These are comments about Greenlight, Fun, Art, and Women

I had the idea for a comments post when writing a comment on this article, talking about first-person shooters and war. While my comment was hurried, and unpolished, I thought I had something relevant to say. I tweeted the comment so more people could read it. I got a couple of appreciative replies.

Sometimes I’ve felt that typing a lengthy or well thought out comment on someone else’s site, while nice for them, doesn’t leave me with much. I spend time (and some times make money) writing well; unless I’m sure I’ll get some interesting discussion from it (almost a given on say, Electron Dance), it can feel like a waste to put time into writing a well reasoned point into a comment. In contrast, if I simply write a response article, I feel like I’m taking something away from the original site, which created content good enough to make me what to comment.

So I’ve decided to save all my comments, and make a weekly feature out of it. It will make sure everything I write related to games in a week gets onto this site, and give me more incentive to get out there and read more sites, which I admit I don’t do as often as I’d like. It’s a great leverage of time — I’m reading, engaging other sites/writers, and in the process “automatically” creating content for my own site. It will also serve as a weekly link roundup for what I’ve been reading this week. Tweets may also be included.

And a disclaimer: these comments will typically be of “first draft” quality. They are hurried, rushed, and sometimes even have typos (lots of them). I’m going to leave them as is. When I post an article here, it typically goes through several drafts, but for the comments, I think it’s more honest to leave them as they are. Also: knowing me, I’d spend way too much time trying to polish up the writing.


 On “Steam Goes Green” by Tap Repeatedly

Read the article, by Amanda AJ Lange.

I commented:

“One thing I continue to admire about Valve is their approach of, “we don’t really know, but we think we’ll learn a lot.” People are overlooking, right now, that such an attitude is often why they end up catering to their users so much, in ways other companies don’t.

At launch it was clear Greenlight was not fully thought through. There were simple blunders that could have been avoided. But part of Valve’s appeal is their adaptability. They are learning. Unfortunately, their learning curve in the case of Greenlight is literally costing people money.

We can’t say Greenlight has failed. Thus far, it is not working as well as it could. But it is not over, and will continue to change.”

 On “A Weaponized Machine” by Electron Dance

Read the article, by Joel Goodwin (Harbour Master, HM).

I commented:

Joel– As always, I appreciate the earnestness of your writing. I took a different approach when writing my piece on the Greenlight mess, trying to be as disinterested an observer as possible.

Speaking personally, I do like Jonas’s games (big fan of Alphaland). I think there’s an unnecessary dissonance right now among developers and commenters on this issue. Not all games can or should be commercial, not all of them can or should be widely known. This is a good thing. When indie film was going through a surge in America (and else where) around the early 90s, if you had a tape of some indie foreign film, the less known it was, the more street-cred it had (assuming it was any good). Some games will always be overlooked, except by a few people (like on this blog and others) and among the people who recognize them they’ll often be lauded; then all we indie hipsters will lament how the “mainstream” doesn’t understand what they’re missing.

What so much of the indie scene isn’t willing to admit is that if a game like The Infinite Ocean had a marketing campaign and a banner ad on some major site, it might be easier to ignore through the subconscious part of the indie scene that says, “nah man, that’s not indie – skip.”

And yes, a few stars will rise, be criticized for going “mainstream” or selling out. Christopher Nolan made a little movie called Following out of film school, a movie shot with family and friends, where most of the interior shots have actors placed by windows because they had literally no lighting equipment. No he makes Batman movies with budgets in the hundreds of millions. I guess he’s not indie anymore. I guess that’s bad either.

And then after some thoughtful replies by Joel and others, and I commented again:

@EVERYONE– This is a good discussion. I wish the topic had been handled with as much civility everywhere.

@Joel– Just realizing how many typos are in my first comment. >.> You’re right about more obscure indie titles; a lot of them don’t make money or lose money. Why I’m still encouraged, is that at one point the equipment and software wasn’t affordable enough for many of those same games to even exist. The ecosystem for discovery wasn’t democratized enough (self distribution is more common, and often preferable for everyone). I think discovery is still the biggest hurdle, but that these games can be created at all (and better, cheaper ways emerging), I think is worth celebrating.

Like I touched on in my article, people are fiercely protective of group identity. It’s not just people who label themselves “indie” it’s that if they’re part of an “indie scene” they somehow care more about how the group is defined. Not unique to gaming, but always strange for me to watch as someone who is extremely individualist. In a way, I applaud Jonas for being able to wash his hands of it and say, “you can have it.” Maybe that’s the thing — simply not classifying it anymore. You may be right to just call them all devs and nevermind with all the indie nonsense.

@Jonas– Hello, sir. Wanted you to know I read your article three times before writing mine; read all 191 comments (at the time) twice. I agree at your use of the word privileged, because you actively (and without getting angry) engaged people who questioned it. What you said (I’m paraphrasing) really stuck with me: you said you weren’t angry some people live the way they do, that everyone should get to live that well or better, but we should all be aware of those who don’t and count ourselves grateful for things we’ve benefited from but didn’t earn (i.e: where we’re born, etc).

@Switchbreak– The video you link to about racism and discussing it is appropriate. People should really watch it.

@Stephen– You’re correct about people saying classist things out of ignorance, and not malice. What saddened me was watching Jonas address comment after comment (calmly, for the most part) explaining to people why what they were saying was classist, and a lot of them responding with more classist cliches, like they skipped Jonas’s comments altogether. Some people did respond though, which was encouraging.

 On “Limits of Fun” by Unlimited Lives Blog

Read the article by, Mike Schiller.

I commented:

Well neither Citizen Kane or Taxi Driver is a “fun” movie. Citizen Kane is heralded because of its advancement of things like cinematography.

As much as I’m encouraged to see games willing to step outside of “fun” in order to deliver a narrative, or invoke a theme, I’m always hearing Will Wright’s voice in my head, “Play is the thing, play is the thing…”

We underestimate and undervalue play, as if it isn’t enough to teach us, or simply to enjoy. There are lots of things that can be “un-fun” and valuable, but play is inherent because it’s valuable and fun.

Our money doesn’t have to exclusively be applied towards things that are “fun” or those that are not; my money goes to both, and will continue to. Further, fun and “experiences that offer a range of emotional responses” aren’t mutually exclusive. Having fun is an emotional response, so if you want a range of those, wouldn’t including fun make sense?

Then Mike replied, and I commented again:

I’m a huge film geek, but I’m not one of the ones that reveres Citizen Kane. I think we need something more like Reservoir Dogs (or a couple of other films from the early 90s American Indie movement) in gaming now.

I think what you said about a full range of emotional responses, including fun, is correct. I don’t appreciate a game that goes out of its way to be un-fun, but I appreciate anything (game or otherwise) that is honest. If the narrative, characters or theme aren’t fun, but it’s an honest expression, then I support it. I’d prefer fun, but I think I know what you’re saying about full range of meaning, even if it’s not light hearted.

 On “Pulling the Wings Off Fairies” by Shallow Depths

Read the article by, Cha Holland.

I commented:

I found interesting what you said about creativity being more inherent than rationality. I think creativity really flourished in human history once things like water, food, and shelter had been established. Initially a person’s entire day, their entire range of physical and mental capabilities, went to staying alive – avoiding predators, gathering or hunting food, finding water, making shelter, etc. Once society reached a point where the basic needs of survival could be assured, groups got larger, matters of identity within a group became more complex, and a field where art could flourish arose. I think we are more practical than creative; rationality as a term has more subjectivity. It’s off topic, but I thought it was an interesting distinction.

I think the best artists willing demystify their own work. From Stephen King, to Quentin Tarantino’s, to Bungie, to Sarasate — there’s a kind of confident charm in those who are bold enough to decipher their own craft in a few pithy words. It’s refreshing, and inspiring. So I agree, art and it’s creation should be demystified. But I think those who try their hand at art will find, the mystery comes not in sitting, watching, commenting, and wondering about the mystery of it all, but in creating. We get lost in the sea of things we feel and know inside, trying desperately to quell the fervency long enough to carve something relevant out of all that clay, express something that has meaning for someone else, too.

That why there are “keys” as you call them. Those are clues past artists have left us, because they know it’s easy to get lost in everything you want to say. As a writer (particularly when screenwriting), I know how important “show, don’t tell” is.

There is no wrong way to express yourself. If, as an artist, you feel you’ve said what you wanted to, you’ve done it right. But if you want your material to connect with others and be relevant, it’s best to use a few “keys”, because they’ve been left by people who have succeeded at touching us, at playing telepathy with raw emotion across space and time, being themselves, and making us feel us feel better about doing the same.

 On “Women in Games: Are We Doing It Wrong?” by Twinfinite

Read the full article by, Christopher Hadlock.

I commented:

As a full-time human being who enjoys reading intelligent writing, this article is incredibly disappointing. You started with, “Topic X that I’m about to write about is interesting.” Do not tell us the topic is interesting, discuss the compelling elements of it, present your views. If you chose to write on it, and we’ve decided to read it, we all agree it’s interesting.

The most disturbing thing is that throughout the piece you seem unwilling to commit to a statement. You said a particular character isn’t bad, just boring. But a boring character is a bad character. You said women are sometimes “held down” by men in the industry, but then quickly reversed and said you don’t “really buy that”.

I think the reason you don’t buy that is because you believe women are at fault for their own under representation. I’ll speculate that you read about this topic elsewhere, and the idea of women being treated unfairly in games caused you some kind of guilt. Instead of processing that guilt, and accepting there are inherent gender biases, you’ve done what a lot of guilty people in a majority do, blame a minority for their own problems. I don’t even think it’s appropriate to class women as a minority, but for lack of a better word…

If you’re saying women are responsible for making better female characters, you’re also saying that all the great male characters exist because men are better at creating gender representative roles. Nevermind that most of the male characters in games are gross stereotypes that don’t represent a lot of gamers that play them, you’re assuming some inherent superiority in men, that women lack something and that’s the reason they haven’t made better female characters for themselves.

Zoe is correct; when I’m talking with my female friends, they’re often excited for the same games I am – the good ones. As for characters and their creation, any writer, regardless of gender, should be aiming to create distinct, compelling characters, regardless of gender. The men who are particularly good at writing female characters will say they don’t think of it as writing “female characters” just writing a good character.

I know this will be the third critical comment, but I don’t want you to feel attacked and I’m sure the other commenters don’t either. Just take a step back, take a deep breath, don’t try to justify or argue, and just think about why you decided to blame women for the under representation or poor representation of women in games. Maybe talk to some female devs and try to understand their views more (Zoe is one who’s commented).


Posted on September 16, 2012

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One response to “These are comments about Greenlight, Fun, Art, and Women”

  1. Jordan Rivas says:

    Wow. I have a LOT of typos in these comments.

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