E3 2015: When Games Won Over Faux Outrage

Josh Bray goes into his thoughts on how Games won out over faux outrage at E3 2015, and how we are getting a diverse medium that is still growing.


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.

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:

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.

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.)

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Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand

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