Welcome to Revelations. There have been some real kerfuffles in the gaming world lately. This week I’m going to fill you in on seven interesting items that you may have missed in the busyness of this past week.
1. Zynga layoffs
You may have heard the news that Zynga Inc. laid off 150 employees this past week in a dubiously hushed and hurried manner. Not only is this sad for the now jobless men and women, it holds a certain significance for the future of gaming. Zynga’s rapid rise to prominence was fueled by a stable of games that tapped into the same components of the human brain that are also enticed into gambling compulsion. The fact that they are finding themselves making financial cutbacks due to low earnings, while certainly not something to gloat over, is a hopeful sign that perhaps humanity is not yet entirely willing to be parted with all of their money in exchange for mere in-game rewards.
2. Can games actually do any good?
We’ve been over this before, I know. Yes, most of us agree that games can do more than entertain. Just last week we talked about how we can be morally educated in play experiences. But when it comes to tangible real-world issues such as poverty, can games be used to make a difference in a meaningful, powerful way?
Patricia Hernandez had that question burning in her heart as a result of the announcement of iBeg, a game that aims to raise awareness about the stories and trials of individuals struggling with homelessness. In her latest piece at Kotaku, she embarked on a journey to learn more about “The Complicated Truth Behind Games That Want to change the World.”
Of particular note is the trip she took to a local homeless shelter to find out what it’s staffers thought about such a game.
“They’re making…a video game?” the caseworker chuckled. I asked his name, but he mumbled it while we watch the video, so I didn’t catch it.
“Yeah! Or, well, raising the money to make one.”
“That money is going toward a video game?” He pointed to the four thousand dollars iBeg has raised.
“Yeah. What could that money do if it went toward a homeless shelter?” I wondered.
3. “As a woman, I…”
One of the more sensitive issues in the world of videogames is that of gender relations. Traditionally, gaming has been a stronghold of misogyny and stereotypes. The highly sexualized portrayals of women have given many a cause for concern.
Yet at the recent Game Developers Conference Online, Leigh Alexander, Jenn Frank, and Mattie Brice hosted a panel on “Gender in Game Storytelling” that aimed to delve deeper than surface-level “stop being sexist” complaints. In the excellent summary, compiled by Leigh Alexander, you can read about, what are in the panelists eyes, several myths about the representation of women in games.
A few of the myths include: “Women are offended by women’s bodies.” “Diversity is dead serious,” and “Characters need to be ‘Strong’ or ‘Positive’”
4. Games’ journalism is maturing, whether it wants to or not.
By far the biggest sensation of this past week was a Eurogamer article that challenged many videogame journalists for their willingness to moonlight as marketers in exchange for certain incentives. The article was poorly received by the accused, and threats of a lawsuit were brought against Eurogamer by one of the named journalists. Eurogamer quickly acquiesced and removed the more inflammatory parts of the article, though you can read the edited portion and a fuller summary of events on the Penny Arcade Report.
The wake of the miniature scandal left everyone wondering who was to blame here, before quickly realizing that in certain respects we all were, and in certain respects no one was. It simply time to grow up a bit.
5. We’re all to blame.
The ordeal prompted Rock Paper Shotgun’s Tim Stone to come forward with his own confession of letting his coverage be swayed by various marketing ploys.
What follows is the story of a games journalist who touched pitch and was defiled. The confessions of a fool who, having strayed far from the path of probity, is now desperately trying to find a way back. Judge him if you must. Forgive him if you can.
It’s time for some maturing, for as he says:
People have been paying me to write about games for well over a decade now, and at no point during that time can I remember any of my paymasters ever taking me to one side and saying “Tim. Ethics-wise, this is what we expect from you.” It’s always been up to me to draw my own lines in the sand.
6. No one is to blame.
Taking the voice of nuance, Leigh Alexander (again for Gamasutra) argued that there is a distinction between “enthusiast writers” and “professional critics” and we should be comfortable with whatever role we choose to play.
This is couched in a larger discussion, entitled “It takes all kinds: Video game culture’s weird identity crisis“. In this piece, she argues that videogames and the discussions surrounding them are becoming such a large cultural force that even while it is important to establish certain boundaries, it is not yet necessary to reduce the discussions to certain narrow points of view.
7. Can we just talk about games already?
Finding yourself bored with all the theoretical discussion about how to write about videogames? Well, how about we just read about some videogames then?
This week marked the launch of Polygon.com, a much-anticipated new website that was created from the ground up to allow a team of great writers and designers to make sure you are always in the know about the latest and greatest games. I’m sure you will appreciate their well written articles and particularly their eye-popping graphic layouts. (I promise I did not get paid for this, though some kickbacks would be greatly appreciated!)
Starting Monday, in honor of Halloween, Game Church is going to be hosting “Demon Week,” a week dedicated to investigating how games treat/deal with the demonic. We will look at both personal and other worldly demons. It will be illuminating, disturbing, and entertaining! See you then!