The Indie Statik ‘office’ is full of expletives, puns and stupid gifs, mostly. Sometimes we quite dangerously try to be a bit more intelligent and have a little debate around a topic of some kind. Following is one of these weird and revealing conversations. You’ll probably learn nothing.
[This debate actually came out of nowhere - its roots were a discussion of some Twine games between us. From there, we then went on to discuss how gaming culture and circles operate for themselves, the representation of different social groups in games, and how one would go about or even IF there should be criticism towards personal games.]
Zed: So I’m just gonna go on record now and say that I really don’t get the whole Twine thing. I get that they’re basically CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) games, and that’s as far as I get.
Chloi: Aww :c
Zed: And I see people being like “If Twine isn’t one of your greatest things of 2012, you know nothing about videogames” and I’m like “Right, in a year in which we got Journey, we should totally give two shits about a text adventure”. Or something. But I dunno, I’m probably missing the point.
Chloi: I understand the appeal of Twine.
Chris Priestman: I think the only point is that it’s accessible.
Zed: I’m very ‘traditional’ in the games I like. I like retro platformers and grindy RPGs and Zelda.
Cory G: The thing with that is on Twitter/ Tumblr/ etc they have an endless source of enabling sycophants who protect them from any sort of criticism.
Chloi: It’s just a quick and easy way for people to express themselves in the medium of interactive fiction.
Zed: Oh no, I get why people like USING it, I just don’t think that what comes out of it is all that… amazing. It’s like people’s first attempts with Game Maker.
Cory G: Yeah, that’s a point that Anna Anthropy talks about a lot in her book – that everyone can make games. Which I guess is technically true, but does the world need more bad games?
“…criticism of indie games is a rare, rare thing. It’s still kind of taboo.”
Zed:They totally can. I absolutely believe that. But you need to set your OWN level of self worth. You can’t just make any old thing and expect people to pat you on the back. You need to be able to say to yourself “FUCK YEAH I DID THIS” and that needs to be enough for you.
Chris Priestman: I’m guessing you don’t like Glorious Trainwrecks either then…
Chloi: I love that site.
Zed: I love Glorious Trainwrecks. It’s mental. But they’re not trying to sell them as like “THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY” or “THE DEEPEST LOOK AT THE PSYCHOLOGY OF A MARGINALISED SUB-GENRE OF SOCIETY”. They’re just manic nonsense. And I LOVE that. Y’know what I liked? The IGF Piratekart.
Chris Priestman: The Piratekart was great!
Cory G: I’m generally against the declining standard of quality for games in general, to be honest.
Chris Priestman: I don’t think that’s true, the range is just broader.
Chloi: I don’t think Twine games and the stuff people make in a day really contribute to the declining standard of games, it’s like saying people writing poetry on their blogs contributes to the declining standards of literature.
Cory G: The response is different, Chloi – criticism of indie games is a rare, rare thing. It’s still kind of taboo.
Chloi: Oh, I see what you’re saying. Yeah, most criticism of indie games come from people outside of the scene.
Zed: I think it’s because nobody wants to feel like they’re criticising the ‘person’.
Zed: Like, you don’t want to criticise something like Dys4ia or Super Hexagon or something because everybody knows that those games are an extension of a singular person, so it’s like you’re directly attacking them. You’re not, obviously. Like if someone tells me my games are awful, I don’t automatically take it as them telling me I’m a terrible human being.
Chloi: I don’t wanna criticize Super Hexagon because it’s perfect. Haha!
Zed: Although I once had a Greenlight commenter tell me to stop making games and kill myself. But that’s an exception.
Chloi: But yes, indies do need to learn to take criticism. And give it. I just look at Twine games and kind of see them as the “open mic night” of the indie scene. They sort of exist in their own little space.
Zed: I dunno, I don’t think it’s even that. I think Ludum Dare is open mic night, and Twine games are… whoever the first two people to invent ‘beer pong’ were. A reeeeeally small circle of people making stuff for themselves and each other.
Dominic Tarason: The problem is that an improv open mic night is a tangential amusement. Those creating Twine games seem desperate to put themselves on a pedestal and crown themselves the greatest force in indie development today.
Chloi: I see Ludum Dare more like Nanowrimo. All these comparisons!!
Cory G: We honestly need to move away from a distinction between “indie” and “traditional” games, I think. Largely because of the criticism issue.
Zed: Seriously. I don’t think we’re the type to take offence to stuff. Well, I dunno. That might be offensive in itself. Sorry if you are. Erm. Yes.
Chloi: I’ve noticed Twine become very popular amongst minority developers especially and I feel like because of the social climate right now. They put more value in the sentiment behind the work than the do the actual quality of the work.
Cory G: That sounds accurate – ‘slacktivism’ is very trendy right now.
Chloi: I mean, I’m a lady of mixed race and I totally understand the struggle. but I remember being in college and picking up the queer student newspaper and it just being full of the worst poetry ever.
Zed: It’s more of a personal achievement because of what they’ve overcome to do it, rather than the product itself.
Chloi: Yes exactly. They pour their hearts into this stuff and it’s not always good, but it doesn’t matter so long as it means something to them.
“…the fact that the mainstream will never see a transgender protagonist the way it is right now still stands.”
Chris Priestman:I think the thing that is being lauded about Twine is mostly that they’re stories/ games you wouldn’t have got before – many of them very personal. It’s venting via a game much of the time.
Dominic Tarason: And then you get back to one of the fundamental problems of the internet – echo chambers. If all your peers praise you as a great artist for a doodle you did in ten minutes while drunk, then you end up developing an ego and an attitude. Especially if you get into the mindset that those not praising you are biased.
Chloi: Yeah, like (I know this wasn’t Twine but) the Kotaku Commenter thing. Essentially just a rant.
Dominic Tarason: It was a pointed, valid rant and worth sharing around – all the comments are literally copy/pasted from Kotaku – but it’s not high art or anything.
Zed: I’ve found it’s good to cultivate a healthy portion of equal parts self-deprecation and self-worth. I hate a lot of what I do. I know it’s not pretty, I know it’s not as good as I want it to be. But I also know it’s not shit and it’s good enough that I even finished a thing. And both of those things are value judgements that I have made, of my own work, and that’s all I need.
Chloi: I had fun with the Kotaku thing but it was really just preaching to the choir.
Zed: Pretty much ALL of this is, though. Call of Duty kiddies aren’t playing Twine games.
Chloi: I think it’s valuable still, though. Voices are being raised and heard that weren’t before.
Zed: Brodude McMuscleshooter won’t give two shits what Anna Anthropy thinks about the games industry. But it’s a starting point.
Cory G: I’m just glad to see that there’s been a bit more push-back against call-out culture lately. People are standing up to it a bit more.
Chris Priestman: I remember reading something once that suggested that solo developers usually have really good taste in games, and that’s why they make them. Problem is, to make something that’s going to wow people it takes years of churning out mediocre stuff. Essentially, most who bother never make the game they want due the time requirement, but maybe they could have if they stuck with it. It may have been Christer Katila who said that actually.
Dominic Tarason: On the Kotaku note, communities need to start enforcing basic ‘don’t be a raging sack of cocks’ rules, simple as that. If you kick out those people who absolutely refuse to play nicely with others, you start getting that silent majority filtering in now they see it’s safe.
Chloi: Kim Swift wrote a really good post on her blog about this. It all contributes to a changing social climate, even if the quality of the games aren’t that great.
Chris Priestman: To be honest, I see the need for criticism, but it’s cool that people are just making games and sharing them. If you don’t like ‘em, don’t play them.
Cory G: Doesn’t the latter part of your point completely invalidate the former part. “If you don’t like ‘em, don’t play them” is antithetical to there being a need for criticism.
Chris Priestman: It depends on what’s really going on with these games – if they’re just there and not really doing much, then leave them be. If they move outside of their circles then there’s a call for criticism and it will be answered. The most obvious example right now is Dys4ia becoming an IGF Finalist.
Chloi: Agreed. Except sometimes it would be cool to be able to offer criticism to small-time games for the sake of discussion and improvement. Though you have to consider their angle. I remember Anna Anthropy wrote briefly about a conversation with Mattie Brice that mentions how Mainichi was a response to Passage. Where Passage is the journey of a life, but it’s a straight white man’s life – you just move forward until you die of old age. And Mainichi was Mattie Brice’s attempt to make a game about life as a black trans woman.
Chris Priestman: But how you approach game criticism depends on your verdict to that – I’m always one to say that you should look to what the developer’s purpose was, and then break it down to see how well they achieved that.
Matt: Twine games and others like Mainichi are like short stories. They’re not worse than novels, they’re a different form.
Cory G: Alternatively she could write for a zine, see if she could get an article on Huffington Post, etc – do something that’ll affect an audience that’ll be interested in the topic and willing to cause change. It’s very safe to make games about these subjects precisely because they’re immune to criticism.
“A lot of the supposed “social change” right now is basically people being jackasses and using the trend toward slacktivism and social guilt to get away with it.”
Chris Priestman:Mattie does write about things as well actually – on Kotaku, Gamasutra and others. Not saying your point doesn’t stand in more general terms though.
Chloi: Like I said before, though, a black trans woman’s voice is not something that’s really heard in the world of gaming, regardless of what niche of gaming it’s a part of. It’s a small step forward.
Chris Priestman: Yep.
Zed: I agree. But.
Chloi: I think after a while, after enough confidence is built up in their niche, they’ll think about ways to expand. Dys4ia getting a nomination for the IGF is a start.
Zed: Thing is, a lot of people like to act like there have been thousands of people consciously keeping them down. Like there’s this big invisible behemoth weighing down on them, keeping them pinned down and stopping them from doing what they want. But now that they’re actually DOING it, nobody’s stopping them and largely because they never could.
Chloi: Nobody’s stopping them because they’re sharing their games over Twitter with their friends.
Zed: At no point could anyone ever actually stop anyone from making games. It’s impossible. But because they perceive this Big Bad Invisible Behemoth stopping them, it’s taken them until now. That Behemoth never even existed. They just felt like it did.
Chloi: Nobody could stop them from making little indie games, but the fact that the mainstream will never see a transgender protagonist the way it is right now still stands.
Zed: But does nobody think it’s because maybe the don’t WANT one? Like, make a game with a trans protagonist. See if anyone bites.
Chris Priestman: Well, that’s the point being made about gaming culture overall, isn’t it?
Chloi: Yeah but the AAA industry’s “demographics” also say women don’t play video games, and that’s slowly being revealed as untrue.
Cory G: So people not wanting a particular kind of game is inherently an issue? It’s necessary that people want a game with a trans protagonist?
Zed: No, I mean, the audience for your game isn’t determined ‘by’ you. You don’t get to choose your audience, they choose you.
Chloi: The problem is WITH the industry’s idea of what the mainstream wants.
Zed: So if nobody wants what you’re selling, it’s not their fault. Nor is it yours. It’s just how things are.
Chloi: We’ll never see a Call of Duty game with a trans protagonist because, yeah, the demographic for that series probably doesn’t want one. But look at Bioware. Did you read the Dragon Age 2 developer’s response to that homophobic dude in the forums?
Cory G: Further: A lot of the supposed “social change” right now is basically people being jackasses and using the trend toward slacktivism and social guilt to get away with it.
Zed: It’s basically Tumblr. Which is, in itself, basically 4chan with a conscience and identities. I’ll leave you with this: http://wtfsocialjustice.tumblr.com/