Red power

Sometimes I play games, and either enjoy them or don’t, then contentedly put them away or angrily post about them on the Internet. Usually it’s one of those two things.

Rarer times a game will, like some sort of irresistible alien parasite, take up 24/7 residence in my head. The first of these was Mechwarrior: Mercenaries. Others include Starsiege: Tribes, Everquest, and Planetside. As I grew older it happened less often that a game would have me by the brain stem, which is mostly for the best–although I look back on those games and the time I spent with them fondly.

The last time it happened I was a grown-ass man, though, with responsibilities. I would do everything a grown man does, like go to work, and do laundry, and pay bills, but my mind was always elsewhere, inside the game. That game was, of course, Minecraft. Though the fever seems to have run its course, I still start it up occasionally and muck about.

The NYT has an excellent article up about the Minecraft phenomenon, mostly focusing on the children who play it. The article correctly perceives that the endgame of Minecraft is not about accumulating diamond swag or building a golden phallus. It’s about an abundant resource which can only be turned into something more valuable through thought and effort. Which is to say, it’s about everything, and redstone in particular:

But I first started to glimpse how complex Minecraft culture can be when I saw what kids were doing with what’s called “redstone,” the game’s virtual wiring. My two sons had begun using it: Zev, who is 8, showed me an automated “piston door” and stone gateway he built. Gabriel, who is 10, had created a “minigame” whose actions included a mechanism that dropped anvils from a height, which players on the ground had to dodge.

The kids in the article are a damn precocious lot. The genius of Minecraft, and especially redstone, is how it forces the user to make their own goals and focuses the mind on their execution. In what other forum, past or present, were children as young as 8 and 10 able to impress other kids with their mastery of Boolean logic?

For our young would-be computer scientists, Minecraft provides a path upwards too. It’s written in Java, is driven by simple art, and the modding scene could best be described as ‘incandescent.’ Java is widely recognized as a good first programming language to learn, platform independent, and very much inside the potential understanding of anyone who can build a novel redstone machine.

This changes everything!

The slowpokes at The Diplomat–hey, they’re The Diplomat, not The Soldier–have cottoned on to the notion of variable fusing in this breathless article: Will This Weapon Change Infantry Warfare Forever?

(By the way, a useful axiom states that all headlines ending in a question mark must be answered no.)

Weapons like this have appeared in video games before. I am in particular thinking of the PK-74 AR-Rocket attachment in Battlefield 2142. I played 2142 for a few great months after its release, and it remains my favorite entry in the series. Essentially, the PK-74 had a distance finder which activated when zoomed in, then the player could mouse wheel in or out to increment the distance at which the rockets would explode. A full salvo of PK-74 right over a hiding player’s head was basically a kill every time. I remember being surprised when it didn’t work.

Throughout the launch of the game and for months afterwards the PK-74 was a hidden gem of a weapon. I would look out in the kill spam for other users of the weapon, trying to gauge whether it was catching on, and hardly ever saw it. Players either didn’t know or didn’t care how it worked, in spite of its devastating effectiveness.

It didn’t help that, if you just pointed it at someone and fired, it would do absolutely nothing. I imagine a lot of people attempted to use it and just gave up. The game, of course, didn’t really tell anyone how to do it. I bet another fraction of people figured out that it exploded at a distance, but never saw why that was useful.

It was simple: if you hunkered down and hid behind a Jersey barrier, you were chum to a proper user of this thing. An easier kill than if you were running in the open. If there is anything games have taught me, it’s that modern warfare consists mostly of hiding behind Jersey barriers, so any weapon that takes the piss out of that strategy is going to rule the battlefield for sure.

Will the real weapon work like that? Eh. All I know is that it’s high time for another Battlefield game set in the future, where there are robots that walk as a man does.

Mirror Test

Another lady writer with a chip on her shoulder takes up the burden to cleanse viyda gamers of their sinful thoughts. How? By doing her job poorly and draining the humanity out of the new Baldur’s Gate. Here’s what she has to say for herself over on some rag called Kotaku:

“If there was something for the original Baldur’s Gate that just doesn’t mesh for modern day gamers like the sexism, [we tried to address that],” said writer Amber Scott. “In the original there’s a lot of jokes at women’s expense. Or if not a lot, there’s a couple, like Safana was just a sex object in BG 1, and Jaheira was the nagging wife and that was played for comedy. We were able to say like, ‘No, that’s not really the kind of story we want to make.’ In Siege of Dragonspear, Safana gets her own little storyline, she got a way better personality upgrade. If people don’t like that, then too bad.”

Let it be known that a joke must never be at the expense of a woman. Which is really discriminatory if you think about it, since that would put Tina Fey out of work.

I assume Miss Scott is engaging in a bit of classical projection; most women are able to understand that not every woman who appears in media is intended to stand in for them.

What has actually happened is that Scott and her comrades have discovered a way for a human of average intelligence to fail the Mirror Test. It’s not enough to stand in front of a mirror and say the reflection is yours–if another person stands in front of the mirror and you say their reflection is yours, that’s a false positive. It’s a pitiable depth of solipsism as well, since we are to assume that it isn’t enough for you to be you, but everyone else must be you as well. Fictional characters? They’re definitely you, and if there is one thing you know about you (and you would know best!) it’s that you can’t really take a joke.

Perhaps there will be no jokes at the expense of men either, in which case that’s a job done for the egalitarians. Finally our perfect, humorless society is nigh, as Muhammad (peace be upon xer) intended.

One of the reasons I dread SJW writers-on-board is that they’re just plain bad at what they do. Even when they aren’t dropping political anvils, their infantile worldview and enforced ignorance of the Western canon naturally leads to works with all the stylistic and thematic depth of a Saturday morning cartoon. Their dialog especially tends to be absurd, dull, or awkward. The less said about their gutless, anodyne attempts at humor the better.

Maybe that’s why they write for video games. The writing level was already so low they figured no one would notice if they made it a little worse. For the most part they seem to be right.

That SJWs can’t write fiction is no surprise. Totalitarianism always produces that kind of garbage art because it substitutes orthodoxy for truth, and they have instituted a totalitarian regime inside of their own heads. If we’re all very lucky and eat our vegetables, that’s where it stays.

“Socially Responsible” Skylines

abandoned-wind-turbines-2

One of the goals of the new elite is to harness the power of games to educate people—or most honestly, to indoctrinate them. They believe that games have the power to impart values and that these values should be socially responsible. This isn’t a terrible position on the face of it, until you see that they are not simply talking about protecting the malleable minds of growing children. In their world not even grown men are capable of standing up to heretical materials. What ideas are currently the most dangerous is constantly changing, but never changes is that there are always people demanding that art become propaganda.

Games do have a potential to educate adults and children alike, and as such I do believe that they have a responsibility to portray the world in a reasonably accurate way. Which is just to say that I prefer my art to be as truthful as possible. Unfortunately for ideologues both right and left, truth isn’t a political concept. So when an ideologue tells you that a game should be socially responsible, what he is saying is that it should be propaganda to suit his ends.

When a game purposefully bends the truth or even simply lies about a real world concept to suit the political ends of the developers or third parties the developers are attempting to please, it’s worth pointing out.

Cities: Skylines arrived in 2015 like a bolt of lightning, bringing the corpse of city building games back to life. The Sim City series was near and dear to my heart when growing up, and the level of affection and nostalgia I have for it is similar to what I imagine a lifelong console gamer must feel towards Mario. It is a brilliant game on the whole, and a fine rebuke to Maxis for their ill-conceived attempts to reboot the Sim City franchise by gutting it and packing the husk full of garbage that no one asked for.

Despite my high opinion of the game, I have a small issue with Skylines in that, unlike the Sim City series, the developers have chosen to make wind turbines completely reliable and to have high wind zones situated basically everywhere. The result is that, rather than portraying wind power as it is used in real life, it is a staple power source from the start of the game. It is in fact the best way to power a fledgling city.

A child playing Skylines or a low-information adult might come away from the game with a false impression about wind power and how it is useful. Gone also is the sense of accomplishment from advancing from cheap and dirty power sources to expensive and clean ones. There’s almost no reason to use dirty energy sources at all—how does that even make sense from a gameplay perspective? How are we supposed to feel good about banishing pollution from our city and overcoming complex green power logistics if it was never an issue from the start?

Since the game is so detailed and well designed in many other ways, I can only assume this decision was made for political reasons. It’s a mark against an otherwise fantastic title. Someone who played Sim City, which portrayed wind power technology in a relatively realistic fashion, knows at least some of the pitfalls of attempting to power a city that way. He comes away from the game with a better impression of how the world works than he had previously. The player of Skylines, however, is worse off on that particular point than someone who knows nothing.

This is what happens when people decide that games must advance a particular agenda—they become less truthful and the gameplay suffers. What’s socially responsible for an artist is to tell people the truth as you understand it, not to manipulate them.

Hardpoints, Timidity, and Destiny

 

abd
Take your pick.

You have seen the movie before: aliens arrive who seem to have the best interests of humanity at heart, but it turns out they really want to devour us or whatever. Or maybe some dope in a government lab mixed up the flask with the horrible supervirus in it with his Earl Gray and before the end of the first act the whole world has major zombie troubles. In the end it’s not about the zombies, but the people. I lost track of the metaphor; the point I wanted to make is that the we live in a taxonomically different epoch in which the date is not 2016 A.D. but 15 A.D.E—After Deus Ex, the year in which our lord and savior J.C. Denton revealed the Word that RPG mechanics make everything better. Destiny and its 2015 expansion The Taken King are the new evangelists on the scene for shooters-which-are-also-sort-of-rpgs.

Events have largely borne out the glory of the Word, but like any religion there comes a time when the priesthood grows decadent and their vices must be named and numbered. I have two main points to tack up, both of which are not unique to Destiny but which fuse together there to cover it in a thick cloud of mediocrity. The first of these is something we’ll call hardpointing.

On modern warplanes there are specific places on the airframe called hardpoints which are designed to mount various kinds of external gear: fuel tanks, bombs, missiles, cameras, and so on. In addition to having a really bitchin’ name, hardpoints are ideal as game mechanics because of the way they induce the player to make real trade-offs in their capabilities. As a mechanic it’s one of the few cases in which reality, which most sane people regard as virtually unplayable, appears to have a balanced design.

Hardpoints, therefore, have enjoyed a long history in the games we play, and not just because our childhood dreams of becoming a jet pilot were quashed by astigmatism. For the purposes of this post a hardpoint is when a new, different ability can be gained only by sacrificing another. It is a subset of slot, because changing what is in a slot usually doesn’t involve giving another capability up. Hardpoints are so successful that designers, as they have in Destiny, often now extend them to include skills a character supposedly has in his head. That’s obviously pretty silly, but as we said earlier game mechanics don’t have to be realistic, and this is especially true to the extent that reality kind of sucks.

So if hardpoints are great, how are they ever a vice? It’s easy to see if you just reverse the trait that makes them a good mechanic to begin with: meaningful trade-offs. With rare exception, new abilities in Destiny arrive with the sound of a wet fart, because we know that not only are they hardpointed—we’ll have to give up something that is probably perfectly fine to get them—they won’t change anything about our relationship with the game outside of some extreme edge cases. I can’t come up with any challenge in the game that couldn’t be overcome by someone with a random distribution of classes, subclasses, and abilities. That’s a fairly damning observation and lays bare that Destiny is largely an exercise in aesthetics.

To compound this frustratingly timid class design, the meaningfulness of the trade-off is further decreased by the ability to simply pop into a menu and change your subclass and abilities at any time with no penalty. In space sims and military flight sims you usually have to go to some kind of base to do that, and the period of time you are out in the wild and are forced to live with the choices you made is when that tension manifests. Not that Destiny would benefit if you could change your abilities only at certain times, because, as we know, it doesn’t matter what your abilities are.

There is a subtler way in which an abundance of hardpoints can spoil a game, and that is when it becomes a crutch. Designers of PVP games, or as in Destiny games in which PVP is at least possible, have an additional burden of balancing player characters against each other, and the problems of balance grow exponentially with every additional possible build a player can have. In short balance grows easier the more similar players are to each other. If you have two identical players, they are balanced by definition. Even in PVE contexts it is easier to balance a player who is heavily restricted by hardpoints, rather than one who is constantly acquiring new abilities and using them together in unexpected ways. This is where timid class design and hardpointing are a lazy answer to difficult problems.

When you combine these issues you are left with a game that offers an extraordinarily superficial implementation of RPG mechanics. I was sold on being a space wizard but the reality of it was that I was just an especially uppity space marine in a long coat. I still enjoyed my time with Destiny, but with bolder ability design and a lesser reliance on hardpointing it would have been much more satisfying. Oh and of course the story is awful and so is the cast of shopworn cliches sentenced to deliver it. Especially the smarmy robot voiced by Nathan Fillion. He’s supposed to be funny because that’s not how robots act lol. Jesus. That’s another post entirely.

On Transistor

45825187_p0
Art by C.P.T.

One of the figures in old gaming journalism who I respected immensely was Greg Kasavin, who as the former editor in chief of Gamespot was a towering figure in the Iron Age of Video Game Critics in a way that’s difficult to relate now. I wonder if he would have proved the same rock of professionalism and integrity in today’s highly charged, highly politicized critical environment; if he would have, he’s sorely missed. I miss him either way, really.

He’s in a better place now. After finding his true calling as a game writer/designer he went on to join new indie studio Supergiant and with them produced the isometric action RPG hit Bastion. After Kasavin’s departure from Gamespot the site’s editorial firewall eroded, culminating in the Kane and Lynch scandal which sent the core editorial staff splintering off to form the website Giant Bomb. One of Giant Bomb’s early web series, “Building the Bastion“, followed the development of Bastion from an insider’s perspective.

So it goes without saying that I desperately wanted to like Bastion. Unfortunately, when I went to play it, it didn’t quite grab me. I let it wallow on my Steam account for months. Eventually I hooked up my PC to the television and decided to give it the couch treatment, which I found was definitely the way to play that game. I became captivated with it from beginning to end, and was as impressed with the watercolor aesthetic as I was with the compelling story and mechanics. So why didn’t I jump on Transistor immediately?

Due to various circumstances, by the time Transistor came out I didn’t have a couch or a television to play it on anymore. I was living in Houston at the time, attempting–and ultimately failing–to get a job as a well logger. My life then was simply a mess, and all of it my fault. These problems cast less of a shadow over me this year, and after I landed back on my feet in North Carolina I made sure to get a couch and a console. There’s a somewhat cargo-cultish habit I have of arranging my life in a semblance of what it was like in a better time, and the first element of this, always, is a couch. On some level I just want to have that experience again—the experience of having a home and being secure in the knowledge that we are doing Everything Right.

I’m a PC-man at heart, but there is something magical about playing an atmospheric game like Transistor from the comfort of a couch in a darkened room. For me PC games and the environment of their play are best at engaging the mind, and console games and their environment are best at engaging the heart. Bastion and, I assumed, its follow-up Transistor, are heart-games. They are made with heart, and that is how you’re supposed to approach them. This is the point that Phil Fish once made somewhat tactlessly (that being the only way he knows how to make a point) when he claimed that PCs were for spreadsheets, and Fez should not be played on them. For my own sake, I mostly agree with the spirit of his statement, and only offer up the exception that many people connect their PCs to their televisions in their living room. That is, after all, how I connected with Bastion.

Since I am cheap by necessity and spoiled by Steam sales, even when I had the elements of couch and console and television in place, I waited dutifully for Transistor to go on sale. As long as it had been in coming, one day I logged into the PSN store and there was a Supergiant sale going on, and I finally got to play. I knew in advance that it was a different sort of beast from Bastion. One thing I did know was that it was just as amazing-looking as Bastion, with a cool palette to match its cyberpunk pretenses.

It is often held as a point against Transistor that it isn’t as fun as Bastion, or that its combat is hard to understand and execute. Transistor’s nobility lies partly in its defiance of what Bastion is. It is impossible to have the same experience twice, no matter how carefully one arranges the old elements, and these games are designed to be personal experiences. Transistor soars in its ability to offer its jaded players an experience they haven’t yet had.

Transistor‘s mechanics offer a lassitude of player agency that is absent from nearly every game of its kind, including its aesthetic cousin Bastion. The story is inconclusive and available only, largely, to those who are searching for it. The ending defied my expectations and made me reconsider Red’s arc. In Bastion you are given a choice of two weapons and a choice of two endings. Faced with infinite possibility at the end of Transistor, Red (not you) makes only one. That many of the players of Transistor found ‘infinite possibility’ and the necessity of constantly relearning systems mentally taxing is, in that light, ironic.

Anyone who plays games wants the power to approach the system in their own way, and Transistor so excels at this that it does so to its own detriment. The player wants to invent himself, but Transistor saddles him with the task of constantly reinventing himself in response to new powers, losses of old powers, or a desire to access a story locked away by an insistence on mechanical novelty. The process of figuring out who you are and what you’re doing now dominates the game and even defines it. I’m no gaming virtuoso, but I’m not a bad player and I spent as much time puzzling over builds as I spent executing them. It’s a shocking departure from other systems where players are presented with a consistent system and expected to master it. Players of Transistor are expected to become familiar with being unfamiliar.

In games with a high degree of customization the ‘build’ is a sacred concept we latch onto because it gives us a sense of control over a writhing mass of interconnected mechanics. Builds are so important that, sometimes, we don’t even trust ourselves to make them. You might steal your build from some theorycrafter on the internet who has more experience with the game and has spent more time thinking about it. Why not defer to those more experienced? I’m not above it; I do it all the time.

Between its power stripping death penalty, its story-progression requirements, and its constant influx of new abilities throughout the campaign, Transistor rips that comfort away from the player. There is no build. What happens when an enemy puts you down and takes out the core conceit of your build, which you just spent five minutes paining over at the last checkpoint? If you don’t understand what Transistor is telling you, you reload and try again. If you are approaching the game on its own terms, you press on and find out what you can do now. You get to the next checkpoint if you can and reevaluate what you have. Constant flux is the nature of the beast. Even attempting to read all of the ability lore entries will result in barely a single battle passing with the same build. Even if your build is working fine, if you just got something new, isn’t it a waste not to try it? You are incentivized for doing so with story progression.

It’s a short game because if it were any longer a sense of comfort would start to creep in. Transistor is not designed to be comfortable. In the story everything is falling apart and becoming something else, a process which you do not at all understand. It isn’t just you that is being forced to adapt. Your enemies are evolving as well, and you and they are locked in an arms race of sorts. By the time I happened upon something I truly liked and was comfortable with, the game ended almost immediately afterwards. In a sort of fitting coda, the final boss fight was so different from what came before that it required one final rebuild.

Game players naturally expect that the rules of the system will not change out from under them, and most games encourage the development of consistent builds which players naturally slot themselves into. Why break it if it works? This system works fantastically as a vehicle for delivering Fun. It’s Fun to master something. Bastion offered that kind of experience, but Transistor doggedly refuses to. Was that the intent? I think it was. They made Bastion, a game so mechanically tight it is astounding. Bastion’s mechanics are traditional and unassailable; fun. Transistor is brilliant.

Explaining The New Elite And Their Unique Taste In Games

Between 2010 and 2014 the traditional gaming media could be broken up into two broad camps: the Old Guard and the New Elite. These were not opposing factions, but rather each was sympathetic to the other. In many cases the Old Guard mistook the New Elite for their successors, even as it became increasingly obvious their goals were not the same.

The New Elite wants and needs a better, less white, less male audience. This audience which they imagine for themselves isn’t bound by culture or gender, and as such is potentially much wider than the regressive white male nerds they are reluctantly servicing.

It’s what you would call, in business, a Blue Ocean strategy: an attempt to expand one’s audience at the cost of alienating a portion of the older and hopefully smaller audience. The New Elite is operating on the assumption that gaming is the way it is because they haven’t had the opportunity to exercise their transformative power on it. While their legion has many members with various motives, some of whom are out and out shysters, it would be better to focus on the ones who are relatively serious. The serious ones were there first and actually believe they have a chance to make the world a better place, and the prize for doing so is respect as a journalist and its attendant status. This same fire drives, to a greater or lesser degree, all journalists. The difference is what change they are trying to effect and whose respect they are trying to earn. The Old Guard wanted to make games better and earn the respect of their readers. The New Elite wants to change what gaming is and by doing so earn the respect of their own peers and, often, of third parties in the culture war. In their quest for status they encountered an expected, yet major and potentially insurmountable barrier: respect.

The level of respect accorded to different kinds of reportage vary widely. Journalistic greats doing actual reporting of real events are the pinnacle of journalism and have more status than even a gold-standard film critic such as A. O. Scott. Big name film, music, and literary critics have more status than sports reporters and other entertainment reporters. Then you have the video game journalists who are, to their annoyance, a step below that. At the very bottom of this heap you have people who talk about comic books. People on the comic beat can only comfort themselves with the notion that, if nothing else, at least they aren’t talking about anime.

The larger point here is that for a journalist video games are a dead-end in terms of them changing the world, being relevant, or garnering respect. Journalists without an overblown sense of self importance and a basic love of the medium knew what they were getting into from the start, and were happy with their lot. No one is going to make movies about their courage or sing their praises in the mead halls of the elite, but they were doing something they loved and that was enough. Many of them accumulated, along the way, a deep well of knowledge about the medium. Those people are what you would call the Old Guard, and many of them are still around.

The New Elite has a plan. Since games are a relatively young medium there is an outside chance that they’ll become an artistically legitimate form of entertainment alongside books, movies, music, and other established, official Art. This event, which is a sort of journalistic Rapture, will present huge rewards to the people who appear to have initiated it, and anyone nearby, really.

This is what the New Elite wants and works towards, and as a theory it explains most of their seemingly counterproductive behavior. They believe that through their efforts they can elevate the medium to a place where it becomes respectable, visionary, and mainstream, instead of the official distraction of children and man-children. This is why the New Elite descended on games at the very moment they appeared on the cusp of mainstream acceptance.

Their need for mainstream acceptance presents a few problems for the NE. The audience of their reporting is unfortunately and overwhelmingly male. They can lie to themselves (and us) by citing misleading statistics which conflate the women who play Farmville or Candy Crush with the men who have bought and devoured every iteration of Age of Empires or Heroes of Might and Magic. The truth of the matter is that gaming is a male-dominated pursuit at present and in the past.

The terrifying thing for the New Elite is that it might always be. Sports are, and the reasons that sports appeal to men have many significant overlaps with why video games do, not the least of which is that sports are games. If that’s the case, they will never achieve real legitimacy as journalists. It is vitally important to the New Elite that video games cease to be a nerdy backwater as soon as possible. Their motives for doing this are pure as new snow, since we’re the regressive ones holding everything back. Without the nerdy men (and Vichy women who have internalized misogyny and therefore don’t count) who actually enjoy and play games as they are, the medium would be free to ascend into the heavens.

If video games are to be transformed, we first have to establish what they are. What is a video game, and what is it not? A book is primarily a thing to be read, a movie is primarily a thing to be watched. A game, then, is primarily a thing to be played. The art of video games is in the gameplay. The story of a game, the visual appearance, the music—these may be art in their own right, but they absolutely do not make the game art. They are their own forms of art, and collectively form the presentation of the game. The presentation of a game is important but it’s certainly not the art of a game, which is the gameplay.

This seemingly obvious point is purposefully missed time and again by the New Elite. Games which are accessible and vaguely resemble art people already understand are the way forward for them, for multiple reasons.

The first and most relevant of these is the problematic identity of the people who fundamentally enjoy gameplay. Some people are mentally wired to enjoy competition and systematizing, two core aspects of gameplay. Most of these people are men. But even if you added up all the men and women who had a high degree of this type of personality, it still wouldn’t be a majority of the population. This is a double bind for a group of people whose stated goal is to make gaming for everyone and especially women.

You can make a game for a mass audience only by stripping out and dumbing down everything that makes it its own form of art. The art of a game is in the play. Is this an elitist notion? Sort of. The individual complexities and triumphs of a particular piece of art are only appreciable by the initiated. The masterpieces of gaming are bound to be inaccessible to many, or actually most, people. This is even more true than in other forms of art. If you aren’t understanding the paintings you’re viewing, the curator doesn’t take you back to the entrance.

Both men and women enjoy books, movies, and television because the ability to fully enjoy a story is not sex-limited. At most they have products designed for different demographics. Men like a certain kind of story, women like a certain kind of story, and some stories have crossover appeal. Even in the cases of a man being dragged out to a chick flick, the gulf is not so great as to prevent understanding and even enjoyment.

Can you say the same for gameplay? The percentage of women who enjoy gameplay in the same way and to the same degree that men do is small and apt to remain so. It’s at least small enough that the New Elite won’t be satisfied with it. It’s not the fault of cultural factors. Men like games, in some cases, more than anything. Pathology? Sometimes. But it’s a common one for men and boys.

I’m hardly the only one who believes this gameplay-as-inherently-sexist theory. Judging by their actions, the New Elite does as well. Year after year they continue to champion and make games with simplistic gameplay or even no gameplay. Their calling cards are 2d platformers, visual novels, choose your own adventure, and so-called walking simulators. It’s no coincidence that these things are heavy on presentational elements, or even totally dependent on them, since if games are to become truly mainstream the presentational elements will have to come to the fore. Games which are 2d are also easier on women, who on average have a lower degree of spatial reasoning by a standard deviation. Are these games necessarily bad? Of course not. Should people stop making them? No. Should women get out of gaming if they can’t into space? No. Should we be be skeptical when games fitting this profile are forwarded as the pinnacle of the artform? Yes.

In this push for simplicity and accessibility they are joined by elements of the Old Guard astroturfing ‘geek culture’ such as your Wheatons and Days. They were sort of a proto-New Elite, since they were pushing inclusivity and mass-acceptance before, but lacked the political angle. The third member of this axis is corporate interests operating in the core demographic, which have every reason to want expand their market share. If acceding to the New Elite’s puritanical demands might open up a new market, they’ll give it a shot, even if the truth is that getting rid of boob plate is about as wise as putting the men on romance novel covers in burkas because some MRAs told you they would read. Meanwhile the Old Guard itself was sympathetic to their goals, and remains so, which is why they have done such a terrible job of defending their readers, their brands, and their artform from this band of socjus apparatchiks.

Between these three incestuous factions, the complacency of the Old Guard, and a broad swathe of useful idiots, they managed to seize a substantial portion of the cultural high ground. The only people who didn’t like them were the ones they wanted to destroy: large parts of their audience. Before GG broke out, discontent with their heavy-handedness had been bubbling up for a while, especially in places where their proselytizing was unwelcome and out of place. ‘Gamers are dead’ was the simultaneous declaration of open war by the New Elite on their detractors, issued at the height of their power.

Unlike previous generations of gaming journalists who loved games and accepted, even cherished, their humble role in the world, the New Elite aspires to more. Once we’re gone, things will be far less problematic.

As the possibility of mainstream acceptance and the transformation of games recedes in the distance they will start jumping ship for greener political pastures. In a few cases this has already happened, as with the developers of Sunset. The ones who actually do like video games (a minority) will concentrate in specialized containment publications where the rest of us can easily avoid them. A particular example of this effect is the departure of Patrick Klepek from Giant Bomb to Kotaku. While the circumstances behind this move are unknown, Klepek’s ability to balkanize and burn down the community with his divisive hectoring couldn’t have made him feel welcome in a space which prided itself on being relaxed and informal.

In Bubsy 3d: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective, at one point Bubsy muses to himself:

Light has its own thingness. If you are using light to tell a story, you are using the power of a story, not the power of light.

My objection to the New Elite is that they want to wield the power of games to advance their own agendas. Gameplay is too apolitical and inaccessible to affect this, and because of their egos they are not content to simply erect a separate stage and make their own. That would be completely acceptable, and I might even play some of them and entertain the ideas contained within… as long as the gameplay was there. The problem is they want to take the main stage, and their understanding of the artform is too malformed and ignorant to allow this. The real irony is that if they were given the main stage, gaming would—far from flowering into a glorious mainstream artform—collapse into irrelevance.

Their insecurity and the source of much of their apparent anger lay in the niggling suspicion that they have made a bad investment. Is it possible they’ve hitched their egos to something that isn’t, progressively speaking, going anywhere?