I have to say, E3 has never really tickled me historically or was an event to look forward to overly much. That’s why what I am covering in regards to the expo will take a slightly different bent than what our other contributors will have out soon; I just don’t feel I can detach my bias against talking heads spouting buzzwords at our faces while they show off pre-rendered footage and controlled slices of games that more and more do not match what the final product looks like.
That said, the gaming front of E3 2015 did have a lot of great games to look forward too. Some decent previews of titles we had been waiting to see more of and even the legit surprise here and there — I’m looking at you Final Fantasy VII. Despite the calls to action for pre-orders (they do know the fans are watching), E3 has always been more of a circle jerk for press, though, and is one of the myriad ways a company lets its investors what path it’s taking in the next couple of years. And that just never plucked my strings in previous years.
So E3 has always been something of interest to me in a momentary, sideways glance, sort of way. This year I have been making a concerted effort to stay up to date on this, given that videogames are my beat in a literal sense. I’m glad that I did too, because some of the best things to happen in gaming this year occurred during it. Call it a signal.
Games matter. Fun matters. Art matters.
A very interesting thing happened during this E3 2015, and the best not even coming from the show itself. With the past year being marked with the heavily politicized volleyball being played in regards to identity politics, and with a ramp up in shame culture coming from some critics, we saw fans and developers show what matters: The Games.
The Horseshoe Personified
Our first point of study comes from before E3 officially started. June 14th marked Bethesda’s first E3 conference, and was placed two days before the events themselves kicked off. Their showing was a pretty strong one — minus the astoundingly bland looking Battlecry — and the start of their show is where enters our first phenomena. People got to see the Horseshoe Political theory in action after Bethesda opened the show with their Doom trailer and gameplay footage.
This started to draw criticism in social media, with comparisons even being drawn to Jack Thompson. Sarkeesian and McIntosh have been compared to Thompson before, but their recent attempts at shaming Bethesda for Doom struck close enough home for this to become way more apt than previous complaints from the contrarian pair.
@femfreq people also called out Jack Thompson for being against violent video games. So I dont think its sexist in this case
— Sad Connor (@Connorganism) June 15, 2015
Holy shit. @femfreq is really Jack Thompson 2.0
— @TheLetter10 (@Letter10Media) June 15, 2015
@femfreq ‑You remind me of that Jack Thompson fellow, and That is not a compliment.
— Victoria C. (@VictoriaSC91) June 15, 2015
Did they hire on Jack Thompson to tweet over at @femfreq ???
— treborullrich (@robertjpeg) June 15, 2015
Since I am standing on my soapbox for this, I’ll say this is heartening to see people call this as they see it. Gaming is becoming more diverse in representation and ideas each and every day. There is a game out there for literally any taste.
Everything from Doom to more artistic experiences, Call of Duty to Murder She Wrote. It’s getting increasingly disappointing that some critics would rather shame games and the devs that make them for things that are not to their tastes. It is increasingly easier as each day goes to fire up engine like Unity or RPG Maker and start futzing around with your own experiences.
But no idea deserves success in the marketplace. Niche experiences will always have niche audiences. The constant shaming is getting tiring, to more than one audience it seems. I would like to see folks like Sarkeesian, McIntosh, and their media friends embrace and promote what they feel is best representative instead of engaging in call-out culture against products that are not to their tastes.
Some other choice cuts from the “Let’s hate on Bethesda” mix tape:
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) June 15, 2015
Here we see it’s not enough to have equal representation. A game must feature exclusively a female protagonist to get the “I apologize for the patriarchy” seal of approval.
The #Fallout4 crafting system is cool. Imagine how much cooler it could be if it wasn’t SO focused on building stuff to kill other stuff.
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) June 15, 2015
I think she wants Minecraft. Or Kerbal Space Program. Or Lego Worlds. Or one of the dozens of other crafting centered and building-centric games out there.
Want to know the thing that gets to me when I see things like this? I agree that we should have more representation of certain demographics in games, and more diverse ideas in the marketplace. And we are getting them! But when the press and critics like Sarkeesian engage in such logical fallacies as their arguments from ignorance and reductions to absurdity, it pulls the whole weight of the argument down.
Every year that passes, gaming becomes a bigger market. A more diverse market. It just doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough for some, and some people can’t seem to come to terms with the fact that not every great idea is going to translate into a product that the market en masse wants to purchase.
When Developers Have Had Enough
I was going to expound more on the implications of what we saw earlier when another galvanizing event happened. A developer had enough.
Square Enix has been hyping up Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for some time now. The Deus Ex series has always dealt with some heavy themes in its history, and Mankind Divided was not straying from this path. Making a product that is able to speak a message while also being an engaging experience that has market success is a great achievement and this is what games like Deus Ex have been able to do time and again.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was going to be no different, with an early trailer — and hell, even its name — indicating that some heavy themes of class warfare and separation would be present. In fact, apartheid is defined just as that: The state of being apart.
While being exemplified by the state of South Africa at a point in history, and a word originating from Afrikaans, it is not inherently racist to use this as a theme in fiction to express an idea or tell a story.
In fact, as a recent example, the movie District 9 leaned heavily on themes of apartheid to tell it’s story. I personally enjoyed that movie very much (mental note to rewatch it), and it showcased how touchy themes can still be applied to art, to tell a message, and not be distasteful.
To tell someone they are not allowed to touch on a theme or idea in telling their story gets into the area of chilling effects to me. Creating an atmosphere where people are afraid to tell their stories because of the reactionary segment out there.
To tell someone they shouldn’t use a theme or tell a certain story because of their nationality or cultural background is outright bigotry to me.
Queue the call-out culture participants, as they start to tell Eidos Montreal why they were not allowed to use the theme of apartheid.
The assertation that Eidos Montreal shouldn’t touch the themes of apartheid also came from other areas of the press including an Editor at Giant Bomb, EiC of GamesRadar, and even Kotaku UK putting in their snarky two-cents — but at least without the thought implied by Gita that they shouldn’t do it because of their cultural background.
This did not sit well with some of the developers of the game, and it wouldn’t with me as well. Gilles Matouba from Eidos Montreal took to Reddit board /r/KotakuInAction with his reaction. I couldn’t help reading this in my mind in the cadence of Howard Beale from The Network
I cannot do his statement better justice than posting it verbatim:
“Sorry for the typos and weird syntax, english is not my mother tongue.
I am Gilles Matouba and there is a thin chance of you knowing me. Still, I am a veteran french game developer with 15 years of experience in the industry. Mostly at Ubisoft and Eidos Montreal.
Until september 2014 I was the Game Director of DXMD at Eidos Montreal.
3 years ago Andre Vu, the Brand Director of the DX franchise, and I coined the term ‘Mechanical Apartheid’.
Thing is… I am Black (& French…). And Andre is Asian (& French).
When we decided to go all-in on delivering the experience to play as Adam Jensen, an Augmented, in a world agressively segragating his own kind, we actually wanted to offer to our audience something unique. Something that was close and very personal to us: The experience of being torn between 2 worlds and 2 identities. Augs calling you the ‘uncle Tom’ of the non-augs, non-augs always insecure when you’re around, always deeply being scared or appaled by your mechanical body.
Somehow, it was our own individual stories… We wanted to share a little part of our own life experience (on a super dramatized degree, of course) as visible minorities in a world of prejudices sometimes not well tailored for us.
We also used the reference of south africa, israel, even brasil, french and american ghettos and any country ressorting to walls in order to segratgate a part of their own population. We meant it. This was important to us to not half-ass these analogies. BECAUSE THIS IS DEUS EX.
Deus Ex is a very mature and thoughtful franchise that wants to hook gamers on essential questions and considerations: power, control, species, science, sociology, singularity, etc.
Racism is a ey dark part of our human nature and we wanted to treat this subject. It was especially important for ME to treat this.
So it makes me sad and angry that these ignorant people just ASSUME that everyone behind this game is ill-spirited, stupid, and more importantly for me, that they that they are all WHITE. (For them devs==white, gamers==white)
What these bloggers and tweeters did to me here is beyond mere insults: They have degraded me and have literally erased my identity as a black developer and as a black creator that just wanted to share a piece of himself with this game.
I wish that they will feel bad about it. I wish they will have the decency to apologize of their gross false assumptions and accusations. To apologize to all the people back in Quebec that have been working hard FOR YEARS to make this game to happen. But since they have no spine, no shame and no self respect they will simply ignore this post (once again denying me voice, legitimacy and identity) and will at best move on another AAA target to toss their freshly defecated shit at.
They don’t deserve anyone’s attention. They don’t deserve our industry, our games and the dedication we put into them. They disgust me.
TL : DR Asian guy and black guy came up with the term Mechanical Apartheid 3 years ago. Black guy not happy about the SJW shit tweets and wants to call them out and expose their stupidity. Black guy is not their shield.”
This details what is at the crux of the other side of the coin in the debate in gaming and media after the events of #gamergate. The shaming, censorship, and chilling effects that some holders of an ideology try to wield in the industry. The flip side of that coin being the lack of standards and unethical behaviour that some outlets maintained while helping this politicized agenda in gaming gain influence.
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others
This Animal Farm-esque environment created where some developers can touch on heavy and emotional themes but not others cannot stand in an healthy industry. Diverse games are being ignored in the press and at award shows because of the politics of their creators, developers get called out for touching on truly adult themes in games while at the same time getting accused of being close minded and exclusionary.
And people have had enough.
The debate will, and should always, rage on about inclusion in games, about how gender, sex and cultures are portrayed — how we can push the medium of gaming forever forward. It is beyond disappointing to me, though, to engaging in such callout culture because something isn’t towing your political line or ideology.
We have a wealth of games out there touching on all areas of subject matter. More and more future devs are taking their first step and picking up the myriad free and paid game engines out there and are becoming the next crafters of worlds and creators of experiences. This is to be celebrated.
This year seems to be the year when people are noticing the line being crossed between critique of a medium and shaming. When the cultural critics and academics started to create a chilling effect in the industry, with developers afraid to explore ideas and speak their mind without being called out and dog-piled.
This week, Games won out over faux outrage and identity politics.
(Editor Note 4:00pm EST 6/18/2015: Had a grammar derp. Changed the instance of “looked” in the first sentence to the corrected “look”)
(This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of SuperNerdLand or it’s staff.)