The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for writing The Sunday Papers – mostly. Another fortnight has gone by since I last did so however, for which I can only apologise. Let’s me make it up to you with… links to articles about games.

Yussef Cole at Unwinnable wrote about Cuphead and the racist legacy of the animation period it references. This is great criticism.

So when Cuphead uses imagery of gambling, heaven and hell for its setting, it employs images and tropes that were established originally to make moral statements about the lazy and savage blacks of Harlem and their sinful “jungle music.” Calloway’s likeness may take the form of dice in Cuphead, but he is cast as a caricature in shorts like Clean Pastures and Swing Wedding -which depicts minstrel frogs who share a troubling visual proximity to the Ribby and Croaks boss characters in Cuphead.

At GamesIndustry.biz, Brie Code argues for a future she would want to live in, for games and for the world, and how we might get there.

Because of the internet, we aren’t stuck walking through the snow to the library, cursing ourselves for forgetting our gloves, discovering the library is closed, and then walking home risking frostbite in our hands and still wondering, ineffectually, whether a hurricane is a cyclone or not. We are moving on to deeper pursuits. We are free to learn fast, to exchange ideas, to connect, to validate our own experiences with others like us and therefore to stop questioning ourselves, and from there to build something out of all this.

When Valve were initially planning on turning Half-Life episodic, they contracted external developers to develop entries in the series. That included Warren Spector’s Junction Point, which worked for a year on an episode centered around Raveholm. Rick Lane spoke to Spector about the project, covering its intended story, mechanics, and eventual demise. It’s a good read, though there’s a lot that Spector doesn’t remember.

What Spector can recall, and in considerable detail, is the magnet gun, and how it would have functioned. “If I remember correctly, it was team lead Matt Baer who came up with the idea for the magnet gun,” he says. “It went through several iterations, but the one I remember was one where you’d fire a sticky magnetic ball at a surface and anything made of metal would be forcefully attracted to it.”

Joyce Weisbecker became the first female commercial video game designer in 1976. Fast Co Design (Fast Company Design? Co.Design?) spoke to Weisbecker and tell the story.

“I know there were no other women at RCA doing the programming,” she says today. “A couple of guys did and they were employees. I think I was the only person outside the company that actually got paid to do a video game. So I was the first contractor . . . and possibly the first independent video game developer, because I came up with the idea and pitched it, and they said okay.”

I liked this twitter thread by Xalavier Nelson Jr, which argues in defence of Hotline Miami 2. I disliked the game but this is a compelling argument.

I also enjoyed this thread by game developer Loren Schmidt on procedural colour palettes.

I’m interested enough in Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds to be hoovering up each new detail of the game’s in-development desert map, and so I enjoyed Ian Higton’s video for EG charting the way the map has changed since it was first announced.

Also at Eurogamer, Chris Bratt attended Blizzcon and spoke to attendees about harassment on Overwatch servers. It’s pretty heartbreaking to hear the people who say they’ve simply learned to be silent.

I never plan on pitching a game to a publisher, but I still found this GDC talk by former Sony employee Brian Upton interesting and entertaining. 30 Things I Hate About Your Game Pitch.

Music this week is again Shiina Ringo, though this time let’s go with God, Buddha (or God, Nor Buddha?). I’ll return next week with hopefully more energy and a better haul of links.

101 Comments

  1. Drakedude says:

    Guys, if you’re going to share liberal articles as always, focus less on how games fuck up and more on the context of the games industry in the wider world. How many games is too much? Would the world be better off if all games were indie and the $200 million powerhouses were spent on more useful causes? Is the games industry moving towards a healthier place in our society or is still going to be an engine that shelters but also creates social outcasts?

    No one gives a fuck about cuphead’s ancestors or whatever. If we’re going to get ethical, then let’s get fucking ethical.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      57 and a third games is too much.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Uh… A+++, would get trolled again? “Perhaps it would have been good if Cuphead had decided the answer to decades of systematic racism and poisonous caricatures in popular media wasn’t simply to take those caricatures out entirely and completely ignore they ever existed, but to redo them instead in ways which explicitly celebrated the people the caricatures were originally mocking and dehumanizing” – seems like ‘the context of the games industry in the wider world’ to me.

      • Worriedman says:

        butbutbut the liberal agenda!

      • Drakedude says:

        My point is, it’s small fish. I’ve read the Sunday papers for quite a while and it’s pretty rare that i see the big-ticket issues on display.

        • Horg says:

          ”Fallacy of relative privation”, something else we see on here a lot, typically featured in the comments section whenever a socially emotive topic is raised:

          ”Dismissing an argument or complaint due to the existence of more important problems in the world, regardless of whether those problems bear relevance to the initial argument.”

          • Drakedude says:

            If i saw those issues get deserving amounts of press, i wouldn’t bitch.

          • qrter says:

            It’s more widely known as Whataboutism.

          • Horg says:

            Not quite. It’s similar to Whataboutism, but there’s an important technical difference. The ”Tu quoque” (Whataboutism) fallacy is an appeal to hypocrisy, trying to discredit your opponent’s argument by not engaging the topic, but instead bringing up a related accusation against your opponent to shift the focus of the conversation. The ”fallacy of relative privation” is also designed to shift the focus of conversation, but does so by attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the initial topic by pointing out that more serious issues exist, even if they have no bearing on the initial argument.

          • Babymech says:

            What’s the name of that fallacy where you decide that simply labeling someone’s argument is more important than addressing it? Where putting a label on something is your only contribution to the discussion? I’m sure there’s a great label for it, but for now I’ll just say that your approach is… problematic.

          • Horg says:

            A fallacy is defined as a failure in reasoning that renders an argument invalid. Correctly identifying an attempt to derail a discussion with a fallacy is not itself a fallacy. There is no onus to address a fallacious argument.

          • Babymech says:

            Ah, “being-a-dick-ism”. There we go.

            I swear, this plague of people trying to find reasons not to engage each other on the internet is getting tiresome. Their point was not inscrutable – they felt that there was a risk of onesidedness and bias in the RPS selection of Sunday content, and while I disagree, I’m not going to be a dick and try to find reasons not to engage that perspective. That would just be playing power games.

          • Horg says:

            “being-a-dick-ism”

            An ad hominem attack? For shame. If you want people to engage with you, the onus is on you to compose a post worth engaging with. Low effort shit posts, fallacious arguments, and personal insults will only get you blocked.

    • Worriedman says:

      You find me any articles about those subjects that have been published in the last two weeks (or really anytime) and I will gladly read them. Otherwise, I guess you can read other articles? Or even better, other websites! Because some of us actually like to read informative articles from outside our own perspectives that might enrich us and our hobby? You know, the ones that RPS strives to post almost all the time?

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, feel free to kick rocks buddy, you won’t be missed.

      • Drakedude says:

        What’s the problem man? You like nitty-gritty articles, i like big picture. It’s not apples and oranges.

        • Drakedude says:

          On the publishing front – i get it. The gaming blogosphere can’t be relied on to produce useful discussions on demand. If RPS is willing to look beyond into broader issues of consumerism and the state of the nerd subculture i’m sure they can find a better range of articles.

        • Worriedman says:

          I feel it’s telling that out of the handful of articles in this issue of the Sunday Papers, the one you take issue with is the one about how parts of American culture has a problem with whitewashing and racism, and not, say, the one about procedural color palettes. Then you dismiss the very real subject of racism in pop culture by saying “let’s have some articles about the REAL problems” while gesturing grandly at issues that don’t, to my knowledge, have any articles written about them at all, much less recently.

          You claim that Sunday Papers very rarely post about “big ticket issues” (I would disagree but whatever), nothing is stopping you from posting those articles in the comments. We’re a well-read lot, I’d bet most of us would read them. But as it is, you have contributed less than nothing to the conversation; I searched for the issues that you brought up, because they sound interesting to me too! But absolutely nothing comes up. You attempt to divert attention from a well-written piece to nothing at all, then act like you’re the intellectual superior for doing absolutely nothing.

          • Drakedude says:

            Jesus christ man. I’m black. I don’t feel the politics of cuphead is going to do much for anyone.

            I’ll freely admit i’m unlikely to share these articles. I’m also unlikely to be a mechanic or a flying instructor. RPS is employed to do this for the foreseeable future, it’s just what i’d like to see.

          • Unclepauly says:

            He elicited a somewhat thought out post from you so he contributed ‘something’ imo. That something may be throwaway but it’s something.

            Also people completely ignore the fact racism was just as bad against Irish and Italian people in those days, people considered white now. The largest mass lynching in american history was against southern italian/sicilian people.

          • puppybeard says:

            Really interested to hear about legislation from that era that specifically singled out Irish or Italians. Y’know, seeing as it how it was “just as bad”.

            As an Irish person, I have to laugh when people try and let on we had it as bad, or the Italians. In the Draft Riots, Irish immigrants took it upon themselves to purge the black population of Manhattan. Not only were they not subject to the same punishment as black Americans, they were the main instigators of meting out that punishment for a significant period of time.

            Irish Americans are mortifying and generally find common cause with Italian Americans in being some of the most wilfully racist people in that country. See the current administration for proof. Or Boston.

            “Not all” blah blah blah who cares.

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      Swordfishtrombone says:

      Ethics don’t exist on a spectrum and certainly aren’t defined by how much money is involved in the topic under discussion. Calling out racist stereotypes is pretty bloody important if you ask me, particularly with world affairs as they are currently.

      • Drakedude says:

        Yes, but the sunday papers rarely engages with anything bigger then this. Sexism at best.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          Perhaps you’d like to share some links to current articles that you feel engage with these issues?

        • Premium User Badge

          Swordfishtrombone says:

          As I said, I consider racism a pretty significant issue and as such again question your definition of “wider” or “bigger”. But there we go, presumably it’s less of an important issue for you, for whatever reason. Cheerio.

          • Drakedude says:

            If this was an article talking about, say, who has limited access to games and how they engage with them, fair enough. Cuphead’s art style is just so painfully niche i don’t think it deserves press.

    • Michael Anson says:

      It’s a little hard to get more macro than “gaming’s place in the overarching culture related to social conflict.” The article is actually explicitly about exactly what you demanded, which makes me wonder what you are actually demanding.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      There’s been a number of indiepocalyse articles about ‘how many games is too much?’ I’m also not exactly sure about what you want to see in a ‘wouldn’t it be nice if everyone put all the money they spent on games into charity instead.’

      I suppose you could also have a ‘wouldn’t it be nice if people spent the time they spend trolling comment threads on something more productive’ article.

      • Drakedude says:

        “At what point does a blockbuster game stop justifying it’s budget” doesn’t sound airy-fairy to me. If you want to dismiss the ethics, it’s on you.

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          Pitch me this article, because I don’t see how this makes any sense. Budget in the industry basically directly translates to man hours, so you are saying there, ethically, should be a maximum to the amount of man hours spent on a project? Why is that an ethical issue? It might not make a lot of economic sense to make such huge games but I don’t think there is a moral philosophy that says you should not employ too many people.

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          I mean you might not like what AAA produces but it’s an odd argument to make to claim anything would be improved by making the thousands of artists working on those games go work retail instead.

    • BarryDennen12 says:

      That Cuphead article was infuriatingly dumb. Something with that level of artistry comes along, with that much work put into it – you shut the fuck up, get on your knees, and thank the Gaming Gods that it exists.

      I do not know if there yet exists a category for this level of stupidity: ‘it would’ve been racist to show 30’s black cartoon guys, but it was racist to NOT show them too!’.

      I honestly, really want the author of that article to rot in piss.

  2. onodera says:

    TIL Cab Calloway was black.

  3. Kollega says:

    The article about how dystopia-only entertainment limits us, and how we should put more effort into imagining and portraying a future where we’d actually want to live in… that’s something I’ve been loudly proclaiming for some time now. We dearly need a vision of the future that’s worthy of looking forward to – not a boot stomping on a human face forever or something that sucks even more.

    Though of course, I am biased. Because I have to live my day-to-day life in a lawless, corrupt oligarchical dystopia where the few rich are millionnaires and the many poor can barely make ends meet. It’s only quantifiably “better” than some war-torn African country, and to have all my entertainment offer exactly the same except worse is… disheartening, not to mention grating. At this point, I just gathered up a bunch of friends, and went “hey, let’s make our own story/game that’s about a society where things are going well!”, and we intend on doing that ourselves if so few others will.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      The main sticking point for me is it essentially says – I’m going to be reductive here, but I don’t think I’m being inaccurate – “From my perspective, all forms of entertainment revolving around conflict and struggle are essentially pointless, and the end goal of every creative medium should be nothing but sunshine and kittens 24/7”. (I mean, if I’m wrong, how come pretty much the only thing approaching a hypothetical example that she cites is basically “A virtual open world with no set goals or direction where everything is wonderful and I have an infinite amount of time to live my life in whatever way I want”?) I don’t necessarily disagree entirely, though that ties into a much broader argument about popular culture and I don’t want to write an essay on it right this moment. I just wish she’d concede that – if you’re saying “The real world is horrible, therefore no fictional world should ever be” then own the argument, appreciate the complete and utter sea-change you’re essentially calling for.

      • Kollega says:

        I did not read anything like that from the article at all. Because entertainment centered around conflict or struggle is NOT the same thing as entertainment centered around bleakness and violence, and it’s the latter that the article suggests we cut down on. Non-violent conflict is entirely possible; it’s just harder to write. Equally possible is violent conflict where there is, in the end, a clear difference between right and wrong. But both of those are rapidly becoming a lost art – because the writers and artists take a defeatist stance along the lines of “it’s easier to write plots about misery and suffering when there’s so much quality inspiration material on the evening news, plus it’s seen as more “mature”, ergo we should only do that!” If they even think that hard, and not just cribble from Game of Thrones or Twenty Four or any other piece of media you care to name that elevates its “grittiness” to absurd levels.

        To sum up my line of thinking: you totally can have conflict even in a eutopian world (note the spelling), because even near-perfect living conditions for everyone are not going to remove personal struggles and human relationships from the world. Not to mention that keeping an actually eutopian world running is a hell of a task, and that itself could make for a great excercise in problem-solving. But today, conventional wisdom is that “dystopias are more realistic and easier to write” (the first point is overall untrue, but the second one is definitely true), so we get flooded with those… and as I’ve said, this is simply disheartening to someone who’s living in a real-life dystopia already.

        • Eight Rooks says:

          I’m not sure how you can not see any of what I’m saying in lines like

          Guitar solos are a typical masculine energy. This linear build of tension followed by one climax and a dénouement is the structure of most western forms of entertainment. But it’s not my pattern. It’s not my biochemistry. I notice that I always get annoyed when the plot kicks in in a movie. I’m annoyed by the predictable conflict and build-up of misunderstandings followed by the predictable climax and the end. I just want to get to know the characters and exist in their world for a while.

          I mean, what is that if not “conventional dramatic structure is boring and predictable and only exists to gratify the same old base impulses in the audience over and over”? What is her later example if not “I want a world without conflict and ugliness and limitations where I can grow as a person and learn new things every day”? Again, I am not entirely unsympathetic to this, but at the same time I’m also somewhat uncomfortable around people who instantly jump to the conclusion that there’s no real value to be found in anything negative, or that any creator going dark with their work is just “elevating its grittiness to absurd levels”. If you live in Venezuela or something I can understand you thinking a lot of dystopian fiction is clearly written by people who have no idea what they’re doing, but sorry, I just don’t believe there’s flat-out no value left in the form. You’re not touching on some universal truth simply by saying “I don’t really like seeing this in the fiction I consume” – you need to go further than that.

          • Kollega says:

            First thing, as an aside: the standard dramatic structure does kinda suck in a way, because people who can’t or aren’t allowed to do something interesting with it just overrely on the formula. I’m sure this comes up every time modern “popcorn entertainment” movies are criticised. But that’s kind of a side note.

            Second thing: if you want to explore dark themes and negative events, you have to have a point. Compare The Lives of Others (a German drama movie from 2006) and, idk, Ruiner (a wannabe-cyberpunk game from this year). The Lives of Others takes a real-world dystopia in the shape of 1980s East Germany, and though the ability of the main character – a Stasi agent – to change sides and protect a dissident that he’s ordered to spy on is profoundly unrealistic, it sets up great character drama and a story about being a good man with an evil job and doing the right thing even as it’s deadly dangerous. There’s a point. And Ruiner just wallows in cyberpunk unpleasantness, without anything to say besides “brutal violence is kinda awesome!” I’m not really against dark themes in fiction – I mean, holy shit, I loved The Lives of Others – but as I’ve said, you have to have a point.

            Third thing, related to the above: I sometimes gander into dystopian fiction, but only if there’s something to give a damn about within the story, and a chance for change. But a lot of modern-day dystopian fiction just goes “welp, this is how it is, can’t change it!” – and to me, that doesn’t even reek of uncreative approach, it reeks of outright propaganda. I do not want to believe that “there really is no alternative” when even I, with my “practically Western” education and living standards, have been exposed to violence and poverty and suffering and urban/environmental decay all my life just because I live in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. This is not how I want to live the rest of my days. I want to search for another, better way. I mean, FWIW, I also found The Hunger Games movies surprisingly good – partly because in those, the revolution is not pointless, partly because there’s a strong political message about the complacency of the haves and the plight of the have-nots, and partly because of “Haha, so funny! These movie sets are just like home! :D”

          • Eight Rooks says:

            (Replying to Kollega again if this isn’t clear, because I can’t actually reply to a post that far down.)

            Oh, no argument that if you’re going to go dark there really ought to be a point, and one reason I have little to no interest in Ruiner is it seemed pretty obvious it was edgelording for the sake of it more than anything else (and I didn’t even think it seemed to be doing it in any particularly interesting artistic way). Though I thought the Hunger Games novels, at least, were dreadful and the epitome of unimaginative, poorly written dystopian fiction, so one man’s trash and all that. ;)

          • Kollega says:

            Side note: The Hunger Games are shonky and hackneyed in many, many different ways. Like how the series is an attempt to combine bloody gladiatorial combat with crappy reality TV/beauty paegants. I just found the political message surprisingly good and relevant when I watched the movies with the corner of my eye as they aired on television (yes, exactly). Which I mostly did to laugh at the OTT intrigue and the set decorations – because as I’ve said, you could shoot a mockbuster of the series in my city and no-one would be any wiser :D

            So The Hunger Games, I found surprisingly okay because that story has a point. It’s just that it’s somewhat stilted in handling that, but… gods be my witnesses, I’ll still take that over any given “cyberpunk-as-escapism” dystopia which is entirely bereft of social commentary, and just uses the horrible world to get the plot in motion, most often with the end result of the world just becoming worse for wear and the evil powers-that-be maintaining the iron grip on the downtrodden citizenry… but hey, the protagonists got their revenge/pulled off their con, and that’s what matters, apparently!

            Another example of a dystopian story I loved? Dishonored. Because in that, it’s your actions that change the world at a crucial junction of its history, and if it just spirals into death and decay, that’s not something unavoidable – no, it’s your fault, and something you could’ve sidestepped.

    • Michael Anson says:

      Dystopias work as a go-to setting because they inherently include a lot of conflict on multiple levels, and narrative thrives on conflict. That said, if you are looking for games without that narrative conflict, there are plenty, such as simulations, puzzles, even adventure games.

      • Kollega says:

        The idea that you have to have a horrible unlivable setting to have conflict is disingenious at best. Valid counterpoint: the smarter sort of two-fisted tale pulp homages – where the good guys are complex but still Really Good, the evil guys are complex but still Really Evil, and there is hot-blooded, high-octane conflict in a bright and cheerful world. Because saving millions of people from certain death at the hands of the villain, by using your heroic feats, derring-do, brains, brawn, and battle buddies is a high-stakes conflict.

        That’s just one counterpoint, by the way. There exist some others, equally valid.

    • Chromatose says:

      Yeah, that article was great. It’s been really dismaying this last decade or so to see not just games, but film and TV slant towards this kind of leering pessimism about the future. That trailer for The Last Of Us 2 that basically played out as five minutes of torture spectacle was a good example, but then there’s also that scene from The Walking Dead. Sure, killing a well-liked character can mark a turning point in the story, but that they chose to depict the character losing his faculties through repeated strikes to the cranium was legitimately nauseating. Hell, the fact we have a new series of Star Trek, the grandaddy of all optimistic, utopian sci-fi, opening with a two parter in which the main protagonist uses the excuse of past trauma to commit what would be classed as a war crime now is just… I have no clue whether we’ve just run out of ideas or that we’ve genuinely lost the ability to imagine futures better than our current condition, but it’s really sad to see.

      It’s not even that we need to go entirely the other way and have everything be all sunshine and roses, but just some alternative to the current trend of cool nihilism and leering depictions of violence would be incredibly welcome just now.

      • Kollega says:

        Honestly? I think the brighter depictions of the future still exist on the fringes of pop-culture, but they haven’t been “in” for a little over 30 years; first we had the Eighties with urban decay and economic deregulation, and the inception of cyberpunk as commentary on that, then the EXTREEEEME Nineties with their Rob Liefelds and their Mortal Kombats, then the post-9/11 America fighting for Pyhhric victories and the entire genre of “gritty anti-terror movie” that spawned, and… at some point, it simply got out of hand. The utopian dreamers and the bright futures they envisioned have been marginalized over that time, because their stuff was “naive” and “childish” and “not for real adults” and “of no real value”… which, at the current point, frankly just makes me want to ask: “Does this remind you of anything?”

        Fortunately, though, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel – and not one mounted on the oncoming train, either. I think that gradually more and more people have been getting exasperated and pissed off by all the “dark gritty edgy stuff”, simply because nowadays it’s mainstream and everywhere, not any sort of hip counterculture. I feel that if people weren’t getting tired of the same miserable tropes, stuff like Steven Universe and the Pacifist Route of Undertale would not be nearly as popular. Let’s just hope this is not an illusion, and does represent a growing shift in what people want… though really, wouldn’t anyone get tired of inability to procure any hope or good cheer for an evening’s entertainment?

        • notponies says:

          A few thoughts:

          1) In sci fi discussion the lack of optimistic Star Trek stories is a common point, though the idea that they were more common in the past is inaccurate. That said this did inspire Project Hieroglyph, though its aims to “spur innovation in science and technology” seems different from what Code was going for.

          2) At the same time, there is value in darker stories so expunging them completely would be a tragedy.

          (I’ve been spending time among fanfic writers (*coughTumblrcough*) and learned there’s a debate between those that want to use fanfic to explore dark themes and those that almost want everything to be coffee shop AUs.)

          Also, consider the beloved Divinity: Original Sin games. All of their gameplay is focused on combat. All of their lauded simulation aspects are about pulling off cool tricks with the combat system, even more so than their inspiration Ultima 7. Interacting with NPCs outside of using the tools meant for combat is just dialog trees, and the Original Sin games weren’t really sold on the depth of their NPCs. Where would that kind of game fit into all of this?

          Personally I don’t to be forced to choose between edgelordiness and…21st Century Pleasantville.

          (Also, not going to lie, making guitar solos a gendered issue kind of made me roll my eyes.)

          • Kollega says:

            A few thoughts in return:

            The more complex explanation/depiction of pulps in this article is actually more in line with my personal stereotype of “Golden Age science fiction” – starting with people like E.E. “Doc” Smith, and proceeding to guys like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. But of course, I forgot – and should not forget – that pulp mags and golden-age sci-fi are practically one in the same, as many classic sci-fi stories were originally published piecemeal in periodicals like Astounding Science Fiction.

            Hilariously enough, the game I’m making with friends (mentioned up above) is inspired by exactly this sort of weird-and-wonderful “astounding stories”, where anything was possible. And in our modern times, this definition includes actually good life being possible – and this idea actually needs to be pointed out and explored, rather than being taken for granted.

            As for the second point… the linked comic seems to imply that dark stories can be lifesaving for people in dark situations because of their “earn your happy ending quality”. And I couldn’t agree more. But of course… the problem with many, many dark stories today, including super-popular ones, is that they don’t let anyone earn their happy ending, and do not feature a conclusion where life turns out to be okay after all. The only place they ever go is down, down, down. And for someone like me, who’s had a genuinely horrible life and lived with genuinely horrible people, this is not fun in any way. It’s not even cathartic. What’s cathartic is when some dark story’s characters finally, finally manage to escape their horrible life and environment, or finally get treated with kindness and dignity by anyone at all, or any other thing like that. Not when everything’s just getting worse and worse untill all the good people die or turn evil and all the bad people get to laugh about their victory.

            So of course, a choice between Edgelord City and 21st-century Pleasantville is not the most appealing one, seeing as Pleasantville (being a badly-realized utopian vision) is artificial and boring, and edgelordery is just totally passe and teeth-grindingly annoying at best… but that’s not the choice I’m asking anyone to make. What I actually want is some degree of well-founded optimism, where “darker” does not automatically equal “better” and where there’s actual, real hope to be found – no matter if the situation is bright or dark.

            Make of that what you will.

          • Kollega says:

            Also, as a later side note – coffee shop AUs are really undervalued. For example, I wish the Ratchet & Clank fandom had more coffee shop AUs, instead of being horribly dark all the time. Because when they feature well-written, engaging, and fun characters in ridiculous fantasy situations, slice-of-life stories truly ascend to something totally amazing. At least, that’s what I think.

      • malkav11 says:

        Personally, I straight up don’t see a path where we surmount the current trends of active anti-intellectualism and willful blindness, the supporting of the worst humanity has to offer precisely because it’s offensive to people with their heads screwed on straight, the active and deliberate destruction of society’s safeguards and support structure to the cheers of exactly the people who most suffer from it, the flagrant looting of the poor and middle class to serve the ultra-rich, etc in order to come out in a shining utopic future. I just don’t.

        It’s not that there’s not value in escapist flights of fancy, but I find them increasingly implausible anymore.

        • Kollega says:

          Now, I obviously don’t know your exact situation… but all of that sounds like you’re “living in Amerika / Amerika ist wunderbar”. And one of my friends, who lives in northern Europe, has recently called the modern USA a dystopia in the making. This sure sounds like it.

          But even for those of us who are “living in Amerika”, or in countries that are even worse off… I have only one suggestion. Which is not to give up on the world as “unfixable”. If I have given up on my life as “unfixable”, I probably wouldn’t be alive to write this comment right now.

          There may not be an obvious signposted route to solving our current problems… but I am convinced there is one, and it starts with exploring how a future might work with an emphasis on social activity and without predatory capitalism. Though for me as an artist and writer, it’s “fairly easy” to do my part – by creating stories that show the benefits of social responsibility and discredit the ridiculous modern-day notion of “there really is no alternative”. After all, we are living in an age where ideas have more power than weapons.

          • malkav11 says:

            I do live in America, but it sure seems like the UK is dealing with a lot of the same issues (albeit no one quite as egregious as Trump and with a few more government safeguards and a bit more recognition of the importance of providing for all one’s citizens), and there’s a disturbing right-wing nationalist trend in a bunch of other democratic countries as well.

            But I am certainly not suggesting giving up. Even if we can’t get to a better place (and perhaps we can – there are smarter people than I whose actual job it is to fix these things), fighting the rot at the very least buys time. And that’s worth it. I just think if you’re extrapolating the future from the present, as is a major job of speculative fiction, it’s gonna look pretty dystopian. And I think presenting the ideas of resistance is going to be easier to identify with and take on if couched in characters fighting back against a situation that’s closer to the present one – i.e., shitty and dystopian.

          • Kollega says:

            See, that’s actually a good point. It’s much easier to make a resistance story if your setting is a dystopia. It’s just that many people nowadays prefer to not go with the resistance angle, and instead just make a story about a shitty world where bad things happen to people. Look at the cyberpunk genre; it used to provide social commentary, and have downtrodden anarchists as important characters, at least, but nowadays it’s just been reduced to a meaningless backdrop for stories of revenge or heisting or any other selfish goals you care to name. There are so, so few times when cyberpunk even acknowledges the existence of e.g. any kind of socialism – it’s just evil corporations all the way down. And not even having any real rebels just makes the genre about horrible people perpetuating a horrible world; which is, sadly enough, a depiction of reality rather than an extrapolation from reality =/

            However, what I know is that I’m not going to roll over and give up. If I ever learned something in life, it’s that giving up is simply not worth it. And I will attempt to rouse the people by depicting the sort of sociopolitical situations where fighting the good fight (by whatever means are on hand) is not fruitless. There are few people and societies today that already strive towards the eutopian ideal – but they exist, and their example needs to be trumpted so that people get to see how there is, in fact, an alternative.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      The fact the the world we live in is so bleak is precisely why dystopia fiction exists. But yeah, it shouldn’t be so dominant.

      • Kollega says:

        I’m just gonna quote Roger Ebert on that one. As he said: “No doubt the truth can be unpleasant, but I am not sure that unpleasantness is the same as the truth.”

  4. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    What Spector can recall, and in considerable detail, is the magnet gun, and how it would have functioned. “If I remember correctly, it was team lead Matt Baer who came up with the idea for the magnet gun,” he says. “It went through several iterations, but the one I remember was one where you’d fire a sticky magnetic ball at a surface and anything made of metal would be forcefully attracted to it.”

    Huh. Was the gun itself not made of metal? Also, a lot of metal things are not ferromagnetic.

    • MattM says:

      In the real world sure, but in videogames all metals are ferromagnetic. It’s almost justified since we do use steel in so many ways.

    • Ben says:

      “Here, Gordon, take this polyresin omnimagnetic gun” or whatever.

    • Ejia says:

      I feel like I’ve seen the concept of the magnet mine everywhere but can’t actually remember a single instance of it.

      • MattM says:

        Red Faction: Armageddon had a magnet gun. It let you attach any two things and would then pull them together. I liked using it to destroy structures and slam enemies into walls.
        A couple of games have had black hole guns that pull in everything. Unreal 2 and some of the Ratchet and Clank games come to mind.

        • malkav11 says:

          And then it made the primary enemies obnoxious insects with too many HP that were not remotely satisfying to use the magnet gun on. :(

  5. onodera says:

    Oh, and HM2 is worse than the original not because of its story, it’s worse mechanically. The weakest levels of HM forced you to take out the enemies in a heavily predefined order, like a puzzle game (the hotel level and the office level were probably the worst offenders). HM2 has more of these levels, and some are incredibly long (like the ship and the mafia tower). There are some great levels in it (like the henchman’s hideout and his last job), but there’s much less improvisation allowed by the game overall.

  6. Bucket Helmet Bear says:

    The Cuphead piece is a little nauseating. If Cuphead uses a graphic style reminiscent of cartoons which by today’s standards would be racist so what. Nobody saw it like that until this guy smugly pointed it out. So until now it wasn’t a problem and it wasn’t racist. Once again in the name of progressive thought we’ve taken a non problem, made it into a problem and then whined that we have a problem. I very much doubt the developers intent was to be racist. Trying to censor and forget the past is like going into a museum and setting fire to it. It’s like saying bad things happened in the neolithic age so lets destroy every piece of neolithic history that we can find. It’s easy to judge when you’re young because you haven’t yet lived a life worthy of judgement yourself. Preserve history and be honest about it. Don’t suppress, destroy or hide it just because it doesn’t fit with current moral trends of the day.

    • MauvePeopleEater says:

      That’s kind of the point of the piece, though? Cuphead does hide an unsavoury element of the style it borrows heavily from “because it doesn’t fit with current moral trends of the day”.

      (As an aside, can we really call the drive not to caricature or demean certain races a “moral trend”?)

    • Eight Rooks says:

      It stuns me how many people are willfully (?) misinterpreting this. Like I said further up, the article is neither saying Cuphead is explicitly racist, nor that its artwork is racist or anything else. It is saying that maybe, just maybe, the original racist caricatures in artwork like that should have been replaced by awesome art explicitly celebrating the black people and black culture that those caricatures stole from and mocked, not replaced with new artwork which – while technically amazing – is very careful to say absolutely nothing about race at all. It is saying that maybe the decision to say nothing, to avoid the conversation about race, was not a very good or a very smart decision because that art style is – now and forever – explicitly connected to that conversation whether you like it or not.

      I mean, that’s how I interpreted it, and it seemed like a reasonable argument to me. I’m not sure how much clearer I can make it. The cynic in me assumes you’re probably just going to respond with “but but but get ur dirty politix out of muh gaemz”, but hey, I tried.

      • dog2 says:

        Don’t you think there’s value in value-neutral art like Cuphead? Maybe not every piece of media needs to be constantly reckoning with, fighting, and reëmerging a history that makes a lot of people upset. Like, what, do black people need to exist in a world that constantly reminds them of how badly we’ve suffered? And how could the writer call Cuphead an example of whitewashing when the proposed counterexample was, literally, a well intentioned exact paving over of the attitudes of the time? Like, it’s so haughty in tone for an article that doesn’t really discover much and whose big conclusion is refocus the aesthetic around confronting racism (?). Kind of a big and ambiguous ask.

        I think the article above is a bad example of an already annoying trend of woke-stuff being published in games by people who don’t really want to think it through and take it all too seriously. But it still wants to retain the tut-tutting and authoritative voice of the media criticism it’s inspired by. As if that’s really warranted! As if we were publishing it in a journal. As if it was so clear-cut.

        • Eight Rooks says:

          If you honestly think that 1) pretending something horrible never existed in the first place and 2) saying “Hey, you know that horrible thing? What if it looked like this instead? So we could take the injustice the original thing instigated and counter, rather than ignore it?” are both ‘paving over’ anything… then I don’t think there’s much else I can say.

          • Babymech says:

            Maybe it’s the case that – and I’m just guessing – that the Cuphead artist did not have a professional skill set in the historical, cultural and ethical analysis it takes to do justice to the project you imply, but did have a skill set in imitating the art style. An artist who is good at cubist craft does not necessarily have the skill to speak on Picasso’s historical context. I mean – to do what you imply requires a lot more skill and work than just being woke. It also requires significantly more resources, and given that this was a true indie project, it means that the game would not have been made.

            It’s fair and welcome to point out the racially and historically conscious project that can still be made. It’s unfair and pointless to claim that Cuphead had a moral duty to have been that project, instead of what it is. Don’t put the responsibility on amateur Canadians to professionally deal with American history; take the opportunity instead to acknowledge this and to point the way forward.

        • Chromatose says:

          “Don’t you think there’s value in value-neutral art like Cuphead?”

          Uhhhmmm…

          • Premium User Badge

            Drib says:

            Cool answer, really made a point and added to the conversation. I’m sure we all know what your opinion is based on your context-less “um”.

      • notponies says:

        It’s an imperfect comparison but an analogy I’d use is how the 1980s kind of sucked what with its moral panics and Reagan, but these days the 80s has been boiled down to synthwave and Tron graphics.

        Another imperfect comparison would be between Cuphead and this.

      • jonahcutter says:

        And that’s not the point of the game. Nor are the developers under any responsibility to do so. Which is indeed often the implication of these types of articles. They can’t outright declare racism or bigotry in the game (though the yearning to do so is often all too evident) as there’s zero evidence of such. So they resort to a “wouldn’t it be nice” tack that inherently implies an ignorance and “whitewashing” of racist history. And thus an inherent callousness towards racism on the devs’s part which equates to outright racism in many social justice and intersectionalist circles.

        Meanwhile the devs are (rightfully) fans of the era’s overall art style and wish to make a platforming game that showcases such art. Which they accomplish brilliantly. But for the social justice and intersectionalist communities, they’ve managed to take those very straightforward, non-bigoted goals, and by laboriously injecting their ideology, twist the game into a (false) example of one of their ideological claims: that there is a constant, ongoing effort to hide our society’s past and present bigotry.

        Lastly, If you want, or the article’s author wants, a game that is about reimagining the art from such a context, then have at it. Go build it yourselves instead of expecting other creators to twist their own work to suit your ideology.

    • Horg says:

      I consider myself socially progressive and don’t find cuphead’s art style remotely racist. It’s a mistake to consider that the author of an opinion piece represents anyone but themselves. It’s also a mistake to believe this article has created any kind of problem. No one who developed cuphead is suddenly going to panic and redesign the game to avoid a non-existent backlash. No developer going forward will remember this article and consider the early 20th century Disney animation style off limits. It was interesting to read a little about the history of art in the context of it’s time period, but the conclusions against cuphead were nonsense and this Sunday papers exposure is likely the last we’ll hear of it.

      • batraz says:

        I spent my childhood exposed to racist art like Public Enemy or Spike Lee’s movies, and it didn’t impress me one bit on a political level : I just thought (and still do) it was fine music or film making, and was glad to be able to enjoy it despite it often being insulting to my origins and family. Thing is I’m not that proud, to see in every ideological foolishness an attempt against my dignity.

  7. aircool says:

    Why can’t we have black racial stereotypes… we have have tons of other racial, religious and cultural stereotypes in other games?

    • Michael Anson says:

      Aside from being offensive in general, stereotypes are also incredibly lazy writing. ANY stereotypes in games should be frowned upon.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        Agreed, but it’s important to note that black stereotypes specifically are amongst the worst for they way they contribute to what is still an issue that ruins or ends lives and poisons western culture. Aircool implies that all stereotypes are equal, or deserving if equal condemnation (or not), and that is obviously wrong.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      These specific stereotypes come from the Jim Crow era.

      The really short and heavy handed way of explaining is that these laws were a cited inspiration for Nazi Germany’s pre-war Anti-Jewish laws. We stopped doing those stereotypes too.

  8. MHanretty says:

    Honest question: what is the argument being put forward in the Cuphead piece? Is it that this era of animation is so tainted by its historical association with derogatory racial caricature that any work employing the aesthetic must address it in the work itself?

    How could this have been done in Cuphead, exactly? Would it not have come across as a confusing non-sequitur in the game itself? Would the creators have been accused of pandering if they (understandably) couldn’t pull this off with the understanding and nous required?

    • GernauMorat says:

      This was my feeling as well.

    • MattM says:

      They would have been accused of cultural appropriation if they did as the article author suggests.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Just because you can’t please everybody all of the time doesn’t mean you’ve automatically proved that you shouldn’t bother trying to please people who historically have rarely if ever been catered to.

    • Chromatose says:

      It was stating that any piece of creative work that explicitly romanticises something that was originally steeped in anti-black racism is inevitably going to make some black people really uncomfortable. There was no stipulation that it should address it (indeed the author still states at multiple points that he thought Cuphead was a good game and that its attempts to emulate the style were commendable), but that finding ways to do so would make the game more welcoming for a larger demographic.

      I honestly feel that, for what is doubtlessly a really emotional and contentious subject for a lot of people, the author wrote about the matter in a really mature and even-handed way.

      Honestly, I agree that there was no way the developers could have tackled the racist underpinnings of that style of animation within the context and framework of the game, but that doesn’t magically elevate the game above criticism.

      • notponies says:

        Honestly, I agree that there was no way the developers could have tackled the racist underpinnings of that style of animation within the context and framework of the game

        Indeed. Cuphead is a run-and-gun game that wanted to be unique (would anyone care if Cuphead just went with pixel art?) and it’s fairly easy to just think “classic cartoons” with its art style. If Cuphead actually engaged with the racist underpinnings it would be a very different game.

        I wonder what will happen with Fleish & Cherry in Crazy Hotel.

      • Cederic says:

        Sorry but you yourself are criticising the game for supposedly romanticising something that you feel is steeped in anti-black racism.

        Lots of Cuphead fans are going, “This aesthetic is awesome”.

        Celebrate the success of the Cuphead artists, maybe even acknowledge that their work is not racist and stop giving the game shit that it doesn’t deserve.

        Nazis were acknowledged proponents of propaganda films but I don’t see every Hollywood release eviscerated for reprising National Socialist techniques.

        I just see people pushing their own pathetic agenda instead of acknowledging the excellence of a fine piece of art.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      A little lore section for players to read about the historical context of the style they are using in the game would have been pretty good. Maybe a commentary mode?

      Like how that Astro Boy game had an entire archive explaining Tezuka’s work.

  9. Chillicothe says:

    …and that’s why my calm nuanced take on the Cuphead article reguarding informative learning on a subject for perspective went untyped.

  10. Caldorosso says:

    It seems really easy to just throw racism to get all the clicks without writing a decent article. I enjoyed Cuphead, but its harmful depiction of clowns actually hurt me. I broke my controller over my knee.

  11. alert says:

    It’s fairly easy to criticise the animation style of an independent game and call for its devs to completely integrate liberation politics, as if that’s something you can just bolt on to a light-hearted 2D platformer.

    It is much harder to write incisively about the economic and social conditions of the industry, or to put big publishers and media conglomerates under the spotlight, or to develop an understanding of the role of intellectual property and employment law in the exploitation of intellectual labour. It’s much harder to do the difficult job of genuinely ‘left-wing journalism’ than it is to go along with contemporary, centrist wokeness that’s happy to talk forever about the commodity without ever considering the commodity form.

    The point isn’t that we can’t discuss both, or that the arguments made against Cuphead are without merit. The issue is that we only ever get this superficial undergraduate-level media studies stuff.

    It’s actually frustrating seeing the /pol/ mouth-breathers whine about Cultural Marxism or the Frankfurt School. As if any of the clowns writing about Bioware’s gay romances have read Adorno.

  12. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    Dear internet: please stop writing articles in Tweetstorm form.

  13. bill says:

    The article on the history behind cuphead’s animation style was really interesting and informative, and I came out of it knowing a lot more than when I went in… which I assume was the point of the article.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      Yeah I felt the same way.

    • fuggles says:

      But equally why is taking the good and ditching the bad so wrong? It’s not like this art style from nearly a century ago is still relevant. Whilst I get why it is bad to not learn lessons of the past, surely we have by modern animation not being horrendously racist? Do we strive for a utopian ideal where everyone is tolerated equally but we flagellate ourselves daily owing to the sins of our fathers?

      The cuphead guy is right, this is not a political statement it’s a game about teacups.

      White teacups…

      Oh dang.

      Maybe that overreaching writer is onto something.

  14. ChiefOfBeef says:

    The Cuphead article further cements my view that the games writing industry is filled with charlatans from floor to ceiling. They’re only doing this because their air-headed opinions and poor writing won’t be printed in anything else that will pay them for it.

    • quat says:

      Something something “look who’s talking” something something.

      • dog2 says:

        Dude, as well intentioned as that article was (kinda) and as glad as I am that pieces like that are being written and pubished, and that people really care, the article just sucked.

        • GeoX says:

          “Look, it just DID, okay? I’m not going to tell you why; my strongly-worded assertion is evidence enough.”

          • Premium User Badge

            subdog says:

            I’m not going to say it sucked, but for an article about comparative art design and whitewashing, you’d expect a few more full-sized pictures that really illustrate the problem.

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