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Good Morning, Orthodoxy! #2

Todd Wohling / September 24, 2014 at 8:00 AM / Archive

Updated Editor’s Note 11/7/2017 – In an effort to further commit to our editorial vision of quality content about nothing but games or the industry, we are leaving this note here to let you know that this article does not meet the standards of that vision as it exists today. This article may be poorly written, or it may be well-written but with charged political content, which we have stepped away from. It’s not the ideas we have a problem with, as we do not discourage any viewpoint, we are just moving away from this sort of content. This article no longer represents TechRaptor’s editorial vision today and into the future. You can read more about why we are doing this here.

 

Disclaimer: TotalBiscuit and I were colleagues at WoW Radio from October 2006 until February 2010.

Good Morning, Orthodoxy is a series of articles examining posts made on August 28 and 29.  In the second installment, I examine how the articles attempted to change the definition of the term “game”. If you missed the first installment, you can read it here!

In GMO1, we established that a coordinated attack made against gamers and gaming on August 28th and 29th attempted to write an orthodoxy with a definition of “gamer” as straight white males.  In the same attack, they also tried to define what a “game” is.  To start, let’s look at the Ars Technica article, which says this:

For gaming to be taken seriously as an art form, it needs to be able to stand up to cultural critiques, and gamers need to be able to separate a developer’s personal life from her work.

The “her” in this case is Zoe Quinn, author of Depression Quest. We’ll come back to DQ later.  For now, let’s move on to Devin Wilson’s Gamasutra playbook on killing gamers:

We stop upholding “fun” as the universal, ultimate criterion for a game’s relevance. It’s a meaningless ideal at best and a poisonous priority at worst. Fun is a neurological trick. Plenty of categorically unhealthy things are “fun”. Let’s try for something more. Many of the alternatives will have similarly fuzzy definitions, but let’s aspire to qualities like “edifying”, “healing”, “pro-social”, or even “enlightening”. I encourage you to decide upon your own alternatives to “fun” in games (while avoiding terms like “cool” and “awesome” and any other word that simply caters to existing, unexamined biases).

But wait, there’s more:

We don’t afford any credence to the idea that games are “just for fun”. Games are not neutral. Anita Sarkeesian is not imposing her feminist values onto games; she’s identifying the misogynistic values that game developers have (sometimes unwittingly) incorporated into games… …We need to regularly compare our games’ expressed values to our own real values. In the end, we may arrive at different conclusions about what different games mean, but we need to stop asserting that they’re meaningless.

And, to complete a triple play of orthodoxy:

We get serious about inclusivity, which means understanding that “game” is a very loose category that—even when defined relatively strictly—encompasses an astonishing range of activities. This means that we should associate less strongly around such a vague term. Being interested in games doesn’t mean you need to play every game that comes out and have an opinion on it. It doesn’t mean that every game is for you. The games press creates an illusion that every big game needs to be played by everyone who likes games. Games as a medium (or—more accurately to my mind, lately—a plurality of media) are more diverse than all of film, radio, television, print, etc. Compare two random works of one of those other media forms. Then compare two random games (digital or non-digital). There’s no contest: the breadth of games is staggering, and we need to cool it on the preoccupation with having an encyclopedic expertise-of and exposure-to all games.

There’s a ton of dangerous language in these three quotes alone.  The first, and in my opinion most dangerous, is the assertion that I as a consumer should no longer have choice over what I dedicate my free time to and what I spend my disposable income on.  Further, whatever it is that I spend my free time and disposable income on, it shouldn’t provide me any enjoyment—it should make me feel like I do at work, or worse, it should remind me of how terrible a person I am (but not me specifically, me as cishet white male; me specifically is a great person, so I’m told).  Here’s the thing; I work in a technical job.  I read or write at least 8 hours per day 5 days per week, and I’ve done so for the last 14 years.  The last thing I want to do with my free time most nights is to come home and receive an ideological chastising from my entertainment.  What I do want is to come home, eat dinner, and settle in for a couple hours with some Dragon Age, Isaac, Diablo, Civ, Tecmo Bowl, or Toe Jam & Earl, and not think about tomorrow’s 8 or more hours of reading and writing.  Fortunately, my way doesn’t require changing the definition of “game” to outlaw fun.

The second piece of dangerous language is the word “inclusive”.  I’m going to dedicate an entire GMO to inclusion, but for now, what is necessary is excerpts from Shafik Asante’s 1997 article “What is Inclusion?”

It definitely becomes our responsibility as a society to remove all barriers which uphold exclusion since none of us have the authority to “invite” others “in”!

The act of inclusion means fighting against exclusion and all of the social diseases exclusion gives birth to – i.e. racism, sexism, handicapism, etc. Fighting for inclusion also involves assuring that all support systems are available to those who need such support.

On a cursory glance, inclusion seems like a good thing.  Look a little deeper, specifically at the phrase “remove all barriers which uphold exclusion”.  There are many things that uphold exclusion that have nothing to do with race, gender, or sexual orientation: merit, nomenclature, finances, education, and experience are a few.  In the inclusive world, it is society’s responsibility to fight against these things, too?  I suppose that’s how a “games journalist” who doesn’t know anything about Killer Instinct, fighting games, or arcade culture can take 3 seconds of a 90 minute E3 presentation out of context to write a 4 paragraph, 100 word, click-bait garbage article about “the rape joke”.

The third piece of dangerous language is the notion of games are somehow the broadest entertainment and/or information medium.  At this point, enter from stage left Dan Golding, who parrots this notion:

Taken in their simplest, most basic form, a videogame is a creative application of computer technology.

By this definition, all the episodes of my podcast from 2006 to 2012 were videogames.  Facebook is a videogame.  Pandora is a videogame.  Innovative software developed in industries like consumer electronics or aerospace that have nothing to do with entertainment are videogames.  It is easy to argue that all of the above are creative applications of computer technology, yet none of these are videogames. The Golding definition turns out to be worthless.  Unless, of course, you need the Golding definition to apply to something that’s not a videogame so it can be called a videogame to justify elements of the orthodoxy.

So what constitutes a “game”?  We’ll start with the dictionary.com definition of game.

An amusement or pastime.

The material or equipment used in playing certain games.

A competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.

Notice anything?  2 of the first three definitions have the word “amusement” in them.  Amusement is a synonym for fun.  Take a look at the etymology for “game”.  Game is derived from joy, glee, and merriment.  Fun, it would seem, is at the heart of what makes games what they are.  Thus the only reason one would need to change the definition of game is to impose an orthodoxy on the people playing them.

If a dictionary definition wasn’t sufficient evidence for what a game is, let’s go next level and hit up Wikipedia for their entry on “game”. Wikipedia gives us several definitions from which to choose; the easy ones are as follows:

A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome. (Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman)

A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal. (Greg Costikyan)

A game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context. (Clark C. Abt)

At its most elementary level then we can define game as an exercise of voluntary control systems in which there is an opposition between forces, confined by a procedure and rules in order to produce a disequilibrial outcome. (Elliot Avedon and Brian Sutton-Smith)

A game is a form of play with goals and structure. (Kevin J. Maroney)

To play a game is to engage in activity directed toward bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by specific rules, where the means permitted by the rules are more limited in scope than they would be in the absence of the rules, and where the sole reason for accepting such limitation is to make possible such activity. (Bernard Suits)

When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. (Jane McGonigal)

From these definitions, we see some distinct commonalities: goals or outcomes, rules, and opposition.  We see similar from Chris Crawford’s definition.  Roger Caillois definition focuses more on fun and uncertainty than rules and goals, which aligns with the dictionary definitions above.  One more thing of note, in TotalBiscuit’s video In defence of specific definitions, he defines games similarly as above, but also notes that calling something an interactive experience, virtual exhibition, or virtual installation should not be used as a pejorative, and I completely agree.  We are seeing the dawn of a new medium that is closer to art than it is to videogames; this new medium has every right to exist and be critiqued, advertised, and consumed. Depression Quest is one of these experiences, but it is not a game.

The most apt description for DQ is semi-autobiographical Choose Your Own Adventure style e-reader.  In fact, DQ organizes itself exactly as the CYOA books I read in grade school: a couple of pages of text with or without illustration, leading up to a choice.  Each choice leads to more text.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Obviously, DQ has a significantly darker tone to it than Prisoner of the Ant People or Hyperspace does, and DQ does deviate from the CYOA formula slightly, in as much as certain choices in the narrative are closed to the reader.  The stated goal, per the Steam page is “to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people”. This goal isn’t one achieved as an end state of consuming the media; rather, the goal might be achieved passively by consuming the media itself.  This fact alone is enough for DQ to violate every definition of “game” sans the new orthodox definition.  There doesn’t appear to be any rules per se, other than choices being locked out, but those choices being locked out aren’t done so in accordance with psychological research on depression, but are done so due to autobiographical reasons.  The rule set, therefore, is esoteric at best, a second violation of every non-orthodoxy definition of “game”.  At this point, it is safe to say, conclusively, that DQ cannot be considered a game by any relevant definition of the term. Similar applies to Glitchhikers, Proteus, Dear Esther, Gone Home, among others.  This is not to say that these titles do not have value, because obviously they do, but not as games.

I have some homework for everyone before GMO #3.  Do a google search for anti-GamerGate articles from the gaming press or the mainstream press and look for the common themes among them.  One of the ones you might notice is that all of them refer to ZQ as “game developer” or “female game developer” and DQ as some variety of “game”.  We just demonstrated that DQ doesn’t fit any relevant definition of game.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at other commonalities among anti-GamerGate articles. Update: Good Morning, Orthodoxy! #3


Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.



  • Reptile

    Expecting tomorrow GMO3 o/
    Keep it up Todd, you are nailing it!

  • Alex V

    I don’t agree that Depression Quest falls outside the definitions given – it’s quite possible to detect outcomes and a rule set when playing it. And clearly many others feel the same. It reminds me a little of previous discussions over sandboxes like SimCity and Minecraft – clearly some games exist on the outskirts of what we expect from the medium, just as happens in any other media. As somebody who grew up through the text/graphic adventure years, there’s nothing unusual about a game like DQ at all.

    As for wanting to get home and have a couple of hours of fun with games, I’m certain nobody would deny your or anyone else that pleasure. Just as film can be an action blockbuster, comedy, bleak drama or harrowing documentary.

  • Todd Wohling

    Alex,
    I appreciate the comment, though I disagree with the assertion that DQ is closer to a text adventure game than a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Text adventure games, as I recall, had a very distinct rule set in as much as what inputs I type related to what outputs I can expect. I’m not sure you can say the same with DQ.
    Also, I want to be more explicit than I was in the post. Whatever DQ, Gone Home, Glitchhikers, etc. are…”Installations”,”Interactive Exhibitions” or whatever, they have a great deal of value, possibly to a great many people, but we’re doing both “Interactive Exhibitions” and Games a disservice by trying to fit everything under the mantle of game. Why do we bother to name things at all, if not to separate them, as you did with film in your comment?
    If I made it seem like I was trying to claim that not being a game was a pejorative, that was not my intent. My tone can be aggressive sometimes.

  • Hi Todd,

    I have a couple quick questions: I’ve recently started doing a series of Youtube videos recapping stories and events concerning GamerGate. I plan on including this series of articles in my recap. Do you have a set number of installments you plan on doing for GMO? Do you plan on keeping a daily release schedule?

  • Todd Wohling

    Archon,
    There are going to be 6 articles total. 3 will hit this week: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. 3 will hit next week: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
    Cheers,
    TW

  • Smoky_the_Bear

    I have seen posts from people everywhere when this whole “Gamers are over” thing hit where people were gleefully claiming “Yes, their toys are being taken away and they don’t like it”. For some people, they absolutely do want to remove and censor anything they don’t like and don’t think people should enjoy something they themselves don’t agree with. These are the kind of halfwits that the 2 Minutes Hate was about hooking in as regular readers in my opinion.

    Written media is on the defensive, firstly it’s losing readers to Youtube and other things, secondly their credibility was heavily called into question. Their response was to group the majority into the “gamer” tag, then attempt to denigrate them in order to gain a core audience of people who would lap up all their click-bait nonsense without questioning them.

  • As Smokey said, SOME people *are* attempting to “change” gaming and “end” the fun games people enjoy.
    They EXPLICITLY wrote that in the articles you can access from this series.
    “gamers don’t need to be your audience” along with continual attacks on games that don’t conform to their agenda (including marking games down for social justice reasons)
    The fact they backpedal like motherfuckers when they’re called out does not mean they didn’t say it, and does not mean they aren’t trying to do it.
    Just because they will fail doesn’t mean we cant criticise them.
    I seriously doubt ISIS will “win” does that mean we cant criticise terrorists? (see what I did there? I’m inferring gaming journalists are similar to ISIS. Offensive isn’t it? And I didn’t even say it outright or directly)

  • Alex V

    >>> As Smokey said, SOME people *are* attempting to “change” gaming and “end” the fun games people enjoy. They EXPLICITLY wrote that in the articles you can access from this series. “gamers don’t need to be your audience” along with continual attacks on games that don’t conform to their agenda (including marking games down for social justice reasons).

    Some people don’t like dumb blockbusters. Some people don’t like arthouse offerings. I don’t see that difference of opinion changing anytime soon. Any opinionated writer is, or should be, allowed to express their dislike of parts of the medium they don’t like. Anything else would be censorship, which nobody should want.

    Likewise games get ‘marked down’ for all sorts of things. As does film, art, books etc. It’s a subjective pursuit, and we’re all allowed our own subjective tastes. I think campaigning against that is pointless.

    >>> The fact they backpedal like motherfuckers when they’re called out does not mean they didn’t say it, and does not mean they aren’t trying to do it.

    Who is the ‘they’? I think the ‘us vs them’ mentality is reductive and unhelpful. I don’t see anyone backpedalling. People expressed their opinions, opinions which you don’t like. It has happened a million times before, and it will happen a million times again.

    >>> Just because they will fail doesn’t mean we cant criticise them.

    Absolutely. And ‘they’ would defend your right to criticise. As I would hope you would respect their right to their own opinions.

  • No they didn’t…
    This is a group that has silenced EVERY legitimate criticism of Anita Sarkeesian to the point there *is* no mainstream counter to her stuff, even though it is kinda far into sex negative radical feminism.
    You are being willfully ignorant.
    These are people that are NOT saying “I don’t like x”
    They are saying “X is bad, and people that like X don’t need to be your audience” they’re then insulting wqho they perceive to be the audience for X and being racist, sexist and generally bigotted while at it.
    Then fuckwits like you (and I apologise for being antagonistic, but I cant help it. I’m not a professional journalist, I don’t need to be better) defend them because “everyone has a right to criticise things”
    They ATTEMPTED TO CENSOR THE FUCKING INTERNET.
    C’mon man, be sensible. at least admit some fucking fault on their behalf.

  • Alex V

    >>> This is a group that has silenced EVERY legitimate criticism of Anita Sarkeesian to the point there *is* no mainstream counter to her stuff, even though it is kinda far into sex negative radical feminism.

    I don’t know what ‘group’ you are referring to – it sounds like one you have made up for yourself. I’m not convinced you can ever effectively counter a critique or analysis like hers, because it’s broadly just looking at content and pondering it. I think you’re confusing the lazy caricature of Sarkeesian as an angry feminist, rather than actually engaging with what she says.

    What criticisms have been silenced? The angry and abusive ones, perhaps?

    >>> These are people that are NOT saying “I don’t like x”They are saying “X is bad, and people that like X don’t need to be your audience” they’re then insulting wqho they perceive to be the audience for X and being racist, sexist and generally bigotted while at it.

    You’re generalising again for a whole group of people, the ‘they’ that seems to have been presumed to exist, because they would have to for the conspiracy theories to function. The second quote there is simply the first quote reworded. I admit the way Leigh Alexander (‘gamers don’t need to be your audience’) described it was very confrontational, but as an opinion writer she’s allowed her say, just as you are allowed not to like it. She is even (within legal limits) allowed to offend you, or criticise you – that is free speech.

    >>> They ATTEMPTED TO CENSOR THE FUCKING INTERNET.

    Again. The ‘they’. Who? How did they attempt to censor the internet?

    The truth is that the ‘they’ doesn’t really exist. The ‘they’ I guess you are referring to are basically the sensible voices in the debate who are engaging reasonably with the issues. Ie the conspiracy actually is that mainstream voices simply don’t agree with you. S### happens.

  • You are willfully fucking ignorant….

    Point me to a SINGLE instance of criticism of Sarkeesian’s work in mainstream gaming media. The NEAREST is some kind of admittance that she uses faulty justifications “but still has a point” ie: not criticism. Excuses.

    The gaming media clicque has used its influence and reach to censor opposition and continually paint “gamergate” as a misogynistic entity of straight white men obsessed with oppressing women.
    If you cant admit to that, you are lost to reason, because it is LITERALLY in every place they have influence over, including mainstream media.
    They even tried to pressure the escapist into removing gamergate threads from their forums for fuck sake….

    When you cant even admit to wrong doing in your ideological peers there is very little point talking to you.
    It’s like talking to a radical muslim or christian. So lost in your cult that all outsiders are infidels.

  • Alex V

    >>> Point me to a SINGLE instance of criticism of Sarkeesian’s work in mainstream gaming media. The NEAREST is some kind of admittance that she uses faulty justifications “but still has a point” ie: not criticism. Excuses.

    I’d struggle to find criticisms of any youtube videos in the mainstream gaming media. Can you? It’s really not what they do. Again, I feel your basic point here is that because the media are not doing what you want them to do, they must be corrupt. It’s not a valid argument.

    Do a lot of journalists broadly agree that Sarkeesian ‘has a point’? It seems so. Just like a lot of them agree that Shadow of Mordor is a good game.

    >>> If you cant admit to that, you are lost to reason, because it is LITERALLY in every place they have influence over, including mainstream media.

    Again the ‘they’. Who are you talking about? If you have no answer then stop making the claim.

    The irony of accusing me of being lost to reason, when the crux of your argument seems to rely on there being a bizarre shadowy organisation running the entire gaming media. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    >>> They even tried to pressure the escapist into removing gamergate threads from their forums for fuck sake….

    Evidence?

    >>> When you cant even admit to wrong doing in your ideological peers there is very little point talking to you.

    Again I don’t know who you’re talking about. If you give me names then I can tell you whether I think they’re guilty of any wrongdoing. Better still, explain what they have done wrong.

  • So: according to you the media that CONSTANTLY champions Sarkeesian and NEVER features an alternative point of view, criticism of her work OR even allowed open discussion on the subject are…. not biased because they don’t have to “do what I want them to do”
    God DAMN….

    Right, how about the Guardian accidentally revealing an internal email that *telling* its reporters not to engage with gamergaters and that “Leigh” would be speaking with them on the subject.

    What about the recent tweets advocating the bullying of “nerds” which when confronted was dismissed as “a joke” (because apparently, it’s only harassment when gamergate does it, right?)

    I don;t expect intellectual honesty or even consistency from folks like you.
    Benefit of the doubt for people you ostensibly agree with, derision and valification for those you disagree with. Hell, gamergate has been held responsible for threats issues from anonymous people with NO LINK to gamergate. #journalisticintegrity right?

  • Alex V

    If you watched Sarkeesian’s videos (please do) you’d see it’s simply not a case of championing a cause or picking a side. These are cultural critiques of games from a feminist perspective. They’re part of the conversation. Like when I read a review of a game I accept that its an explanation of the likes and dislikes of that person towards that particular game. There is lots that Sarkeesian says that I agree with, and lots more that I don’t, but nobody needs to be ‘for’ or ‘against’ anything to react in a mature, human way to the material she provides. I no more expect to see any of the games media be ‘against’ her than I do to see it be ‘against’ the idea of discussion, or personal choice, or subjective opinion.

    You seem to want each part of the media to pick a notional side in a non-existent debate, or to start becoming a sort of political forum whereby the rights and wrongs of various causes. But I’ve seen many other gamergaters say that they’re tired of political debate and want less of it in the media. It would be foolish of anyone in the media to do as you seem to ask, as they are mature adults and respecting each others’ opinion is part of being an adult.

  • No.
    People have EXPLICITLY PICKED a side, you are just refusing to see it because it’s a side you like….
    When websites give editorial control and allow the submission of articles from one position but NEVER another, it’s fairly easy to suggest their is an institutional bias.
    Continue being willfully ignorant.

    You seem to miss the point where the ENTIRE GAMING MEDIA started shaming ANYONE with an alternative opinion, suggesting “gamers don’t need to be your audience” “gamers are dead” and ACTIVELY SUPPRESSING AND CENSORING DISSENT.
    What, exactly is “adults and respecting each others opinion” about that?
    Fucking nothing, and yet all you can do is put your fingers in your ears and pretend that the truth tellers are the problem.