Even when it becomes vitriolic, I’ve enjoyed the ongoing discussion about how we value video games, a heated conversation prompted by Gone Home. It’s one of those conversations that helps expose the gaps between critics and players, a gap we sometimes forget actually exists.
I don’t regret not talking about length, nor failing to make a call about the game’s $20 price point. Gone Home is worth $20 to me, and two hours I spent exploring a stranger’s house was worth the price of admission. That’s just me, though, and how other people interpret value is a incredibly subjective. Value is more than quality. Value is personal, a combination of factors--what you’re in the mood for, one’s bank account, etc.
I wrote this comment in an article by Ben Kuchera at Penny Arcade Report. (I also stand by my assertion on Twitter that starting a conversation by calling people “assholes” is ridiculous. It didn’t work last time, Ben, and I don’t think it works here. It distracts from the sentiment within.)
“I've been thinking about this quite a bit, since there was lots of conversation about the game's price vs. value in my own review at Giant Bomb. I don't regret not mentioning the price in my review, nor do I regret leaving out how many hours it took to finish. Those were irrelevant factors to my incredibly subjective review of Gone Home. But I do think it's important for game reviewers especially to check their privilege. Many of us are in incredibly unique situations, able to play many, many games without forking over a dime. Thus, paying $20 for an experience like Gone Home isn't a big deal. Not all critics receive every game for free (I sure don't), but we're definitely getting more than your average consumer, no matter whether you're at the top of the writing heap or at the lowest totem pole. That's privilege, and it's worth, at least, acknowledging what that means about your perspective.”
Kuchera left out the word privilege, but I think it’s important, despite the baggage that comes with it. Someone asked me about my commentary on privilege on Tumblr, and here’s what I said:
“It means recognizing that you have inherent “privilege” due to one characteristic or another. That can be being a games journalist who has access to free games, being white in a society that provides invisible bonuses just for being white, being straight in a world where only non-straight people are asked to justify their sexuality, etc. It’s not easy to recognize your own privilege, but it’s always worth considering what you get for being who/what you are that you might not take into consideration all the time.”
Some food for thought. See you at PAX next week? Please say hi! Don’t be shy.
And You Should Read These, Too
There will never be easy answers to the question of what it means to be a commercial artist, or if dabbling in the first part automatically disqualifies you from the second. This conversation actually happened a few weeks back, but it remains as pertinent as ever. Elizabeth ofth Woods wrote an essay on the fifth anniversary of Braid about another independent game designer, Michael Brough, one who's seen immense critical success but hasn’t exactly seen it translate into a financial windfall. What ensued was a heated, fascinating discussion about appealing to the mainstream, finding a way to be successful without selling out, and more.
"Not only have Blow and other well-known devs failed to understand that these subtle aesthetic choices are actually an integral part of the experience of playing Corrypt - they've actually completely missed what the game is trying to communicate in the first place. The more I think about it, the more the gap in perspective and intentions between designers of "polished games" like Blow and more self-expressive, experimental types Brough seems to widen. Maybe this also explains Brough's seeming indifference about how he priced Corrypt in the app store."
I hope more people read this exchange between Anita Sarkeesian and Spelunky creator Derek Yu. Sarkeesian had previously used Spelunky as an example of the “damsel in distress” trope that has been core to some of her arguments about problematic game design, and when asked about this, Yu responded patiently, thoughtfully, and with empathy. This is the kind of dialogue that sparks change, even if it doesn’t result in any meaningful change to Spelunky itself. It’s about listening to other people and hearing them out.
"I don't think it's crazy to say that the 'helpless damsel' trope is pervasive and hurtful."
Let this stand as a pristine example of what I’d like to see more if in games journalism. Chris Plante not only dissects the long history of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’s messy development history, but Polygon dropped this story at the very same moment the embargo was up for the game’s review. At the very moment that you’re reading what Polygon thinks about the game, you’re reading the context for its creation. Maybe it plays into your decision to play The Bureau, maybe it doesn’t, but it was a great decision and should be applauded.
"This is the story of the definitive 2K game: a project given ample creative freedom, an exceptionally talented staff and — for better and worse — minimal corporate oversight. A game that has been in development, in some capacity, since the studio's founding and which has only just now come to light. After nearly eight years, at least three names, three genres, three lead studios and innumerable reboots, that project is finally complete".
If You Click It, It Will Play
Like it or Not, Crowdfunding Isn't Going Away
- The interest for Project Phoenix suggests more Japanese creators might want to consider it.
- Kudos to Blizzard for signing off on weird fan projects like StarCraft Universe.
- Shadow of the Eternals is not going to make its goal, folks.
- Kickstarter writes about the backlash to Spike Lee’s movie, and if it’s actually a bad thing.
Tweets That Make You Go "Hmmmmmm"
To jerks: Please be a dickhead in the comments in this article, so I can ban (more of) you, and keep you off my site: http://t.co/YhtfLbco5c— Kris Graft (@krisgraft) August 16, 2013
@ibogost I want things when they are finished, and don't buy into "help us shape the game!" Why would I pay to do that? That is my job!— Alexander Bruce (@Demruth) August 16, 2013
Gone Home Has Produced Some Great Commentary
- Danielle Riendeau had found that Gone Home spoke to her due to a very personal experience.
- Merritt Kopas also saw themselves in Gone Home in a way a game had never done before.
- Claire Hosking with six lessons on crafting believable female characters in a video game.
- Zoe Quinn, designer of Depression Quest, is now dying her hair red because of Gone Home.
Oh, And This Other Stuff
- If you enjoy Worth Playing, you have people like Porpentine to thank.
- It’s still crazy that Square Enix was considering outsourcing a major Final Fantasy game.
- Every time I read about Planescape: Torment, I start to get an itch that needs scratching...
- Whatever you think of DOTA 2, events like The International are awfully god damn amazing.
- Edge helps us more about the super cool Experiment 12 horror experiment.
- Samantha Allen patiently explains what to do if someone calls you transphobic.
- The Boston Globe returns to the 38 Studios saga to catch up with ol’ Curt Schilling.
- Jill Scharr describes her time in a games writing class and what she came way with.
- Cracked.com (yes, Cracked.com!) thoughtfully breaks down some advantages of games.
- Cara Ellison recounts her emotional response to a faux rape moment in Hotline Miami 2.
- To use a cliche, I don’t know if I want to live on this planet anymore.
- Jessica Conditt with an in-depth piece on Kickstarter’s Code Hero project. It’s not looking good.