We Talked to the 'The Red Strings Club' Devs About Queer Art and Intention


#1

This piece contains story spoilers for The Red Strings Club, and a content warning for transphobia.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/wjp9pz/red-strings-club-intention-queer-art

#2

I think the last line of this piece will be read as condescending. I was pretty angry upon reading it, tbh.


#3

While we cannot and do not know the scope of developers, journalists, and forum posters’ lives, we do expect people to act with basic courtesy that topics that pertain to marginalization are addressed by the people who have to deal with the effects of such, if they choose to. This is not a space absent of consideration, and where these things are theoretical and will let anyone with zero experience feel comfortable to weigh in.


#4

I’m happy to see this follow-up. I had a much (much) longer comment written up for the other thread, but now that this is up, all I want to say at the moment is I’m glad that this interview gives additional context.


#5

Yeah I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to mean but it comes off as… dismissive?


#6

So if nothing else came out of this Austin Walker retweeted two good twitter threads.

and

While I really didn’t like the original article and as pointed out part of this new one feels dismissive what the developer wrote here and on twitter and these other threads do have some valuable things to say about game development and being trans.


#7

It good that the devs followed up on their take and clear most things up. I think there still a lot a work to do on conversation on Trans implementation, whether it coming from the devs, critics, and all around.


#8

I don’t really feel equipped to say more than this, but I will say similarly think the new article ends a little dismissively? It honestly feels kinda rough/rushed overall, which makes sense given the need for it to be out fast, but I wish the discussion with the devs and the reflection on it were a little more substantial.


#9

I can’t shake the feeling that the developers didn’t expect any kind of pushback.

The characterization of Danielle’s read as “misinterpretation” rather than as something they didn’t expect is just… troubling to me as an artist. If you put your work out into the public without explicitly stating your intent you have to expect that some people aren’t going to see thing the same way you do, and you have to accept that it’s a valid interpretation if you didn’t include context in the work itself.


#10

Point about how to manage a reveal and why it’s not something that is necessarily something that should be opened on for some marginalised groups:


#11

Frankly I would be fine with that if Danielle hadn’t written the article as though she has authority to judge this particular matter that doesn’t meaningfully effect her in her day-to-day life. It’s wrriten to sound like an authoritative judgement and her response to the backlash sounds like she expects she should be free from reproach. I don’t like the tone of her approach to it one bit.


#12

tbh I read their response as surprised that she missed the context that they considered vital.

In general, this whole kerfluffle has reinforced my belief that the first step in any social justice issue is to listen to affected parties if their experiences differ from my own.


#13

Thank you for linking this, since I’d missed it on my own TL. I had been wondering if anyone had addressed the other part of what Danielle originally brought up - that this felt like a way of revealing the character was trans at all - since it does sorta feel like the devs didn’t expect that?


#14

I hope it’s okay for me to make my first post on Waypoint forums here? But I really wanted to say that having read this follow-up, I agree with the sentiment around the last line. It made me angry, too.

The article had felt a bit… contentious in tone, to me? Not overwhelmingly so, but enough that I was getting antsy to see the note it’d end on. I wasn’t expecting that final line, though. I felt it came out of left field? There’s no acknowledgement of the criticism of a perceived double standard. Just a one sentence response to the criticism at the very end of the article. It feels extremely dismissive to me.

There’s also no follow-up on the “hypersexualized transwoman [sic]” bit in the first article, which was what had really bothered me about it. The fact that Danielle wanted “to celebrate all of” the character, until she found out the character was trans. Hypersexualized trans women (it’s a small thing in the overall picture, by the way, but trans is an adjective, and transwoman is frowned upon as a noun) are a problem of trans portrayal in media, yes. But that doesn’t mean trans women in media shouldn’t be allowed to be lusty in a game that seems to have a lot of lust, especially if a trans woman is such a big part of the creative process behind it. I really hoped that would be addressed a bit, here.

I’ve really loved Waypoint, but these two articles in combination have really rubbed me the wrong way. I hope this criticism is acceptable from an outsider to the community, but I felt I wanted to say something about this, and didn’t know another way to do so.


#15

This is something I can’t comment on explicitly as I haven’t played the game but if people didn’t read the context a creator considers vital that might reflect a problem with the context itself. It’s happened to me several times, believe me.

If deadnaming a character felt like it was a reveal, then it was a reveal regardless of intention. Their defensiveness and desire to explain why they’re right and a reviewer is wrong isn’t a bad thing, really, but it shows that they didn’t expect to run into any kind of criticism, and quite frankly, are unsure how to respond to it.

I should say that I’m not 100% behind Waypoint on this. I do agree with the assertions that there’s an uncomfortable air of authority over this article, but I also think that exists to say that critical interpretation is removed from creative intent. Though it does complicate the fact that both of those things are valid.


#16

I haven’t played the game either so I can’t give you an explicit answer either way, tbh.

On the one hand, maybe the context isn’t adequately explained, and it becomes a reveal that it shouldn’t have been.

On the other hand, sometimes people simply miss things, and that doesn’t mean that it’s the fault of the creator. I think we’ve all had discussions about media with people who it turned out simply missed a key piece of information, which affects their takeaway. We’ve all been that person ourselves, too!


#17

I can see this as similar to how many see the development of Naoto from Persona 4 as some saw Naoto as trans but base on how Atlus written Naoto is may not. That said it possible that the context wasn’t forward enough to make it clear, leading to a misunderstanding.


#18

100% with you on this, but if this is the case I wish the developers would mention what was missed within the content of the actual game, not just in their personal interpretation of their work, because then that means there’s a factual error in Danielle’s critique that must be acknowledged.

Arguing interpretation often results in people arguing in circles, unless one interpretation is so wild and out of left field it doesn’t stick. In this case I 100% trust that the devs meant no ill will, and I trust Danielle’s reading of the sequence as valid (to be clear: valid, but not the most valid. I have some problems that I think have been put more eloquently by people in this thread) until I can play the game myself and get my own read on it, or better yet, read reviews by trans writers and see what they have to say.


#19

This is a long one, so sorry about that.

During the whole process of discourse I’ve been thinking a lot about this section from Tevis Thompson’s excellent essay The Existential Art:

"But let’s be real about the stakes here. Subjectivity is all well and good until someone else’s subjectivity comes along and shits on something you love. Subjectivity means difference, and difference threatens. To truly own your subjectivity is to recognize the equally valid subjectivity of others, but the disparity this admits is inherently fraught. We so often talk about diversity as if it’s all about inclusivity and our colorful array of differences, as in a certain coke commercial. But our differences are not shallow, papering over some deep universal subjectivity. That is just another version of objectivity, one that would treat individual subjectivity as incidental, a mere detail, instead of the main event that it is.

When differences inevitably arise and favorite games are attacked, many critics like to question why players get so upset in the first place (at least until their own favorites are on the chopping block). They feign bafflement at such personal identification and act as if being critical while simultaneously loving a game is some magical formula for gaming enlightenment. But players are not wrong to care, and a cultivated distance is not the solution to the problem of loving videogames. This is yet another preemptive flight into objectivity, and a misunderstanding of the personal roots of criticism itself. A desperate truce between gaming love and gaming criticism neuters both and avoids the real questions posed by videogames. It is but a temporary cease-fire masquerading as maturity, a renewed commitment to the steady-state of mild engagement, seeking comfort instead of challenge, preservation rather than riot.

No, actually dealing with difference is hard, and necessarily so. It requires not cool heads and muted zeal but honest engagement, sincerity and vulnerability, the possibility of being wrong, of having to change. It requires genuine curiosity and courage. Ask yourself: How much do you really want to hear about another’s experience? Especially if it’s completely different than yours. What if it suggests yours is incomplete or misguided or simply wrong? Can your experience itself be wrong? Would it then still be yours? Would you want it to be?"

I think, in this process, it’s important to acknowledge the validity of multiple subjective experiences and to take to heart the possibility that we could be wrong. The process surrounding this article is painful and difficult and there isn’t an easy way out. We have to embrace this difficultly and move forward with it. As a culture, we are remarkably ill-equipped to do so, which I think much of the discourse surrounding these two articles shows.

I want trans voices and trans perspectives and I want Danielle’s too. I certainly don’t think that cis people should never comment or object to this kind of content or that they should pull criticism because of the identity of developers. However, I think we need to allow different voices and debate to structure games criticism. We are so quick to establish narratives about things: The Last Jedi isn’t star wars or it’s good feminism or it’s a poorly structured movie, things that in isolation might help form important points or opinions, but quickly become talking points in massive cultural narratives that obscure the real thing, and the various individuals who engage with it.

mcc’s thread, quoted above by @mogwaiinjustice, articulates this really well. We are terrified of nuance and the problem of subjectivity and we do so much to run away from it. This article is a step in the right direction, and although I’m not sure that a critic should hold back from their thoughts and feelings, I do think that that Danielle could have left the door more open for other voices.

Conversations like these bring us closer to more fully understanding how to grapple with subjectivity and nuance and I hope we can keep having them. Especially because they are painful and difficult.

TL:DR Be kind and bold and brave and listen to others. Subjectivity is a profoundly hard thing that our culture is ill-equipped to deal with, but conversations like these can help us forward.

btw @SlothFacts You’re welcome to be here! I think we need more voices and I hope you’ll keep commenting, as long as it is healthy and does good for you. I enjoyed your thoughts and think that every community should allow criticism from “outsiders.”


#20

In all situations pertaining to trans representation, you would be better off with a trans person’s point of view on the matter, but the assumption there is that a publication staff will know ahead of time if the work in question contains an exploration of trans social strife.

If me, a white dude, was assigned to review This is the Police, I would very likely point out the game’s questionable depictions of marginalized communities and seeming refusal to engage with the topic of police violence towards black citizens. I would have no real personal experience with either of those subjects, but their mishandling would still be noticeable enough to be pointed out.

(this is not a 1-to-1 comparison in any way, This is the Police is a game that deliberately puts in little effort to tackle the larger politics around it, whereas The Red Strings Club depicts a moment of outright disrespect to a trans character as a means of conveying the discomfort of a lived-in experience for trans people)