hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts


mangledenglish's blog

1:15 PM on 09.04.2014

GamerGate: Liberals vs. The Right To Indifference

Over the last week, the so-called GamerGate has reopened wounds that were going to be reopened sooner or later anyway, because it's just too tempting for too many people.

On one side: the gamers. They are angry, they are males.
On the other side, a motley crew of indie game developers, PR people and journalists ranging from spiky haired nerds to clean cut thirty-somethings, with the average type looking like one of the dudes from the South Park episode where everyone drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Some behave in a manner just as sleazy and immature as the gamers', some maintain a career conscious appearance and boast of their mid-level academic background.
A very loose coalition forged by self-serving interests, gender representation issues, in some cases gender identity, love, sex and yes, videogames.

The gamers have been served up with a story which, while disgraceful in its disclosure of a woman's intimate life, has some peripheral interest.
The ethical failings unravelled over the course of the ordeal are nothing extraordinary, but they do highlight connections between some gaming journalists and a fringe of the industry best known for its militant approach to the medium.
That's right: gaming journalists, like most journalists covering almost anything in the Western world, are liberals.
(This is when you fetch that "Dramatic plot twist" soundbite on YouTube.)

Needless to say, the hardcore segment of the gaming populace was not about to let go of this opportunity to thrash an always suspicious profession whose members had slept (sometimes literally) with their enemy, thereby branding them as scheming social justice crusaders. Many a screen capture, many a YouTube dissection and many an insulting comment followed.

Meanwhile, the enthusiast media have rallied around their peers. Some outlets have stuck to debunking the exaggerated corruption claims. Some like Ars Technica have run with the ball and embraced the ideological nature of the antagonism, proclaiming the "death" of the gamer at the hand of women.

I don't like videogame articles that wax philosophical too much, but given the nature of the current controversy, I guess we can make an exception.

"There are no such rights, and belief in them is one with belief in witches and in unicorns.”

The above quote is from Scottish author and Notre Dame professor Alasdair MacIntyre, about human rights.
It is both a stunning admission by contemporary standards of conduct, and an obvious statement: in essence, human rights don't exist.
If equality was really in us all from the beginning, then we would already be equal by now.
The US Declaration of Independence, a pioneering document on the matter, gives us one big justification for human rights: "We hold these truths to be self-evident." Hardly a bulletproof argument.
Actually, it's pretty simple. Human rights exist once social leaders have adopted their principles and subsequently bullied any significant dissenting part of the population into abiding by them (see American Civil War).

Come to think of it, there is a clear public shaming element about maintaining human rights. It is about certain elites using - and sometimes abusing - their power to create social taboos. Don't compare people to this, don't use this word, you should be ashamed to do this, you are "ignorant" if you think like that.
But could it be any other way? Denying human rights is as easy as saying: "No, I don't believe in them."
And if you give people the opportunity to say it, sometimes they will do just that. Still, we can not take away free speech outright. Thus democracy becomes one big shouting match, where the goal is to marginalize anti-humanist renegades by drowning them into a sea of consensual opinions.

Traditionally, the overwhelming majority of artists have agreed to foster this climate of forgiveness and understanding through their work. Maybe it is because creative types owe their success to subjective factors and intangibles, rather than a clear cut competitive scale like most professions.
For the most part, fans have accepted this practice. Cinema, painting and music provide rather passive experiences. They are about espousing somebody else's groove and vision. They are about taking the time, about characters. They lend themselves well to an expression of empathy. So the message embedded in those works flows naturally into the viewer/listener's mind.
Humanism is something that we now take for granted in films and other art forms, as well as in their criticism.
The few movies that don't exalt redemptive values will have a hard time escaping a good old scolding, when it is not complete excoriation.
Released around a difficult time for the gay community, 1986's "The Hitcher", starring Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh, provides an example of such summary condemnation. Star critic Roger Ebert slammed the film, largely based on his belief that Rutger Hauer's character (a serial killer who repeatedly taunts a younger man into stopping him) represented a deliberate attack on the homosexual community.
Toronto's liberal newspaper The Globe and Mail was even more extreme in its wording, and argued that masquerading as a thriller was a movie "about gay panic, a nasty piece of homophobic angst for the age of AIDS."
The taboo has been built. We have been instructed that it is OK to tear down an artistic product based on a perceived lack of dedication to promoting values of empathy.

Videogames are, as they say, movies for the new generation. But in games, the player is clearly involved in the pacing of the experience.
Contemplation, the sum of those moments which allow for the distillation of empathetic ideals in other art forms, is not exactly a sought-after commodity in the medium.
People are more often than not expecting an assault on the senses. It could be a frantic rollercoaster or a slower, more atmospheric trip. But at any rate, things largely exist in videogames as a pedestal for the gamer's actions.
Videogames are not about giving a fuck, they are tailored to give a fuck about me. Entire worlds shaped by precepts of performance and escapism. What's not to like?

This is a liberal's worst nightmare. A fanbase that mixes "art for art's sake" elitism with materialistic hedonism.
The I-Don't-Give-A-Fuck-Right-Now nation. First World insularism at its finest. "These are going to be hard to bully into empathy," mumbles Anita Sarkeesian under her Darth Vader mask.
Regardless of the political divide that may persist between Hollywood and the general public, the latter has largely learned to shut up about it and assimilate the former's message. Gaming is a different beast. No personable stars to embody the message. Limited reliance on artistic merits.
Much of it is about instant communication, instant bitching to the devs on Twitter, instant creating a petition on against retailer-specific DLC, instant punching a character in the face, instant travel to the Sorcerers' Guild building via the map screen, instant everything.

And so these writers/activists, often rooted in a progressive middle class mindset, come to a horrifying realization. Videogames have merged with the Internet to birth a cultural sphere which, no matter how meaningless, rivals politics in the fervor it elicits. There is so much interactive entertainment available for a price or for free, there are so many outlets for the hobby that interactions about videogames can exist in a purely self-contained manner, without ties to any ideology or socially redeeming aspect. Entertainment worth fighting for.
It's not inconceivable that right now in most developed countries, there are more young white people who care about the ostracism of a certain race in a popular open world RPG, and its efficiency as a narrative device, than there are who are actively reflecting on the ramifications of the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin shootings.
Of course it has always been like that to a certain extent. You hear about anti-rape demonstrations in India on the commute, and then you get home, you turn on the TV and watch your favorite show.
But videogames, with their constant stream of technological updates, iconic weapons, gameplay mechanics and virtual worlds, push the phenomenon to the next level. There is hardly a moment when there is not something more compelling than reality to discuss.

Female representation in games seems to be the hot button issue right now, but it is a tiny part of a much wider divide.
Look at VentureBeat's Killzone Mercenary preview. It does complain about gender roles in shooters and references trans designer Anna Anthropy, but that namedrop only serves to punctuate an awkward tirade about the similarities between Mercenary's concept and the exactions committed by employees of private security firm Blackwater in Iraq.

Take a peek at reviews for Jason Rohrer's controversially named "The Castle Doctrine" on IGN and GameSpot. The game may have flaws, but neither reviewer has qualms about the fact that their contempt for its theme is the main reason why they gave it a low score.
GameSpot's Nick Capozolli goes as far as listing "Advocates a confused brand of nihilism" as a negative bulletpoint in his verdict.
Now the bashing of a Rohrer game is not going to steer the hornet's nest like a Kotaku piece about gender equality. It's a very hardcore title, and Rohrer had previously alienated many hardcore gamers when he criticized the aggressive discounting policies that fuel the online distribution business model.

Tom Bissell's incensed remarks about the use of torture in Splinter Cell Blacklist's 2012 E3 showing also come to mind. How could Ubi Toronto let the player twist a knife into some terrorist's clavicle?
Simple answer: because sometimes it's not about humanism. Granted, the reasons why real life people renounce humanism can be very different than the reasons why games depicting similar events renounce humanism. Real life violence is often objectionable but rarely insincere. Video game violence can be exploitative.
But you can sense that the various degrees of sincerity in videogames' emulation of real life inhumanity are not something that most of these people are interested in discussing. Because it's not about the medium. It's about ideology first.
They are building a taboo: the representation of human cruelty in videogames. The medium's attempts at fidelity, visual or conceptual, sincere or cynical, to real life anger is irrelevant to them.
The fact that both Castle Doctrine's dry violence (which was inspired by the developer's own misadventures) and Splinter Cell's glamorized beatings generate such similar rebukes despite their obvious differences tells you all you need to know.
When a commando severs the leg of his own squadmate via a QTE in the Battlefield 4 demo ("Press F to cut leg"), it gets a few derisive mentions in previews before being quietly excised from the final version. The violence is grotesque and mechanical, but the amputee is an ally and the goal is fleeing. Laughable at worst.
When Sam Fisher brutally coerces a terrorist within a fictional universe inspired by author Tom Clancy, now we are not laughing.
Both interactions show the limitations of the medium and its inability to convincingly convey the notion of physical effort. The one in Battlefield 4 is pathetic but only exists as yet another bad cinematic trick. The one in Blacklist is perhaps not as stunningly lame from a design standpoint, yet it shows a man who succumbs to the instinct of revenge.
Revenge is bad, mkay? Thou shalt not rotate the left analog stick in relation to a 3D model of your fellow man's shoulder.
Gamers wish they could have fun and be immune, not necessarily from progressivism itself, but from the self-righteous, conquering accents that come with it.
Universalism, though, is not truth. It remains, no matter how ingrained it now is in our culture, a faith. Faith does not vanquish with facts, it vanquishes with numbers.
It is self-righteous and all-conquering, because it has to be. And a lot of the things we take for granted today started with someone's aggravating insistence.
So videogames won't be left alone.

It is the struggle of activism versus fanboyism.
An epic clash between two superpowers of obnoxiousness. Cue Skyrim dragon battle theme.
The apex of modern civilization, when the world's most powerful entertainment industry turns its eye to a small, incestuous clique of hipsters, in its duel to the death against the most passionate rebels the Western world could produce: vociferous guys who stand for the right to press X to kick the face of big breasted avatars at Evo, and swear while doing it.
It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.   read

6:24 AM on 09.18.2013

The inevitable yet non-trolling "GTA V is not that great" post

I understand that this game is very well written and has an engrossing game world, but to me the large amount of mechanical problems it has, and the surprising lack of progress it made within the more than 5 years since the release of its predecessor, make it hard to recommend outright.
This is honestly, and without hyperbole, one of the least mechanically sound AAA games I have played since the very early days of this console generation.

Technically speaking, while Grand Theft Auto V is not quite the "next gen now" showpiece its devs have been touting, it looks pretty solid. There is some pop in, some objects (especially vegetation) betray the game's aging tech, but it looks surprisingly crisp for something of this magnitude. The game's art direction, which makes the region on offer look like an archetype more than a caricature, greatly helps to push the visual experience higher.

The writing is sharp, and the characters are compelling, especially Michael because he truly breaks the mold with his exasperating cast of relatives and out of shape physique.
Trevor's wanton madness was a bit annoying at first because he felt more like a storytelling device than a person. But his weirdness won me over. He's a funny guy, and at least he consistently brings tension to a sometimes leisurely paced game.
Franklin is the most Niko Bellic-like character of the trio, with Niko's dry wit replaced by slightly more in-your-face streetwise derision.
The hardships faced by black youths and their families, as well as their speech mannerisms, feature prominently in his early segments, so it's probably logical that as a counterpoint, Franklin was made the most psychologically normal of the trio, striking a balance between his troubled social background and the need to avoid outright racial insensitivity.

Similar to Red Dead, it's not just the dialogue that's sharply written. Some of the situations are too, like the very direct and understated ways Michael is introduced to Franklin, and Trevor reunites with Michael. It's somewhat reminiscent in spirit of the way Marston father and son bonded through daily chores towards the end of Red Dead.
A character from a previous installment is also re-introduced under a harsh and unflattering light, which is another bold move, although said character is probably more of a semi-major protagonist than one of the series true headliners to most people.

There are also some parodies of real life properties and controversies. Most of them are fairly obvious, and while the game's straightforward allusions to Facebook and data mining come across as pretty bold, other criticisms of more traditional institutions like right wing politics may feel a bit tired. But they remain tongue in cheek through and through, so the game generally steers clear of pretentiousness, from a narrative standpoint at least.
At any rate, such writing quality is rarely found in video games other than Rockstar's, and it is a joy again here. The constant sway between absurdity and glimpses of more personal struggles is one you should experience.

However it doesn't always translate into great mission design. The necessities of story telling and the necessities of mission design are two different things, and despite taking place in an open world, missions can bear all the trappings of your token modern "cinematic" game.
Certainly, the devs have taken great lengths to provide missions that are either big in scope, or at least make it a point to incorporate an "exotic" touch (for example, a gunfight while lying on the wing of a plane preparing for takeoff) to keep it above the usual "waypoint chase" these kinds of game are known for.
Other missions are more in line with your average open world game, in that they largely try to carve an identity by focusing on one of the game's pre-existing mechanics (the tow truck mission, the heavy truck mission, the stealth bombing mission...).
These often border on mediocrity, but the solid narrative context keeps them from being a complete drag.
A possible exception to that are some prep missions for the heists, which I found to be quite poor.
Maybe the devs felt like the player's anticipation for the big heist exonerated them from fleshing out those objectives, or that they fit into some sort of crescendo. Some of the more espionnage-focused tasks are in fact pretty immersive despite not amounting to much gameplay, but others felt like pure fetch quests.
The random city events are also pretty basic, and I was expecting the game to push the genre forward a bit more in this respect.

Nevertheless, the long dev cycle has been put to good use and some exciting situations have been devised. It's the realization of these ideas controller in hand that can be surprisingly limited.
You still have a ton of missions that will fail if you don't aim right where the devs want you to, right when they want you to, if you don't drive just the car they want you to, and stop right on that yellow dot, or veer too far off a path, or even spill gas elsewhere than on the predetermined trail that appears on your HUD during an arson objective.
The larger missions let you pick between explicit violence and a more deliberate modus operandi. You can also select henchmen according to their degree of expertise and salary demands. But these factors only influence specific, predetermined events.
They don't compensate for the missions' rigid framework, and it's even conceivable that the necessity to accommodate these "henchmen moments" contributed to the restrictiveness.
If you are looking for so called "emergent" gameplay, despite the game's size you won't really find it in GTA V's actual missions.
The comparison that immediately came to mind was Assassin's Creed III. Make no mistake, the mission design on offer here is better than in ACIII, the setups feel less artificial. Some sequences manage to maintain a visceral feel through the obvious scripting, and combined with the characters' grit, can truly make for engrossing moments. Just not in the long haul.

Rockstar has again deemed pertinent to force you to hold A/X all the time just to jog, requiring you to switch your right thumb on and off the right stick constantly to both move at a decent clip and adjust the camera.
In combat, you do get an auto jog, but if you move away just a little bit from enemies to flank them, it will be deactivated, and then reactivated when you move back within a certain enemy range, past an invisible trigger. Oh, I have auto jog now. Oops, i don't have it anymore. Oh gee, I have it again now.
Because it's so much better than just giving the player an "always jog" option, ha.
It comes across as nothing more than an ostensible effort by franchise helmers to "set their own path", and feature a unique control scheme reflective of the franchise's supposed ethos at any cost.
Some fans eager to gloss over any of the franchise's failings justify it in the name of realism, as a replication of the effort it takes to jog in real life. But then again realism doesn't seem to be at a premium in a game that allows you to carry a full array of weapons, including grenade launchers, without wearing so much as a fanny pack to hold them.

I wish Rockstar would swallow their pride, and offer an additional config with jog mapped to "left analog pushed all the way", sprint to "hold left or right bumper", and cover to "A". They won't because they don't have to, but it would greatly streamline the GTA experience.

The controls are very loose. Characters still turn like freight trucks, and bounce awkwardly when you collide with certain obstacles, GTA IV style. Transitioning to the stealth posture is slow and visual feedback is not optimal. And even in stealth mode, you still need to hold A to move slightly faster, which doesn't lend itself to the more delicate nature of such objectives. The damage indicator, which has you counting bullet impacts on the character's body, is also less than practical and feels gratuitous.
The cover system feels heavy and cumbersome. The strong pull applied to your character when you get into cover may be deemed acceptable by players looking to get out of harm's way quickly, but it's also very approximative. Unfortunately cover-to-cover movement won't let you adjust your placement easily, since it has still not been implemented. It's about as bad as in GTA IV, which itself was functionally outdated in 2008.

The shooting also feels close to GTA IV. At least the crosshair's dot doesn't jump like a magnet anymore when you're aiming close to a target, like it did in GTA IV. But the proposed aim assists still feel very sticky.
The game also didn't make it clear how you equip a gun while driving, although that may have been an oversight on my part.

Driving makes a poor initial impression, because in a bizarre twist, your first true driving mission as Franklin puts you at the wheel of one of the more slippery vehicles in the game. But fear not. On average, the handling has indeed improved over GTA IV, although the flight model looks like it got the short end of the stick. Some trailer trucks are also a bit unwieldy, and strike a perilous balance between realism and the accessibility that is needed from models most players are unlikely to have spent a lot of time with before encountering them in a mission. It's much easier to lose your trailer than you'd expect to when making a sharp turn, and getting things back in order can be arduous when it's stuck.
Vehicles have a handling stat, but apparently it's only visible at select locations pertaining to their maintenance. I would liked to be able to get the stats in-game when I am about to climb in a car, at least for the models I've already driven.

The character swap mechanic, which was touted as an elegant, less obviously gamey fast travel device in previews, does not really alleviate any travel frustrations.
You cannot know if other characters are closer to mission start than the character you are currently controlling, and whether they will be allowed to perform the mission you are looking to do, before actually swapping your current guy for the other one.
For example, say you control Michael and want to travel to the blue M icon symbolizing one of his story missions. Unfortunately, you are very far from there and you'd rather cut down driving time. Hey, maybe Franklin is closer to that M icon. And maybe Franklin can actually trigger that mission since some of them, even if they start at one character's crib, can be triggered by other characters.
Problem, to the best of my knowledge, you can't know that before actually making the swap, which requires a (disguised but still apparent) load time.
The devs should have let us know where others characters are on the main map, and whether they can tackle a mission, before actually swapping to them.

Taxis are not as neat as a more polished character swap system would be, but they do make it easier to wander around town in your free time, or when your current mission objective is not too stringent. The company is called Downtown Cab, but regardless of where you are (on the condition that it is close to a passable road), a taxi will materialize close to your position after a symbolic waiting time.
(Note: The original version of this post criticized the fact that you could only pick from a short list of destinations when using a taxi. This was a mistake. Although this is not explained in-game, you can in fact open the main menu and place a waypoint on the map, the location of which will then appear among possible destinations on the taxi's dashboard once you resume play. My apologies, and thanks to SlyKill for the comment.)

During missions however, there are a number of mundane trips that require you to drive, and cannot be skipped. Sure, San Andreas is a varied place, but not varied enough to justify even the majority of such errands.
Most of these mandatory peregrinations are padded with amusing conversations on the phone or with a passenger. They make for nice time killers, but I increasingly found myself enjoying or dismissing these interludes based on the mission they featured in (even if the two were largely unrelated) rather than the banter itself. While serviceable, most of these anecdotal conversations do not justify the game's structural patterns so much as they make them workable.

Sometimes, the video game community sees titles that hold the power to legitimize gaming as a creative medium, and celebrates these titles without rhyme or reason on the basis of compelling characters or one bold design choice.
And then they throw by the wayside any mechanical or design flaws these games may have as to not detract from a pristine image of artistic triumph.
In my opinion, there is a functional dimension to gaming that, while not be the most gratifying or emotionally relevant, is inescapable.

Some of the fundamental gameplay systems at work in GTA V are poor. They just are. Maybe you are so invested in these characters, or even in the GTA franchise as a social phenomenon, that you can and want to look past these defects. Or maybe you can't. I can't.
But it's the quasi-unanimism that I find scary. In a way, GTA V is to sandbox games what Bioshock Infinite was to FPS earlier this year.
Bioshock Infinite's looting grind and repetitive enemy encounters are not just old school stylings inherited from the pure RPGs it descends from. THEY SUCK. The whole game doesn't suck, but enough parts of it do that it should not have been rated nearly as high as it was by nearly as many people as it was.
Dark Souls' camera is not just a footnote in a deliciously perverse gaming experience. IT SUCKS.
GTA V's gunplay, controls, cover systems, and some core design choices can't be mere footnotes in the superb story of Franklin, Michael and Trevor. They are key mechanics in a game that has been in gestation for 5 years to the rumored tune of around a quarter billion, and THEY SUCK.
That has to amount to something.   read

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -