gamers. The targets of harassment in the movement have received exceptionally violent messages, to the point where women like Sarkeesian and Quinn do not feel safe in their own homes. Many people, including game developer Phil Fish, who supported Quinn were also the subject of harassment, hacking, and threats. They feel as though many of the claims against Quinn were made falsely and that the supporters have not identified any major ethical issues in gaming media. To them, GamerGate is a new, violent, widespread way of displaying misogyny within the video game industry in a much more broad way.


#GameOverGate and 4chan Censoring

In early September, Quinn had found an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) which, according to her, was evidence that the GamerGate movement was created by 4chan in order to become a new platform for harassing women. She soon created the hashtag #GameOverGate, as a mocking way of saying that the movement was now proven to be false. In response, Alexander Macris, co-founder of gaming website The Escapist, visited the same IRC and, in an article posted on the website, demonstrated how Quinn had taken many images out of context, with many of the comments written by trolls who were shortly thereafter banned.

Not long after the IRC incident, 4chan, a bastion of free-speech on the internet, became a new target of censorship. Posts discussing GamerGate, on any of the forum’s different boards, were removed and their posters’ banned. Website creator Christopher “moot” Poole made a post explaining how posting personal information had been banned on the website since its creation. Members of 4chan were unhappy with Poole, claiming that he never had issues with people’s personal information being posted before and that the reason there was controversy now was due to him becoming friendlier with people like Quinn, allowing Tumblr moderators to become new moderators for 4chan.


 Recent Harassment

In mid-October, Sarkeesian was to give a lecture at Utah State University. Having received a death threat, which claimed that the most violent school shooting in history would occur if she spoke, Sarkeesian discovered that USU was legally not allowed to forbid concealed firearms in the lecture hall. Despite requesting searches or metal detectors, the USU administration stated that in accordance with the law, they could not restrict entrance to someone who was carrying a concealed weapon, as long as the person has a valid permit. Fearing for her life, Sarkeesian cancelled the lecture. Some GamerGate supporters have claimed that Sarkeesian made-up the threat as a false-flag.

Later that month, actress and gamer Felicia Day made a post on her website discussing the GamerGate movement and explaining that due to fear of being lashed out at, has refrained from talking about her concerns for so long. One of the first comments to her post was Day’s home address and other personal information. Actor Wil Wheaton and former NFL player Chris Kluwe, both male gamers, also posted major criticisms against GamerGate, but neither Wheaton nor Kluwe were the subject of any form of harassment, leading many to believe the misogynistic intent behind the movement.

Supporters, on the other hand, have also received harassing emails and threats. Journalist Milo Yiannopoulos received a syringe in the mail, while YouTube personality Steven “boogie2988” Williams found comments on his videos with his home address, as well as threats towards his wife’s life.

On November 21, the Independent Game Developers Association (IGDA) created a Twitter bot which would automatically block anyone who followed specific Twitter accounts related to GamerGate leaders.


Where Does This Leave Us?

GamerGate is, for obvious reasons, a highly controversial subject. Members of each side of the issue have legitimate claims; supporters want fair representation in gaming media, and detractors want an end to harassment and misogyny in the game industry. However, extremists on both sides have led to an explosion of vitriolic hate from both parties. Harassment has been thrown around on both sides, with supporters being called “sexist and discriminatory basement dwellers” and detractors being called “overly-sensitive and fueling false social justice”. The divisions between the two sides are ultimately continuing to fuel the conflict. The core message of the movement is being lost in a gender argument. Until there can be reconciliation, the gap between the groups will only continue to grow. Actor Richard Sommer was quoted saying:

Gaming has been a great way to get to know people. That’s part of what I love about games, that they are social.

The video game industry was founded on the notion of a tight-knit community of impassioned people. Once the community can fully and fairly accept its brethren and sistren, can this community flourish into a shining example of equality and acceptance.

Preview: GamerGate

Logo for the GamerGate Movement.

Oh come on, let’s face it. You can’t have a gaming blog nowadays without talking about GamerGate.

In a few short months, it’s become one of the largest issues in the video game industry. Supporters of the movement are fighting for ethical journalism and equality of representation, while detractors state that it’s a mysoginistic war against female gamers and the diversity of gaming culture. It’s a hotbed issue, filled with misinformation and anger on both sides. But there are still people, gamers and nongamers alike, who are asking the same question: what the hell is GamerGate?

Within the coming weeks, I will be performing an exploration of GamerGate. I will start by introducing Anita Sarkeesian and her show Feminist Frequency and Zoe Quinn and the allegations made against her, then discuss the fallout between major journalist groups like Kotaku and the gaming community at large, then talk about the points being made on both sides (as well as the extremists), and finally end by presenting the effects of GamerGate and how it affects the gaming community and game journalism.

I will attempt, to the best of my abilities, to avoid taking a side on this issue. I’m not writing this article to give commentary, but merely to post a factual dissection on the newest revolution in gaming and how it could potentially affect the industry for years to come. Using the blog, I will use hyperlinks, videos, information from other websites, quotes from industry professionals, and other sources, to build one compilation source where, with the click of a button, one can find whatever additional information one needs for clarification. This issue is one rooted (obviously) in the gaming world, one of the many spheres of new media. It is only appropriate that the search for answers be found using other new media sources, especially given the fact that new information is disclosed about GamerGate on a near-daily basis, with the info being uploaded primarily to websites.

Given all of this, I hope you’re looking forward to GamerGate.

Unfulfilled Destiny: What Developers Promise and What’s Delivered

Game developers make promises. There’s nothing wrong with that: they want to sell us a product and satisfy a demand, so they claim that they will do something to satisfy that demand. However, when those promises outstrip the execution of that product, that’s when the promises become an issue.

Some games tend to become the victim of a “hype-train”; the excitement and anticipation around the game build to unrealistic proportions, to the point that when the game is finally released, no one is satisfied. These games end up being disappointing, examples of what could have been. So seeing these major giants rise and fall numerous times has made us callous and unable to fall for the hype again…right?

Destiny, one of the biggest games ever made, is one of the newest victims of the hype-train. I should know; I fell for it, as did many other gamers. I wanted so badly to believe that it would be the generation-defining game that it claimed to be, but when it ultimately came out, I, like thousands of other games, groaned in disbelief when the final product proved itself to be a boring and repetitive joke. That’s ultimately what it is now: a joke, a cruel prank played upon us by Bungie and Activision. I’m sure the intent was not to create a mediocre game; they obviously wanted it to sell big. But unfortunately, the intention was crushed by its execution.

We, as a gaming community, need to learn to not buy into the hype. We must investigate each game on a case-by-case basis and determine, individually, whether the game will live up to expectations or not. Otherwise, these games could become the next Destiny.

God, I hope Mass Effect 4 doesn’t suck…

Ludonarrative Dissonance in Modern Gaming

Woah, that’s a pretty wordy title. Let’s see if we can condense and contextualize it.

When we play video games, we experience the gameplay (ludology) and the story (narratology) attempting to entertain and immerse us in the game’s universe (no, this won’t be a talk about hyperreality and immersion, but it is related). Developers want us to be immersed in the games they create; they want us to continue playing the game so we praise it and help the developer to sell more units. It really is as utilitarian as it seems. When we cannot immerse ourselves, we aren’t entertained by the game, and we either sell the game back to a retailer, tell our friends not to buy the game, or both. This is something developers attempt to work against. However, due to the sole fact that the game is, in fact, a “game” and not reality, the gameplay often comes into conflict with the story the game is attempting to tell. This, when gameplay and story contradict one another, is ludonarrative dissonance.

The term was first coined by game developer Clint Hocking, in a 2007 article about how the themes of selflessness presented in Bioshock‘s story are at odds with the rewards of selfishness in its gameplay. I’m going to outline how three modern video games, all released in 2013, are affected by this contention of gameplay and storytelling.


Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider acts as a prequel to the critically-acclaimed franchise. Before she became a world-famous archaeologist and adventurer, Lara Croft goes on her first exploration on a deserted Japanese island, shrouded in mystery and mythology, as she attempts to find her friends after their ship crashes offshore. Stumbling through the forest, she is even squeamish about killing deer for food; she is uncomfortable with weapons. Fast-forward a little bit and she’s attacked by a crazed man attempting to rape and murder her. In an act of self-defense, she shoots the man, killing him. Before this point, you are not given any weapons. As you play, however, you learn to pick up items, interact with the environment, and finally, you’re given the ability to fight against humanoid enemies with weaponry. Within the process of play, you’re taught how to affect the environment with your items, and so when you finally get your hands on a gun, you use your gamer instincts to kill. And kill. And kill. You slaughter hundreds of humans throughout the remainder of the game without a second thought. The game inherently encourages your acts of violence while telling you that Lara is discouraged by them. What should be a difficult and traumatic act for Lara has become trivialized in the context of action-adventure gameplay. Though the game attempts to make Lara more comfortable with killing after shooting her would-be-rapist in the head, it doesn’t make sense how she is now okay with mowing through other people as easily as a war veteran.


Bioshock Infinite

The protagonist of Bioshock Infinite, Booker DeWitt, is given a task by enigmatic figures, who tell him to “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt,” a vague set of instructions that has the private detective travelling to the paradisaical city of Columbus, hidden above the clouds, to steal away Elizabeth, the daughter of the city’s leader and chief religious figure. Given the importance of this task, and the fact that you’re being chased by the city’s police force for being a False Prophet, you would expect to find and extract Elizabeth as quickly as possible. But between fighting through Father Comstock’s unending army, you search through trash cans and alleyways to find health-replenishing food. Booker becomes the epitome of a glutton, chasing away seagulls for a few bites at a half-eaten hot dog. Finding restorative items makes sense to us as gamers; the character is hurt and needs to replenish his/her health. You can accomplish this by using medical kits found throughout the city, but as these are few and far between, your primary source of healing comes from sifting through the Colombians’ refuse.

I want to quickly address, however, a concern that many analysts had with Bioshock Infinite‘s gameplay, chiefly the amount of violence in it. Most critics had an issue with the fact that the gameplay was violent, as this did not reflect the nature of Booker’s character, in a similar vein to Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. However, the violence in Tomb Raider is dissonant because Lara goes from never having killed to massacring hundreds with barely any transition; she does not come from a violent background. Booker, on the other hand, is a veteran of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where over 150 Lakota Native Americans died. Booker is a war veteran who has experience with violence and weapons. The fact that he fights through Comstock’s forces in Columbia is not a ludonarrative issue.


The Last of Us

The Last of Us, despite being my favorite game of 2013, is not free from the grips of ludonarrative dissonance. Twenty years after a fungal epidemic plagues the planet, grizzled smuggler Joel attempts to escort Ellie, a young girl who is somehow the key to a vaccine, across the country. The visuals are breathtaking, the story is heart-wrenching, and the gameplay is…well, it has problems. It’s your standard third-person shooter, with the added difficulty of stealth and survival horror elements. Going into an encounter guns-blazing is not the best option, so you’re forced to scrounge for materials in a post-apocalyptic world and take out soldiers, gang members, and Infected as sneakily as possible. Each of these elements adds to the narrative the developers are trying to create, but in an effort to ease frustration on the part of the player, they have instead created a hilariously dissonant gameplay element: Ellie cannot be seen in stealth. Sure, enemies can attack and grab her once you’ve made your presence known, but while you’re skulking in dark corners, the AI cannot see Ellie, even when she’s literally right in front of them. Yes, it makes sense from a gameplay perspective to not punish the player for the work of the companion AI, but from a narrative perspective, it makes little to no sense why these bloodthirsty and vicious enemies don’t notice a fourteen-year old, foul-mouthed, badass girl.


Ian Bogost, in his article on procedural rhetoric, discusses how the inherent rules of a video game can reflect and make arguments about the real world because of its interactive nature. Each of the aforementioned games attempt to follow this process by having a story that is reflected through its gameplay. However, when the gameplay and storytelling elements clash, it is ultimately the gameplay that wins out because of the very definition of a game: it is a digital, interactive, structured form of play. Storytelling and art can be part of how the game is experienced, but it is the rules and forms of play itself that inform how a game truly is a game. So because the story is so integral to these games, to the point where it can affect how the gameplay is experienced, ludonarrative dissonance occurs and we are forced to reconsider the processes by which we create and enforce the rules of a game.

Nintendo Campus Challenge

Retro video game collector and reviewer Pat “The NES Punk” Contri, in the above video, said that, “[The Nintendo World Championships are] a part of Nintendo and video game history. They’re a part of our culture. Those games represent the point where Nintendo dominated our society.” Many years after the devastating Video Game Crash of 1983, gaming was starting to take the world by storm again. And what company sat upon the throne of cartridges and ruled the world of video games? None other than Nintendo. Nintendo has always been one of my favorite developers and publishers; The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is in my top three all-time favorite games. I grew up playing all sorts of games on my NES and SNES, and now I have begun to build up my own retro game collection. It’s safe to say that I’m a huge fan of the company.

Wouldn’t you trust this face? (Credit to ThePunkEffect)

Nintendo Wold Championships is considered a Holy Grail among game collectors. The cartridges used in the 1990 competition are some of the most rare and expensive NES games ever sold. However, looking on Wikipedia one day, I found an article discussing a lesser-known Nintendo competition, one not as recognized by the gaming community at large: the Nintendo Campus Challenge. Two competitions were held, one in 1991 and one in 1992, compelling gamers at universities across the country to compete and prove themselves to be the “college valedictorian of videogames.” The cartridges used in the Campus Challenge are even more rare than the much sought-after Nintendo World Championships cartridges; scarce amounts of the competition cartridges are known to exist, selling for tens of thousands of dollars online. The article itself was, unfortunately, rather bare and missing quite a lot of information, so I attempted to fill it in where I could.

In more recent years, gaming has taken the center-stage in the entertainment industry. The worldwide video game industry is worth nearly one-hundred billion dollars. Series like Call of Duty sell millions of copies within their first week of release. E-Sports competitions, like the League of Legends World Championship, are watched by tens of millions of people around the world. Gaming is increasing in its popularity, but every now and then, it’s nice to remind ourselves of the popularity it had in the past. People still remember the days when Nintendo was at the forefront of gaming innovation. when competitions like the Nintendo Campus Challenge still occurred.

Two of the only Nintendo Campus Challenge cartridges in existence. Left: NCC 1991 cartridge. Right: NCC 1992 cartridge.

Two of the only Nintendo Campus Challenge cartridges in existence. LEFT: NCC 1991 cartridge. RIGHT: NCC 1992 cartridge.

We Play: How YouTube is Creating an Interactive Community

Gaming has, quite obviously, evolved in recent years. Whereas in its earliest, arcade years, video games were about obtain the highest scores, games are now about “the experience.” Games try to incorporate you into their worlds, have you empathize with their characters, and positively change you as a person. Above all, though, games try to be fun or interesting, if not both. Regardless of the game’s goals, if you enjoy playing it, you’ll want to share it. In the past, you’d have to invite a friend over and either swap the controller every few turns or play a multiplayer game. Nowadays, modern consoles, like the Playstation 4, have “Share” functions that allow you to post a screenshot or video to the Internet. Video games are best when the experience of play, whether single-player or multiplayer, is shared. And this is best shown through the interactive community of YouTube.

I started using YouTube back in middle school, when a friend of mine videos that people had made of tracks in a game called Line Rider. I was shocked by the sheer skill that these people had in creating seemingly-impossible tracks. So, using YouTube, I began finding more Line Rider videos. And then more gaming videos. And then random videos. The Related Videos sidebar became a hypertext highway that I could access with my fingertips and a little thought power. I wanted to be a part of this experience. YouTube, and other content creation websites, allowed anyone to make an account and share their content with the world. So I made a channel, posted a couple of videos to it, and, after a few months where the majority of the views came from me refreshing the page, I closed it down.

Watching more popular channels like Smosh or the PBS Idea Channel, I realized how they could succeed in the over-saturated market of YouTube, where literally millions post videos every day. It’s because these channels engage with their own specific audiences in their own specific rhetorical styles. They aren’t trying to make everyone happy; they understand the audience to whom their videos are catered. These people, through years of practice (and sometimes failure), figured out the craftsmanship behind their field, and thus learned the psychological and marketing techniques that allow them to succeed. Anyone can post a video; these people are creating content. Content which anyone can interact with.

Credit to WikiHow.

Pick a random video on YouTube. Go ahead, I’ll wait; it’s not like this page is going anywhere anytime soon. Now, take a look at the entire page the video is located on. You’ll see comments, related videos, video responses; anyone who has a YouTube account can reply to a video (or say something completely different). The discourse community for the Internet has widened even further.

So how does this relate to gaming? Think about it: people can post videos sharing their gaming experiences! Whether in a game review or, now more commonly, Let’s Plays, anyone can share their experience with a game to the world and add their own viewpoints. Popular channels like Angry Video Game Nerd or PewDiePie thrive because they are enjoyable to watch (to some) and can, at times, offer insightful commentary. I certainly got into channels like these, my favorite being Game Grumps.

Having met the Grumps before, I can say that they offered some of the most insightful and friendly comments I’ve heard from any celebrity. These people are not only genuinely entertaining on their own channel, but they’re super inclusive and always welcome discourse with the community. Whether discussing their favorite games, issues within the gaming industry, or something as random as their favorite cereals, the Grumps enjoy simply talking with their “lovelies,” regardless of the subject. Arin, Danny, Ross, Barry, and Suzy care about the community. And the inspiration they imparted onto me has led me to attempt another YouTube channel. The barrier for entry may be large, the market may be over-saturated with less-professional channels, and the chances of popularity may be slim, but that’s unimportant. What matters now is that my co-host and I are adding our own voice to the community. We’re using YouTube to its fullest extent: to reach out to a specific community and add our own voice to the discussion.

Me hanging out with Arin and Suzy of Game Grumps. What beautiful people.