Electron Dance
8Mar/15Off

TV Games Are For Boys

This is the concluding part of The Petri Dish trilogy. The previous parts were on the inexplicable anger of complete strangers and the inescapable clutches of cynicism.

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It seems I’ve been terrified for nearly three years.

Young brains are wired to mimic. This gets them up to speed as quickly as possible, meaning children often want to get involved in whatever their parents are doing. This includes cooking and the washing up at early ages (I hear this doesn’t extend into the teens) and also the playing of games. At the age of two, my son, K, wanted to play games with Daddy.

He certainly didn’t like Portal 2 (Valve, 2011) but if a game’s Spookiness Factor was low, he would be happy to watch. The only game that really worked for him was an early version of Proteus (Key & Kanaga, 2012) which satisfied him for a while.

K was fascinated with city infrastructure: recycling trucks, fire engines, trains, that sort of thing. I thought of GTA III (Rockstar Games, 2001) and, heartened by the tale of another parent who exposed their four-year old to GTA, I let K have a dabble.

His controller skills were poor as his fingers were too small to manipulate the thumbsticks, so I had to keep course correcting, but he enjoyed his excursion in Liberty City and rode the train over and over again. I felt comfortable because he didn’t have the maturity to comprehend what was happening in the game: he saw roads, trains, bodies of water. The muffled shouts of angry pedestrians and the occasional traffic accident were background detail.

But I left the room for a moment and when I came back, my son was carrying a rifle.

*     *     *

Part of the online experience has always been unpleasant. The terms “flame war” and “trolling” were well-known back in the USENET days and in 1993 Julian Dibbell wrote “A Rape in Cyberspace” to highlight how the two realms – online and offline – were not as inseparable as people liked to think:

Months later, the woman in Seattle would confide to me that as she wrote those words posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face — a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words’ emotional content was no mere fiction.

There’s another fantasy about the online realm that still persists. Even if we try to court a little attention, we delude ourselves that we live in a safe bubble of relative obscurity. We project our ideal “audience” onto each platform: a blog, a comment thread or a social medium. No one will be interested in me, they all say, I’m a nobody.

When I started up this site, 16 views in one day was a big win. The Electron Dance cabal was just a small group of like-minded friends who’d chew over some ideas – and I slept easy. Then one day I wrote an essay called The Second Game and saw hundreds of visitors coming through the doors from the RPS Sunday Papers.

It was like a panic attack. Of course, the wannabe author wants to be widely read – I’d forwarded the link to Kieron Gillen myself – but seeing all those boots running across the site meant those words took on new significance. I read and re-read the article, because every time I stepped away from the page, I imagined new flaws I was certain I’d left in the published piece. When the comments arrived, I was relieved they were all positive. God help me if anyone was negative. It’s like a stage actor reading reviews of their performance; for their own mental health, it might be better to pass on them. But running a blog means you are the PR department and need to find out what people think of your site. Of your words. Of you, the brand. Of you.

The antiquated idea of books being sold in stores to anonymous faces, disconnecting you from this kind of emotional rollercoaster, is history. Today, if you’re writing online, you expect a reaction, you need a reaction. And if you don’t get it, it’s as if the internet had a bad wank over your profile photo. Meh is just not good enough.

But I wasn’t properly terrified yet.

*     *     *

Nowadays, the six-year old K bores with Proteus quickly but his four-year old sister, L, still likes to hunt the occasional Proteus frog. I asked Twitter last year for non-violent open worlds suitable for children because I really wanted a modern town or city simulator to feed the urban exploration urge. We’d progressed onto Euro Truck Simulator 2 (SCS Software, 2012) but it wasn’t quite the full package. But any mention of children and games in the same sentence and the next suggestion is almost always “I hear Minecraft is good”.

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GTA was suggested but I replied it was just too violent; K was now at an age where he would understand what was going on and start exploring its systems. I wanted a world he could explore without having to explain why people in the background were being shot dead or pummelled to the ground and stamped on, virtual bloodstains on a virtual sidewalk. Language was another worry. But the Twitter respondent who pushed GTA was insistent: I couldn’t mollycoddle them forever because the world is a violent place.

But GTA isn’t about the real world. It’s got nothing to do with being a grown-up, it’s a fantasy world sculpted to ape gangster movies. Yet it seemed there was no “GTA III without violence”. Players demand their urban worlds to have purpose and that typically manifests as reticules and death. So, thanks videogames, you let me down.

*     *     *

I have an alt Twitter account called @WeaponProgress which posts infrequently, tweeting links to articles related to the book I’m writing. I tweeted an article I called “interesting” that suggested cash was the nemesis of artist creativity. After a couple of retweets it ended up on the desk of Australian novelist Alison Croggon, who retweeted me to 8,000 followers with the addition “Can’t say how angry this makes me”.

Croggon's refurbished version of my original tweet was retweeted and this led to a series of disapproving responses from various others. @WeaponProgress continued to be cited in many of the tweets and, although no one had explicitly called out my account as being the enemy, I felt like I was being associated with the negativity. This seemed utterly ridiculous considering the book I’m writing is pro-artist... but also oddly nerve-wracking. For the first time since the account’s creation, I stepped out from behind the @WeaponProgress curtain; I addressed Croggon directly.

Accidents happen. The hubbub eventually died down and Croggon and I ended up following each other after a short discussion.

But accidents don’t always end so quietly.

*     *     *

I like to call it dotfucking.

It’s when you draw attention to a Twitter opponent with a dot in front of your reply. Most of your followers won’t see you locked horns with a Twitter stranger until you insert that fateful dot where it suddenly becomes a numbers game. My followers versus yours. The dotfuck combo instructs your entourage to click the conversation and discover what’s going on. Some of them will get involved, maybe retweet the fight and spread the word.

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Everyone wants to be famous, but it’s somewhat easier to become infamous. Over the decades, the press has been accused of hijacking the lives of individuals, both famous and unknown, to sell papers. Today, the public do it to themselves. They need no justification other than the target deserves it. Everyone is a journalist, everyone is a source, everyone is fair game – and there is no protection or accountability before a baying mob. Emily Bell, the founder director of the Tow Centre for digital journalism at New York’s Columbia university, touched on this in this year’s Hugh Cudlipp lecture:

We now have publishing systems which can amplify every act, alert the world to important events, but which also don’t yet afford these new forms of journalism the same protections as the old.

The dotfuck is quite egalitarian: anyone can be a bully for a day. Your parents would be so proud.

But let’s not omit that the dotfuck also acts as a protective measure. If you think you’re being bullied, the dotfuck becomes an SOS. The cavalry arrives – and the war begins.

*     *     *

I could easily have thrust some dopamine-rich junk in front of the children but keeping the hours spent on videogames down at an early age was important to me. I never let them play alone in the beginning and also wanted their short gaming time to be of some quality. (Videogames hit my life at home from the age of eight, so I’m not being hypocritical here. Not yet.)

I was trying to put L on the same path, but all she could see was the warp to the next level: she wanted what K was playing. Not only did she want to skip the tutorial, but she seemed unimpressed with the same titles that were resonating with her older brother. For example, she wanted to join in when K watched me play Full Bore (Whole Hog Games, 2013) but she’d often disappear before I’d even exited the title screen.

In a way I guess I was pleased as I didn’t have to dilute what K wanted to see and play. Still, he had probably spoilt me with his laser-like focus whereas L’s attention switched faster than the most advanced transistors. I have always suspected the difference in attitude was because K had few toys as he grew up and had to make the most of them, whereas L started out with a two-year toy backlog, an environment supersaturated with colours and shapes and excitement.

*     *     *

There is always something new to look at, something new to distract, to derail.

Twitter wasn’t so obnoxious in the beginning because I had just a handful of friends as followers. Although I was always wary of the kind of gamer gangs that would go on a rampage when someone called Geralt boring, that anxiety was ring-fenced. But in 2012, the weather changed. Even arguments between friends or peers seem to spiral out of control. When someone made a mistake or said something out of turn or controversial enough to get people upset, the individual concerned wouldn’t just get into a heated discussion – they would get destroyed.

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I’m not going to cite any examples here because the very act of referencing can be enough to bring the hate down again, which is why I was wary about discussing Mike Maulbeck’s case in As Good As It Gets. Everyone reading this article who is on Twitter will have their own favourite example of someone who got what they deserved or, perhaps, got what they didn’t.

You might say it’s just a bunch of foul-minded cunts that messed the medium up for everyone else, which sounds suspiciously like the “AOLers ruined the internet” argument that was trotted out ad nauseum on 90s era USENET. But the truth is that established voices were often the origin of ragefests, or at least retweet relays for the anger of others. The social medium excels in dragging the worst out of the best people, the best of intentions degraded to the worst consequences.

Say sorry or we’ll cut you. Nice, now say it like you mean it. We like that you cried on camera but we’ll never forgive your shirt.

*     *     *

It was these tantrums that made me consider putting videogames on hold. When told his time was up, K would often turn aggressive, yelling and crying that he wanted to play more. His behaviour never seemed to improve and I was always the villain in his story.

The original marshmallow experiment suggested that children who do not have the willpower to resist a marshmallow put in front of them will have less successful lives than those who do. A more recent take on the experiment demonstrated this “reduced willpower” is a natural reaction to an unreliable environment. In other words, it suggests a stable home life is important.

The solution to our daily gaming drama was to formalise play not drive it underground because young children thrive in predictable, flexible systems. We promised K he would play at a fixed time for a fixed time every week. We used a timer so he could check how much time he had left and always made sure he was given notice if he was going to miss a session or have it moved around. The tantrums dried up.

The first rule of Parent Club is: fighting prolongs the fighting. When you become a parent, you realise fast that you have to develop an enormous capacity for tolerance. You may not always succeed, but you must always strive to be the bigger person when a bunch of kids who know no better seem hell-bent on ruining your life because you literally are the bigger person. #ParentGate

*     *     *

Some topics are more volatile than others. Discussing sexism, for example, is something I’d leave well alone these days whereas it featured occasionally in the early years. Here’s another: Total Biscuit, who has become such a polarising figure that to mention him on Twitter will define who you are. In an age of binary ethics if you’re not part of the anger, then you’re part of the problem, Charlie.

I remember the nauseous feeling when posting an awkward defence of Nicolau Chaud’s use of the word “tranny” in Polymorphous Perversity (Nicolau Chaud, 2012), even though it turned out later to be a bog standard language snafu (Chaud is Brazilian and misunderstood the term). I also mothballed a response to an early Tomb Raider kerfuffle for fear of unwittingly outing myself as sexist. This essay you are reading right now was drafted last year then filed away as I assumed I would never publish it, for similar reasons.

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But it’s so remarkably easy to get involved in a pile-on that it almost doesn’t matter if you avoid those char-grilled hot topics. Association and, sometimes, tolerance is enough to earn disrepute.

Despite exercising some restraint over my writing, I still get the heebie-jeebies when I post something that’s mostly harmless. I’m a spineless coward, that much is clear. But I’m not the only one. The world is full of silent cowards who don’t want to be angry on the internet. If we all have to be this fierce to be part of the conversation then only the fierce will remain.

The old adage “don’t feed the trolls” is dead. Perhaps an appropriate replacement is “don’t feed the platform”.

*     *     *

It’s foolish to condemn a parent when you see them give a child an iPhone to keep them quiet in a restaurant, because you know nothing about context. It’s almost as ridiculous as judging a book by its cover, or a person by 140 characters. Every day, parents make mistakes. I thought K was not ready for Chess but while he stayed with his Japanese relatives last year, they had no such reservation and let him loose on the free Windows game Chess Titans. When K returned to the UK he had learnt all the rules, if not the strategy, of Chess. He was ready after all.

Gamification is a dirty word, but there’s a bigger system in force at home than just a star chart on the wall. Make it too punishing and you crush spirits yet make the system too forgiving and children consider any sort of resistance an affront. There is no such thing as total freedom. They don’t get the freedom to run across a road recklessly when they don’t understand it – frighteningly, I’ve seen a child do this. There is no such thing as total freedom even when you grow up.

But the mistakes keep coming and you don’t even realise you’re making them half the time. L didn’t like watching a languid game of chess and she went to leave the room. I said she could stay but she responded: “But TV games are for boys.”

A sick feeling bloomed in my chest. No. Oh my God, no.

She was three at the time so I can’t be sure if she gathered this opinion from friends or even her brother. But when I reviewed my attempts to force her through the tutorial phase I saw this: Daddy and K were playing together regularly and Mummy didn’t play games at all. The best of intentions, the unforeseen consequences. I didn’t want her thinking she had to role play a girl.

Going forward I made sure she got her own gaming time every week, two years earlier than K did. (This story is behind us since we became the Minecraft Family.)

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Obviously I am not proud of this incident but it makes for a great punchline, great clickbait: TV Games Are For Boys. But this is a long essay and runs the risk of misinterpretation. Context is everything. I ignored the wider context while I was restricting my daughter’s gaming time, that she could see her brother “having more fun”. At least this mistake could be fixed; mistakes that damage online reputation are not so easy to resolve.

But the author is dead, I can’t tell you what to think, so we’ve reached the point where you will judge me on what you have read. Congratulations for tearing through 3,000 words, you’ve earned this unlock.

My children are going to join the online world soon enough. You might say, dude, this is the real world, they have to grow up some day. I should just throw them into Twitter because that’s how the world is. But, like GTA, I find it hard to believe that the average Twitter shaming has something to do with being a grown-up.

I guess you’d expect an article like this to end with “we should just try to be nicer to one another” but, frankly, I’m past any sort of vapid hope like that. Being terrified is my new normal just as casual, reflexive anger has become that of others. Maybe in years to come the term “Generation Facebook” will be phased out for “Generation Hate”. That would be some legacy.

“TV games are for boys,” she said. “TV games are for boys.”

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Much thanks to fellow RPS contributor Shaun Green and Eric Brasure of Trekabout for their editorial assistance.

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Comments (17) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Had a discussion on Twitter about this article today and, whoops, realised it might not be clear that the tweets are all faked. They are. None of the tweet images are real.

  2. For what it’s worth, I got that the tweets were fake when I saw the last one! They feel pretty realistic though.

    I distinctly remember feeling the weird tension between being a girl and wanting boy things, as a child. I wanted (and got) Transformers, but I knew that even though I LIKED Transformers, Transformers were a boy toy for boys from the boys isle and it was wrong to want them. I had a lot of Lego, because this was before the more distinct segregation of Lego.

  3. I assumed people would know they were fake from the beginning as the tweets refer to the article they appear in: my editorial staff also missed this as I labelled them in the text as “fake tweet” so they weren’t able to warn me of potential misunderstanding. The last tweet is just meant to show some self-awareness rather than a reveal!

    I know these issues of boy/girl toys are coming and they have already begun. L loves pink and princesses and that sort of thing, even though we resisted those clichés. It’s likely friends introduced those things into her life, so there isn’t much we can do about that :)

  4. “It’s when you draw attention to a Twitter opponent with a dot in front of your reply. Most of your followers won’t see you locked horns with a Twitter stranger until you insert that fateful dot where it suddenly becomes a numbers game. My followers versus yours. The dotfuck combo instructs your entourage to click the conversation and discover what’s going on. Some of them will get involved, maybe retweet the fight and spread the word.”

    As someone who doesn’t use Twitter, what excactly does the dot change?

  5. Hi Gues, let me explain.

    With Twitter, you follow people. Your Twitter feed is composed of everything tweeted by people you follow.

    Now you can mention other people using their Twitter handle, eg @ElectronDance and that person will be notified you mentioned them. There’s a “mentions” feed that tells you when someone is talking about you – or possibly to you.

    A special case is when you put the handle right at the start. Twitter then considers this to be a conversation. Although the tweet is still public, it does not appear in other people’s feeds unless you happen to follow both people involved. So the conversation is relatively hidden from all your followers.

    If you put the dot in front, Twitter will respect that you want the conversation to be made public and the tweet will be broadcast to all followers.

    The thing is that Twitter still maintains a conversational chain. If you click on that tweet in your app of choice, you can see the entire history of the conversation. So putting a dot in front of a reply effectively publishes a whole conversation to your followers.

    In the early days, this used to be popular if you felt people were missing out on a cool conversation but now often used to publicise an argument.

    There is lot of other interesting Twitter etiquette too. The “subtweet” where you talk about someone without using their online handle so they don’t get notified. More recently, people are using Twitter URLs in their tweets to cover their tracks completely – shining a light on something without being an obvious evidence that you’re spreading it around. And using the hashtag #gamergate is seen as a way to bring a horde of random anger into a conversation (Rami Ismail broke off a Twitter conversation recently with Adrian Chmierlarz over this very issue, it’s like the dotfuck because lots of gaters have a feed that track citations of this hashtag).

    The “dotfuck” was just one example of the many strange and fascinating modes of interaction that have developed in Twitter.

  6. I liked all of this until I saw the ‘thanks’ section.

    I have two instances of this overrunning my life (pretty sure I have mentioned this before). The first was when a couple of friends who run a Youtube site decided to mention my site but also mention my full real name as a way of playing a prank on me. My old site was then inundated with their fans and I pretty much experienced my first ever full blown anxiety attack. I tried to laugh it off and think it was ‘hilarious’ but when people started tracking me down on facebook and adding me on Xbox Live that is when I almost threw up.

    After that someone showed me a wiki page dedicated to me with this:

    “…is an dick sucking acquaintance of [omitted] who is often mentioned on the show. He hates the PS2, and believes the ass play is the best console ever. These two facts make him the butt of many jokes throughout the show…”

    It was the emotional equivalent of walking into a room and immediately being punched in the face by someone you have never met. Going back and reliving that particular moment still makes me shake a little (later wiki entries has reduced me getting angry with them over this to me being ‘super butthurt’).

    It was this and a few other interactions that led to me just shutting down my old blog.

    The second instance was when things blew up on Twitter, none of the rage or angst was really directed at me but seeing my feed overrun with this stuff led me to not logging into Twitter again. I dropped off it in maybe September or October last year, never went back and I genuinely feel better for it. I still dabble in the information but I use the one forum I visit as a means to filter off some of the crud before I get to it.

    It made me a little sad as Twitter was a really great news feed for a very long time but a bit like the phone I no longer own now that it has been removed from my life I don’t really miss it.

  7. Actually meant to also say that the slight condescion of the fake Twitter bits was entertaining but barely represents what most of Twitter descends into.

    http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/109319269825/one-week-of-harassment-on-twitter

    Some of them might be ‘jokes’ but when you can’t parse out the difference between the jokes and the real ones it is something else.

    I am very fond of the term ‘Eternal September’

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_September

    As it describes what we now live in pretty succintly.

  8. I have a bit of a problem with the Eternal September angle because it suggests that the new people are the ones messing it up for everyone, whereas my experience in a lot of places is that the old guard of the place are often as virulent. (Of course I came in after 1993 and these are often places where I’m a newbie so my perspective is biased.)

    Like I remember Usenet as a wretched hive of scum and villainy–rec.arts.int-fiction the Usenet interactive fiction group fell into desuetude partly because of spam but also because everyone was awful to each other, including at least one troll posting under multiple nyms. And if you go back and look at old RAIF flamewars you will find people saying “Guys calm down, this is one of the nicest places on the Usenet and let’s keep it that way” and it was even true. One not entirely atypical conversation I remember on the jazz discussion group was “Here’s something cool James Carter did; James Carter is musician of the year” “No John Lindberg is the musician of the year” “Yeah James Carter isn’t a pimple on John Lindberg’s ass” and flames to eternity. The nethack discussion list was just as bad, and there were about twenty people on it (including me for a little) who just could not be decent to each other. I hate to think what politics and religions groups were like.

    OK that doesn’t really prove the “old hands are doing it” theory but one thing I remember is that, at least on the nethack group, old hands were constantly flaming newbies about using Google Groups because it misformatted messages when they read it on their software. And there was definitely on none of these groups a noticeable trend for older hands to be better people, at least if you counted all the incarnations of the worst RAIF troll as an old hand.

    I don’t think this had the life-ruining effects of Twitter, though. Is it that with Twitter and other social networks the awfulness has now scaled up to getting the entire world potentially involved, and you can’t really escape it by just cutting and running from one forum?

    (Oh and really nice link for the first one badgercommander, I don’t mean to just be nitpicking one part of your post. Thing that actually surprised me: “We don’t fw with your line of work so why fw with ours?” Bro do you even self-aware.)

  9. Hi, Joel. I’m a longtime lurker – I think I found you from your article on Don’t Take It Personally, Babe. I just wanted to reach out and, I don’t know, express solidarity?

    I’m so tired of listening to anger-peddlers. And I’m tired of seeing people who share my politics forming mobs and running their ‘enemies’ out of town. I’m terrified of this last thing, actually – so much so that I hardly ever comment or talk to people I don’t know IRL these days. Especially after last year. The only way the internet actually works for me is if I imagine it as an archive concerning things that happened a long time ago, that I can’t affect at all.

    /rant. Anyway, I’ll be here in the stacks, reading appreciatively.

  10. By the way, bealatedly, you are not the first parent I’ve heard request a game like GTA, but without the violence, for kids. I don’t know if it can ever really happen, though, since GTA games have such an enormous budget. Controversy and brand recognition helps them sell. As a non parent, I am curious what would be ok and not ok for a kid to do in that simulation, in your opinion. Ok, no killing, but do they still steal cars?

  11. re. “Eternal September” – I think I started using Usenet in about 1997, possibly 1998… maybe even ’96? So fairly early, but well after “Eternal September” is supposed to have begun.

    AOL was still the butt of a lot of jokes and condescension but WebTV had begun to be the new whipping boy. Posts began to crop up written by Americans accessing the ‘net through their TV and not tending to communicate very well. My memory may well be misrepresenting this; I am sure that “these people don’t even own a computer” geek snobbery was a factor here.

    The reason I mention this is to highlight that the whole “Eternal September” concept is a pretty neat encapsulation of the internet version of the “golden age” historical fallacy – that if you go back far enough everything was fine. This particularly comes up when discussing the behaviour of a nation’s youth at large, or crime throughout society, or “public morality”, whatever that might be. In national sociology you’re normally talking about human generational gaps but with the internet the cycle is tied to technological and commercial generation gaps and so is much smaller.

    Hell, September 1993 is only a couple of years after internet access was opened up to more than a few academics and institutions (ish, there isn’t exactly a neat changeover point as I understand it).

    All that said… it kind of works as a metaphor for how public-facing social media can feel these days. A boot stamping on a human face, whilst tweeting on its smartphone, forever?

    P.S. I’ve never been dotfucked or mobbed or anything like it, but my heart starts thumping whenever I read negative comments on anything I’ve written. I dread to think what will happen to me if I ever raise the ire of someone prone to directing bile at people. My arteries and veins would instantly flush themselves with cryogenic fluid so that I could hibernate until the problem went away.

  12. Right it’s been a fraught few days but I can get back to these comments at last.

    BC: I remember you talking about this some time back so I just went out and was able to track down that wiki page. Christ alive, that’s insane. You effectively got turned into the straight man for someone else’s show except it was allowed to escape through the “frame” of the show into your real life. I can understand you jacking out of the internet like you have.

    As you know, because we met, I was at Rezzed for a couple of days and it was fun times. Then I looked at Twitter properly after these two days and just saw lots of complaints and negativity again – some of it justified, some of it not, some of it exaggerated. It’s just overwhelming and you don’t want to be that guy shouting “shut up, I just want to be happy, don’t tell me bad things”.

    When Kieron Gillen retweeted this piece I was on biting my fingernails wondering what was going to happen – you can read so many things into this piece, that GG is a bunch of kids, that SJWs love to dress people down. And when nothing happened, I was like, wahhhht, why did I worry?

    I wanted to make the point that while most of us see the deplorable viciousness of rape threats and doxxing, more milder forms of negative attention can still have serious consequences for the individuals concerned. (Your own example is a textbook example of going on the run because of being singled out.) So: fighting fire with a “weaker form” of fire is also just as bad. I don’t know what people expect the endgame to be in these engagements? That people are beaten in submission, lose their jobs, or leave the internet? What do they want?

    Matt:I joined USENET around 1994, I would guess. It’s difficult to confirm or refute the truth of “Eternal September” (I experienced a few AOL addresses that caused a lot of trouble!) and I once got chewed out for making the kind of joke a regular would make because I wasn’t regular (missing context, people thought I was serious). Still, it doesn’t really matter because you don’t get to make the internet for a special few; I’m more worried about the internet slowly being transformed from a public good to a private turf.

    Yes, the difference between the old USENET and Twitter is that notoriety has no upper bound; before you could get exiled from a particular group but now it’s far as the virality can carry you. Potentially you can become a global news story, as has been shown to happen. I was reminded of a recent story in which someone had left money for a mum on a train, a random act of kindness – once it hit the news, everyone wanted to find out “who it was”. That’s punishment for kindness, not a reward.

    Mittvinda: Thanks for your kind words, it’s always nice to hear from the occasional longtime lurker. I don’t know who you all are, but I know you’re there! Far as I see, there are two consequences to running people out of town: one is that, well, without any strict rules of engagement (Twitter is a free for all unlike a moderated forum) who “gets it” can be anybody, and it can feel random. Second, if enough people feel excluded and demonized they’re likely to band together under a common goal of getting their own back: maybe this has happened already.

    Happy lurking!

    Amanda:The problem with your question is that the term “kid” covers a vast age range. At what age is it appropriate to see your character yank a driver out of the car and punch them so you can take their car? At the ages of 4-6, I don’t feel comfortable exposing them to these type of scenes. On the other hand, just “making use” of empty vehicles around the city is fine because it’s easy to relate that as an artifice of the simulation. And there’s nothing wrong with being cheeky.

    There was this wonderful period when all my son wanted to do was drive around a cars and trains around a city – and not in some on-rails kids game, but in a AAA city. I origially went for ETS2 because it seemed to offer that, but the cities are generally very small. I totally get that you’re not going to get a harmless AAA city, but I felt like surely someone must have done something like that. But the moment passed and now he is more interested in games with more tangible goals than exploration. Minecraft is the only game which has held both children’s attention for such a long time.

    I could go into more detail about the complicated issues around children & videogames offline, if you want; I don’t really want to put a lot on here, because it can come across like I’m judging others or as an invitation for others to judge me. It’s a black art, but we also exist in an ecosystem of other parents and children – and that is more significant than you might think. That would be a whole different article.

    Shaun: It’s still possible that this article will anger someone much later down the line. You’re never safe, really. I think it took two years between Jennifer Hepler’s interview where she wanted the option to skip combat and being called a cancer.

  13. Thanks, yeah, maybe it could be a separate article! It’s more my curiosity as a developer at this point. “My kids want to play GTA because of the beautiful city simulation, but I’m not comfortable with that,” is such a common statement that I hear. I feel like I personally would err on the side of being super permissive, but everyone tells me I will feel differently if I actually had the kid.

  14. My twin daughters are 3 and so far we’ve played Proteus together, which was really great, especially since their first playthroufh of it was my first too. They enjoyed watching Kerbal space program for a while but it was too passive for them and they got bored. I just switched to a standing desk, which literally puts gaming out of their reach. Haven’t figured out the solution to that one yet. Parenting is hard.

  15. Hi Finn (of Full Bore)! I actually had to give up playing Full Bore because once it gets really rock hard (oh the puns) in the second hard, I need to think on each puzzle and that’s not what my son is really interested in, he wants to explore and keep finding things. He likes solving puzzles as long as they are done quickly. Inevitably we had to move on. Unfortunately this means I haven’t gone back and finished the game either! A similar problem happening right now with The Talos Principle which requires some heavy thinking particularly around the stars. (Also: Daddy, reading the words is boring.)

    They’re attracted to the wonder but rejected by the steep challenge. This will all change, of course, and I’m sure my son at least will seek challenge. But I’m just kinda sad that the moment of looking for the “urban simulator” has passed, we missed it. Euro Truck Simulator 2 worked some magic, but my daughter just doesn’t have the patience for it.

    They also loved Botanicula but due to genre blending that game killed their interest. I need to write a little more about that (a bit on this was deleted from this article).

  16. Spintires is a really interesting puzzle game with an open world. Also has massive truck appeal. You get a goal and a couple square kilomters of Taiga to navigate in order to accomplish it. I’ll have to see if the twins like it. They love trucks.

  17. Spintires was the game that sniped my Wages of Fear simulator idea.