super kaizo

If you wanted to piss off literary critics in 1967, you probably should have written an essay called ‘Death of the Author’ like Roland Barthes did. The author, he maintained, is irrelevant to understanding a text. Those critics who want to wring the truth out of the author, to unlock the One True Meaning, are lazy cretins. Producing art is only half the job; it is the audience who breathe meaning into it.

This idea has not gone unchallenged over the years although it is now commonplace for patrons to figure out their own interpretation of a work of art. In videogames too. Aram Zucker-Scharff wrote a piece in July called Indie Devs vs New Games Journalism: “As a result, a critique from the reviewer’s experience will always be far stronger than an attempt at interpreting the developer’s ideas. Let the text stand alone.”

There was discussion about Cardboard Computer’s Ruins over on Tap-Repeatedly about intent versus whatever shit went on inside the player’s head. Gregg B let his rage fly with this barbed anecdote:

I love subtlety but there’s a fine line between reading things that aren’t there and identifying things that are there by design. The former I really hate, mainly because at uni I did an animation short which, looking back was utterly pretentious but there was meaning in it and I stood in a presentation and explained what it all meant. I nearly failed. Another lady on my course — my arch nemesis — filmed water going down a fucking plug hole and said in her presentation “It’s open to interpretation” and she passed with rainbows, stars and miles and miles of smiles. I’m not bitter at all.

Calm down Gregg and have a nice cup of jasmine tea. While we’re waiting for the flavour to diffuse, I want to chat about the author, the artwork and whether these things are as separate as we like to imagine.   

Love and hate

Every day, consumers make decisions based on brand. With art, it is the artist who is the brand.

The author Orson Scott Card has all sorts of “interesting” opinions on homosexuality which he has been quite open about. Gay sex should be banned. Sexual abuse is the root cause of homosexuality. Most homosexuals long for a “normal” life.

The game Shadow Complex takes place in one of Orson Scott Card’s fictional worlds and whilst author Peter David was the actual writer for the game, the development team consulted Card on the storyline. As the game had a clear association with Card, there were calls for a boycott of the game. David argued it wouldn’t be fair to persecute someone who speaks up for gay and lesbian rights, so why apply the same tactics to Card?

What’s the end game here? To try and send a message to as many sources as possible that if they hire Orson Scott Card to work for them, they’re going to take a financial hit? To put Card out of business? To make sure that someone is going to face financial ruin because he has opinions that differ from yours? That is intolerant. It’s inelegant. It’s cheap and vicious and small-minded.

Card isn’t the only one whose personal views had an impact on his creative works. Frank Miller, the author of graphic novels such as Sin City and RoboCop vs. The Terminator,  wrote a diatribe against the Occupy movement on his blog towards the end of 2011:

“Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness.

Some fans of Miller decided they no longer wanted anything to do with him or his work. The first comment under this blog post reads, “I used to be your biggest fan. You’re now dead to me.”

When Valve Software launched a fee for Steam Greenlight in an attempt to control noise on their new platform, not everyone was comfortable with the change. Game developer Jonas Kyratzes wrote a piece arguing against the fee but this led to some blowback from not just other developers but also players. On a followup post, Addendum on Classism, one of the comments reads:

Finally I have played just about all of your games. Though not all to completion. I used to admire your work. Though at this point I have grave doubts about you as the compassionate human being you claim to be.

Things also work the other way around. The author can be the very reason why the crowds come. Witness the success of certain Kickstarters which garner cash more through faith than proof of concept. Notch’s followup to Minecraft is no doubt going to be financially successful because it is by Notch.

Whether this kind of pre-judging via author is good or bad is arguable. Sometimes being a prick is the only way to make a point. To engage only the creative works of those authors you could personally get along with is just another way of creating a filter bubble.

These are all shallow examples, though, where knowledge of the author affects our decision to experience the artwork at all. Does the author affect our understanding of the work itself?


Sometimes knowing who the author is will change the experience. (Some mentions of sexual violence in the following paragraphs.)

Merritt Kopas’ Lim received a lot of positive attention last year, a short, free game about a square. Some players were quite moved such as Electron Dance reader Switchbreak:

Lim is a stealth game where hiding is painful. Where being discovered is painful. It’s a game about violence. About fighting for every inch gained slowly, slowly.

I played Lim and wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to take away from it. The only in-game clue you get is that your character’s “power” is to blend in so I assumed it was a game about being different, the pressure to conform. Well, yes, it is about that, but it was crafted with a more specific intention. On RPS a link on the word “something” reveals it is about passing, the difficulty in trying to conform to gender norms. Zoya Street wrote about Lim on The Border House:

One of the charges of pretentiousness stems from the idea that you wouldn’t ‘get it’ unless you looked up information about its author. Merritt tweets publicly about the physical and social effects of coming out as trans and undergoing hormone replacement therapy. I feel uncomfortable describing someone else’s personal experience, but my understanding is that at the moment, she is sometimes read as male, sometimes as female, and can adjust her gender presentation for certain circumstances.

Under the death of the author methodology, we should forge our own interpretations; but if those who were in on the secret were the ones who experienced the game most strongly, then can we really dismiss the author as an irrelevance?

Someone asked Anna Anthropy on Formspring whether the fierce criticism of hentai card game Tentacle Bento – which turns alien tentacle rape into a game – would cause problems for her own works such as rape fantasy game Sex Cops of Tickle City. Anthropy was not pleased with the comparison but she offered a more interesting answer on a later question along similar lines:

i know that “the author is dead” … but context is important. it’s cool to have fantasies, but don’t externalize them in a way that makes people feel less safe, especially in a culture that’s already so unsafe for women.

Anthropy acknowledges that authorial context has relevance. Knowing who Anna Anthropy is prepares you for the content, tone and intention of her games.

Lastly, my own experience of Polymorphous Perversity (NSFW) was informed by knowing the author, Nicolau Chaud. Some sections of the game featuring transgendered characters seemed to paint him as transphobic – something that made no sense to me. My own personal reading of the game was guided by this knowledge, thinking that the “obvious” meaning could not possibly be the real one.

It doesn’t always work this way, of course. Wither is more enjoyable if you fill in the game’s narrative blanks yourself. Letting the author explain the game’s intentions later mars this experience, especially when that explanation is less ambitious than your own. Indeed, sometimes you need to shoot the author dead – bang, bang – if they won’t stop talking.

Let’s go deeper. Can the author be a presence? A companion? A competitor?

All games are multiplayer

Johann Sebastian Joust developer Doug Wilson earned his PhD last year with a dissertation called “Designing for the Pleasures of Disputation” (PDF). The second chapter is entitled “Dialogic Game Design” in which he explains how art can sometimes be viewed as a conversation between artist and audience, and he rattles through several examples to support this argument.

artist is present

Kazio Mario is a Super Mario World mod that is infamous for being not just hard but unfair on the player. Wilson suggests “the “game” here is not just the struggle of player against level; it is the contest of player against designer – a battle of wits and willpower.” The designer is trying to frustrate the player as much as possible, and the player refuses to admit defeat, desperate to outwit his opponent. It is not a single-player game – it’s a two-player competition.

Wilson also looks to the murder mystery novels of Agatha Christie and says her lasting legacy is “her work as a puzzle-game designer”. Each book is a puzzle the reader wants to solve before Christie reveals the answer, but the author is well aware her readers will have read her previous works. She cannot re-use tricks and plot twists and must innovate to “stay one step ahead of her reader”.

Wilson considers the work of performance artist Marina Abramović whose work confronts the audience, often directly. Her most recent work, The Artist is Present, was the ultimate distillation of the idea that art is a conversation, with members of the public allowed to sit opposite Abramović – in silence – for as long as they wished.

Wilson concludes that “contrary to traditional usability wisdom, sometimes the designer really does “come in the box”.”

I recall making a similar point during a disagreement on Second Person Shooter in 2010. We were discussing why some of us were averse to using cheats to finish games and one commenter had asserted that all games were social experiences and cheating contravenes a social code between players. I couldn’t agree because I was not part of a social circle of players, online or offline, yet I did concede: “If you really want to push the social aspect as an explanation, well, it wasn’t between me and other gamers – it was a compact between myself and the developer.”

The author exists

In the age of the internet, the author is more accessible, more real and more substantial than ever before. The author blogs. The author tweets. We know things about the author, something about his or her politics and personality. Maybe a few dirty secrets. It is all part of the modern media game and perhaps in these connected times we know a little more than we should.

But when I play Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV, I cannot help but think that Cavanagh is cheering me on, telling me that I can do it. Each room was crafted to be defeated and giving up is not an option, because it would disappoint the designer.

Developer Matt James embedded an image of himself in his game qrth-phyl, knowing that his games represent him. We are not just playing qrth-phyl, we are playing James himself.

qrth-phyl author

Critics are free to dismiss the author if they wish, but it would be foolish to pretend that audiences are able to separate the artist from the art in such a clinical manner.

Or even whether they should.

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47 thoughts on “The Author As Content

  1. What a fantastic article to start the year off with. My anecdote you open with is pretty much the sole reason why this topic gets me hot under the collar (as I’m sure you’ve gathered), not least because I went in the face of the doctrine ‘let the text stand alone’ (a doctrine I valued as an artist) by standing up and explaining what my pretentious short meant and what the various things symbolised. I was so annoyed by that whole debacle though that I even renamed my short after the mark it got. 48! Haha, oh my.

    I prefer the idea of going into a work blind, but I can see how knowing certain things beforehand can enhance the experience rather than just limit or damage it. Having said this, it’s debatable just what exactly should be tied to an author’s output, as in Orsen Scott Card’s personal views versus his work or even say, Gary Glitter’s personal life and his music. I suspect there’s not much overlap there. But you look at someone like George Micheal who took his toilet scandal and spun it into a kind of celebratory song about coming out, with a sexy video featuring a disco ‘bathroom’. That was amazing and very clearly bridged the life/work divide. I suppose what I’m saying is there’s a difference between context and irrelevant baggage, though exactly what that difference is remains unclear!

    I also love Doug Wilson’s take on Agatha Christie whodunnits. That might explain why I tend to enjoy them so much.

  2. I guess we could summarise the whole thing as “it’s complicated”. Is it possible to appreciate the art created by someone you find distasteful? I was never a Gary Glitter fan but somehow feel I won’t be playing his tunes in the near future – great example, Gregg. There’s also a difference between activism (call for boycott) and actually finding the art feel… “infected” by the author. I think you can read Frank Miller’s work as representative of his political views, for example, which you may start to interpret as political propaganda. (That’s what I pulled from Alan Moore’s reaction.)

    It was Doug’s piece – which was originally on the web a couple of years ago – that opened my eyes to the idea of the author being a living part of the art. It’s obviously true in performance art, but something like dead trees or electrons across silicon, it seems less so. I’ve been begging to put it back up for ages, so I was relieved when his dissertation was finally published.

    (To set the record straight, if I recall correctly from the dissertation, Doug wasn’t the first person to call out Agatha Christie as a puzzle designer.)

  3. I’m not well-versed in literary theory, so this will all probably just embarrass me, but here goes.

    I have problems with death of the author for two primary reasons. One, it’s an active repudiation of the personhood of the author–it’s an overreaction. Of course the creator of a work is found in their creation. Of course that’s not the only possible interpretation or perhaps even the most interesting one.

    Two, it’s fucking 50 years old. Can we get some new theory up in here? Jesus.

  4. Great piece! Lots to think about and click through here. As you can probably figure out from our discussion on Tap earlier, authorial intent is always a matter of interest to me.

    (Randomly, was I the only person that didn’t really care who wrote Shadow Complex, but thought the story was just boring anyway?)

  5. Great way to start the new year, HM!

    There’ll be a lot of this author discussion in years to come, as there has been a fair amount (related to games) in recent years. Games are different; a different animal. Many of the rules are going to require reevaluation, or at least new perspectives.

    Thomas Liam MacDonald recently wrote that his strongest argument refuting the claim that games are are is that games “get worse,” experientially, with time – the Venus de Milo is as beautiful today as on its first day, and as readily appreciable; X-Com (or, rather, UFO: Enemy Unknown on your side) is not.

    I don’t disagree with him, but I don’t know that an equilibrium of appreciation is a requirement for something to be art. If a modern reader finds Shakespeare difficult to understand, is Shakespeare therefore less art for it? Or is the entire medium of the stage play not art at all because older ones can be harder to appreciate?

    So when it comes to authorship, I think this – the author is always there, maybe at the fore, maybe very much in the background. His or her intent may also be front and center or utterly minimalist. But ultimately what a consumer of art takes away from a piece is up to the consumer, the author can only influence, not dictate. If the consumer gets it wrong, or doesn’t get it at all, well, maybe that reflects on the art, maybe on the consumer; who knows. But as much as authorial determinance is a crucial aspect of game development, I don’t think that the author can define the experience in games any more than they can in other media.

    Bravo on your article!

  6. There’s a quote I pull out a lot by Tassos Stevens — it goes something like “A play begins when you first hear about it, and ends when you stop thinking about it”. I think it’s a useful way to approach things, on the whole.

    Which makes an interesting flavour when combined with the Death of an Author stuff. It’s not the authors intentions that are primary — but part of the creation of a work is influencing the context in which it will be experienced. Is your experience of Kentucky Route Zero, for instance, changed because it has such a gorgeous website. If it was tiny and crabbed, would that change the experience, and the meaning you read from the work. For you the experience of Cart Life (to take another example from the IGF finalist list, woo!) is tied up in the discovery of it, in knowing Hofmeier, of all that. Right? That personal context is a lot of why games are important, as well — the game I played on the ferry over, on that holiday, you remember when I was still dating x? The album I listened to over and over while studying for those exams… Some things are clearly outside the work, but it’s the devils task to try to find the clear dividing line.

    All of which is different from the author having control over the meaning. The author is dead, but they can try to make their obituary say the right thing, I guess. Uh, and George Michael’s obituary will clearly mention bathrooms…

  7. About the whole “the author is dead thing”, I guess it’s impossible to say what’s wrong and what’s right. In some cases, there’s a difference in the game experience from knowing something about the author. That difference can be positive, it can be negative, or just different. Most important, it’s not something the player can really choose. If you know something about the author, you can’t pretend that you don’t when playing his game/checking his art. But that’s just repeating what you said, I guess!

    I have a strong people bias, so if I know ANYTHING about the author (or his previous work), that’s not something I can ignore playing his game. But that bias is also an interest, so having in mind that a game is a dialog between player and dev (as you excellently put it) makes a game all the more interesting.

    I half-agree with Eric Brasure though, that the personhood of the author CAN be an overreaction. I know it’s not the best sample, but being part of online gamemaking communities that are formed primarily by young teenagers who are new to game making and are mostly trying to reproduce the games they know and like, it’s often frustrating to expect character from games. If I move on from speaking of newbies, I guess the difference is mostly technique and $$$, but maybe not intention. If you think of AAA games, it’s definitely an overreaction to think of any kind of “personhood” in them. That’s why a tend to look for “stranger” games, because the author seems to be more present. But it’s often hard to tell what’s the author’s personality and intention, and what’s just reproduction. Harder yet to tell if there’s a difference at all.

  8. It’s an interesting discussion to have. In any decision between a more-subjective or less-subjective analysis of a game (or, you know, anything), I feel a pull toward the more subjective side. Part of this is that I feel like the more I try to see through or decipher the intent of a game, the less room I leave for it to challenge me by being something completely different in practice.

    It gets a lot more difficult when it comes to minority authors telling their stories. It seems like you simply can’t ignore the author as context without also ignoring issues of cultural hegemony and political statements made through art. But I also worry a lot about imposing an image of who I think the author is in how I interpret the politics of a game – of taking what they’re saying and subconsciously twisting it into this caricature of what I think their beliefs must be. I’m not sure it’s ever possible to put aside that kind of projection entirely.

  9. Great discussion! Honored to be mentioned in this post

    Yeah, to be clear, I didn’t coin Christie as “puzzle designer” – see the references cited in my dissertation.

    btw I strongly agree w/ George’s smart comments here!

    Actually, I wish more indies would actively grapple with the importance of context. There are fruitful design opportunities there, if you keep your eyes open. That is to say, culture *itself* can be a useful design “material.” This is in fact the story of Johann Sebastian Joust – it’s not so much an “innovative” game as it is a surprising game /given it’s particular framing/ (see Chapter 4 of my dissertation for my argument about that).

  10. I have moments when writing a piece like this when I think “isn’t this just common sense?” and tempted to shelve the article. So I’m happy that it’s provoked so much response so far, thanks all.

    While I was getting this ready, I realised I was reaching towards something else but my thoughts hadn’t congealed yet. George hits it on the head with context; author is just one example of a broader context that readers build into their appreciation of a work.

    In terms of critical analysis, context is a bit of rabbit hole. How much context is useful for critical consideration? No critique can claim to examine a text alone – you might have killed the author, but there’s no way you’ve ignored the society and culture in which the work was birthed. If context is important, why be so arbitrary that the author needs to be bumped off? So I side a little with Eric, although that doesn’t stop me from saying Eric embarrassed himself there.

    (There was also an interesting discussion on Twitter last night involving Doug Wilson, George Buckenham, Michael Brough and Liz Ryerson. Michael was disappointed that context was important to the success of a game, and thus becomes a form of constraint on what you are “allowed” to make. This is a different issue but obviously related.)

    Amanda, as you know, I was worried that your recent authorship discussion with Dix was going to steal my thunder but it turned out we were talking about totally different areas. I never played Shadow Complex, incidentally, because it wasn’t a PC title. My impression is that boycotts don’t work in the main, so I doubt this had a serious impact on sales.

    I don’t mind art being very clear about it’s intentions, provided it’s not in my face, and I also like ambiguity which invites interpretation. (But it depends on a subjective “quality of ambiguity” which I wrote about before regarding Dear Esther.)

    I think Nicolau raises another point which was on my mind, and this applies more I think to Amanda/Dix’s article on Tap. We like indie because they show off a human author far more than AAA. This is a general observation and one which breaks down if you examine it too closely; author-teams can still create work with a recognizable flavour. (Looking Glass, anyone? I could also cite Valve, but I can some people coming back and saying those games are polished to banal perfection.)

    Deleted scenes: I also had a section in here about the controversial Rosenberg interview on Tomb Raider, but the example was wayyyy too complicated. Plus I already had plenty of author-as-brand examples by that point.

  11. This is a great post, on a very complicated topic. Two things came to mind: I think sometimes the author is “there” as authority, and that is a different position that affects interpretation (likewise, sometimes the author vanishes, or is present like Doug writes about). The author as authority is the default rhetorical position in biography, essays, and other fictional/literary genres.

    Second, I somewhat now regret not having told Doug to read El Quijote (or Tristram Shandy). The ways in which early modern novels complicate authorship are, I think, a rich example of dialogic aesthetics (even, dialogic design)

  12. Unlike Eric I’ve got some theory up in here, but I’ll tell you that Death of the Author (there’s a stock joke about the futility of Barthes trying to correct his readers’ misinterpretations) is one of those concepts that, these days, is so much of a Given in universities–or at least in my university–that it’s so much less of a deal. Honestly, I see it discussed much more in tech circles than literary circles.

    So let’s talk about a tiny bit of oversimplified background. Literary criticism has tended to shift between writer-centered, text-centered, reader-centered, and culture-centered. (There are of course schools of criticism which blend these, and no movement can be viewed monolithically, but I really doubt we’re looking for a textbook on literary theory here.)

    A movement like Romanticism privileges the writer. Look no further than the title of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”–literature is writing which is a pure expression of Self. Formalist criticism–most closely associated with the New Criticism movement of the 20s and 30s–was largely an attempt to get away from what was seen as a lack of intellectual rigor behind the way texts were analyzed and interpreted. And so a text was viewed as a closed system. It was possible to find “THE meaning” of a given text, assuming a certain amount of skill/knowledge on the part of the writer and on the part of the critic. If you’ve ever been in a high school English class, you’ve done New Criticism. It’s essentially exegesis–here’s what the eyes of TJ Eckelberg represent, here’s the number of times that Kingston uses the word “Well” in “No Name Woman” and what that means, here’s how the irregular spelling and punctuation express madness. Meaning isn’t really open to interpretation–it’s something inherent to a text which can be “unlocked” if you read closely enough. Contradictory interpretations can’t really comfortably exist–one is “more correct” than the other.

    It’s in this context that Barthes–and yes, the futility of his attempts to correct misreadings is a stock joke–came in. It was the 20th century, it was post World War II when postmodernism was still in swing, and it was the 60s. The concept of “THE meaning” became suddenly embarrassingly outdated at best and oddly offensive at worst. An asshole got into power and had millions of people brutally murdered because he was an asshole; the entire world became uprooted as a result of fighting this war; and the “good guys” ultimately ended it by dropping a superweapon which killed or horribly maimed everyone it came in contact with. Meaning was, quite frankly, fucked up, and to assert that it was possible that you could study something until it was understood forever and ever, amen–that seemed to fly in the face of an increasingly fragmented society. Identity politics was beginning to be a Thing as well. And so naturally Death of the Author was a revolutionary idea and an extremely Protestant one. We didn’t need heirarchs to interpret the Word of the Author to us any more–a text’s meaning was what it meant to you.

    This was, of course, what allowed Cultural Criticism to thrive, and that in fact is one of the main modes of literary analysis these days. It’s here that we have Marxism, or Queer Studies, or Feminism–a text is something which does not germinate in isolation but is rather the result of certain social and cultural forces, mediated by the author whose life is just as affected by these social forces. Death of the Author works fairly curiously in cultural criticism, because it allows for an author to be limited by events beyond his or her control. And so an author’s intention might be simply to extoll the beauty of a woman in his poetry–but a feminist can deconstruct it and see that the pedestal he’s placing her on doesn’t allow for any intellectual agency and reduces her to the status of Object.

    I suppose I find all of the talk about Death of the Author, as it is spoken about in videogame circles, to be very curious, seeing as it’s mostly used to enable New Games Journalism. Formalism is no longer an appropriate method of analysis–it’s seen as a useful *tool*, and certainly a very important first step (you gotta understand what a metaphor is before you can even begin to call yourself a critic), but the limitations are obvious, and post-Death-Of-The-Author work is so much richer. At the same time, everyone’s on Facebook and everyone is Special and Important. Telling the Crit Kiddies, “Hey, what the author means is irrelevant–what’s important about this is WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU, you special little snowflake you” is a great way to get a bunch of shitty articles about how Mario 3 makes you feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel.

    And so I find myself arguing for gradients again. Perhaps there’s a sliding scale of Authorship. Anthropy is an excellent example–as you say yourself, out of context her work can be seen as intensely problematic. Having read her writing, played her games, and familiarized myself with much of the Theory that she’s using as a philosophical background, her games become very interesting nexuses, deconstructing and parodying and representing and misrepresenting sexuality. Lesbian Spider Queens of Mars, for example, can be taken at face value from the title alone to be naughty pulp trash, but the fact that the game is designed by Anthropy makes one more receptive to what the game is doing, which is shifting the titular (heh) Spider Queen from object to subject. That kind of title normally is used, in the pulp tradition from which it comes, to denote an antagonist–it’s designed to evoke a dashing young astronaut who goes to Mars and finds himself erotically captured by the exotically sexy and violently unattainable Spider Queen (although maybe he’ll manage to seduce her by the end). Anthropy’s game places the Spider Queen as the protagonist, turning her exoticism, sexuality, danger, and unattainability into strengths. There are still scantily-clad lady slaves running around, but they’re not presented as prizes for a male hero to win–the goal of the game is for the Spider Queen to reclaim her own property–they’ve strayed from the fold of the Lesbian Spider Queen and are simply being returned to their rightful place. Out of context, the game can be viewed as a slaveowner refusing to give up ownership of her slaves, which is something we all hopefully believe is wrong; viewed in the context of Anthropy’s life and fantasies, which she’s extremely open about, the sexual slavery develops a deeper erotic charge, made okay by the underpinnings of consent. In a case like this, I don’t want the Author dead–in isolation, LSQoM is a campy trifle, if a fun one; in context of the rest of Anthropy’s work, it represents a restatement of her major theme.

    Steerpike–can I get a link to the article that you quote? Because the view that art doesn’t depreciate but videogames do, and that’s why videogames aren’t art, I think I hate that opinion. The fact that the Venus de Milo is famous for the fact that it is decidedly NOT in the same form as it was on the first day–that alone makes the argument suspicious. Art, no matter what the medium, has different things to say at different times. Some books are very important for the year they’re published and have a major impact on society but then fade into historical curiosities–and some painters die completely unknown and then become part of the canon years after their death. Most videogames do not age well because of their dependence on technology–on being cutting edge, on following trends. That doesn’t mean that Videogames aren’t art–it just means that those particular videogames aren’t art. Some videogames age extremely well. Have you played Mario 3 lately? It’s 23 years old and it’s still exquisite. Anyway I’d be interested to see the argument in its original context. I do think talking about an author’s control as “influence” is an interesting notion and one I will have to brood over and write another three-thousand word comment about.

  13. @George – that is a great quote. It reminds me a lot of what SWERY said about Deadly Premonition, actually. He said the game needed to be game that you thought about even when you weren’t playing it, so it would always be part of your context outside of the game. And it worked marvelously (and feels like a very “authored” game).

    @HM Yeah, Dix and I ended up talking more about how authorship may or may not create meaning rather than how knowing the author influences the thoughts about the game. There’s just a lot tied up in this. Sometimes I wonder if I have the capacity to make a genuinely interesting indie game because I am unsure if I have a genuinely interesting autobiography.

    @Richard just piping in to say I love your comment also. This site always has such rich discussion threads. I am certainly guilty from time-to-time of writing “how this makes me feel” type articles. But discussions of what a game is/is trying to do, maybe with some developer context, are usually more interesting to me.

  14. Well, I have a feeling that this comment will be a bug in between monsters, but I actually have something to add this time!

    The thing is, that necessary context can be regulated. Most classic novels that are reprinted are given an introduction. This introduction can explain tricky concepts; give both relevant and loosely relevant information on the author; explain what the story meant to the culture it resided within; discuss the nuances of translating a hundred year old French novel for a modern reader, or whatever else is important to reading the book (the issue I’ve always had with introductions is that they’re meant to be read before the work, but many of its points are only useful after the book has been read. It’s irritating to spoil the entire novel so that you can enjoy it more).

    Games should have introductions; just, ours should be better than the trite and well-monitored introductions from well-reversed novels. We should produce three distinct types of writing: guides, commentaries, and discussions. Guides are meant to introduce a player to a game, give them the information needed to enjoy/understand it, and give them reasons to play it *right now*. Commentaries are made to expose more information or understanding to the player after they’ve discovered most of it for themselves. Discussions trudge into a game that is too poor/old to spoil, and extract the heart of it, thus displaying it in internet museums. These are commentaries that don’t expect the player to actually play the game.

    We’ve been doing it already (which leads me to believe that I’m stating something that everyone knows so well that they don’t bother to mention it): HM introduced Cart Life as a brilliant game that deserves as little foreknowledge as possible. Jason Rohrer decided that context was unnecessary for Passage, but that readers should be given an explanation after it’s played. Arcadian Rhythms (I think; I couldn’t find the actual post) talked about a truly horrible zombie game that made for excellent (accidental) co-op. Not to mention all the commentators encouraging players to simply allow themselves to be sucked into Call of Duty.

    It’s impossible to rob a player of what they know from previous games or research, but you can at least give them the context that’s actually important for a particular game. I think that’s the best we’ll be able to manage.

    (Well, I guess this one wasn’t that small after all. I’ll likely take this comment and use its husk to make a proper post.)

  15. Ha ha, sorry, I’m terrible.
    I do love it when a game has commentary. Or even an author’s note. But I’m not sure it should be necessary for every game.

    I wonder what the “forward” would look like for Mario 3 for example.

  16. Well, of course not every game should have the whole set. I’ve suggested a few games to friends without explaining anything about them (beautiful escape being one of them, haha). The Super Mario World hack “Mario” simply needs the player to have played Super Mario World for context, for instance.

    In the case of Mario 3, a reviewer would simply say some good things about it, encourage players to grab it, and point them to both the emulation software and a ROM. Or, they could give oodles of context to explain what Mario 3 meant when it came out (i.e. The Wizard), which isn’t the sort of article I just suggested, but it’s hardly one I ‘outlaw.’

  17. The years in between graduating college and marrying my wife were some of the hardest I’d ever had.

    I say ‘marrying’, not met. I’d actually met Momo the first day of freshman year when we sat next to each other in Introduction to Business class. I’d only taken the class because my father wanted me to, I explained. I was an artist. Cocky shit. You know. You’re 18, you want the pretty girl next to you to be impressed with you.

    I remember her reaction to this day: She just laughed, tossed back her hair, and said, ‘So you’re gonna be a pauper then. I’m taking this class because I want a job. You should go to trade school if you wanna be an artist. At least a plumber can put food on the table.’

    I don’t think I need to tell you that I fell in love with her at that very moment.

    When I learned that she got engaged senior year and was married shortly after graduation, I threw myself into my work. I began drawing. The woman I loved as a princess. The man who had married her as a monster. Each of the eight women I dated was put into the game as the Toads at the end of each level.

    Everyone knows that story–it’s where I got the inspiration for my breakthrough hit Super Mario Bros. But I think Super Mario Bros 3 is my masterpiece, for it is in SMB3 that I was finally able to say everything about the long time I waited for my wife to finally divorce that lunk she married. Few people know this, but before she married me, my wife had had children already with her husband….”

    –from “Super Mario Bros 3: An Introduction” by Shigeru Miyamoto

  18. @mwm I’m not used to people enjoying that sort of thing. Please accuse me of trying to silence you or being a representative of the Patriarchy or something because this is the Internet after all.

    I do think a series of introductions would be useful for understanding a lot of games. I’m working on a piece on Walking Dead for another site, and I might steal that idea. I mean, remix and reappropriate because this is the Internet after all.

    @Richard You made that stupid joke about Barthes’s reaction to criticism of the Death of the Author twice. Proofread your shit.

    @Richard Hey, don’t look at me, once it’s out in the wild, man, I got nothin’ to do with nothin’.

  19. Speaking of dev commentaries –

    The second playthrough of 30 Flights of Loving, with dev commentary, is what made that game for me. It’s definitely a powerful, under-utilized tool!

    Though of course, in some cases, it *can* be more fun to have the story behind the game/author more mythical and mysterious.

    And what about games with deliberately *false* authorship stories? One of my favorite records of 2011, Jürgen Müller’s “Science of the Sea,” was presented as a re-issue of a lost album from decades ago. But it’s become increasingly clear that this is a ruse:

    As that author linked above argues, the false contextualization arguably *adds* to the listener’s enjoyment – even if the ruse is suspected (I feel the same way about Kaizo Mario, btw – I do have some suspicions as to whether the Kiba vs Takamoto background is real)

  20. @Richard: And then at the end it turns out Momo is the atomic bomb, amirite?

    @George: Whoa, Kentucky Route Zero is out! That’s in the running for the coveted matt w award.

  21. Damn, this is going to take some time writing.

    Miguel: I’ve not read either of the novels you have mentioned but doing some following up I can see what you mean in terms of dialogic aesthetics. I’ve always been of the view that writing should surprise and not fulfil any sort of expectations. Occasionally I try to do same on Electron Dance as I do in my fiction and try to block the reader from guessing the conclusion. It’s not always possible (Steerpike, for example, called out the conclusion to A Theoretical War in the comments for the first part).

    Richard: The original conception for this piece was just to talk about Doug’s dialogic design theory which I jotted down as “write about this!” in 2011. Over time I realised it was in opposition to “the author is dead” and thus expanded to cover “the author looks pretty important to me”. While Doug’s part no longer seems the focus, it was still the main destination of the journey for me.

    Which is to explain two things. One, I wasn’t totally aiming at the act of criticism, more of an appreciation for the presence of author in design considerations. Two, I don’t consider myself a critic although I get labelled as such sometimes. I see myself as a writer; my goal is to write something interesting and if that means analysis, an anecdote or an after-action report – I will go there. All that aside, I do have a love/hate relationship with contemporary videogame criticism. Things have moved on from 90% GRAPHICS 86% SOUND but… yeah.

    Thanks for the historical summary and that excellent take on LSQoM which is far superior to the Formspring discussion I cited. I agree on the sliding scale thing. I look at intended or unintended meaning (interpretation) depending on what works for me. I struggle where a game reeks of meaning that has been obfuscated to be point of frustration (I had trouble with Lone Survivor and Dear Esther), as opposed to a game which is invites your imagination (Wither). It’s a subjective fine line for sure.

    On games rotting => games are not art, I’d say (a) well Chess hasn’t yet lost appeal and (b) Jonas in Eric’s Dialogue Tree podcast this week has some interesting thoughts on the ageing of games.

    Amanda: I wouldn’t want to get trapped into thinking that games *have* to carry meaning – does a “dull autobiography” preclude you from making Tetris? And honestly I don’t know why Electron Dance ends up with such amazing discussions like this, there are plenty of other smart sites out there! I do a lot of touchy-feely stuff myself but I’m trying to wean myself off them (unsuccessfully).

    mwm: Here’s another point for you. I criticised Leave Home for relying on the menu screens to explain its primary metaphor, that the game itself did not stand alone. Matt James came back to me in e-mail saying he felt everything in the game – from title screens to menus – were fair game, part of the experience. I drew an arbitrary line around the game part and analysed that; James draws a line around the executable; others would exclude in-game commentary. If you’re sitting down and doing a proper read of a game, where do you start and end with that?

    Doug: Interesting article! I am reminded of the speculation that the Banksy documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop was actually a hoax. I saw it last year and loved it. What seems to be a fascinating and weird documentary slams into Big Questions in the closing act.

    matt w: Don’t you go bringing those filthy Tap discussions here. I like to keep all the riff-raff out.

  22. Well, of course such a thing will fall flat on its face often enough! That’s obvious, from my perspective at least, because guides/commentaries are simply tools, like the user/author/culture centered outlooks.

    Now that you point it out though, I feel as if I’m simply covering for the author’s mistake. You shouldn’t have to tell someone to play the game as recklessly and goofily as possible; they should just play yakety sax in the opening segment. We shouldn’t have to explain who the author is; the tutorial should have an easily found easter egg that does just that.

    I, myself, would enclose the entire game experience (going beyond even the .exe) as part of the game. As young as I am, even I remember a time when the book that came with a game set the mood before you ever touched a controller, and I’m betting that most people here remember feelies.

    But, as I will readily concede, this too is simply covering the author’s ass. I’m the kind of player that serves the game; as long as I see something in it, I’ll take effort to enjoy it. That doesn’t mean that the author has an excuse to produce a lopsided experience that strains the players who won’t put in unnecessary effort to enjoy themselves. They damn well should put everything you need, right there. It’s not right, but I can forgive that, and enjoy all the things they did good.

  23. @HM This may not be here or there, but the story of Tetris and its creator are really quite interesting! This is the Cold War we’re talking about, after all. I guess what I mostly mean to say is there is a strong trend toward very personal indie games. I like Twine for example but I’m already starting to get burned out on how many Twine games are sad autobiographies.

  24. I have not enjoyed participating in the Internet in many, many years. Thank you for providing a lovely comments space.

    My focus is criticism, specifically how games are criticized, and so I tend to pay attention to what people say about games more than the games themselves. I haven’t played too many Twine games (I had some severe burnout from the scene and gave up playing for most of this year)–but games crit is a bunch of “sad autobiographies” as well. It feels like a culture of self-victimization. This happened to me, and it was my defining Trauma, and now I am going to share it to the world because it is Important and I want you to feel Bad for me.

    Personal is fine–but we’re talking about a generation whose only art form is the status update. The Internet Generation has no culture, has no art, has no music. It has a bunch of already-created shit that it spends its time ripping off (justifying it as “remix culture”), and it has its own head that it has been told, every day, is Special and Important and Worth Talking About. Maybe that’s why I haven’t bothered with Twine. I’m not friends with these people and so stuff that happened to them when they were 14 is just static to me. Get over it already or go to a therapist or, you know, learn to write about something besides yourself. Get some goddamn perspective.

    I imprinted on 90s alt rock and I came of age in my local punk scene. You can’t ask for more of an aesthetic of personal trauma. And yet I always feel like the best songs transcend the personal. It especially bothers me to see women talking about how sad and bad everything is and calling themselves feminists. Feminism, for me, was a bunch of superbadass chicks who didn’t give a fuck, didn’t stand around feeling sorry for themselves, and didn’t want your goddamn pity.

    I wonder what Kathleen Hannah would think of the way queer feminism works in this scene.

  25. @mwm: I talked some about the disappearance of manuals some time ago. Manuals and out-of-game documentation are largely seen as proof of design failure now. There is the argument that companies are cheapskates but half the time manuals aren’t consulted and a game which throws you to the manual will lose a good chunk of its players. That doesn’t mean we haven’t lost something but… in a digital age, assisting documentation is a bit annoying. Then again try Armageddon Empires without a manual!!!

    @Amanda: I’m not exactly sure why but I cannot get into Twine games, so maybe there’s hope for you yet. I’ll probably write something about this in future, but more likely so say something about my attitudes than the format itself. I did enjoy the David T. Marchand’s Úrquel: The Black Dragon and also Merritt Kopas’ Queer Pirate Plane which is just stupid and happy (I don’t think it’s Twine but it plays like a Twine game).

    @RichardGoodness: Hope I didn’t come across as if I was not interested in your words on VG criticism, it was all about ME ME ME. Your riff off the article was splendid splendid.

    I’m not sure I can totally agree with your sentiment about the Internet Generation, although I am concerned that corporate concerns are co-opting what should be an explosion of creativity with a focus on sharing as creation. I also think the internet is also such a burden on us, always bringing us someone else doing something fresh and cool and better before you even thought of it, that mimicry and remixing feels unavoidable. It’s why I feel like trying to get around to playing Mass Effect is a pain in the rear aperture. Who hasn’t written about Mass Effect already? I just lost 40 hours to Dishonored.

    I don’t want to comment too much about personal stories right now because that would cut into next week’s post. You may know I am going to NYC next month for IndieCade East – will you be around?

  26. @HM I literally just wrote the sentence “But Mass Effect is about plot in a way that The Walking Dead is not. ” So yeah, I guess you are the only one who’s not gotten around to writing about it! I’d be interested in hearing how you view the series, if you ever get to it, considering that you’d be playing post-ME3 Ending Controversy. ME2 is one of the finest games ever made, and the ending was something I had anticipated for a few years. I wonder how you will feel about it without such a high series of expectations. Protip for the first game–while you’ll probably naturally seek out every single sidequest in 2 and 3, ME1’s side quests are all awful. Avoid all the sidequests and you can breeze through the game in about 15-20 hours and then get to the good stuff.

    I figured that was what you meant about not being interested in words–it’s more to let the rest of the Peanut Gallery know why I’m talking about the stuff I’m talking about. I assume Eric has filled you in on my particular pet peeves and perspective, but since I’m not well-known around here I want to make sure that I’m not being that dude who makes swift subject changes.

    I’ll be on the lookout for next week’s post–I’m actually working on a similar one which will probably be nowhere near as classy, well-reasoned, or sane, but it’ll have swearing. I do know about you coming for IndieCade–I was going to sign up for a press pass as soon as Eric gives me the link which he promised to do two days ago and has not yet. I don’t know if I’m into a full weekend of it–leaving my apartment would cut into my busy schedule of hanging out in my pajamas smoking weed and playing videogames about big men swinging sharp pieces of metal at ugly things with lots of teeth, and I’ve got quotas to fill–but I want to stop by for a day or two of it, and Eric has pointed out that our favorite Thai restaurant is nearby. I’ve been to literally one gaming convention in my life–PAX East last year–and I am hoping that IndieCade is a more fun experience. At least it’s not in fucking Boston.

  27. @Richard Goodness, I’m sorry I missed your question. The article was by Thomas L. MacDonald in one of his short MaximumPC magazine (print version) columns. I’m poking around for it online but so far no luck. It would have been within the past three months’ issues. I’ll holler if I find it!

  28. @Steerpike Print? Hell. This Internet thing might be good for something after all. Actually tracking down a print magazine sounds like a fun time. I’ve been looking for an excuse to go to the Library!

  29. Queer Pirate Plane is Twine. You can do all sorts of stuff with Twine if you know additional HTML I guess. I’ll probably do some Twine someday, just because it’s the only CYOA tool that lets you hyperlink inline and isn’t completely incomprehensible to learn (hi, Undum!)

    I’ve been thinking about the political stuff a bit and I think with respect to that both the author and society and large can supply context, and the author doesn’t always get to set their own context. Shadow Complex I think is a different sort of case, as it may be a question of “I don’t want to give this guy any of my money” (with a bit of “This guy has been writing some truly brain-dead rightwing conspiracy fantasies and this will probably make his work unenjoyable without respect to who wrote it), but with Anna Anthropy’s work, what she’s saying has partly to do with the context in which the games get played, it seems. It’s not that she’s saying that Bento Tentacles is worse than Sex Cops of Tickle City because hey, I’m cool, you know I wouldn’t make anything that actually advocates rape, but that people would be playing Bento Tentacles out in public where women would be walking by and have to deal with the images. The way third parties have to deal with the games is different.

    (Though I’d bet there are other differences too, for instance that SCoTC is from the point of view of the ticklee. And I’m not saying the Bento Tentacles people are cool. They seem at best clueless.)

    Which may not be quite related to the other political point here, which is how some negative stuff winds up in society even if the author is a totally cool person who doesn’t intend anything negative. Stephen Colbert’s parody children’s book (if you don’t know him, he’s an American talk show host who does an incisive parody of a brain-dead conservative) has a bit about a totem pole with “no smoke-um no peace pipe,” which is a stereotype of a Native American. Except the parody of the stereotype seems like it just perpetuates the stereotype. (Contrast this old bit which actually makes the stereotype over the top.) It’s like, once you release that into the wild, you don’t really control how it gets used.

    For instance, someone’s nephew and niece who are not yet hipped entirely to what sort of gifts are appropriate to give to one’s three-year-old cousin might put someone in a situation where it’s hard to avoid reading it to said three-year-old and having discussions about how he is absolutely not allowed to say that, which is not so much the author’s fault, I suppose.

  30. I’ve been meaning to say something useful, but when it comes to this discussion I am often gripped by a profound weariness. “The Death of the Author”, well-intentioned as parts of it may have been, is a terrible bit of writing with no regard for historical accuracy (i.e. its claim that the author is a modern invention, a claim against which one can marshal entire millennia of writing) or even fundamental logic (vast philosophical/theological claims made with no real arguments to back them up).

    It reminds me, in a way, of one of the most tiresome arguments against videogames as art, that videogames cannot show intent because they are interactive – which ignores the fact all the interactivity takes places within constraints created intentionally by the designer, and that *this is what game designers do*. Barthes has discovered that texts really are textual spaces, but so what? These textual spaces are created by the writer, and *creating textual spaces is what writers do*. Proclaiming the death of the author because texts have multiple layers is like proclaiming the death of the architect because houses turn out to have interiors where people live. All it shows is a complete lack of understanding of the creative act… and perhaps some sort of desire to claim the act of creation for oneself without actually having to put in any of the effort required to actually create something.

    The amount of name-dropping in an article called The Death of the Author is rather funny, though.

  31. As for the players who have “grave doubts” about me or my principles – much as I like to be the centre of attention, I think that’s a different issue. The whole “I used to admire you until” shtick is just another way of shutting people up when they start actually applying the ideas they’ve always stood for to the real world. I’ve seen this with many, many left-wing artists who are suddenly accused of being violent or intolerant. What always comes to mind in these situations is the people who were all for an end to segregation until black families started moving into their neighbourhoods, or who praised Martin Luther King’s commitment to nonviolence until he started applying it to the people of Vietnam.

  32. @Jonas: Not sure this is relevant, to, well, anything, but it was very… *interesting*, to hear from my mother what my grandfather thought of MLK Jr. I think we sometimes forget that history was someone’s present once.

  33. Well, I’ve decided to say something about Richard’s pot shot at my generation from earlier; ” The Internet Generation has no culture, has no art, has no music. It has a bunch of already-created shit that it spends its time ripping off (justifying it as “remix culture”), and it has its own head that it has been told, every day, is Special and Important and Worth Talking About.”

    I’ll agree with you on this, though only tentatively. I’ve certainly seen a lot of, well, I’ll call them wannabees. People who want to be creators, rather than wanting to create. The people who make a perfectly generic series of songs, show them to friends, and expect to be bought up by a record company. The people who draw in their notebook, and show them off to desk-mates. The ones who make a picture in Minecraft, and expect congratulations. (Not that I don’t have a half-dozen counter-examples, mind you.)

    It’s rather disgusting to have your own creations exist solely as an extension of the objects-define-me culture. America hates introverts. People prefer beating their opponent over winning. The young are raised on rainbows and Disney. Waves of people mobilize only for trite things, or when their own interests are offended.

    Over and over again, I manage to be disgusted by my generation.

    But I still take offense at your comment.

    My generation is no worse than the last; no better than the next. Youth is self-centered, hubristic, and self-entitled; were the baby-boomers so different? Music is stagnant and boring; it’s the kids who grew up in the 90’s who make that music, it’s the once-hippies who decide that’s the way it should be. The 60’s saw the counter-culture movement; we saw the occupy protests (both equally fruitless). And the only thing anyone wants out of life is happiness.

    My generation isn’t worthless. Yours isn’t holy. Both are worthwhile and half-assed.

    But, by all means, you could convince me. What makes any large group of hunter-gatherers different from the next?

  34. Oh, I forgot to mention: If Jonas were a slightly more egotistical individual, he may have mentioned either of his Twine games, ‘Arcadia: A Pastoral Tale’ ( ) and ‘Moonlight’ ( ). Hardly has anything to do with the topic, since Jonas is a mature (childish) adult with a passion for his work that made mature (childish) games on Twine.

    (Please don’t think poorly of me for my last post. I’m not outraged or anything; you just hit a sore spot [arbitrary divisions]. Complaining about ‘them youngun’s and their rap music’ is about as worthy of your time and thought as telling everyone you know about Dick Cheney and his secret world government.)

  35. @mwm I won’t think poorly of you if you don’t think poorly of me–while I didn’t mean to offend (blah blah blah), I could have phrased that much less bombastically–I think I’d probably spent a little too much time reading Twitter and was feeling a little too cynical to express that as jocularly as I intended. You did a much better job. I’m having difficulties articulating some of my feelings on this subject, but I think the word “wannabes” might be the concept I’ve been looking for. There are certainly some amazing notebook drawings out there, some really intricate Minecraft creations–these things *are* just tools, after all.

    Generational terms probably aren’t the appropriate ones. The trends that disturb me–towards the dissolution of privacy, towards a culture which does not value creativity, towards one which does not support its artists–that is more of an expression of a certain tech philosophy–one which like most tech-related things is embraced more readily by younger than older people but which was set in place by people who *were* older.

    Cause, yeah, I’m remembering an old cliche about a bestselling writer–one who’s honed his talent for years and years and has deservedly received fame and critical attention, who through skill and determination has risen to the top of his profession–returning home, and his dad’s got a funny story published in Reader’s Digest and is crowing about how he’s a “published writer, just like you, Son”. It’s been in sitcoms and books–that feeling of ambivalence. A *jealousy* almost. Equating the two gives no reason to put effort, particularly if crap is gonna get praised higher. Ubiquitous praise leads to the bottom.

    Does that sound like a more logical formulation? I can’t really think of any non-condescending ways of praising your criticism of my comment, but I’ll just say that *this* is more like what I remember the Internet being like back in middle school. I feel like I’m half-assing my replies here because they’re kind of in line with a piece I’m writing (which I am now going to revise to take out any generational rhetoric, because god damn that *was* stupid), so I guess I just gotta shut up and finish writing it.

  36. @Richard: Okay, thanks big for that response. I’m glad I made myself look like an ass, if only to get that out of the way. You earned my respect simply for skipping the “I’m so sorry” bullshit. Plus, now I have a word like jocular; I always knew there was a hole in my heart.

    I think, in addition to wannabees, the terms hipster and hedonist would be pretty helpful. Hipsters are essentially ‘remix culture’ turned to 11. Where wannabees want to be ‘the guy’, hipsters want to be the ‘cool guy’ in the room.

    “The trends that disturb me…towards a culture which does not value creativity, towards one which does not support its artists…” I had to read that one a couple times. I’ve been taught (by the better teachers) that society is undergoing a shift *favoring* creativity. So, the idea that society doesn’t value creativity is a hard sell to me (it’s certainly half-assed either way; the school system loves perpetuating sterility in ideas, while pretending to embrace thought). Creative individuals are becoming more *important*, but becoming less *rewarded*, it seems to me. You have a hundred makers trying to make the same thing; they all make it, but only the very ‘best’ thing gets its owner fed.

    As for *this* -and I’m assuming you have a fairly positive view of our conversation- well: Yeah, Electron Dance is pretty grade A beef. There’s a chance that the conversations start to deteriorate as the plebeians start to find their way here, but that’s a while off.

    I think it’s rare to have a place this good about having intellectual conversations, but I don’t think it’s too difficult to find a good community. I was part of a long-term Minecraft community. Because the ‘barrier to entry’ was a mild interest in an incredibly popular game, the community was composed of a wide cross-section of humanity. Americans, Brit’s, Australians, Kazakhstanians; Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Libertarians; men, women; young, less-young, less-young, old. Most everyone had a good attitude, and could take a joke. And, there were enough people in college that there were several philosophical conversations in -of all things- the public server.

    Facebook is for narcissists. Twitter is for people who think they have something important to say. Tumblr is for trashy pictures. But, the forums? The forums are for *everything*.

    If you want an example, go to 4chan. You’ll find ‘Science & Math’ right next to ‘sports’. A few steps over, you’ll avoid the ‘Sexy Beautiful Women’ board.

    But, by all means, to your work; that takes priority.

  37. Err, that’s the American public school system I’m referring to. You’d think I’d be a little more wary of assuming everyone’s American on an English blog.

  38. @Richard
    Regards Mass Effect – there’s a marked difference between experiencing a game when it is “live” and a hot topic and much later. Both have plus points. If you play when a game is en vogue, you can enjoy getting carried away with the Zeitgeist of it. If you play much later, you can play the game for what it is and dispense with all the excitement that might rose-tint the game. A question of context again, is it not? Hence the attraction to “retrospective reviews” where writers get to churn out the same old content again with a little bit of polish =)

    There is something troubling about the dismantling of institutions and regulations that were put in place for a reason. Separation of church and state. Checking of facts vs reporting of rumours (the latter is currently illegal within financial firms, by the way). Right to privacy. Sometimes people think they don’t need protection because they’ve been safe – because they’ve been living under that protection, which is precisely why Christine Love’s “Don’t Take It Personally” got me so riled.

    @matt w
    Ah, so QPP was Twine after all. I did try to find out, but no proof jumped out at me.

    I do know who Stephen Colbert is! Regardless of my own interpretation of Polymorphous Perversity, a lot of folks found its implications offensive and I’ve talked to Nicolau Chaud over e-mail about that. Even those of us who have their head screwed on right can occasionally put our foot in it without realising. The problem is the audience often cannot distinguish between intent and mistake and even then the mistake is sometimes cast as subconscious intent, via gender, racial or privileged bias. It’s one of the reasons I don’t engage in these hot button topics if I can help it. There’s an interesting interview coming up in a few weeks that touches on some of these points.

    What I didn’t explore is whether these incidents such as with Frank Miller, Orson Scott Card and yourself (uh, not that I wished to chuck into that particular grouping) had any material impact. Boycotts don’t tend to be effective so Shadow Complex probably sold pretty much the same. Most of the grief you had was with developers rather than players – and there was likely a lot of negative attention from people who never played your games before.

    That was a great response to Richard. If only you had dropped in something like “what makes your generation of grumpy old men any more right than the previous ones?” And we would have laughed and laughed.

    I am more on Richard’s side regarding a culture that does not *value* creativity but I have way more thoughts on this which will emerge from their chrysalis later this year, giving everybody a new comments page on which to chatter about it.

    I’m not sure what I would do if the comments started going bad. It’s a future I don’t like to think about. Maybe I’ll threaten everyone with embedded ADVERTS.

    (No vegetarian commentators will want to be associated with Grade A Beef.)

  39. @HM I haven’t played Don’t Take It Personally yet, mostly because Death of the Author is not as much of a thing as we would like–the way the game was received gave me the impression that I wouldn’t particularly enjoy it–mostly because people didn’t take the game in the way you did to such a degree that I didn’t realize such themes were in there to be read. I shall put it on the ever-increasing Pile.

    But that’s an excellent point you make–I use “Facebook” and “Mark Zuckerberg” as my examples mostly because they’re the one everyone knows, but that usually gets the counters of “Mark Zuckerberg is just an idiot” or “Facebook isn’t that bad”. The next step–that such technology in the hands of a government or even someone as simple as a teacher, and can easily be used for abuse–is one a lot of people don’t want to see.

    My use of the word “value” was meant in more direct financial terms. We have an emotional value to creativity–being in a band will get you laid, making a game will be something to talk about at parties, writing a novel gives you an unparalleled sense of accomplishment–but the internet is in a state of systematically dismantling every single creative industry humanity has made. It’s even more difficult than ever to make a living through one’s artistic creations–when I say we don’t value creativity, I mean we don’t put money behind it. This is *my* topic I’m working on a piece on–the whole “Rise of the Zinesters” aesthetic is great for getting a lot of new blood into the scene, but no one knows how to get the old guard paid, and the realization that *this is a huge fucking problem* doesn’t seem to have clicked.

    Now THAT might be an interesting letters series–someone new to Mass Effect going through the story for the first time vs. someone who knows where it’s all going. It would also make an interesting LOST podcast. Everyone knows that “someone new and someone old look at something” is a great formula for Star Trek podcasts already!

    My generation of grumpy old men have more right simply because we’re better. I mean I thought that part would be obvious!

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