What the hell even is Gaming Journalism?

Edit: I feel like this piece has been greatly superceded by this RPS piece . It covers all of my points and then some and does so much more thoughtfully. While you might enjoy reading my off-the-cuff, emotionally charged spin on the issue, I suggest you read the RPS piece as well.

An important element I think I missed is that even the things I said might be able to be reported “objectively” end up just being material given by publishers. Not only is it uninteresting news, if delivered impartially, it is nothing but ads and reinforcing troublesome parts of the system we all claim to hate. Anyways, for archival purposes, here is the piece I wrote…

I’m sure you’re sick of this topic and so am I, but bad news keeps coming in. Jenn Frank and Mattie Brice have basically quit videogame writing at all this. The #GamerGate people are screaming good riddance. “Gotta get rid of all this bias and corruption in journalism! Boo~!” but here’s the thing… Neither Jenn Frank or Mattie Brice are really “journalists”.

That’s not a dig, either. Journalists give you the news. They preferably give it unbias and dispassionately. If they’re not digging for stories, they’re best being passionless robots. While I’m sure Frank did some journalism at one point, what she, and Mattie Brice were writers. They wrote opinion pieces. They were culture critics. For that, you want the opposite of what you want in a journalist — you want passion and you want a position to be taken. Personally, in this field, writers kick the shit out of journalists because there really isn’t much gaming news. Games are an art and art is subjective. I’ve always found the call for ‘impartial and unbias’ reviews to be hilarious. Reviews aren’t journalism, even if they suffer from the same corruption problems. If you want an “impartial review”, read the wiki page on a game because that’s what it would be like. Instead, the most successful reviewers are often the most opinionated. We get to know the people we read reviews from and learn when and where we agree and disagree with them.

What makes this even more frustrating is most opinion pieces are better insulated from corruption in the industry. Big previews are basically big ads (often paid for by companies before they are even written) and reviews feel pressure constantly to give more favorable review scores (especially now thanks to metacritic). The industry is a hype machine and it’s business model makes it so most of the money they receive comes from the media they have to talk about. That industry has other problems too, which plague even normal news outlets these days, such as people never checking facts and just believing other articles.

Surprisingly that rarely comes up with #gamergate (Yes, I’m sure some of you are talking about that. YES, I know you don’t endorse the people who are harassing folk. YES, I do think you’re an idiot for choosing now to fight that fight and sabotaging your cause due to #gamergate’s association with gross misogyny. No, don’t message me about it or link to your fucking github that suggests pretending to be a middle eastern cab driver to garner SJW sympathy. I read it already). Instead, people are attacking people known for their social justice oriented opinion pieces under the guise of “corruption”. It’s hard to figure out what they mean about corruption in this context. If they mean ‘progressive ideas and spreading amount game writers and developers’, I guess yes, we are being corrupted. You will be assimilated, resistance is useless, etcetcetc… but as far as actual corruption goes, a thing I see surprisingly often is “THESE PEOPLE ARE KNOW EACH OTHER.” or “THIS PERSON IS DONATING TO THIS PERSONS PATREON”.It’s… almost as if people who like video games and writing gravitate and become friends with people who are also into that… and support the works of those who they feel are excellent at their craft. Strange! I read someone say on a forum that if he went back in time and was told how interconnected everyone in the industry was, he wouldn’t believe it because of how preposterous it is. What do these people think, that people live in insulated boxes? OF COURSE THIS HAPPENS. It’s the same reason why I see people who have made it in the art industry constantly commissioning other artists. People who care about their craft want to help other people they think are great at their craft. And want to be there friends.

In places were things overlap that can be a conflict of interest. That was the basis of the whole Zoe Quinn drama… but nothing actually happened with that. You don’t have to be a saint as a journalist and avoid all earthly pleasures, you just gotta avoid letting your self write about things you’re bias about. Someone might go “Well what about that Jenn Frank piece where she defended Zoe Quinn!” … Like, that was an op-ed, bro and the Guardian didn’t think her disclosing her friendship was important. Why, you might ask? IT’S A GOD DAMN OPINION PIECE. You are basically ASSUMED to have a bias. Jenn wrote an article about how she sees things. It’s not like she was paid off to lie and defend Quinn despite feeling differently or something. Most of the greatest writers ever were deeply involved with the things they wrote about. That’s what made their writing compelling — it was deep and personal. That’s what they provide, that journalistic articles cannot.

Gaming Journalism has been a mess for years, but Gaming Commentary has been getting better and better and Frank and Brice would be among some of the best. To see them and others like them targeted under the guise of “Fighting corrupt journalism” is a farce and those doing the attacking don’t seem to know what journalism is, or what corruption is, or even who to blame (protip: In most cases of corruption in this industry, it’s not the journalist’s fault anyway, it’s the publisher. Employed writers are at the mercy of their employers and driving off an employee would only get them replaced by someone else who would be forced to do the same thing). Instead they lash out at people who are scaring them and make it sound like it’s a noble endeavor. I’m sure some people honestly think they’re just trying to fight for good journalism, but, well, to use someone else’s words.

giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re not just a raging woman-hating misogynist, i’m sorry to have to tell you: you have been had by some raging woman-hating misogynists. they have framed their crap in terms of Our Tribe Is Under Siege Oh No and you have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

it’s basically the same tactic the republican party uses to keep racism alive: just use the word “welfare” instead, along with the traditional stereotypes of laziness and inferiority and worthlessness. people will practically turn it into us-vs-them for you. it’s like magic! if you’re lucky, they’ll even spice it up with some moral panic!

(Tumblr user Eevee, covering some of the same ground as me)

Random Musings on Boobplate and Fictional Depictions of Armor and Costuming!

I was digging through some armor illustrations in an attempt to redesign Naomi’s breastplate (my concerns with my own designs are a topic of their own). I had some conflicting thoughts in my head while doing this and thinking about what complaints people might have with some designs I was considering. So this got me thinking about something that’s been annoying me for awhile…

People in general are very good at noticing when something is wrong, but often bad at articulating why. Many arguments about women in armor (or poses) I’ve seen recently hinge on realism. “Boob plate is dumb because it directs sword blows to the sternum” or “Her -blank- is unarmored and would be really easy to attack!” are arguments that come up a lot and I really don’t think they’re ever particularly effective arguments. Male characters are littered with impractical armor, even in the areas of coverage (see every Fire Emblem character ever). The ‘chest plate’ and exposed stomach (in the male case, clothed, but equally unarmored) is among the oldest of anime tropes.

Most fictitious armor is costuming. It is not meant to be practical. It is meant to communicate things about the character. A character with a huge breastplate and pauldrons communicates that he’s armored and invokes other ideas like ‘he’s a knight’ or ‘he’s evil’ or ‘he’s strong’ depending on how it’s designed. Most fictitious armor we see in games and art isn’t even functional even on the ground of articulation. It’s all style. How realistic armor (or weapons, or anything) attempts to be in a piece of media is a function of tone. Costuming is based on aesthetics and communication, not practicality.

Things like Dark Souls, Berserk or Game of Thrones have very functional armor because that’s the vibe they’re going for. Applying the need for realism to all things when arguing feminist topics acts like a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the opposition. When I see this arguments happen they go…

“Well that isn’t realistic! Her armor is totally impractical!”

“Well fictional guys aren’t realistic either!”

“Yeah well they’re not realistic to make them look cool, not to always sexualize them!”

The last point is the key argument. That is the strongest and most valid argument you have. But once you bring it up, you already ‘lost’ part of the argument, which makes it easier for the person you’re trying to educate to blow you off. Unless this is something like the Dark Souls 2 boobplate concept art, don’t over-complicate the argument. The arguments about realism are cruft, cut them and get to the meat of things. Maybe bring them up for fun or as an aside, but don’t leverage on them unless the design conflicts with the tone of the fictional piece you’re discussing.

When you bring up elements of realism into these discussions, I’m forced to ask ‘if it were realistic/justifiable, would it be okay”? You can do a GIS and find plenty of porn with real people that would make for really sexist poses in a piece of media but would be totally realistic. Or what if you can justify something? “Oh her skin hardens on contact with things, so she fights naked”. Obviously this shouldn’t fly. People are right to notice a pattern of ‘unrealistic’ and ‘sexist’, but that’s not because ‘unrealistic’ == ‘sexist’ but because most unrealistic concessions are made to objectify.

You want your arguments to be lean. Cut the cruft and stick to the harsh, unassailable facts.

Don’t post dumb shit in comments (Because I’ll just make fun of you)

If you’re not into stupid arguments and drama, you can skip this, though I hope it’ll be sorta fun!

I’ve always sorta wondered when my first stupid ‘social justice’ fight was going to happen. I’ve gotten into fights over social justice issues before, but not in the way “Social Justice Warriors” (you know, the ones who are kinda bullies and end up harming the social justice movement) are famous for. So I’ve been wondering when I’d get a drive by on one of my articles. I’m a feminist, but I’m often kinda a crappy one who slips up occasionally. Well, the other day, I got a comment on one of my articles, from the poster “Michael”…

That’s mighty generous of you, Kayin, condoning a grossly racist and sexist attack by saying it’s merely “gaps in communication”. I wonder if you would be as charitable if it was a similarly ignorant, racist, and sexist rant about women and/or minorities? I’m guessing you wouldn’t be.

I immediately assumed this was in response to my defense of George Kamitani, though it didn’t quite make sense to me, especially the end part. Still, I went about drafting a response to say that I wasn’t ‘condoing’ George’s response before I realized that this as in response to my Formalist vs Zinester writeup. Not only that, but in response to a small bit I wrote in the comment section. This response was about the fairness formalists being accused of maintaining the status quo for “straight white males”.

As for the last bit, I do find that troubling. Even if we were to say such things do keep women and minorities down (at least incidentally) I’d be hardpressed to think of anyone who would be saying those things about games from any sort of racial or gender related context. Even then it definitely is sorta mushing a bunch of stuff together (Like, if you look at some formalists, they’re trying to shake up the ‘status quo’ in totally different ways). Still, in situations like these, while I do sorta cringe inside reading stuff like that, I think “these people are angry for a reason, even if they manifest it poorly sometimes”. Gaps in communication unfortunately exist between like every group of people to some extent.

Oh okay, that was totally the opposite of what I was thinking. Anti white, anti male racism and sexim! Well, the fight always expected is here, but in the way I totally didn’t expect.

So I fire back at Michael.

Well yes, because women and minorities rarely have the potential to be true oppressors. It doesn’t make their behavior right or fair, but considering their position, YES, I’m going to be more generous toward the missteps of oppressed groups. The idea that they should just smile and be like “Hey it’d be nice if you treated us as equal members of society” is absurd. They are mad because many of them HAVE done this they have been ignored.

Michael’s response to this was truly classic.

“Well yes, because women and minorities rarely have the potential to be true oppressors.”

This self-hating belief is very common and widespread nowadays. Women and minorities are always the “victims” and those fucking evil men and whites are always the “true oppressors”. The actual facts and situation don’t matter.

I think it sucks to live a life where you consider yourself an inferior human being because of your genitalia and skin color, and are totally fine with vile racist/sexist slurs, because of your awful white male guilt. But hey, many people, yourself included, are totally okay with this. I understand.

What I don’t understand is this; why even write the post to begin with? According to your own beliefs, you’re a white male, and thus, according to a far wiser and better person (a transexual), a racist, sexist scumbag whose only goal is to oppress women and minorities.

Ergo, everything you write is irrelevant/wrong.

So somehow from that he got that I am a self hating person straight white dude who only defers to the opinions of others who thinks my skin and junk makes me inferior. WHAT A JUMP. Well, here is my response to Michael.

Why do I still write? Because I don’t hate my self. I have almost no white or male guilt. The only guilt I feel is that my position has, in the past, afforded me comfort in ignorance. Very little of the white male perks I care about come at the expense of others (some perks do, but I won’t miss them). I don’t want everyone to be lowered to the lowest common denominator, I want people to be empowered. I want everyone to have the ability to not give a shit. I mean fuck, ‘die cis-white hetero scum’ nonsense affects me as much as I want it too. To quote Louis C.K — you can’t even hurt my feelings. That is a privilege I have: The ability to not give a fuck if I don’t want to. For many people, hate speech is unescapable.

I also reject that I have nothing to add. I disagree with people in the social justice movement ALL THE FUCKING TIME. We argue and debate and try and improve our opinions. Our disagreements are constructive, not adversarial and help us grow together. Just as my position in life gives me blind spots, their position gives them blind spots. If you think I just roll over, than you haven’t been reading my blog much. A few posts up, I’m defending Dragon’s Crown for fucks sake! Not a popular position, but one I feel strongly about! In the bit I wrote that you’re so hung up on, I’m defending white male formalists and expressing disapproval toward their treatment. I’m sorry if I think it’s a problem mis-communication and understanding instead of just writing all feminists and queer folk off as Super-Hitlers.

I’m pro sex, pro content creator and pro personal expression. My involvement in social justice issues isn’t just to roll over to the opinions of others but to defend myself and my personal expression and to make sure the things I value can be maintained while other people are empowered. The empowerment of women and minority groups ALSO benefits me.

Here is a totally selfish, base example: If I wanna make a ridiculous titty-monster game without getting hounded and shamed, well… there are two worlds I could make that game in.

1) A world that pretends sexism isn’t a problem and further oppress women until we regress back to around the 90s.

2) Level the playing field so no one really has to care anymore because everyone has decent representation and every female character doesn’t have to be viewed as a squandered opportunity.

Hm wow I wonder which one I’m going to go with~! Maybe the one where all my friends and family have the same advantages I do! And hell, I could get away with it now if I REALLY wanted to (because again, ya’ll can’t even hurt my feelings).

By the way, please, go fuck yourself. It’s blind dick-weeds like you that make me have to worry about being seen a cis-hetero scum to begin with. Also fuck you for projecting your own insecurities over my comments. Fuck you for twisting my words into things I didn’t even say (nor IMPLIED). I find it insane and disgusting that you consider my acknowledgement of the persecution of others to be some sort of ‘surrender’ or self-degradation instead of an act of compassion. In what made up world would that be me thinking of myself as “inferior”? Dude, I think I’m fucking awesome and as such, have no reason to fear more people gaining the privileges I have. I’m not such a frail creature that I have to avoid doing the right thing to protect my ego and station in life.

If anything, you seem to be the one struggling with your self worth. Do you actually feel threatened by the frustrated words of these marginalized groups? Do you actually feel like you’re almost a second class citizen now? Is the only thing that gives you worth in this world, your white skin and your dick? If an ounce of compassion is all it takes for you to post this worthless scrawl on my blog, I can imagine how fucking annoying you’d be if you were in any one of these marginalized groups. It must suck to be such a frail, pathetic thing to feel so easily threatened by people struggling for equality and validation. I’d hate to be you.

Also don’t throw shit like “The actual facts and situation don’t matter” at me. You gave no facts and are not giving any relevant situations. That is just a feeble attempt to feign objectiveness. That’s some amateur hour shit. You haven’t been making arguments. You’ve been whining and projecting. You don’t even get a ‘you tried’ star for that. Don’t come to my blog with an agenda and babble this shit at me and expect to be treated as anything but a fool.

So piss off and cry elsewhere. You will find no validation your pity party here.

Ya’ll allowed to post dissenting opinions to me. Many of my opinions are generally kinda out there already. This shit is hard, so even if you fuck up and are in the wrong, I’ll cut you some slack and if I’m wrong, feel free to cut ME some slack. Or maybe you’ll legit say something interesting and it’ll be great! Who knows! But if you come at me with borderline MRA style crap that is barely on topic, I’m just going to publicly shame you. In fact, if you’re going to make big claims like pretending sexism against women and queer folk isn’t an issue, you better come with some big fucking evidence, because at this point, that’s kinda a conversational non-starter for me, like saying the earth is hollow and the government is ran by lizard men.

Thoughts on Sexualization and the art of Dragon’s Crown

So there has been some drama over Dragon’s Crown and it’s art for quite some. Some more got started when, in typical link baiting fashion, Jason Schreier of Kotaku attributed George Kamitani’s art to that of a 14-year old boy due to the sexualized imagery (a 3 sentence piece Jason dared call an ‘article’).

So Kotaku sucks (big surprise), but George’s response was…. interesting. Also here is an article talking about the response from the perspective of a gay man, for reference. I think it’s a good writuep and you can see our short exchange at the bottom of the comments where we’re both like “Well to be fair, this is JAPAN and they’re weird with how they handle homosexuality”. Because damn, separated from context, it’s hard to tell if the image is mocking or celebrating homoeroticism. Hell, without context, I’d actually strongly lean toward celebrating. Anyways, George took it down and sent an apology letter to Jason (the right thing to do) who then went on to write what came off to me as a half hearted attempt to take the high ground. He name dropped #1reasonwhy and sexual harassment in PAX and other big issues as to why stuff like Dragon’s Crown is a problem. Not that I think Jason’s respect for these issues is insincere, but I think that in this case, he’s using them as a ‘get out of jail free’ card for being a shithead link baiter in a previous ‘article’. Don’t just name drop a bunch of very important issues to pretend that you were being thoughtful. I think it was a pretty poor indictment and not particularly interesting (again, more of an escape attempt if anything).

Anyways, this is all complicated and interesting and stupid and all that and I only bring it up to segueway into ART and why we shouldn’t rake groups like Vanillaware over the coals for their artistic choices.

So who Gets to be a Pervert?

2342142-sorcererandamazonDragon Crown’s art is pretty ridiculous. No one is going to deny that. The Sorceress is, as they say on the 4chans, a ‘titty monster’ and you have the goliath, near nude Amazon. Everyone beside the elf and the Wizard are of truly ridiculous proportions. The style is an extremified, crazy anime version of the style seen by the likes of Frank Frazetta(almost literally referenced in how some of the coloring is done) and Boris Vallejo while also referencing the tropes of of old RPGs and classic beat’em ups like Golden Axe and the two DnD arcade games… All with a touch of ‘Vanillaware’ thrown in. Whether you like the style or not, George Kamitani is an extremely good artist

Now before we talk about anything else, lets get this out of the way. I don’t think you can fairly compare the sexualization of the Sorceress and Amazon with the hyper masculinity of the Fighter and Dwarf. This is a common thing that comes up in this kind of conversation. All the characters are thoroughly objectified (they practically exist as tropes, afterall), but there is a big difference. People like to say “Power Fantasy” in this context a lot and I don’t think THAT is fair either. I don’t think most people relate to characters like that (in games, anyways) — if we experience power fantasies, we do it through action, not through the anatomy of the characters we play. Bayoneta can be a power fantasy regardless of your gender. Instead, it’s really this simple: All characters are designed with the male viewer in mind. The “male gaze”. It’s that simple. The women are meant to be hot (though the Amazon is only hot to some of us more perverse perverts) and the men are designed to look ridiculous and awesome. That said, I don’t think that is inherently bad. Especially since the women are awesome too.

A lot of people writing on this issue like to write stuff like “I’m not saying artists shouldn’t draw what they like” (though they basically end up saying that) and other stuff and they seem to have a hard time figuring out where that line should be. You can’t expect a straight artist to be able to properly sexualize a male character for female characters, for example. Unless we assume any sexual orientation that isn’t ‘everything’ is sexist, we have to accept that the works that come from individuals that reflect their orientation aren’t inherently sexist. Simply bias. We don’t really see many complaints about women focused media. In fact, it’s existence is generally valued. Hell, if we complain about women’s media, it’s not because it exploits men, but because it’s still exploiting women. We complain about work targeted at men because it’s grossly disproportional and often cynical (not that cynical womens media doesn’t exist, but they’re sorta in a situation where they take what they can get). It’s problematic when a big company, employing hundreds of employees to make a “mainstream game” can’t really represent women very well and will throw women gamers under the bus to try and appeal to male players just a little bit more. It becomes a real problem when we’re talking about virtually every big game company. Bioware has shown that you can do a much better (though not perfect) job just by having a lot of women on staff.

So what about Dragon Crown? A small, niche developer. Their president is their lead artist who likes big thick ladies. These are the ideal developers to do what they’re doing. A big part of this is authorship. Vanillaware isn’t being cynical. They’re not being thoughtless (Though George’s comments on facebook may have been). They’re not throwing female players under the bus to appeal to men a little more… because that was simply never the game they were going to make. They’re not a big studio and their work is very much George’s work.

You might go “How is that not cynical”, but really, George’s over the top style is not ideal for that. To put this another way — perhaps what I said earlier was inaccurate about designing the characters to titillate men. In a very strong sense, it could be said they were designed to titillate George. It’s the same with Skullgirls. Being headed by artist Alex Ahad, the game can’t help but to be about sexy, curvy monster girls. It’s not a mistake or something that could have been avoided as part of development. It’s part of it’s identity. It’s different than someone at Namco saying “Hey for the next Soul Calibur, lets crank them titties up to ‘redonkulous'”. It’s a lot more personal and expressive… and this sort of thing isn’t exclusive to niche indie games. I’ll defend Bayonetta to the death because the project could have never been any other way… and because of it’s ridiculous, honest nature, Bayonetta has a surprising amount of female fans (though plenty of detractors and neither side is wrong for their preference).

Jason Schreier commented that Dragon’s Crowns’ art was embarrassing and he couldn’t play it in public. But George Kamitani and Vanillaware has no responsibility to Schreier. They are a small studio of about 2 dozen employees working on a niche product and their sexualization is very much part of the game’s identity.

Now, this isn’t a shield from criticism, but intent and context are key. It is fair to say that Dragon’s Crown sexualizes it’s women and objectifies the whole cast. Can we ask it to ‘do better’ like we ask a lot of games? We CAN (people can always do better) but if a game is doing what it’s trying to do very well, it can’t change very much. It’d be like criticizing an Edmund McMillen game for being gross. That’s KINDA WHAT THEY ARE. Asking them to change is ridiculous, we can only hope they do what they do well, which I think Dragon’s Crown does. I kinda wish Dragon’s Crown could have say, sexualized the Wizard, TERA Online style or something to have some vague notion of fairness, but again, the company is somewhat bound by the creative direction of a single person and that is actually one of Vanillaware’s strengths (also if his naked Dwarves picture is any indication, the Dwarf is the sexy one~).

“But I don’t want video games to be a ghetto of male centric media!”

Me neither! You’ve read my blog! You’re just barking up the wrong tree. It’s easy to get concerned with ridiculous, niche things like Dragon’s Crown, or Vanguard Princess or even really out there stuff like Rapelay, but these barely contribute to the problem. They barely contribute because they were never going to be another way. These are passion driven independant games — the only other option is them basically not existing. These are the types of games that SHOULD be doing this. Even something like rapelay, in my opinion, is far less harmful than the subtle sexism that we see in most video games. When something is horridly depraved porn, we KNOW what we’re looking at and we know it’s not normal. When we play play an MMO where women wear daintier armor than men, we don’t think much of it and it brings about the assumption of normalcy which is a far greater problem. It’s designs and storyline choices that were easily avoided mistakes that are the problem. It’s not trusting that female characters can lead a game that’s the problem. Sexytime is not the problem, especially very uncynical sexytime like Dragon’s Crown or Skullgirls.