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

This is a major criticism I’ve had of Waypoint’s behavior for a bit here, coming to a head with this piece. For what it’s worth, I agree with the piece, i think this is a gross thing and Devolver’s PR response (and any defense of “see they explained it later outside the text”) is bad, but the scrutiny seen here feels disingenuously two-faced when taken in the context of Waypoint’s recent actions, and utterly weakened by the appeal to spoiler culture.

Adherence to “no spoilers” guts critique regularly, but it’s especially destructive to sociopolitical critique. Even if it’s technically on-point, remaining vague opens a discussive vacuum, as even people who played or saw the spoiler may have overlooked it, and it otherwise leaves everyone else in the dark enough that they have to rely on other sources for what it could possibly be. This muddles discussion as much of it becomes people asking what the context is, and needing to rely on potentially deliberately misleading information or defensively subjective context.

I want to root for Waypoint a whole lot, but their lack of scrutiny of say, Persona’s sexualization of underage characters & demonization of LGBT, BotW’s transphobia or Super Mario Odyssey’s rampant racial othering, contrasted with their sudden scrutiny of this indie title revoking recommendation under a bizarre absolute appeal to not “spoiling” this game they say is ruined by this moment? It’s not a good look.

The most charitable thing i could say about this behaviour is that it’s juvenile, and I’m a person that actually does err on the side of believing those other games are utterly ruined by the presence of those elements, and that their competent execution ultimately culturally normalizes those horrible things, so even their “good elements” are unravelled into something more insidious. Ironically, it’s this outlook that made the publishing of the forced-feminization fanfiction so destructive to WP’s reputation for many marginalized readers, and until they apply the rigorous ideological scrutiny they claim to build their writing on–something many of us have been desperately searching for in games journalism for years–to themselves and accepted institutions within the industry as much as they do the unproven, they’re not going to be doing much to win those people back.

I hope this hasn’t come off as a hit post, I say all this as someone who believes and hopes they can and will do much better.

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I think worth reading is this review from a trans man. He goes deeper into the context and acknowledges it’s pretty bad (it really is), though winds up recommending it regardless.

I don’t fault anyone for being put off by this but this particular situation is definitely a storm of uncomfortable circumstances.

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There’s a lot to balance here and I appreciate that people are coming to a difficult conversation in good faith. I think it is absolutely true that big corporations seem to get a pass when smaller developers get scrutinized. Maybe this is because we expect less from this corporations and expect more from developers who are so clearly trying to do the right thing.

But I think that’s the thing. I would rather support a small team who tries and missteps, than a massive team that should obviously know better. And I think the frame of “should you buy this problematic game” is often demeaning and unhelpful, especially with such a small team.

This doesn’t mean that these games should not be criticized, but rather that critics should be careful to wield their power wisely and try to punch up rather than down. Unfortunately, I think this piece, or at least some of the framing around it, is punching down.

It’s a complicated thing, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer to how these things should be covered. But I do think that if we want to see a change in labor practices in Video Games and if we want to see more daring and artful depictions of complex issues, we have to deal with growing pains and fight the right targets.

I don’t know if this is super coherent, but I felt like I should say my piece. My experience with the waypoint community has been nothing but positive and I’m honestly grateful for these kind of conversations, even though they can be difficult.

edit: I reread the piece and there’s a lot to her writing overall, but I just feel sad and ashamed that something like Zelda didn’t get a similar write up, when it’s so obviously mean-spirited.

double edit: I think this thread is a good approach as well https://twitter.com/dialacina/status/955680136992645121

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I have beaten The Red Strings Club and know exactly the context in which this password is used.

Yes, deadnaming is wrong. But, within the context of the game, I felt like the use of it was appropriate for the character who used it as part of a password? The person whose password it is came across as a jerk in my playthrough. From what I saw, it also seemed like this person was almost a bit obsessed with the woman. This person deadnaming her in the password seemed more like something to indicate his morality.

I was much more disturbed by a conversation between the hacker using the woman’s voice with a member of HR. While the nuance with regard to the deadnaming seemed designed to reflect badly on the person who used her former name as the password, the HR conversation seemed inappropriate and unnecessary to me.

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Just finished playing the game & went to look for coverage on this specific in-game moment, so I’m a bit behind on what’s happened in this conversation already.

It’s incredibly jarring. In a cyberpunk fiction setting with implants, upgrades, corporations, revolutionary organizations, mass digital surveillance, etc, I can easily assume that choosing new names is a common & fairly boring facet of the world. Both Brandeis and Landon go by mononyms, as do others- Ariadne, Radhika. It’d be unsurprising to know that any (hell, every) character in this game changed their name multiple times.

Red Strings Club doesn’t explore this, they only bring it up once, specifically to deadname a trans character. It stands out and it sucks. The “context of the game” is bullshit- in context, you’re phishing, you’re collecting medical files, you’re impersonating others, sure. In the context of the game they don’t give you this sort of personal detail for any other character. It didn’t feel packaged as a shocking reveal but its treatment sure stands out. They don’t make you type out the CTO’s birthday or the lawyer’s alma mater. You have to tap out Larissa’s deadname in T9 letters on the phone to finish the story. There’s a fast-forward button, like most VN’s, but the player sure can’t miss this detail, because her deadname is the answer to a goddamn narrative puzzle. It sucks! That sucks!

It stands out by a mile and made me pause for a couple minutes to reevaluate the game as a whole. That also sucks, because I’ve been playing the gameplay dev pieces off itch.io for years. I like this game, I like a whole lot of what it does, I want it to get positive attention. This part of it sucks. I don’t doubt it was meant as explicit narrative representation in what is presented as a sex-and-gender positive universe but this was not the way to do that. Don’t deadname, ever. That’s a unilateral statement I can get behind- hopefully that we can all get behind. Even in the Red Strings Club world, this potentially sex-and-gender positive world, you don’t do it. We don’t live in that world, and that matters. The fact that we’ve got another Catherine game coming matters, the “trap” narrative matters, the Gerudo and BoTW matter, the lives of real actual trans women matter. So you don’t deadname.

That said, the way the game as a whole was dismissed as a result of that feels harsh, especially in comparison to kinder-toned coverage of bigger titles. I have a whole lot of respect for the Waypoint team and for Danielle, but there’s sometimes a gap in terms of who is held to what standards in their pieces. Should be some sort of retrospective discussion on that front, hopefully soon.

(addendum- worried about the intensity of backlash on this? conversation seems pretty misdirected to focus anger on coverage rather than on the far wider issue of transphobia in gaming, media as a whole. this game isn’t perfect, waypoint isn’t perfect, god knows neither devolver digital nor vice are perfect. calling for better work from all parties shouldn’t sideline into defending/attacking for the sake of it, and that seems like a lot of the conversation right now)

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A 7 hour old development that I guess makes me feel a little better about this.

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They should have gotten a comment from the devs before running the story at the very least. It’s a bit irresponsible for a journalist not to do that. Especially since it seems like the dev isn’t trying to be shitty. It sounds like a mistake and even it being a very bad one to people I have some trouble with the absolute dismissal of the entire game based on a presumably unintentional misstep.

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A friend and I were having an in-depth conversation about it, and a lot of the things about this game and Danielle’s feelings about it come across better on the recent episode of Waypoint Radio we both listened to. I think a lot of the feelings about this particular thing in opposition to the whole transphobia issue with Breath of the Wild, is partially because this game does most of it’s dealing with sexuality well. To me, that might be the reason why it may have hurt more more to see this from a game that attempts to come at other aspects of sexuality fairly, but messes this up just when it’s nearing the finish line.

The Red Strings Club is a lot more about gender and sexuality than BotW, which no one would go to for progressive content about either of those subjects. That isn’t to excuse it, at all though, and it’s not like everyone gave BotW a free pass for the Gerudo content. Paste did a good piece about it, Kotaku had another, and there’s a pretty decent piece on the places you can interpret transness In Gerudo Town on Let’s Play Video Games. These all come up the moment that you do a Google search. I expect a lot from Waypoint, but I don’t expect them to cover every topic, especially when other sites have covered it already.

BotW’s moment of transphobia does matter and it is shit, but I think that shifting the conversation over to “Well, but this game was also transphobic” isn’t actually helping the discussion revolving around this completely different game.

Do I think The Red Strings Club should be completely panned for this while other transphobic games get a free pass? Absolutely not. It’s not fair to give big names a pass for fucking up in a way more massive way, but panning a game that makes a single misstep. However, even if both companies had an explanation for it, that doesn’t make them exempt from criticism, and that doesn’t invalidate people who are upset over this.

Along the same vein, Waypoint as a website is situated around games and the meaningful interactions people have with them. To treat what Danielle wrote as a big important news piece that’s going to completely tank this game’s sales seems a little odd to me. It reads like an Opinion piece, with all that entails. That, combined with her words on Waypoint Radio, make this very much about how she felt when discovering that detail in the game. You don’t need to turn to the developers of a game (which Devolver Digital is not, they’re a publisher) whenever you write an opinion piece on something. While the contact she’s having with them could lead into a follow-up article that is a proper interview explaining why this moment was included in the game, that doesn’t invalidate the feelings she expressed in her original piece.

That’s my take on it, considering all the stuff that’s come out so far.

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Just for clarification: the trans person who contacted Danielle on Twitter is the musician on Deconstructeam and not someone who is only part of the publisher. [Edit: and no, you don’t generally need to contact anyone to write an opinion piece, but I think it would have made the piece stronger in this case because I think Waypoint hasn’t fully earned credibility on this issue.]

I agree with a lot of what you’ve said (except I don’t think the article was worse than the podcast). I suspect a lot of the criticism of the article comes specifically from the “do not buy” recommendation in the podcast, which was more of an impulsive take after having been put on the spot than a nuanced analysis. I think there are some parallels between Waypoint’s shortcomings and this game’s: both seem well-intentioned, both are relatively rare for tackling these topics at all, and both are imperfect.

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I was talking about Devolver Digital using their official twitter to contact Danielle before that developer also made contact. On the part of DD (not the developer that contacted Danielle later, to be completely clear on this), I think it was kind of an unprofessional move on their part, especially with the way they phrased their grievance.

I saw Danielle’s article go up, finished it in five minutes, and then went back and their tweet was literally the first reply I saw. It’s like they saw someone who, on an article that warned for spoilers and content, put forth a valid reason she disliked a portion of their game, then immediately jumped the gun. It feels like they were concerned about someone panning their game soon after release, so they tried to do damage control in a pretty slapdash way.

(In terms of article vs. podcast in tone, what I meant was that the podcast comes across as more damning, but a lot more nuance can be lost in the medium of text.)

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Oh, for sure. I think we’re all in agreement that Devolver Digital’s Twitter response was bad.

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i mean like, they didn’t even say not to buy it. they just said like, be warned if you do choose to buy it. also the article made it pretty clear that the reason this felt so egregious is bc it was a significant moment that felt directly at odds with what the game was trying to do. whereas the botw thing was one unfortunate but thematically/narratively inconsequential moment. also like, botw being brought up at all here feels pretty irrelevant?? idk, i feel like some people are really seriously reaching here. (and before anybody says anything, yes i am a trans girl.)

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I’ll be honest. I don’t have a well-formed opinion about this article. I would need to think about it more. Instead, I want to spend a moment responding to this specific post. And I’m going to do so because I am legitimately upset and hurt, and I would feel sick to my stomach if I didn’t respond to this post. I will do my best to not be attacking you, but I need people to understand this comes from a very bad place.

Throughout this post, you talk a lot about not really knowing much about trans culture or trans communities. May I kindly suggest that if you don’t know anything about a group of marginalized people, you should never weigh in with your opinions about how they best be represented. I refuse to imagine some hypothetical scenario where it is okay to deadname me. I don’t care how you bend over backward to justify it. Fuck. That.

I could explain to you my daily experiences with deadnaming and the myriad ways they’ve hurt me. I could explain how I don’t want to explore that in fiction. But here’s the core of the matter: if you don’t know about trans experiences and freely admit that you don’t know about trans experiences, then you should not be constructing some hypothetical game where it’s okay to hurt trans people. Follow trans people on twitter. Listen to podcasts by trans people. Read books by trans people. Listen to our experiences and our lives. Don’t you ever try to explain why it is sometimes okay to hurt us in ways you won’t ever understand.

Too often, people want to opine about the lives of marginalized people when they don’t know anything about them. I’m sick of it. If you genuinely care about the lives and experiences of trans people, don’t try to tell us why it’s sometimes maybe okay to deadname. Instead, listen to trans people talk about their feelings, try to understand as best you can, and also accept that unless you are trans and live our experiences, you shouldn’t have opinions on things like this. Especially such ill-considered and hurtful ones.

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Innes has some important context of the human cost of using the “one of our developers is trans” defense here: https://twitter.com/innesmck/status/955725915803324416

I think it’s important to keep that in mind when discussing this. The last thing I want on here of all places is someone’s identity being a lynchpin of discussion.

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Also I think I’m the only mod awake right now so let me just say that I’m expecting everyone to stay in their lanes here, and to DM me or flag a post if there’s something you need addressing.

This is absolutely a rule 1 focused discussion and we as a team will be enforcing heavily.

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Ye, I think this conversation will continue to happen (good thing we’re all used to stories about unending cycles from games because we sure are living them) because it’s hard to reconcile ignoring that Nintendo HR took orders from GamerGate less than two years ago and never actually did anything to show they’d realised how big an error they made (seriously, Intel tried to backpedal their dropping of an ad campaign via announcing a $300m diversity hiring campaign including scholarships). Then everyone quietly forgot that happened and ask “but how do we deal with this news in relation to playing Quantic Dream’s output?” and the answer would appear to be that most are only too eager to forget some things while not others and possibly the conversation needs to be more about why some corporations are given such little sustained pushback.

Devolver have definitely not done a great job of responding but this has to be looked at in a broader context of the critical landscape where some groups seem to keep getting given a pass. I would be very interested in reading an artist’s statement from this small indie team talking about their intent in including this content, which seems like something the publisher could have pivoted towards (possibly arranging with Waypoint to get it reprinted as an article here too) rather than going straight to public channels.

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Also after publishing Mother Russia Bleeds I’m not exactly brimming with goodwill for Devolver.

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That’s a bananas take right there that ignores the entire concept of criticism to its very core. That’s like saying you can’t review a movie until you ask the director about every single creative decision.

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Yeah that is perfectly fair.

I kinda love them because they have similar aesthetics and focuses as [adult swim] does (if we ever get a game remotely like 12 oz mouse, it will be from Devolver) and let developers do some truly wild and creative things. But that established culture also has a ton of crap hidden behind the cool colors and experimentation.

I mean, remember when [adult swim] somehow let a group of nazi make a show for several episodes before canning it? Devolver has never fucked up as bad as that, but they have similar problems of not thinking about implications and if rather gross content always has genuine artistic merit.

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People seem to be acting like Danielle is actively encouraging a boycott of an indie game, when really its about a transphobic moment at the end makes it a hard recommend. If I was playing at game and came to that I’d probably make the same decision. We don’t need to be out here sinking the careers of indies for small mistakes, yeah, but this isn’t a small one. I’m sure Devolver will recover, but only if they get in front of this and handle being criticized responsibly.

Full disclosure: I am cis, but I know better than to out a trans person without their consent, fictional or not.

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