Are Things... Actually Changing in Games Communities?

Austin Walker tweeted earlier this year about noticing a change of tides for the better in games media:

wild to think that just a few years ago, "stop harassing women," "fence-sitting and both-sidesing only helps reactionaries," and "unions are good, actually" were all extremely rare takes in the game's media. not saying We're Done and Things Are Good now, but tides are changing

— austin walker (@austin_walker) February 9, 2019

So… let me tell you about something kind of silly.

A few years ago, I was an avid follower of George Weidman’s work, a.k.a. Super Bunnyhop. If you’re not familiar with him by name, you might have seen one of his handful of hits, or heard about his momentary martyrdom when Konami took down a video of his investigating Kojima’s firing. But I first came across his work looking for reviews of the original System Shock and appreciated his style and analysis. He got me into a lot of my now favorite games and is still an influence in how I analyze games today. I still have a great amount of fondness for his videos and his style.

More recently, I haven’t paid as close attention to George Weidman’s work. There are a couple different reasons for this, but in context of this specific post, I found that I began to add into my diet more social and political angles surrounding games criticism. Particularly queer voices, people of color’s voices, and Leftist voices.

That’s not to say George Weidman is a centrist or “apolitical” or anything; he was openly critical of GamerGate and Trump, and never hid his more liberal takes. But his strengths tend to lie in two fields: journalism and mechanical critique. Most of his videos were either gameplay-focused analysis (and occasionally going into narrative), or rigorously sourced scoops.

Enter the two recent videos on the Super Bunnyhop channel. They were still in the typical journalistic trappings, but there was a noticeable angle for me. The first, a 43-minute video on the burgeoning union efforts within the video games industry, with interviews with Emma Kinema, Scott Benson, and Ted Anderson. The other, which came out just this week, was a video about the labor conditions of game testers and QA, which ends with an explicit, impassioned call-to-action from a steadily reddening George (timestamp 14:41):

…My last and final point, which is more of an appeal and a request to those who are trapped in the giant QA factories and seen as second-class citizens… for those who are thought of as mechanical robot people, whose bodies and brains and personalities are being disintegrated away into the gut of a crunch… for those who know that you are being exploited and mistreated and worked to the bone: Your bosses do not give a crap about you. That is the message these policies send. What kind of message are you gonna send to them? …Talk to your co-workers about your wages, your hours, your working conditions, and how to improve your careers outside of a dead-end entry-level gig. And if you ultimately decide to leave the industry… if you don’t need the references and you can afford to burn those bridges, burn those bridges!..

What George is saying here isn’t anything new. It isn’t particularly revolutionary, or even all that radical. But seeing George Weidman, this silly weirdo who loves video games and has a nostalgic place in my heart, overtly advocate for collective worker action really struck a chord with me. Did this goofball finally get radicalized? Has he finally pivoted to the Left? Probably not. But goddammit, this seems to mean something, right?

So, this is all to say: …are things changing for the better? Austin Walker seems to think so, at least a bit, and this moment certainly hit me. A lot has been going on in the games community these past few years, and while a lot of absolute garbage has bubbled up, I’ve seen more and more marginalized and socially & politically conscious voices coming out than I have in a long time. And I’m not really sure a community like this, Waypoint’s forums, would have existed even a few years ago.

Have things been changing in the gaming communities you’re involved with? If so, how? What do those changes look like? Are there any specific examples you’ve noticed?

What do you think caused these changes? If nothing has changed, what’s missing from those dynamics? How can we encourage

And what about negative changes? There has no doubt been a lot of garbage springing up in the past few years. More specifically, what kind of negative reactions do you see to meaningful shifts in the discourse? What do they look like?

So where are these changes going? What do you see in the future of these communities? Do you think truly meaningful change is on the horizon? Or are we stuck on a treadmill?

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Wikipedia guy here again. The project has always had a left-libertarian bent so for the important stuff, it’s never gotten too bad. In my own corner, the main article on Gamergate is quite good, for example, and there are enough people fighting for coverage of labor in games. The problem arises on the less trafficked articles that therefore don’t get as many experienced and even-handed editors to maintain them.

The incident that comes to mind is Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which I had hard fought to provide adequate coverage of its whole Gamergate connection. The existing text has been neutered by a handful of single purpose editors who were bulwarked by some centrist and center-right conflict-averse veterans who sued to make the article what it is today (a more complete version, for comparison).

My sense is that Wikipedia is already becoming a proxy battleground for the culture wars where small cohorts of alt-lite will coalesce on an article and hijack the consensus process to ram through their preferred sanitized version of the story and set the tone of how it’s remembered. I’m not sure how to address this, other than inviting more people to fix broken things as they see them (and perhaps even stick around, learn the ropes, and contribute). It’s not glamorous work but it does feel crucial as Wikipedia becomes more and more the encyclopedia of convenience, if not record.

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yo it’s been a long ass time since I’ve spent any time looking at wikipedia policies, but how did a sentance like this make it in???

Some publications and websites accused the developers of “whitewashing” for not portraying people of color (apparently not including the Cumans under this label) in the game, and for its portrayal of Cumans and Hungarians as cruel invaders.

Aren’t you supposed to avoid inserting your own bias into articles? Why separate “Publications and websites”? Why would you insert a petty parenthetical and then immediately insert the explanation of why that’s not needed?

Like, ignoring politics (because the politics are clearly trash), this is just plain bad wikipedia editing.

From regular glaces at r/Games and the ResetERA forums, overall cultural awareness is better than it was back in 2014, with most people being receptive to conversations about unionization and more diversity (both in the industry and in games themselves).

Though, you’ll still see the shoring up of reactionaries within these communities whenever an outlet posts a piece criticizing a popular game from a cultural angle, or a figure within gaming criticizes video personalities (e.g. the Jessica Price situation, or anyone who ever says negative things about John Bain).

The way they engage with media on the whole, has always been bad, and is still bad. Conversation around big games is still dominated by a very consumerist perspective, where “prestige” games like God of War 2018 are regarded as holy grails of the medium.

Those communities will probably never progress past a stage of “amorphously liberal”, unfortunately.

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My perspective: plenty of game nerds like to get into net fights over which Final Fantasy is the best but avoid conflict when it comes to anything with real stakes. This allowed game communities to stay “apolitical” (conservative, status-quo, you know the story) for the longest time. Progressives and reactionaries could coexist as long as no one brought up anything contentious. I feel silly referencing King in a post about online video game discourse, but it was a “negative peace.”

The 2010s have seen that change. It wasn’t specifically GG, though that was a flashpoint (and I think the impact of Trump’s election on game communities has been underestimated), it was a gradual process of more gamers discovering the importance of the political dimension of games and game culture. A culture war that had been latent has become obvious to everyone.

Games media is now more willing to tackle important stuff like Austin Walker lists in that tweet, which kicks ass, but the mirror to that is the growing world of reactionary games media. Kotaku may have more reach than any one of the reactionary outlets, but there are plenty of mainstream-ish spaces where it’s treated as less trustworthy than, say, that dino site or a YouTube rantsman. It’s fantastic that voices with reach are now willing to say “workers rights” or “diversity is good,” but many gamers are covering their ears, choosing a right-wing bubble with well-documented links to the even more right wing.

The apathetic, shut-up-and-play crowd hasn’t gone away, of course, and I’m sure you all know that the reactionary messaging of “keep politics out of games” is aimed their way, taking advantage of discourse exhaustion. I’d like to think that “things can be better” is a more powerful sentiment, and I’m also scared that it might not be.

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It’s something you (yes, you!) can fix yourself. It’s not called “the encyclopedia anyone can edit” for nothing. I’ve taken a bit of voluntary exile from editing that page after getting blocked once over how shitty it got.

From what I’ve gathered the general answer is no. While most boards are more cognizant of things like unionizing and diversity. However there are still many pockets of alt right groups who more than make up for any steps of progress. Not to mention the fact that often this kind of progress is short lived. Like its easy to say “this is good” but dont expect things that are actually doing good to recovery support

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the vibe i got while reading most of this piece was “predatory business practices are needed to have this genre of games, we should think about what we’ll lose”

and like, fair enough, we should consider these things. but after considering them, we should go straight back to regulating these predatory business practices.

I’ve been looking for a place to post this article, and actually this thread seems a really good fit. I was kinda shocked reading it last night, as it just seemed such a biased and straight up bad take. Refreshingly it seems like 90% of the comments are calling the author out on it in a pretty positive way, and seem to be genuinely engaging with the fact that loot-boxes are actually harmful, and not just a typical game-r knucklehead response

(warning, I have not read all the comments, so usual disclaimers apply about reading them)

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I think Owen is making the same short-sighted assumptions that I was about a year ago, that if this is the means of keeping the lights on at game studios as publishers imply, then it’s a necessary evil.

Buying into that assumption is putting a massive amount of undue faith on the claims of major publishers, whose explicit goals are the enriching of stockholders through any means possible, whether that be minimizing the amount paid to the actual workers, pushing those workers to adhere to an unrealistically growing standard for modern technical fidelity, and attempting to implement seedy systems like these to drive as much extra profits from each game sold as possible.

These methods are only “necessary” as far as the industry’s bloating investor class’s desires for ever more impossible-to-achieve goals.

I don’t know how much of the gamer backlash to these practices are rooted in actual concern over unethical practices, versus an inferred loss of “value” in the games they buy (the latter of which often doesn’t drill down to the actual problem and is sometimes repackaged into a cynical “no DLC or loot boxes!” marketing strategy), but at least it’s a practice that most enthusiasts within the medium are opposed to.

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I feel like this would be a pretty generous read, given that the first mention of workers (in any capacity), comes 11 paragraphs into a 15 paragraph long article;

That oily MTX money — hard as it is to defend, even in the abstract — helps those women and men deliver something that meets the unrelenting it’s-in-the-game standard we’ve taken for granted for a couple of decades.

Ironically, going back through it this feels incredibly on the nose, even if its unintentional

I don’t point this out to cheerlead for someone’s P&L sheet or consider it the civic duty of gamers to do so, either. And if billion-with-a-B figures are involved, these companies will bring in their lobbyists-with-an-L, who outrank voters when it comes to really getting a senator’s attention. My guess is these publishers will also lean on their sports league partners to twist arms, if the viability of a $1.1 billion deal hinges so much on outlawed MTXes.

and bringing it back on topic - about communities changing - the comments really do seem to be focused on MTXs and lootboxes specifically as a predatory/unethical, rather than the typical games were better before DLC was a thing stuff

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