Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The time that TotalBiscuit totally told on me.

Update: TB and I spoke briefly and agreed to continue the conversation in the comments section. 

“We run a popular gaming channel with over one million subscribers and have a Twitter following of almost 190,000[...] Shawn proceeded to tweet the aforementioned remark about TotalBiscuit to his 16,000 followers.”
 –email excerpt from Cristian Baltoc, Media Relations Specialist | CynicalBrit, LLC

Some would wear their Gamerscores, or the social media metric equivalent, on their sleeves. People who assess their self-worth and see the world through these figures – through the accumulation of “like,” “favorite,” “retweet,” “subscribe,” and “upvote” clicks -- are unpleasant. Self as brand bugs me. But we're all human and, hey, we all want to make sure mom watches when we're on the diving board. Again, what's grotesque is when we take these stats to signify worth. I find this particular character flaw so off-putting that I've probably screamed “shit” at times when all there actually was, was something that smelled a lot like it (or at least the inside of a top hat). I felt sure I whiffed it in the following Twitter exchange:

Whether I was right or wrong, I responded that “TotalBiscuit is truly gross.” This was a personal reaction to the above and another set of screencapped exchanges in circulation. (Seeing a silhouette of what in haberdashery genealogy is the fedora's kissing cousin might've contributed to my conclusion.) I don't watch Youtube or “Let's plays” or Twitch (outside of EVO tourneys) and honestly had never heard of TotalBiscuit. I certainly wasn't speaking for the studio that employed me at the time, nor would any thinking person assume I was. In any case, TB was clearly concerned with my partially informed opinion and, curiously, wrote and performed a recorded response (I say curiously, since I didn't pay a penny for it). I listened and intended to reply at length when it was convenient. In the interim, others on Twitter addressed him on their own accord but I'll come back to that.

A few days later -- this being before I found time to chat, and during BioShock Infinite crunch – Irrational's HR department forwarded me an email written on TB's behalf. In it, his dedicated PR person wrote:

We run a popular gaming channel with over one million subscribers and have a Twitter following of almost 190,000. I would like to bring to your attention the fact that Shawn Elliot, one of your employees, posted a derogatory remark earlier today about my employer, namely "Fucking yuck. @totalbiscuit is truly gross". That remark was deduced from an out-of-context screenshot he had discovered of a partial conversation between my employer and an obnoxious person over Twitter. The image had been circulating on one of 4chan\'s hate threads in the /v/ section, where Shawn or a follower of his might've stumbled upon it.
Without confirming whether that image represented the entire conversation, Shawn proceeded to tweet the aforementioned remark about TotalBiscuit to his 16,000 followers, which include a lot of industry professionals we are in contact with, have collaborated with or wish to in the future (names include Tom Ohle, Ben Kuchera, Evolve PR, Justin Kranzl, etc). Needless to say this tarnishes my employer's image greatly, all because of a misunderstanding. We felt this most certainly constitutes getting off on the wrong foot, which led to my employer posting an audio clip directed at Shawn, meant to explain the entire situation in detail (you can listen to it here: Here is a screenshot of Shawn's tweet and a link to his actual tweet: // We would appreciate it if Shawn could abstain from posting such remarks in the future and if he would be so kind so as to issue a public apology to my employer, as unverified offensive statements aimed at industry professionals do nobody any good.”

Anyone who's worked in the service industry – and a great many of the people who follow the few of us who get to create or critique games for paychecks are there now – is familiar with the indignity of being called into the boss's office because a customer is willing to jeopardize jobs for slight service hiccups. You know the sort; they’re likely the same species that files abusive copyright infringement claims when their products are criticized. I lived that life, working grocery throughout undergrad education as well as when in graduate school while also teaching college courses. Among the many perks of salaried employment is partial impunity from such shit. I was surprised to see it happen here; surprised when, strictly speaking, it wasn't a customer this time and I wasn't on the clock; surprised that a personal opinion and insufficiently speedy response would so offend someone who, on Twitter, had only a day or two prior asked, “Do you live in a place where you can just order someone around without employing them? and “Wanna tell me which human on this planet is entitled to someone else's time? Tattlebiscuit, it seemed, had staked claim to such a place on just such a planet.

This week, aware that, at long last, I meant to write a response since I'm no longer silenced on the topic as his complaint once ensured, our ever humble top hat reminded us that he “hold(s) more power and influence than any games journalist[...]” He asks, Would arguing with him/her publicly on Twitter have been a better course of action?” As established, he attempted to argue about it with me publicly on Twitter. The trouble was that I wasn't able to respond with sufficient speed.

In addition, he states that “we had one incident outside of the DMCA stuff (where we used actual lawyers because it was a legal issue) of contacting a dev to see if we could work out what all the negativity was about and how we might best solve it.” One would expect a self-proclaimed critic, of all people to understand that unfavorable subjective opinions are not necessarily problems in need of “solving.” Finding narcissism offensive is not a claim whose truth we can test. An example of a claim whose falsehood we can confirm is “he/she sicced a large number of people on me.” If anyone bothered TB on my behalf, I apologize, as I certainly never encouraged anyone to do so; never condoned it. Ever. If on planet TB, any and all unsolicited comments from Twitter followers constitutes “siccing,” I'll happily supply evidence and circumstantial witnesses that suggest TB has explaining to do.

“I had no interest in getting into it publicly with an employee of one of this [sic] studios,” he goes on. “So I did the professional thing which was to contact the studio to try and find out what was happening. What should I have done differently? Perhaps in TotalBiscuitville on the noted narcissist planet TotalBiscuit, contacting the employer of a person who has a poor opinion of you is a material conditional. You see, if Marie is in Paris, then she's in France. And if someone, anyone, says I'm gross, you better bet I go and tell their boss. Pleasant enough place if you can stomach the brim sweat.

On our far more familiar planet, requesting that I “abstain from posting such remarks” and “issue a public apology” is not an attempt to “find out what was happening.” When sent to a studio and preceded with a reminder of your social media reach, it is rather – again on this planet – understood as a demand with the possible threat of retaliation. In no world would TotalBiscuit admit that this was his intent. Still, in few other worlds would a studio head run the risk of taking his word on it. Any chance at all that one thin-skinned critic would be biased against a collaborative project as a result of beef with the personal opinion of one member of a massive team is too much to accept.

Update: TB's response is in the comments section below. 

I'm fairly sure TB and I have buried the hatchet. I apologize for that unwarranted first Tweet, he says he's sorry I was silenced. We disagree on whether or not contacting a person's employer for publicly expressed personal opinion (that isn't sexist, racist, homo- or transphobic, etc.) is cool. In AAA game dev, it guarantees gag orders. 

I also understand that it seems petty to speak on this now after so much time passed. The thing is, I wasn't able to say anything about it at all until now. I faced the the consequences of the outcome every day. It seems I'm tough to contact, too, as the only attempt to talk about it that I was ever aware of was on Twitter. And indeed I was crunching at the time (I worked on Clash in the Clouds, Burial at Sea 2, as well as unshipped DLC that was in the works prior to Infinite's launch). Regardless, we've worked things out.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Leigh Alexander and I agreed to move the chat we started via Twitter to email so that we could express and explain ourselves without the character limit.

Leigh Alexander and I agreed to move the chat we started via Twitter to email so that we could express and explain ourselves without the character limit.  As Leigh tweeted, "Disagreement or the need for further discussion can't preclude respect among colleagues." The conversation:

Leigh Alexander: So I saw you as being displeased that people too easily leaped to attribute the wage gap to sexism, because they were eager to earn accolades for being politically-correct, and that they saw sexism where there might not be any in order to feel they'd won a moral victory.

Shawn Elliott: What bothers me is that they both attribute the wage gap to sexism on the part of game industry employers by arbitrarily banishing any serious consideration of alternative explanations from the realm of possibility, and proceed to issue moral imperatives, demanding that the accused address wrongs for which they haven't actually been convicted. In other words, when someone admits that they don't understand the actual conditions that contribute to an unfavorable outcome, then sentences someone all the same, and explicitly tells the accused that their “only valid response” is to rectify the perceived problem, they're moralizing plain and simple. I don't doubt or call into question their commitment to equality (more on this in a moment). I believe their commitment is sincere, and ask that you accept that mine is as well. But it's possible to come to dumb conclusions despite having your heart in the right place.

LA: On one hand, I completely agree with you that if we're going to address representational problems financially and otherwise, we do need a complete picture of the disparity, in order to make a stronger case that it can't be explained by other means. Logical fallacies don't help anyone's case.

SE: We need a more complete understanding of the causes of the disparity in order to correct if it is indeed due to discriminatory policies and practices. You can't fix what you fail to comprehend, no matter how nice it makes a person feel to pretend that they have sufficient info to tell a particular party that its their fault and that they need to fix it. If it turns out that the problem is more challenging and multidimensional, the finger pointing will not have helped anyone at all – in fact, it can contribute to the problem. It can lead you to overlook much more promising avenues for change. Poor reasoning can allow people to dismiss your concerns as well as your diagnosis. I'm taking pains here to clarify that I do not dismiss the underlying concern.

LA: On the other hand, that women are unequal in the games industry is a fact of life for us. Sexism, hostility and general alienation are the reality for many if not most of us. That isn't something that requires data or is up for debate -- women in the industry have been trying to talk about our experiences at increasing volume and at critical mass over the past few years. Many men will find any reason not to listen to us, but we are trying.

SE: I absolutely understand this, however, I addressed wage disparities among developers alone, not the treatment of women as a whole within development, and definitely not across the industry spectrum of reporting, blogging, streaming, forum-going, and gaming.

LA: So I don't think it's actually such an intolerable leap for some people to have seen that data and presumed some degree of logical correlation. Women are unequal in the games industry; women's pay is also unequal. You are right that we don't know the extent to which one fact causes the other, and indeed, it would help to know. 

SE: It isn't a tolerable leap to say that, since women are exposed to persistent sexual harassment within games, for example, wage disparities among developers are necessarily due to sexist practices and policies on the part of employers. When you write that “Women are unequal in the games industry” do you specifically mean that devs are disproportionately male? (I'll pass on the pay aspect, as that is the point of this discussion.)

LA: But the correlation is a fair assumption. I would trade my right hand if further research into the pay gap found that sexism does not play some role (especially as you and others discussed women being relatively new to the industry or less-experienced -- why would that be the case, for example?). It is absolutely, at least, an abstractly-related discussion even if the data doesn't "prove" it.

SE: Again, my argument is not that sexism is unlikely to play a part in explaining why fewer women than men work in development, or even why on balance women developers are paid less than their male counterparts. When I wrote that “We must also study the male-female ratio among qualified candidates from whom studios receive applications. We must ask what percentage of women pursue educations in programming?” I meant to imply that sexism may enter the equation at any number of steps on the path from a woman's childhood experiences and environment up to her ultimate decision to pursue a career in development. I also cited the well-documented effects that marriage and career interruptions have on occupational compensation (and how this differs depending upon one's field of expertise), and sexism may play some part here, as well. But that blame is not necessarily the employer's. And that doesn't scratch the surface of the meaningful, multidimensional discussion occurring outside the walled garden of gaming industry coverage. (See Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman on gendered competitiveness or Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox on political ambition )

LA: And people are righteous about it because a certain degree of outrage has accumulated in the discussion on sexism, and justifiably. Whenever we talk about sexism, a man appears to find some way to either abuse or discredit us (even when "we" includes our men friends, who also increase their volume of outrage). A common derailing tactic when someone has a hostile political agenda is to play the "I'm simply discussing the facts" card, to veil the fact they're refusing to have empathy for the party that's requesting it.

SE: I find it a bit embarrassing -- as though I'm being put on trial – to need to explain that I'm wholeheartedly for equality and intolerant of sexism. Every woman who faces sexism (every woman alive?) has my empathy. At times, though, you do need to discuss known facts (and challenge unsubstantiated supposition), and doing so has nothing to do with evincing empathy.

LA: The numbers in the salary survey are not the entire conversation, you are right. But they're the beginning of a conversation, and I would have liked to see you frame your argument as asking it to go further, rather than discrediting others in your desire to prize facts or further research. At the very least, it shows more care toward underrepresented people if you presume their instincts about discrimination may be correct and you seek data to support that, rather than asking for data before you will consider their feelings.

SE: I accept blame for my poor writing. It was my intent to expand the scope of what I saw as constrained conversation, not to close it. With available data, though, I can't presume that instincts that say employer discrimination explains the wage disparity in game development are correct. They might be, they might not be. Not coming to conclusions about causes before adequate evidence is available doesn't preclude the ability to consider someone's feelings. I don't understand this argument at all.

LA: Because the statements made that you criticized -- things like how we need to train, hire and promote more women -- are pretty important goals for the industry that I don't think you'd disagree with. I was disappointed in your eagerness to banish them from a conversation about wage gap when even in absence of statistics, we know there is very probably some relationship.

SE: Did I criticize the notion that “we need to train, hire and promote more women”? I remember writing that “These are fine policies to follow.” That said, more women working in game development is a great thing – same for members of other groups that are less represented than women by far.

LA: Border House, or RPS, are allies of diversity. You say you want to enable them to be better allies through more information, but your clear disdain for their logic can unfortunately be read as derisive of their long campaigns for equality.It's a destructive rather than supportive approach.

SE: I'm not aware of their campaigns and was responding to what I read. I didn't intend to deride the spirit of their campaigns. And you're right in that my tone was too combative. I think the tone I took from the stories was “I'm going to tell you how it is and don't you dare argue or I'll dismiss you for who you are and not what you say.” I took that as a challenge and it immediately turned me off to RPS's approach in particular.

LA: Maybe I'm misreading you some, but then I'm not the only one. As it is now, you have commenters whose takeaway may be that allies of diversity are just getting uppity to score political points, or that someone like John Walker is insincere (men who champion against sexism are often accused of 'white knighting' or pretending to care in order to get laid or something, so your insinuation that these kinds of articles try to 'score points' is weighted). Or that "we need less outrage," etc.

SE: Fair enough. I hope that this discussion – if we publish it – will help clarify my perspective. The logic was so loopy that I supposed politicking or sheer naivete was at play. I found the former assumption more charitable. Again, my tone was too combative. And as I wrote on Twitter, “Suggesting that the potential causes for an outcome are more complicated than a specific speaker insists they are in no way says that emotional response to that outcome is improper. I'm not saying we shouldn't be upset by it so much as I mean to say that we shouldn't prescribe solutions when when we aren't certain as to the causes.” Although to add to that, I disagree with directing a strong emotional response at a group (“those in senior positions at publishers and developers”) before their guilt's been decided.

LA: When I worried you'd arm our enemies, what I meant is that every time a woman writes an essay about her personal experiences, there are commenters complaining she is emotional, irrelevant, lacks 'facts' to 'prove' she has been a victim of a situation, and so on. The commenters say things like 'we need to stop all this emotional manipulation and stick to games' or whatever, as a way of silencing people. And now they'll be able to grab your essay, which is about facts over outrage, and which can be read as attributing vocal writers' passion to an insincere 'political agenda', and use it as ammunition in that kind of argument, which I'm sure is not how you wanted to come across.

SE: I agree, anyone who dismisses concerns about sexism because a few writers used poor reasoning in one place is dumb. I should underscore that. I imagine you've encountered plenty of people who were willing to dismiss feminism as a school of thought because Harding characterized Newton's Principia Mathematica as a “rape manual” or because Irigaray argued that E=MC2 is a “sexed equation” or that “masculine physics” neglects fluids. (Not that the arguments I addressed approach that now legendary lunacy. ) But we can't be too timid to critique an argument simply because the sentiments of those who make them are in the right place. Another example: I believe that sufficient empirical evidence exists for me to be concerned about anthropogenic climate change, and for that reason I was upset by “Climategate” before it came to light that the controversy was manufactured.

LA: You totally could have made your point as regards all the things we have yet to know about the salary data, and why it's important for us to know them (so we can build better, more positive arguments for this equality we all want). in a way that did not target and dissect others who were only trying to express that commitment, albeit imperfectly.

Does that make sense? I think if you're joining the gender inequity conversation you do want to be very sensitive about the format you choose, and the tone and purpose of your argument, and which sides in the discussion you are really best enabling and expressing support for. Making fun of RPS for assuming 'moral DEFCON' just equips people to think sensitivity is something suspicious or worthy of ridicule. I really don't want to believe that was the tone you were going for.

SE: It isn't. See above.

LA: This isn't, unfortunately, the kind of thing we can treat with the same dispassion with which we handle other journalistic issues. We want to teach others to model compassion, too, and mobilize them to care about equality on every frontier, not to feel justified in defaulting to skepticism in every conversation. They already do that enough.

So many people look up to and listen to you. Please teach your readers that being angry about sexism, and wanting to enable more women to participate in the industry, are meaningful, honest and moral positions to take, not the province of the self-serving or uninformed. And that the reason we need more data is so that we can fight these battles better, not so that we can debunk outrage and passion.

SE: I understand and appreciate your concern. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A topic that deserves to be talked about, and for that reason we should subject morally attractive propositions to more scrutiny, not less.

Moral posturing is so alluring that it leads us to neglect normal standards of logic. Take, for instance, RPS assuming the moral DEFCON 1 alert posture.
I hope the use of “horrendous” and “despicable” (the source story, still at a slightly lower DEFCON, settles for “disgusting”) stand out, as well as the dogmatic assumption that statistical disparities alone demonstrate discrimination. My point is not that sexism may or may not play a part in the wage disparities that Game Developer Magazine's data allegedly documents, and it definitely isn't that the industry shouldn't pay matching salaries to male and female employees with the same experience and skill sets. Rather, I'm writing to challenge the uncritical assumptions on which both stories are built, and way that the opportunity to publicly sit on the side of the angels seems to contribute to the error. Because both stories note that Game Developer Magazine's numbers offer no information on the years of experience specific to the men and women surveyed, but then arbitrarily banish any serious consideration of alternative explanations from the realm of possibility in order to prescribe the usual preferential policies.

There will be factors, certainly,” RPS writes. “The hugely larger numbers of men in the industry means by nature there will be many more of them who have worked for longer, and thus secured ultimately higher salaries. But there are women who have been involved for a long time too, and this absolutely doesn’t explain away these massive discrepancies.

I trust that the sheer absurdity of the argument speaks for itself.

Similarly, BorderHouseBlog says, “I’m sure there are more details that might make these numbers less damning.  For example, we all know that games have been long dominated by men and the industry is taking small steps to change that.  As a result, many of the women who answered the survey might be new to the game industry, might not be in as senior of roles as the men who responded.” And then, in a comically clumsy attempt at sleight of hand, BorderHouseBlog continues: “However, I don’t think this changes the fact that we need to recruit and encourage more women at all levels of every organization — and we’re failing to do so.”

In other words, the writer acknowledges that while the evidence she predicated her argument on cannot support her claim, we are to accept that that now discarded claim is relevant to another new and equally unsubstantiated claim, no burden of proof required.

And next come the aforementioned prescriptions for preferential policies. As RPS has it, “the only valid response is for those in senior positions at publishers and developers to not pretend it isn’t them, to look at their own figures, and to rectify discrepancies.

This is ridiculous. Since when do we draw conclusions without a scrap of empirical evidence, admit that we lack an argument to stand on, and then issue moral imperatives, demanding that the accused address wrongs for which they haven't actually been convicted? We haven't even determined with certainty whether or not there are discrepancies, let alone ascertained causes should their existence be confirmed. Anyone attempting to explain why more men than women work in a particular industry (indeed a question well worth the investigative effort) has laborious analytical work ahead of them. But it's easier for ideologues to attack potential bogeymen and behave as though they've done their part to change undesirable circumstances than bother to consult the work of those who do such as Cornell professor of economics Francine D. Blau.

Again, to my point, it's all a muddle of poor thinking in the race to righteous outrage. If you were among “those in senior positions at publishers and developers” and believed you could pay group A some fraction of the wages that you pay group B and obtain precisely the same results, plus stand to benefit politically from appearances in the bargain, why would your hiring practices not understandably favor group A at all times, especially in the current economic environment?

Similarly, all of BorderHouseBlog's prescriptions assume that any statistical discrepancies, should they be discovered, are prima facie the result of sexist policies and, as such, can be eliminated entirely by employers: “Leadership: look at your organization. Compare the salaries of the women to the men who work at your company, and align their salaries. If all of your women are junior, evaluate them. How long have they been junior? Are they deserving of an increase in role, capabilities, and salary?”

These are fine policies to follow – notwithstanding the seeming suggestion that employers arbitrarily align salaries according to gender status irrespective of employment history, skill set, hours worked, etc. (In other words, even if an employee has three years of experience and is due for advancement, this will do nothing to equalize salaries if a significant proportion of her male coworkers have fifteen or more years experience a piece.) On their own, however, these fine questions aren't enough. We must also study the male-female ratio among qualified candidates from whom studios receive applications. We must ask what percentage of women pursue educations in programming? What percentage of women whose salaries we survey are married? (Academic women who never married average slightly higher incomes than male counterparts.) How many of the women whose salaries we survey take extended time off for maternity leave? (Different occupations have different rates of obsolescence for their respective skills, so that interruptions of careers in some fields are more damaging to one's career than in other fields.) And the answers that these inquiries yield prompt more pressing questions.

This is a topic that deserves to be talked about, and for that reason we should subject morally attractive propositions to more scrutiny, not less.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

On Portal

I contributed's current cover story, Essential 100 

I understand that, due to space limitations, the site was unable to publish my second-opinion submission in full. I've blogged the original text below:

GLaDOS is condescending. She thinks you're stupid, and insists that you play the way she wants you to play. Indeed, she doesn't want you to complete the game. A terrible game designer is a terrifying villain.

Dressing you down for behavior that developer Valve actually condones, GLaDOS is, of course, the perfect conduit through which Portal's terrific, real designers apply reverse psychology to deftly nudge you in productive directions, and compel you to complete the game. Portal's sophisticated soft paternalism masquerades as overbearing maternalism. What this means is that, like GLaDOS, these designers undoubtedly saw Aperture Science's testing facility stymie and aggravate players. However, instead of throwing their hands in the air and sacrificing their vision with intrusive, heavy-handed hints and other fatalist admissions of the failure of their design, they went back -- many, many times I imagine, because all development works this way, and because Portal is as bold as it was novel -- and improved their work without compromising its integrity.

The results are puzzles that can perplex without confounding; and for players, the mastery of a new skill that requires the cultivation of an intoxicating, alien mode of thinking. In the beginning, you’re told not to poke around behind the curtain, (and by that I mean you’re really being prodded to behave subversively). By the end, you’re both defying GLaDOS, and, perhaps, surprising the game’s designers by arriving at genuinely original solutions to problems.

Playing Portal is like learning another language. The instant you complete your first challenge without whispering intentions to yourself, without tentatively testing conjugations, and seem simply to arrive intuitively at a correct response is the instant you add Portal to your list of greatest games.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A personal appeal from Gary GuyGapes

As a gamer, I don't pretend that a stone-faced fake soldier doing knee bends over another guy's face is scandalous.

Let me tell you about last night. I still play the parts of characters I create on the spot over VOIP in Team Fortress 2. Rory Manion and I tend to take turns, with one of us coauthoring the goonery in Ventrilo, while the other talks to people playing the game. This time, Rory convinced one particularly uptight player that he was promoting the growing sport of competitive gaping. (Anyone unsure of what gaping was could turn to the wall that was likeliest to attract attention, and see Rory's TF2 “spray”: a photo taken from Something Awful's FYAD forum that depicts a wiry man squat on a catastrophically colossal dildo.) Let me be the first to insist that there's nothing funny about passing this picture while on your way to capture a flag. But when the Red Letter Media reviewer's voice calmly explains that the photo is of gaping champion Gary GuyGapes and his record-stretching performance at this year's Planet of the Gapes invitational, I pause. And when the same person flawlessly fields every incredulous question he raises, revealing that he's's webmaster; that he's a third generation competitive gaper whose grandfather pronounced “I could do this professionally” after falling on a railroad spike; and that although opioid use is banned -- “open-oids” in gaper slang, and for reasons that I trust are obvious – if he becomes the Barry Bonds of gaping, then so be it; I laugh out loud. And when that one particularly uptight and unsuspicious player is sanctimoniously screaming that his forebears fought in world wars while Rory's character and his clan shoved shit up their bums for sport it becomes hard to breathe. To cut the crap, you can't convince me that I'm out of touch with gaming's childish abrasiveness.

“As seen on TV” is a sure sign that something that was once funny is now far from it. Unfunny people always think that celebrities certify funny. It never worked that way when dad appropriated the shit you said, and I don't know that it does when awards shows adopt them. Parents and actors are unflattering mirrors: when you find your reflection in them, you know you need a makeover. So tonight, we'll shun the scatological with the characters we create.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Last Will and Testament of Noted Games Journalist Kevin Beverage

Someone's going to take games pundit Kevin Beverage seriously. Scary as it is, that's the point. Beverage is best when he's lost online, among other crude, moronic, and dishonest bits written about games. The reader who stops and thinks to himself that, although more misguided, this is a lot like other journalistic generalities he's read, is halfway there. Those who recognize satire when they read it can decide right away whether Beverage's alter ego, Rory Manion, elicits a laugh or a welp. Predictably Rory isn't proud of half he writes. As his friend, I'm biased in his favor, and besides, being unemployed, he'll gladly go where I don't dare. Unfortunately for him, though, these aren't places where major websites with massive audiences are willing to take risks.

I asked Rory for permission to post two unsuccessfully solicited Kevin Beverage articles on my blog. Here they are, unedited:

Nuclear Launch Detected
The Juche is Loose
By: Internationally renowned games journalist and pundit Kevin Beverage, PhD in Important Topic Contemplation, Harverd Correspondence College and Chiropractor

Like most gamers, the moment I heard about the tragic sinking of the Republic of Korea corvette Cheonan in the contested Yellow Sea, my heart went out to the bereaved survivors in the Blizzard financial department. I had an almost uncanny suspicion that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—or North Korea, as we in the industry like to call it—was behind the attack. Such agitation could lead to war, and a war between North and South Korea threatens to take more lives in a week than fan death and LAN center brawls claim annually, and that can’t be good for Blizzard’s bottom line or the longevity of professional StarCraft. With that in mind, I cast a fretful gamer’s eye eastward, and think the unthinkable.

Though I’ve done no research on the topic, I think it’s safe to panic over the thought that of the 10,000-plus DPRK artillery batteries aimed at Seoul, several thousand are probably zeroed-in on any number of e-sports stadiums. And though I’m no expert on military ordinance, I also feel confident in asserting that a 150mm howitzer shell landing in the middle of a StarCraft tournament might be detrimental to even the most focused player’s clicks-per-minute. The damage done to the gaming reputations of Korea’s most famous competitors could be catastrophic. Some experts have put the potential number of Facebook friends lost by affected ‘Craft professionals in the tens of thousands, a staggering number just vague enough to inspire terror without warranting corroboration.

Should their reputations survive the shelling, the threat of compulsory military service looms large for displaced e-thletes. Or at least I’m guessing it does, I can’t really be bothered to look up the Republic of Korea’s stance on military drafting. Nevertheless, I assume that StarCraft experts will be in high demand due to their superhuman logistical prowess and micro skill. Though the possibility of losing an entire generation of ‘Craft experts to war is daunting, one can’t rule out the psyops (psychological operations) benefit to fielding a “gosu” corps of trained StarCraft strategists.

There is a silver lining to this menacing cloud of gaming despair. While the various e-sports stadiums in South Korea, being of immense strategic value, are undoubtedly targeted for immediate devastation by DPRK hardware, the numerous LAN centers scattered throughout the nation will be more difficult—if not impossible--to neutralize. The gaming idealist in me can’t help but choke up imagining the remnants of Korea’s professional StarCraft elite feverishly pounding away at hotkeys amidst the smoldering ruins of their former home cities, desperately seeking meaning for their shattered lives in the warm glow of a monitor screen. The movie rights alone ought to net a hefty sum, hopefully offsetting any financial losses from missed StarCraft 2 sales opportunities. But I’ll leave that for economists to ponder.

Reached for comment on this important man, a man whom I believe to be the Republic of Korea’s Electronic Gaming Commissioner said, through a translator: “Are you f***ing kidding me? Who is this? Don’t call this number again.”

The Last Will and Testament of Noted Games Journalist Kevin Beverage
By noted games journalist Kevin Beverage

The opinions expressed herein are rarely endorsed by anyone anywhere.

If you are reading this will, I, noted games journalist Kevin Beverage, have perished. Most likely I was done in by my years of hedonistic excess; hoisted by my own gaming petard, as they say. Maybe I suffocated in one of my several indoor ball pits, paid for by decades of hard-hitting games journalism. Or perhaps I have been found nude and supine in my subterranean gaming palace, asphyxiated by an HDMI cable. If so, please ignore the controller on my crotch, and pay no mind to the Pocket Pikachu chirping mournfully from somewhere in my colon. I died as I lived.

Throughout my storied career, nothing has filled me with more pride and intense self-satisfaction than my charitable donations to Child’s Play charity--except telling people how much I donated to Child’s Play, Twittering about the thrill I get up my spine after donating to Child’s Play, shaking my head in silent judgment of those who don’t know the good works of Child’s Play, and altruistically--publicly, usually shouting--requesting that people make Child’s Play donations in my name rather than give me gifts. It warms my heart to think that, after years of being derided as myopic sociopaths whose entire sense of self-worth is tied directly into the public perception of their chosen pastime, gamers worldwide now come together annually to hurl mud in the eye of their detractors by selflessly purchasing video games.

Because when you really think about it, if the charity you support isn’t acting as a public relations tool for your hobby, what’s the point? If I can’t use my generosity as an emotional bludgeon to savagely batter the perceived foes of my beloved gaming, why should I even bother? I could give my scads of games journalism payola to indigent youths, or auction off my Olympic-sized swimming pool full of Shrek SuperSlam promotional t-shirts for cancer research, or whatever, but anonymous individual kindness will do nothing to salt the wounds of the many foes I believe to be misrepresenting my beloved gaming community. Besides, past attempts to force Game Boy cartridges into Salvation Army collection tins have led only to savage bell-whippings, so it’s not like I haven’t tried.

And so, being of sound body and superb mind, I do hereby bequeath my gaming estate (once it has been converted from Gamestop trade-in credit to cash) to Child’s Play charity, the only charitable organization on Earth cognizant of what really matters to gamers: Netting press accolades for assuaging the boredom of hospitalized children via colossal handovers of cash to massive entertainment corporations.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Modern Warfare 2 controversy to come

For weeks, not one television network took the trouble to examine the context in which Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made the “make policy” and “wise latina” remarks that fed this summer's 24-hour news cycle. I can only imagine how they'll handle footage captured from the forthcoming Modern Warfare 2 in which players unconscionably massacre civilians during a terrorist attack on an airport. If they weren't willing to sit through the Duke University and Berkeley Law School speeches from which Sotomayor's commentary was stripped, they certainly aren't about to play a videogame before using it to tar an entire medium by association.

Of course, without that context it's impossible to come to any worthwhile conclusions (including whether developer Infinity Ward was courageous to include intellectually challenging content that can sustain complicated readings; foolhardy in its assumption that meaningfully violent videogames can come of age in the present reporting climate; or crass in its belief that no press is bad press). It is, however, fair to frame questions. A few that come to my mind include:

Would an alternative approach effectively “establish the depth of evil and the cold-bloodedness of a rogue Russian villain” and “add to the urgency of the player's mission to stop them.” What if the scene, for example, cast the players as a counter-terrorist who monitors the massacre while en route to the airport where he will engage the enemy? And what, if anything, will the answer tell us about the differences in reading a novel narrated from a monster's point of view, and in acting monstrously in a videogame where the player presumably has other options?

What happens when the player turns and attacks the terrorists? Do they die, or does the game end then and there (since the story sustains only one outcome and the bad guys need to live in order to play their part in the escape scene at end of the level)? If the latter, must we comply with the terrorists to complete the mission and continue the story? I don't see why not when the character we play is destined to die.

Must we commit mass murder to appreciate the extent of its evil?

Is the scene's ending intended to serve as absolution not only for the character -- a CIA agent complicit in mass murder even should he never fire a shot -- but also for the player who presumably will want to “kill” the part of himself that played such a role?