That Gaming Handheld With a Crank Asked a Queer Games Showcase to Change Its Name

Playdate is an LA-based video game showcase with a lineup of creations described by its organizers as as “feminist, queer, weird, and wonderfully experimental.” It’s been going on for years, and the 2019 event wrapped up earlier this year. It’s the kind of place where off-kilter game makers actually produce the kind of art-driven, commercially unviable work that many people claim to wish there were more of.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xzvn5/that-gaming-handheld-with-a-crank-asked-a-queer-games-showcase-to-change-its-name-playdate
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It is ultimately impossible for something like this to work out in the favor of these small, diverse creators. White tech bros can apologize and even be legitimately well intentioned (not saying they are, but they could theoretically be), but it is easy and profitable for them to hijack this aesthetic. They’ll do it because it’s good business. Note, I’m talking about the manufacturers here, not the developers.

Capitalism ruins what’s good, that’s just how it goes.

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My main output on the internet is Wikipedia and one of its primary tenets is to Assume Good Faith. It’s not always followed but its primacy as a policy guideline creates the baseline for behavior on the site. I think a lot of anxiety and anguish over this situation could have been avoided all around if more people assumed good intent first.

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Can you clarify what you mean by “hijack this aesthetic”?

I feel like “assume good faith” is kind of hard when that email linked above 100% reads like a threat of legal action hiding behind a bunch of saccharine language and tech-bro patronizing. It’s like one step away from saying '"“we’ll get our bappy paws lawwers involved uwu”" imo

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What I’ve been getting from the (admittedly limited) scope of conversation has been confusing me, because the problem as I see it has very little to do with Panic or Playdate Pop-up.

(also, a note on something I think is worth saying: there were concerns about the game being “very white cishet male” and i’ve seen some marginalized devs say “hello, we are here”, so I think we at least should acknowledge their existence? Which is not to say the problem doesn’t exist. there’s a huge bias towards those kinds of people when it comes to Weird Auteur Game Developers™ and how they are seen)

Maybe it’s because I am always wanting to assume the best in people, or maybe it’s because I wasn’t really in the position any of the organizers who are speaking about this, or maybe it’s because I’m in the closet so often don’t have to put up with this kind of stuff, but what I’ve seen of interaction seems genuine. I’m also trying to sift out any of the excitement I feel for the product itself (even if Playdate is admittedly, not even a good name for it). It feels kind of weird to me the way I’ve seen some people characterize Caleb Sasser. It seems more to me that they’re is just fumbling this part completely. Everything I have seen, which I will stress is based entirely on front-facing interactions, has come off as just blissfully ignorant of the power they exude.

And I say this because everything Sasser has been saying… sounds a few hairs off from something I could have written. But the key thing is that I don’t hold the kind of power Panic does.

Look: I’m not saying Sasser/Panic didn’t screw up. I’m not saying they aren’t continuing to screw up. I’m definitely not saying they’re screw ups do not continue to have a negative affect on Playdate Pop-up, and I’m definitely not saying they shouldn’t have known better.
I am going to hold Panic accountable and expect improvement. I am glad to see Sasser respond openly and seem open to criticism, and I deeply hope that those criticisms are being taken to heart.

As Nathalie Lawhead and EMi have seem to have been saying, has less to do with Sasser or Panic as individual actors, but as actors within a culture that is routinely enables them to squash anything they see fit. Panic doesn’t seem to want to do that, but any action between a threatened and marginalized party is going to have that power looming over it every step of the way. And attempts to downplay that seem passive-aggressive and condescending.

I think it is incredibly unproductive to assume bad faith here. I mean this genuinely: it is more important to me to discuss what people with substantial amounts of power and good intentions are supposed to do in this situation, rather than just chock it up to them actually being Machiavellian bastard-people. Because I don’t know the answer to that question. And at the very least, we could listen to what Nathalie Lawhead explicitly requested: I hope this conversation remains civil. This is an important one to have. The issues, concerns, and questions both Nathalie and EMi have put forward are too important to discard.

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It’s only “saccharine language and tech-bro patronizing” if you assume bad faith. When I read it, I see self-effacing modesty and trying to convey meaning diplomatically while still trying to get noticed and responded to as a cold-email from a random person. If I’m busy running around trying to organize an event, it would take a pretty forceful email for it to register to me as something that needs a response, especially if it’s from someone I don’t know.

I think the point is that it doesn’t matter if the initial email was in bad or good faith, the power dynamic is entirely in Panic’s favor. When a tiny group with no money gets asked, however politely, to change their name by a larger company it is inherently a legal threat whether it was intended or not. If I was trying to organize an event and there was even the slightest chance that I could get sued out of existence I would take that extremely seriously.

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I kind of nested this in my comment but I wanna make sure others see the thread EMi, a Playdate Pop-Up organizer, made:

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So therefore never email and also blindside the event by announcing your thing that has blown their thing out of the water? I don’t think that’s a categorical solution to the problem either.

It is puzzling to me why this is happening now, instead of in May 2018 when the first email was sent. Did it never get responded to? Did negotiations break down? What happened there? Why is it only a big deal now that Panic announced their thing? It’s tough to trace the provenance and timeline of events on twitter and it bears more investigation before we break out the pitchforks. Again, assume good faith.

Not getting into an argument with someone that demands good faith from others but has none to give.

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Ah yes, asking for more information is bad faith. You got me, I’m a shithead.

I think you are misunderstanding @Atlas. I believe they were saying that Panic, a company, explicitly suggesting Playdate Pop-up should change its name is always going to be read as threatening. They didn’t have to request that, there are plenty of different solutions, but they did it instead, and it was read as very threatening.

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I understand that the request is always going to be read as threatening, even if not intended to, when there exists this power differential. But I don’t think that’s a reason to categorically ban requests in which one party has more power than another for fear of being threatening, or else that’s the end of asking for things.

In this case, Panic wanted Playdate Pop Up to change their name. We can criticize Panic for presuming that the name should belong to them. We should criticize our intellectual property system that implicitly drove them to file a trademark for a dictionary word, which is gross but common in late capitalism. I’m not ready to follow you to the point where we advocate for people to speak to each other LESS and communicate their wants to each other LESS.

Under this schema, there is no possible email that could both contain the request AND not be threatening and therefore become verboten. Let’s examine a counterfactual. Let’s say Panic’s first email was an invitation to partner with Playdate to launch a micro console. This is illegal because Panic has more power and Playdate would feel pressured into accepting. Let’s say Panic’s first email is an offer of money in exchange for not suing when they launch their console. This is illegal because Panic has more power and Playdate would feel pressured into accepting. Do you see where I’m going with this? I don’t think we can tut-tut at our computers and pretend our hot takes don’t have implications if you actually try to fit them into a coherent worldview.

uh, “don’t use your power to make it harder for marginalized communities to exist in spaces where you hold power” is very much a coherent worldview. Asking people to be considerate to begin with isn’t really a big ask here, especially when they eventually got there after talking with folks. Even IN good faith, the initial email was asking Playdate to change their name because otherwise they WOULD have to go to court. You can’t divorce yourself from the power dynamics at play just because you ask nicely. The fact that they got to a place where they realized what that request was is a bigger indictment to their actions, because it shows they can understand, but just didn’t try to.

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The alternative you’re envisioning is no email, no heads up, no warning, that the very act of communicating is threatening. A world in which people communicate less and respectfully express their desires to each other less is a worse world, IMO. Am I critical of Panic for their approach here? Yes, absolutely. But that’s not the prescriptive rule being bandied about here.

No, the alternative I’m envisioning is that Panic decides on a different name, knowing that coming for that name would be EXTREMELY harmful to the small game pop up. Or, they don’t mention it! They ignore Playdate and move on. Working from the idea that Panic gets to have that name because they copyrighted it, doesn’t seem too critical to me.

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…No, the alternative we’re (or, at least, I am) envisioning would be things like:

  • “Would you like us to change our name?”
  • “Do you think this will be a problem for your event?”
  • or nothing, because they view it as a non-issue
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And I agree with you on the specifics of this case! Those are all good things Panic should have done! I only bristle at the suggestion that it is Good that people communicate less, as I find that it leads to more situations where nice things only exist by the grace of capitalist stewards who choose not to crush them.

even if we’re to assume it was sent in ignorance but also good faith I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch for anything in that email to be read in bad faith when a lot of it is fake-woke cutesy self deprecation and basically telling a marginalized group that they would be inconvenienced by the fact their event and Panic’s product share a name. This is a threat of legal action marred in corporate techie doublespeak.

From what Lawhead and others have shared it seems like Sasser owned up to that, so lets say we can assume good faith at this point, but we also have to criticize the language in that original email which is both ignorant of the corporate power Panic wields and extremely threatening to a marginalized group. Sasser/Panic should be held accountable for that. The intention of the email is only a small part of this conversation imo, and it’s probably more important to think about the level of privilege afforded to Sasser by default in this dynamic that allows him to assume that his email could be read as at all non-threatening.

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