The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for playing board games with old uni friends, at your old uni. Or for reading about video games. Thems your choices.

Blogger “problemmachine” wrote a short piece that questions whether every story needs conflict. I’m fascinated by it, because I think they’re wrong but can’t help but wonder if that’s based on an assumption I’m unaware of because it’s baked into me so deeply. Every story has to be about an attempt to overcome an obstacle, doesn’t it? What’s more interesting about not seeing that struggle through the lens of conflict? What would it mean to actually look at events through a different lens? It’s one thing to say they can exist, but another to give me an example of a conflict-less story I’d value being told.

There are lots of stories! Stories of love and loss, of the unreliability of memory and the temptations of imagination and of hurt and exploration. It’s impoverished to regard these as a conflict between Man and Time or Man and Death. What sort of conflict is that? We are not in conflict with gravity or with the ground, we are suspended between them. Even if we fall, our death is not conflict with the ground. Things happen that don’t fit this conflict model, and they frequently make interesting stories anyway. It’s a bit terrifying that we’ve been able to tell the line that stories are based in conflict as a generally uncontested bit of storytelling advice for so long – that, itself, tells a story: It’s like science fiction, a culture that can only understand the world through fights.

Natalie Flores wrote about the problematic presentation of a Latino character in the Cyberpunk 2077 E3 demo, who inserts Spanish words into “what feels like practically every other sentence”. It’s disappointing, and I can only echo Flores’ hope that CD Project address the issue.

The truth is that visibility isn’t important when the representation itself is poor because marginalized people — as redundant as this might sound to say, but we keep having to repeatedly assert this — are real people, and we deserve more than crumbs of representation. Representation isn’t necessarily good representation, and when that representation feels like it harms the people it’s supposed to represent more than it does them and their identities justice, can we be happy about such representation at all?

On Waypoint, Cameron Kunzelman reflected on whether buying more games than you’ll ever have time for in Steam sales is actually a good idea. I liked his point about how the itch.io sale feels more wholesome for its lack of trading card guff.

The old Twitter koan about there being no ethical consumption under capitalism rings out here. Žižek emits a shriek that we should not try to imagine capitalism with a human face, by which he means that there is no possible way for any of this buying and selling should feel good or be valorized in any way. And yet when I head over to the itch.io Summer Sale, I can alter what I’m doing a little bit. I can still accrue more games than I can play, but the platform isn’t looping me into a massive ecology of consumption, card generation, and profit extraction.

On Motherboard, Samantha Cole interviewed Bonnie Ruberg about her research studying how sex workers are presented in video games. My first reaction whenever I hear a game lets you pay a sex worker is usually ‘oh no’, but Ruberg argues that including sex workers in games shouldn’t be a problem in and of itself. I’m still conflicted, because while I agree that viewing sex work as “fundamentally exploitation” is wrong, I’m not sure that enough players are equipped for its inclusion in most video game contexts to not just deepen existing prejudices… though total exclusion doesn’t seem like it would help anyone either. It’s a tricky one.

I was really struck by how often, when sex workers appear in AAA games, they almost always offer to give their services to the player-characters for free or at a discount. If you watch the Feminist Frequency “Women as Background Decorations” videos, one clip after another shows women sex workers telling the player-character that they’re so attractive they don’t have to pay for sex or they can get a special reduced price. That’s not something I had seen any one else address in depth when it comes to sex workers in video games — how problematic it is that these sex worker characters are always telling player-characters that they’re so exceptional they’re willing to devalue their own labor.

Rosh Kelly wrote about what Cultist Simulator did to his brain. It did this a bit to my brain too, but I’m not sure I’d connect its compulsiveness to a need to feel special. I’m still not sure what I’d connect it to though, so you may as well listen to Kelly.

And with that the madness behind the cultists doesn’t feel so alien. The all-consuming nature of their study becomes almost sympathetic. Cultist Simulator is not just a game, but a thought exercise. Before playing it might seem impossible to lose everything in the pursuit of knowledge, but there is something inside us all, something old and self-destructive that can be activated under the right, or wrong circumstances. Cultist Simulator uses the human condition to find patterns and solve problems, the need to feel special and our desire to understand what it all means to destroy ourselves.

On Kotaku, Maddy Myers delved into the world of esport training houses. She spoke to both the young ‘uns who live in them and the parental figures that run them, and oooooh boy do these places sound unpleasant. If I ever catch myself contemplating what life would be like as a pro Dota player, I’ll be sure to read this again and snap myself out of it.

Yoo’s bedroom is the only one with a fully stocked liquor cabinet. “That,” Tran says, gesturing towards the bottles, “is how you make it four months with four days off.” Yoo, for his part, joked that whenever he’s had a drink in the past, he has “walked it off” whenever any of the pro gamers comes to his room in the middle of the night to tell him they had a nightmare.

PC Gamer’s Andy Kelly went on a tour of surreal high street shops in The Crew 2. I chuckled out loud, twice.

Music this week is definitely something by the Grateful Dead, because I’ve hardly listened to anything else. This version of China Cat Sunflower is real good.

96 Comments

  1. woodsey says:

    I think this is a couple of weeks old, but I read this post (linked by Critical-Distance) on the psychology behind some of the arguments against Steam’s free-for-all policy: link to pixelpoppers.com

    Interesting read, I think, regardless of whether or not you agree with the conclusion.

    • g948ng says:

      One can lament all day about the subjectivity of norms and related mechanisms while completely ignoring that there must be a reason why groups of people, of whatever size, give themselves norms. This is omnipresent and therefore no accident.
      It would also be wise to look at the alternative and how that tends to work out.

      • woodsey says:

        I’m going to be honest, “Don’t question norms because everyone has them for a reason,” isn’t much of a counter-argument.

        • AmberWalsh says:

          I just got paid $7500 working off my computer this month. And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $8k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do… Visit & Start Work

        • g948ng says:

          @woodsey
          You would be right, but it wasn´t my intention to say “don´t question norms.” I very much encourage you to do so. And I´d never say “don´t question the currently most prevalent ones.”
          I said don´t assume the existance of norms (any) serves no tangible purpose. Or that you could do without them and if so, without consequences.

          I doubt you even could. Wherever two humans interact, norms spring to life imediatelly. They are neccessary for any interaction, even conflict. Not just exclusively for group building.

          What feels very much off about the article is its idea that there really could be an egalitarian, utopian place that is either free of norms, treats them all equally or at least stops any enforcement. That´s just impossible.

          As an example: Even if valve washes its hands of enforcing any norms (they do not – `trolling`) that doesn´t mean they will all vanish from their platform and its users.
          It just means that it won´t be valve´s norms that are enforced and that enforcment will be less regulated and done by other people with other methods.

          Any norm-free space would be a vacuum. It would be filled, just by others.
          That´s not inherently preferable.

          • FunkyB says:

            @g948ng This is an excellent post, and quite right. The only space not filled with norms is a vacuum. Brilliant.

          • Doctor Professor says:

            Hi! I’m the author of the linked Pixel Poppers article. I just wanted to clarify that it was never my intent to imply that norms were somehow bad! Norms are incredibly valuable as a general solution to coordination and collective action problems – they allow groups to unite effectively for common purposes and accomplish great things. A place with no norms or enforcement thereof would not be egalitarian or utopian at all! I regret that my article left you with the impression that I thought otherwise. My position is similar to yours – it’s worth questioning individual norms, but the existence of norms in general clearly serves a good purpose. I suppose I should have made that more explicit in my article.

            Regarding the Valve/Steam example – I’m not entirely sure I understand your claim, but let me explain how I see it. The old way Valve was trying to do things was to enforce a single set of group norms across all of Steam. (This failed because not even Valve has a single consistent set of group norms at this point.) The new way is to recognize that Steam is huge and is occupied by many, many groups and give each group the tools to enforce its own norms with regard to games curation (so long as this doesn’t impinge upon other groups, as in “trolling” or illegal games.) To me, that in fact does sound inherently preferable, though I acknowledge that it remains to see whether it will actually succeed.

            In other words – I’m basically with @aepervius on this. The problem with the old model is that one group’s norms were being applied to all groups; the new model allows people to apply their own norms.

          • g948ng says:

            The free competition of ideas is a wonderful ideal. As is “to each his own”. I understand their lure. The problem is that for such a competition to stay free, it would require a level playing field and everyone to play nice.
            And I have never seen this play out like that in practice.

            First, filters aren´t useful tools to apply group-specific norms. They hide and don´t segregate or moderate. But the greater problem is the “so long as this doesn’t impinge upon other groups” part.
            How likely is that in an age where we had to learn what “review bombing” means? Also, remember the recent RPS article about the religious group threatening lawsuits about virtual novels? In the disguise of yet another group, no less.

            If vague norms weren´t helping, abolishing norms alltogether won´t either.
            I expect that this will not lead to a merry co-existance of equal groups leaving each other alone, but basically a power vacuum.
            If valve isn´t making the rules for their own platform, others will. And you can be sure as hell they will impose them on everyone.

            In other words you would exchange the dictate of valve with the dictate of an anonymous, determined and well-organized minority. (or a couple of minorities) Those new norms will be nowhere enshriend, therefore impossible to check and appeal to and enforced by far cruder methods.
            It is the opposite of being free to apply your own values.

            PS: Please note I went to lenghts to avoid using a historic and political example. And in case that is in doubt, I appreciate this conversation.

          • Doctor Professor says:

            @g948ng – I think we may be talking past each other a bit here, since I’m confused by the framing of this situation as a competition. But thanks for engaging! Like you, I appreciate this conversation. :)

            I’m having some trouble understanding the negative outcome you’re warning against here. Valve is proposing two changes to be rolled out simultaneously: first, stop banning games that are legal and not trolling. Second, create filtering and anti-harassment tools. It’s not clear to me how this creates a power vacuum or any new problems (assuming the tools work and a reasonably clear and consistent definition of “trolling” emerges). Valve isn’t removing all rules of what games are allowed on Steam or leaving the question up to anyone else (aside from law-making entities, but they’ve always had to comply with those) – they are tightening and clarifying their rules in a way that bans fewer games. As you point out, other organizations are already trying to get Valve to ban certain kinds of games – it seems to me that being able to respond with a clear hard line of “It’s legal and not trolling, so we aren’t banning it,” bolstered by pointing out that anyone offended by the games in question can filter them out, should make it easier to deflect these attempts, not harder?

          • g948ng says:

            I struggle to see how the “legal/not trolling” formula is clarifying anything.

            The “legal” part is a strawman argument at best. First, the laws always applied, as you mentioned.
            Second, Valve doesn´t suggest their lawyers check each application for the store. Other lawyers will have to. It´s suddenly become our problem to determine the legality of what they sell. Or our opportunity, if we are so inclined. They pretty much said so.
            Third, if there are no other store rules to invoke, sueing becomes your only option when you are wronged. And that hands control to those organized and affluent enough to risk lawsuits. Heck, well-timed threats are often enough.

            Which leaves us with “trolling”. Which simply translates as abritrariness. Maybe in service of valve´s PR. I am confident no precise definition will ever emerge. That would beat the purpose.

            Addendum: I also think you are concentrating solely on the case where an interest group tries to get a specific game banned. That´s still possible, but what of groups weaponizing games? Copies/asset flips of your work, doxxing, calumny, harassment, hatespeech etc. How can you make that “DoctorProfessor = turd-game” go away? Invoke the troll clause? Valve doesn´t feel responsible. So, you will be forced to sue for years. Do you have the patience and resources for that? Valve doesn´t care and points you in the direction of the publisher. While earning money with it.

          • Doctor Professor says:

            So, I think it’s worth drawing a line between two positions here – the first is “Valve’s stated goals are a bad idea even in principle” and the second is “Valve’s stated goals are fine in principle but their execution is likely to fail or even backfire.” The first position is one I categorically disagree with; the second one strikes me as actually reasonable but I think we’ll have to wait and see what happens to be sure.

            I have the impression that your concerns are of the second type, and I’m definitely not going to tell you you’re wrong – you’ve pointed out some very valid and very scary issues. That said, I don’t think these are new problems from the policy change. And this might be optimistic of me – again, we’ll have to wait and see to be sure – but I very much expect that doxxing/calumny/harassment/hatespeech will count as trolling and Valve will want to remove it.

            But we’re definitely getting into areas where I’m not confident making predictions. The only position I really want to stand behind here is that Valve’s stated goals, if executed successfully, are good ones and better than the current situation. I hope they’ll pull it off, but fully acknowledge it’s not a sure thing. :)

          • g948ng says:

            Yes, I kind of brushed aside the stated goals without comment, I admit. Public statements always tend to sound reasonable, after all. And if valve is sincere about it is, in my eyes, far less relevant than our practical experiences with their methods.
            Which are very simple. People cost money. Ergo: Avoid contact to people.

            I wouldn´t be making predictions either, if it weren´t for comparable cases in related industries (like book/movie distribution). And I just can´t help but to see parallels to facebook´s “not a publisher!” issue.
            ……….
            The entirely new aspect here is the retreat of the referee which significantly lowers certainty, esp. legal certainty. It abolishes an agency you could appeal to or just ask for guidance when pressured. And the (real) court one level higher doesn´t have equal access.

            Previously any dispute also involved the store owner. Now you are alone.
            Previously the indie dev threatened by the `league of very concerned people` could point to the approval of his game by valve. Now he probably can´t even call support. “You signed a paper that says it´s legal. We didn´t check.”
            Previously if you were the target of a game you could demand the store does something about it. Now you have to.

            As always, it´s in the fineprint. Valve doesn´t say “sue me”. It says ” sue each other, I am just taking my cut.”

            Sure, you were allowed to sue before. But the bar to sue you is far lower than to sue valve. The bar to threaten to sue you is probably below ground. That´s new.
            It is an invite to intervention. And I am confident to predict it won´t favour the weak.

            All they can hope for is to make headlines. Then (and only then) the diffuse troll clause will be invoked by valve. Take note of the exact wording. “Obvious trolling” Bad press is obvious. Anything below that won´t make them act. Remember the “minimally viable contact” policy.

            I´d like to try to translate a quote here: “Charity means drowning justice in the cesspool of mercy.”
            I hope it carries some of the originals´ connotations.

      • aepervius says:

        The reason we have norms is mostly because we are tribal and want to belong to groups. See at sports and politics. Morals once you go beyond what we all have in common murder/rape/theft, is not that different.

        The problem is once you scratch the surface , beyond the core of those 3 norms I cited among human, we vastly differ among cultures.

        So when people want to have valve judge game and refuse/accept them based on moral principle or similar, on what set of cultural norm are we going for ? The US one ? It promote violence over sex. The european one ? Some consider it is too censoring (see for example countries qualifying holocaust denial as crime). The African one ? The eastern russian one ? The japanese one ? which cultural model ? . This is why I think the free-for-all model is the best. The market in the end decide. And stuff like hatred , or that stupid dating simulating get relegated to obscurity mostly. Each will decide which game they want depending on their cultural norm.

        The only problem with that is that some people not only want to decide what they themselves see or not see, but they want to decide for others. That is the normative part. That is where the problem is.

    • BooleanBob says:

      No but you see, itch good, steam bad. Because, uh, trading cards.

    • frogmanalien says:

      A great article- and nice to see another analytical viewpoint on the issue – thanks for sharing!

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Can everyone stop saying “norms”?

  2. icarussc says:

    The PC Gamer thing is hilarious.

  3. Eight Rooks says:

    Yeah, the “stories don’t need to be conflict” thing is waffle, pure and simple. I’m not going to insist that telling stories must revolve around FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT by any means, but that post just reads like someone down the pub who’s had some vague epiphany they’re bursting to tell everyone about but that they haven’t actually thought through quite yet. Just because you don’t like the word “conflict”, or the idea of confrontation in any form, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. A story about loss is absolutely about conflict, even if it’s just about wrestling with the idea it’s time to let go (of something or someone or whatever). “Conflict” doesn’t always mean I MUST FIGHT AND I MUST WIN BECAUSE RAAAAAH I KILL YOU TO PROVE I AM BESTEST. That being said, if I dwell on it, sure, I can see vague hints that fiction might some day move beyond setting A against B and seeing who comes out on top – maybe sooner, maybe later – but this piece doesn’t offer any more concrete suggestions how, just a general “Why always the fighting?” when that’s really not the problem, or not remotely as much of a problem as the author seems to think it is.

    • LovelyWeather says:

      It’s probably technically possible to have a story without conflict, simply because there’s nothing that especially prevents a body of text from solely describing a series of events where things are in harmony. You just need to provide another reason to be reading, otherwise it’s not very interesting, much like a car without an engine doesn’t go anywhere.

      For instance, the internet is filled with fictional documents of characters having sex, and they’re probably stories even though there’s no conflict in them. The pleasure, anticipation, and general narrative structure provided by conflict in a plotted work is instead reworked around the intercourse of the characters.

      That said, I’m not sure how interesting this theoretical possibility itself is.

      • Kollega says:

        Fact: I love silly slice-of-life stories where the protagonist is the definition of “wacky and shortsighted”, and constantly sets themself up for insane antics by e.g. inventing crazy schemes and gadgets that go out of control, or blowing various things way out of proportion. Ergo, the conflict may be there, but it’s literally about the character causing themself lots of trouble through their imperfections, thus being in conflict with their own actions and decisions, not anyone or anything else. Which is already not-often-remembered when people talk about conflict in stories.

        I also love slice-of-life stories that just chronicle the neat things that the characters do, with gorgeous art and good writing accompanying whatever mundane-but-cool things the heroes may get up to. Like, for example, “travelogue” stories taking the audience through amazing places, and managing to be interesting just by showing interesting stuff and the heroes’ reaction to it. Where is the conflict in that?

      • Ghostbird says:

        The obvious example is Jiro Taniguchi’s manga “The Walking Man”, which collects little everyday moments of relaxation, or play, or contemplation. I very much recommend it if everyday small stories are your thing.

      • Angstsmurf says:

        Renga in Blue recently blogged about the arguably conflict-free narrative structure kishōtenketsu, trying to apply it to Zork I.

      • Twitchity says:

        I’ve always liked the shibboleth that “plot is about conflict, narrative is about change.” (More specifically, a character changing as a result of internal tensions rather than external ones.) You can have plot without narrative and narrative without plot, but using the two to create a cohesive, mutually-reinforcing work tends to be more satisfying than either separately.

    • Babymech says:

      “fiction might some day move beyond setting A against B and seeing who comes out on top” …wow. I keep forgetting how rare literacy is. Read a short story some time – not some genre ‘twist-at-the-ending’ stuff, but an actual, acclaimed example of the art form: Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Katherine Mansfield, Lydia Davis, Samuel Beckett. Hell, read all of them. In a few you might find conflict or struggle, but you will also see that ‘fiction’ has moved far beyond a dependence on conflict a long time ago.

      • batraz says:

        Good point, but one can argue Carver or Beckett (don’t know the others, ashamed to say) write a kind of poetry : poetry can dwell on a feeling or à memory, or observation of one simple element. But stories must have drama, action, hence the need of some problem or conflict or obstacle to overcome. Aristotle s Poetics says pretty much everything about that issue : it’s a shame we are not educated enough anymore to avoid solved problems. We have that saying in France : to be « tombés de la dernière pluie ».

        • Babymech says:

          If that’s your approach you’re certainly logically consistent, but you’re making the choice to define story == conflict (and maybe conflict == story?). You’re saying that a lot of fiction isn’t actually ‘stories’ because you’ve redefined the word story to mean “the telling of conflict”.

          I can see how your argument works, but I can’t agree with it. 1) I don’t agree that poetry is somehow different from a story; the first major stories were poems (the Iliad, the Edda, etc., which were also full of conflict); 2) A story without conflict is still somebody using narrative art to describe a sequence of events in a way that engages my imagination, which to me is story-telling, and 3) separating poetry from stories completely divorces the terms from their artistic or formal definitions – when Lydia Davis writes a short story about riding a bus, reading Samuel Beckett and watching the sunlight hit the pages, that’s apparently a poem, because there’s no conflict there, but this, a very poetic piece full of inchoate conflict, is somehow a story?

          I think defining ‘story’ as ‘conflict-telling’ and everything else as poetry or artistic description is artificial, contradictory, and makes the terms more difficult to apply. It doesn’t seem to be a useful definition.

    • criskywalker says:

      I still enjoy stories based on the heroes’ path, but a good story not based on conflict is totally possible, as shown by Journey, Edith Finch and To the Moon. There’s nothing wrong with some variety.

    • April March says:

      I’m thinking of what kind of stories could not have a conflict, and I came up with quite a few that I rather like, mostly stories that just decribe a person, area or event. The most high-profile example of that is Calvino’s Invisible Cities. You might say there’s a conflict in the underlying story (I might argue with you about that!) but most of the chapters are just a traveller’s description of a fantastic city.

    • dskzero says:

      I mean you don’t need conflict, but you need something to do for the player, unless you’re making something like… i don’t know, LSD: Dream Simulator?

  4. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    It is absolutely correct that stories do not need conflict. LeGuin wrote repeatedly on the topic.

    link to ursulakleguin.com

    link to tamouse.github.io

    Yes, if you bend the definition of conflict, perhaps to ‘tension’, perhaps to ‘effort’ you can find it everywhere. Yes, you can make tautological declarations that X is not really a story.

    But I agree with LeGuin on I think the fundamental point here, that for a broad range of stories the conflict is really incidental to the focus of the story. Even if the hero challenges an obstacle, it could be made arbitrarily small without losing the tale. “I played subnautica and saw all these pretty fishes” is a story.

    Conflict is just an ingredient, like salt in a dish, it doesn’t have to be in the recipe, even if some people think it improves some dishes.

    • khamul says:

      Thank you for that: Le Guin is one of my favourite authors, and that’s typically deep and insightful.

      I’d give Proteus as an example of a game without conflict: it’s the house, in Le Guin’s metaphor. There is a beginning and an ending, kind of, but they’re mostly incidental. It’s the journey that matters.

      What is the story of Proteus? It’s what you see along the way. ‘I went on a journey, and I saw amazing sights – people with their heads in their bellies, giants, lions that could fly with the heads of an eagle…’ such stories are as old as people.

    • Nogo says:

      A Ghost Story is another good one that’s seemingly lacking conflict. The movie starts with our main character being dead and follows their ghost as they simply observe the world accelerating around and away from them.

    • corinoco says:

      Ursula LeGuin wrote one of my favourite (and conflictless) books – ‘Changing Planes’. ‘Always Coming Home’ – while it does have smaller stories of conflict within it, is a subtle musing on a possible Utopia (well that was my take on it, it’s a complex book!)

      Another author who writes superb ‘conflict-less’ stories is Connie Willis – particularly ‘To Say Nothing Of The Dog’ which is itself a response to Jerome K Jerome’s brilliant ‘Three Men In A Boat’.

  5. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    For an example of an (essentially) conflictless story, I recommend the Yotsubato series of manga. In the West, Calvin and Hobbes is another good example.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Unfortunately my other comment is awaiting moderation (go Google LeGuin’s Carrier Bag theory of fiction!)

      The problem with the conflict centred idea of fiction is that it avoids what many stories are really about. I would argue that games journos should know particularly well ‘stories without conflict’: think about all the anecdotes you tell about something cool or dumb that happened in a videogames, that are *not* about you the player overcoming a challenge.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        I’m probably not going to bother drawing this argument out too much, because I know I’m being contentious/most people do not agree with me, but I think you’re drawing out the definition of “a story” to impractical or self-serving lengths much as you accuse people of misusing “conflict”. Put crudely, as far as I’m concerned your Fortnite stories are of no interest to anyone who doesn’t play Fortnite and they serve little or no purpose other than to reinforce the sense of camaraderie you want to encourage between people who play Fortnite. They are not “stories” in any meaningful sense – a huge number of people have experienced what is essentially the exact same thing, and each individual account doesn’t communicate anything beyond “Hahaha it’s a funny old game”. Much as I liked Pip’s articles, “I played Subnautica and saw some fishies” is not a “story”.

        Not to mention one of the LeGuin articles you link to says nothing about conflict not being necessary, and while the other complains about the use of “conflict” being reductive, I would quite happily argue it is in itself reductive by insisting that “conflict” always means DEATH and KILLING and STRUGGLE and FIGHTING and that all of these are bad, bad things so we must stop talking about them. Again, I don’t think I’m reinforcing the patriarchy by talking about (for example) dealing with loss as “conflict”. You can resolve a story quite tidily by having the protagonist learn to surrender, after all.

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          Reinforcing the sense of camaraderie between a community is the *origin* of the story. Being not universal is no issue.

          There’s a failing of the conflict metaphor to add anything to the understanding of the story, that’s the issue with broadening conflict. The critique from LeGuin is not that conflict has to be fighting and killing and you’re using the word wrong, but that the rhetoric about stories as conflict assumes the fundamental legitimacy of fighting and killing and implies that other things are legitimate only in how they may be compared to it.

          Saying something is a conflict has connotations. There are opposing agents. There are winners and losers. Losing is bad. There is violence. Saying that a story about love or loss is a fight except that there’s no violence and maybe no opposition and maybe the protagonist is best off losing and… Well at this point why are you saying this is a conflict, other than if you think the concept of conflict is inherently dignified some how and you don’t want that to be wrong?

          • Eight Rooks says:

            Saying something is a conflict has connotations. There are opposing agents. There are winners and losers. Losing is bad. There is violence.

            So what? They have connotations to you, and to Ursula le Guin, and yes, I’m saying I think you, and a hugely famous, greatly influential writer, and anyone else who subscribes to them is being silly. :P (Perhaps the mods want to delete that as a personal attack, I dunno; that’s their prerogative. I lack the eloquence to put it any more tactfully.)

            “Conflict” in this sense simply means there are two or more things that have been set against each other, two or more opposing viewpoints, etc.; as someone else pointed out, if you study English (or presumably writing in your native language, elsewhere in the world) you’ll get it explained to you that this does not remotely mean you’re framing those two or more things as a BATTLE TO THE DEATH where there can be only ONE WORTHY VICTOR.

            Sure, society and the media and who knows what else promotes those things as “good” and “noble” and “righteous”, to dubious ends, but that is not the same thing. It just isn’t. Blame the English language for not having a better word for it, but a coming-of-age story more often than not is a conflict with one person “fighting” the need to grow up. Just because it’s not pitched as literally beating something into a pulp with a big sign going up at the end saying they’ve WON, they’ve CLAIMED THEIR PRIZE, doesn’t change that.

            Language changes, and I’d happily accept a rewording of the idea that avoided ever using the c-word. Hell, as I said before, I’d even accept that fiction can broaden to encompass… I don’t know, mere observation with no stakes in any way, shape or form, or something. But if there are stakes, as far as I’m concerned, there is conflict, and a whole lot of people still seem to accept my definition over yours. In my – admittedly limited – experience I’ve still not seen anything to suggest I’m wrong, and neither that article nor anything anyone’s posted here so far has changed my mind.

            (Edited just to stop this being one giant, very thin column of text.)

    • LearningToSmile says:

      Manga in general is probably the best place to look for dozens of examples of stories that for the most part do just fine without conflict.

      One of my favorite works of fiction is Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, and while some individual arcs or chapters have conflict(usually by the broadest possible understanding of conflict, as in, a character struggling to overcome some more or less adverse circumstances) a lot of them don’t. And yet it’s still an engrossing read for its world, characters, and atmosphere.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        I regard YKK as one of the greatest works of fiction ever produced – no, I do not mean that to sound remotely hyperbolic – and I would still argue until I was blue in the face that it was in large part about conflict. It is about learning to let go, about wanting very badly to keep things the way they are, the way they seem to have always been, and fighting – yes, fighting, not with fists or weapons or insults but fighting all the same, with the growing realization that you can’t.

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          As I said in my other comment, you can certainly address this by broadening the idea of conflict – up to and beyond any emotional reaction about a thing, but I think at some point the metaphor just becomes more and more tortured.

          • sosolidshoe says:

            Except there’s no broadening of the idea required. Crikey we learned about “conflict” as a term for things-other-than-actual-fighting in [i]first year[/i] English at secondary school.

            This kind of vacuous semantics over using a word because it could maybe kinda sorta if you squint just right on the seventeenth day of the eleventh month of the year under a blue moon after chanting the correct three-day sequence of ritual koans be interpreted as reinforcing what the arguer considers a “damaging social norm” or whatever is why ordinary people’s eyes glaze over whenever this kind of discussion begins.

          • Premium User Badge

            FhnuZoag says:

            I am not saying conflict has to be fighting. I am saying that conflict has a range of meanings and that the further you get from the original the more tenuous it gets and the more meaningless it becomes.

          • Premium User Badge

            FhnuZoag says:

            I mean, read about the origin of the idea – Aristotle said that to be interesting, a story must have a single conflict between a protagonist and antagonist. It was later that people broadened it out, with notions like man vs self (i.e. a story has ‘conflict’ if it involves a character making any sort of choice at any point, wow isn’t that *kinda* general!) Even in your first year secondary school, we start by teaching man vs man, and go outwards from there.

            Maybe we should just say that Aristotle was wrong.

          • Holderist says:

            Conflict in a literary term is broken down into 3 types:

            Person vs Person – most common, probably what you’re referring to.

            Person vs Nature – surviving the wilderness, storms, struggling with raising crops.

            Person vs Self – can be summed as any emotion or experience that has caused you to feel something or do something to change your personal self (or not).

            edit, there’s loads more, but you get the idea.

          • Babymech says:

            Conflict in fiction and psychology is broken down into three overarching types, and everything else is just a sub-category: Alien vs Predator, Kramer vs Kramer, and van Damme vs van Damme (for double the van Dammage).

          • batraz says:

            Except Aristotle was right, and we have 24 centuries of stories that didn’t prove him wrong. One should add it’s only about the shape and structure of the stories ; content is a different matter, so your conflicted story can be about peace and quiet if that’s your thing.

    • Hypocee says:

      Right on. There are so so many stories already with ‘arbitrarily small’ conflict elements. Basically anything ‘slice of life’ already crowds this supposedly overlooked niche. I’d agree on Yotsubato and throw in most of Azumanga. I do disagree that Calvin and Hobbes is a good example, though. Calvin’s a conflict machine.

      I’m unable to locate in a reasonable time the planet in Hitchhiker’s Guide where novels are entirely literal, unaccented accounts of events and the supposed main character might die of thirst two-thirds of the way through as a result of not getting a faucet fixed.

      • criskywalker says:

        But Calvin generates conflict and hardly has to face it. He mostly avoids it with the help of his imaginary friend Hobbes.

        • Hypocee says:

          Strongly disagrre, shrug. Mom and Dad, teachers, Moe, Susie, Hobbes, all stand against what he wants or vice versa on a near-constant basis.

          • Nogo says:

            His alter egos are straight up conflict fantasies, usually involving a gun of some sorts (including a specific and hilarious dinosaur sunday strip).

          • Premium User Badge

            FhnuZoag says:

            Calvin gets in fights, sure, but from strip to strip, some ( maybe most) are not structured in terms of ‘the protagonist has this goal, there is this obstacle, how does the protagonist overcome (or fail to overcome) this obstacle to achieve his goal’. A lot of strips are constructed in the form “Calvin is in a certain situation, this situation is elaborated, the cartoonist reveals that the situation is actually totally different from what you thought”.

            That’s not a conflict narrative – the tension is not in the character facing opposition, but between the reader’s preconceptions and the revealed reality.

  6. phenom_x8 says:

    Day Of the tentacle Oral History from US Gamers is a great read this afternoon (its sunday afternoon here) :
    link to usgamer.net

  7. upupup says:

    The Cyberpunk discussion is such nonsense. It’s the same type of hostility that moralists have had again and again towards any sort of artistic expression, under the guise of a new idea and with a few different terms, now with disappointing and problematic over sinful and immoral: that it is instructive and must therefore only show what they deem morally appropriate behavior or be seen as a danger to their vision of society. For that purpose, characters shown are treated as if they are real people and any behavior they show or that is enacted against them is a prelude to acting out that behavior in reality. Anyone who disagrees with this will be put under suspicion of approving of the sort of behavior that is displayed.

    It’s nothing new. It’ll lead to them arguing for the kind of repressive codes on what you can and can’t do that we’ve seen countless times before. And it shows that they haven’t learned a thing of why moving away from that type of thinking was such an important achievement in our appreciation of art and its role in society in the first place.

    • Ghostbird says:

      “If you start asking people to think about racism then they might stop making racist art. This is obviously unacceptable.”

      • upupup says:

        Case in point: anyone who anyone who disagrees will be suspected of being in approval of whatever it is they disapprove of.

        • Horg says:

          Word. Salad.

          • upupup says:

            WordPress doubled “anyone who” and referring back to the first post clarifies the sentence its meaning. Eat your veggies.

        • Ghostbird says:

          I could get all philosophical-sociological about it but the bottom line is that, yes, if you find just having to think about racism is that scary then you’re either wilfully blind or consciously complicit.

          • upupup says:

            Which, again, only serves to prove my point that the reply to disagreeing on something is to insinuate that the other must be a Bad Person and therefore cannot be right, which, in case it needs to be pointed out, is a fallacy that doesn’t engage the point itself and only serves to slander the other person. You’ve also been giving nice examples of one of the ways in which this is done, as in by attributing an imaginary position to the other so that they have to defend themselves against these allegations and won’t have an opportunity to address the assumptions in them for fear of looking complicit by protesting too much, which I won’t play along with. That you’re doing this so obviously makes you look like a caricature of your own position, which is very helpful.

    • Zenicetus says:

      You might be missing the point of the Cyberpunk article. I spent most of my life in Miami and have a few friends from an East LA background. The point is that Latinos just don’t talk like that.

      They don’t say things like “Put some pants on your culo and get down here.” It looks like CDPR is basing their dialog on some very bad movies and TV shows, just randomly throwing Spanish words in the middle of English dialog. It’s immersion-breaking in a game like this.

      • ravenshrike says:

        And yet I know of at least two Latinos in Texas who do do that.
        Now, it might be an area thing in which case it’s technically wrong for someone in Night City to be doing it, but the idea that it’s wrong because no one talks like that is a pile of dren.

      • upupup says:

        If that it is what they intended to say then I’d disagree with it on different terms, in that authentically reflecting reality is neither necessarily a good nor a bad thing in a qualitative sense, though that would be a different discussion.

        However, the part regarding representation and what follows is their conclusion in the article and where they justify their disappointment, which also the part that I argue against as being justified as it assumes that the people looking at Latinos in the game will perceive how they act and how the player act in relation to them as how Latinos act and can be acted towards in reality, thereby arguing that it is bad to show it that way. This is why it’s phrased in terms of harm and doing people justice. This is also the same way of thinking that was behind arguments against violence in games, loose behavior in music, unfit actors in cinema and inappropriate clothing, to name a few, as it assumes the thing to be instructive, which I disagree with and therefore argue against.

        • Nogo says:

          “If that it is what they intended”

          That’s a big if. Like anyone doing anything creative they’re free to ignore criticism, but since they’re pretty big on the whole realistic fiction thing maybe this is good feedback.

          Imo “people don’t act this way” is frankly indistinguishable from “physics don’t act this way,” which is one of the most common reports for any game.

          Also not sure where you’re reading about “harm.” The author goes well out of their way to praise CDPR’s work and pains itself to frame their article as constructive criticism concerning their research into modern day America for the sake of ‘immersion.’ Pretty standard stuff if you can untwist whatever political slant it is you’re perceiving.

          • upupup says:

            The “if” refers to the point Zenicetus believed the author might have meant to say, which is not the way I read it myself. The rest was an aside on authenticity not being an objective marker of quality in a work, which it frequently gets mistaken for in modern criticism, being why I’d disagree with it even if what Zenicetus said had in fact been the author’s intention.

            Regarding your second point, those two are fundamentally different. Physics are as close to factual here as you’re going to get, while perceptions of how people should act are the opposite.

            Lastly, I’m directly referring to the author’s argument: “…when that representation feels like it harms the people it’s supposed to represent more than it does them and their identities justice…”. This is in the justification they present for their argument, the conclusion and crux of the article, and also the basis on which it was quoted in this article, as you can see above.

      • Ushao says:

        I grew up in Texas in a hispanic family in a hispanic community and many of them absolutely talk like that. It all depends on your experiences.

        • brucethemoose says:

          I’m a Texan too, and while I don’t claim to be an expert, I’ve seen someone switch back and forth like that in normal conversation.

          Regardless, I think it’s silly. These are fantasy people in a fictional city in a sci fi game… It’s kinda like claiming Redguards or Nords aren’t culturally representative.

          • malkav11 says:

            I see a couple issues with your argument. One is that Cyberpunk 2077 is set on Earth, extrapolating from existing cultures, polities, etc. Sure, elements of the setting are fictional because it’s taking a stab at representing a time period we haven’t reached yet, but they’re rooted in the world we know. The other is that if a Redguard were depicted using broad stereotypes of black people, Bethesda would get called out on that, regardless of the fictional nature of the culture.

          • brucethemoose says:

            Oh, but they were racist!

            I remember Oblivion’s Redguard racial traits in particular. High athelticism, low intelligence, low personality, low willpower, a daily rage power… Granted, the North Africa-ish culture was fine (and pretty cool) when talking to NPCs or reading, but still.

            Anyway, if this were Cyberpunk 2030 I would agree. But ~70 years is alot of time to justify shifting culture, IMO.

          • brucethemoose says:

            I meant 50 years. The edit button failed me…

          • malkav11 says:

            If they actually explore a cultural shift in the fiction, sure. They can’t just go “oh, by 2077 this is how Latinx folk talk” and have that excuse everything, y’know?

    • Arglebargle says:

      Creolization has its influence. At least in the cyberpunk circles I run in, Spanglish is a standard concept. How you make that feel natural (unless it’s purposefully forced) is up to the writer.

      Also, ‘Latino’, ‘Hispanic’, etc are mighty big lumpings. You shoulda heard my Tejano boss bitch about Cubans….

  8. Kollega says:

    In respect to Steam sales, and the article about them… yeah. I still buy games on Steam, but nowadays I prefer to buy on GOG if possible (which it often is)… and I don’t actually buy all that many games. Somehow, despite being still in the “twentysomething” age bracket, and theoretically being able to waste all of my time on gaming, I don’t even boot up any games on many of my days. I have lost my taste for binge-gaming, and that means that my existing library of about two hundred in total (that’s just digital – I also have an old library of discs, too), many of those being theoretically infinite, is more than enough nowadays.

  9. quasiotter says:

    Ambient games are way too far and few in between! I believe Mandangon is a great example. Now that I think about it, there are so many trashgames out there that exist with little-to-no conflict.

    I haven’t purchased any Steam games in a year and I’m proud of it. I will buy games that only come with a Steam key because AFAIK Valve doesn’t take the 30% cut from those. I also have ~100 games unplayed, but I actually will play them all within a few years because I only purchase games I’m really excited about (games in bundles I don’t care for are gifted), most of them being shorter indie titles.

    I’m Latinx, and grew up around my own kind, I can say that inserting Spanish words into English sentences does happen, though maybe not that often. Jackie’s portrayal isn’t totally off, but definitely doesn’t represent the majority. There’s a lot of us who were born outside of our home country and substitute Spanish words on occasion… but that’s not me, because I’m third generation and can only speak English ):

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      As someone who moved to a different country with a different language, the other thing I’d point out is that speaking two languages in a single sentence is awkward. You have to contort your mouth and your brain to speak both languages with their appropriate accent. I guess it’s a little easier if you’re super fluent, or if you don’t mind butchering one language (eg, see how loanwords get pronounced in their non-native tongue), but either way it’s still an awkward thing to do that few people would choose.

      • napoleonic says:

        A Bangladeshi friend of mine at college used to phone her mother in Bangladesh, and they would switch back and forth effortlessly between English and Bengali several times in a single sentence. She didn’t even realise she was doing it until I mentioned it to her. The world is more complicated than identity politics advocates like to believe.

      • aepervius says:

        Nan it is easy to do. Hey, I am french, live in Germany and speak Deuglich on regular basis, butchering *two* language for the price of one ! Seriously I have a strong french accent, and when I can’t recall a German word I simply use the English one, and yes it comes to me without contortion.

        • April March says:

          Yeah. It depends on the person. Some people can switch languages on the drop of hat. Some people take a while to switch gears. I think it depends on how they conceptualize different languages.

    • Horg says:

      I think that’s the point about Jackie’s dialogue, it’s a little bit off, uncanny valley if you will. Claiming no one speaks in a similar manner is untrue, but no one in reality speaks exactly like Jackie. It could be deliberate, indicative of the guy trying a little too hard to be someone he isn’t and overcompensating by adopting speech mannerisms that don’t sound natural. Alternatively, and more probably, CDPR are too removed from American culture and unintentionally created a caricature of a stereotype. If the former is true, I think it’s a reasonably interesting idiosyncrasy, but if the latter is true, I don’t blame Natalie for requesting CDPR take another look at their script.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Uncanny Valley is a good description. It’s just far enough off to telegraph that the dialog is written by someone who isn’t Latino, and is just copying bad movies and TV dialog to indicate a bad-ass character.

        We shouldn’t expect a Polish developer to be sensitive to all the language nuances of communities in the USA, but they can do better than copying hackneyed media representations. It would be safer to use just straight (accented) English, or go full Spanish with subtitles.

  10. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Glad to see some resistance and counterexamples to the perpetual “story needs conflict” backslapping fest. At the same time, though, I can’t fully get on “the other side”, wherever that is. (Oh! I get that! It’s conflict! And enthusiastically rolling eyeballs!) As with many things people end up arguing passionately about, there seems to be so much dependence on definitions regardless of where you fall in the argument continuum that it all just seems useless to me for learning anything besides what your own (and others’) definitions are. *rambling removed* I am conflicted on this subject thanks to its containing many subtleties, and conveyance of philosophy is not at all my Forte. Apologies if I have failed to meaningfully contribute to the video game article round-up discussion.

    At any rate, with that pinch of positioning there, thanks to the above discoursers for the counterexamples (I probably more often agree with the “slice of life and ambient stuff can be interesting non-conflict” folks, for what that’s worth, but lines are fuzzily drawn), and more generally for helping me internally refine my own definitions a little. I’ll likely enjoy my conflict-free and story-free (oh, horrors!) entertainment* with more relish now.

    *N.B. This “entertainment” is not meant as the entire interpreted interpretable content of the piece which contains the perceived entertainment, should your definitions be such that the clarification is necessary. Hope that’s clear enough for those who might care…

  11. Aleph says:

    “What would it mean to actually look at events through a different lens?”

    One possible answer would be a lot of 20th century literature.

    • Babymech says:

      Don’t be ridiculous. How would anyone ever be able to write blog posts if they have to be aware of or acknowledge what other people have thought, said, or written?

      • Aleph says:

        I’m sorry, of course you’re right. It would be pandemonium! I didn’t mean to sound too snarky on my first comment, but I found the earnestness of the article kind of funny considering this is a problem that has been at the forefront of a lot of narrator’s minds for a loooong time now.

        • Babymech says:

          I think you could be more sarcastic and still be fine, easily. While I realize that a blog post can’t be held to the same standards as a traditionally edited and published think piece (though it’s not clear what standards it can be held to), I still get annoyed when somebody recommends a blog post where the writer’s entire premise necessitates ignorance. The piece featured here a few weeks ago on how RPG’s are evolving away from just being Tolkien-style fantasy is a decent example – while I wouldn’t expect the man on the subway to know much about RPG history, I would expect a person who wants to write a blog post on the subject to at least hit up a wikipedia entry first.

          • Aleph says:

            Yeah, you’re right. More than a standard, I think what is needed is a bit of curiosity. We so easily conflate an opinion with a quick, ill-informed judgement. If you care about the subject you’re talking about on your blog, do some reading first.

  12. KicktheCAN says:

    A lot of my favorite stories don’t involve conflict: travelogues, slice-of-life, many comedies. The definition of a story as requiring conflict is anemic at best. People often go to ridiculous lengths to redefine conflict to justify it.

  13. Baines says:

    The Steam sale article is a mess.

    It starts with a reasonable position that it is okay to say “no” to the Steam Summer sale, mentioning how people buy games that they’ll never play.

    But then the author openly paints themself as the real problem, a person who buys games just to be part of a crowd, who feels pressure to buy anything that they see others recommend.

    Then it shifts into Steam being flooded and the rise of asset flips, matters that would occur even without Steam event sales. But that is seemingly denounced, the author is back to praising Steam’s openness and saying that they’ve never been tricked into buying those garbage games and asset flips. (The author also shows that they don’t even know what an asset flip is.)

    But then the author is back to denouncing Steam/Valve for preying on consumer laziness, and how Valve doesn’t police itself. Then the card ecology gets denounced (again both showing a lack of understanding of the issues at hand as well as the author’s apparent own purchase-related issue).

    Then the author, after talking about general issues, is suddenly back to the Steam event sale itself being bad. Which is immediately clarified as the public conversation the Steam sale generates is bad, presumably going back to the author’s own self-admitted issues of being tempted to buy anything they see recommended.

    And then it ends with two paragraphs about the “lack of discussion” and what it says about “our priorities as a culture”, even though the whole article ultimately seemed about the author’s own personal issues, which they’ve somewhat tried to dump onto Steam and the general populace.

  14. trollomat says:

    “It’s Okay To Say No to the Steam Summer Sale”

    Oh. Really? Wow, I mean, how fucked are we if we need an article to remind us of this?

    If you aren’t able to see this as the sleazy marketing trick it is just like Valentine’s Day or Black Friday, you are truly, truly lost.

  15. batman74m says:

    Somehow, you are all seemingly missing the point: The Grateful Dead! I’ve waited a decade for them to make an appearance here! The Dead and gaming, the two constants / vices in my life I never grow tired of.

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