Archive for the ‘ Journalism ’ Category

I’d Rather Skip the “Skip Boss” Button

After my recent article, I didn’t expect to so quickly be writing another in response to a game site’s article, but here we are.

Rock Paper Shotgun spurred some Twitter attention this week when they published “Now Ubi’s opened the door, can we have our “Skip Boss Fight” button?” by John Walker. Walker wrote the article in relation to Ubisoft’s “Discovery Tour” mode for Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which will remove story, quests, combat, and challenges and allow players to simply wander and explore the game world.

Walker states it’s odd that this addition is a big deal because he feels it shouldn’t be, and that “games should be delighted to include modes that remove all their difficulty and challenge, and players should cheer when they hear about it.”

I find the Discovery Tour an interesting addition to Assassin’s Creed and I can see a lot of value in the idea for some games, maybe even a lot of them (hear me out, dear gamer). The Assassin’s Creed series are set in different historical time periods, where historical fact is blended (though often bent and altered) with fiction to create an alternative what-really-happened-behind-the-scenes version of history. Yet there’s always a kernel of actual history in the games, particularly with Animus entries. You wander past a historical landmark in-game and you can read about that historical landmark with the push of a button. You can learn about Notre Dame by walking up to it. You can learn about devices invented in that time period. Origins seems to be taking another step and including cultural practices in ancient Egypt as well.

The addition of a tourism mode allows players who are interested in history and ancient cultures and practices to simply wander around and learn about these things without being hassled by guards or worrying about getting into fights or walking somewhere they’re not welcome and causing all kinds of trouble. I can see some benefits to the concept.

People interested in history and learning about the time period can do so without having to learn a game. Counterpoint, of course, is they could, and probably should, read a book for a better look at history than any video game is going to provide. But if a game can intrigue a kid or teenager to explore the game world, then move to books and reading for a deeper understanding, there’s a net benefit there.

Stepping away from historical settings, this mode could be interesting in some games that build their own worlds as well. As the protagonist is typically in their teens at the earliest, they have some life experience in their world. Having a non-combat exploration mode allowing you to interact with NPCs and learn about history, culture, and details of the game world would let the player get a ground level knowledge base before the storyline’s initial trigger than sends the proverbial poo to the fan. A tutorial mode could be suggested instead, but those typically get added as a required intro to learn how the game’s combat works.  An exploration mode allows players to try it if they wish and players who want to hop straight to story and gameplay don’t have to bother with a tutorial at all.

So honestly, I’m on board with the “Discovery Tour” idea until we see how it plays out. I do think it’s something that should be more of a focus for studios working with VR right now – allowing players to explore historical and modern landscapes and locations for a virtual vacation get away. Visiting historical places, learning about cultures around the world all from the comfort of your own home. Combine this with Google Maps one day and our VR options for cheap “world” travel becomes quite expansive.

However…(you didn’t think this was all agreements & unicorns, did you?)

Stabby-The-Unicorn-Pink-clean_800x

Okay, maybe there is a unicorn for gamers…

I’m not so sure games and gamers should be delighted and cheering to include modes “that remove all their difficulty and challenge” either.

What is the point of a Mario game where you push the directional pad to the right and hold the button until you get to the end of the stage? After all, you’d have to remove all enemies and all pits. No jumping, just hold a button until Mario reaches the flag. What’s the point?

What is the point of playing a Metal Gear Solid game where you just walk through the corridors of the base without enemies to avoid, without having to employ stealth, and with no bosses? It’s just walking through hallways until you get a cut scene.

What is the point of Ninja Gaiden if you just run through a level with no enemies and no bosses?

What is the point of Call of Duty if you just walk through combat zones where there’s no combat?

What is a puzzle game if you remove all the puzzles?

What is the point of chess if every piece can move anywhere you feel like putting them on the board? Sure, you can do that, but then you’re not actually playing chess, are you?

Walker is taking what I think is a good idea to extremes of absurdity with this notion. Even Assassin’s Creed: Origins isn’t offering up the game itself with no combat. The Discovery Tour mode doesn’t allow you to play through the story or do the assassin’y stuff so much as let you explore the game world as the character might before the Assassin Order begins – before there’s a moment that spurs one to action.

The idea of the no-combat, discovery/exploration mode works fine for open world games, especially if there’s other things to do. I’ve been playing Watch Dogs 2 and before I go off on a crusade to bring down Big Brother, I could easily go around the city and spend time getting familiar with it by doing the Uber- oops, sorry, I mean Lyft- oops, sorry, I mean Driver SF quests. I could do racing on the E-Kart tracks. I could find Scout X locations and take pictures. I could do a number of things before focusing on the story.

It just doesn’t work as well in non-open world games. Instead, I think we’re already in a good place with most games offering different difficulty levels. I started Platinum Games’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan on easy, thinking I’d play through it on easy, then normal, then hard if I was still interested.  I’d use level ups and power ups from lower difficulty to be better equipped for harder difficulties. I wound up playing on easy for two levels and not realizing I was then on normal for the rest of the game (I forgot to change the difficulty on the level select screen after the first two).

I’m assuming because the Discovery Tour idea doesn’t work in non-open world games is why Walker suggests the “skip boss” addition instead, allowing people to play through the levels of normal combat without having to fight a boss. But since you can already play on easy mode in most games where bosses are toned down quite a bit, I’m not entirely clear why it’s necessary to skip them.

I might test this with my mother one day and see if she can get through a few levels of a game on easy mode. She’s never played a video game in her life to my knowledge. Except Spider Solitaire. Don’t challenge her in Spider Solitaire, sucka, she’ll stomp your high score.

Mr T

I pity the fool that challenge my mama to Spider Solitaire!

“Bring on the Riff-Raff!”

While he starts off talking about removing all challenge and difficulty and is suggesting a “skip boss” option, what Walker actually wants is for games to be more welcoming and inviting to more skill levels. To make games more accessible to more people. A noble idea and one that I can’t see how anyone can argue against on its own. It’s been Nintendo’s core value for decades. But more on this idea later.

He then notes his previous articles that argued players should be able to skip ahead in games just as with books or movies, combat should be skippable, and you shouldn’t need to be good to play video games.

What film critic actively suggests movie goers should skip 25% of a film? What book review says to skip every other chapter of a book? Why are only gaming journalists frequently and actively encouraging the product they write about to be ignored in part?

The Lord of the Rings has not been edited to 1/3 of its length with the language altered to be easily digested by a 6th grade reading level (Scholastic lists it at grade 9-12). Oscar winning films for Best Picture aren’t being reworked to appeal to the Michael Bay fan. And really, who spends $20 on a Blu-ray just to skip 25% of it on their first viewing?

The crux of the argument is that simplifying games and removing all challenge would invite a wider range of audience and would ultimately make games better. Or, as the article states, “welcoming the Outsider in is always how society broadens and blooms.” But does it apply to video games?

Pleasing All of the People All of the Time

World of Warcraft started out as an MMORPG, a niche genre growing from popular titles such as Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Final Fantasy XI, but WoW largely removed the grinding aspect from leveling. Some might say they made the MMO concept easier with quests and all classes being more capable of solo combat, but what they really removed was the need to group for every aspect of the game. It was more a shift of design than truly making the genre easier at launch. As WoW became a cultural phenomenon, it drew a much wider crowd. The nerds from high school who played MMORPGs were there, but now they were joined by the jocks that stuffed them in lockers and played Call of Duty or Halo in college. Even casual mobile gamers started playing as well..

As the population grew diverse, so did the demands. Players wanted more raid content on a regular basis. They wanted harder raid content. But also more accessible raid content. They wanted larger 40 man raids back. Only they also wanted small 10 man raids. They also wanted more 5 man dungeons. For that matter, there needed to be more world content outside of dungeons. And how about more mini games? While Blizzard responded in various ways, it’s hard to say the modern World of Warcraft resembles the game that launched, The Burning Crusade expansion, or even the launched Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Blizzard began to develop the game to cater to everyone simultaneously and the game, for better or worse I’ll leave to other debates, changed a great deal and diluted from the focus that made it the most popular MMO of all time.

If WoW vastly improved by drawing in Outsiders by the droves, it hasn’t been reflected in its subscription numbers. As these large changes were implemented and the focus started to shift, even adding in what is unquestionably a blatant Pokemon rip off in Pet Battles, subscription numbers dropped and have never returned to their peak levels for more than an immediate post-expansion launch. Blizzard no longer reports on subscription numbers at all. Granted, it’s not the bulk of their profit anymore and so it’s not as important, but if they were still worth bragging about, I’d wager they would be.

None of the major features in a World of Warcraft expansion that deviated from the original core have been high demands in other MMOs such as Final Fantasy XIV. It’s as though a genre has its core components and fans of that genre play the game for them. Bringing in Outsiders can actually dilute the game design as developers try to make people who are not interested in the genre happy, potentially at the alienation of their existing fan base.

Gaming Has Always Been Inclusive

“Gaming has always been inclusive. The idea that there was this Golden Age when all games were cripplingly hard, and only the Chosen were able to play, is bullshit. In fact, back in these imagined halcyon years was when games invariably came with cheat codes, god modes, all sorts of ways to subvert and play differently. And despite the outright terror that articles like this are harming their precious gaming, that the Outsiders are changing games to what the self-identifying Us perceive as “worse”, we’re currently experiencing a heyday for super-high-difficulty, super-challenging, extremely tough games, like we never have before.”

Wait… what was that first line? Gaming has always been what?  Inclusive, you say? Then aren’t we done here? Aren’t we good to go? Gaming’s always been inclusive, so why does gaming need to be changed to draw in a more inclusive range of players?  Checkmate, atheists!

Checkmate chicken

It was either this or a John Cena meme. Suck it.

Walker is right, though. There wasn’t a period where all games were cripplingly hard. The NES era had a lot of hard games, sure, but part of that was how new many of us were to the medium, just learning how to control these little people on the screen with our fingers on a controller. The other part was simply padding the game. Seriously, a lot of games on NES are extremely hard because:

  1. They’re directly taken from arcades which wanted you to die often to feed more quarters
  2. They want you to get more than 4 hours of play out of your $60 purchase. Otherwise, gamers (or more accurately their parents) would have been returning games for not being worth the cost and would stop buying new ones. The high difficulty was there to keep you playing.
  3. Nintendo was doing their part to combat childhood obesity by making kids frustrated enough to get sick of this BS and go outside and play. (Okay, I’m just making this one up…. or AM I?)
Tinfoil hat

#3 is totally true, I just know it! I swear! REALLY!

Walker is also right that there were cheat codes. Some of these were developer codes to test things that were then never taken out of the final product. Others were left intentionally as a reward to discover. And for the rest of the games, all the way up until PS2, there was Game Genie and Game Shark. However, it was always kind of a fringe aspect of gaming. You didn’t have Electronic Gaming Monthly and Nintendo Power telling you why everyone should have a Game Genie or that Game Genie cheat codes should be included with every game purchased, which is essentially where we are now.

Frustrating Boss Fights

 

I understand Walker’s sentiment of frustration with difficult boss fights, but I can’t relate to a desire to have them completely removed. I’m actually more in his camp in the MMO realm of things. I’ve never been a cutting edge content raider, preferring to enjoy the time raiding with friends. So long as we have a good time and make some progress for the night, we can finish a raid weeks, or months, later with a buff to help. In FFXIV, we even tend to spend our raid time farming previous expansion raids for mounts more than work towards tackling the hardest of new raid content.

WoW has Mythic difficulty, normal difficulty, and LFR difficulty for their raids. Mythic is the hardest, normal is a challenge that can be overcome by a group working together with some practice, and LFR is…well, honestly it’s basically just an exercise in the simplest requirements and so long as you’re pushing attack buttons the group will probably win. It’s ridiculously easy and honestly takes all the fun out of raiding. Compared to Final Fantasy XIV‘s 24 man raids that still have some mechanics that can kill everyone, but are easy enough to accomplish with 23 strangers who aren’t in voice chat but mostly know what to do? There’s really no contest which is a more rewarding experience in my mind.

It’s this level of simplicity that I just can’t relate to nor understand. The desire for absolutely no challenge whatsoever, for no gameplay at all, no risk of any fail state. The desire to not even require the most minimal of effort and still be rewarded for it when playing a game. I can understand, and will fully support, multiple difficulties in games. I have no issue with Easy mode. If easy mode allows you to just hit attack a couple dozen times and you need to not get hit by one particular attack and the rest of the fight is negligible, that’s pretty straight forward. For me, easy mode can pretty much be “story mode” with no true challenge to the combat and everything tuned down somewhat akin to the cheat codes of yore. Just kick it to easy mode, kick back, and have a mindless night of fun.

I can certainly understand demands for bosses to be properly tuned. When a boss is “incongruous to the rest of the game” rather than a “comprehension test” of what you’ve learned and acquired, there’s reason to dislike the boss fight and push for, and expect, better design from developers.

But simply wanting a “skip boss” button?  That is the opposite path. That’s telling developers they don’t NEED to design games well. They don’t need to make interesting bosses. They don’t need to balance and fine tune them properly. Because if it’s broken, whatever, the player can skip it and they’ve got a deadline to meet.

It adds a new chorus to a very unfortunate song that’s developed in time:

If the game’s broken, whatever, we can patch it.
If the story’s incomplete, whatever, we can patch it (and charge money for the DLC later).
If the boss is poorly tuned and too hard, whatever, they can skip it.

Though, I suspect publishers (more than studios) will get the idea of an extra verse:
If the player wants to skip everything, whatever, we can charge them tons of money for it and mobile gaming proves that “pay to win” is a massively profitable business model.

I think that, more than anything, may be what gamers push back against, even if they don’t consciously realize it. They don’t want console/PC games to become even more bloated with microtransactions where pay to win is less of an option and more of an encouraged path. Games should not be designed to be so mind numbingly grindy that paying for item boosts becomes the only way to save your sanity.

Gamers, and particularly games journalists, should be holding developers’ feet to the fire for poor design and poor boss battles, not encouraging laziness via an option that tells both gamer and designer neither need really care about it.

Which brings us again to the point of journalists being good at games, and of gamers being good at games. My answer is: No, neither necessarily need to be. Just as there are gamers of all levels of skill, there can be journalists of varying levels of skill. But if a game is difficult, even on easy, that doesn’t mean the game is immediately bad and needs to remove ALL forms of difficulty to cater to every person in the world. It may just mean that game is designed for more skilled players and isn’t for you.

I mentioned in my previous article that I had replayed Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers on SNES recently and it’s pretty easy. If someone struggles with Battletoads, they might like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers instead. After that, they might like TMNT IV. I wouldn’t say that Battletoads should just have no boss battles. I would say someone should try a game more suited to their skill level and come back to the harder one when they’ve improved. With modern games and the multiple difficulties, it’s not even as necessary as it used to be to find another game.

Some games are designed for players who enjoy a serious challenge. It’s a niche and there’s nothing wrong with developers designing that game for that niche. It’s the demographic they’re making the game for and that’s who they want to play their game. That’s perfectly okay.

Games journalists are quick to lambast gamers for being upset over disappointment with games like the ending of Mass Effect 3. They’ll berate gamers for being “entitled” because the game didn’t cater to their wishes or that it wasn’t what they wanted. Yet here we are with games journalists insisting how developers should make their games.

It’s like demanding Hollywood to edit a film to only include what you want and edit out all the parts you don’t. It’s demanding an artist to remove birds from his paintings because you just don’t like birds. It’s telling Stephen King to change his books because the scary parts are too scary for your tastes. There’s always another option: watch a different genre of movie, find an artist you like, or read another book. Likewise, you can play another game that better fits your tastes and skill level.

It’s not as though that’s hard these days. There are more games than any gamer can ever complete (even though we delude ourselves into thinking one day we’ll conquer our backlogs). Even if the popular game is too challenging on easy difficulty, surely there are other games in the genre that are more to the desired skill level to be more enjoyable.

Game room

“I assure you, I’ll play through every one of them eventually!”

Oh No, Gamers, You’re Not Off The Hook Either

Maybe we as gamers, and myself in writing this, are being too literal in our reading of Walker’s words. About 1/5 into the article, he states “‘Skip Boss Fight’ is a totem for my larger point here, and it’s a title under which I’d include Ubi’s recent announcement (despite their rather awkwardly trying to wrap it all up as wanting to be Edumacational). It’s the spirit such an option captures, and it’s one that I think the industry would do well to breathe deeply into their souls.”

Stepping away from the specifics of Walker’s suggestions – skipping content, skipping boss fights, skipping combat, let’s take the spirit of the idea for a moment: Making games more approachable for a wider variety of play styles/skill levels and making a wider variety of playstyle games.

In this regards, I have to say to you, dear gamers, calm the h*ck down.

Calm down

That’s a h*ckin’ cute pupper, so you gotta listen.

There is a rather unnecessary streak of elitism in gaming that we each individually need to get a handle on within ourselves. I play Uncharted on normal. My friend plays on hard his first play through. After we’ve finished the game, we’ve never focused on the difference of difficulty. We usually talk about the story. Sometimes I’ll mention a particular fight that was just brutal for me and I can’t imagine what it was like for him. I acknowledge he’s taken on a greater challenge with these games. He doesn’t think I’m less of a gamer and I don’t see him as more of a gamer. We just like different difficulty levels with Uncharted.

I may play through a Platinum Games game on Easy, Normal, and Hard where he may play through on Normal and be done with the game, despite playing Uncharted on hard. I don’t gain more Gamer points to get better than him as a result.

I’m most exposed to this elitism in MMOs where hard mode raiders look down on anyone else and think anything the developers do that isn’t catered specifically to them is a waste of time and resources. Seriously, guys, let’s not be the elitist jerk raiders of the gaming community.

So if a game designer wants to reach as many potential customers as possible and they decide they want to include varying levels of difficulty, don’t fly off the handle about it. It’s their decision. It can actually be good for the game, and for the community around the game.

Final Fantasy XIV’s team has said they design their raids from the hard mode down. The easier version removes a mechanic and lowers the amount of damage some abilities do until they feel it’s more manageable for a lower, average, skill level of players to do collectively without voice chat and without the familiarity of playing together. The rewards are a bit better for the harder mode and the hard mode raiders do that and don’t need to do anything else. The normal mode players typically supplement their play time with other activities for rewards and remain a bit lower than the hard mode level. It’s two separate lanes on the same road, that’s all.

That’s not to say every game must have multiple difficulties, either. Again, it’s perfectly fine for a developer to design a game aimed at a niche audience. If they want to do so, they have every right to do so. No multiple difficulties, no concessions, no compromise. If that’s not your type of game, you don’t have to play it and nobody should be criticizing the development team for their design vision.

Ghosts & Goblins

“Dark Souls is the me of the modern generation, ya punk kids!”

But gamers then have no right to criticize development teams who choose to add them, or create completely different games, either. “Walking Simulators” have just as much right to exist if that’s what a developer wants to make. If we’re going to say developers should be free to make difficult games, or violent games, or games with sexy women, then developers must be equally free to make games like Gone Home and Her Story without coming under attack for it. Sure, we’re free to debate among ourselves if they qualify as games by definition and we can certainly voice disagreement with them deserving awards, but they have the right to exist if the developer wanted to make them.

Rather than attacking it, or anyone who enjoyed it, we have to take the same stance we demand of others: “This type of game isn’t for me, so I just won’t play it.”

Likewise, if a studio makes a game toned down and easier, that’s acceptable as well. How many Dark Souls fans wish more gamers experienced the game the way they do? What if there was a game similar to Dark Souls, but easier, that they could recommend to their friends? What if those friends beat the easier game and felt ready to step up to Dark Souls and managed to get through the game and love it? Haven’t you just brought a new gamer into the Dark Souls fold, albeit after a detour? Don’t you have someone new to swap stories with?

For that matter, if a friend beats a game on easy and you tell them how much crazier a fight is on normal, hard, or nightmare, isn’t that a fun story to share that they can still appreciate based on their experience and knowing how much is added to the fight in higher difficulty versus what they encountered? It might even make them curious to try harder content. It might make them decide to “git gud.”

A Difficult Conclusion (C wut I did thar?)

I disagree with the idea of adding the option to skip content, skip combat, or skip bosses. I just feel it’s too much of a request for the developers to design their games with the intention of players not playing their games and isn’t ultimately healthy for the industry or the games themselves.

Something about skipping content just doesn’t sit right with me. I know it has no bearing on my experience. I know if someone skips every boss, that won’t impact my experience playing a game. But I do worry about the message it can send to studios and publishers. I worry about people that may buy a game, enable invincibility and play through the easiest difficulty, then blast the game for being too short. And I know that sounds ridiculous, but it happens pretty often in MMOs. We get access to flying, skip all combat, complete quests, and then complain there’s not enough to do.

There’s not enough to do because we actively skipped the gameplay that was designed to be experienced! Yet it doesn’t stop people from complaining about it. That carrot on the stick is a powerful tool and game developers often have some understanding of psychology and how to employ it to get players to try “just one more time.” Giving away the cow for free on easy mode will remove any motivation to try a harder difficulty afterwards. There’s simply no reward, so most people will consider the one play through enough and if it was too short, the game may be dismissed as a bad game. This has a very real impact on the developers.

We don’t have cheat codes, Game Genie, Game Shark, or anything like it, but it’s been a part of gaming for just about as long as there have been games. I don’t see anything inherently evil with them still existing (so long as they’re not bleeding into multiplayer as then you’re starting to impact other players’ experience). Most likely, though, I suspect the idea of invincible armor and instant-kill weapons could become more appealing to add as optional DLC. After all, you had to buy a Game Genie separately back in the day, right?

I much prefer the notion of games having multiple levels of difficulty, with easy mode being very approachable for just about anyone who can pick up a controller. I’m even okay with the idea of modernizing the old cheat codes with that DLC or simply a toggle option to be invincible and just play through the game that way if someone so chooses. Even if they’re storming through the game invincible and able to 1-hit kill every enemy, at least they’re exploring the levels, seeing the enemies, and even experiencing the bosses along with the story more than outright skipping it.

While I may disagree with John Walker on a “skip boss” button, I can certainly understand why multiple difficulties to welcome a larger variety of player skills is admirable. I love video games and I want more people to enjoy them and love them as well, even if they aren’t as good as I am when playing them. I don’t think the multiple difficulties or removal of challenge should be demanded or pressured, but if developers want to explore these options, they should be free to do so.

After all, they’re creating the games. So long as they’re creating them the way they want to, and not because they feel they have to, I’d want to see gamers support them in spirit, if not necessarily with their wallet. Let them make what they want and let everyone voice their opinions on what they’d like to see, but don’t expect all developers to implement all ideas.

Journalists, if a developer doesn’t have a more accessible easy mode or skip boss option, don’t attack them for it. No one has to buy it.

Gamers, if a developer does have a more accessible easy mode or even a skip boss option, don’t attack them for it. No one has to buy it.

Sorry this is such a long article, but there was just a lot to unpack on this topic. If you disagree with me, that’s perfectly fine as this is just my opinion. If you want me to hear your opinion, leave a comment and let’s discuss it!

Dear Escapist: Know Why The “Gamers” Image Isn’t Dead?

This week, The Escapist published an article with a strange double headline. The page’s tab header reads “The “Gamers” Image is Dead and We Should Bury It” while the article headline itself reads “”Gamers” Are Still Dead Y’all.”

Taylor Hidalgo starts off saying that gaming is alive and well, but “the basement-dwelling Mountain Dew goblin teenager stereotype who screams at his mother for “interrupting” his boob-modded Call of Duty match to give him his pizza rolls image others have of gamers is still very troublesome. It’s an image we need to resist.” So is this image dead and we should bury it or is the image alive and we should resist it? Which is it?

And for that matter, an image we need to resist? It’s an image that games journalists have been pushing as the primary representation of gamers for the past 3 to 5 years, if not  longer. If the gaming community is supposed to present a better image, doesn’t that include the journalists who are supposed to have their fingers on the pulse of the gaming community? Countless gamers have voiced their stories of how gaming got them through depression, stopped them from committing suicide, helped them through the awkward period of being a social outcast in school, or how they became more sociable through socializing with their online friends while gaming.

Instead, they feature article after article about the worst they can find about gamers. They push a single side of gaming communities: the very one Hidalgo says is troublesome. Meanwhile, writers like Liana Kerzner are ignored, their voice unwelcome in publications. Liana is one of the few I find on Twitter who frequently speaks on the positives of gaming culture and the accepting attitude the community has offered her through the years.

There are countless critics of games and the gaming community, yet so few first and foremost describe themselves as video game historian and preservationist Patrick Scott Patterson does: as an advocate for video games. Rather than miring himself in the negatives, Patterson most often focuses on the positives or, more often, the facts of industry history.

Journalists refuse to cover these positive aspects of the gaming community. It runs contrary to the basement dwelling goblin they so frequently push as the de facto image of gamers. It also doesn’t earn outrage clicks and drive traffic like controversial articles do, which may explain why inflammatory headlines and accusatory articles are more commonly seen.

A Problem With Vocabulary

Mario's_Early_Years_Fun_With_Letters-title

I find it ironic that Hidalgo talks about a problem with vocabulary as part of the struggle when journalists, supposedly wordsmiths themselves, seem incapable of considering their audience when choosing their language for articles.

Just this week, Ubisoft announced there would be a mode in Assassin’s Creed: Origins that had no story and no combat. The purpose of this mode was to allow players to simply wander the game world and take tours of historical information to learn about ancient Egypt’s places, cultural traditions, beliefs, and practices. It’s essentially an interactive museum mode, which Assassin’s Creed has always had to some extent. Being able to read entries about various locations has always been in the series, this just removes interruptions for players to focus on that if they choose. It’s an optional mode and one I think could prove interesting after completing the story or, for some, to explore before the story or even separate from the story entirely.

However, articles are presenting it as if Ubisoft is exploring the idea of Assassin’s Creed being “fun without the murder,” as though the series may shift towards a model that removes combat entirely. Nothing I’ve seen from Ubisoft’s quotes or Ubisoft employee tweets suggests anything of the sort, yet journalists choose language that heavily leans that direction.

I have seen a lot of gamers give knee jerk reactions to these headlines, thinking the game is being dumbed down, everything that makes the series what it is (assassin’s gonna assassinate, after all) will be removed. I roll my eyes at these comments and point out it’s an optional mode that just removes the triggers for combat. It likely took no time to implement and alters nothing of the game’s basic premise. I suggest they consider it more of an add on mode rather than exploring a way to alter the series as a whole. I get far fewer responses still raging about Ubisoft ruining the game when discussing it as such.

I understand why gamers are on edge. The games media falls over itself to praise games like Gone Home, which gamers refer to as “walking simulators” since there’s no game play beyond wandering around and clicking on things. If you read a few articles, games journalists make it sound like these games are the future and should be replacing violent action games as a whole. The journalists will quickly turn around and say they never suggest games shouldn’t be made, but it’s simply not true. It’s been stated often and repeatedly that games not meeting with the approval of progressive politics should basically dwindle until they’re a footnote in gaming history. Again, ironic that journalists are so unaware of the language, tone, and vocabulary they use that they can’t understand defensive responses from the very audience they write for.

And if gamers are supposed to speak to others without using language that a non-gamer wouldn’t understand, why are journalists constantly writing articles with strings of academia phrases that only make sense to third year gender studies majors? Why use a five dollar word when a ten cent word will suffice? Telling a gamer to approach a game from the critical lens of feminist analysis in regards to cishet heteronormative standards with white colonial influences is just as fruitless as Hidalgo’s examples of “frame perfect links, expert jungling, getting mana screwed, pocket Mercy, No Mercy runs, TAS runs.”

The ignorance of the media in casting accusations while turning away from any mirror directed at themselves astounds me and only succeeds in these writers and their audience talking past each other rather than with one another. While we’re on the topic of using words wisely, why attack “Gamers” as an identity, group, or image when you want to challenge the “public stereotypes of Gamers” instead? That’s something everyone should be able to get behind; Gamers are collectively so much more than that.

Are Journalists Out of Touch? No, It’s the Culture That Is Wrong.

Out of touch

The next part of the struggle, Hidalgo says, is gaming culture itself.

“It’s hard to push into games from the outside because there is resistance to the concept of glossaries. More pertinently, those who need them.” Yet new players have entered Final Fantasy XIV with no knowledge of the series and/or no knowledge of MMOs in general and praise the welcoming community in the game. Forums frequently have beginner guides with, yes, glossaries for those who would need them, not just for MMOs, and there are all sorts of wikis online now generated by the communities.

With gaming growing into the largest entertainment industry, reaching across multiple age groups and a vast array of new players from every age, journalists are surprisingly blind to opportunities before them. If new players, young and old, are coming in unaware of the different cultures within gaming (and there is not actually one single “gaming culture” as RPG communities differ from FPS communities differ from MMO communities differ from fighting communities), why are the games sites not growing a subdivision for these new players? Articles written expressly for people who are picking up a controller or the mouse and keyboard for the first time, regardless of age?

Remember I mentioned Patrick Scott Patterson being an advocate for games? He’s written for a games publication you’ve probably never heard of: Little Player, a bi-monthly magazine for kids. This is a publication specifically for kids, reviewing games rated EC, E, and E10+. I’ve not seen the big sites mention this publication, nor have they emulated it.

Rather than demanding gamers accept that all games need to be designed for all skill levels, why not write for different skill levels? The recent Dean Takashi Cuphead kerfuffle made me realize that if my mother decided to try a video game, where could I tell her to go read about them that would make sense to her? Why are there not journalists specializing in articles aimed at children, aimed at adults, or even seniors who are interested in games for the first time? This idea hit me more profoundly just recently as a friend and I replayed Power Rangers for SNES. It’s not a hard game, but it felt like it was a beat ’em up aimed at kids and people who never played that type of game before. It was a perfect suggestion to play for someone new to the genre before they step up to Final Fight or Double Dragon and then on to Battletoads, for instance.

Now, granted, I do agree that modern games do better with their multiple difficulties than having entire games for different skill levels and I think gamers who despise these options are doing a disservice to their community. If someone isn’t good at video games, but enjoy playing on easy mode in the solitude of their own home, it’s not hurting anyone. If they play easy mode in a fighting game until they are completing entire play throughs perfectly, then start normal to do the same and work their way up to the hardest difficulty, how is that bad? If anything, it’s training to “git gud.” But where are the articles aimed at introducing the different difficulties and advising these new players on which is best for them? Not just commenting on them, in a review, but divisions of sites dedicated to new players diving into the differences of these games, their difficulty level, and introducing them to learning the ins and outs?

If the gaming community accepts different subforums for different aspects of their games, do journalists really think gamers wouldn’t accept a wider variety of skill levels being reported to if the reporting sites were divided into similar categories?

Hidalgo goes on to say that things “that widen games to audiences formerly in the outside of the culture read as some kind of betrayal. Those who feel passionately about games seem to want to keep them close, locked into a familiar shape with familiar communities.” Hidalgo doesn’t give specific examples, so it’s hard to say what gamers are resisting without wild speculation. However, Gamers frequently complain about retreading the same thing on an annual basis and go nuts for innovative new presentations of familiar ideas or fresh new IPs as a whole. Valiant Hearts has a 10/10 on Steam. Okami is still beloved 11 years after its release and the HD PS4 release has many gamers excited to revisit the artistic world. Journey was praised by gamers and press alike.

There’s Room Enough For Us All

The problem we run into is that journalists so frequently push these things that “widen games to audiences formerly in the outside” as replacements for games that are enjoyed rather than new additions to the landscape. You don’t see movie critics saying art films should outright replace the summer blockbuster. And much like Hollywood, the games industry needs their mindless blockbuster tentpoles as well.

If Ubisoft didn’t have revenue flowing in from the annual Assassin’s Creed or Tom Clancy SomethingOrOther blockbuster, would we have gotten Valiant Hearts or Child of Light from that same studio? Journalists don’t seem to acknowledge the concept and as such, I feel a lot of gamers overlook the same when they also complain about “yet another Call of Duty” or the like.

I keep repeating myself that there’s irony in this article and journalists refuse to look in the same mirror they want gamers to gaze upon. But once more, if journalists want gamers to settle down and let new arrivals to the community enjoy games that aren’t violent or take new approaches to gameplay, those same journalists must also allow some gamers to enjoy their boob modded Call of Duty games without accusing them of hating real women.

In-Groups and Out-Groups

Hidalgo goes further in critiquing the “culture that feels those already playing belong to the in-group, and out-groups trying to join either need to fold themselves quietly, or leave. That games don’t belong to anyone but those already in.” This is human nature and something you’re going to find within every community.

Should one expect to enter an Amish community and want them to start using smart phones to text you when the next community event is?
Should one expect to enter the reggae scene and want more heavy metal guitar riffs in the music?
Should one expect to join a romance novel book club and expect to focus on Japanese shonen light novels?
Should one expect to join a local Japanese Cultural Society and expect more focus on tribal cultures in the rain forests of South America?

No, to join any of these communities, the out-groups are expected to fold into the community, to understand the community before injecting new ideas. Why should gamers not expect newcomers to enter and integrate before raising questions and considering change?

And that strikes at the heart of a lot of the problems. Gamers are being told they’re toxic quite often by people who again and again indicate they have no understanding of the community they’re criticizing in the first place. This causes that community to push back, perhaps sometimes too harshly, which leads to accusations of aggressiveness.

Sexism in the Community

Hidalgo gets a little more specific with the problems in the gaming community, claiming women “have a hard time pushing into game communities without the expectation to just tolerate the sexism already present.” I’ve been playing video games since I was in kindergarten and I’ve never been exposed to sexism that women would have to accept. I started playing MMOs with EverQuest, joining a guild that was run by a woman. I played World of Warcraft for ten years where the guilds I was in had single women, married women (their partners often playing), with raids having a mix of men and women and some guilds and raids also run by a female guild leader. In college, my friends and I hung out with one of the biggest gaming nerds you’d ever meet and nobody thought her odd for it. I’ve been to gaming conventions and gaming meet ups where nobody ever said one word about women in a negative way. Most gamer guys want, more than anything, a partner that shares their love of the hobby, so why would they actively want women out of gaming?

I’m not going to claim there is absolutely no sexism in gaming and just because I’ve not seen it directed at the women I’ve played alongside doesn’t mean other women haven’t experienced it, or even the women I’ve played alongside haven’t. Women get hit on in games, sometimes far too aggressively, and are even attacked when they reject the person coming on to them. They can be treated as less capable just for being a woman, but again, I’ve not see it happen in all my years online.

Slut, bitch, and other slurs are hurled too often, I’ll agree, but I don’t think it’s fair to treat this as an exclusively gaming culture issue. This is a wider issue with anonymity and a lack of empathy in online interactions. You see it everywhere online, from debates over film to what toppings belong on pizza. Some subset of people take things too far and while the gaming community can take steps to be better than other online examples, it feels like they’re often treated as an outlier rather than an average example of an issue with society online as a whole.

There’s also the fact that people are unnecessarily cruel to men online as well. The same people who will be blatantly sexist towards women are the same types who will be blatantly cruel towards men for any perceived weakness and will attack what they think is most vulnerable, whether it be race, orientation, or masculinity. I’ll see gaming journalists on Twitter rant about toxic masculinity and men seeing women as sexual conquests turn around and insult men as being “virgin losers.” In doing so, they imply a lack of treating women as sexual conquests makes a man somehow inferior, which seems to feed into the very thing they claim to be against. It’s weird.

Fostering a Positive Community

As for how to address this situation? Attacking gamers as a whole isn’t going to solve anything. Instead, if journalists want to contribute to positive change, they need to be discussing ways developers have encouraged good behavior rather than complaining about bad behavior. This is where developers can take actual action in fostering more positive communities.

Take Final Fantasy XIV, for example. After 10 years of World of Warcraft, the community was often lamenting to being more and more toxic. This happened as the game became more and more anonymous. Queueing for dungeons with people from other servers you’ll never see again for the rest of your gaming life removed any concern for behavior where server reputation previously carried some weight. Players who were new to a dungeon often stayed silent and just hoped nobody noticed they had no idea what they were doing, even after Blizzard added a dungeon guide in the game. If you screwed up, you expected to be assailed with raging accusations of poor performance, being a “shit player” and the like.

Moving over to Final Fantasy XIV, the same cross-server anonymity exists, yet the behavior is largely praised by new players as a completely different experience. The FFXIV dev team have implemented positive reinforcement. When a player has never run content before, the group is notified someone is new to the dungeon. I most often see happy responses because running someone through their first time gives veteran players bonuses for completing it. Players are often more patient to explain fight mechanics as a result and I frequently see reassurances not to be too worried. I’ll even see players give tips to new players about roles the veteran is not currently playing, but have played at length otherwise. At the end of dungeons, players can give commendations to players who did well or were helpful.

Likewise, harassment is dealt with harshly in FFXIV, with cancelled and banned accounts being a real possibility for repeat offenders, but I personally think the various subtle positive reinforcements have more impact.

I’ve been in 8 man dungeons where my friends and I made up 5 of the 8 and thus had majority control. We had one new player, a healer who wasn’t new, and a DPS rounding out the group. The DPS was constantly bad mouthing the new player for mistakes. We tried to ease the tension by talking, but they remained aggressive, so as the majority we kicked them. The healer, who we didn’t know, immediately thanked the group for it, even though they weren’t the target of the abuse. We got a replacement, explained the situation and continued to try the fight. We got closer, but spent our entire 90 minutes attempting and failing to win. In the end, everyone was still happy with the progress and the new player was very grateful for the tips and for sticking with it. We disbanded thinking they had a solid understanding of the fight and would be able to clear it in the future. I’ve seen similar situations where I didn’t have the majority vote being with friends, but the player screwing up stayed and the player bad mouthing them was kicked out of the group.

You’d never believe this sort of behavior happened in any gaming community if you listened to the articles online.

I’m not personally familiar with it, but League of Legends implemented a “Player Reform” system and, while its success and methods can of course be debated, it’s an example of developers looking at how to foster improved experiences for the community rather than simply saying the community is bad. Blizzard has been evaluating what it can do with Overwatch to foster a more positive community as well.

Racism in the Community

Moving from a focus on women, Hidalgo notes that “Minorities who speak against the overwhelming lack of representation are just called racists themselves for failing to accept that whiteness is the default, and any deviation is somehow confrontationally political where overwhelming underrepresentation isn’t.” Once again, writers and readers speak past one another rather than with one another. Many gamers welcome minority characters and a wider diversity of protagonists, but the critics who propose such things so frequently do so by insisting existing characters should be erased, removed from future games, and replaced with the new minority.

Or worse, that the existing character is somehow bad because they’re white. Their tone indicates that simply being white is itself wrong. Any time a game doesn’t have a minority protagonist, it’s “problematic” and entire articles are dedicated to the grave injustice rather than simply noting potential ways a change in protagonist might affect story possibilities or would have fit the period better. The atmosphere has become so confrontational and so bullish that many gamers have become skeptical of attempts by developers as pandering for journalist approval rather than deeply developing these characters, which only makes things worse!

Gamers do have a point, though: there’s a difference between representation and token representation. I also have an issue with utilizing minority protagonists only for said protagonist to be supported by a bevvy of stereotypes, such as black characters being commonly joined with hip hop soundtracks or typical “gangsta” costume design and such. A young black man can’t be into heavy metal or classical music, or dress in comic book t-shirts rather than sports jerseys?

Yes, some people take their resistance to these characters too far and some are likely genuine racists themselves. You’ll find bad apples in every orchard, but that doesn’t mean they’re the standard. Again, journalists tend to focus and report exclusively on negativity and ignore any positivity from gamers.

Fantasization of Sexual Femininity and Toxic Masculinity

The last point, however: “Fantasization of sexual femininity and toxic masculinity is the expected normal, and any push for alternatives is seen as invasive and unwanted.” Without getting sidetracked again about vocabulary and how these phrases come across more like buzzwords now days, the problem, Mr. Hidalgo, is many gamers don’t accept the “toxic masculinity” academia that you’re claiming to be a negative in the first place. I’ve seen claims that a male character killing demons is violent power fantasy and thus toxic masculinity itself. But I’m not sure how would one prefer bloodthirsty demons hellbent on the ruination of all mankind be dealt with if not a bladed weapon to the horned skull.

As for fantasization of sexual femininity, well, that’s not present in every game on the market either. Some are overly exaggerated and ridiculous and even gamers laugh about the silliness of some of them. But they also don’t agree that it’s harmful to society and no studies have conclusively suggested they’re wrong. I won’t talk in depth about this aspect because it would probably take at least another 10,000 words as it first requires agreeing on what constitutes negative sexualization of femininity versus acceptable sexualization. Again, we dive into vocabulary that’s not exactly aimed at the average reader, so I’ll leave this to the previously mentioned Liana Kerzner’s upcoming Lady Bits video series (Disclosure: I backed the series on Kickstarter as I’m interested to see what comes from Kerzner’s approach to the subject topics).

Game Designers Can’t Be Open With The Community

I will agree when Hidalgo says “Honesty about design is read as manipulation, and developers are punished for getting out of line or designing games in “wrong” ways,” though. There are vocal people in the gaming community who have a hair trigger to attack developers and designers and while I find them foolish, I struggle to completely blow them off and blame them for being defensive when journalists and even some developers have actively bred a hostile environment against them. A lot of the time, what Hidalgo may see as aggressive punishment, I see as lashing out over being hurt. “Hurt people hurt people” as the saying goes.

The claims Hidalgo quotes from Charles Randall state that game developers would share everything gamers want to know about game design if not for the toxic community has a grain of truth with a smear of bullcrap. As Liana Kerzner has noted, developers have to be careful what they say because if they dare say something interesting, it becomes controversial, and PR reps are going to keep them gagged from talking whatsoever. The smallest statement can be dragged up years later to smear a developer to force them to make public apologies at what should be a great moment for them, their team, and their career. It’s not just the gamers that developers have to be careful around, it’s the press that’s eager to tear them apart for saying anything not deemed progressively correct.

The Games, They’re A Changin’

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Hidalgo that gamers insist games must continue to be the same as they have been for 40 years. The fact that games have grown and spread as much as they have, to a wide range of diverse types of games, proves this is simply inaccurate. What many gamers are opposed to is that the way games are, and have been, are inherently bad and that they, as people, are somehow inferior human beings and inherently bad for enjoying these games.

While many critics will claim “nobody wants to take away your games,” they turn around and write article after article about how these games are harmful and need to be forever abandoned. Journalists are not approaching gamers in good faith by simply covering new games with different ideas so much as detailing why games that are loved are “problematic” and need to be changed. If developers and journalists would come to the community from the stance that there’s room for both kinds of games, for all kinds of games, a lot of animosity would calm down with time. Then criticism of specifics can be addressed without the overall paranoia. Note, I say “with time.” It’s going to take some time for games press to rebuild a trusting relationship, even if they present an olive branch to the community and start working to build those bridges.

While I can fully agree we need to accept that the criticism about the sexuality built into games like Bayonetta or Lollypop Chainsaw is valid, I fully disagree that “No one is saying these games are inherently bad” because that’s precisely what the journalist-praised Feminist Frequency videos repeatedly stated, as well as explicitly stating there should be no games styled and developed in this way in current year. It doesn’t help that in criticizing games like Bayonetta, or Ivy from Soul Calibur, the critics demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of what the game’s story and presentation is commenting on. Bayonetta and Ivy are equally decried as sexual objectifications by feminists while simultaneously praised as strong examples of empowerment flaunting female sexuality by….yes, feminists. If different schools of thought among feminists don’t agree, how can we expect gamers who aren’t steeped in feminist theory to accept that these characters are unquestionably “problematic?”

As for the “skimpy nuns, bikini-clad martial artists, exposed-breast ninjas, and The Witcher sex scenes” creating an image that the games community doesn’t resist, I ask why should the games community resist the image? The games community isn’t presenting this image as representative of them as a whole, YOU ARE. Journalists focus on specific games, or even single scenes in a single level of a game, and treat them as representative of every single game on the market. Not to mention the double standards of sex scenes with female companions being decried as “virtual porn” while sex scenes with male companions get articles gushing over which guy is the hottest.

You don’t see the entire film industry labeled as toxic because questionable pornography exists. You don’t even see the film industry condemned by a majority of publications as promoting toxic masculinity because summer action movies simply exist. Entertainment Weekly hasn’t labeled all of HBO’s programming toxic because of one scene from Game of Thrones. Instead, writers in that medium acknowledge there are a wide range of movies. Why can’t writers in the games media do the same?

A Look In the Mirror

magic mirror.png

Mirror, mirror, I’m not sexist. But can I prove it to a journalist?

One thing I can fully agree with Hidalgo on is “Dispelling the toxicity does mean taking a hard look in the mirror.” But that’s something the journalists who want to lay the entire blame squarely, and exclusively, on the gamers have refused to do for at least the last five years. Actively ignoring positive communities and gamers within them does nothing to help present the maturity within the community as a whole. As a result, I don’t see the gaming community as responding with aggressiveness, but defensiveness.

Games journalists’, and their sites’, hands are not clean and until you accept that you and yours are fostering a hostile atmosphere with the gaming community, there’s not going to be an end to the unproductive devisiveness. Journalists have to start coming to their articles with a mentality of discussion rather than one of aggression towards their readers. If you stop attacking them, they may stop counterattacking in defense of themselves and their hobby. Once these gamers feel they can stop looking over their shoulder, they can start to look in the mirror at themselves as well.

Let’s Bury The “Gamers” Stereotypes

 

Yes, the “worst aspects of the “gamer” image need to be universally examined and challenged,” but they need to be examined and challenged in good faith, not blanket statements and accusations stated as fact from on high. And while these “challenges need to be accepted as a part of the culture,” the press needs to report on valid criticism of the criticism as well, accepting that counter points to these challenges are just as valid as the challenge itself.

Where Taylor Hidalgo hits the nail squarely on the head is this:

“The parts of the gaming community that encourage furious dissent aren’t being evaluated enough, and that’s keeping communities at their most angry. This culture needs to start fighting an image it’s never fully earned but still has. That image is holding gaming to an image that has been in the deathbed for years, but needs to finally by buried.

Games have already changed, and will continue to change, and holding onto an aggression-centric culture isn’t helping.”

He’s totally right. The parts of the gaming community that encourage furious dissent aren’t being evaluated enough – because their arguments and their points of view aren’t evaluated at all. We’re at a point where criticism is viewed as the truth and any opposing view to that criticism is invalid. The idea that “the truth is somewhere in the middle” has become a phrase of derision, as if it’s somehow a vile concept to explore.

What’s most frustrating about this article’s conclusion is that this image of the angry white straight male gamer is INDEED an image it’s never fully earned but still has, and one that the gaming community has tried to fight for years. The problem is their most high ranking allies, the gaming press, turned against them and perpetuate that image as the only representation of gamers. How can gamers fight this image when the only exposure from the media is to twist everything into this image? How can this image die if it keeps being resurrected over every possible complaint?

Necro.jpg

Stop necro’ing the stereotype, guys!

If we’re going to finally bury the image of gamers as a “basement-dwelling Mountain Dew goblin teenager stereotype who screams at his mother for “interrupting” his boob-modded Call of Duty match to give him his pizza rolls,” then the gaming press has to stop making that the only image they claim exists. The gaming community has raised hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for various charities through the years. They go out of their way to help other games. They are contributing members of society. But if the gaming press continues to focus exclusively on negative stories, weaving negative narratives, and depicting gamers as hateful, nothing the community does is going to change that misconception.

The way gamers have been treated the past few years makes me think of a line from Zootopia: “If the world’s only going to see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there’s no point being anything else.” If the gaming press is only going to portray gamers as mean and vicious people, how many gamers have given up on trying to be anything else? The press has, in a way, engaged in psychological warfare against gamers and I’ve seen more than a few admit on Twitter that they’ve essentially given up on trying to prove they’re better.

zootopia

And that’s a pretty sad thought.

If the gaming press wants the community to be better, they’re going to have to accept that they truly are better than their worst. The gaming press has to stop judging gamers by the worst actions of some while judging themselves only by their own best intentions. Your readers aren’t evil. The majority are not sexist or racist or bigoted.

If you want them to show you their best, give them the chance to be their best. Spotlight them at their best. The more you call them monsters, the more you encourage them to give up and accept the role along with the title.

Should Game Journalists Be Good At Games?

In the last week or two, the debate has once again flared up on Twitter and various sites over whether or not games journalists should be good at games. The source of the new dust up of discussion stems from Dean Takahashi’s article at Venturebeat ‘Cuphead hands-on: My 26 minutes of shame with an old-time cartoon game.’

Takahashi starts his piece by acknowledging he sucks at Cuphead, but he immediately offers a defense: “the run-and-gun platformer from Studio MDHR and Microsoft is difficult.”

That would be a fair defense if not for the 26 minute video that shows Dean’s inability to overcome a jump in a tutorial and then his repeated deaths on the first level, even the first encounter with enemies in the first level to some degree.

Takahashi goes on to say “While my performance on the captured video below is quite shameful, as I never finished the level, I think it shows quite well why Cuphead is fun and why making hard games that depend on skill is like a lost art.”

I agree with the statement and it’s a reasonable one to make that could warrant some interesting discussion, but it doesn’t resonate with gamers when you don’t get through the first grouping of enemies in the first level. Takahashi didn’t finish the first level… he barely even started it. Yes, Cuphead looks fun and making hard games that depend on skill is rarer now than the late 80s and 90s, but the video doesn’t really give gamers a reason to believe Cuphead is an example of a throw back to those style of games.

I give Mr. Takahashi a little leeway, unlike many lambasting him on social media who seem to have watched the video and never read the article. He notes he didn’t realize you can’t jump on enemies like Mario games. If a gamer comes at this with a platformer mentality, that’s fair. This isn’t a platformer, it’s a run and gun more akin to Contra.

My issue is that the video also shows a lack of learning from those mistakes. You should only die a couple of times jumping or running into enemies before you realize that should be avoided. Takahashi also notes “I think you’ll all agree that at the very end of the video, it was very unfair that I died by jumping into the forest canopy.”

No, Mr. Takahashi, I don’t agree. You didn’t jump into a forest canopy, you jumped into an enemy that we can see descending from that place just before. The final death just happened to jump into that enemy before it descended into sight from the leaves. The fact that a games reporter doesn’t realize this, even after reviewing their own video, is disappointing.

I am not without sympathy

However, I’ll give Dean some credit. He roasts himself in his own article. He talks about his shame. He invites us to laugh at his poor gameplay video. I think he goes wrong trying to justify it with the reasons I’ve mentioned above instead of continuing to roast himself and keep encouraging the laughs.

There are also plenty of reasons that could better explain, but not try to excuse or dismiss, the poor performance. Dean Takahashi has been in the tech and games journalism industry for 25 years. Assuming he started fresh out of high school at 18, that would put him in his early 40s.

Hard truth, gamers: we’re not immortal and the one boss we can’t defeat is time. We age. Our reflexes will slow down. I see it on forums all the time as gamers in their 30s and 40s feel they no longer have the motivation and reflexes for twitch gaming, hard mode difficulty, or hardest level raiding in MMOs. Many note their reflexes and reaction times have decreased.

Now compound this with the possibility of action platformers and run and gun not being your favored game genre since childhood and it starts adding up to a more sympathetic picture. Add to it that he was apparently trying to hold a bit of an interview with the developer at the same time and things continue to add up to contribute to poor gameplay. Dean didn’t address any of this, but if all of these factors hold true, he should have. It would have added a touch more sympathy to the painful presentation and could have painted an increasingly hilarious picture.

Now, I’m not entirely excusing Dean. Others have noted he gave Mass Effect a poor score when he didn’t realize he could assign stats and points to basically level up in the game, so there’s some history of being bad at games here. I’m not telling anyone to give Mr. Takahashi a free pass, but 2 incidents shouldn’t be a career execution.

Nice advice, but shouldn’t journalists be good at games?

Short answer: No.

Medium answer: Not necessarily good, but competent.

Nuanced answer: If they’re reviewing games, they should be competent to play them, but not all game journalists are reviewers and thus not all game journalists need to be good at video games. Some just need to be good at journalism. (Though, yes, I’m aware of the Super Meat Boy error).

Maybe Dean Takahashi really is bad at playing video games, but still loves playing video games. I would say this just means he shouldn’t review gameplay, not that he can’t be a good games journalist.

Takahashi notes in his article on 9/8/17 “The DeanBeat: Our Cuphead runneth over” he writes around 30 stories a week, or around 1560 articles per year, but only a dozen or so game reviews per year. So Takahashi is, by admission, more of an industry games journalist, not a gameplay/game review journalist.

That’s perfectly reasonable, and gamers should actually want people like this in the industry. They’re the ones likely to bring us stories about developer profiles, company rumors, analysis of what various industry circumstances could mean (like the ongoing Ubisoft battle to fend off Vivendi) that don’t require being good at games, or even competent at them, or even understanding game design concepts.

That doesn’t mean Takahashi, or journalists like him, should never touch a controller at a convention like Gamescom, either. I still found value in his shameful gameplay article noting the 1936 Japanese propaganda film inspiration for the game. If a journalist is bad at a game, but can offer more bits of info like this from developers during their 30 minutes at a convention preview, I can find value there.

While those journalists are doing a few previews at a show, but mostly writing stories about industry events, people in the industry, and potential impact of industry changes, or even technical facts about hardware, other writers who make it their focus to play and review games can simply do that (and hopefully also go to the conventions and shows for previews as well).  People like Takahashi enjoy talking to people. Others like playing video games. So why send someone who loves playing and reviewing games out to talk to people if they don’t enjoy doing so?

Why ask a tank to heal and a healer to tank? Different classes can have different specializations and there’s no reason journalists can’t, or shouldn’t, do the same.

Is there a place for bad gamers in games journalism?

 

People have said Dean Takahashi is incompetent at games, that’s he’s not even at a basic level. He’s bad at games.

(Mr. Takahashi, if you’re reading this, full disclosure, I had a good chuckle at the Cuphead Tutorial vs. Pigeon Problem Solving comparison. I won’t apologize for that chuckle and as much as you’re buried in hateful criticism, I’d hope you can get some self deprecating amusement as well. That said, you write better than the pigeon, so don’t feel like the Internet has entirely gone to the birds. You could fully embrace that and ponder a “Dean & The Pigeon Review Team” as a bit)

I’d go so far as to say that journalists like Takahashi could be beneficial to the industry in ways that core gamers are overlooking. Nintendo loves to attract the demographic of “general consumer” more than core gamer. It’s been explosive for them with the Wii and even the DS and 3DS to some extent. Mobile games are huge with general consumers rather than core gamers. MMOs have long been bastions for wide range of demographics, particularly skewing older than core gaming traditionally has. Square Enix has Father of Light (Dad of Light in the US) on Netflix right now about a son reconnecting with his 60 year old father through Final Fantasy XIV.

A journalist who isn’t a core gamer could possibly offer insight to parents who didn’t grow up gaming and are curious about trying it. As in Father of Light, retirees have time on their hands and with gaming an ever growing phenomenon across all age groups, why shouldn’t people who have never picked up a game be allowed to do so? Why couldn’t they have some articles aimed more towards them than we core gamers?

I’m not saying Dean Takahashi, or journalists who have shown similar “fails” with their gameplay, are all equivalents to 60 year old retirees who have never played a video game, but I am saying that the journalists who do more industry coverage and less gaming might have a voice those similar not-yet-gamers may find useful. Possibly even to the point of a whole new, if small, division of games coverage.

So, yeah, much to my surprise and complete opposite of my first instinctive response, bad gamer journalists may actually have a place in the industry. I think the key is to go a step further with, and now we get sticky, disclosure of that fact.

AAAAARRRRGH GERBLURGAAAATE!

I’m just throwing it out there because others are already doing so and it’s going to get brought up anyway. Yeah, yeah, GamerGate, “actually, it’s about ethics in game journalism,” etc., etc. Get it out of your system. This isn’t really about that, but tangentially it is about a layer of disclosure.

This entire dust up started with “I suck at Cuphead.” I’ll reiterate, I think the mistake was the follow up “but in my defense” statement, which I think Takahashi agrees with per his later article.

If a journalist isn’t a core gamer, doesn’t get to spend much time gaming, and is more of an industry journalist, that’s fine. Just say so up front. Just comment your time is spent writing about things and people in the industry more than the games and gameplay, but you did have the chance to go hands on at a press event, convention, or whatever.

Write it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t get to pick up a controller often. Write with the clarity that the game isn’t for people who aren’t really gamers. It’s not an entry level game. If someone who’s been in the industry reporting on games for years finds themselves screwing up this much, someone who’s never played a game might want to find something else to start with. Find an angle that uses your weakness as a foundation and a strength. Make it clear you’re not really “among” core gamers at this point and this article really isn’t written for them as they won’t benefit from it as much.

Absolutely some will still call for your job, but you’ll find a lot of gamers surprisingly reasonable when they’re just told up front the article probably won’t help them along with some insight as to why.

And if you played poorly and you know you played poorly, but you want the readers to join in and laugh, don’t make excuses. Own that comedy of errors to the fullest extent and roast yourself thoroughly in the article. The readers are going to, you might as well fire up the grill and get the cookout started yourself.

The Unanswered Question at #SPJAirplay’s #GamerGate Panel

Like many other gamers, I was watching the Airplay panel on #GamerGate at the SPJ convention in Miami, FL yesterday. While you’re sure to see articles about the event and the debate, as well as the results of a bomb threat forcing the venue and surrounding neighborhood to evacuate, I wanted to talk about what wasn’t actually discussed as a result of that evacuation.

The moderator, Michael Koretzky, wanted the afternoon panel to discuss how journalists should approach hashtag groups in the future, not specific to #GamerGate, and was adamant about not bringing up past mistakes and past issues. He repeatedly stated he, and the journalistic ethics representatives Lynn Walsh & Ren LaForme, weren’t originally there and didn’t know who did what in the past and thus wanted to hear nothing of it. Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopooulos questioned how to advise what to do going forward if past mistakes couldn’t be cited.

I don’t think it’s difficult, but it is best approached by redefining Koretzky’s question, which is what I wanted to do here, as well as answer it using the broad beginnings of GamerGate as the example:

If GamerGate had only started within the past week, how do gamers feel journalists should approach the situation to present a fair story?

My answer:

Examine what’s happened to start. Assuming we’re in the first week of stirrings, there’s been a post from a jilted lover claiming their ex, a game developer, was emotionally and psychologically abusive as well as involved in repeated infidelities within their relationship. One name specifically mentioned is a game journalist, though no accusations of conflict of interest or quid pro quo relationship has been mentioned in this post. Nonetheless, conversation has started in community forums and social media regarding perceived conflicts of interest and moderators have responded with very heavy hands to silence any discussion of the accusations to any degree.

If your publication is involved with anyone named in the post, the first and immediate thing to do is to talk to those named and understand specifics. Was there any positive coverage or mention of this person in your work and what was your relationship at the time? Is there any actual or potentially perceived conflict of interest? If so, update the articles with disclosures immediately and place those updates prominently at the top of the article.

Second, release a statement acknowledging the accusations and informing your readers that not only is that specific incident being evaluated, but your group is evaluating their ethics policies regarding conflicts of interests and disclosures as a whole. Update this if necessary, expanding to other topics that may have grown since its last revision, such as the arrival of platforms like Kickstarter or Patreon.

Third, if your site hosts forums, allow for discussion under heavy, but reasonable, moderation. Personal attacks, release of private information, or unhealthy comments are not acceptable, but in silencing all questions or discussion, moderators only add to the perception that there’s something more going on. Moderators should have a responsibility to help guide discussion in the right direction. In the case of the post that sparked GamerGate, the discussion should have been directed not at the game developer, but at the journalist, the publication(s), their policies, and if those policies lacked in ways that would allow, or already had allowed, other misconduct.

If you’re just a journalist wanting to cover a story about an online hashtag and weren’t involved in the situation to begin with, Milo said “just do the work.” Simple, yet also complicated in a leaderless, largely anonymous, online group. As a group of people only united by a hashtag to say “I agree there’s an issue here,” the question of who to talk to is obvious, but I don’t believe it can’t be answered.

So what would a journalist need to do? Again, we’re assuming the controversy is in its infancy here.

  1. Follow the hashtag for a day or two and identify two things.
    1. Who is well spoken and commenting on it favorably?
    2. Who is well spoken and commenting on it unfavorably?
  2. Contact a number of these people and ask if they’d be willing to be interviewed. As discussed at AirPlay, explain the difference between complete online anonymity vs journalistic anonymity where their full real name won’t be used in the article, but the journalist and their editor need to know who they are. I believe people will be willing to talk.
  3. Listen to both sides, take their statements and comments, then follow up on those by verifying them as much as possible. Find chat logs or online records such as Twitter history, archived pages, etc. to support claims. Basically, “trust, but verify.”
  4. Present both sides of the story. With GamerGate, it would have been: detail why one side believes the outrage is an attack against an indie dev for being a woman developing non-traditional games and the other side believes there is justifiable concern over impropriety and conflicts of interest in the publications they rely on to give them information on where to spend their money.
  5. COMB OVER DETAILS.
  6. When presenting the story, make it clear these are individuals who support the concept of the hashtag as they personally relate to it, but that they don’t claim to speak for the group as a whole.

I honestly believe in its infancy, it was this simple. Now, a year later, there may be more nuance and complications, but I wouldn’t change much. The only main addition I would advise journalists today, as the 1 year anniversary approaches, would be slight alterations/additions:

  1. Follow the hashtag and see which prominent online figures are cited. If the opposition to a position is citing someone as a prominent figure, it’s worth contacting that figure whether they are legitimately involved or not.
  2. Lurk on forums like Reddit and see where the users are listening for information, then talk to that source. Again, this may largely be YouTube channels.
  3. Contact people for interviews, as before.
  4. Be prepared to do multiple stories on the topic. There will be plenty of material.
  5. Again, COMB OVER DETAILS.
  6. When presenting the story, make it clear these are individuals who support the concept of the hashtag as they personally relate to it, but that they don’t claim to speak for the group as a whole.

I emphasize number 6 because I think it’s crucial to covering online groups associated with one another only through social media hashtags. With enough interviews, though, I think it is possible to identify common themes and present both sides of a story, even with sources who can be paranoid about their anonymity.

So basically, that’s what I think should be done not specifically to cover #GamerGate, but to start laying the groundwork for future stories with hashtag groups, which will likely only grow as our reliance on social media to communicate continues as well. This is simply my opinion based on nothing more than my thoughts. I don’t have experience in journalism beyond a single community college class years ago and don’t claim to be an expert, but I think it’s something that will grow more important in the years to come.

To paraphrase Oliver Campbell, journalism is essentially about communication. The people aren’t going to tell journalists how to do their jobs, but journalists are going to have to adapt to evolving methods of communication among people to pursue their stories.