How 'The Red Strings Club' Sabotages Its Hopeful Cyberpunk Vision


#1

This piece contains significant spoilers for The Red Strings Club, as well as a content warning for transphobia.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/ne4ypq/red-strings-club-cyberpunk-transphobia

#2

Aaaaaaaaaand Devolver just…fucking hell…

DUL3Ey0WkAAjUaj


#3

I understand why Danielle didn’t get into explicit details in the piece, but can anyone talk about what happens in this specific moment? Her writing about the game makes it seem like the developer put a lot of thought into every minute detail, sexuality included, so I’m curious where this “deadnaming” incident stumbles in particular.
& @JKDarkSide , this Devolver tweet seems kind of whack. A site like this is all about the public discourse, so not expecting it to take this argument to the public is unreasonable of Devolver in my opinion.


#4

Devolver decided to play the “we have a trans dev” card apparently:


#5

Haven’t played the game myself (this article is the first I’ve heard of the game), but Danielle goes into slightly more (still spoiler-free) detail on Twitter.


#6

So is the deadname part used within the context of the world, like this is an explicitly bad thing to do to the character? I can’t fully parse whether Danielle has an issue with its very inclusion or the approach the devs took.


#7

Deadnaming is simply wrong. Period.

Like in the context of a villain doing it, I’d understand, but they made it into a game mechanic and that’s really shortsighted. Please keep in mind this a purposefully done shitty thing, just people who didn’t know better fucking in a bit. It’s Devlover’s responses that are really disappointing me. You should have just, like, not have said anything?


#8

They’re about to get ratio’d to shit.

EDIT:

considering the spoiler Danielle gave, it’s also a matter of, like… Who the fuck goes and uses their deadname, a name that is, typically, not one you want to associate w/ yourself ever again, as a password?


#9

Made a mistake in my earlier post, meant to write “Please keep in mind this is not a purposefully done shitty thing”

But yeah, I’m a big fan of Devolver, but they have a bad history of making sloppy mistakes like these and not really learning from it. NOT A HERO had a lot of racist stereotyping and didn’t really subvert or use it for satire, Mother Russia Bleeds is just kind of a huge mess, ect. This response to criticism was a REALLY bad call.


#10

Danielle indicates that it’s someone else’s password


#11

So having not played this game, and understanding that Danielle is being purposefully vague to avoid spoiling the story, and seeing that she points out other ways in which the game seems to be treating a trans character poorly or, at a minimum, in a stereotypical way, I do have some comments on just the “Don’t deadname. Ever.” line.

Using a deadname as a password, “reveal”, plot twist, etc. is pretty shitty. But just having a deadname in a game about a fictional character in a game in a context in which the deadname would normally be found in the real world, such as old documents, emails, communications from before the person transitioned seems like a valid thing to have, as long as the context is appropriate. This is a real thing that real trans people have to deal with in real life. There are old documents, pieces of paper, databases, forum posts, websites, whatever, that are going to contain their deadname forever.

More generally, my, perhaps incorrect, understanding is that the concept of the “deadname” is primarily a cultural thing that the trans community has adopted for a lot of extremely valid reasons. They just want to be themselves, for starters, and reminding them of a version of themselves that didn’t feel true to themselves is obviously going to be uncomfortable, but also it can open them up to harm in their every day lives, negatively affect their ability to function in society due to being surrounded by either transphobic or ignorant people, and because it’s one way that bigots specifically use to go out of their way to cause harm by othering, belittling, and dehumanizing trans folks.

Imagine a Gone Home-style game with a trans character. Let’s say you know from the start the character is trans so it’s not some kind of “reveal” or “gotcha”, but you’re going to be going through the environment of the characters’ parents’ home, finding old documents, notes, pictures, videos, photo albums, etc. in which that character is naturally going to be depicted in a pre-transition state. Their deadname is going to be in that game in that context merely due to the fact of the passage of time and the ephemera that we all live behind as we live our lives. So to try and apply the mantra of “Don’t deadname. Ever.” to that context of that story just wouldn’t make any sense.

I also appreciate that in the course of writing an article like this, you’re going to have readers who may not even know about the concept of a deadname or the cultural faux pas (which is probably much too weak of a term in this case, but I can’t think of a better one right now) that it represents, so I can completely understand and appreciate feeling the need to strongly make that point for readers who may just not know. And in the context of this particular game, it seems, they do use it in an inappropriate or trivializing way (turning it into the solution to an adventure game puzzle). (Also, sidenote, that’d be a real fucking insecure password!)

Anyway, I just feel like in the course of talking about fiction, especially interactive fiction, there’s room for a little more nuance than the phrase “Don’t deadname. Ever.” seems to allow for. Especially taken out of the context of the article and put into a tweet.


#12

I sort of agree with Devolver that Danielle should have contacted the devs when writing this piece. She explicitly writes: “I really don’t know what the devs were thinking here.” Maybe find out? I’m not saying there would be any justification that would excuse the offending part of the game but this would be a much more interesting read if Danielle got the developers’ explanation and then critiqued that as well.


#13

If a creator can justify poor writing in their game after the fact, then they probably shouldn’t have written it badly in the first place. Media critics do not and should not need creator validation to make a criticism of their work.


#14

didn’t see those, but she’s also right in that that is worse


#15

At the same time, Devolver’s calling out a media outlet via twitter is a weird move and poor practice. Especially since they’re just the publisher, not the developer.

Since this is very much about a personal reaction the article doesn’t strictly need the developer’s input.

I do think their perspective and some context might be valuable, but slugging it out on twitter is not the way to start that conversation. Social media is not the medium for this discussion, either between corporate entities or between a creator and a critic, especially since none of the parties I’ve seen are doing so from personal accounts.


#16

Yes. Listening to the podcast, that’s what it immediately sounded like was the point? Where like - this is a big corporation thing, many of which are still terrible about changing specific data sets, and - having not seen it, it’s hard to say, but the hard-line “do not buy this, do not pay for this” seems… possibly strong handed?

Particularly when… something like Breath of the Wild seemed to get… next to no, if any, flak for the entire Gerudo Town thing? Which… Uh… trying to avoid profanity, but sucked in ways I’d like to emphasize with coarser language.
(cw: soft spoilers for BotW scene, and some shitty transphobic ideas presented in it.)(Oh, here’s a main-quest where we play for laughs, at the very least dressing as a woman, tricking people into believing you aren’t what you appear, passing, etc. so male characters can be unwanted interlopers in women’s spaces, haha, good job again Nintendo!)

I dunno. Both suck, probably, but this one kinda sounds like it’s making a point about a thing that does suck in the real world, instead of inventing reasons to, possibly unintentionally, but seemingly for humor, mock trans identities, and explore/play into a lot of super shitty garbage that gets thrown around already.

Which, instead of “hey, don’t buy this.” got to be top 10 lists number one and two for the two people now giving a “don’t buy” warning? Which…

Mmmm… Hmm… Very possible that the developer just did a bad job, and a dumb thing? I’ll be curious to hear their response to this, if they have one. Devolver is handling all of this terribly, regardless. I guess I’m just trying to come to terms with how… disparate reactions to similar issues is-

Hmm. Probably time to walk around the block a few times, come back, and regret some/all of this post.

(Edit: Also, I’m glad people are becoming sensitive about stuff like this, regardless of those disparities/that past judgement of media. I don’t mean to deride Danielle or Austin, or anybody making a stink about this now. I love that this is a space wherein these kinds of considerations are being made.)


#18

I just deleted this long thing I’ve been struggling to put into words for a while because @k80dey and @Anime basically said it.

But to piggyback on this:

& considering apparently 1 of the 3 people who developed this game is trans, this seems maybe legitimately harmful ? the game sounds excellent in every other regard

this feels especially offputting in the context of BotW getting such a huge recommend. Like, I can’t speak for anyone else, but the way Gerudo first gets mentioned in BotW coverage and then the way the game is later recommended, often without even mentioning the transphobic jokes feels like… I dunno… do we have such low expectations of Nintendo that they get a pass but an indie dev tries hard, does mostly good, and because of that when they fuck up it’s much worse? Is it that most of BotW is the massive, expensive, gorgeous game about exploring, throwing torches at goblins and playing labyrinth balls maze games forever while Red String is a relatively tiny and hyper focused game that centers politics and is narrative driven so it lives way more in the critical thinking part of your head?

Like, to be clear, I really don’t know the answer to these questions, and as someone that would recommend BotW but with a huge caveat about the transphobia… saying this game fucked up so badly it can’t be recommend is just sitting poorly with me.


#19

A couple thoughts:

  1. I don’t think it’s helpful to be mindful of spoilers in this instance. Reporting on something that ruins an experience while trying to preserve the surprise of that ruin just seems counterproductive.
  2. I trust Danielle as a reviewer and have been a fan of her work and Waypoint’s for a long time. However, given that Waypoint very recently had to apologize for not having an editorial staff capable of handling trans issues with their commisioned fanfic (see this thread), it seems like it would have been prudent to contact the devs or a trans game critic for other perspectives.

Edit: since it’s pretty far down that thread I linked, here’s a direct link to Austin’s response. I want to be clear that I don’t think that the fact that Waypoint previously apologized for something makes them incapable of reporting on these issues, but I think other commenters here have made some pretty good criticisms of this particular article.


#20

I strongly feel like when you like so much of how an indie game handles things like identity and sexuality and it does something that feels like a misstep that you should at least check that this might have involvement from a trans person before you kinda put them on blast. I got the feeling that might be the case just reading the article tbh. Devolver’s kneejerk response certainly wasn’t great but in the end this piece wound up feeling kind of uncomfortable coming from a cis writer, and this really could’ve been easily avoided.


#21

Just to put numbers to that Zelda comparison, there are five pages of results on the ‘Breath of the Wild’ tag. There are only two search results for ‘Gerudo’, one of which is a false positive. (If Waypoint’s search engine wasn’t real bad it’d be easier to get accurate numbers.)

Based off this week’s WPR episode, it doesn’t seem like Red Strings is going to experience a lift in coverage as a result of Danielle’s enthusiasm for most of it. So yeah, Devolver’s response sucked from the perspective of well, this is criticism not dramaturgy, but this also sucks for the reasons @k80dey and @anime and @majugi and @Mythmaster all said and that Liz Ryerson’s tweeting about atm -

I don’t know. This is messy and it sucks and has no easy answers