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

(Hi guys, I’m cis.) For me, personally, I appreciate that Danielle mentioned the transphobia up front. I was a huge fan of Gods Will Be Watching. This would’ve been the easiest sale in the world if they hadn’t included the deadnaming and the transness as a twist. So if there’d been a more vague ‘it gets kind of problematic at the end’ review I might have bought it - after all, it’s getting great reviews elsewhere. But knowing the specifics of what happens, it feels more like I get to judge whether or not I want to support it. And I think that is going to depend on how the development team responds. I understand that this sort of criticism can be particularly harmful to a small team, and I also understand that people are upset about the hypocrisy re BOTW, but for me, I’m glad I get to make an informed choice about what I’m supporting. Like, either they simply didn’t know that deadnaming/making transness a twist was going to be controversial (which suggests a failure of research) or they decided to do it anyway, for whatever reason. I’d like to know what they were thinking, and what they’re planning on doing to address people’s criticisms.

While it’s true that Devolver is big in the Indie space and hasn’t earned much goodwill, and that TRSC is getting mostly positive responses elsewhere (this article isn’t the only press they’ve got), they’re not the developer here, they’re the publisher. The developer is Deconstructeam, a 3-person team that has had one release before. If anything, I think Devolver’s quick and defensive response did a disservice to Deconstructeam, but I’m glad that things have moved towards Danielle and the dev who (presumably) put that plot point into the game talking directly and coming to an understanding, instead of Publisher Devolver trying to tell off Publisher Waypoint.

Personally, the podcast and the article mostly sold me on the game by talking about the themes and how it addresses them. While it sucks knowing there’s a huge misstep, I can at least go in knowing it’s there and that the devs are aware some people are upset (not just Danielle) and are having a discussion about it (unlike, say, BotW which did receive criticism that AFAIK was never officially responded to). Of course, saying “it won’t bother me as much if I know it’s coming” is a privilege since it’s not an issue that affects me directly (although it does affect people I care about), but obviously that’s why it’s good to warn people about issues like transphobia in fiction (even if it’s not justified in-fiction, and the creator is trans and making an intentional statement), so players can make informed choices going in.

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I feel like it might be worthwhile to the discussion to read the thread recently posted by the trans developer who worked on the game.

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That series of tweets was a great read, I was just about to post it but you beat me to the punch. More and more I’m feeling really let down by Waypoint for this piece. As I dig into the article and the response from the developers I just feel like a trans developer was negatively put under the spotlight for actually adding something about the trans experience.

Not only am I saddened for the devs being called out for trying to improve things but also pretty upset this is coming Waypoint and Danielle.

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Having a cis writer at an outlet with cis editors accusing a game that trans people worked on of being transphobic on very shaky grounds is a a very bad look. When you throw in the fact that that outlet literally published forced Feminization fanfic a month ago I’m inclined to say that maybe Waypoint just doesn’t have the expertise to tackle trans issues responsibly.

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I also think that having the article go from “what a great sex-positive depiction of a woman” to “this is a hyper-sexualized caricature” once she’s revealed is majorly fucked up.

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Since the tweet was linked directly, we’d like to publicly remind everyone to not go bother her on Twitter.

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I still don’t like the tack of “you have to run this particular criticism by the creator before publishing it” because that sets a troubling standard of requiring critics to experience a work through the intended lens of author intention, rather than how the work stands on its own.

There’s a valid criticism to be made that the site staff give problematic faves a big pass while harping on smaller games that make the same mistakes, but from Danielle’s review, I get the impression that the game failed to interrogate this problem in a way that is at odds with the tone and level of thoughtfulness it had displayed up until that point.

That the development staff included a trans person does not mean the writing itself isn’t guilty of something that was, if only accidentally, disrespectful to trans people.

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I’m still fairly new to learning about the trans community and how to better approach them that respect their personal space but from the stuff I have learned deadnames is not ok. There are better ways for characters to reveal their Trans, and ones that empower them, but the fact that it was revealed as the character’s deadname in a form of a password is pretty short sighted. This is just as bad as last year’s Mass effects game.

I think Devolver stated that they didn’t have a problem with the piece so much as they were addressing the rather blunt tweet posted on the official Waypoint account being posted when the developer had already reached out to the author to discuss it.

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This situation feels like a wrong-footed overcorrection from last month’s controversy.

Last month, Waypoint got into hot water because they presumed a non-consent trope that some trans women find valuable was suitable general-audience material, and suitable representation of trans people as a group. They did not consider the subset of the audience who are pained by non-consent material instead of validated by it.

This month, Waypoint got into hot water because they presumed that a depiction of hurtful treatment of trans women was inherently transphobic. They did not consider that the act of deadnaming could be framed in an appropriately condemnatory manner by a game.

The answer in both cases is the same: presume less, ask more.

As for BotW, the cynic in me wants to chalk that up to that patented Waypoint Sex Positivity; force-femme Gerudo Link is a bit of an online sex symbol, and Waypoint has always been inclined to give a pass to horny.

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But the piece is more of a “Here’s a game I liked that has an unfortunate misstep”. Danielle is allowed to state that a moment in a game made her uncomfortable. I’ve gotten really tired of “x is a bad look” comments because it seems like a faux-nice way of saying shut up. Hell, the forced-femme fanfic was written by a trans author, but that didn’t invalidate criticisms of it

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I mean, it is a faux-nice way of saying shut up. Because I’m starting to think Waypoint needs to step back from addressing trans issues until they’re willing or able to approach them with nuance. They keep plunging into controversial trans issues and then stepping back and refusing to actually engage with the content of the controversy because they don’t feel qualified to address it. And that nuance is why the two situations are different-- the content is wildly different but nobody seems to actually want to engage in that conversation, which is deeply frustrating. If you don’t feel qualified to get deep in the paint on trans issues, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you don’t publish forced-feminization fiction or go after studios with more trans developers than you have trans editors or writers on pretty shaking grounds.

edit: I realize this comes off as very aggressive. I like Waypoint, I like Danielle, but as a trans person I have felt so talked down to and condescended to by their recent output on this issue.

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I really don’t think that the publisher should be getting involved in critical discussions between the creator and critic in this manner. And as an off-hand thing, I don’t have good faith in Devolver as a publisher when their response to criticism of Mother Russia Bleed’s severely bad content was “well that’s what they wanted to do and we’re not gonna stop them”.

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the member of deconstructeam said that she signed off on the tweet, for her part.

whether or not it’s useful for publishers to engage with publications is something else, granted

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I also like Danielle and the rest of the crew over at Waypoint but more and more, especially with pieces like this I don’t know if I like Waypoint. I don’t think of Danielle as someone who is transphobic but that doesn’t prevent the piece from feeling irresponsible.

For what it’s worth I don’t think it came off as too aggressive. EDIT: To clarify I don’t think your response came off as too aggressive. The article on the otherhand…

I’d rather they just not say anything. When groups like these who make or produce so much experimental or weird stuff you wouldn’t see from most others (ie [adult swim]'s entire history of animation and live action TV, ect) respond to criticism, they sort of do a disservice to the work. A lot of this stuff should be judged as it is because of the outsider nature of it all. The appeal of works like NOT A HERO, Broforce, 12 oz mouse, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and all other such weird pieces of media is that they’re wildly different, both in good and bad ways, and part of the fun is experiencing that and drawing your own conclusion, be it positive or negative.

When you show you care about the opinions of others or respective prestige, you depower everything you’ve done. Suddenly, you have to defend the choices you made, good and bad, and a lot of people who make or produce these works are TERRIBLE at that (see Lazzo’s women writer opinions). It’s ALWAYS the publisher or the producer doing this too, the people who don’t actually make the creative decisions.

Basically, what I’m saying is that outsider stuff should just continue being what it is, and we respond to it however we wish. The idea is these works stand entirely on their own and these groups help get them made, but when they start treating this stuff as their own brand they can capitalize on, they missed the point of helping make this stuff possible in the first place.

I’m a bit rambly about all this, but I just really value stuff that pushes boundaries, but I hate it when creators or producers get defensive about their decisions on these works. Just own it and accept the consequences, or listen in silence and learn how to improve next time.

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I think my only disagreement with you then is that posting a critical take on a game isn’t equal to going after a studio. It seemed to me that this was an attempt to engage with nuance, considering Danielle’s praise of the game in other aspects.

Aggressive or not, I think you gave me a good response. Honestly, thank you. I worry sometimes about these conversations just turning into hornet nests

I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but Devolver Digital is responsible for this becoming a discussion about whether or not this is okay because one of the developers is trans, because they’re the ones who tried to use that as a shield from criticism.

I’m coming late to this (I picked a bad day to not pay attention to video games apparently) but since Devolver Digital opened that can of worms, the conversation has become about whether trans people are allowed to talk about real things in fiction or not (yet AGAIN) instead of what the conversation should really be about, which is:

Is the use of this topic in the game handled well, in a way that is respectful, insightful, and not an afterthought?

Because the answer to whether we can talk about real life things in fiction is always yes. It is always yes, we can write about our lives however we want. It doesn’t mean we’re always going to do a good job. And whether this use of the topic works in this game or not is what is really relevant. And from what I’ve read (haven’t played it), it sounds like it doesn’t. If the only time the game explicitly explores this trans character’s identity is by deadnaming her as part of a puzzle solution, that’s pretty bad, to put it mildly!

Long story short: Deconstructeam messed up and with the best of intentions ended up with an incredibly problematic part in what otherwise sounds like a game that handles gender and sexuality very well, and now the trans developer on their three person team now has to deal with a world of bullshit because Devolver Digital wanted to pull the “I have a trans friend!!!” card because they didn’t like what Danielle wrote.

If we want to talk about Waypoint’s overall coverage of these issues there are definitely things to talk about but the developer catching undue heat is all on Devolver Digital from where I stand.

New article posted talking directly to the dev, by the way.

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