Q&A: Public Funding in Canada?

Silicon Knights X-Men: Destiny was bad. I don't have a joke. It's just terrible.
Silicon Knights X-Men: Destiny was bad. I don't have a joke. It's just terrible.

I received this note from GB User @celegorm_menegroth:

I'd really like to see some follow-up work in regards to your most recent article on these points:

a) Canada had a similar program of providing funding for games ... and then along came Silicon Knights and that whole debacle. Was any money from the Canadian government actually used in settlements of lawsuits? How did that entire episode effect Canadian game developers and the grants they receive? Does UbiSoft Montreal ( or other studios in Montreal, of which there are apparently several ) use the same grant system, even though they are a huge AAA studio? Does the money going to these large studios help or harm other smaller Canadian development, even through a "trickle-down" effect where by creating a favorable environment for games development in Montreal a concentration of talent now resides there?

b) What does the resulting fallout from 38 Studios and their dealings with the government of Rhode Island say about this issue, and what are the chances of other state-level governments giving lucrative incentives in light of what the Gov. of Rhode Island says was a loss for his state?

I thought the article was good ... but could have gone a lot deeper and cast a slightly wider net to take into account studios and issues that we are more familiar with ( and in the case of 38 Studios was a contender for GiantBomb's "News Story of the Year" during GOTY discussions at the time ).

-Keto

Hey Keto!

If you're interested in the specifics of the Silicon Knights case, Polygon's Brian Crecente breaks it down really well here. The long and short is: Silicon Knights successfully applied for a number of different government grants over a period of a few years. They used that money to hire people and run the studio. Then, they successfully applied for additional funding from another gov't source, the ODMC. But once stuff started falling apart at SK, the ODMC stopped their funding payments. That's how this should work, and mostly it's how it does work: The organizations who grant the funds set up milestones and other requirements, and if the recipient of the funds fails to meet those, the funding ceases.

But the specific funds that SK used didn't stop over that studio's failure. In fact, the ODMC has since gone on to fund London, Ontario based Digital Extremes, whose Warframe has been pretty damned successful. Beyond that, Canada has multiple other programs that support game development. Quebec has initiatives that help to pay the salaries of employees at studios like Eidos and Ubisoft Montreal, and other provinces have similar programs. And there are other roles the gov't has played, like paying to hold events where private interests can meet and make business arrangements together.

It's hard to know specifically how these incentives and funding programs have affected smaller developers, but if you go read the Gamasutra piece I linked to in the initial article, you'll see that the quoted devs pretty much all say that the funding mechanisms for AAA studios aren't scaled in a way that makes them accessible for independent studios. But there is also a history of smaller devs receiving support from the Canadian Media Fund and the Rogers New Media Fund offer independent creators partial funding for their projects.

The fact of these things is that cases like SK and 38 Studios make the news, while successful cases of these programs rarely do. So it's easy to think the whole endeavor is fucked when really it's just a few really bad cases, while in fact any analysis of a funding program (let alone the entire concept of public arts funding) requires a lot more than a single case study. So I'm with you: We need longer form pieces investigating this. But at the same time, public funding for games (like films, music, writing, and other art forms) is already here, so we need to start talking about it. I wanted to get that ball rolling while still tying it to a relevant news story. For the most part, I think I managed that.

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More on Race, The Witcher, and How to Move Forward

SO: I originally made this post in the forums but the spam-bot saw all my damned links and automatically banned me, which I think disappeared the blog post from the forums, too? I'm not sure. Anyway, I decided to just post this in a NEW blog post so that we could see it all at once. For those just tuning in, this is a response to some of the comments on my post from earlier today on The Witcher 3 and race. I'm linking this post in the Witcher 3 forums because it is an extension of that previous conversation. ANYWAY:

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Hey everyone!

Still don't have a ton of free time right now, but I've been doing my best to keep up with the comments here. First, thanks to those of you debating civilly and smartly. Really love seeing that discourse, and I especially love seeing people hammer out the nuances of their own understandings and beliefs (even when they're not the same as mine! What can I say, it's the teacher in me, I guess.)

Second, I said this on Twitter already, but I'll say it here too: Thanks again for the folks who have brought in up to date demographics data on Poland, and to those who have provided sourced historical arguments (regardless of which case you're arguing.) I wrote this post in about 15 minutes (while waiting around for a ride to finally go get an desk chair for my apartment, yay), and knew I wouldn't have time to do the sorta research I wanted to. Still, I wanted to force myself to address the existence of a Slavic history of racialization and ethnic grouping. I meant it when I said that "This is super complicated," and I don't think you have to look any further than these very comments to see that. Some of the counter arguments to my line of critique are "Poland is almost entirely white." Yet, some different counter arguments to this post include some version of "Wait, since when are Slavic peoples white?", referencing a long history of Othering and oppression that the people in this region suffered from other European powers. So, having updated numbers on this stuff helps--though as one poster noted, the discrepancy isn't so big as to fully undermine the argument.

Third, I've seen a lot of folks throwing shade at the final few paragraphs of my post as "building a strawman," or reading those grafs as me arguing that if you disagree with me that "you're racist." To some degree, I can see where that read of those sentences comes from, so I don't want to dismiss that complaint full stop by saying "That's not what I meant!" I'm also not really interested in "walking back" anything I said here. But I am happy to clarify a bit.

So, the most contentious passage, I think, is this:

And some fans want to lay on a sword over this. And whether its intentional or not, when those fans say “Why should they include a person of color?” it ends up sounding a lot like “I’m glad they didn’t include people of color. It was right of them not to. The game would be ruined otherwise.”

The confusion in my writing centers around this pivot from "what is said" to what "it ends up sounding a lot like." If this had been a real piece, something I'd worked on for a week or more, I would've reworked this whole graf to focus in on what I'm getting at there in a more precise way. So, what I mean when I say "...it ends up sounding a lot like..." is something like this:

Given the long history of racial oppression, of the dismissal of criticism (polite and otherwise), and of cultural gatekeeping, when those fans of The Witcher say "Why should they include a person of color?" it makes me feel like that person, whatever their heart or intentions or politics, is not interested in pushing back against that history. I'm not making a claim about them here, I'm making a claim about how this reaction makes me feel. When the conversation starts at "Justify for me why people of color should be included in my media," I know, deep and suddenly, that this is a losing fight. This is why I cringe when (in this very thread) I read that the inclusion of people of color in Dragon Age: Inquisition felt "unnatural" to a player. It is a sharp reminder that my experiences and feelings of exclusion (which are shared by many) will, by some, continue to be coded as irrational, emotional, and a billion other words that orbit around "unnatural," instead of being addressed directly.

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(This is also just a clutch moment to link Jay Smooth's classic "'You are a racist' vs 'What you said was racist'" video.)

Fourth and finally, there are a couple of recent posts asking "is the inclusion of skin color really enough?" (And you can toss in the posts I saw that were something like "Race doesn't really exist, anyway, so why do you care about skin color?" for good measure).

The answer here, again is that it's complicated. Or at least, it can be.

The short answer, which I gave on an episode of Justice Points a few months ago, is that when I play games like Freedom Wars I'm really, deeply happy that I get to play a black anime #teen, but that I also wanna play a game that speaks to an experience of blackness the way Kendrick Lamar's good Kid, m.A.A.d city does, one day.

Race, as some argued, "does not really exist." But that's only true if what you mean is "race doesn't exist physically/biologically." But it does exist socially, historically, and culturally. And often, it is made to exist. (Instructive and straight forward here is Herman Goring, Nazi Officer, stating plainly "I decide who is a Jew." I'm also partial to the work of Ali Behdad, whose academic work examines how Western European photographers helped to "create" the mysterious and exotic version of North African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian races in the cultural zeitgeist of the west.) And once racialization occurs, once a group of folks is set aside and told, "Oh, y'all are X, okay? I don't care that five years ago you were Y and you were Z, now you're both X," well, that process eventually leads to a real, lived culture and experience of race. (And this is why, for the record, I wanted to make sure not to easily group the Slavic cultures of Europe with the "White People" full stop--I know that Europe's own history is messy and interesting and brutal and beautiful, too.)

So yes, I'm black. No, that doesn't mean that I think I have any special, physical traits given to me by my blackness. But it does mean that there are people in the world who do believe that, and that is inescapable. And it means that I have lots of--not all, but lots of--experiences in common with other black Americans, and marginalized groups in general, too. (There was, for a long time, a cultural closeness between Black and Jewish populations in America built on that commonality.) But "blackness" will always expand beyond whatever cataloging I can do. Because race is a social construct and not a reflection of innate, physical reality, its boundaries are deeply porous and flexible and its shape is unfixed. This is a beautiful thing. And it's why I can smile both when I get to make a black anime teen in Freedom Wars and why I can hope against hope that some day we'll get the Kendrick Lamar of video games.

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So no, a few Zerrikanian traders or merchants or alchemists wouldn't fix the problems games have with race, but no single game will ever do that, in the same way that no single film solved the problem of representation in Hollywood cinema. But each time a dev takes a moment to think about how diversity might fit into their game--or, no, better: how it might have always been there, ready to be uncovered, ready to make their worlds feel more alive, more real--they add a brick to a wall of overall improvement. And sometimes that brick looks like a few brown faces in a crowd. Sometimes it looks like character creation. Sometimes it looks like a bi-racial lead character whose racial background is identifiable, but not directly addressed and sometimes it's a game that tackles the racial identity of its characters directly. It's all of these things and more, and none of them are perfect, and none of them can do it alone. How could they?

There is no silver bullet, no grand plan for creating diversity in games. There's lots of little steps that we can applaud, and that we can remind developers that they have access to. We do this constantly with other bits of games (Oh my god, please put the Nemesis System, or something like it, in a bunch of other games by this time next year, thanks). Why not also do it here? And if the answer is "Because this isn't as interesting or valuable or meaningful as X game feature," well, it is to me, so I'm gonna keep writing this stuff.

(And hey, side note: To folks saying that I'm "commenting on the hot topic of the week," I've been writing about race and games now for a long while. Most of it is available here. Start with the Animal Crossing piece at the bottom, if you're interested.)

Anyway, it's late and I need to get back to work. I'll keep peaking into the convo, because like I said, I really love seeing everyone work out their own positions--even those of you I disagree with. So keep it civil and keep the good info coming.

And believe me, this will not be the last time I talk race on Giant Bomb. And maybe next time you'll get more than a blog post.

-Austin

337 Comments

On The Witcher 3, Race, and Historicity

So I got an anonymous question over on my blog:

As a Pole who is also a PoC, this Witcher 3 discussion has me conflicted. On one hand, I'd love to see more diversity in gaming. On the other, the original source material lacked any sort of ethnic diversity itself, and I can't imagine CDPR was given leeway to write in new ethnicity's in a world they didn't create. Do you think they have a obligation to add diversity to their media, even if it never existed in the source material? Especially since Slavic culture is a minority culture itself.

I've been getting this question, or something like it, for a few weeks now. I don't have time to do a Real Piece on this right now, but I finally found a few minutes to knock out a short response. So...

------

Hey,

There are ethnic and national tensions woven even into the fashion of The Witcher 3.
There are ethnic and national tensions woven even into the fashion of The Witcher 3.

I think this issue is super complicated. I really appreciate Tauriq Moosa’s recent piece on the game and the current context of race in games in general, because it doesn’t pretend that there’s a way to address each instance of this stuff in a vacuum (and because it understands that the negative response itself needs to be understood in that greater context.)

I’m pulled in two directions: First, I love when games are made by groups peripheral to the sphere of predominantly white Western European and North American game devs, especially when those devs weave their culture into the games they make. The Witcherclearly does that, and that’s fascinating and wonderful.

But second, let’s not pretend that that’s not all they’ve made. The Witcher is not a pure tapestry of Slavic mythology, it includes creatures and figures from many other world mythologies, like the djinn. And it even has an analogue for the Middle East, Africa, and/or South Asia in Zerrikania–it’s just that Zerrikania exists neatly off the map, where its presence can be felt but its people remain absent. Geralt will use the bombs that were designed there, but rarely encounter actual Zerrikanians. (The game even splashes in a sort of tongue-in-cheek Orientalist discourse around Zerrikania that always makes me smile. These northern folks with their love of the exotic, I swear.)

Also, and I’m not sure how accurate this number is, but I’ve seen the “Poland is 96% white” defense thrown around a lot. And here’s the thing, four percent isn’t an insignificant amount of folks. It’s something like 1.5 million in a country of nearly 40 million. It’s absolutely a minority number, but it’s not license for erasure.

But it is complicated, I get that. There are ethnic minorities–and ethnic politics–in Poland that we in America were not schooled on and that many do not have an easy and firm grasp of. And, for my brief time with it, it seems like the game’s political backdrop is meant to engage with issues of national and ethnic assimilation, coercion, and hierarchy. I’d could see an argument that the southern empire of Nilfgaard could stand in for either the powers of Western Europe or of Russia (or both) shoving their way into the region. The series’ handling of elves and dwarves follows the tropish model of treating them as stand-ins for ethnic minorities.

And this is why the apologia is so frustrating. It’s not that the game isn’t aware of this stuff. It’s that despite its engagement, despite the greater context of race in games right now, despite the fact that the game is not a pure replication of Polish history and myth, and despite what Ian Williams calls its “relentless humanity,” it misses this one opportunity. And some fans want to lay on a sword over this. And whether its intentional or not, when those fans say “Why should they include a person of color?” it ends up sounding a lot like “I’m glad they didn’t include people of color. It was right of them not to. The game would be ruined otherwise.”

And would it? What would be ruined? It’s can’t be their escapism, a fear that they’d suddenly have to care about ethnic and racial politics–because again, the game already touches on those. Would their “immersion be broken” the first time a brown or black face walked down the street or into a tavern? I have my doubts.

It all feels like a desire for “the good old days,” where things–race, countries, games–were simpler. But there were no good old days. There were just days before we knew better.

Edit: There was some forum weirdness, so I've made my response to some of the comments below to a new blog post.

378 Comments

"I want to write about games. How do I start?"

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GB User @lhcarpenter writes:

I just have a question. It's an earnest one, but considering the flood of messages you're probably getting, I wouldn't be surprised if you never read it, let alone answer it. To give it some context, I'm a 22-year-old heading toward my last year in my university's Creative Writing program. I'll put it bluntly: I want to start working towards some kind of writing position in the videogames strata. I don't have any kind of grand scheme or desire for attention; I've just been thinking about games basically non-stop since I was five years old and can't think of what else to do.

So really I just want to ask: how should I start? Do I just start a blog on tumblr or Wordpress or something? Should I look for online publications with open submissions? Try and find internships with publishers or developers somehow? Dive into the soulless wasteland that was once Youtube?

I'm not asking for any kind of step-by-step guideline to making it in the industry or some shit like that. I'd just like to hear from a strong voice in games writing where the best place to start might be.

Thanks. And welcome again.

Heya LHCarpenter,

It's so hard to give a sure-fire way to getting "in." In some form or another, I've been at it for 8 years now, and last year was the first time I really made any money doing it.

That said: The one thing I did learn is to combine "new" and "old" school approaches. I wrote for free on my blog and for d-list enthusiast press sites before finally getting Freelance gigs and then a salaried position here--that's the old school way. But at the same time, I was doing video content, tweeting a ton (and not only about games!), and recording podcasts. Doing both of these strategies meant that there was cross-pollination in my fans: My readers became my listeners became my viewers and around in that circle. That was great, positive reinforcement for me.

I was also lucky enough to find my way into a group of folks who are also incredibly talented and creative, the StreamFriends. But this was NOT my first online social circle. I went through a lot of those where I never felt REALLY comfortable, you know? And so when I finally did find a place that felt like I belonged, I stuck to it and I let the love and support as fuel to keep me productive.

The last three things I'll say are:

1. Pay attention to games criticism outside of the Big Sites. For my money, some of the best writing about games today comes from folks who get linked on sites like Critical-Distance, not from any established publication. (And the frustrating truth is that there's likely fantastic writing about games that I'll never even know exists because it will slip through the cracks.) In any case, push yourself to read things you don't agree with and to learn from them anyway.

2. Read things, watch movies, and listen to music that isn't just about/from/referencing games. One thing that good critical writing tends to do is reference the world beyond the subject of writing. It understands that a work exists a context which includes other media like it, but also media of other forms, history, politics, culture, aesthetics, religion, architecture, technology, desire, and so, so much else. You don't have to know everything there is to know in the world, but just develop some interests beyond gaming (or beyond WHATEVER it is you're writing about.) It'll help in ways you can't even anticipate.

3. Write. I spent years saying "I wanted to write about games," without ever really doing it. I'd maybe outline a piece or write down a few ideas, and if someone asked I'd say I was "working on a piece." But a lot of times, I never forced myself to sit down and really hammer those ideas into shape. Maybe this isn't a problem for you. If so, that's rad! But if it is, try hard to force yourself to do it. If that means finding a new place to sit down and write, do it. If that means de-activating your wi-fi while you write, do it.

Do what it takes, at least long enough to know whether this is a thing you really want to do. And if the answer is "actually, I'd rather write about [whatever]" or even "Actually, maybe being a full time writer isn't for me," then, that's okay! You haven't failed or anything. You've spent time learning who you are and what you want with your life. That's incredibly valuable knowledge.

I say writing about games needs to be something you "really want to do" because it's such a hard thing to make a living at, and because the reality is that even if you're great you might not make it. I want to live in a world where anyone can follow their dreams, hone their talent, and get paid decent money for exercising those skills. But we're not quite there yet. Talent and dedication are unfortunately not enough to always overcome the obstacles between a person and financial stability. I don't say this to make you not try, I say it because if we address those obstacles we can (maybe) start making it easier for new blood to enter the veins. That's my hope anyway.

In any case, good luck and godspeed. Feel free to send me a link once you get that blog up and running! I'd love to give it a read.

-Austin

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