Sundays are for meeting potential new housemates and trying not to squirm out of your shoes. These meet ups are like job interviews for personalities. It's disgusting. Here's the best writing about videogames from the past week.
Let's kick off with an astounding article from Laura Hudson in the Guardian, who spoke to female developers around the world making games that convey the devastating impact of regressive abortion laws. It's a powerful showcase of how games can be used to challenge preconceptions, and a travesty that the people who most need perspective will never play the damn things.
For many people making games that address reproductive rights, the goal is not to force players to accept a single perspective or conclusion, but to contend with the numerous tangible, personal experiences of people dealing with unintended pregnancies. Most of all, they ask players to consider the very real human beings trying to make difficult decisions about abortion. These people are often erased by simplistic, judgemental political stances – or legally prevented from making those decisions altogether.
Vice's Cameron Kunzelman, apposite as ever, wrote about how games rarely realistically depict the state of our dying oceans. I don't think either of us have a problem with games that capture oceanic wonder, but the value of games that shine a light on the decline of vital eco-systems seems self-evident. More of those, please.
It seems like all of these games leave a lot on the table by focusing on this dual nature of oceans. In their pursuit of James Cameronian sublime awe and terror, they miss those realistic features of acidity and death I mentioned above that, even if you ripped them right out of our reality, would cause players to recoil in confusion and horror. The games that do try to address these problems, like Koral, an educational game that informs you about coral reef death and tasks you with reinvigorating the sea floor, have to do them through a single spectacular lens as if the coral were something uniquely damaged about the sea. The real disturbing thing about the oceans is that they aren’t all that different from the land at all. They can still be decimated in their totality. They still die. They die just like we do.
While we're talking about one of the most important issues facing humanity, here's Peter Christiansen's analysis of the pitfalls games fall into when depicting environmental breakdown. It's not all doom and gloom, though. His piece for Play The Past points out how games can function as excellent teaching tools, and goes on to talk about how the Civilisation 6: Gathering Storm expansion actually gets a lot of this stuff right.
Unlike Civ II’s generic skulls that represented any kind of environmental damage, Gathering Storm goes to great lengths to create a detailed representation of how CO2 levels in the atmosphere change the global temperature, polar ice, and sea level. It also indicates how much more severe storms and floods have become due to human activity. While there are still technological solutions like flood barriers and carbon recapture (no need to invade your neighbors to clean up their mess), there is no way to completely undo the effects of climate change once they’ve been allowed to occur.
Jason Schrier has done yet more stirling work for Kotaku, this time exposing how Treyarch treat their QA testers as second class citizens.
According to Glassdoor aggregates and testimonials from employees to Kotaku, Treyarch’s QA testers are paid a base wage of around $13 an hour. For the past year or so, some say they’ve been working around 70 hours a week. So it was a gut punch to at least a few of them when, in January of this year, news broke that the video game publisher Activision had given a cash and stock bonus worth up to $15 million to its new chief financial officer, Dennis Durkin. They didn’t even qualify for a $15 bonus.
As someone who's spent about 50% of his free time over the past few days playing Mordhau, I will cop to having a particular interest in seeing Samuel Horti tell the story of its development on PC Gamer. There are another million of you out there who bought the game, though, and the human side of this is neat even if you've no interest in playing.
Now the initial rush is over, Desrosiers has had time to reflect—he says starting the project with a group of young, remote developers was a "huge risk" that has now paid off. He attributes Mordhau’s success to the polished combat, refined by years and years of testing by top-tier Chivalry players and newcomers alike, and the power the game gives players to express themselves, whether that’s via their fighting style, the clothes and armour they wear, or their use of voice chat lines, which makes it feel more "personal" than other multiplayer games. "It makes their player character a reflection of their personality."
It's a mystery it took this long before someone rigged up an actual AI to come up with Iain M. Banks style ship names. It was worth the wait.
Decided to see what would happen if I trained a neural net to write names for self-aware AIs.
May I present: GPT-2 trained on AI names from Iain M. Banks's Culture novelshttps://t.co/1X4x2y3Zs3 pic.twitter.com/QdPG8OhIrP
— Janelle Shane (@JanelleCShane) 27 June 2019
I don't know if you lot have heard about this "logic" thing, but I've got mixed thoughts. So does Aisling McCrea on the Outline.
Specifically, these guys — and they are usually guys — love using terms like “logic.” They will tell you, over and over, how they love to use logic, and how the people they follow online also use logic. They are also massive fans of declaring that they have “facts,” that their analysis is “unbiased,” that they only use “‘reason” and “logic” and not “emotions” to make decisions. The hosts of the popular leftist podcast Chapo Trap House even titled their book The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts and Reason as a wink and nod to this tendency.
These words are usually used interchangeably and without regard to their proper usage, squished together in a vague Play-Doh ball of smug superiority, to be thrown wherever possible at their “emotional” and “irrational” enemies: feminists, Marxists, liberals, SJWs, and definitely the feminist Marxist liberal SJWs. You could call these men’s way of viewing the world in simple “me smart, you dumb” dichotomies Manichean, or even Derridean, if you really want to upset them by referencing a philosopher that they’ve heard is very bad.
Music this week is Control Freak by the Murlocs.