Monday, October 1, 2012

September Writing

Phew. What a month. September was a little bit hectic.

It started with my first overseas press trip. With less that a week's notice, I was heading to Montreal to play Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed 3. That was... an experience. Montreal is a phenomenally beautiful city, and it turns out I know quite a lot of awesome people who live there. I have extensive previews coming up in future issues of Hyper and PC Powerplay for those two games, so I won't say too much about them here for now.

Then, not long after I got back was 2012's Freeplay Games Festival. It was a really, really great festival this year, and I wrote some of my thoughts about it for The Conversation. I also had a couple of speaking commitments for this year's festival, which was exciting and scaring. During the weekend conference, I chaired a panel about game jam cultures. Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, I was on a panel at a Re:Play session (events run by both Freeplay and ACMI) called "Postcards From Imaginary Worlds" with Christy Dena and Ben McKenzie, and chaired by Dan Golding. We spoke about all different kinds of engagements with virtual worlds, and I spoke at length about Towards Dawn. I really enjoyed both talks, and they had fairly positive responses, so that is great. When video or audio of them go online, I'll link them here and you can decide for yourself. Also, before the festival started, I was interviewed on Freeplay's website quickly.

Speaking of Freeplay. There was an amazing student game on display there called Ann & Beanie. It is about five minutes long and absolutely beautiful. I strongly recommend you play it.

At Games On Net this month I have two "You Know What I Love?" columns. In one I got all romantic and talked about dawn and dusk. In the other I talk about chunky guns.

At Unwinnable I only wrote three pieces this month. I wrote "Pocket Treasures" columns about the games Tasty Fish and Bitless, both of which I really enjoyed. Then, for Unwinnable's September theme week (this month on 'Space') I wrote about the subjective ways we perceive reality in Inception, Spec Ops: The Line, and Mark of the Ninja. I've been reading a lot of phenomenology for my PhD lately. Does it show?

My "A Sum of Parts" column at Gameranx in September was all about my 2012 GOTY-thus-far, Ziggurat. I've had something of a Ziggurat renaissance these past few months and have formed an even deeper appreciation of it than I previously had. It was still a challenge, though, to write four different articles about an iOS game, but I'm happy with what I was able to say. Firstly I wrote about the pleasure unique to touchscreen games of watching your own thumbs dance across the screen, doing things your mind can't comprehend. Next I wrote about the way Ziggurat deals with repetition through its constantly progressing narrative. Third, I discussed one of the worst feelings I've ever experienced in gaming, which is the realisation that I have just been too greedy and impatient. And finally, I wrote about Ziggurat's unique control scheme that brings together old and new game design conventions.

And that's the only writing I have online this month, I think. I've also been busy writing academically, though. Last week I submitted my first ever scholarly book chapter to an anthology. It was called "'You really are you, right?': Cybernetic Memory and the Construction of the Posthuman Self in Videogames." It's all about Final Fantasy VII and the complex way Cloud's actual identity is constructed on memories that are kind of his but also kind of not his (through the way he watches Zack and then acts the way he interprets Zack). Then I tie this relationship of Cloud and Zack back to the way the player identifies with Cloud, and the complex network of memories going on there. I'm really happy with it! And, knowing academic publishing, maybe you can read it in a year! I should also thank Cameron Kunzelman for giving me some really great edits on this one.

But the vast majority of my time this month (asides from international press trips and week-long videogame festivals) has been taken up by my PhD's confirmation paper. I have to write a 20,000 word paper talking about what I am going to talk about in my thesis, pretty much. It's been really tough but also really rewarding, as it's forced me to really find the vocabulary I need to say what it is I want to say. So that has been intense and something else I wrote... but you'll probably never read it, sorry. But I wrote it, damn it!

And those last two things are there to pretty much act as my excuse for not having my Spec Ops: The Line 40,000 word close critical reading out yet. After this week, October should be 'relatively' quite for me, and I'm really hoping to get this out by the end of the month. Several people have been awesome enough to give up some time to do some edits for me and give me some feedback, and once I assimilate all that into it, do a final proofread, and get it formatted, it should be ready to go. So hopefully, other deadlines willing, that will be out by the end of this month. My apologies it has taken so long.

And that is what I have been doing in September.

Stepping Down

Several months ago, a Borderlands 2 developer called a new game mode that strives to make the game more accessible 'girlfriend mode'. It wasn't the official name of the mode, just one developer's off-the-cuff remark in the middle of an interview.

When this happened, I reacted angrily on Twitter (as many did), and I tweeted that I would no longer buy Borderlands 2. Considering that yesterday I bought Borderlands 2, perhaps I need to admit that I may have over-reacted.

Casual sexism should, of course, always be called out. Consistent, unthinking reinforcing of gendered power relations (such as the notion that it is 'girlfriends' who will most need this mode, not 'partners') that are most pervasive in society and which need attention drawn to them each and every time. (As always, The Border House went through this superbly).

But perhaps my casual slacktivism was no better, my off-the-cuff boycott no better than some developer's off-the-cuff casual sexism.

Or perhaps I just lack commitment and really like Borderlands, and perhaps that just makes me part of the problem.

Or perhaps I should just think about the things I say online for a few seconds before I say them.

Probably some combination of all of these.

So calling the mode 'girlfriend mode', even unofficially, was a blatant example of casual sexism, subjacating women within videogame culture as second-class citizens. I'm really disappointed that rather than apologise for the poor word choice, Gearbox stubbornly insisted the developer "wasn't a sexist". Whether or not the developer is a 'sexist' is beside the fact that he said something sexist.

But, really, me not playing the game isn't going to change that. And I think I perhaps overreacted to what was casually sexist, berating when perhaps a calmer and more accessible conversation (maybe a 'boyfriend mode' conversation about privilege lolol) could've taken place. At the end of the day, not playing Borderlands 2 isn't going to make our culture any less hostile or uninviting to females, but calling out casual and blatant sexism whenever we see it will.

So I'm not angry I added my voice to the many others who were (and are) pissed off, and I would not at all begrudge any one who still decides not to purchase Borderlands 2 over this. But in this specific instance I've decided to go back on my word to not purchase the game, and it seemed worthy of a blog post before someone digs up the old tweet where I claimed I would not buy it and rubbed it in my face.

So now that that is said and done, I can head back over to Twitter and complain about how Borderlands 2's inventory system is somehow worse than Borderlands.

EDIT: So this post actually sparked a really great Twitter conversation about authorial intent and other things that you can read on Storify, here: