Sundays are for pretending you’ve got something better to do than play Pillars of Eternity II all day. I… do not.
Waypoint, collectively, used E3 as an opportunity to get studios talking about crunch. For the uninitiated, that’s the widespread practice of expecting employees to work massive amounts of overtime in order to get a game done before it releases. It’s still exploitative, no matter what positive gloss some of Waypoint’s interviewees put on it. This is good work.
What follows are 14 different interviews with members of the video game industry who run the gamut, from the head executive at Nintendo of America to a developer from a team with only a few people. Some people tried to sidestep the question, while others tackled it head-on. This is meant to be part of an ongoing dialogue regarding the way we, as a culture and medium, talk about how the people who build the games we love are treated. The status quo isn’t acceptable.
In her piece for the Verge, Megan Farokhmanesh spoke to current ArenaNet employees and other industry members about the recent firings of Jessica Price and Peter Fries. ArenaNet’s decision has emboldened some of the worst people on the internet, and their failure to condemn the harassment they’ve fuelled is despicable.
One developer, who asked to remain anonymous because of potential backlash from online mobs, learned that her employer received form letters touching on her social media presence. Rather than specifying her name, some of these letters had been botched and simply said “%FEMALENAME.” Speaking to The Verge, she says these messages began arriving on Sunday night after word of the ArenaNet firings had spread. “This is 100 percent a response to the ArenaNet thing,” she says. “There’s no doubt whatsoever in my mind.”
Writing for Real Life, Olivia Rosane challenged the idea that substantive political change can come about by simply making people more empathetic. She suggests that increasing people’s empathy using VR might not do much good, and calls for a shift towards challenging the power structures that lead to suffering in the first place. I’m not convinced that the pursuit of boosting empathy through technology undermines a more important fight. I’m on board with advocating for broader structural change, but projects like the ones Rosane mentions don’t strike me as getting in the way of that.
In mediating between the needs of the afflicted and the apathy of the comfortable, empathy-generating technologies risk reinforcing the very power dynamics they claim to fight. Abolitionist movements on both sides of the Atlantic relied on visceral displays of the physical pain of slavery to sway public opinion. Empathy Museum founder Roman Krznaric holds up the U.K. abolitionist movement as a model of empathy’s political efficacy, but, like the historical example he uses, his museum’s mission statement is troublingly sensationalist: “What is it like to have spent years in prison, or to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to have rediscovered love in your 80s? The Empathy Museum will help you find out.”
I’ve got a theme going. On Waypoint, Cameron Kunzelman argued that we shouldn’t treat the first works of Cyberpunk as a zenith that modern entries in the genre need to live up to. I’m not sure I buy that Neuromancer is defeatist and helped to prop up the capitalist trash heap we live in today, but I do agree that fixating on the origins of something rather than what it can become is a bad idea.
It’s so much easier to fight about canonicity and the “right” version of the genre that we love than to confront the fact that maybe its origination point is one that disempowers us, dares us not to dream, and actively works to keep us justifying the dystopia instead of collectively working to build something new.
For Motherboard, Matthew Gault wrote about a Reddit community that’s been playing Civ 5 democratically for the past two years. I’m sceptical about whether the experiment actually reveals much about the functioning of democracy, but it’s fun to read about. My favourite party is called BAD, though they’re sadly lacking in political capital.
It was a sentiment restated in Huofen, The Flaming Turd, the BAD party’s official newspaper. “Bold audacious destruction for Democraciv will have to wait until another election cycle,” the paper said. “All three of the BAD candidates….lost their respective campaigns on Friday…it appears that the legislative and executive branches will be run by competent people who promise to show up on time and who do not take seriously unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.”
On Eurogamer, games journalist Chris Tapsell went hunting for information about his inclusion as a player in Football Manager 2010. He manages to get to the bottom of why the game gave him such a high eccentricity stat, though the answer is disappointing.
Football Manager is renowned for the quality of its scouting – Sky Sports famously started getting some players’ FM attributes up on a massive screen in their studio, for instance. A lot of clubs are genuinely starting to use it as part of their scouting process for actual humans, presumably filtering out defenders who can’t tackle, and goalkeepers with too much Eccentricity. Why were mine so off? What weird thing did I do in a game they watched to make them think I’m so eccentric?
Music this week is Dog Train by the Levellers. I’ve gone back to old habits.