At RPS our knickers are almost permanently in a twist. And that’s because we operate in an industry that’s worryingly busy with pantie-bunching nonsense. We’re also not the sort of site that likes to stay quiet about such things, and whole-heartedly believes that by making a fuss you can make a difference. Sometimes we have, sometimes we haven’t, but we’ve tended to have an opinion either way.
(I’m feeling somewhat self-conscious about this one, as this is John writing here, and this tends to be my department. So putting a bunch of my posts and calling them the “very best” seems a little gauche. However, at the same time, this is the work that I look back on and feel most proud of, so I’ll indulge myself. And Nathan gets in on the action too, so I’m not alone. I’m also very conscious that I’ll have forgotten a bunch of articles that should be in here, most likely ones by others too, since we don’t have a universal tag for such things. Trying to remember what we got cross about over the last 12 months, and then find the relevant post from the 4,071 articles we’ve posted this year, gets a bit tricky. So please do leave suggestions in the comments.)
It’s long been a frustration of John’s that we all operate under the pretense that we own the media we buy. With disclaimers on everything from books to music, games to movies, explaining that we’re at best paying to borrow the content for a bit, with no rights over it, ownership appears to be delusion. This becomes all too apparent when our lack of rights is demonstrated to us, as happened to reader Gimperial when his entire Steam collection was wiped, and he was not told why. When we tried to ask Valve why we were ignored, but mysteriously the next day his account was restored. So John spoke to gaming lawyer Jas Purewal to ask what the law says about all this, and inevitably the answer is unclear.
It’s not really possible to discern how much of our ranting and raging played a part in Ubisoft’s impressive change of heart about DRM this year. But as the most vociferous and incessant campaigners, RPS allows itself to believe it at least made some difference to the debate. 2012 was the year Ubi’s attitude finally began to change, although it didn’t start well. Anno 2070’s DRM was ghastly, but somehow an Ubi spokesperson claimed it was working as intended. Two days later this was contradicted, but it seemed like it was going to be another year of the same old. Come February things were still pretty bad, with the always-on DRM meaning a bunch of their games simply wouldn’t be playable for a few days as they changed servers. A server migration that ended up taking out games they hadn’t even warned it would. The farce was reaching a peak, but the internal machinations of Ubi meant that we still couldn’t get close to talking to someone responsible about the mess.
Come March, something changed. Ubi’s digital boss Chris Early told Eurogamer he’d “like to see the need for DRM to go away”. The need, of course, not the DRM. But it was a crack in a window. Frustrated that we still couldn’t speak to Ubi ourselves, John wrote what boiled down to an open letter to the publisher, explaining why DRM was hurting them, hurting sales, and hurting customers, and that simply honouring customers rather than treating them like potential criminals might be the way forward.
It was six months later that the message seemed to get through. Speaking exclusively to RPS, Ubi’s worldwide director for online, Stephanie Perotti, came to RPS offering to explain their plans to scrap their always-on DRM altogether. While John certainly didn’t get them an easy time, it really does seem to have marked a real turn-around for Ubisoft, and while they still manage to find ways to arse up the online portions of their big titles, the single-player versions are always there to play. And that’s fantastic.
One way you can be sure to get RPS worked up is to announce that games are damaging people in some way, and then provide no evidence for the claim. Back in April 2012, it was a body of UK teachers who made some outrageously inaccurate claims, supported by evidence they, er, hadn’t yet started collecting. Using only anecdotal claims, and not even attempting to demonstrate their representing a trend, this was apparently enough to attempt to scare teachers and parents into believing games were causing their children to become axe murderers. As is ever the case, and as is stated in John’s article dissecting the madly veering claims in the speech, “RPS is extremely concerned about any possible negative effect of violent gaming on children.” We really are. Especially when they’re then also blamed for “Obesity, social exclusion, loneliness, physical fitness, sedentary solitary lives,” all without a scrap of evidence. And when it’s teachers’ unions behaving in such a poorly educated and ignorant way, we get very upset. Because as this piece says, “By dumping everything on gaming, the real reasons a child may be lonely, excluded, or unwell goes unrecognised, and that child goes unhelped.”
The other big DRM story of 2012 was Diablo III. As was so obviously predictable, forcing the single-player version of the game to require a permanent online connection was always going to lead to misery for players. And of course it did, with the servers barely functional for the first couple of weeks, and then an ongoing issue in the months after. An interesting concern about this, however, is what happens once such issues are fixed. Nathan argued that we must never forget, and never forgive, such egregious stupidity, because to do so is to accept defeat in the fight against such practices.
June this year was one of the ugliest times for the gaming community we’ve seen. After March’s ghastly display of hate toward a woman who worked for BioWare, it was hard to imagine how it could get more disgusting. But the response to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project to create a series of videos exploring the tropes of the representation of women in games topped everything. John wrote about the horror that was occurring, and argued against the stupidest and laziest responses the campaign was receiving. And most of all, to ask the gaming community to stop pretending this behaviour is from a small few on some forum elsewhere, and thus renouncing ourselves from responsibility, but instead to own this, to accept it has infected our world, and to fight it.
Another RPS anger-trigger is the means by which the mainstream press so frequently attempt to take a tragedy and use it to sell papers by spreading fear. And when this crosses our boundaries, we’re damn well going to say something about it. Despicable papers like the Daily Mail repeatedly take brutal, horrendous tragedy and lie about the involvement of computer games. And we don’t get angry because of our pwecious gwames, we get angry because they’re manipulating the deaths of children to sell their paper, and they’ve picked an angle that means it’s in our remit to scream about it. This happened in September this year when so very sadly a 14 year old killed himself, and the Mail contorted the story past breaking point to imply that readers’ children who played games were likely to follow him.
After a year that was peppered with quite repulsively sexist and misogynistic arguments, a social dam burst and in November Twitter became filled with the hashtag #1ReasonWhy. It was focused on why there aren’t more women in the games industry, but quickly blossomed to be a place for people to vent their experiences of sexism and misogyny in both the industry and in experiencing the industry. Nathan’s response to this was a beautiful piece, primarily speaking to male readers, arguing why this wasn’t someone else’s argument, someone else’s problem, but everyone’s.
This one went fast. From receiving an astonishing press release, to seeing the entire campaign scrapped, only about three hours passed. Square, who had already courted controversy by their moronic Hitman nuns trailer, managed to undo all good will they’d earned this year by possibly the most immediately obviously stupid advertising campaign we’ve ever seen. A Hitman Facebook promotion that allowed you to threaten to murder you friends was an idea so outstandingly stupid that it’s impossible to understand how it ever left a boardroom. But to do this with the ability to attach spiteful, bullying reasons for the threat, such as their “small tits” or “tiny penis”, beggared all belief. Having to read the press release three times before he could believe it really said what it said, John then ran the Facebook app and saw it really was what it said, and then found the bullying terms within. Posting about this on the site saw a huge international response, with just about every gaming site on the internet linking to the story, forcing Square into rapid action. The campaign was scrapped, the website pulled, and presumably a vast amount of money wasted by a publisher struggling to stay afloat. An ugly affair for everyone.
As mentioned above, a repeated refrain in all our violence coverage is that we want to know of its dangers more than anyone else. We have no desire to defend games against evidenced negatives, and constantly seek to learn about potential concerns. Nathan took this notion to the next level, as he began the conversation about whether we have personal experience of effects of playing violent games – whether we should be having that conversation amongst ourselves. In a balanced, level-headed piece this holiday, he asked those questions, and the response has been quite bewildering. So much fear, anger, hate and derision in response to being asked to talk about something – it couldn’t really reveal the need for the discussion more clearly, and it’s one that will carry over into 2013.