The Sunday Papers

By John Walker on January 12th, 2014 at 12:00 pm.

Sundays are for plotting your gruesome destruction of the planet Earth. But before you do, take a look at some interesting morsels of games writing we’ve noticed this week.

  • One of the most beautifully written and compelling articles I’ve ever read kicks us off this week: Christian Donlan’s extraordinary piece on the role of Monopoly in the Second World War. Weaving in takes of his own grandfather into this peculiar and audacious tale, it’s so good I wanted a whole book of it. And now for someone to option it and make it into a film.

    “That set gave my grandfather his war stories. Spared the dangers of actual combat, he worked at a nearby farm handling the bookkeeping during the week, and he built up a dazzling property portfolio and crushed his competitors in his spare time. Long days in the camp meant that the prisoners quickly adapted the rules of the game so that a single match could take a fortnight to unfold and then they played and played and played. Europe burned, Russia was driven back into the black mud of the Eastern Front, the Blitz rained fire from the sky over St Pauls (and as far north as Glasgow). As for my grandfather? My grandfather learned the value of nabbing all the oranges quickly, so as to capitalise on any unfortunates rolling to get out of jail.”

  • Polygon’s Colin Campbell tells the tale of the little eSports team that couldn’t, and the team owner who simply disappeared. “On Dec. 7, Boudreault tweeted, ‘Hopes got crushed. Broken Dreams & whatever.’ Then he disappeared. Senior personnel connected with the team have not been able to track him down or speak to him. He has refused repeated calls from colleagues, team-members, media and even the team’s sponsor.”
  • Cara Ellison has come up with a really good idea. Crowd fundraising platform Patreon is a place where creatives can seek money from interested patrons in order to create for them. Cara’s pitch is to do what she does best: spend time with interesting people, and report the experience. Looking to confirm her position as the gaming world’s Louis Theroux, she intends to embed herself with some of the most interesting people in the games industry, and write about that time. It sounds splendid, although I think her £1000 per article target was too low. Fortunately, she’s already at £1500, and you can make that higher. “I hope you will gain insight into their life and work with me as a lens. I am very serious about this ‘embedded game journalism’. I feel like everyone’s art comes from somewhere, and I am determined to find out where. It’s something I don’t want to rush, either.”
  • Sophie Houlden has written a very personal piece about her realisation that of all the characters she’s written for her games, none has ever been transsexual. And even when writing about a character who is intended to be a cypher for herself, even she is not trans*. The piece brutally honestly explores this, explores the possible prejudices that may be behind it, and is absolutely heartbreaking. “And this happens in a hundred other ways too. It is *exceptionally* harder for me to leave the house since moving back home because there are people here who knew me before I ‘transitioned’. I’ve seen the looks old school-friends give me and one-another when I’m near. The fear of *that* social experience far outweighs the fear that maybe some stranger in a checkout queue might talk to me about something insignificant. As a result, I haven’t left the house for months.”
  • A somewhat under-reported piece of news this week has been Intel’s pledge to make their chips “conflict free”. We do rather like to forget where the various elements that make up our PCs and smartphones come from, but in a peculiarly sudden sombre moment in Intel’s CES show, the tone suddenly switched from Gabe Newell shilling Intel chips in Steam machines to an honest and heartfelt confession of a serious problem. And then a promise to do something about it. You can see the moment it happens here. The BBC reported the story here.
  • Brendan Vance misses the manual. And that’s because he has to spend so much of his life developing the interactive tutorials that have replaced them, disliked by everyone, including him. The Cult Of The Peacock is a fascinating essay about design, the theory of design, and peacocks. “It’s easy to forget that at one time all videogames had manuals. I used to like reading manuals. Manuals were cool. Now, instead of manuals, we have interactive tutorials. They take about fifty times longer to produce, three times longer to consume, and players hate them so much that their highest aspiration is to become completely transparent. Currently I spend most of my waking hours developing them. It should come as no surprise that I hate them too.”

Music this week is Julianna Barwick, because I’ve been listening to her incredible album Nepenthe all week. I’ve picked a live performance from KEXP, because I think it does far more justice to how incredible she is. (Although it is admittedly pretty jarring how the presenter comes off the back of the pieces chatting like he’s advertising sofas, rather than gasping and clawing for words like a human would.)

.

161 Comments »

  1. smokiespliff says:

    Thanks for the music, John

    • Lambchops says:

      Nepenthe has been one of the soundtracks to my thesis writing, it’s a wonderful thing to have floating away in the background.

  2. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Re: Manuals, this is something that has become a much more pronounced issue since the advent of Steam Sales. In the past, when I bought fewer titles, I would go through the necessary pain of learning and then get In The Zone with the game’s control system, from which point its just “I fancy sitting down and having a blast”. Being ok at the game and just having fun was easier to come by.

    However, when I have just bought about 35 million new games, If I want to try them all out, I am suddenly faced with several less rewarding, more frustrating learning phases, one after the other. Realising that this was meaning I was never even starting so many of the Steam sales games I bought, I have now decided to just suck up the agony of tutorials and muddle through, but it very much brings into relief the difficulty of FUN tutorial design. If I really like a game, I may be more likely to go and read a manual (in fact I’ve often found myself looking for one to understand a game more deeply), but I may be less inclined to do that from the off (X3 Terran Conflict’s 100 plus page offering springs to mind).

    I tend to find the best way is just if the game chucks me in a mission, and succinctly drip feeds me what to do (and why) as I go. Hold my hand for a while, then cast me off, with a little note to let me know where I can look when I get stuck.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Very much, one thousand times, this.

    • Imaginary Llamas says:

      When reading that article I couldn’t help but think that the guy’s main reason for disliking interactive tutorials was that he was making them for people who won’t read them because they don’t have that much interest in the game in the first place.
      I don’t really get the hate on interactive tutorials – obviously ones which are both unskippable and VERY basic are intensely annoying (Black & White being a prime example), but most of the time they’re not that bad. If you’re considering people who are perfectly happy to devote a little more time to learning a game, then a tutorial like CookPass describes is fine.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Oddly, I’d probably let Black & White off, just because it kind of fit its weird left-field approach to everything. And I don’t even actually like the game. Fallout 2 is usually the undispited king of “awful mandatory tutorial” hell.

        I used to love sitting down and consuming a manual for a new game but, yes, a new game used to be a rarer thing. There’s no way I want to sit and read through a twenty, thirty-page PDF for everything in my Steam/GOG/Humble libraries; I want to get on with it and play. Like any other software, that means consistent, discoverable, and intuitive interface is a must unless you’ve got a strong, strong draw to overlook that (e.g. Dwarf Fortress, which has utterly terrible UI/UX design—and I don’t mean that it looks like the Matrix, but things like it using a different random smattering of cursor keys in different contexts).

        Bad tutorials are like having software try to launch its help file in your face when you start it. Nobody wants to read that. They’ll muddle through and guess and improvise and only actually read documentation as an absolute last resort.

        Edit: Heh, should’ve read the article first. I don’t really buy his “it’s hard to designers” part of the argument, though, because frankly that’s your job—you are the minority being paid to suffer working out how to make this thing work well, so that the paying majority don’t.

        • DrScuttles says:

          And yet Fallout 2 (and also Fallout 1) had a wonderful manual full of pertinent information, wit, illustrations and survival recipes. So there’s absolutely no defence for the Temple of Trials.

          • AngusPrune says:

            Also, I believe the manual actually told you step by step how to complete the tutorial. Or maybe I’m thinking of Fallout 1. Still, any manual that came with recipes in the back has to be considered a masterpiece. One day I will cook carrion kabobs. One day.

        • Wulfram says:

          I don’t think he’s asking for sympathy, just saying that it’s an inefficient use of resources.

      • dE says:

        The problem with tutorials (at least for me) comes from one single problem: They’re not reactive. I get that people need to be taught how to play the game. That’s fine. But when you subject me, a gaming methusalem basically, to a tutorial that tells me how to move using WSAD, I feel patronized. It annoys the hell out of me that I can’t get past it and often times when the game introduces a mechanic, I’ve already been using it for the last 30 minutes.
        I think it would help Tutorials quite a bit if they were more reactive. In my personal tutorial fantasy it would go like this:
        The game drops you into the world and just observes how you do. Do you know how to move on your own? Oh yes, you do, I can see you moving around quite well – skip movement tutorial. Do you know how to open doors? Oh, yes absolutely, well skip world interaction tutorial. But do you know how to revive your teammate? You’ve been staring at him and hitting random buttons, let me show you. This way a person familiar with games would walk through an area and never see a hint of the tutorial, until that person finds that one part of the tutorial that introduces a new/different mechanic they don’t know yet. On the other hand, someone not familiar with games will get to figure things out on their own and if that don’t work, get help from the tutorial. Or a short tutorial that asks the player “Are you new or intermediate?” and in case of the second, only shows the things that are unique to that game and perhaps a bit odd to figure out.

        Instead we get games that teach you how to move, after it expected you to move and fight and oh also loot and climb for 30 minutes. Suddenly, at a point where you have learned many more mechanics all on your own, it tells you “By the way, you can use the left analog stick to move, cool isn’t it?”.

        • LionsPhil says:

          I think this is what Left 4 Dead 2′s learner prompts try to do.

          Black & White, humourously enough given its mention above, also had a system where it would show “tooltip”-like control reminders for actions, and fade them out more over time as its estimate of your confidence in performing that action increased. (I think they actually mentioned that it worked this way in the manual, which meant they had statically documented their interactive documentation. Really a strange melting pot of ideas, that thing.)

          It also helps if the tutorial is just an advice layer over the normal gamestate. Compare Civ 4, which runs a normal game with you in full control from turn one, but pops up non-mandatory “hey, you probably want to move this guy over here and settle a city” advice, to the absolute on-rails hatefulness of Firaxis’ XCOM.

          • Rich says:

            I’m one of those freaks that prefers the arrow keys to the traditional WASD, so that’s always the first thing I change when I start a new game. I can’t remember which game it was, but there was one that changed each key-binding back to its default as the tutorial voice told you what they did. Very annoying.

            Edit: Oops. That was a reply to dE

          • Gap Gen says:

            XCOM is a weird one; the management side of the game is hamstrung by the fact that the aliens are just simple reactive algorithms rather than an actual AI side trying to take you down, and also by the fact that the tutorial really doesn’t emphasise enough how much you need to buy all the satellites if you don’t want to have no money ever. Even the battles are basically slowly getting the enemy to react to being inside *your* field of vision, and normally missions going belly up are largely because you fanned out too fast and activated too many mobs at once. I liked the game, but it did feel quite restrictive even after the over-long tutorial.

          • dE says:

            I actually can’t remember the tutorial hints for Left 4 Dead 2 that much. I’m not sure that can attest to their attempt however. At least they didn’t stand out as much as in other games, like Assassins Creed. Black and White did try something like this? It’s too far in the past for me and I never really got past the first island. I can remember being more than a little fed up with the part where you had to throw and accurately hit something or else it wouldn’t progress. Am I remembering that wrong?

            Concerning Keybindings, I can imagine being annoyed at that. I remember a game that had hardcoded certain aspects of the input for whatever reason. So while it was possible to rebind the use key and it worked 80% of hte time, there were instances where the hardcoded aspect took over and demanded I use the standard key for use instead.
            I also imagine it’s a similiar frustration to those tutorials or sections where they don’t bother updating the keyprompts after you changed them. I remember the QTE in Resident Evil 4. “Press 1+4″ Okay. I’m pressing 1+4. Fail. What? I did press 1+4 for crying out loud? Try again. Again. Again. What the hell is going on. Oh, 1 is supposed to be y and 2 is actually d? What is this, live action cryptography? Luckily I’ve got a 360 gamepad nowadays, but this seems to be a pest that continues plagueing people using other gamepads to this day.

            And when it comes to game mechanics, I actually don’t like them reactive as that always makes me feel like the entire world revolves around me and the world comes to motion the second I show up. I prefer it if things happen on their own and the world merely reacts to me. X-Com is indeed guilty in that respect, I always wondered why the aliens always got an extra round after I found them. It’s almost like they were having a picnic and then got startled “oh damn, the player is here, folks – everyone into position asap and CUUUUT”.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Odd, I actually thought XCOM: EU had one of the better tutorials, and was going to use it as an example above. First, its skippable. Second, you are in a mission, being told what to do and why its important. It walks you through (IMO) fun mechanics such as flanking and grenade usage, it introduces cover, all the while (thirdly) filling in the opening story and background. It also gives you a starter on weapon fragments IIRC. For me it was a joy to play.

          • Baines says:

            Skippable tutorials have an issue in that you don’t necessarily know if you can afford to skip them unless you’ve already been through it. Sure, 95% of the tutorial might be immediate common sense, but you don’t know that the remaining 5% isn’t something really important. You skip the kindergarten tutorial that spent five minutes telling you about WASD movement and then spend the next 30 minutes or an hour either not knowing about some crucial function or searching through menus and configs to find how to do one particular task.

            As for XCOM:EU, I slogged through the whole tutorial on the off chance that it held something important. It didn’t really, at least nothing that I couldn’t have learned in a fraction of its time. But I didn’t know that, so I sat through the whole thing, having my hand held as the game told me the exact spots to move to and fire from, to research, and to build. (It doesn’t help that the game itself is a bit lifeless even after you get past the tutorial.)

      • geerad says:

        Here’s the thing (and he says something along these lines in the article, but I know this from personal experience): those annoying, unskippable tutorials are there for a reason. A certain percentage of players will always skip the tutorial if you let them. They will mash the button to close every dialog box. They will completely ignore voiceovers and on-screen text that tell them exactly what to do and repeat every 30 seconds. Then they will get frustrated and bored and hate your game.

        And for some reason you will always have at least one of these people in your focus tests.

        So you go back to the tutorial and you make it stronger. (Sometimes this is because of a command from on high, but it’s also true that most game devs are in it for the love, and they genuinely want want people to have a good time and not hate their game for such a stupid reason.) You say, no, actually, you do have to play the tutorial level when you first start the game. And tutorial is not going to let you move on until you press w, a, s, and d; yes, all four of them. Now press space bar to jump.

        Of course, this presumably feeds into player intolerance of tutorials: after suffering through another one of these handhold fests they’re more likely to disregard tutorials in future games. They assume it’s just basic stuff they already know how to do, until they miss something important and get frustrated, and the cycle continues.

        And that’s why you’re stuck playing a boring tutorial.

        • malkav11 says:

          I feel those people have made their own bed and should be left to lie in it without pitching the rest of us in as well. But this -has- long been a world where prats ruin things for the rest of us.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Thank you. This is a much more succinct rendering of exactly what I was thinking, minus rude language

          • Universal Quitter says:

            I won’t pull any punches. Fuck those people.

          • Baines says:

            While he seems to have gotten a bit better about it, you could see TotalBiscuit do such stuff in his older WTF Is videos. He’d skip right past tutorial text or images, and then spend the next five minutes or so failing to do what the tutorial had tried to tell him he could do. And as likely being negative about the game because he couldn’t figure it out.

        • Emeraude says:

          That’s the where the game are not a “utility product” part of the argument comes to the fore.

          Modern, assisted, gaming is producing games in which the execution of a verb, or set of verbs, has become the absolute end of the gaming process:
          - A teapot is an item that can contain and pour tea.
          - A game is a series of tasks that have to be executed and for which the player has to be rewarded (that’s the other half of modern gaming’s woes as far as I’m concerned: positive reinforcement is nowadays deemed the only acceptable affect – unless you’re designing a F2P micro-transaction laden game that is).

          The problem is that in the grander scheme of things that’s only infinitesimally true. It’s as true as saying a novel is a string of written words which have to be read. Design can help you make a book, not tell you how to write one (for every design tip one will give you in designing an art piece of any kind, you’ll find dozens of examples that are valued critically and not only do not adhere to the design tip, but succeeds because they did not submit to it).

          Quite often, exploring and deciphering the game space is integral part to the pleasure one takes in playing. Doing it *wrong* can be enjoyable. Often even regardless of whether it ultimately yields to learning.

          A recent example I suffered of those modern design sensibilities hurting my personal enjoyment: Playing Arkham Asylum, I was dodging around Bane , trying to see his full pattern, not to mention see if a couple of oblique strategies might work when the game decided that I was taking too long and flat out told me how to beat him (as if it was difficult to find). The thing is, I had hoped to play a game, not be played by it.

          Once we had manuals, documents that would tell you what verbs and interactions where in the game, then games that explored those verbs and interactions. A lot of modern gaming can reduced to being told in play what the verbs are, and what interactions you can expect from them. Then being rewarded in content for being able to execute what you’ve been told to do (I always come back to Portal a “game” that ends right after painstakingly teaching you what it does in some overextended tutorial, before ever exploring the possibilities it opened in any meaningful way – at least it manages to do all this rather gracefully, unlike many copycats).

        • strangeloup says:

          I dread to think what eldritch and terrible series of decisions led to making the Assassin’s Creed III tutorial about eight fucking hours long.

          Black Flag better be as good as people are saying, ’cause I really don’t want to suffer through that crap again. Nor the running through five miles of lovingly rendered sod all to get to the next mission everytime.

        • Josh W says:

          Let people turn off the tutorial, put the instructions of how to do it in the tutorial’s second message box, and require people to go to the menu to do it. Then the people who plow ahead will not read it, everyone else can get on with learning the game!

  3. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    I got a pretty strong DX:HR vibe from Intel’s conflict minerals video—not only the oddly flat and robotic voiceover, and the black and gold and polygonal maps, but also the rhetoric: “an easy answer is to stop sourcing these conflict minerals from the region—but is there something more we can all do to change conditions for the local people?” (a question that, like those in DXHR’s closing cutscenes, remained oddly unaddressed)

    • InternetBatman says:

      wrong response.

    • Josh W says:

      Yeah, it gives the impression that they still are getting them from the area, but from peaceful areas? In DX:HR world of course, they’d be sending in corporate spec ops to weaken militia’s control of the mines.

  4. Gap Gen says:

    The conflict-free chips thing is encouraging, assuming it’s not just a marketing stunt. In a global economy it’s hard to figure out what happens way down the supply chain as a consumer, so it’s good that companies are following this up. Then again, what counts as exploitation is always difficult; on one hand, factory workers in South East Asia can have terrible pay rates and work conditions compared to Western standards, but on the other things like the opening up of China to the global economy raised hundreds of millions out of poverty. Another problem with sourcing stuff like gold from ethical sources is that gold is whether once it gets melted down and flows into the global gold market whether conflict gold will then appear elsewhere. Plus it still doesn’t address the root causes of the chaos in parts of Africa, even if it does in theory limit sources of income for rebel groups.

    • ThTa says:

      It’s definitely an admirable goal, and I hope it will set a good precedent for many other foundries.
      However, properly keeping track of every stage of their supply line is going to be extremely difficult. Many sourcing areas are corrupt beyond belief (due in part to their instability, which in turn is due in part to the sheer amount of money that can be gained from these operations, it’s a bit of a vicious circle), so it’ll be incredibly difficult to certify their compliance to these “conflict free” standards through regular audits. The amount of money involved in these minerals also make it very viable for suppliers to sell their conflict minerals by proxy through corrupt but otherwise reputable distributors. (A lack of insight on the ground and some clever accounting goes a long way, just look at how De Beers managed to thrive despite being subject to a great deal of bans.)

    • InternetBatman says:

      It’s worth noting that new US rules are coming which force companies to declare if the minerals they use come from conflict areas. So yes, this is certainly a good move on Intel’s part, but it wasn’t wholly done without prodding or through altruism.

      • Lacero says:

        The PR coup is in getting their announcement out first. Now it looks like they’re leading the market rather than following the government.

  5. kwyjibo says:

    Emily Short reviews Gone Home.

    http://emshort.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/reading-and-hypothesis/

    She knows her interactive fiction better than you do.

    • mgardner says:

      Such a bold claim! Let’s test your hypothesis. Works of interactive fiction, Emily Short: about 30 and growing. Me: zero and stable. Hmm, looks like you are correct after all.

      Thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading the article.

    • Lambchops says:

      Thanks for this, not least because The Instance of the Fingerpost sounds like the kind of book that I will thoroughly enjoy.

      Also the final bit:

      “It might be the lede to an interesting essay about an individual’s response to a piece, but I wish we could stop treating cried-during-game as some kind of litmus test of art.”

      Is definitely something I can agree with.

    • Muzman says:

      It’s a good one to be sure. Although think she’s being almost as dismissive of some aspects of the game as she found Pears’ when he talked about interactive fiction.
      She wishes the house to disappear so she can just sort the documents? Spoken like a true lit nut. I don’t mean that disparagingly (well maybe a little). But people who like to bury themselves in intertexual meanderings and the other arcane refinements of the lit crit set are like that.
      It reminds me of many arguments with writers about why we wanted to do a given shot in a film when we could just have characters talking or text on a screen. The reception is different, is why. There’s no way that the words are solely responsible for the impact she found in the game (not that she’s explicitly saying this). It took the whole thing; minimal mechanics, repetition of action and lack of true player-character expression and all. Even if you’re aware on some level of what the game is doing, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still doing it.
      She even seems to fall into the argument about it being a “horror fakeout” that we’ve heard so much. It’s an argument I find irrelevant. It’s a different game if it’s brightly lit and peaceful. Mood matters, even when you know someone is applying it to achieve a certain effect. I liken the game to a neo-gothic tale, crossed with some realist 90s teen lit fare. There’s no real threat as such, but the house is still haunted. Hauntings used to be largely symbolic emotional things anyway in literature, not actual boogeymen coming to get you.
      It’s ironic that people who often complain it’s a horror fakeout are actually clever people who don’t want it to be a horror game anyway. “Don’t invoke horror if you’re not going to follow through” they seem to say, in the midst of arguing the game’s story or meaning is too simple; should be more inter/hypertextual and experimental. Genre corrals the imaginations of all of us it seems.

      Anyway, she’s not wrong. All the points about the player-character development and agency and so forth are correct (I’ve said the same thing myself). But there’s a tradition to that sort of detachment. I think it shows that the devs are from the FPS school more than the interactive fiction school.
      Someone should definitely try all the things she suggests in a game like Gone Home someday though.

      • strangeloup says:

        I found that Gone Home was actually a lot more unsettling (and generally moving, in assorted places) than any of the recent crop of ‘horror’ games I’ve played, which mostly seem to be things jumping out and going BOOGABOOGABOOGA and/or It’s Dark So Therefore Scary.

        Or Slenderman. Fuck Slenderman.

    • Noumenon says:

      I bet that some of the people who liked Emily’s article will like this short story about an interactive fiction game, The Clockwork Soldier. http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/liu_01_14/

  6. kwyjibo says:

    Sophie needs professional help. Transition is about self acceptance and social acceptance, and I’m not sure she’s doing either.

    And if transition is making your social anxiety worse, then maybe give it some pause and get help.

    • dmastri says:

      I agree with this. It seems Sophie needs to work on Sophie some more.

      I’m not an expert (so it’s entirely possible I’m going to say something accidentally offensive) and can only talk from my personal experiences, but I do have a friend who transitioned. She doesn’t refer to herself as trans or transexual – she refers to herself as she and that’s how we all view her. When she meets new people that didn’t know her from before she doesn’t introduce herself as a transexual… she introduces herself as herself. It’s not something that’s ever mentioned.

      I don’t mean to write off trans folks at all. It’s an area that so many of us just aren’t familiar and so it’s difficult to relate and empathize. I can understand Sophie wanting to relate her experiences via the medium she knows, and can appreciate how difficult that is for her living it at the same time, but I guess my question for Sophie and others like her… do you want us to identify you as a transexual? or as the gender you outwardly portray?

      Don’t mistake this for trying to stifle trans characters in arts and entertainment because I think, as a reflection of society, they absolutely belong there. I just wonder if being trans refers to the specific period of time when you are transitioning to your gender, or if it’s a lifelong label?

      • Geebs says:

        It’s interesting but sad that she doesn’t seem to want to be what she’s transitioning to any more than what she’s transitioning from; but it’s premature to try to diagnose somebody’s state of mind on the basis of an emotional blow-out on the internet.

      • TWChristine says:

        I think it really comes down to personal decision. There was (still is I think, though I haven’t gone in a long while) a transgender support group that I used to help with..helping them with makeup/walking in heels/etc. I went in expecting everyone to identify as female (or male, as we had several FtM members) and to at some point go through with SRS to fully align their body with their mind. I was surprised to find that there were several people who wanted to keep their genitals, while expressing themselves as female. We also had another member who didn’t feel that the label of either “male” or “female” applied to them, although they felt more-so along the lines of the former if they had to choose. And there were others that seemed to use “trans” as their identity. And like you, I think that was the one that shocked me the most. I kept thinking “But if this is who you truly are..why would you not say it, and instead ‘out yourself’?” I never actually asked the question, for fear that I would deeply offend them, so I guess the TL;DR version is just my opening sentence. However, I would add that there are some very tough variables going into play there. For instance, one of our members fully transitioned, had all her documents changed, and as far as anyone was considered was female, end of story. However, they were deeply troubled (and I can understand this) when it came to relationships because you want to be truthful to the person you are dating, but then it begets a never ending cycle of feeling for yourself that you really AREN’T female after-all, you’re just “trans” and that’s all you can ever be. And I think the same problem crops up in other relationships, particularly family ones. You WANT your family to see you as who you are, and they may call you by your chose name, and accept everything about you..but deep down there’s the feeling that they still see you as their little boy/girl. That has to be incredibly hard to deal with, and I’m sure part of that (along with plain old un-acceptance) is why so many trans people end up breaking away from their familial/friend relationships.

        Without knowing more about Sophie’s situation, it sounds like she is either in the process of transitioning (she mentioned going hungry instead of going out with facial hair because her razor broke), or simply doesn’t feel that she is passable enough. Even if that wasn’t the case, I would imagine running into people you used to know who manage to recognize you would cause you to question your pass-ability as a whole.

        I’ve written way more than I intended, and really at the end I agree with the above statements, that she really needs some professional help, and that’s never something to be ashamed of or looked down upon.

      • Gap Gen says:

        An underlying issue is quite how much people expect social role to be based on gender, even today. It’s probably easier for women to take on male traits than vice-versa, because this happened as a part of the women’s lib movement, whereas men liberating themselves from gender constraints is less explored because they already had more social power and didn’t need to break out of them quite so badly. In an ideal world, gender wouldn’t be a social expectation, and people could pick and choose their identity freely, but I have no idea when that’s likely to happen. Hell, (as a man) I’m unlikely to wear a dress in public any time soon because it’s simply easier to play along with expectations than fight them, even if I think “traditional” masculinity is pretty sad.

        • TWChristine says:

          I 100% agree. If a girl wears boy clothes, she’s seen simply as a tom-boy and for the most part it’s treated as a phase, or “kids will be kids” (although that is not to deny or belittle the fact that there are often girls that are incessantly bullied over it as well..it just seems to be more accepted) where if a young boy wants to play with dolls, or paint his nails, etc then the sky is falling.

          I have to say that while I was already quite aware of societal pressures/roles in regards to gender, working with trans people and the more I learned about it and the struggles many of them face has opened my eyes even further as to just how deeply gender permeates all levels and aspects of society. It’s really quite amazing in a way, and also quite sad in another.

          • Gap Gen says:

            I do folk dancing, and there are a few dances where you change couples frequently. The person I was dancing with wanted to do the “man’s” part, so I took the “woman’s” part, which meant I would be dancing with various men. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen quite how instinctively bigoted some people can be (as a white man, it’s quite hard to see prejudice otherwise), especially the older person who actually refused to continue dancing. Again, I think “masculinity” includes a deep fear of homosexuality that is somehow accepted as normal but is deeply poisonous.

          • TWChristine says:

            Agreed. There seems to be (among men for the most part) a strong aversion for anything that might in any possible way make someone question their sexuality. Kind of like the typical male hugging scene you might see on tv where two guys hug and then quickly pull apart, cross their arms, avoid eye contact, cough and go “Ahem-hem-hem! So uh..yea how about sports team!”

            Women often get the short end of the stick on..pretty much anything, but we can’t ignore the fact that we bring up our young men to feel that they must be emotional rocks at all times, and anything else is weakness. And by weakness that usually means what are seen as “feminine traits.” I’m always saddened when I see a coach tell his team that they “run like a girl” or “crying like a girl” or some stupid trash. And then I’m usually completely boggled when a mom does it to her son, essentially self-perpetuating the BS she has already had to endure.

          • Geebs says:

            Male acceptance of close contact/hugging or dancing together is culturally specific. So, no, homophobia-as-implied-by-not-wanting-to-dance isn’t an intrinsic male hetero thing.

          • TWChristine says:

            I wasn’t trying to imply that not wanting to dance was an intrinsic male homophobia attitude, so much as responding to the anecdote he listed.
            And I agree that behavior is definitely culture specific. My generalizing it around a western view is for the sake of brevity and because that is the culture in which I am a part of and critiquing.

        • joa says:

          Is it really so surprising that people expect social role to be influenced highly by gender?

          Gender goes a long way in determining a person’s way of thinking and how they view the world and relate to others. So it’s not a stretch to think that two people with very different ways of thinking are going to tend towards different social roles in society.

        • Unclepauly says:

          “Traditional” masculinity is not sad and does not include deep fear of homosexuality. It *IS* far from homosexuality though due to mother nature and hormones and such. I don’t get how anywhere on the sexual spectrum can be any more sad than any other. High masculinity should be accepted just as much as high femininity or trans or gay or any where on the spectrum. A man being born highly masculine should not be faulted for it.

          • Universal Quitter says:

            “It *IS* far from homosexuality though due to mother nature and hormones and such…. A man being born highly masculine should not be faulted for it.”

            This couldn’t be further from reality. I knew a couple gay soldiers in the military that were so masculine they’d shave with flint and chew up nails for breakfast.

            Seriously, though, gay men aren’t usually campy and “prissy.” That’s actually a minority of them. You can be “hypermasculine” (though it’s more like hyper-lame, IMO) and still be gay, Maybe you aren’t, but you don’t have to have bad, false generalizations in your head to not be gay, either.

        • dmastri says:

          How traditional is traditional masculinity though?

          As a history buff one of the things that always surprised me was how, historically, the friendships between men could be very intimate and they had no qualms expressing this love. Look at popular figures like Lincoln, or further back to the founding fathers, or further back to the Romans and Greeks… this homophobic version of masculinity seems to be a very recent invention.

    • Serenegoose says:

      The alternative to transition is, for many people, death. This isn’t a hyperbolic exaggeration. Consider this: if her situation is this bad, what must the alternative be? Because trans people don’t transition lightly. We know the odds of being murdered, of being miserable, of being the butt of jokes in movies, comedy shows, and wherever anybody else wants a cheap joke at an acceptable target. We’ve thought about this much, much more than anybody else has, I guarantee you. If someone doesn’t ‘just transition back’ consider that there may be more going on than you understand, and that as our society prefers it, being trans is just a wide array of really fucking shitty options. There isn’t a neat solution. Sorry.

      • kwyjibo says:

        I think she needs to get professional help, I hope her friends are encouraging her to seek it if she has not already. If your only outlet is the tumblr echo chamber, transition might seem the magic bullet to your crippling social anxiety – because shy girls are cute and happy, and shy guys are goomba substitutes.

        • Rizlar says:

          I would suggest you read a bit about transexuals and their motivations, because it’s really very far from what you are suggesting. But agree about seeking support for her issues, the internet is not the best place to be getting help with these things. Seems like she would be better off living somewhere else as well, around new people. Perhaps making the game about her experiences will give be helpful, cathartic, anyway.

  7. MSJ says:

    http://www.somethingawful.com/current-movie-reviews/retrospective-2013-review/4/

    Here’s an interesting article about the influence of video games in recent films. There are some obvious examples, like the use of first person perspectives in the two V/H/S films or how The Purge and Now You See Me have plots structured into ‘levels’. But it also goes into other aspects:

    I see “levels” more as several variegated locations. Marc Forster designed 2008′s Quantum of Solace so each fight would evoke a different “element”: earth; wind; fire; water. The Thor movies give us a garish Valhalla with a plenitude of settings and virtually every color we can imagine. Pain & Gain and Spring Breakers each run with Michael Mann’s famous Florida cinematography. Bay and Korine use their respective styles to shoot everything from dingy, gray hideouts to parties bursting with secondary colors. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, Abrams takes us from the crimson forests of Nibiru to the sterile Enterprise bridge to the drab wastelands of Qo’noS.

    But “levels” don’t always manifest as antagonists or places. Most of the Metal Gear games, for instance, have a protagonist explore one place in great depth. The last two Universal Soldier movies-both directed by John Hyams-feel nearly identical to Metal Gear games: the protagonist sneaks into a large, hostile compound and furtively kills his way to saving the day. Here, the “levels” manifest as shifting objectives within the story. With each sequence our hero has a different goal, something he needs to do right then.

    Do read the other 7 articles too, like the one about post-Occupy cinema and the other one about depiction of women in movies. Also the one about dicks in films (mostly symbolic and metaphorical ones).

    • Baines says:

      Article seems like it is stretching after the second paragraph.

      Directors that don’t play video games are still influenced by them because big-budget films use CG? Mentioning how videogames have cutscenes shot like films, while supporting the idea that films and games are blending together, only shows that movies are influencing games and not the reverse.

      POV stuff has been around for a while, but I don’t see people using it as an example of how the porn industry is influenced by videogames. Shorter scenes and more action could as easily be attributed to generally shorter attention spans. Videogames played a part in that, but it would have happened without them anyway.

      The section on levels is particularly shaky, as it seems to suggest that anything that doesn’t follow the typical three-act structure is similar to videogames. And that films that do follow the typical three-act structure are similar to videogames anyway. And that even if you don’t want to make the act connection, you can still claim that other stuff in a film is like levels in videogames. (The whole section ultimately comes down to shorter attention spans and viewers wanting more action. Again, something that would have happened without videogames.)

  8. SkittleDiddler says:

    I’ll start buying Intel products once they’re conflict-free and manufactured entirely in the USA. Maybe.

    • Ich Will says:

      Is the USA actually conflict free, what with it actively fighting in Afghanistan at the moment?

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        The USA is conflict free if you don’t count convenience store robberies, school shootings, and police assaults on innocent civilians. Afghanistan, on the other hand? Meh, it was kinda like that when we got there.

        • Ich Will says:

          That’s not what I mean, crime is different to war, but acts of terrorism by taliban sympathisers are acts of war. Given that there are thwarted plots on a monthly basis, it is clear that a significant number of enemies are operating on US soil and by UN definition makes the US an active part of the warzone that is the Afghanistan conflict.

          Therefore, by definition, Intel can no longer source products mined from the US, unless they are playing fast and loose with the definitions. If they are, then what’s the point, they may as well just list the countries they will no longer be using and the reasons why.

          • Geebs says:

            You’ve missed the point really. People aren’t getting displaced or killed in sufficient numbers (in the present day) in the continental US in order that somebody can keep them away from local natural resources. You’re diminishing the real political and ethical need to try to prevent suffering in international trade by making a rather juvenile “derr america is eevil amirate” argument.

            (plus it’s a good idea for intel, who admittedly aren’t exactly the most scrupulous of people, to be able to source materials from less troubled spots, or even to try to change manufacturing to limit dependence on e.g. China).

          • Ich Will says:

            I don’t think America is evil and I fully support their goals in Afghanistan (but thanks for tarring me with your own juvenile mindset). I’m being pedantic, not political and if I’m saying anything of value, it’s that Intel are making grander claims than they are actually going to do because publicity.

            Maybe you’re OK with companies making claims and not following through, I am not.

          • Geebs says:

            You’re more likely to die of a strangulated pile than an act of terrorism. Does that mean that intel can’t call their chips “haemorrhoid free”?

            Conflict free is a specific label for a specific mineral or the thing manufactured from it, in this context.

          • Michael Anson says:

            Terrorist acts are not “acts of war.” An act of war is when one large entity, such as a government or large corporation, attacks members of another government or large corporation. When a large entity targets non-combatants, that is a war crime, and when a small entity like al Qaeda targets non-combatants, it is terrorism. Stating that attacking non-combatants is the same as targeting combatants is a tactic that terrorists use to justify their wholesale murder of civilians they disapprove of, and accepting that viewpoint is giving the assault of non-combatants legitimacy.

          • Ich Will says:

            @ Michael, as a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, let me tell you, terrorist or army is merely a matter of perspective.

            @Geebs – Your example is dumb as shit, even more so because Intel do not claim that their chips are haemorrhoid free, nor would they ever make such a ludicrous claim.

            Now imagine for a second that the UN is correct and that America is in fact an arena in conflict. I know that involves you having to pick through a whole mess of propaganda your government has spoon fed you, but you can do it. The people paid to accurately track war on our planet have decided that but maybe Intel thinks they know better or maybe they genuinely are going to stop sourcing mineral products from the US.

            Let me tell you about two mines, both in the same country in North Africa, tell me what you think.

            Mine 1 is secured by armed group A. This armed group is not commanded by the legitimate government of the country this mine is in.
            Mine 2 is secured by armed group B. This armed group is commanded by the legitimate government of the country this mine is in.

            Armed Group A has historically recruited and used children. They don’t any more. It is estimated that millions of children died at their hands both serving and as civilian casualties.
            Armed Group B has historically recruited and used children. They don’t any more. It is estimated that thousands of children died at their hands, both serving and as civilian casualties.

            Armed Group A has committed atrocities, documents by trusted sources demonstrate rape, chemical warfare, running concentration camps to cleanse ethnic minorities, mass murder of civilians, destruction of property, genocide, deportation and murder of civilian population, crimes against peace, looting, mass execution of POWs, crimes against humanity, planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression, taking and selling slaves, using poisons as weapons, abuse of remains, crimes of torture. 162 charges have been brought against them in the last decade. 18 in the decade previous.

            Armed Group B has committed atrocities, documents by trusted sources demonstrate rape, mass murder of civilians, destruction of property, deportation and murder of civilian population, crimes against peace, looting, mass execution of POWs, planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression, abuse of remains, crimes of torture. No charges have been brought against them in the last decade. Only one in the decade previous.

            Armed Group A are white.
            Armed Group B are black.

            So why would (following your interpretation of the statement) Intel be allowed to source product from Mine 1 but not mine 2?

      • Michael Anson says:

        “Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses.” The United States is not currently actively involved in armed conflict within its borders, nor are the mining conditions those that could be considered “human rights abuses.” Human rights are mostly abused by people employing illegal aliens in illegally dangerous and underfunded conditions to save money (not farmers or other people who simply cannot find people to work for them, but rather factories and the like where labor is available but expensive).

  9. JFS says:

    I don’t like Monopoly as a game, but the article is superb. Such good writing, which unfortunately isn’t that commonplace nowadays where everyone and their grandmother seems to be writing on the internet and you usually can’t tell beforehand.

    • Lambchops says:

      Yeah great article, really enjoyed it. Almost tempted to nip over to the Bodleian and see if I can look at some silk maps!

  10. subedii says:

    Tom Bramwell has what I thought is a very good piece going over the Valve’s SteamOS, Steam Machine and what they’re trying to do with them.

    The short version is basically that Valve are playing a very long game, one that extends beyond even this new generation of console hardware. People keep making comparisons with the PS4 / XBone, or how Steam machines aren’t going to be selling “new console” numbers, but that’s not really what they’re trying to achieve. What they’re trying to do is a couple of things, and is largely about breaking PC gaming away from dependence on Microsoft (I’m going to be blunt, after the past 2 console generation, GFWL, and MS’s continued conflict of interest in the market, I can only view this as a good thing) by migrating it over to Linux.

    It’s definitely well worth read, even if you disagree.

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-01-11-valve-plays-the-long-game-again

    • RobF says:

      Yeah, it’s a good piece. Even better after a week of clueless op-eds elsewhere which have ranged from the it’s not a console beater to omg, there’s loads of them. Just so much point missing there, Tom seems to have been the only person writing an op-ed this week who’s paying the slightest attention to anything Valve have said and not to the internet media fantasy that’s built up around the things.

      • subedii says:

        Yeah it’s kind of ridiculous how everyone keeps talking about how Valve have no chance beat MS and Sony consoles for sales numbers, when that’s pretty clearly NOT what they’re aiming for.

        Heck, I’ve heard people accusing Valve of taking advantage of poor hardware vendors, making them shoulder “all the risk” of the hardware when they won’t make their own boxes. As if none of these vendors did their own cost-analysis to decided whether they wanted to enter in on this. Or as if any release even needs to sell large numbers to be financially viable. Unlike the consoles, the hardware isn’t being sold below it’s cost to produce and being subsidised by software sales. Which means that (like with Nintendo) every unit sold is profitable in itself (leaving aside initial outlay), and you don’t need to sell bucketloads to turn a profit.

        This goes doubly so since these are system makers simply putting already available hardware into boxes, they aren’t spending massive R&D budgets developing these things over 2-3 years which then needs to be recouped. To be honest I was surprised that one of the systems is $500 and still higher spec than my current PC, and will likely perform as well or better than the new generation consoles.

        SteamOS, migrating PC gaming over the Linux, getting a viable push for seamless living room PC’s, AMD switching things up by allowing coding direct to metal with their new Mantle API, Oculus Rift… Honestly if even half the promise of these things pans out it’s still a pretty exciting time for PC gaming. The next few years are going to be way more eventful, and if nothing else, they look as if they’re going to be a fair amount less constrained by the dictates of Sony and MS.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      Thank you, yes . This is my thinking about their long term strategy; and what I consider the soft launch of the Steam OS and hardware system. People also forget that xbox is where it is now, with this level of initial sales from a 10-15 year investment in the platform…. starting with xbox original and live. With a failure in GFWL under it’s belt as well.
      Longer when you look at the PlayStation evolution to where it is now. I have a more open mind of where Steam OS as a SERVICE platform will be in say 5-10 years. Centre of the living room, who knows, using leverage on it’s current user base and acquiring more in the process. Yes I think so.

    • Geebs says:

      Sorry, but Tom Bramwell is talking utter gibberish. Software will work ten years in the future, because Linux? If Steam goes tits up, you can “free” your games, because Linux? Therefore this is Valve playing the long game? Riiiight.

  11. ColCol says:

    hey, on patreon, Mattie Brice has a project too! People should consider donating to that project.

    • Geebs says:

      Let me guess: you’re funding her to bitch at somebody who didn’t give her a job, until they don’t give her a job?

  12. Yosharian says:

    Thoughts on the transgender character piece:

    1) We barely get female main characters in games at the moment, let alone transsexual ones. Little too much to hope for a main character to be transgender at the moment I think. (This point is meant to be an _economic_ reality check rather than any judgement on what people might think about a transgender main character )

    2) I don’t think it IS relevant to a main character unless that character’s story is specifically about being transgender. And if that was the case, I don’t think it’s a character I particularly would want to play as. Of course I have no problem with it being a character option (like selecting male/female Shepard in ME). Which leads to:

    3) People relate to the characters they play as, mostly despite gender. For example, when playing the recent Tomb Raider reboot, mostly I was just absorbed in ‘being’ the character, only occasionally being tossed out of immersion. However this only happens when the writing is good and the character’s story is irrelevant to gender – Tomb Raider is about a woman surviving on an island and exploring tombs and other stuff not immediately related to her gender. Which leads to:

    4) I suspect people, generally, don’t relate to the characters they play as when that character performs a gender specific action (as in, of a gender they don’t relate to). For example, I once played through Shadows of Undrentide as a female gnome illusionist because they ‘looked cooler’. I only once got dragged out of immersion, which was when one of my male NPCs hit on me (an action which provoked a ‘HELL NO’ reaction from me and a swift ‘Sorry, I don’t think of you that way’ from my character). Obviously I’m making a generalisation here and I can only speak for myself, but I’m pretty sure most people (or at the very least most guys) would react the same way when opposite gender is directly involved with what is happening onscreen.

    5) It irritates the hell out of me when characters are only there to satisfy an ‘equality’ itch. This was really obvious in the recent games DA2 and ME3, where characters were modified (Anders became a whiny bitch with a chip on his shoulder (though perhaps that’s a writing issue more than anything) and really, really and suddenly interested in the main character in the biblical sense (another HELL NO) and there were a couple of characters in ME3 where I thought ‘why the hell does this character even exist?’). Which leads to:

    6) Conversely, look at a game like Fallout: New Vegas where many of the recruitable NPCs are homosexual, and you’ll notice that their homosexuality is almost an irrelevance where it is not involved in the story (e.g. a particular brotherhood NPC). Which, needless to say, is as it should be. Sexuality doesn’t define a character, but it might well define or partly define certain quests or storylines in some way.

    Hopefully some of those points briefly made some kind of sense.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I think including transgender people in games without treating them as comedy tropes is a worthwhile endeavour. The depiction of people in media has a powerful effect on how they’re viewed socially, and so while it’s an ambitious ask to get people to put more diverse characters in their games, I think it’s a worthwhile thing. I don’t particularly mind if a cast is “overly” diverse, unless it’s supposed to be a serious, realistic historical drama or something where it might be inappropriate.

      As for 6), it depends – there’s plenty of art where the whole point is to discuss the role of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc, in society, and while humanising people is important, it’s worth discussing the role of ingrained bigotry in society, too. I don’t think that To Kill A Mockingbird would have been stronger as a book in which black people and white people get on just fine, say.

      • Yosharian says:

        “I think including transgender people in games without treating them as comedy tropes is a worthwhile endeavour.”

        Sure, I agree. I can’t recall off the top of my head any games where they’ve been included at all, aside from the usual implied transgender anime character in some JPRGs. (and even then, none I’ve played)

        “As for 6), it depends – there’s plenty of art where the whole point is to discuss the role of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc, in society, and while humanising people is important, it’s worth discussing the role of ingrained bigotry in society, too. I don’t think that To Kill A Mockingbird would have been stronger as a book in which black people and white people get on just fine, say.”

        That was my point entirely; sexuality can define a quest or storyline, but it doesn’t define characters. A character isn’t merely ‘a black guy’, but he could be ‘murdered because he was a black guy’ for example.

        • Gap Gen says:

          I’d disagree that race, sex, sexuality, age, whatever has no effect on someone’s character. People are moulded by how society views them, and society more often than not views people according to their physical characteristics. This is particularly true for gender, where casually sexist stuff like Doctor Who and Sherlock can still have female fans because casual sexism is so ingrained in Western society (those shows aren’t alone, but I like to pick on them). Imagine flipping the sexes of every character in, say, Pride and Prejudice, but retaining their genders and all other aspects of the text. Likewise, it’s hard to argue that the people in To Kill A Mockingbird aren’t shaped by the way their society treats race, white or black. This is the point of what I was getting at; that you can either present a sort of utopia in which bigotry doesn’t exist, or you can present people’s struggles against the way society seeks to frame them as people. But society very much shapes people’s characters, and prejudice is part of that.

          • Yosharian says:

            “I’d disagree that race, sex, sexuality, age, whatever has no effect on someone’s character.”

            I didn’t say that. Re-read what I said.

          • Gap Gen says:

            I’m arguing against the idea that race, say, should be “almost an irrelevance”. I’m not saying people should be stereotyped, but that society does shape people to a greater extent, even if their characters fight against that. Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird might be a fully-developed human, but her skin colour in that society is painfully relevant to how she lives and is able to interact with the people around her. Likewise, the characters of the people in Pride and Prejudice are strongly influenced by their sex, because it is a book about gender roles in a strongly conservative society.

            Unless I’m misunderstanding your point, in which case it might be worth reiterating it again – if you mean a protagonist character fully controlled by a player, then sure, it could be interesting to have a Jane Austen-like game and let the player be ostracised for behaving like the wrong gender. But for writing NPCs, the idea that people are not influenced in their upbringing by social expectations is incorrect, even if as they grow they can learn to fight those expectations and the people who impose them.

          • Yosharian says:

            I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

            I have a dream today!

            -Martin Luther King

            That aside, race isn’t the issue, sexuality is. Bringing race into it only serves to confuse and muddy the issue.

            Since you’re asking if I could play a Pride and Prejudice-style female character coping with her gender role… some kind of point n click adventure? Yeah, I probably could, as long as no romance was innately involved and it focused more on the politics. I can sympathise and immerse myself in that kind of thing. It probably helps that I’m pretty in touch with my feminine side (in my opinion; that probably sounds conceited). It would still be a bit of a weird kind of immersion, but I think I could manage it.

          • The Random One says:

            There’s a difference between stating that you’d like people to be recognized by their character rather than by their race/gender/whatever and stating that this is not a problem because you’ve created a work of fiction in which everyone is treated equally.

            Writing about the world as you wish it was is important, but writing about how the world is is important as well.

    • Geebs says:

      You’re getting dangerously into “it’s okay for people to be gay as long as they don’t rub it in my face” territory there. I think a lot of upset about how people are depicted comes from the audience’s own subconscious discomfort with a) their own prejudices, b) the prejudices which they’ve inherited and don’t really know they have and c) their overlying desire to behave like decent human beings.

      TL:DR – it’s better for society as a whole to be exposed to even ham-fisted, lame attempts to be inclusive because it means that eventually we’ll be able to just appreciate the character through greater familiarity. That people get so upset about either people-who-are-different, or crappy depictions of same, is more a reflection of themselves than anything else.

      • Yosharian says:

        “You’re getting dangerously into “it’s okay for people to be gay as long as they don’t rub it in my face” territory there.”

        Maybe because most gay people don’t rub it in people’s faces – most of them you wouldn’t even know to be gay unless you asked them about it. Who’s bandying around stereotypes now?

        “I think a lot of upset about how people are depicted comes from the audience’s own subconscious discomfort with a) their own prejudices, b) the prejudices which they’ve inherited and don’t really know they have and c) their overlying desire to behave like decent human beings.”

        I disagree.

        “TL:DR – it’s better for society as a whole to be exposed to even ham-fisted, lame attempts to be inclusive because it means that eventually we’ll be able to just appreciate the character through greater familiarity.”

        Another view is that ham-fisted, lame attempts to be inclusive set the cause back far more than these attempts not being present, because they reinforce stereotypes and give people ammunition with which to fight their own misguided causes (i.e. against homosexuality, or transsexuality, etc).

        • Geebs says:

          Is your point some sort of Tumblr zen koan, ‘promoting diversity by never mentioning it’?

          • Yosharian says:

            Rather by mentioning it in passing. As in, the most important thing about this character is not that she’s gay. That’s something Obsidian Entertainment are absolutely fantastic at, writing this kind of thing well.

            It kind of relates to the Martin Luther King quote in a roundabout way, I guess.

        • PopeRatzo says:

          Can we all agree not to shove anything in anyone’s face? And can we not get too worried about the dearth of certain types of people in video games? First, it would be nice if we could just have transgender people in real life without hysteria.

          Personally, I think there should be more ugly people in games. Why should we have to look only at attractive people? I mean heroes of course. There are always ugly bad guys, but seldom ugly good guys.

          Ugly people is a much larger category than transgender people, and I would say they are also underrepresented. Because let’s be clear: we’re not talking about just having transgendered people in games, we’re talking about making them heroes, because if someone were to have a game with a transgender bad guy, there would be pearl-clutching and dashing to the fainting couch.

          The list of types of people who are seldom represented in games is very long. Maybe it requires that certain groups have to be represented in real life before they are depicted in something so unreal as games.

          By the way, there are also very few transgender people as news presenters, and as bus drivers and as football players and as soap opera actors. Let’s not get too worried about games at this point.

      • Gap Gen says:

        It’s interesting that Yosharian has said they wouldn’t want to play a transgender character – I’d be interested to know more about this. Part of the thing about games is that they can put us in the situation of someone different, and as I’ve been trying to argue above physical differences are very much not just cosmetic and ignored by everyone, and thus being forced to play a transgender character could be a powerful way to explore prejudice in modern society. I’m slightly worried that the assertion is that prejudice doesn’t exist in everyday life, and that it’s a curiosity only relevant to historical fiction, which is an easy thing to think if you’re a straight, white male who has never experienced it, but is clearly false.

        • Yosharian says:

          “It’s interesting that Yosharian has said they wouldn’t want to play a transgender character – I’d be interested to know more about this. Part of the thing about games is that they can put us in the situation of someone different, and as I’ve been trying to argue above physical differences are very much not just cosmetic and ignored by everyone, and thus being forced to play a transgender character could be a powerful way to explore prejudice in modern society.”

          There’s a book called ‘Excession’ by Iain M Banks in which the main character, or one of them, undergoes a (routine, in this book’s setting) transition to a female during a small section of the narrative. I read it with quite some interest, but then again it featured girl on girl so I could deal with that easily. Not really an in-depth exploration of ‘what it’s like’, but something.

          If it was more than that, and featured a transsexual woman (i.e. used to be a guy) getting it on with a guy, I don’t think I’d want to read that. Don’t misunderstand; it’s not something I ‘hate’. It’s not bigotry. I just don’t want to read that. Then again, I could probably manage it, since in 3rd person multi-main-character novels you form less of an attachment to any given character.

          Another example: I can cope quite happily seeing Dr Manhattan’s blue ass filling my screen when I’m watching the Watchmen movie, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable if I was to be watching it with my male buddies. But if two guys are doing it on screen or something like that; no way. I do not want to watch that stuff.

          As for experiencing what it’s like to be a transsexual in a game, it’s not about experiencing the prejudice or day to day life; I could deal with that, get insight, whatever, sure. But the part where I’m immersed in my character getting it on with some hot guy? I can’t get with that. Same thing if I’m playing a straight woman who gets it on with a guy.

          “I’m slightly worried that the assertion is that prejudice doesn’t exist in everyday life, and that it’s a curiosity only relevant to historical fiction”

          Not sure where I said/implied that.

          • The Random One says:

            An interesting instance, but I don’t think Gap Gen asked you to clarify precisely what are the things you would have no interest in seeing, but rather why. Why is it that you have no interest in those kinds of things precisely? “I don’t know, I just don’t” is, to me, a perfectly acceptable answer if that’s how you feel.

          • Yosharian says:

            It’s not pleasant to watch. It’s not something I want to do, so it’s not something I want to watch. And if it’s the main character, it takes me out of immersion, because it’s not something I can relate to.

            Why don’t gay people get excited about watching straight couples get it on? Why can’t gay/trans people enjoy straight-oriented romances in games?

          • The Random One says:

            Hmm. I have no problem disconnecting myself from a story (while still enjoying it) if I feel my perspective cannot be reconciled with the characters’. I’ve done that in scenes of man-on-man sex, in scenes of overt violence and in scenes of absurd moral failure. To each its own, I suppose, as long as no one is demanding the things they don’t like be removed so they don’t have to look at them.

          • Dances to Podcasts says:

            You should read Matter

          • Yosharian says:

            I’ve read Matter.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I dunno, I think he’s dangerously into “oh god, not the stage of media awareness of a group where they go through being pointed out again”. It’s kind of like a bandage being pulled off slowly.

        First you’re off the radar; you’re not present in anything because you’re not part of the idealized worldview.
        Then you’re either played for laughs or for villainy.
        Then you’re either an awkwardly Captain Planet-esque, or edgy, inclusion. (Hey. Hey look. We included one of them! Please don’t tap on the glass.)
        And then finally perhaps you might be a person who happens to have some quality but that’s not really exactly your defining attribute.

        You can go back through the last few decades of film and television and watch it happen to black people, and then homosexuals, who still seem to be stuck in stage three (OH MY GOD CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS IS A MALE LEAD CHARACTER WHO KISSES MEN HOW SCANDALOUS). Various subcultures, like gamers for example, are still lurking around stage two, along with crossdressing men, furries, and people who actually liked Fallout 2′s tutorial.

        (Obvious disclaimer: holy crap is this a big set of generalizations held up on shakey premises. You can blow more holes in it than the Titanic’s hull. Anyway, TL;DR—mainstream “acceptance” seems to invove going via “zoo exhibit”, and disliking that intermediate state is different from wanting to pretend whatever group it is doesn’t exist or aren’t people.)

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      ” I don’t think it IS relevant to a main character unless that character’s story is specifically about being transgender.”

      By this logic we shouldn’t have straight people in games either, except for dating sims/Mass Effect.

      • Yosharian says:

        In most games, ‘straight’ isn’t an element of the game. Aside from the saving the princess part which is entirely throwaway, it matters not one jot that Mario is a straight guy. He could be an alien blob for all the difference it makes. And yes, Mario is a relic from the classic console era, but the point stands. When I play Dota 2, I don’t worry about whether my character is straight or not.

    • Michael Anson says:

      So you don’t want to have transsexual characters in games where that is a defining part of their character, whether or not it is relevant to the plot, because you don’t want to play them? What, specifically, is wrong with including a character whose personality is defined by something that isn’t a part of the plot, but specifically because such people exist?

      This is exactly the point that Sophie wanted to address and was deeply afraid to. Characters in a game are far more interesting and satisfying when they have character depth beyond their importance to the game’s plot. Mass Effect was interesting because each of the characters had their own story arcs and defining personalities, and getting involved with those aspects of their personalities was completely secondary to the plot of “giant robots want to kill us all.” It’s the very definition of good storytelling that characters have wants, needs, and characteristics outside of “complete the mission,” and that such personality facets can shine a light on the rest of the world. The very act of including a transsexual character (or a gay, black, Jewish, or female character) lets you experience the world from their point of view, giving a far richer and more nuanced experience than simply “defeat the bad guy, save the princess.”

      • Yosharian says:

        “So you don’t want to have transsexual characters in games where that is a defining part of their character, whether or not it is relevant to the plot, because you don’t want to play them?”

        I didn’t say I didn’t want to have games like that, I said that I personally wouldn’t play them; but these are generalizations. Using Dota again as an example: if a new hero came out tomorrow that was openly trans, it wouldn’t affect my decision to pick/not pick the hero at all.

        “What, specifically, is wrong with including a character whose personality is defined by something that isn’t a part of the plot, but specifically because such people exist?”

        As I already said, the goal of most games is not world simulation, but to create an entertaining plot, and diverting resources away from that to create otherwise-redundant characters is not something I’m happy to see. For example, in ME2 one of the romanceable characters (to an extent) is the ship psychologist, and she’s noteworthy for being an option for both male and female characters. But she serves a purpose beyond that – she gives you info on the latest quests, NPCs, important little bits of general information, etc.

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually _care_ to the extent that I hate it. But I do think it’s a waste of dev time. I’d rather them create a character that actually does something useful – something that moves the game forward rather than just making it into Dating Simulator 3.

        “This is exactly the point that Sophie wanted to address and was deeply afraid to. Characters in a game are far more interesting and satisfying when they have character depth beyond their importance to the game’s plot.”

        Yes, but that depth does not come merely from ‘I’m gay!’ or ‘I’m trans!’. There is more to a person than these simple statements.

        “Mass Effect was interesting because each of the characters had their own story arcs and defining personalities, and getting involved with those aspects of their personalities was completely secondary to the plot of “giant robots want to kill us all.””

        And none of these story arcs had anything, principally, to do with who they preferred to bang in bed, although obviously those conversations cropped up at some point with the romanceable ones.

        “The very act of including a transsexual character (or a gay, black, Jewish, or female character) lets you experience the world from their point of view, giving a far richer and more nuanced experience than simply “defeat the bad guy, save the princess.””

        I don’t see how being black, gay, Jewish changes anything. My party’s 2-handed sword-wielding warriors is Jewish? How does this affect the story? You know what I thought when I first spoke to Jacob? This guy is a pretty cool character (the military background stuff), and he’s a good biotics user. I didn’t think ‘He’s black, this is really interesting’. And he doesn’t refer to it either. That’s true equality.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          “As I already said, the goal of most games is not world simulation, but to create an entertaining plot, and diverting resources away from that to create otherwise-redundant characters is not something I’m happy to see. [...] I do think it’s a waste of dev time. I’d rather them create a character that actually does something useful – something that moves the game forward rather than just making it into Dating Simulator 3.”

          So you want a good story– but you only want characters who have exclusively “useful” traits in terms of getting the player from one mission/goal to the next? Why have characters, then? Why not replace them with a dialogue box saying “Press X to advance plot?”

          You can’t have a good plot without good characters, and well-written characters are always hinting at all the contradictory and “redundant” things in their pasts and personalities– because they’re supposed to be, you know, people.

    • MartinWisse says:

      I don’t think it IS relevant to a main character unless that character’s story is specifically about being transgender.

      I think it would be worthwhile to see more trans characters, as well as LGB characters, not to mention more people of colour or indeed women in games, whether or not this is “relevant” to the game’s story. Because that sort of thinking assumes that being a white, straight cisgendered male is the default and everything else has to be justified in some way. We should have more (any?) trans characters in games without their trans status being a big deal.

      • TCM says:

        Worst Case Scenario) You leave [minority] out of the game entirely, either through benign (oversight, historical accuracy, focusing on a specific niche, etc) or malicious (hate [minority], fear [minority], don’t want to portray [minority], etc) reasons. Everyone can agree this is not good, generally speaking (if you actually ask for a homosexual black trans woman to be a playable character treated the same as a white man in, say, 16th century Europe, your perspective on reality is grotesquely distorted).

        Scenario A) You have [minority] in the game as a character or multiple characters. [Minority] is treated with an equal status to [majority] character. This is called [bigoted] because it discounts the reality that [minority] people face every day.

        Scenario B) You have [minority] in the game as multiple characters, perhaps even outnumbering [majority]. You emphasize [minority] culture and things unique to [minority]. This is called economically foolhardy, since you are pandering to [minority], and making something that isn’t ‘for’ [majority] or [other minority].

        Scenario C) You have [minority] in the game as a character or multiple characters. [Minority] is treated in a realistic way. This is called [bigoted] because as a writer, you have full control over that aspect of your universe, why would you portray [minority] in such a manner?

        Scenario D) You have [minority] as a character, and emphasize their positive qualities. Credit to your race, token character, etc. Bad [bigot], no biscuit.

        Scenario E) You have [minority] in the game as a character or multiple characters, and have those characters overlooked by groups representing the “[minority]” community. Other communities of [minority] with differing viewpoints are upset, since the portrayal is not their ideal. You are still a [bigot] for even having to ask.

        Scenario F) You write a scenario that is well-researched, neutral (but positively) toned, and respects [minority], while also noting the situation of [minority] is not good. [Minority] characters are portrayed in a realistic, nonstereotypical fashion, not used solely to have ‘representation’, but not making their status as [minority] the fulcrum of their existence. If you are [minority] writer, this is ideal. If you are [majority, other minority] writer, God help you, you’ve portrayed them as jokes, stereotypes, tokens, you trash. [Bigot] go off and die in a hole.

        I may just be embittered here, but there is no correct way to write a gay character as a straight writer, write a black person as a white writer, write a trans person as a cis writer, etc., that you will not be lambasted for. It’s barely possible for a man to write a woman he won’t be lambasted for. I am not saying that’s wrong, nor am I saying that’s necessarily incorrect — it’s impossible for someone in a privileged position to have the same experiences as someone in a nonprivileged position — but I do not envy the men and women of the industry who make a specific decision to write a story properly representing diversity.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          “I may just be embittered here,”

          Y’think? Your whole narrative here is basically, “Straight white men really want to write better, broader characters into games– but the people who aren’t straight white men just won’t let them.” Does that honestly make sense to you?

          Anyway, if the whining of a tiny, vocal minority of perfectionist naysayers was enough to stop writers from doing anything interesting or progressive with characters in games, the embittered terrified white dudes would have already won years ago.

        • Ich Will says:

          So the answer is better writers and less story by committee?

    • AngelTear says:

      Having read most of the comments and reactions to the post by Yosharian, I feel I need to point out a few things:

      1) First you talk about narratives and immersion and then you make comparisons using games like Dota, in which the narrative is irrelevant and your character has no character, but is simply a tool. We’re talking about narratives so stay on narrative and the immersion that depends on it.

      2) Being gay/trans/black/jew/etc as opposed to the standard doesn’t define the rest of your personality traits except when it does. In themselves, these characteristic don’t make you more violent or sensitive or (dis)trustful of people or what have you; but, if you have had to deal with them since you were born, you’ve had some experiences that others may not have had and that may affect your development.
      (Since you brought out TWD, There is in fact a part in which there is tension between Lee and Kenny because of Lee’s blackness; Here’s another way in which being “x” affects you even when it shouldn’t: people react differently to you.)

      3) – and this is very important: It may be a useful exercise to try and relate to people who are not exactly like you in that facet of their life that you’re trying to relate to. Immersion is all about “that could have been me”, not “that is precisely me”. If you can’t get immersed in a narrative unless someone is exactly like you, you’re not experiencing immersion, you’re experiencing narcissism. On the other hand, it’s valuable to try and relate to others *in their difference* and not just when they’re like you. People don’t write a story about, say, their being trans* so that other trans* can relate to it, they write it so people who aren’t trans* can relate to it, so that they can realize trans* are not aliens, but just another possibility that could have been real for anyone.

      4) You seem to think being trans* is all about who you want to have sex with; it’s not, it’s mostly about who you see yourself as. Which is why I like Trans-gender better as a term than trans-sexual. You seem to say that you don’t like seeing graphic representations of sexualities that aren’t your own, but I’d like to remind you that a gay/trans* love story may still be relatable to you even if the actual sex involved is slightly different, which is something you seem to have forgotten.

      • Yosharian says:

        “1) First you talk about narratives and immersion and then you make comparisons using games like Dota, in which the narrative is irrelevant and your character has no character, but is simply a tool. We’re talking about narratives so stay on narrative and the immersion that depends on it.”

        That’s a fair point. In my defense, I also used Tomb Raider as a frequent example.

        “2) Being gay/trans/black/jew/etc as opposed to the standard doesn’t define the rest of your personality traits except when it does. In themselves, these characteristic don’t make you more violent or sensitive or (dis)trustful of people or what have you; but, if you have had to deal with them since you were born, you’ve had some experiences that others may not have had and that may affect your development.”

        Yes, but outside of specific settings these traits don’t apply in the usual fashion. In Mass Effect for example, society is pretty enlightened, so you don’t get the usual racism/bigotry (instead you get ‘speciesism’ but that’s an aside).

        “(Since you brought out TWD, There is in fact a part in which there is tension between Lee and Kenny because of Lee’s blackness; Here’s another way in which being “x” affects you even when it shouldn’t: people react differently to you.)”

        Hm, I guess I missed that. I’d hardly say that Lee is defined by his race. It’s not such an important thing in the story.

        “3) – and this is very important: It may be a useful exercise to try and relate to people who are not exactly like you in that facet of their life that you’re trying to relate to. Immersion is all about “that could have been me”, not “that is precisely me”. If you can’t get immersed in a narrative unless someone is exactly like you, you’re not experiencing immersion, you’re experiencing narcissism. On the other hand, it’s valuable to try and relate to others *in their difference* and not just when they’re like you. People don’t write a story about, say, their being trans* so that other trans* can relate to it, they write it so people who aren’t trans* can relate to it, so that they can realize trans* are not aliens, but just another possibility that could have been real for anyone.”

        I didn’t say that they have to be exactly like me. I said I have to be able to relate to them. I can relate to Lara Croft in Tomb Raider because the story is a human one – survival.

        You make the unwarranted assumption that I can’t relate to any character that isn’t ‘me’. I didn’t say that. I merely stated that there are limits.

        “4) You seem to think being trans* is all about who you want to have sex with; it’s not, it’s mostly about who you see yourself as. Which is why I like Trans-gender better as a term than trans-sexual. You seem to say that you don’t like seeing graphic representations of sexualities that aren’t your own, but I’d like to remind you that a gay/trans* love story may still be relatable to you even if the actual sex involved is slightly different, which is something you seem to have forgotten.”

        I didn’t say that. I don’t think I can be immersed in a main character who’s experiencing a gay or trans love story.

  13. mrbeman says:

    “It irritates the hell out of me when characters are only there to satisfy an ‘equality’ itch.”

    Why doesn’t it irritate the hell out of you when characters are written to satisfy an “economic reality” itch?

    Like, do you understand what’s going on when a straight white male character is treated as having been written that way “purely” and without any outside considerations, but the second you deviate from that mold people start demanding that there be Reasons for that? If it bothers you that you think a character has been written for “diversity” reasons, do you understand how it might bother others when yet another character is written in the fictional default categories, categories that are so extremely over-represented that they don’t reflect the actual real world at all?

    Like, obviously trans people exist in the real world. Why don’t they exist in fiction, ever, except as shitty jokes? If someone took a character and just made them trans, just because, why would that be any worse than making that character not-trans, just because? Why is it too much to expect that games bear some faint resemblance to the real actual world we live in?

    Your fourth point is also just kind of your own unquestioned bonus for being who you are in the society in which you live. For me, I’ve had to learn to find connection to narratives that don’t reflect me because otherwise they don’t exist. If I want to play as a character that might have a romantic connection with a male character, I have to play as a woman, because gay male stories mostly don’t exist. I don’t have the choice of going “ew!” in reaction to straight stories.

    • TWChristine says:

      “For me, I’ve had to learn to find connection to narratives that don’t reflect me because otherwise they don’t exist. If I want to play as a character that might have a romantic connection with a male character, I have to play as a woman, because gay male stories mostly don’t exist. I don’t have the choice of going “ew!” in reaction to straight stories.”

      Right there with you. *fist bump* Except..you know..the other way around.. I think this is actually a big reason why I’ve become more and more interested in RPGs. I enjoy playing a game where I get to finally decide who I am, and I don’t have to be “tough guy blowing shit up!” I think that’s one thing I enjoyed about Planetside was that they had an option for female chars, and I can’t even begin to say how surprised I was that R6:Vegas2 had female options (I can’t remember, but pretty sure the first didn’t..), although granted the original R6 games did as well. Sometimes it’s nice to just be able to identify /that much/ closer with the protagonist. Perhaps it’s silly, after all, in books you don’t choose the gender of the main character..but I feel that the gaming medium has SO many potential options and variables, that it’s really a shame when you get the same one over and over.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Aside from the awful thug life bullshit in the SR series (including actually taking part in sex slavery in one mission), I really like SR’s ability to mix and match character gender traits.

        • TWChristine says:

          I agree, and the free-wheeling-ness of the character generator is what finally got me to give the game a try. I actually didn’t look at the sex-slave part as being so much taking part in sex-slavery (I’m assuming you’re referring to SR3 and the area where you get the auto-tuned guy?) as just an over the top look at (consensual) BDSM.

          As much as APB was shit, the character generator was quite fun to play around with. I have a tendency to spend a LOT of time making my characters (and re-making them that often, such as with Skyrim I’ve never beaten the game because I decide to go back and remake them) such that my wife often looks over and remarks along the lines of “You’re making your character AGAIN?” It was a bit of a problem when we started up Guild Wars 2 together and she was ready to go but had to wait 15 minutes or so for me to finish choosing all the options! :)

          • Geebs says:

            I think Gap Gen was talking about the “container full of whores” bit, which was pretty tasteless.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Yeah, I was fine with the S&M stuff (although perhaps there is some prejudice against people who have this kind of lifestyle?). SR3 still has a lot of casual sexism, but the container ship mission was awful, and it was utterly baffling that a company would think it was a good idea to release that. Might as well have a mission where you kidnap children and take pictures of them naked.

          • TWChristine says:

            OHH! Right I completely forgot about that part! I agree it was quite..odd and was quite uncomfortable to sit through. :/

          • Geebs says:

            I guess it might have been a self-referential riff on an immoral-choice system but probably just ended pissing people off to no real comedic effect

          • The Random One says:

            The container full of whores was an attempt to go so far it’s not offensive, that went so far it became offensive again, twice over.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          You realize that Saints Row is a parody, right? It’s not meant to be taken seriously. At all.

          • The Random One says:

            There are few things I take more seriously than humour.

            As someone who’s taken SR very seriously, I can tell you SR’s writers take it very seriously as well.

          • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

            ^

            Well said.

    • Yosharian says:

      “Why doesn’t it irritate the hell out of you when characters are written to satisfy an “economic reality” itch?”

      It does. I never said it didn’t. In fact I went out of my way to indicate that the first point was purely an economic reality check and not meant as commentary on what I want in my games.

      “Like, do you understand what’s going on when a straight white male character is treated as having been written that way “purely” and without any outside considerations, but the second you deviate from that mold people start demanding that there be Reasons for that?”

      Two issues here, first you present ‘straight’ ‘white’ ‘male’ altogether when they are in fact very separate issues.

      ‘White’: race is a bit of an odd one. Do you think a main character has to be the same race as you in order for you to identify with them? Because _immersion_ was my entire point. I can be immersed as easily playing a black character as I can playing a white guy. For example while playing The Walking Dead I was totally immersed playing the main character. Didn’t lose it for a second. Being black had no effect on it.

      ‘Straight’: if characters are written as straight, it’s because the majority is straight, and there’s no reason for the character to be gay. If it were a dating simulator, then there’d be a reason. In Tomb Raider for example, if Lara is gay… what difference does it make? There are no romantic elements in that story, so her being gay makes no difference. Hell, she might even be gay. I personally have no problem playing a gay main character until gender becomes part of the storyline, such as if my character gets involved with another guy, or whatever. (Although, being honest here, I’d probably have no problem with girl-on-girl.. sorry, can’t help that =p)

      ‘Male’: already made it obvious I have no problem playing a girl character.

      So actually your point is kind of muddled and unclear, I’d ask you to make it again.

      “If it bothers you that you think a character has been written for “diversity” reasons, do you understand how it might bother others when yet another character is written in the fictional default categories, categories that are so extremely over-represented that they don’t reflect the actual real world at all?”

      No. If I see a platformer, or a first person shooter, I don’t immediately think “I wonder if he is gay or straight?”. I wonder if the gameplay is good, or if the storyline featuring nazi zombies is well written.

      If the goal of the game is world simulation, then yes, all kinds of types of people should be represented, and not necessarily the main character but if the game is an RPG then perhaps. World simulation games aren’t a big percentage of the gaming industry.

      “Like, obviously trans people exist in the real world. Why don’t they exist in fiction, ever, except as shitty jokes? If someone took a character and just made them trans, just because, why would that be any worse than making that character not-trans, just because? Why is it too much to expect that games bear some faint resemblance to the real actual world we live in?”

      Trans people exist but they are still a small minority. They don’t exist in mainstream fiction because they don’t represent the mainstream. They also don’t exist in mainstream fiction because it’s a thing that’s only recently started to ‘come out’ as it were.

      I don’t expect mainstream games to feature main characters that are trans anymore than I expect them to feature dwarves, or paraplegics – these people don’t represent the mainstream. (btw no crude comparisons made there – I am most certainly not saying that being trans is akin to having your arms + legs amputated or anything like that. It’s merely a numerical comparison in terms of population percentage)

      Again, it seems like you didn’t read my post at all. It wouldn’t make _any_ difference, providing the storyline of the game is nothing to do with transsexuality (if it were about, I don’t know, a zombie invasion or whatever). Therefore there’s no reason to do it, and no reason not to, and thus the law of economics applies. This is just the nature of capitalism, you can’t defeat it with this kind of emotional appeal.

      Go ahead and make a game about transsexuality, if you want to. It won’t sell. And let’s not forget that we are talking about an industry designed to make money. Do you think Pac Man wasn’t created to make money? The industry took off in the first place because the kids were throwing quarters into those machines like crazy, and the moneymen saw an opportunity.

      “Your fourth point is also just kind of your own unquestioned bonus for being who you are in the society in which you live. For me, I’ve had to learn to find connection to narratives that don’t reflect me because otherwise they don’t exist. If I want to play as a character that might have a romantic connection with a male character, I have to play as a woman, because gay male stories mostly don’t exist. I don’t have the choice of going “ew!” in reaction to straight stories.”

      I made it pretty clear that I don’t mind options in games. With that out of the way, there are two types of game here.

      1) Game where options for all exist, e.g. Bioware games. Perfectly reasonable to expect there to be gay squad/party members. I support that. The characters shouldn’t exist _just_ to be ‘the gay guy/girl’. (e.g. Cortez – has no other function in the game except to be the gay guy who you can sleep with).

      2) Games where the game type or budget doesn’t support options for all. Perfectly reasonable for the developers to choose exactly what they want for their main character, and the path of least resistance applies: probably the character will be designed to appeal to the majority, since that’s where the money is. I honestly wish it weren’t that way, but I understand this kind of decision completely. We live in an imperfect world.

      Again, to clarify: my post is meant to explain the reasons that, in this capitalist society, more games aren’t made that feature gay or trans main characters. It’s because of the types of reactions that I’ve detailed in my original post. People want to play a character they can associate with.

      • Michael Anson says:

        Again, here you are ignoring the fact that these characteristics, from sexuality to race to gender, are not checkpoints on a list but influences on how the character behaves. It may not be something that you’ve noticed right off, but whether a person is straight, gay, somewhere in-between, or completely asexual, actually has a fairly big impact on how they interact with other people, such as how they look at people, their attitudes, and even how they react to those same characteristics from other people. Likewise, being black, Hispanic, or Asian instead of white has a huge impact on how you interact with society, and how society interacts with you. These characteristics define characters far more than a “romantic option” or a skin change on a model, and should be treated as such by anyone who is seriously interested in storytelling in games.

        • Yosharian says:

          “Again, here you are ignoring the fact that these characteristics, from sexuality to race to gender, are not checkpoints on a list but influences on how the character behaves.”

          I don’t remember thinking, the last time I played Walking Dead, that my character was behaving really ‘black’.

          “It may not be something that you’ve noticed right off, but whether a person is straight, gay, somewhere in-between, or completely asexual, actually has a fairly big impact on how they interact with other people, such as how they look at people, their attitudes, and even how they react to those same characteristics from other people.”

          In a very mundane way, yes. Isabela is a complete slut, but oh right – the fact that she’s bi means she’s slutty with anyone. That really is… not very interesting at all. What’s interesting about her is that she’s a slutty pirate, not that she’s a slutty pirate who likes girls and boys. I mean it’s interesting in a very one-dimensional way. It doesn’t add meaningful depth to her character, really.

          Of course there are further layers of complexity to do with gender roles and sexuality but these are generally not explored in relatively simple videogames. You’re gonna tell me Anders is a perfect in-depth character study on homosexual men in medieval periods? Bullshit.

          “Likewise, being black, Hispanic, or Asian instead of white has a huge impact on how you interact with society, and how society interacts with you. These characteristics define characters far more than a “romantic option” or a skin change on a model, and should be treated as such by anyone who is seriously interested in storytelling in games.”

          Again, since we’re back on race, last time I played Walking Dead, I don’t remember the race of the main character being a huge talking point, and I don’t recall thinking “Man I wish there was some racial stuff in here”.

          I wonder if a black guy in my place would have freaked out over how unrealistic it was that nobody brought up his (the main character’s) race, and how they should be treating him differently because he’s black, etc, it’s not realistic, etc.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        I guess there’s an important question we should be asking: “How do we know that there are no transgender characters in games?” For example, how do we know that Lara Croft or Master Chief aren’t transgendered? For all we know, many of the characters in the games we play are trans. Or gay.

        So what we’re really talking about here is not that there should be more transgendered people in games, but rather that we need to have more games where the transgender identity is important to a game, because otherwise, you just don’t know. You don’t want games with transgender characters, you want games about transexuality.

        Maybe games are the ultimate democratization of gender, because we don’t (usually) see the actual genitalia of the characters in closeup detail, we don’t know whether they are transgender or cisgender. How do we know with certainty that Bayonetta is not a post-operative transgendered woman? The point is, there’s not a big deal made of the gender of most characters in games, except in assumptions and imaginations. We see that Bayonetta has female characteristics, but then so would a transexual woman. We’re coming very close, in this suggestion that there should be more transsexual characters in games to being guilty of the type of stereotyping that we would want to oppose. Because, what would make a character sufficiently transgender? If they wore a dress but also had an adam’s apple? Could a transgender woman be attractive, or does she have to look like Harvey Fierstein in drag? If we don’t want stereotypes, then there may well be lots of transgender characters in games already. Because what makes a man or a woman? Do breasts make the woman? Do balls make the man? Of course not, so what are we really asking for here?

        If we’re saying that we need to have more games about being transgender or having gender reassignment surgery is a critical part of the game, then it’s a completely different discussion. What you’re asking for is really transgender advocacy, which is OK, but let’s be upfront about it.

        • The Random One says:

          That is the difference between having a black character in your sci-fi universe where race doesn’t matter, and having a black character in your 50′s crime drama where race does matter. If you play a game in which you are a black guy in the US in the 50′s, it’s a safe bet his race’s going to come into play at some point, but unless the game was entirely centered around that it’s not ‘about’ being black. Likewise, you can have a game with a transgender character that’s not entirely ‘about’ being transgender. (I mean, you wouldn’t pick a random game and say it was entirely about being straight, because the main character has a love interest of the other genre, yes?)

          • PopeRatzo says:

            But unless you made the transgender an issue, how would you know a character was transgender? Unless of course you start playing with stereotypes, which is counterproductive.

            This gets tricky.

    • joa says:

      The difference is that people do things to satisfy an “economic itch” because they need to eat. People do things to satisfy a “diversity itch” because they are self-righteous and think they are morally superior to others.

      The ideal, in my view, is that people would write characters that are interesting. And that can be done with characters of any gender, race of sexuality.

      • brgillespie says:

        For me, it comes down to making a character interesting. If you WANT to make your character in your story transsexual or transgender, by all means.

        It’s weird, though. It IS weird. A guy wanting to dress up in feminine clothing is – by societal standards – weird. A man trapped in a woman’s body (or a woman trapped in a man’s body) is weird. Changing your sex completely to finally make your body image into what your brain is telling you it should be is weird.

        I don’t begrudge homosexuality, and say live and let live, and don’t find homosexual marriage to be an issue (because I’m not religious). Yet with all those qualifiers, I still find the thought of being sexual with another man gives me a feeling of revulsion and distaste, which I imagine is a natural feeling to have since it’s passing through my brain. Some sort of function of procreation to make sure I’m not wasting my time having sex with another male instead of spreading my genes with the females of the species. To make someone not do something, the brain says BAD in some way. Super-bitter fruit, foul-tasting animals or fish, and feeling of disgust when it comes to male sexuality.

        I recently read an excellent book, The Cold Commands (part of a series written by Richard K. Morgan). One of the main characters is homosexual. The book details the way that this main character must keep his sexuality hidden, and also features quiet, slow romance between the main character and another character in which they must resort to sending each other very subtle hints about their sexuality. Being “outed” means severe persecution, to say the least. THAT IS INTERESTING TO READ, and I welcomed it.

        The book features fairly explicitly-written homosexual sex. That is fucking weird to read, so I skimmed those parts.

        I can’t do that with a videogame – unless certain options exist, like being able to skip cutscenes and such. That’s why I wouldn’t welcome a transgender character, unless the transgenderism makes the character interesting. Having a homosexual relationship is simply not something I would want to experience. And you DO experience it, since in most RPGs you allow yourself to BE the character, even if in only a small way…

        TLDR I find the state of being homosexual as nothing to be prejudiced against, but I find the act of having sex with another guy to be nasty. The act of two women having sex invokes absolutely nothing from me, not even interest. I skipped over the lesbian love scenes in the Cold Commands, as well, lol. Interestingly, the “straight” character, a barbarian, is having sex with some noblewoman, but I can’t recall any straight sex scenes in the novel at all… :P

        I hope my ramblings are found interesting, if nothing else.

        • TWChristine says:

          “Yet with all those qualifiers, I still find the thought of being sexual with another man gives me a feeling of revulsion and distaste, which I imagine is a natural feeling to have since it’s passing through my brain. Some sort of function of procreation to make sure I’m not wasting my time having sex with another male instead of spreading my genes with the females of the species. To make someone not do something, the brain says BAD in some way. Super-bitter fruit, foul-tasting animals or fish, and feeling of disgust when it comes to male sexuality.”

          I think I understand what you’re saying, and honestly I have no problem with it as long as like you said, it doesn’t cause you to then have some issue with other people living their life in the way that is right for them. While everyone is different, I kind of have to say that generally I would say the feeling that homosexuality is gross/nasty/what have you is probably more based around societal opinions, which are probably subconscious for you as you grew up in them. The reason I say this is because of all the societies where homosexuality was NOT a problem. If we’re talking about a natural aversion to homosexual behavior, then it should be prevalent in humanity as a whole, which should preclude it ever popping up as an acceptable societal norm.

          And while yes, at the most basic level, the “point” of sex is to procreate, it doesn’t address issues such as sex by post-menopausal women. If procreation was all there was to human sex drives, then by all means it should cease after that point.

          • joa says:

            “And while yes, at the most basic level, the “point” of sex is to procreate, it doesn’t address issues such as sex by post-menopausal women. If procreation was all there was to human sex drives, then by all means it should cease after that point.”

            Why would it? You assume that evolution always arrives at the “optimal” solution – when sex drives in post-menopausal women could just be a side effect that there is no real selective pressure to get rid of.

            Also – I don’t think it follows that the existence of societies where homosexuality was not a problem implies that the male feeling of revulsion to sexual encounters with the same-sex is a subconscious, societal thing. It is possible for a society to be accepting of homosexuals, but still for heterosexual males to be repulsed by the idea of themself engaging in homosexuality.

          • Rizlar says:

            I believe they were referring to real cultures where homosexuality was accepted, like classical greece, rather than some sort of thought experiment. Those cultures are evidence that disgust at homosexuality is not a hard-wired, evolutionary response.

            I respect what the original guy was saying, that he can be cool with something while definitely not wanting to take part himself. But the cod scientific explanations start to get into dodgy territory. We are all shaped by the societies we live in – so long as they’re not a complete arsehole, I don’t think anyone should feel a need to justify their preferences or feelings.

        • PopeRatzo says:

          My bandit in Dark Souls is transgender, so clearly there are transgender characters in games.

  14. brgillespie says:

    Transgender-ism (a word?) seems too complicated a social issue (irrelevant of your views towards the condition) to be included merely as a character option.

    I would be interested to experience a story which had a sub-plot of the mental issues and social prejudices such an odd character would face. In any other case I wouldn’t care one way or the other. Perhaps I would if I gave a fuck about “romance options” with computer pixels.

    When you view them objectively, videogame romance plots tend more towards the “terrible romances” featured in poorly-made movies. The gaps in plausibility of the romance itself seems to be filled by the feelings of interest that the player themselves create. “Love is blind”.

    • Michael Anson says:

      Every aspect of a character is more complicated than a mere checkbox on a list. Being straight or gay is far more than just “likes guys/chicks,” and feeds into how the character interacts with straight, gay, bisexual, or asexual men and women, and how they respond in turn. The same applies to race, gender, and other characteristics. Treating someone’s characteristics as simply something that can be swapped out at will is just as demeaning to those possessed of those characteristics as simply eliminating them, since the character’s perspective doesn’t change.

      As an example of doing things right, take The Boss from the Saint’s Row series. Volition provided four voice choices for both male and female characters, then recorded lines for every voice for every moment throughout the game. But they didn’t ever record exactly the same lines; instead, they rewrote the lines to continue to fit the plot, while still showing how being a different race changed the perspective and delivery of those lines. Each voice was a different character’s take on how the story proceeded.

      An even better approach is the approach that Sophie wants to take but cannot due to her anxiety issues; namely, that these characteristics be properly integrated into the entirety of the character as they should be, and be treated with dignity and respect, even for the best and worst that such characteristics can produce. This is because people and characters are far more than their characteristics, but these characteristics in turn have a far greater impact on these people than can be so simply expressed.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Treating someone’s characteristics as simply something that can be swapped out at will is just as demeaning to those possessed of those characteristics as simply eliminating them, since the character’s perspective doesn’t change.

        Hence why Bethesda/Obsidian/BioWare “every NPC is whatever sexuality they need to be so the PC can get into their pants at will” is obnoxious.

        • dE says:

          My distaste for Bioware Romances goes even deeper. It’s this very weird idea of checkbox romance. Did you treat him to a nice dinner? Check. Did you compliment him? Check. Did you have a unifying moment? Check. Let’s do one final check, how is your loyalty score? Congratulations, you’re a couple! It’s the gamification of the cynical pickup artist nonsense. Only that Bioware somehow thinks this is mature and if you don’t like it, you must be a bigot.

          That and this weird teenager idea of “everyone is up for grabs and interested”. Which feeds back into the “swap-out” thing of the main character. Which lead to some odd situations when I thought my character had build up a nice friendship, only to find out I seemingly navigated towards the “let’s fuck” skillcheck – and now that I reject, I better be punished with low loyalty scores.

          • LionsPhil says:

            It’s the gamification of the cynical pickup artist nonsense.

            Oh hell yes. Kindness Coins was a brilliant kick-to-the-face on that whole mechanic.

          • Wulfram says:

            The romances aren’t gameified any more than any other piece of dialogue or interaction. Turning a few basic sanity checks into a “checklist romance” with a supposed resemblence to cynical pick up artists because it involves being vaguely nice to the person in question is silly.

            The truth is everyone is far far too eager to jump into the PCs bed for there to be any sort of gaminess about the romance. Games require challenge, and really there tends to be more challenge not ending up in a romance.

        • joa says:

          While I’ve encountered the BioWare romance stuff, I’ve never had any sexy times in Bethesda or Obsidian’s games. Have I just missed these in the dialogue options?

          • LionsPhil says:

            FO:NV has a handful of them, which is actually legacy from the FO side. I believe Morrowind had some, but it’s possible I’m tarring them with too wide a brush.

  15. SuffixTreeMonkey says:

    A sad piece of gaming news: the Kickstarted project Unwritted: That Which Happen by former Dishonored developer Joe Houston and Co. has effectively folded.

    • Noumenon says:

      I really like the suggestion in the comments that he release the code and art he has under a Creative Commons license. That should be in the contract for all game kickstarters, that if you don’t finish, you have to at least give up what you’ve got.

  16. Frank says:

    Typo: It’s Sophie Houlden with a “u”, y’know.

  17. mukuste says:

    First time I’ve heard of Julianna Barwick, but if you like this music, you will probably like Sigur Rós too. Her sound is so dangerously close to theirs that I’m almost tempted to shout “ripoff”, but I won’t because it’s still nice music, so who cares.

    • yhancik says:

      There’s a lot of ethereal music out there, you might as well say that Sigur Rós is dangerously close to Slowdive ;) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYerbroPX34

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      I recently saw a Youtube video where someone was arguing that the singer in question sounded like another singer from a few years ago. He did, but that singer in turn sounded like some other guy who was big in the 90s. And he in turn sounded like someone from the 80s. And there was already someone with that sound in the 70s. And he probably got it from someone in the 60s, who probably got it from some blue singer from the 50s. No idea where it came from before that, but you get the point.

      You can Kevin Bacon anything into oblivion this way. Nothing’s ever new if you play fast and loose with association.

      • yhancik says:

        Those associations can be nice though. With good artists, it puts their music into a context, and you can see what they took from a previous genre/artist/track/thing and made something personal out of it. OR you can feel cheated because the main gimmick that got you into this particular song was just a huge unprocessed sample ;)

    • Lambchops says:

      Her recent album was recorded in Iceland by invitation of Jonsi from Sigur Ros (who guests on it) and Alex Somers (who produced it).

      Haven’t got round to her first album yet so I don’t know if she always had a Sigur Ros vibe to her stuff, but certainly her surroundings and collaborators may have had some influence on the recent album. Definitely has a resemblence to () era Sigur Ros with a bit of the more ambient Valtari (though there’s something about Nepenthe that has me coming back more whereas Valtari just never quite clicked for me).

  18. phenom_x8 says:

    Just wanna share this enourmous list for all of you
    http://indiestatik.com/2014/01/01/indie-games-2014/

  19. Pockets says:

    The Cara Ellison thing sounds really interesting.

    I’d find it quite interesting if as well as featuring “name” designers, indie studios and the like, there was also people who are bit-parts in AAA megastudios for a contrast. I kind of want to hear about the people who spend all their time and effort on the little things that people skim over, like who is the artist who makes the Stop signs for the GTA games, for example? What were their goals on getting into making games? does that kind of thing satisfy them or do they go home at night just wishing to be doing anything else? That sort of thing.
    But I guess that wouldn’t get approved by marketing departments.

  20. james.hancox says:

    I hope Cara’s new endeavour does well. She’s got a unique writing style/voice, and when put in a random situation with developers tends to go magnificently off-script. I’ve chipped in, and everyone else should too!

  21. Strangerator says:

    One point that deserves to be reinforced concerning manuals…

    They allow games to begin at the beginning. Most games now begin with a sort of limbo period where you know for a fact you’re not really playing the game yet, because “this must be a part of the tutorial.” This forces a sort of gradual wading into the pool rather than a spectacular splashdown. What’s worse is that every game begins by breaking the fourth wall to one extent or another, instantly creating a disconnect between the player and his or her avatar in the game and the world he/she/it inhabits.

    So tutorial or manual? Just answer a simple question, “Do I want my game to be replayed?”

    If the answer is “no”, and you’re making a one-off story driven thing then by all means use standard controls and keybindings and a minimalist tutorial that enables me to experience your story once. Or perhaps I only need to be literate enough with your game to be led to the abattoir that is the microtransaction shop? I think as developers have begun to realize that games tend to not be replayed as much as they used to, they’ve begun to not care as much that their game doesn’t really hold up to multiple playthroughs. It might not even be conscious, it’s just design responding to consumer demand.

    If you answered “yes, I do intend for my game to be replayed”, then please kindly separate out the part where I learn about the game from the game itself. I’m not saying you have to blast your difficulty curve all to hell, but if the beginning of the game is a boring chore for an experienced player, you really have to allow me to detach it from the main game. It is truly a testament to the greatness of Fallout 2 that so many people have replayed it, despite its tutorial level being firmly attached to the game’s opening (and also not being very fun).

    I was personally always a fan of the separate tutorial option, and I still fondly remember Myst 2′s tutorial level. It was a completely separate little map, with a narrator who got annoyed when you used fireballs to obliterate the chickens and pigs on the tutorial’s little farm (“looks like you’ll be having bacon tonight!”) The whole thing didn’t take too long and had enough humor to keep you engaged. I even found myself exploring far corners of the map, which contained some hidden encounters (not mentioned by the tutorial narrator). I also recall Deus Ex having a separate tutorial which also contained a hidden area. There’s something nice about a tutorial that contains little “extras” that reward an inquisitive learner. Because let’s face it, during a tutorial the player is the student, and the game is the teacher. There’s nothing sweeter than when a game allows you to “disrupt class.” If the game actually reacts in some way to aberrant behavior (the aforementioned pig roast or finding the secret room in DX’s tutorial), it gives the player some agency during a process which is on its face flatly didactic.

    So I guess the main problem was, the word “tutorial” came to mean “school.” But if your tutorial is good enough, then school can be more like Hogwarts than like that drafty, chalkboard-infested catacomb populated by dour-faced nuns.

  22. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I’m so glad I read that article on the “Cult of the Peacock!” I took a usability course last semester and wrote a video game manual for a project management course (the CK2 manual I’m constantly flogging) so it was both relevant and informative. Even a class project showed that usability testing is hard, so the writer has my sympathies. Also, The Design of Everyday Things is a fascinating read that I’d recommend to anyone interested in the subject. Very easy to read.