Monthly Archives: February 2013

Private provision of public goods

This piece by Patrick Miller in the wake of the 1UP/UGO/Gamespy closures is bracing, painful, and absolutely necessary. It details the desperately broken economics behind game enthusiast websites: they have to rely on advertisements, but the audience just isn’t valuable enough to advertisers except in mass quantities, so the sites are forced into churning out lowest-common-denominator, hit-focused pabulum like lists and slideshows and “best ofs” and whatnot. Good articles get overlooked while clickbait rules the day.

And why?

“Compared to, say, selling cereal/hamburgers/cars/video games, journalism works on a different model–a strange kind of model ostensibly designed to produce something approximating a “public good” but produced through private enterprise.”

There’s your problem right there. Good journalism and criticism is absolutely a public good that will pay off for decades or centuries to come. But there’s no possible way that anybody but the wealthiest individuals could pay for it. That was fine back when advertising was valuable, but that’s the problem: nobody’s willing to pay more than a pittance for online advertising. So, now, it seems like there’s only two options: either cater to smaller, more valuable audiences (specialist trade publications and the paywall thing both do this), or try to convince unpaid or underpaid writers to churn out as much material as quickly as they possibly can to the broadest possible audience (the Huffington model). Neither is healthy. Neither rewards skilled writers with fair pay and solid public exposure. Yet those are the only two options.

(Well, okay, unless you’re Yahtzee. But you aren’t Yahtzee.)

Even if you aren’t just writing, you still aren’t better off. The most valuable part of 1UP for me was always its podcasts. The articles and reviews were fine, but 1UP’s podcasts in its heyday were quite simply the best gaming discussions on the Internet. Only John “TotalBiscuit” Bain’s Warcraft stuff even came close. Yet 1UP had to shutter its podcasts, because there just simply wasn’t enough money in it; and judging by what YouTube, it looks like the gaming-focused video market is flooded as well.

So what to do? Damned if I know. I wish I did. I have my own financial issues to work out, and nothing I’ve written about gaming has EVER been paid work. I’ve never even expected to get paid for it; it was all about building a solid portfolio of writing that I could point to when applying for paid work. But what I’ve seen is that there just isn’t a lot of paid work out there, and the people fighting over it are hungrier and more desperate by the day. Talented, skilled writers and analysts are having to look for day jobs or are going back to school to do something else.

And the truly sad thing? This was supposed to be what piracy does, but it’s not even about piracy at all. It’s just a straight-up broken market for writers and journalists, and for the life of me, I don’t see how it could improve. Maybe it isn’t going to. Maybe public goods really do need to be publicly provided. But how?

(I’ll tell you one thing, though…it certainly hardens my heart when it comes to shitty writers. Every time I see a terrible, lazy paid piece, especially from some smug editor or columnist, I just think of all the skilled people who  could put that money to better use. But I don’t think I want to name names here. I’ve picked enough fights.)

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Can we please stop trying to have serious debates on TWITTER of all things?

See title.

No, really. See title. I’m enormously, impossibly tired of how everybody who writes about games seems to think that the best-or-only way to have debates on serious, often wrenchingly-personal issues is on Twitter.

Yes, I’m guilty of this myself. I know. But every single time it happens, I feel like I’ve made a mistake. I’m just reminded of how Twitter is an incredibly dumb way to handle these things. The posts are too short, there’s no proper threading, you can’t follow the discussion properly unless you follow everybody involved, expanding the size of the group makes it even worse, you can barely mention people without drawing them in…

…it’s just a gigantic dog’s breakfast that makes absolutely everybody involved look bad.

Worse, it elevates bad arguments. It seems custom-tailored for dumb appeals to authority/popularity and thrashing of strawmen and misquotation and pretty much everything OTHER than an actual grownup  discussion of issues. It’s absolutely one-hundred-percent boosting the arguments that are “simple, straightforward, and wrong”, as the saying goes. That likely has a lot to do with why everybody seems to rush to the most extreme interpretation of arguments and positions. Extreme arguments tend to be straightforward ones.

Sure, there’s worse. Facebook, for example. But every day I’m more and more convinced that Twitter should really be used to link to  arguments, instead of make arguments. It’s not working. So, please, stop.

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Game violence redux (or: you are part of the problem. Yes, you.)

(This is adapted from a longer response piece to an article that, honestly, didn’t warrant it.)

I’m beyond tired of this damned violence discussion.

I’m not tired of the discussion per se. It’s important. And this has nothing to do with any specific author, since so many seem to be prey to it. (If not in their official work, then in their bandwagon-tastic Twitter and Tumblr feeds.)

No, I’m tired of this shape of the discussion. The medium is changing, positively changing, more quickly and drastically than it has at any point in its entire history, and is doing so while other media like film are demonstrating more resistance to change and experimentation than ever. The winner of the last VGA game-of-the-year award was THE WALKING DEAD, for Heaven’s sake: an adventure game (adventure game!) that people are lauding for its intelligent and tragic attitude towards death.

There are challenges, especially the treatment of women in the industry, but those are things to celebrate.

Yet the grotesque inferiority complex–the barely submerged and all-encompassing self-loathing of both gamers and game critics–is so pervasive and so all-encompassing that any positive development is ignored, while any stupid negative step or mis-informed promotional screwup or unenlightened developer soundbyte is hoisted up and carried around  as proof that things are just as bad as they’ve ever been. Whatever that was supposed to be. 

Bullshit.

Games aren’t making kids into killers.  They aren’t getting more violent, absent the ongoing changes in graphical fidelity. They aren’t getting dumber. They aren’t all just mindless shoot-em-ups. And Call of Duty’s fading seizure of the increasingly-marginally console space aside, there are a TON of important games making doing very well that either feature cartoony representations of mild violence, like Skylanders and Jetpack Joyride, or are completely and utterly nonviolent, like Super HexagonWhere’s My Water, Just Dance and FarmVille 2.

By perpetuating this…by moaning about how Everything Is Terrible Forever And It’s All Our Fault For Being Horrible Gamers Oh God Why Couldn’t I Be Into Whittling Instead…you’re nothing more than a Useful Idiot. You are playing into the hands of everybody that wants to avoid real solutions, and you’re doing it by blaming a medium that’s actually improving by leaps and bounds. You are helping ensure that any movement towards useful things like reasonable gun legislation gets sucked into the endlessly swirling vortex of Game Violence Discussion.

You are not being “reasonable”. You are not being “rational”. You are not being “mature”. You’re just discouraging the people who are actually working to change things by devaluing that work.

YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

Cut it out.

Four in February

Heard of “Four in February“? Basic idea seems to be to take four games that are in your backlog and actually spend a month playing through them.

(It’s also on Steam.)

Rowan Kaiser‘s doing it: he’s doing Cave Story+, Septerra Core, Alpha Protocol and Mark of the Ninja. Not sure where, probably on Joystiq, but I’m looking forward to following his travails. I kinda like like the idea too, so I’m going to do it myself. Thing is, I can’t do anything terribly system-demanding, nor can I do console stuff. Long story. But regardless:

First, I’ll do the AGD Interactive remake of Quest for Glory 2, since I’ve been curious to see how faithful they are to the source material, and the original version is one of my all-time favorite games.

Second, I’m going to do Christine Love’s “don’t take it personally babe, it’s just not your story”. Just a wee little visual novel, sure, but that’s my speed right now, and I REALLY enjoyed both Digital and Analogue.

Third, I’m going to follow Rowan’s lead and do Cave Story+. Why? Why not? It’s in the pile, and I’ve heard it lauded hither and thither forever. No reason not to.

Fourth…well, it depends. I’m probably going to follow Rowan’s lead again and do Septerra Core. I MIGHT do something else, though, since an RPG is a pretty heavy investment of time. I’m possibly leaning towards finally finishing Uplink, since that’s one I’ve started more times than I can count. We’ll see.

I’ll use this space to let people know how it goes.

(And, yes, I plan to get back to the Elder Scrolls thing just as soon as I can. I’ve got MULTIPLE scores to settle in Morrowind. I ain’t forgotten ’em.)

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Memo to Vaguely-Creepy 1UP Article Writer:

No matter how graphically accurate Call of Duty or Medal of Honor or What of Ever gets, Neal Ronaghan, you aren’t “killing human beings” in the game.

You’re interacting with virtual, synthetic simulacra. They’re subroutines, wrapped in a multitude of tiny triangles. That’s it. That’s all they are. They aren’t even SMART subroutines.

They aren’t people. They never have been. They never will be. Barring a revolution in strong AI, they’ll never even be close. One of the reasons why you’ve managed to keep your head despite playing these types of games for as long as you have is because you’re supposed to understand the damned difference.

If you don’t? Um, you’ve got way bigger problems than game violence. And so do the rest of us, because you’ve now officially wandered into useful-idiot territory by making the game-blamers’ arguments for them.

(By the by, since when does declaring your “layer of hypocrisy” somehow immunizes you from said hypocrisy? Yes, you’re being hypocritical in presuming that this level of graphical development is somehow beyond the pale whereas previous ones were supposedly fine.)

Very, very disappointed. Even if this is just clickbait, it’s the worst possible clickbait at the worst possible time. It threatens, again, to distract everybody from searching out the real means of ending REAL spree violence against REAL human beings by leading the body politic down a blind alley.

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