What is #GamerGate Currently Ruining

So I did an overhaul on whatisgamergatecurrentlyruining and threw a blog on there to keep track of past ruinings. I’m gonna try to keep the summaries of what’s going on to a paragraph or so in length, because there are a ton of people doing long-ass writeups on GG and their tantrums, and sometimes you don’t want to bury yourself in all that shit, you know? But since I’m reading it anyway, I’ll summarize it and give you some more links, if you want ’em. So far I’ve done Calgary Expo and the Hugo Awards, but let me know (here or on Twitter, I turned off comments there because of reasons) if there are other things you want quick summaries of and I’ll throw some more entries together.

The View From Thedas: On Preferring Kirkwall

Okay, so I’ve been replaying Dragon Age 2, and I’ve played Inquisition through a couple of times, and I need to get something off my chest: Dragon Age 2 was more fun than Inquisition.

By most gaming standards, Inquisition is a better game. Its fights are more strategically interesting and its battle system is at least original by Western RPG standards, its world is huge and ambitious, and its characters are quite pretty. Your Keep, Skyhold, is marginally customizable, huge, and changes over time in a way that reflects the story’s progress. Etc, etc– there’s been enormous amounts of e-ink spilled on Inquisition already, and I don’t think I need to beat that dead horse.

Dragon Age 2, on the other hand, repeatedly uses the same dungeon layouts. The manor layouts are so repetitive that one assumes the Dwarven Merchant’s Guild must own Kirkwall’s equivalent of KB Homes. The whole game rarely leaves Kirkwall and the Greater Kirkwall Metropolitan Area, and you could probably fit all of its settings within any of Inquisition’s 10 or so explorable areas 4 or 5 times over.

Dragon Age 2, though, for all of its flaws, told a story that dealt with topics I’m deeply interested in and did it well. Everyone in DA2 had an established relationship with everyone else, and that story was told through cutscenes and banter both. It was likely that a visit to Isabella would show her talking with another party member; they all seemed to drop in on each other fairly regularly. More than that, they all seemed to hang around Hawke for little reason other than friendship after the first act, and because of the 3-year gaps between Acts 1 and 2 and again between 2 and 3, they all have between 6 and 7 years to get to know each other.

In Inquisition, though, most of the conversations between party members seems to just be them feeling each other out, figuring out how to get to know each other. Part of this is because the banter system isn’t very good and doesn’t fire often enough, so players don’t always get all the banter that the game actually provides. But the cutscene part that you get in Dragon Age 2 just isn’t there. Sure, there are a few times where you walk in and the advisers are talking to each other, and there’s that time Dorian plays chess with Cullen, but it’s clear that their relationship is mostly one of coworkers.

I think the most telling place where the differences between the characterization, storytelling and interpersonal relationships in DA2 and Inquisition is shown is with Varric. In DA2, we have Varric as the somewhat unreliable narrator of the whole game, and no matter who you romance, his relationship with the protagonist, Hawke, is the beating heart of the narrative. Varric’s exaggerations, his jokes, and his affection and love for Hawke shows through every time the game breaks away from the main narrative to show him telling the story.

His relationship to the Inquisitor is never really that well-defined, nor is his relationship to the rest of the Inquisition. The main person we see him interacting much with is Cassandra, and generally they just fight; the only relationship that his personality really shows through in is with the human-formed spirit Cole, who he sort of adopts.

The moments we get to see in Inquisition are spaced far apart, because the game is paced so slowly compared to Dragon Age 2, and though many of them are fun, they don’t have the richness that the interpersonal relationships in the previous two games had.

It almost seems like the scope of Inquisition means that there’s less room in it for what really made the Dragon Age series feel, well, like a Bioware game. Maybe there is as much of the interpersonal writing in it as there is in other games, but if there is, it’s stretched thin. A lot of the game content is in the kind of boring sidequests that I expect more of an Elder Scrolls game, and while some of those have the kind of interesting worldbuilding reveals that nerds like me adore, few of them were all that interesting ways to get to know the NPCs better. Even many of the quests done for the party members and advisers were just fetch quests.

I think one of the major problems with Inquisition is that it’s trying to be too many things at once. It adds in a totally new fighting system, horseback riding (and a full mount system that includes a few dozen different critters you can ride), the entire War Table mechanic, the entire system for customizing the base, and a really ambitious set of places to explore. It really feels like it’s trying to be a regular RPG that gets sold to people who like to play regular RPGs and not just the kind of weird character-loving romance-drooling-over fan-nerds who are so into the first two games, and I think maybe they’re trying so hard to figure out how to do all of this new stuff that they’re letting themselves slide on what makes their games so much fun.

Every time I step back into Kirkwall and am greeted by Varric’s sarcasm, Merrill’s wide-eyed amazement and Isabella fighting with Aveline I remember why I love these games: they’re stories about a bunch of dorks who love each other and sometimes help fight evil or whatever. In the end, I’ll take that over customizable castles and dracolisk mounts any day.

#NewHugoCategories

BIGOTRY UPDATE: noted racist Vox Day and some of his ilk have decided to attempt to ruin the Hugo Awards and harnessed themselves to GamerGate, and many of the genre’s noted shitheels (Will Shetterly, etc) have been jumping in to talk about how terrible “social justice warriors” are. I’m not gonna link to them all, because they are infuriating and because they’re exercising the same tactic that #GamerGate constantly uses where they flail around with terrible opinions and attempt to waste people’s time and act indignant when they are told that they are not entitled to anyone’s time and attention + sic their awful fans on them for more harassment/threats/etc.

Anyway, the good news is that this has led to hashtag fun over on Twitter. We’ve been coming up with ideas for new Hugo award categories. A bit of them are riffing on the current ridiculous awfulness, but mostly we’re just all making sci-fi jokes. Here are mine!

The View From Thedas: “Find a way forward.”

The following post has spoilers for the ending of the quest “In Your Heart Shall Burn”, which ends the first act of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I’ve been thinking a lot for a while about how the gaming medium can do things that other formats can’t, and one of the major ones is by making things in-game react differently than you expect them to. This is something we see in a big way in Depression Quest, which does a good job of using the UI that we’re used to seeing in games and other programs, to choose what is and isn’t clickable; when the protagonist doesn’t have the mental energy to do some of the things that depressed people are told that they “should” do, those options still show up, but you’re taunted by your inability to actually do them. It’s a really smart way of showing something using gameplay that you wouldn’t be able to just explain.

I’ve been thinking a lot about running in games for several years, because when I was growing up and I played games on the living room TV, my mom always commented on the fact that the game protagonists always ran everywhere. I usually showed her that I could walk, but except in rare games such as Morrowind where the protagonist gets “tired” in a way that makes them less able to cast spells or attack, there isn’t much reason to walk instead of run.

Dragon Age: Inquisition does a good job of using this always-running expectation, plus the way you get used to running animations, to effect your sense of story.

For those who haven’t played it, Dragon Age: Inquisition starts out with the protagonist and their friends/colleagues working out of the poorly fortified mountain village of Haven. The first part of the game ends dramatically with an assault on the village and the council of advisers leading the village’s inhabitants and what is left of the military forces that the protagonist has spent most of the game gathering out of Haven through a series of secret hidden tunnels. Meanwhile, the protagonist and three friends use the one trebuchet that has not been (dramatically) destroyed to collapse the mountain on the invading army, which destroys the village in the process.

Since there wouldn’t be much of a game otherwise, the protagonist miraculously survives by falling into some of Haven’s tunnels, but this is where the game designers made some interesting choices.

For one, you aren’t able to run at first. You’re injured and tired, and so the protagonist sort of stumbles along and is only able to get up to a light jog as their top speed. There are several stretches of tunnel that you run through doing this, and then you’re thrown outside, where it is obvious that the wind is keeping you from even walking very quickly. The animations change several more times, and the protagonist has to shield their eyes from the wind and snow. There are several scenes of struggling through the snow, and except when you stop to inspect a campsite, you never actually say anything, but there are audible gasps and struggling noises as you attempt to make your way through it.

the Herald struggles through the snow

In games, you’re used to your onscreen character responding in certain ways, and there’s a very visceral component to that. It’s the reason a lot of us end up leaning in the direction we want our character to go in addition to the standard “edge of your seat” type reactions many people experience while watching movies; even though we don’t expect our characters to respond to our movements, we still make them, often without thinking.

That visceral sympathy ends up being why we react badly to characters behaving in ways we don’t expect, particularly in the case of bugs and glitches. But there are ways to subvert our expectations of how our onscreen avatar would respond to certain things, and it’s hard not to feel a little bit of how the protagonist feels when they’re struggling through that snowstorm, since you are used to commanding your character to move forward and having them do so at a run with the same running animations you’ve seen for the past 15-20 hours of gameplay. Of course, the whiteout of the blizzard, the occasional completely black screens accompanied by the barely audible struggle-sounds of the voice actor that you’ve grown used to being your voice are part of it. But it’s almost all in the deliberate slowness of the movement and the walking/jogging animation changes.

The part of the game that comes right after this is basically a series of dramatic cutscenes, and though they’re absolutely beautiful– the cinematography of DA:I is probably the best I’ve seen in any game I’ve ever played– they didn’t give me anywhere near the connection to my character that I got from watching the mighty Herald of Andraste struggle to walk through a blizzard.

Monday Recs

I have decided to try to do a thing where every Monday I recommend a handful of things to you, my readers. What kinds of things? WHO KNOWS! Maybe it’ll be STUFF! Maybe BOOKS! Maybe LINKS!

  1. This Logitech Trackball Mouse: You button with your fingers and scroll with your thumb and I am so spoiled because I have used this for a few years and it’s really nice. I like it a lot for gaming in particular, but I find it a lot more pleasant and less painful on my hands, especially since I can just put it up and use it anywhere without worrying about it being a good surface for mousing on. It goes through batteries really slow, too, which I am amazed by.
  2. Cheat Engine for Dragon Age: Inquisition: If you’re playing DA:I, this gives you a button that triggers banter and a button that lets you wear your armor in Skyhold so you aren’t wearing those hideous beige pajamas in half the game’s dramatic cutscenes. Thank Andraste.
  3. Seraphina and Shadow Scale: I’ve talked a bit about these here before, but I really, really love these books. They’re really well-written, funny, and sweet, with great characters, good social justice themes, some major gay characters and one minor trans character, and incredibly rich worldbuilding. I really like the non-action-hero protagonist and general lack of violence as a default-problem-solving-mechanic, because I’m pretty bored with that in SFF, so it’s a nice change.
  4. poop.bike: it’s a website called poop.bike, what can I say about that really

some similarities between #GamerGate and the “War on Christmas”

There’s probably a name for the thing where a bunch of members of a sociological majority group develops a weird persecution complex over attempts to:

  • recognize existing diversity and be more inclusive
  • be less socially harmful by promoting marginalizing narratives
  • make more money by expanding your demographic to include marginalized people who might want to see characters like themselves
  • recognize an existing demographic that already is consuming your product and try to make it more friendly to them
  • otherwise not be so much of a misogynist/racist/religiously bigoted/transphobic/ethnocentric/etc dickbag

but dang does this happen a lot.

I’ve been thinking about the thing that Fox News types do every year where they flip their shit over the “war on Christmas”, as if attempting to be religiously inclusive is an attack on them. It’s this weird thing majority groups do where they co-opt a bit of social justice stuff and act like not being the only group being catered to is an attempt to persecute that group. I’m pretty sure it’s disingenuous; the alternative is that it’s just plain ignorant.

Anyway, if you hadn’t figured it out, I’m talking about how #GamerGate and its ilk react to cultural criticism of video games and video game companies choosing to make more diverse games. They do it a bit differently than the War on Christmas types, who lose their shit in somewhat different ways, but it’s a very similar conservative backlash. The War on Christmas people claim that they’re being religiously oppressed because their faith isn’t catered directly to; the #GamerGaters claim that they’re being oppressed by female characters who don’t all have improbably large breasts without support. War on Christmas people pretend that calls for inclusive language are government censorship; #GamerGate does the same thing.

It’s possible that #GamerGate is better at harassing its ideological opponents (IE, people who are reasonable and think that their terrible opinions are awful) and threatening them into silence, but I’m not sure exactly what the backlash ends up being on people who get called out on Fox News by one of their popular pundits than what happens when TotalBiscuit or Adam Baldwin does the same thing on Twitter; the bigot backlash is clearer on Twitter since the hatemongers and their mobs are using the same medium as their targets, and they’re able to coordinate more effectively. But it’s still a pretty similar type of conservative backlash that happens when people have their privilege challenged, and it’s depressing that it manages to claim so many adherents who fuck up so many lives.

Chris Mancil compares using an anti-harassment blockbot to McCarthy-era blacklists, acts like a tool

Electronic Arts game dev Chris Mancil posted a disingenuous load of shit on his blog today, but it was sort of a platonic ideal of the kind of disengenuous shit written by boring cishet men who think their opinions matter, so I’m gonna take that shit apart, alright?

I’m just not a fan of collective punishment, or guilt by association.

It is not punishment for people to protect themselves from harassers. Collective blocking is an attempt to keep assholes out of our mentions, because no one is entitled to our time.

These two tactics in real life usually lead to terrible results by stripping individuals of their agency and humanity. In warfare, dehumanization and ‘othering’ allows more flexibility for the troops, and their administrators, to you know – temporarily abandon ethics and morality, for the greater good, and other such mindless rationalizations. A dangerous but all too familiar historical phenomena in war, but also with strong roots in our entertainment history – such as the Hollywood Blacklists for communist sympathizers.

This manages to combine the first geek social fallacy with a conflation of the actions of private individuals and government. It’s something you see a lot with people who think they are entitled to audience because they have freedom of speech or that they should be free of the consequences of speech, such as getting fired from your job for being racist on the internet, which isn’t how free speech works. This is the same kind of logic that leads people to those conclusions.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a misogynistic, transphobicopportunistic  douchebag with shady business dealings working for an extremely unethical “journalism” website. Deciding to follow this dude, retweet him, or take his work seriously is a pretty big sign that even if you aren’t an outright misogynist, you really don’t give a shit about women, because this guy is awful about us. But even if you don’t care about sexism for whatever reason, he’s an unethical, shitty dude with really bad opinions who hates gamers, and both his jokes and his rhetoric are pretty stale, so it’s kind of a sign that you have pretty bad taste and/or judgement, which is a good enough reason to unfollow/block you.

The idea that a piece of technology that allows individuals to not have to block every gamergate sea lion and his 100+ sockpuppet accounts is comparable to McCarthy-era blacklists is ridiculous.

In any event, good-bye 2,355 gaming twitter followers whom I shall miss.  I will happily be buddies with all of you again, but I won’t unfriend anyone, to be a friend of yours. And I would never ask you to do the same.

It is a perfectly reasonable request to ask that people stop being friends with your abuser and to choose not to keep people in your life if they will not do that. GamerGate is an abusive movement and Yiannopoulos is one of its ringleaders; he has helped create and foster that culture of abuse.

I skimmed a bit more of Mancil’s blog and Twitter: unsurprisingly, he identifies as a libertarian, loved American Sniper, and I think it’s possible that The Scarlet Letter is the only book he’s ever read. His ex-followers aren’t gonna be missing much.

the Owen/Aurini split and the inability of the manosphere to deal with criticism

I want to make sure that we aren’t so busy laughing at the Jordan Owen/Davis Aurini split that we miss a particularly interesting bit of that narrative.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, let me give you a quick overview: Davis Aurini is a misogynist, racist jackass and Jordan Owen is a misogynist who really loves porn; both have YouTube channels where they talk about their obsessions. They decided to make a “documentary” about how terrible feminist games critic Anita Sarkeesian is and a bunch of virulently misogynistic nerds lined up to throw money at them. Last week, Owen fired Aurini, who came out, guns blazing, to yell about how terrible Owen is, and managed to be such a creepy dick about the whole thing that he actually made Owen look halfway decent, which is saying a lot, because Owen’s a weirdo turd.

Anyway, this team breakup was over Roosh V, a star of the extremely creepy pick up artist community and admitted rapist; Owen criticized him in a way Aurini didn’t like and refused to delete the videos and apologize.

There’s a narrative I’ve seen a lot from people who are mad about Anita Sarkeesian, whether those people are GamerGaters, Men’s Rights Activists or members of some other hate group, and that is that they fundamentally don’t understand criticism. I’ve talked about a bit this before, and I noticed that some of the comments that post got on Tumblr was from GamerGaters who were convinced that Sarkeesian was a hypocrite because she criticized games created by women; she even criticized works by people she talks to and works with.

It’s this fundamental thing that says that any criticism of anything means, basically, “THIS IS TRASH, THROW IT OUT”, no matter what it’s accompanied by. Sarkeesian explains this in her very first video, but I’m guessing actually listening to her is out of the question for these people. This has been happening since long before gaming; when Carolyn Petit gave Grand Theft Auto V a 9/10 but commented on the sexism in it, she was inundated with abuse and calls for her to be fired.

It’s interesting to see that this inability for this group of people to actually disagree with each other sans pitchforks and torches ends up applying in group as well as outside of it, and that they are just as unable to be politic about their fellows happening to be less OK with rapists than they expected as they are about people saying that maybe there are some problems with video games.

It gives me a bit of hope to think that maybe this will lead to all of these hate groups turn on each other and self-destruct, but after sort of vaguely following the manosphere for a few years, it seems like these splits just make them create their own spinoff websites and declare themselves Different From Those Other Misogynists. Still, maybe the time it’ll take for each little faction to set up their own website will take away a bit of their attention from woman-hating, and if they keep splitting up regularly maybe they’ll all hate each other too much to be able to organize any harassment campaigns. I won’t hold my breath, but surely it’s worth crossing my fingers. After all, with how few GamerGaters there actually are, it only has to happen a few hundred more times for none of them to be able to stomach talking to each other!

Goat Simulator: the best destructive sandbox of all time

Let’s not lie about this, okay? The most fun part of building sandcastles and playing with blocks is knocking everything down. The button that blows everything up is the best part about KidPix. Driving around in places you shouldn’t drive in and seeing what stuff you can break is the best part of Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row. Burning everything down is the best part of the Sims. I could go on.

Goat Simulator is better than all of these games, and is likely to be the best sandbox-where-you-can-fuck-shit-up game of all time, for one simple reason: it is about goats.

My goat ruins dinner.

My goat ruins dinner.

The most fun way to play games where you can destroy things is to play chaotic neutral, that is, according to whim without regard for any kind of morality. It’s really hard to do this, in my experience, when playing any kind of human character, because no matter how cool the structure looks blowing up, it’s hard to conscious exploding up an orphanage, even a virtual one. It’s hard to not play human characters like they’re at least somewhat human, so we still tend to make relatively human decisions when we play games like Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row.

Goat Simulator is better at this thing all these games are trying to do than any of them are, because you literally are doing nothing else. You are running around wrecking shit and becoming Goat God and flying on jetpacks because why the fuck not. Yeah, sure, Saint’s Row lets you become an old-school, laughable Batman villain, wrecking everything for the sake of it while dressing ridiculously and somehow maintaining a plotline. But they all fall down on one fundamental front, and that is that the unrealistically “evil for the sake of it” villains you can play in games like Saint’s Row, the rugged morally grey jackass protags of GTA and even the many varied types of protagonists one can create and even roleplay in games like the Elder Scrolls titles are not ultimate agents of uncaring (but not evil) destruction.

They are not, and never will be, goats.

My goat stands in the remains of a wrecked gas station.

My goat stands in the remains of a wrecked gas station.

Goats are not restricted by human morality. Crashing into a party onto a jetpack and setting oneself and half the guests on fire is not done with malice when it is done by the protagonist-goat of Goat Simulator; it is simply what one does as a goat who has been granted the powers of flight. And that is basically what Goat Simulator does: it sets up a bunch of amusing situations to run around in and destroy and then it allows you to choose between a bunch of goat superpowers, which you get in addition to general indestructibility and an incredibly long tongue that sticks to everything.

Goat Simulator manages to combine the best part of open-world sandbox games with the absurdity and destruction that previously we were only able to get in Katamari Damacy, and it does so in a way that even Katamari didn’t manage: it does it without forcing you towards any particular goal. There’s no ruling the city, no making the biggest katamari possible, no end goal other than “be a goat; fuck shit up”. The achievement system, the level design full of what would be called easter eggs if they didn’t make up a significant portion of the game’s content, the workshop creations of the community: that’s all gravy on top of what is a pure, morality-free tribute to the human urge towards destruction. And that’s beautiful.

(This post is adapted from a metafilter comment)

The View From Thedas: the Relative Unimportance of the Warden

“The View from Thedas” is a series of shorter posts about Bioware’s series of Dragon Age video games; the rest of my Dragon Age posts can be found here. This post contains spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II and some small ones about Inquisition.

My favorite detail about the Dragon Age universe right now is that by the time Inquisition rolls around, the hero of the first game (the Warden/Hero of Ferelden) is pretty unimportant.

Almost every mainstream RPG makes it feel like the protagonist’s actions will save the world and without them everyone is doomed. It certainly feels, in Dragon Age: Origins, like your actions matter. But I really enjoy how small-time the Warden seems by the time you get to the end of the series. Being the Hero of Ferelden is a big deal in Ferelden itself, but once you’re seeing the world through the eyes of Inquisition’s Herald, it feels a bit like the protagonist of Origins is the hero of some backwater. It’s like being the Hero of Southeast Iowa or something, except it has a global reputation for being dirty and smelling like wet dog.

I love this. I love that the character you spent hours in the shoes of is, several games later, a historical side note; they’re likely just well-connected footnotes in the stories of Leliana and Flemeth.

It’s an interesting comparison to Hawke, who ends up being a lot more notable because they end up basically failing to stop all of the disasters that happen throughout Dragon Age II; they’re important because they’re Varric’s companion and he’s the one writing everything down, because they were there when Anders managed to set off the mage rebellion that sets the events of Inquisition in motion, and because they end up being improbably well-connected, which is sort of a side effect of the narrative style in which you have to do a lot of worldbuilding and narrative setup through the eyes of a single first-person protagonist. Hawke is, arguably, more historically important to Thedas because they failed to stop all of these problems, so their story gets to continue.

The Warden managed to stop the Blight before it managed to get out of the borders of the dog-smelling country people don’t really care a lot about internationally. That’s a lot less historically relevant than the combination of failing to stop a rebellion, letting the chaos-causing red lyrium out of the Deep Roads to fuck everything up on the surface, befriending Prince Sebastian before he got all weird about conquering Kirkwall*, and everything else that Hawke accidentally set in motion or was present for. It’s also been really fun putting together everything that was happening during Origins, since you see some of that in DA2 but they really have to flesh out what was happening in the rest of the world during that time.

*apparently this is different depending on what you did to Anders in DAII, but I can’t bring myself to kill him