Am I The Problem? A Reaction to Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames

The following is a reaction to Feminist Frequency’s Tropes vs. Women in Videogames series.  It is written by a white, cis male, which I recognize is possibly the worst thing to be in writing any critical response to the series as presented so far.  I am not denying the points the series makes, and I am certainly not denying the industry’s huge problem with gender, stereotypes, and women in general.  Sexism is real, and it is entirely possible for someone to not be sexist and still benefit from its deeply entrenched roots in modern society.  I have no doubt that I benefit from sexism in ways that I cannot enumerate, though given the quality of my life and the fact that the most recent major event in it was getting a type of cancer that it is physically impossible for someone of the female sex to get and the subsequent loss of my ability to procreate, I will admit I find it hard to see exactly how I benefit.

I am going to be honest about my reaction to the series and it is my sincere hope that nobody hates me for it.

Tropes vs. Women in Videogames makes me feel like a bad person.  Really, really bad.  Downright evil, and no, I’m not exaggerating for comic effect like I normally do.  I know that this is likely not the case and that part of the point of the series is to target people like me, straight men who consider themselves feminists and make us uncomfortable with the state of affairs.  Well, it succeeds.  Forgive me if this is oddly disjointed, most attempts to play hop-scotch in a minefield are.

The series, if you haven’t seen it, is presented as a very matter-of-fact lecture, and seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, which, given the deranged and disturbing response to Ms. Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter I entirely understand.  Many of the people most in need of education on this subject have not exactly shown that they are capable of understanding complex, nuanced subjects such as this.  Honestly, I’m impressed they’ve managed to attain even a limited grasp of human language.  While I understand that I am not the lowest common denominator that lashes out and makes threats if someone dares to challenge something that I like, I do feel like I am being patronized and talked down to while watching the videos.

Maybe I need to be talked down to, though.  Again, I’m serious, maybe I am part of the problem.  But am I?  How broadly do you define the problem?  I’ve supported dozens of the games specifically called out in her three installments on Damsels in Distress.  I’ve supported them with my money, and I’ve enjoyed playing them, and I haven’t really given a tremendous amount of thought to the implications of this.  I’ve also played and greatly enjoyed Beyond Good & Evil, the game most praised by Ms. Sarkeesian in her series for its general excellence in both quality and positive portrayal of women.

“Isn’t it enough for a game to just be fun and well made?” I thought to myself at one point.  Well, that depends.  If games are just toys, diversions, distractions with no deeper meaning, I’d say yes, it is enough for a game to just be fun and well made.  If no one will ever take them seriously, it is enough for a game to just be fun and well made.  That’s not true, though.  Perhaps the hidden point of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is that games not only are art, but they have always been art.  There was no magical threshold crossed in the mid-90s or early millennium that transmuted them into art.  The ideas presented in games have always mattered, even if the creators did not necessarily have that intent at the outset.

Still, I wonder, “Am I the problem?”

If Ms. Sarkeesian’s method of presentation bothers me, and if I am bothered by the implication that my taste in games does include, but is not limited to games called out as problematic, is that not my conscience telling me that I am a bad person, and deserve to feel bad for it?  Especially considering that while after viewing and carefully considering her points, I have no intention of more carefully vetting the games I buy for their portrayal of gender?  I will certainly be more aware of it, yes, but if some future game employs this trope to some extent and is otherwise excellent, will I still buy it?  Yeah, probably.

As you can tell I am, in many ways, a deeply insecure person.  Is it a good thing for the world that I won’t even theoretically be able to reproduce?  Would the world be better off without me?  Am I even a man anymore?  These are common refrains.  Experience shapes and forges us all, and my experiences have directed my critical gaze more inward than most.  I’m not a stranger to being on the wrong side of debates.  I’m sure I’m still on the wrong side on a great many things, life is about learning and adapting, becoming better in the process.  In recent years I’ve found myself arguing out of ignorance on the topic of rape culture, something that the modern, more educated variant of me is rather ashamed of.  Likewise, while I respected transgenderism, until Lana Wachowski’s brilliant and revelatory speech on the subject, I held some rather ignorant views on it.

Open and intellectually honest debate is of course worthwhile, and that’s what I’m attempting to do here.  If I’ve failed, I apologize.  I’m trying to respond in an honest fashion.  I do not consider myself a sexist, I consider myself a feminist.  Have I been a bad person, though, in not speaking out more, not doing more, not attempting to in some way repay those whose oppression I benefit from?  Is my patronage of certain media harmful, and if so, aren’t I morally obligated to stop supporting it, even if I otherwise enjoy it?

I don’t know.  Maybe there’s more point in the question than the answer.

A User’s Guide to Media Reviews

Editor’s Note: This is a companion piece to my previous article, “An Objective Review of Dragon’s Crown”  Read it here.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of people who seem to be confused about the purpose of reviews. Specifically video game reviews, but you can apply them to movie reviews, book reviews, really anything involving art. Mostly this confusion stems from the perception that reviews must be “objective”.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Andrew, you sly, sexy thing, reviewers should be unbiased in their work!”

This is wrong. Reporters should be unbiased in their work. Reviewers entire job is bias. There are acceptable and unacceptable biases for reviewers, though. A good reviewer will not allow their review to be unduly affected by any previous perceptions they have about the work, positive or negative. That includes, for example, their personal opinion of the creator, or the system the game is released for. A good review is based entirely on the reviewer’s opinions and observations of the work that they accumulated during their experience with the finished art.

Reviews are objective by nature. This isn’t a problem, this is in fact why they are a useful tool. If you have determined whether or not you like something, or are going to buy something before reading any reviews of it, congratulations, you do not need to read the review. That’s not to say you shouldn’t, I read reviews of things I like, dislike, or have no intention of buying regardless of the quality all the time. It is a form of entertainment, and it can enrich your experience by providing a different perspective from which to appreciate art. A good review of good art will enhance your appreciation of that art.

What you shouldn’t do is use reviews to try and confirm your own biases. We’ve all done it and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice either. Who doesn’t love reading an awful movie being eviscerated or a horrible game being pilloried by such masters of the negative review as Jim Sterling and Yahtzee Croshaw? This isn’t what reviews are there for, though. Its a bonus, a treat, and can serve as a validation of your own good taste.

Where people get hung up though is that disagreeing with a reviewer doesn’t make either of you wrong. It just means you disagree. That’s why it is important not to just look at Metacritic aggregates, but to seek out individual reviewers, individual voices who you agree with. Not on score, mind you, but on observation. Different people appreciate different things for different reasons. One reviewer may appreciate a certain kind of game more or less, or a certain style greatly. Find reviewers who appreciate the same things that you do, and if you are unsure as to whether you should or shouldn’t check something out, seek out their opinions.

“But what if the reviewers I usually agree with disagree with me, MSK?”

Well Strawman, it still just means you disagree. Maybe you should think about what you disagree on. If someone who thinks a lot like you do dislikes something that you don’t, odds are you’ll be able to understand their point quite easily. This can improve your enjoyment! Understanding not only that you enjoy something but why you enjoy something is itself enjoyable. Being able to love art not just despite but because of its imperfections is great.

This is why the late lamented Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were so highly valued, not just for their own skills at reviewing movies, but for their wildly different preferences. “Two Thumbs Up” really meant something, because it meant that two colleagues who think differently enjoy the same thing. It was a double positive review, if two people who disagree vehemently on a regular basis like the same movie, odds are it is a really good movie.

All this is not to say there isn’t such a thing as a Bad Review, however. This comes down again to bias, in the case of video games it also involves skill. If someone has made up their mind about something before they have seen it or played it, they have no business reviewing it, and thankfully you can usually tell, because the people who do this are not professionals, but rabid lunatics zero-bombing things on websites that allow for user reviews pre-release. Likewise, if someone just plain isn’t good at a particular game genre, they never play them personally, what have you, they have no business reviewing those games.

Sports games are the most common example, here. For me, its certain 2D fighting games. I am BAD at them. All-Caps BAD. I can’t beat more than three or four levels in Street Fighter IV on the easiest difficulty. That bad. When I see dozens of positive reviews of Street Fighter IV, though, I don’t get upset at the reviewer, though, of course not. I know its not for me, and I can still appreciate their observations with no intent of acting on them.

Which brings me to the current debate going on in the commentariat over at Polygon over their Dragon’s Crown review. A lot of people are going to really enjoy this game and would likely give it a score above 6.5 themselves. That is fine, but it doesn’t mean the author is weighing down the score with her own personal baggage. Some people do not like hypersexualized women and male power fantasies in their games. That detracts from their enjoyment.

“But MSK, if they don’t like sexy babes in their games, they shouldn’t review games with sexy babes in them! That’s your logic!”

No its not, Strawman. That’s a perversion of my logic. Dragon’s Crown is a beat-em-up, a brawler, with a heavy emphasis on its art style as a primary selling point. Naturally, critique of the art style is not only fair game in a review, but a necessity in a review. We’re not talking about someone who just hates brawlers, here, and besides, Strawman, and since I created you, we both know that isn’t your actual problem with the review.

This is the nature of criticism, people will always disagree. I have never had a problem with a little cheesecake here and there, but to me, Dragon’s Crown seems to be rather obnoxious with the way it presents its particular flavor. That’s my opinion. Is yours different? That’s fine with me.

And it should be fine with you, too.

The Tomb Raider walkback begins

Tomb Raider Creators Are No Longer Referring to Game’s Attempted ‘Rape’ Scene As an Attempted Rape Scene.

Now as much as I detest Kotaku’s editorial practices this isn’t about them, this is about Crystal Dynamics and their latest escalation of double-speak. As I said in my previous post, Executive Producer Ron Rosenberg, as part of his now-infamous “You’ll want to protect her” interview stated quote “…she gets taken prisoner by scavengers on the island.  They try to rape her…”

Well that seems pretty clear, Ron, not that I didn’t pick that up in the trailer.  Scene by scene lets break that sequence down a bit more.

2:15 into the trailer, Lara has her hands bound behind her back, and is trying to sneak out of this camp.

2:18. creepy voice saying “Noone escapes!” as Lara slips into a little hidey hole.

2:20. Her attacker discovers her, heavy breathing.

2:24. Now is when you can tell that this has definitely been selectively edited, as Lara is out of the hidey hole, and her attacker has one hand on her shoulder preventing her from running.  Her hands are still bound.

2:25.  Cue dramatic tension in the music as her attacker examines her lecherously.

2:26. The attacker’s arm wanders down from Lara’s shoulder to her hips before being kneed in the groin at 2:28.

Less than a second later she is trying to flee but caught by the arm and pulled back.  At 2:30 Lara is forced against a wall by her attacker, who then proceeds to fondle her and nuzzle her neck.  Her terrified face blocks any view of what he’s doing, the repeated smash-to-black edits further serve to obscure the events.

I have to point out that the editing is so jarring in this sequence, with noticeable gaps between logical progressions of events.  Lara eventually struggles on the ground against her attacker at 2:35 with gun in hand, fighting his grip to turn it on him and fire.  Note that they do not show how she escapes from her bonds, as her hands have until this point been tied behind her back and she has been unable to use them to fend off this attacker.

The pace of editing and smash-cuts in this particular sequence tells me whoever cut the trailer is an idiot seeing as this style of editing trailers with several smash-cuts to black every second is terrible, but also that they are hiding the full sequence of events from the viewer.

In other words, this sequence is much longer in actual gameplay than depicted.  Based on the events shown, and the manner in which they are timed I think I am safe in the assumption that there is a quick-time-event around which this entire sequence is based.  Which means it is not just brutal, it is interactive.

Today, the head of Crystal Dynamics released a statement saying the following:

“…Unfortunately we were not clear in a recent E3 press interview and things have been misunderstood.  Before this gets out of hand (Too fucking late! -ed), let me explain.

In making this Tomb Raider origins story our aim was to take Lara Croft on an exploration of what makes her the character she embodies in later Tomb Raider games.  One of the character defining moments for Lara in the game, which has incorrectly been referred to (by your own employee, the executive producer on the game -ed) as an ‘attempted rape’ scene is the content we showed at this year’s E3… This is where Lara is forced to kill another human for the first time.  In this particular section, while there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly.  Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game. (emphasis mine -ed)

…We’re sorry this has not been better explained, we’ll certainly be more careful with what is said in the future. (again, emphasis mine -ed)”

-Darrel Gallagher, Studio Head – Crystal Dynamics

Well fuck me sideways, Darrell, that sure clears that up, thanks!  Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.  Well I guess that footage was from another game because there was some pretty clear sexual assault in it!  And how could it possibly go further than what you showed, what with a good chunk of the sequence being excised for the trailer.  I guess its non-interactive as well, seeing as that would be “going further” as well.

I’m not saying a game cannot use these themes to profound effect.  They can, and I’m sure one day they will.  To say that Tomb Raider has no sexual assault in it, when high-ranking members of your production staff have said that enemies will try to rape Lara Croft in this game, and video evidence exists to the contrary, certainly takes some balls, I’ll give you that one.

So what was that attacker doing in that scene if not sexually assaulting the protagonist of the game?  Did his hand wander down her body as he leered down her shirt because his arm was tired?  Did he pin her against a wall and begin necking her because she got bit by a snake and he needed to suck the venom out, quick?  It’s not rape, its a struggle-snuggle!  Give me a break.

This is cowardly, dishonest, and leads me to believe that whatever the intent of the developers, they have tarnished their efforts and their names with this increasingly absurd PR carnival.  First there’s attempted rape.  Then, there’s lots of attempted rape!  It’s edgy, it’s cool, buy our game!  Now there is no attempted rape nor sexual assault of any kind, and shame on you and the media for perpetuating the myth that there is!

I know there is an internet furor with many forum and comment fights between both defenders of the game as presented and those who find its content objectionable.  I defy you to find any defender of this scene, however, that has denied the existence of sexual assault and attempted rape as part of the trailer.

So I have some advice for you, Darrell, given freely by someone who wants to see your game come through and have the solid narrative I imagined it could carry.  Don’t just be more careful with what is said.  Be more careful with what is done.  Start by putting a gag order on every member of the development team.

Then, since the scene is all about when Lara is forced to kill another human for the first time, rework the scene.  If that is the narrative impact, the defining moment you are going for, why complicate it?  Have Lara be caught in her hidey hole, tossed out onto the ground, QTE to wiggle out of the rope in time to grab the gun and turn it on her attacker.  All that juicy gore and character definition, no pesky rape!

Crystal Dynamics must in any circumstance be honest with their fans and those who wish to see this game succeed.  If they cannot justify the scene as is, it should be changed not just to avoid controversy but to avoid detracting from the story of the game.  That’s not “political correctness” that is good design.

As it stands, they’re simply making fools of themselves, and showing how little they really think of the intelligence of the gaming community.

The 90s Disease and The Global Star Wars on Terror

This is the first of two editorials tangential to political things including 9/11, the Global War on Terror, and how much of a cunt George Lucas is.  I have written this particular piece while in a rather spirited mood.  There is offensive content here and its payload has been calibrated to maximize its potential.

I was in a World History class, freshman year of High School when it happened.

This is one class I will not forget, though I don’t know it at the time.  It will teach me far more than I expect.  We are to be taking a short test on some material we recently covered.  I wasn’t worried, my memory always did serve me well in areas like history.  Twenty-five questions, and then a new lesson.  Twenty-five questions on the origins of Islam.  The strange mechanisms of the world already winking at my future self through a multiple-choice pop quiz.

When the television went on I saw the towers burning.  They still stood over New York, then.  At first the world thought “Tragic Accident”.  Then the second plane hits.  At first the news thought the towers couldn’t fall.  Then they did.  We all watched them fall.  We all watched them die.  Many of my classmates had family working in the Pentagon.  DC is very much a company town.  I’d never been to New York.  I knew people there, the internet had permeated my life in a Very Big Way already, and through IRC I knew people who lived and worked there.  My mind was too dumbstruck to register that they might be in danger.

The reactions of the students were telling.  Mine was that of pain and rage.  None of us had known the horrors of the Cold War, the grim sword of damocles that was Mutually Assured Destruction was foreign to us.  War was something other people made.  We were observers, all, and none of us knew that our world had just been swapped for some new monstrosity, a warped mirror that reflected all the wrong parts of ourselves.  I knew there would be a war.  I knew whoever had done this would feel the unchained rage of an empire.  I knew we would feel the same rage.  And I knew that rage would always be more dangerous to us than it ever would to our enemies.

There is no image I can think of that is so primal, so repulsive to the very core of one’s humanity, and so mortally terrifying than that of a mushroom cloud.  Nuclear annihilation.  As I said we were the first generation removed from the Cold War.  We didn’t know the same fears.  A mushroom cloud, the modern face of death itself, was now all that I could see.  I saw the towers fall, I saw the fires and deaths, the jumpers, the secondary collapses.  I saw them and I thought “Yes.”  I saw mushroom clouds rising over some foreign land.  I thought that death by nuclear fire would be too kind a fate for those responsible.  For the first and only time in my life I was posessed of a terrible notion: We Must Kill Them All.  No exceptions, no hesitation, no remorse.  The world would never before or again see a more fearsome reprisal.  This would never happen again.  Not while We stood upon the bridge.

Some of the students, however, watched, riveted to their seats.  I realized something awful.  They were actually being entertained by this.  Whether the sheer magnitude of this was too much for their feeble minds to grasp I do not know, I do know that there was more than one person that I previously thought was smart who actually commented on how “cool” this was.  And everyone knew why this was getting people off.  I’d seen such destruction before, we all had.  We all paid for it at the movie theatres in the summers.  We lined up to eat popcorn and watch aliens or asteroids or some Other destroy us, only to be vanquished by the might, ingenuity, and wisdom of Humanity.  The 1990s was the Great American Victory Lap and it showed in all our media.  We’re All So Fucking Great, because we survived the Cold War.  If we could avoid annihilating ourselves, we could truly overcome any obstacle the universe would send our way.  The 1990s are why George W. Bush would later challenge the terrorists to “Bring it on”.  The threat to us in the 1990s seemed to never be human.  We had conquered our demons, we were masters of our domain.  Without nuclear war to worry about we could build fantastic new wonders like the Internet, cure diseases, bring the world together, throw down tyranny and lift humanity into a brighter future.  We were building a space station, we were mapping the cosmos, the whole world seemed to peek its head out into the blinding light from a dark cave, just for a moment.  We thought everything was going to be okay, soon.  What could this new millenium bring other than the triumphant dawn of mankind?  And, admittedly it was understandable, justified even.

Star Wars should have taught us differently.  Episode One, specifically.  At the ass end of the ’90s the most sacred of our pop culture icons was going to return with all the majesty of modern CGI and budgets greater than the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa.  A great big fucking fireworks show to cap our cultural bender.  It didn’t even occur to us that it would be remotely possible for Star Wars to be Bad.  Try and remember that time.   The time when Star Wars was always going to be good.  The time when its only blemishes were written off as a minor misstep by the visionary Lucas.  Its important to remember the time when Star Wars couldn’t possibly be fucked up, even if  spasticated rhesus monkeys suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, smoking crystal meth wrote the screenplay in the AIDS-infested mongoloid spunk of the aborted baby Jesus.  Star Wars was perfect.  Then, Episode One came out.  It was a fuckfest of legendary proportions, childhoods were retroactively ruined, and the insult would only seem to get worse with time.

Why was Star Wars bad?  Why, when the first film was made at the end of the Vietnam War, and the series improved to its crescendo in the last great arms race under Reagan, why was this new Star Wars, forged over years in the victorious, pre-utopian 90s, so bad?  Well, the problem was that Star Wars was perfect.  Only someone who no one thinks can do wrong would or could fuck up Star Wars that badly.  People around this man should have slapped the shit out of Lucas, the studios should have detonated his script.  And it was the ultimate 90s script, no tremendous conflict, just a small backwater trade dispute, some political maneuvering, you know, easy shit.  Shit that normal humans deal with all the time, nevermind Jedi.  Shit that Yoda should have sorted out in five minutes.  The whole of Industrial Light and Magic blackout drunk with money, and the entire production in a dissociative trance of denial, with no one challenging the fever-dream bullshit spewing from George Lucas.

A New Hope was made in the fucking desert with props that constantly broke, never-before-tried effects techniques, a veritable shoestring budget, and more problems than anyone knew could happen on a movie.  Everyone thought the movie was going to be horrible!  It was the exact opposite of The Phantom Menace in almost every way.  The script was chopped, cut, tightened, until it was lean and unrelenting.  Comedy and drama in balance, the Hero’s Journey updated for the modern era, and most importantly: Good Triumphs Over Evil.  Not an ultimate triumph.  Significant, but ultimately just another battle.  It was exactly what it needed to be in that time, in that place in 1977.  Star Wars made everyone remember “Hey, we’re the good guys.  We can do this!”  The Phantom Menace made us ask “Hey, you’re supposed to be the good guys, are you sure you can do this?”.

In its own way TPM is also exactly what it needed to be in its time, which is to say an overproduced monstrosity.  A monument to excess.  We let it happen.  We were so busy telling George Lucas how great Star Wars was that he forgot the adversity that gave it a soul.  In the 1990s, we were all in the business of buying our own bullshit and confirming ever so politely to each other that our shit did not in fact stink.  The Millenial Generation had arrived and the Baby Boomers were going to kick back and get nice and fucked up with the hottest new drug for them: Unlimited Power.  How could America possibly get punched in the dick by the Actual Sand People from Tatooine?  Even if that happened, how could America so fuck up their response as to get bogged down in not one but fully two Vietnam-grade quagmires?  We learned that lesson!  We won, remember?  We’re the good guys!  We can do this! What are a bunch of irritable brown people going to do to us, nothing, because we’re America and we’re so fucking Perfect.

In the 1990s the US Economy boomed thanks to the Internet, we had the largest budget surplus in history, and our biggest problems according to the news were blowjobs and sharks.  We gathered all that money, and all that confidence, and when we were attacked we hit back with our own great big Phantom Menace.  An obnoxious, showy, over-budgeted, over-produced foreign-policy Hindenburg called the “Global War on Terror”.  We named our enemy.  The “Axis of Evil” ooh, scary, very Sith Lords, love it.  For Iraq we even got our own Attack of the Clones complete with equally farcical justifications for a war!

The best thing about those movies, the prequel trilogy is that for all its flaws it does one thing incredibly right:  From start to finish, episode one title crawl to episode three credits, the good guys manage to give the bad guys exactly what they want.  The Jedi, through arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence fuck absolutely everything up.  The bad guys play them like a fiddle and achieve almost every aim.  The only thing that stops them from winning completely is that at the eleventh hour, a couple of people get their shit together just long enough to set the stage for the next generation to fix everything they broke, if they can, maybe.

And America did the same.  We gave the bad guys exactly what they wanted, first we got good and scared.  Then, we got good and angry.  We started a war with too much confidence and rage and no decent plan.  We alienated potential allies with our rhetoric.  After 9/11 even Iran was chomping at the bit to help us.  And why not?  They’re fairly modern, certainly when compared to their neighbors.  They’ve got just as much an interest in making sure the Taliban and Al Qaeda quiet down as we do.  We were on the way towards real dialogue when President Lucas threw it all away by naming them to the axis of evil.  And we got distracted, went off podracing in Iraq.  We give radical groups decades worth of justification for their agenda in places where they were as welcome as syphillis.  Now the western economy has tanked, and what did we get for all of this?  We managed to get our shit together just long enough to shoot the guy responsible in the eye.

This is a tough one.  And now, like it or not, its up to my generation to fix everything the grey-hairs broke.

If we can.

Maybe.

A Bit of Seriousness

When I last updated this version of The Chaos Fold (unfortunately all the posts on the independently-hosted website are lost to the sands of time), it was 2008.  Barack Obama was not yet President of the United States of America.  I didn’t have a roommate and I was barely old enough to buy alcohol.  Time’s passed, people mature.  I would explain my tremendous lack of writing, but honestly it is a very sad story with bad things happening to good people and while I may come off as crass and cynical from time to time I’m not going to inflict that particular story on anyone who might read it.

A long time ago, an entire age of the world by internet standards I had a traffic explosion because of a wonderfully interesting pastor and blogger by the name of Carlos Whittaker.  At the time I felt a little silly, the staunch atheist allied firmly with a wide array of practicing Christians to unseat the word “cocksucking” from the number one spot on my referrals list.  Reading back I see a great variety of people who stopped in to comment, and especially in this day and age, with extremism running roughshod over everything in its path my cynicism cracked more than it had during those heady days of “Yes We Can”.

I may be something of a lewd court jester of the internet but I do pride myself on my intelligence and my tolerance.  I will admit that in the last six months, I’ve been losing a lot of tolerance for my fellow man, as it were.  At times I’ve thought “why me?” and cursed the people who I found responsible for the situation I found myself in.  I took solace in the wonderful friends I’ve made, many through World of Warcraft of all things.  Now, reading those posts that Los and I wrote, and the comments on each other’s blogs, I find that tolerance returning with a new found pride.

Too often we lose sight of the big things, the important things.  Too often those important things are each other.  In those comments and posts I latched back on to the ideal.  A quantum of peace within the storms of the world that we get swept up in all too often.

So I’m setting down my sword as it were.  The world is too precious a place to wrap yourself in intolerance and excuses.  Even now, while such horrible things are happening in the Gulf of Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, I am reminded of the words of one of my heroes, words that have given me hope through the ages.

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” – President John F. Kennedy

That’s all.

Too Human: The Story of Denis Dyack

Too Human.  Two words.  It is a game that has been in development over ten years.  Originally slated for release on the PlayStation 1, Too Human has since gone through iterations on the Nintendo GameCube and the Xbox 360, where at long last it has seen release.

This story isn’t about the game, though.  This story is about a man who helped make that game.  The man who is most closely associated with that game, and quite possibly, the man who has doomed that game.  Denis Dyack.

Denis Dyack has been around a while.  His studio, Silicon Knights is notable for their successful games Legacy of Kain, and Eternal Darkness.  They also orchestrated the GameCube remake of Kojima Productions’ breakthrough title Metal Gear Solid.  More specifically, Denis Dyack is a fairly talented guy who has gone more than a little bit wacko because of a few things, most notably the overly-long development cycle of a game he clearly has considered to be his magnum opus. Looking at the progression of his behavior and the media coverage of his game, they follow the same downward trend.

After E3 2006, there were many previews of Too Human written based on a demo, a demo that everyone knew was forced out by Microsoft despite being unfinished and unpolished.  Dyack knew what had happened, he knew the demo sucked, he knew why it sucked, and most importantly: everyone who played it knew all the same things. Listen to game journalists back in 2006, after they played that demo. There’s no antipathy. There’s no misunderstanding, there’s no one saying that Too Human was going to be a bad game because of an obviously forced demo. The demo got bad press, because the demo was bad, but that’s not what doomed the Dyack.

The community starts up doing what they do best, shitting things up for everyone.  NeoGAF, 1up boards, commenters across the blagoblags trash the Too Human demo. None of them have played it, most of them are trolls, and nothing they say should hold any merit. That is until Denis starts responding. Here’s a guy who has been working on a project that has crossed a full three systems, has been fighting against an engine that by all accounts was delivered broken and unusable, is starting what will inevitably be a public legal standoff with a very popular and prolific developer, Epic Games.  He is stressed-the-fuck-out.  He’s got to believe in the project, that it will be worth it, because after all the bullshit he’s had to put up with, it HAS to be worth it. Claims get more grandiose, he starts rebutting internet comments. He feeds trolls.

The media starts to turn on him. Luke Smith and Bryan Intihar, both formerly of 1up.com were probably the first two to come out swinging.  Those two came out swinging at a lot of things before they each jumped ship for two very prolific game studios, Bungie and Insomniac respectively. Of course, at this point, Dyack has said that game previews should be abolished, because the system is flawed. Of course it is flawed, but more importantly he feels like he has been particularly scorched by it.

Now one thing that all editorial media outlets have in common is that they don’t like people pissing in their coffee. One need look no further than the treatment of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert by the people at every network and news outlet save NBC, to realize this.  Same thing goes for movies. If a film director or studio doesn’t hold a private screening for critics in advance of the release, they get double secret slammed. Granted, the reason that studios decline advance screenings to critics is usually because they know they’re about to fling a pile of poop into the multiplex and want the general public to remain ignorant as long as they can manage. Still, I’d imagine that a bad movie will be reviewed as a horrible movie for no other reason than scorn.

Take it from me, writers have some egos on them. Its a job requirement of anyone who wants to tell other people what is and is not fit for their cultural consumption. You have to think you know better than everyone else.

Denis Dyack, though, he violates the one inviolable rule of dealing with the media: he points out a flaw. Over a period of time, the mood sours. The more he speaks, the more public opinion turns against him. He becomes the gaming equivalent of a Britney Spears, people report on his crazy antics just because its him, and because his antics be crazy. One other thing about the media: they all love a punching bag. Denis painted a big target on himself and kept adding rings to the bulls-eye through the months leading up to the release, culminating in an utterly ridiculous and intellectually bankrupt manifesto, that can be broken down to “NeoGAF is a shithole and I don’t like them.”

He’s right about that, too, but again, you don’t say that out loud. You certainly don’t pair it with a challenge to one of the web’s largest gaming forums. Now the game is out, the reviews are in, and guess what? They’re all reeking of bias. This is how the media takes their vengeance.  Go read the 1up news coverage of Too Human for the past week. It is vicious and abhorrent. You’d think no one worked at Silicon Knights besides Denis Dyack. The review, the press coverage, everything, they’re not about the game. They’re about Denis Dyack, and getting even. They’re about amplifying the flaws and please, please, pleeeeease, don’t let it sell well so we can run stories about that, too. Almost every piece of writing you can find on the subject from a professional outlet is laden with personal invective and editorial bias, the sort that would get you fired under any other circumstance.

However, Dyack brought this on himself, in a way. He pissed in the coffee, and now he’s going to have to pay the price.

Hopefully they’ll let him off before ritual suicide is invoked, but having all but murdered his career, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.  Too Human is more than a game at this point.  It is a symbol for one of its creators, and appropriately enough an adequate decription of him.  Denis Dyack, the man who was too human.

An Angry Person

I recieved a comment today, from someone I may or may not know, that was rather touching.  One of the things it said, was “I honestly just thought you were an angry person”.

Well, in certain ways, I am.

One of the things I talk about a lot is politics, growing up in the shadow of Washington D.C. it becomes a part of you, at least if you’re at all intelligent which I like to think I am, even if I don’t show it all the time.  Politics, though, makes me angry.  A lot of things make me angry.  I am an angry person, but the anger doesn’t come from some dark place, it comes from reality, or at least the reality I am exposed to on a daily basis.  It also comes from the knowledge that things should be better in the world than they are.

There’s an optimism to my anger, because my anger is one that can and should be shared by everyone in the world.  The anger at ourselves for not having done enough, because really, you never can.  I’m an angry person because I’m not as much a success as I could be.  I’m an angry person because I’ve wasted many opportunities afforded to me, and squandered as many gifts.  I’m an angry person because I think I could make a difference, but also think that I may have lost my chance.

Sometimes the most difficult thing in the world is realizing what you are, and who you are.  I’m not an angry person, though I can be angry.  I’m not a bitter person, or a jealous person, or a mean person, though I can and have been all those things.  What I am is an ordinary person, someone who’s made a few too many mistakes and missed a few too many chances, at least from where they see it.  For people with dreams of changing the world the hardest thing to admit is that you’re no different from anybody else when you get down to the core of it all.

What makes an angry person a leader or a bitter person a fighter is effort, effort I haven’t put in.

It may seem egotistical to want to change the world or think you can, and it is.  My ego’s pretty big.  Even still, I think it is better to try and fail than sit and watch, especially after all the sitting, and all the watching I have done in my brief time on this chaotic world.