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Culture War Roundup for the week of March 4, 2024

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You know what we didn't have in a good while? A proper gamer drama.

All the actors from the past decade are basically defunct: Sarkeesian largely ceased publishing after the parted ways with McIntosh (my long-standing belief is that he was the brains behind the operation, and she alone just couldn't make enough quality material to stay relevant), Zoe van Valkenburg's last claim to relevance was an accusation against another of her exes in 2019, resulting in his suicide soon after. Youtube continues to steal lunch money from written articles about games, so Polygon and Kotaku are shells of their former selves. Vice's Waypoint has come and gone, and the only thing of note they did was having to apologize after posting a 9S forcefem fanfiction on main.

There has been some occasional flareups here and there, but nothing that could possibly rise to the 2014's heights of in(s)anity. Dare I say... until now?

You probably haven't heard of Sweet Baby Inc.. It's a "narrative consulting" company that specializes in retooling the game's scripts to better represent historically underrepresented groups. Notable releases with which they worked in the past few years include God of War: Ragnarok, Spider-Man 2 and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. For those of you who don't play often, the former two were generally favorably received, while the latter was a critical and commercial bomb that was dead in the water for years before its launch and probably killed the development studio.

The broader public (by which I mean the narrow, extremely online subset of the fandom) learned about its existence some time last year. People have been coming up with some wild conjectures about what exactly SBI's involvement was with those games. Like for example many western AAA titles in recent years struggle with modeling female faces for some reason, and the in-game models look uncanny valley-ish and quite unlike the people they're modeled after, and the conspiracy-inclined are saying that the characters are deliberately made ugly to challenge the patriarchal standards, or something. I am of two minds - most of the examples usually provided seem to be deliberately taken in-between frames, but still it's a bit weird how Japanese devs like Capcom, Platinum or Kojima Studios don't have those issues.

But let's put aside speculation about technical issues and focus on what is SBI's department: writing. Well, thing are not looking so good there either:

  • Jon Stewart gets called "one of the good ones" with some bizarre anti-cop writing. I think it's written in-character from Harley's perspective, but still.
  • Most of the (mind-controlled, hance they're the bad guys in the game) Justice League die pathetic deaths, in one case almost getting literally pissed on. But somehow Wonder Woman is immune to Brainiac's brainwashing and gets to have a dignified, dramatic moment, at least comparably.
  • Also WW: her society is brought up as superior to ours, having solved issues such as toxic masculinity.
  • And then there's the case of Miles Morales having wrong country's flag in his home. Representation!

Oh, and as you probably expect at this point, SBI's members have been occasionally seen on twitter gloating about how the hold white male gamers in contempt. I've given up twitter and tumblr for Lent, so I won't be providing specific examples here, sorry.

A few days ago, a steam curator was created listing all the games that have SBI's involvement as "not recommended". The situation is played out predictably: some employees claimed harassment, the steam group got Streisand Effect'd and grew to 200k over the last two days, it has been mass reported, people are trolling in the fora claiming to have insider info, the forum got wiped... Kotaku has written an article about it, the article's author claims that you can't be racist against white people. It's all 2012-2015 discourse frozen in amber, time is a flat circle. The only difference now is that because it's Musk's twitter, the statement gets stamped with a community note. Contrary to what I wrote at the beginning, it'll probably blow over in a few days, but I decided to do a writeup just in case.

Myself, I haven't bought a western AAA game since 2017, and I wish all of you the same.

It will blow over, because it is missing the primary ingredient that caused GG to explode: topic ban. GG got huge because there was a scandal (rightly or wrongly, not weighing the original spark) and people who wanted to talk about it were not allowed to - even on 4chan. This lent an air of "what else are they hiding" to the whole game journalism industry, and then it all snowballed. It always confuses me when people don't understand that part, or that phenomenon in general. This time, no dice. There's no undercurrent of hidden misdeeds, it's just a discussion about a disliked group doing disliked things in the (relatively) open.

Whereas I would say it's missing the primary ingredient that precedes and causes the bans: a specific victim.

If the community picks out one specific woman who works at SBI and decides to make a hate circle around her, publish her home address and start SWATing her residence, make hundreds of hour-long hate videos directed at her with lots of focus on her appearance and personal life, build a mythology around her supposed criminal activities and personal failings, send mountains of rape and death threats, etc., then we will start to get the ban waves you talk about, and then it will turn into a big war again.

  • -34

If the community picks out one specific woman [...] and decides to make a hate circle around her, publish her home address and start SWATing her residence, make hundreds of hour-long hate videos directed at her with lots of focus on her appearance and personal life, build a mythology around her supposed criminal activities and personal failings, send mountains of rape and death threats, etc.

But enough about JK Rowling!

To make myself clear: I was there, David. I was refreshing the threads on /r/TumblrInAction back in 2014, seeing the TFYC game jam fall apart months before the whole situation exploded after Eron's post, browsing and saving all the screenshot compilations. And much of what you allege is just that, allegiations. Strangely left little to no pixel trail. One specific extant thing I remember that could be treated as harassing was Rich Kyanka's review of Revolution 60. (Well, extant in the form of screenshots, the review itself has been removed from steam it seems).

There was probably a nonzero amount of threats, yes. Everyone gets those. I get anon death threats on tumblr once every few weeks, and I don't even post that much!

And if your argument to the latter is that it's bad and nobody should get those - don't. I very much prefer the internet in which I get an occasional hate mail to the one in which such a thing is infrastructurally impossible, because it would have to look much more like the Chinese internet. A site like the one we're on would be illegal/impossible/dangerous to host, for one.

(And if the argument to that is that my preferences aren't universal and we should have accommodations for people who want a controlled equilibrium rather than a free-for-all equilibrium, then of course we should! Facebooks and Linkedins for the normies on one end, SA, chans and niche subreddits on the other! The thing is, van Valkenburg herself spoke about frequenting Something Awful, so I find it wildly implausible that she was unprepared to handle some amount of heat. Or is that too mythology-building?)

But, arguendo, if the amount of insults that you're insinuating is true, this seems largely comparable to the 24/7 firehose of junk that's been directed at Rowling for the past five or so years. She has the courtesy to sometimes provide screenshots and quote tweets of those, even. I know that UK has some pretty strict laws about speech, so that probably reins in her domestic antifans a little. But other than that, nobody cares. There are no sympathetic articles, no wikipedia articles about the phenomenon. Why is it that some women are more equal than others?

There are no sympathetic articles, no wikipedia articles about the phenomenon. Why is it that some women are more equal than others?

I've noticed that the people who tend to emphasize how bad online abuse towards women is tend to carve out an exception for Rowling because she's someone who managed to convince lots of people to voluntarily hand over billions of pounds to her and as a result has substantial resources at her disposal. In a very real way, this is an honest and straightforward way of analyzing the situation based on the privilege framework that such people tend to subscribe to. The fact that such a thing is an exception rather than the rule would have been an interesting observation at some point in the past, but that seems banal now.

If someone is famous enough to be an obvious example, then they're privileged and so don't count.

If someone isn't famous enough to be an obvious example, than no one's ever heard of them or knows to use them as an example, so they are ignored.

Gina Carrano is famous enough to have been heard of, but doesn't have billions. If it could be demonstrated that she suffered serious online harassment and that this harassment has been ignored, would that advance the conversation, or would the answer be that she's still too privileged?

Gina Carrano is famous enough to have been heard of, but doesn't have billions. If it could be demonstrated that she suffered serious online harassment and that this harassment has been ignored, would that advance the conversation, or would the answer be that she's still too privileged?

I think the claim of privilege would probably be thrown to see if it would stick, but I suspect most people would predict that it wouldn't stick due to the fact that she's not all that "privileged" even merely by Hollywood standards, to say nothing of the standards of Rowling. It doesn't help that her skin isn't super white, though I don't know if she has any actual heritage that would win her some oppression points.

I can only speculate about what the actual tactic would be. There are a couple common tactics that immediately come to mind. One is just minimizing the harassment she faced, saying that it's unfortunate, but why do you care about that when there are literally trans people getting genocided every day in America? The other is just retreating from the position that women deserve special protection because they're women and saying she fucked around and found out or played stupid games and won stupid prizes. This is actually the same basic position as the people who call out the Sarkeesian defenders of the world as catastrophizing what was standard part of online discourse that was already cliche 10 years ago. Of course, logical inconsistency has also been a cliche in discourse in general, and so this shouldn't be surprising; that said, when an ideology specifically denigrates things like logical or rational thinking as being something white oppressors imposed on the rest of us, my guess is that followers in that ideology are more susceptible to pushing logically inconsistent behavior and rhetoric.

and as a result has substantial resources at her disposal

Yeah, that's not the reason. Posie Parker isn't rich as far as I can tell, and they're more than happy committing actual physical violence against her, and any detrans girl gets as much or more shit flung their way as Sarkeesian did.

Sorry, I miswrote my comment. The part that says

tend to carve out an exception for Rowling because

should have said

tend to carve out an exception for Rowling based on the stated justification that

Rich people and major celebrities getting harassment and flack has always been the norm. Whether or not that's morally 'ok' is a complicated and long-argued question, but 'they can cry themselves to sleep on their piles of money' feels like it has been the general consensus going back at least to the 80s (probably earlier, I just wouldn't be aware of it before then).

GG offended sensibilities by applying the same level of catastrophic scrutiny to folks that most would consider 'normal people', names you've never heard of who don't own a vacation home and don't have much real-world influence.

GG offended sensibilities by applying the same level of catastrophic scrutiny to folks that most would consider 'normal people', names you've never heard of who don't own a vacation home and don't have much real-world influence.

Yes, like Eron Gjoni, who was an abuse victim, abused further by anti-GG.

When I say a person or group is bad, it doesn't mean I'm saying their opponents or political opposite is good. That is arguments-as-soldiers thinking.

To make myself clear: I was there, David

I do hope this is autocorrect pulling a fast one on you, rather than some veiled "I have your dox" threat.

I assumed it was some kind of reference that I just didn't get.

I would laugh my head off if it was an autocorrect of Isildur.

What I'm getting from this is that you agree this pattern of abuse exists and that it plays the causal role I'm talking about, but would also like to criticize the left for attacking a person and then not banning people over that?

My response I guess would be that there's some ways in which the situations are different and some ways in which that's real hypocrisy, but bleh. That's a boring conversation, the same one we have every day about everything.

I'm just making a point about what it would take for this to explode the way past instances have.

  • -10

If the community picks out one specific woman who works at SBI and decides to make a hate circle around her, publish her home address and start SWATing her residence,

Conflating "the community" as a whole with very particular (and dubious) accusations about a few specific people is doing a lot of work for you here. I would go so far as to say that the gamergate you are describing doesn't exist -- which makes it simple to predict it won't happen again. (Actually, maybe that makes it more likely: things that never happened are happening all the time.)

Some people have a political commitment to toe the party line on GG, regardless of the thin air it turned out to be.

I remember when the stock line was "Gamergate is driving women to suicide online". I don't recall any body counts materializing, or any posted receipts, but everybody moved on as if they hadn't proclaimed an utterly vacant falsehood. They memory holed that particular spike of hysteria, casually downgrading back to the ambiguous but exploitable terrain of 'harassment campaigns'.

If there is a single death I can even tangentially connect to the GG saga, it would have been the suicide of Zoe's ex-boyfriend after she marked him for a feeding frenzy. That there was a concerted effort to suppress the criminal, dead-fucking-obvious irony of this among journos and fellow indie developers showed me how strong the woke meme game is when it matters.

You're saying it was stochastic terrorism, and can't be held against any group or movement?

That's cool with me, but keep in mind I'm going to say the same thing about BLM and the distinction between protestors and rioters/looters.

  • -12

We're both smart enough to think of a dozen exceptions that make this apples-to-oranges: but sure. I'll take blame for all the death threats made by Gamergate (if you can find any that were more than rumor) if you take blame for all the deaths, arson, destruction and damage of Black Lives Matter. This is a fun comparison!

If JK Rowling is too rich to count as a legitimate target ("punching up" and all that), consider all of the people targeted by Andrea James.

You'll have a hard time persuading me that J. Michael Bailey's prepubescent daughter deserved to have her photo circulated on the internet and labelled a "cock-starved exhibitionist" for the crime of having been fathered by someone who doesn't toe the line on gender ideology. On the progressive stack, where does a cisgender female child sit relative to a transgender male adult?

I must say, it sure is weird that when you started talking about women on the internet facing harassment, death and rape threats, doxxing etc., all of the recent examples that popped into my head were from transwomen attacking women, members of a group with whom they supposedly feel a profound spiritual kinship that transcends mere anatomy. Also pretty weird that these transwomen talk about said women in a manner indistinguishable from the way creepy men talk about women in the comments of PornHub videos. Also weird that I can't think of a single example of a trans man behaving in this way.

On the journalist side, Gamergate was a mask-off moment; on the gamer side, it was a revelation. But the masks have mostly stayed off since then, at least for those with eyes to see. Gamergate took place on the eve of the Current Year. By now most of us know what side we're on, and our threshold for a story turning into a rallying flag that outlasts the <weekly Current Thing outrage cycle is much, much higher. Maybe some of the very young will be swayed, although most of the commentary I've seen on this story has been from millennial Gamergate veterans ginning up their audience to mobilize for WWII, some of whom I think are mainly motivated by nostalgia. (That's why they're dragging Anita Sarkeesian back into the fray: getting the gang back together.)

Besides, the original Gamergaters were utterly vanquished. Gaming is one of the wokest industries now, unlike back then when there was a sense that it wasn't too late to claw it back from the brink. Pretty much all that's left for them to do is make half-ironic self-deprecating jokes about gamers being the most persecuted race and the like.

Besides, the original Gamergaters were utterly vanquished. Gaming is one of the wokest industries now, unlike back then when there was a sense that it wasn't too late to claw it back from the brink.

Would not say utterly vanquished, it was a pyrrhic victory for the press and wokies at best. Gaming journalists barely exist anymore, sure some of that can be blamed on existing trends towards independent video bloggers and streamers and the threat of AI, but you know what would have surely helped them weather these conditions better? Not having alienated the very core fandom of the topic they're covering, those that would have kept consuming high quality written content about their favorite topic, if that had been what was on offer. As for the game industry itself, it's not doing so hot, especially on the western AAA side. Again, alienating the core fans lost them the support they would have needed in these tougher economic times. Meanwhile, it's not like gamers could really lose to begin with; they're the one with the money and who drive the transactions. If the western AAA market refuses to make games they want, well, if there's demand there's gonna be some clever indies or 2nd tier devs snapping up the opportunity. And there's always Japan. And the past can't be taken away from them, there's an essentially infinite back catalog to explore.

Again, alienating the core fans lost them the support they would have needed in these tougher economic times.

That's what high ESG scores are for — who needs "core fans" to buy your product, when you can get that sweet, sweet Blackrock money to see you through instead? Go woke, go broke have Larry Fink pay to keep you afloat.

There is interesting coverage by Asmongold (A major gamer influencer) where he drew the direct link between game studios hiring these DEI consultants > Good ESG rating > More funding from Blackrock/Vanguard subsidiaries.

Also some major anti-woke movie critics like Critical Drinker have also picked up on Sweet Baby even though its out of their wheelhouse. The interest there was the direct evidence of creators hiring DEI consultancies to improve ESG.

Basically there is evidence now of the chain of causality of injecting DEI into content to attract investment, while before there was only suspicions.

Gaming diversity ESG scores (which don’t seem to have any substantial positive impact on valuations except in oil and gas and tobacco, where the divestment trend has existed for decades and isn’t driven by private sector ESG ratings at all) would be best served by hiring more POC and women staff across studios, not in writing. Writers make up fewer than 0.5% of the average AAA game’s development workforce, there’s no way diversifying the writers room counts more than just hiring more Hispanic QA testers or whatever.

Honest question:

let's suppose you're an average internet user who was either too young to comprehend what Gamergate was when it was happening, or you're just unaware of it all for any other reason, you just weren't following it etc. You fire up your browser and start looking up information.

Is there any realistic chance that you'll find any description, interpretation or commentary that is not written by the ideological allies and sympathizers of Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu?

Very good question with ripples through the culture war.

What does it mean to fight a battle when the winners get to write history?

Writing history becomes fighting a battle.

Rent a warehouse. Make a museum. It's what I'm doing if I turn out to be right about the trans stuff.

Rent a warehouse. Make a museum.

There are more (privately owned) Confederate museums and monuments than ever before.

Monuments are cool, but a bit limited in how much of the story they can pass on.

Based. I missed the museums part the first time I read the comment.

Well. the usual suspects are worried about them.

Private Confederate Monuments

The truth is that there are few tools for removing Confederate monuments on private land. And frankly, even if constitutionally permissible, it may be unwise to try to limit landowners having the freedom to build monuments (regardless of the subject matter) on their land. However, this Article urges local governments to consider ways to minimize the impacts of such monuments.

Well, like I said, it becomes the battle.

Ironically the chinese wikipedia has a proper description of gamergate, the rest of the intrnet if it wasn't specifically written by gamergaters or "true" gamers is the usual lies by the game journo pro list cabal.

PSA Sitch's GamerGate video is still the number 2 search result on youtube, in an anon-tab.

Myself, I haven't bought a western AAA game since 2017, and I wish all of you the same.

Yeah the fact that anyone is still buying these things is wild to me.

When it comes to video games these days (and pretty much all other media) I mainly stick to smaller niche releases and retro stuff.

I know we've had some heated discussions on this forum in the past about the notion of "conservative alternatives" (to culture, to institutions, to infrastructure). I don't think that focusing on alternative cultural spaces should be viewed as defeatism. It's better to focus on spaces where you can actually build something and make a positive contribution, instead of endlessly seething over lost causes.

The KotakuInAction people are all over Japan. I'm very much just not a weeb, so I don't really relate to that -- and it doesn't help that the big issue for a lot of KIA people is that they want scantily-clad women, and this is the one horseshoe-theory area of agreement between me and the woke. I don't like the weird uncanny valley female face thing, but maybe a little less cleavage and a little more practical armor for female characters is a good thing. I still don't know WTF BioWare was smoking when they created the outfits for female characters in Dragon Age Origins.

I don't buy too many AAA games, but I also didn't buy too many AAA games before wokeness. Actually, I probably buy more now, because my gaming tastes are broader. though the ones I buy are more selective, and usually older anyway. I recently bought BioShock -- never played it before. And I'm going to admit, despite my hatred of the cyberpunk genre's aesthetic, philosophy, and morality, I have enjoyed Cyberpunk 2077. (It helps that I had essentially no context before buying it, and so wasn't offended by the shift from RPG to action adventure.) For the most part, it's genuinely difficult to find a game in my library that released after 2017, indie or otherwise. I play games basically on a 15-year delay, and I only play games that come highly recommended.

It's probably the same with my film watching nowadays, I just recently watched Goodfellas for the first time. My recommendation to everyone for everything is: don't engage in stuff just to engage with it, find good stuff and enjoy that. Life's too short for bad games, bad books, and bad movies. And there's too much good stuff not to just enjoy that.

I wonder how the media reaction to this will be, compared to what happened in 2014. I was a much more avid user of Twitter back then, as well as a much bigger gamer compared to now, and I was able to watch in real-time as various gaming media outlets formed their narrative about misogynist gamers harassing women which was about as close to the exact opposite of the situation as one could get if one actually intentionally tried (which I suspect was the case). Even back then, media outlets had been losing readers in favor of social media, but they still seemed to have enough credibility that plenty of more casual gamers just naively took them at their word. 10 years later, and social media has continued to rise and media outlets have continued to lose credibility, and I believe the viewership/readership numbers have reflected this.

That means that if people sympathetic to SBI want to set the narrative again, then doing the same thing as before, where some sympathetic writers at a handful of media outlets rewrite the narrative (most likely in uncoordinated fashion, I'd guess) to flatter the people they like and denigrate the people they don't, might not be enough to achieve the same level of success in convincing people. I primarily learned about this situation from a YouTuber/Twitch streamer who regularly gets 6-7 figures in views on each video, where he was just straight-up shitting on SBI for being ideologues trying to sell something that customers don't want to buy and calling out one of the media outlet authors as racist for stating the very standard - downright cliche at this point - modern "progressive" line "you can't be racist against white people." And there are plenty of smaller "content creators" similar to him saying similar things who still get 5-6 figures per video. That kind of ecosystem wasn't really around back in 2014.

Now, this ecosystem also definitely produces people who are sympathetic to SBI. And, who knows, maybe there are YouTubers who get 7-8 figures per video who basically parrot the lines Kotaku and Polygon spit out? But even if that's the case, I think the presence of the ecosystem of more diverse viewpoints would make it harder for the SBI-preferred narrative of "oppressed minorities being harassed by bigoted gamers who want to exclude them from their spaces" to take hold. It's not a true marketplace of ideas, but it seems at least half a step closer to one than what it was in 2014, and that half a step could be enough for contrasting ideas from diverse viewpoints to win out.

To take a more bird's eye view of this, I think the past decade since the affair of reproductively viable female worker ants has shown that the Anita Sarkeesians of the world had a complete victory in that time period. SBI has been around and modifying games for a while, and it's only now, after plenty of damage has been done to multiple formerly well-regarded franchises, that fans have even begun to notice them to any significant extent, much less push back. And more to the point, the very fact that devs and/or publishers see enough value in SBI that SBI can survive as a company shows that the ideology has taken a pretty firm root in the industry. The future is not yet set, of course, and this particular episode seems to be at least a blip in the other direction, but what I'd expect right now is that the people sympathetic to SBI will come up with some new technique that I don't even have the capability to imagine right now to continue to subvert the industry in ways that paying customers are even less able to notice or control.

And more to the point, the very fact that devs and/or publishers see enough value in SBI that SBI can survive as a company shows that the ideology has taken a pretty firm root in the industry.

Grapevine says it is due to ESG investment monies, by involving SBI they get access to more funding from institutions that demand woke capitulation.

I've seen people claim this a lot, but as best as I can tell, this is a naked claim without any actual evidence. Are there any documents anywhere showing what scores different companies have, how putting in uglier women or more pathetic men into their products changes the scores, or how much investments into these companies get affected by that score? And is investment from institutions that demand woke capitulation that big of a factor in financial success in the gaming industry when compared to simply putting out a good product?

In any case, assuming every single claim about ESG scores being the driver of this phenomenon is true, that would explain how the ideology has taken a pretty firm root in the industry.

It's not ugly women and pathetic men that makes the score go up, it's just interacting with SBI, and corporate decision-makers see no reason NOT to chase ESG, since to them "quality" is a vague untrackable nonsense term uncorrelated with the financial success of a product, but ESG rating IS trackable and legible

"Seeing like a State" continues to stay relevant.

Interesting stories, fandom goodwill, and developer reputation continue to be the illegible benefits of the varied forest biome. All sacrificed for a cadastral map of Norway Spruce accessible to investors who can only work by algorithm.

At the level of abstraction that a Blackrock index fund is looking at, even hiring SBI doesn't move the needle. ESG schmas are not sector-specific (they probably should be) so the "Social" component of an ESG score needs to include things like "does not use slave labour in Africa" and the wokeness points are for generic things like "has women on the board" and "has a small gender pay gap".

Within the universe of companies my GSIB employer does business with, every non-evil company gets near-perfect SG scores, and the variation in ESG scores is driven by environmental issue (by construction of the scores, mostly carbon).

Within the universe of companies my GSIB employer does business with, every non-evil company gets near-perfect SG scores, and the variation in ESG scores is driven by environmental issue (by construction of the scores, mostly carbon).

Do we actually have numbers on that, that we can look at, instead of people just saying how they think this works?

If you are interested, here is the following from James Lindsey @conceptualjames on X:

Gamergate 2 is underway.

Former game executive and develop at Blizzard Mark Kern @Grummz: "The way games are funded you don't use your own money. Even EA, it's games are hugely expensive to make they're they're upwards of you know 250 sometimes 600 million dollars it's for certain live games it's incredibly how expensive they are and to do that uh your CFO is your best friend.

"You're counting on your CFO to get you tax breaks to get you in to put studios in regions which are financially favorable and you will borrow the cheap money you will get a cheap money to do it. Even EA does this. I worked with EA; we were putting together a deal where they were taking bailout money from the banks in the last financial crisis that we had, and they were applying that cheap money towards games same thing with Covid money. They're applying that cheap money towards games, and what has been the cheapest money while interest rates were still low, you know a couple of years ago it was ESG financing, and so they're going to take this money."

"Because the returns on investment have been so poor on Wall Street for ESG funds, that source of Revenue is drying it up. This Woke machine cannot continue in the way that it is now for AAA gaming, and I think unfortunately, it's so entrenched that you're not going to see—you're not going to see much of an ability to course correct because the studios are—they're just gonna shut down."

Part 2:

Mark Kern explains how ESG money comes with strings attached inside corporations and is used to make companies partner with DEI consulting companies like Sweet Baby Inc:

"Everyone needs to realize is that it's not that these Studios are funding the games out of their own pocket; that would be very expensive for them. Cash is king. They will preferably go out and get money from other sources if it's cheap enough to help spread the risk of these massive titles, and so you have a lot of quid pro quo happening, and I can tell you that developers have been approaching me and giving me some inside baseball on what's been happening, and there are deals funding deals out there for studios—and I can't get too specific; I don't want to out sources—that have certain strings attached like a company will suddenly sign with a developer and now that developer needs to hire a DEI director and needs to go out and hire consultancy firms to gender balance."

"Their staff quite specifically go out and hire companies like SBI to consult on their writing and do sensitivity reading and changes for that, and what does, all this does, it boosts their ESG score. It allows them access that funding so ESG is not going away entirely."

"It's [ESG] become an evil brand. People are waking up to this... You have you have a rebranding going on right now. They're not calling it ESG, but it's still out there."

https://x.com/conceptualjames/status/1767208090150060079

To add onto 07's reply (and WestphalianPeace's, kind of), this feels a little hard to believe when SBI is potentially the Kiss of Death for developer studios. We are currently in an era of layoffs across literally any industry connected to technology (including journalism and especially including game development above the indie or mid-market level), and Suicide Squad will be the end of Rocksteady if it isn't already.

Sure, the publishers wiping their tears with stacks of cash while the developers are left to look for new jobs is not a new story by any means, but I suppose it casts some doubt on this narrative.

This is a very reasonable critique.

I should be clear that the Cadastral Map Bias lens is my strong prior of first resort for inexplicable behavior by companies. I am not well read enough on SBI to back up the truth of the grapevine claim.

What on earth is going on with the layoffs btw? Did the industry over hire? It seems really inexplicable from afar.

The simple story is afaik that covid was very good for gaming so they hired a lot and now it has normalized again, so they have to lay people off again. This is compounded by loans/financing being much less available currently than expected. Whether it was a mistake or just calculation is hard to tell, though I lean towards something like they knew it'll probably normalize again at some point but didn't know when so it would have been irrational to not hire more people for the time being when there's money to be made now. And as usual, there's probably a spectrum ranging from savvy experts hiring deliberately in a way that firing them later down to road wouldn't hurt the core business on one end and naive idiots hearing that everyone else is hiring a lot and business is booming so they just buy studios and hire like crazy on the other.

This is likely true. I'd like to add, as someone who has been playing online games since the text-based ones of the 90s over dial up, there are far too many of them. This leads to situations where say a mix of 20 mid to good online games ultimately fail for lack of a large enough player base, where if the bottom 1/2 of those games never existed in the first place the other 10 would probably have been fine. Everyone wants to be the next GTA 5/Online though, raking in billions for comparatively low continuing* effort by the publisher and the studio.

*not the original effort to make the game, which was a large project, but the "keeping the lights on" mode where most of the earnings actually occurred. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/charted-grand-theft-auto-revenue-and-costs/

I don't even think it's "too many online games" that's the problem, it's more "too many online games that rely on matchmaking queues or any other server infrastructure the devs have to maintain themselves." If an online game that can run off of end-user-maintained dedicated servers comes out and bombs, it's sad, but it won't also be lost to the sands of time.

That could explain why the writing of Ragnarok was so much weaker than the brilliance of the first game. And the parts with Atreus and Angrboda were atrocious and torture.

Women in Ragnarök were mixed bag - Freya was way uglier than in the first game, Faye was not quite the looker too, Angrboda was kinda ok, Sif was hot, Thrudd was having a case of terminal thiccness, And the dwarf woman was aquired taste, Valkyries were under helms.

I agree. Ragnarok was generally pretty good, but Atreus and Angrboda just dragged, seemingly because the writers wanted a black girl to teach Atreus how to be peaceful?

I also remember cringing at the "be better" lines that they scattered through the game. It seems that is the standard woke writing line, since it was also in the Falcon TV show.

All the actors from the past decade are basically defunct: Sarkeesian largely ceased publishing after the parted ways with McIntosh (my long-standing belief is that he was the brains behind the operation, and she alone just couldn't make enough quality material to stay relevant)

I thought she was publishing a lot, it's just that she could barely get more than a 1000 views per video.

Myself, I haven't bought a western AAA game since 2017, and I wish all of you the same.

Indeed. One of the saddest sights to see is people still debating Pop-Culture-War. At this point you're doing it to yourself.

You know what angle I never see brought up in the "gamers are up in arms about X or Y" events? Most people who spend many many hours playing games aren't playing the traditional boxed story games that everyone talks about. The best selling game of the year might move 15 million copies and take up 80 hours of the average buyer's time. Meanwhile 151 million people will play a game of league of legends in the average month. Final fantasy 14(an mmo) and World of Warcraft have 2.5 million and 2.2 million active subscribers. Most hours played by games are not spent on these story games and yet it's all that is ever really discussed.

Nobody cares enough about the stories of a dota likes, not unless they are putting the clothes back onto the women (League of Legends).
The other main contender to LoL, Dota2 has Gaben on top, so there isn't any "woke shit" going on there. Thus you will not be hearing about wokeness in Dota likes.

A recent hit like Last Epoch which is sort of a middle ground between Path of Exile and Diablo has apocalyptically bad story telling, yet the gameplay is fun enough and forgiving enough for it to get like 90-100k daily players.

League of Legends does have a substantial amount of lore and story, it just isn't told through gameplay. Judging from the subreddit, a sizeable amount of the dedicated players are aware of and do care about the story. It's very much not immune to identity politics either, although I think it handles it fairly well. They do actively consider what nationalities aren't in the game yet when designing new champions, creating characters like K'Sante who's a fantasy version of a sub-Saharan African, or Akshan who's south-Asian, or Kai'Sa who's white South African, even when trying to fiddle with the character's lore to justify them having a certain accent doesn't really jive with the wider setting's lore. One of the champions released a few years ago, Neeko, being gay was a sizeable news story- my roommate at the time didn't play the game but he still heard about it.

FF14 kind of is a story game. Even if that's not what you spend most of your time doing.

There's a lot of people who put FF14 as the #1 story in gaming. Including myself. Yeah, the way the story is told is kinda weird because of the MMO format, but the story beats themselves, I believe, are top-notch, or at least for me they resonate super hard.

I guess any sort of diversity and cringe writing just isn't as much in the face of players in gameplay-focused games. Whenever some new character who isn't a male and/or isn't white drops in Apex Legends, the Noticers flare up for a bit but there isn't really much else to talk about, and the gameplay is good (usually).

Myself, I haven't bought a western AAA game since 2017, and I wish all of you the same.

You're missing out on death stranding, 2019's best game about covid.

Isn't that by Kojima (a Japanese Westaboo, but not exactly western)?

I missed the "western".

A few days ago, a steam curator was created listing all the games that have SBI's involvement as "not recommended". The situation is played out predictably: some employees claimed harassment, the steam group got Streisand Effect'd and grew to 200k over the last two days, it has been mass reported, people are trolling in the fora claiming to have insider info, the forum got wiped...

So, the problem is you're missing the inciting incident here, which is understandable because all the articles on the subject completely missed it. Things blew up when an employee for SBI tried to start a campaign to mass-report the curator group and the curator himself to get him banned from Steam. That all the articles on the subject skip that IS why it's a big deal. It really is the "Gamers are Dead" articles all over again.

My own thoughts on SBI more broadly? I think it's a really bad sign when a company is advertising itself as being behind a few of the big stinkers of the last year or two. (Suicide Squad, Forsaken, Saint's Row). There's a lot of games also on their list that people thought took a step down or two. But...honestly I think not really because of SBI.

I think North American AAA is in really bad shape right now. I actually do think it's linked to Progressive culture, in that the ego and hubris, and frankly, the narcissism doesn't just go away when you sit down to do your job. I think the Modern Online Progressivism that's in vogue right now is essentially a Moral License factory...it has to be given how toxic some of their ideas are to actualize.

The thing is, I don't think it's Western. I think Alan Wake 2, even though it underperformed, AND showed up on the SBI list was pretty good (although it probably could have been better), I think Baldur's Gate 3 is one of the best games out there. And while Cyberpunk 2077 was buggy and lacked features...I think there was a lot of good in that game (and post 2.0 update I think it's superb)

So yeah. Just don't bother with North American AAA. It's boring and vapid.

But the controversy is the same. The media people want us to believe that Progressives are all pure and wonderful and rainbows and sunshine when our eyes tell us other things.

Thanks for the writeup! I was wondering what was happening with that since I only caught the edge of the drama.

Is this why I’ve seen Sarkeesian in the news twice, lately?

I’ll agree with the other commenters: in today’s internet, this is a nothingburger. They’ll have to get way more unhinged if they want to generate a 2014-level outcry. Same reason we have “subverting expectations” in media: if you can fit the story into an older pattern, it’s not nearly as likely to catch on.

Well she also apparently threw herself a wedding themed 40th birthday party which is why she is actually trending right now. Because of the levels of cringe that inspires in so many people.

I may be making assumptions about why she picked that theme, but that's not cringe, that's depressing.

Please give me the sauce

I would say it is both cringe and depressing https://instagram.com/anitasarkeesian/p/CwvaHCwPMeI/?img_index=1

I showed this to my girlfriend and said "this is how I feel about women who celebrate Galentine's Day." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galentine%27s_Day_(observed)

This has been going through a number of the podcast & youtube circles I listen to, and there's a few points made by some of them that I've pretty much come around to.

First, that as one put it, Sweet Baby Inc. is just successful Feminist Frequency. This bit of "Gamergate 2.0" just serves to illustrate that the gamers lost in the original.

Not that it was ever really a battle worth winning. That's the second point. "The only thing faker than Trump was Gamergate," as a podcaster put it. Because video games — like movies, comic books, football, etc. — are just an escapist "release valve" keeping people idle and passive. That the attitude of the Gamergaters — including the current anti-SBI crowd — is really just "burn my society down around me, I'm fine with that, just so long as you let me have this little corner of escapism."

It's treating a symptom (a potentially useful one at that) instead of going at the disease. I remember one of the videos had clips from one of SBI's top people, which included what was basically encouragement of a "nice video game studio you've got here; shame if someone were to call it sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic" strategy. But why does that strategy work to begin with? Another reason firms like SBI work is ESG scores and the corresponding low-interest money. Why is that a thing? Because our society lets fat-cat finance capitalists like Larry Fink go unstopped.

Without video games, or Marvel movies, or football to keep them passive, maybe young men would start getting up off their butts and get active. Don't "fight" to take back gaming or comic books, fight to take back your country, to take back Western Civilization. Because there won't be anyone trying to "wokify" your little hobby once the Woke have been crushed utterly.

Without video games, or Marvel movies, or football to keep them passive, maybe young men would start getting up off their butts and get active. Don't "fight" to take back gaming or comic books, fight to take back your country, to take back Western Civilization. Because there won't be anyone trying to "wokify" your little hobby once the Woke have been crushed utterly.

What do you think they are fighting when they are fighting for escapism to be free from wokeness? What the hell is "Woke" anyway?

I'll spit out a definition and see what happens. Woke is anti-enlightenment. We owe so much of modern way of living to enlightenment ideas. We owe Western Civilization to its ideas.

One of the things that has allowed Western Civilization ideas become so prevalent even outside its modern central nation state of US is entertainment in any of its forms. Books, Movies and now in this modern age Games. The centerpoint of this latest gamer drama is a Brazilian guy that noticed that consulting company that does sensitivity reading inject anti-enlightenment ideas into the stories. So he recommends against the games, closes down the public forum and writes a note full of the shibboleths that woke tries to accuse anyone who contradicts them.

This is the culture war in its essence, the fight of anti-enlightenment ideas that has infected the western civilization and is about to kill the host. The pathway it uses to infect others are media in any of its forms. It started with a slow burn of entertainment and education but it is continuing infecting our institutions. Because when it kills the host then we are back in the middleages with how people are governed, like the non-western civilizations... Russia, China, Large parts of the middle-east and most of Africa.

We owe so much of modern way of living to enlightenment ideas.

Yes, and (outside of technology), that's a bad thing.

We owe Western Civilization to its ideas.

Hard disagree. To quote Scott's "How the West Was Won":

I worry that Caplan is eliding the important summoner/demon distinction. This is an easy distinction to miss, since demons often kill their summoners and wear their skin. But in this case, he’s become hopelessly confused without it.

I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it included things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

"Western Civilization" is Greek philosophy meeting Abrahamic theology. It is what used to be called "Christendom." The "Enlightenment" is what's killing it (I don't think it's quite as dead as Scott believes).

Because when it kills the host then we are back in the middleages with how people are governed

I'm a monarchist, and a supporter of hereditary aristocracy. "Middle ages government with modern technology" is pretty much my entire goal and political project. While most Americans' visions of the future seem shaped by (some subset of) Star Trek (with some going further to Banks' "Culture"), I'm sitting off in the distance with Battletech, 40k, Dune, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Crest of the Stars, and so on.

Well if we are ignoring the superficial political alignments you are essentially getting that end result. Feodalism is the end goal of todays elite when they travel to Davos for the WEF summit. The the mainstream wokism only purpose is to subjugate the plebs allow the elites to become rentseekers. To discuss the finer points enlightenment has given or not given the modern world is pointless since the "inferential distance" is so big between us.

Well if we are ignoring the superficial political alignments you are essentially getting that end result.

Except that what you call "superficial political alignments" is the survival of what I consider "my people." My problem is that today's elites are both lousy "aristocrats" and, more importantly, hostile to the continued existence of my tribe. Hence, the need for a real aristocracy — a warrior elite, as all real aristocratic classes have been at their start — to kill the pretenders and take power.

(Edit: removed bits that were from wrong thread)

Well the modern aristocracy keeps "their people" on top by suggesting that Asians are "white adjacent" when applying to universities and making BIPOC the benchmark for affirmative admission, miseducates the black youth by saying that math requiring correct answers is racist(so they can't succeed when they get older) and so on. If you look closely by the elites woke policy outcomes and if they don't benefit you are not part of the elite. You'll end up paying rent like the rest. Sure violent uprising could happen but chances that you end up being warrior elite from behind they keyboard are slim.

Because there won't be anyone trying to "wokify" your little hobby once the Woke have been crushed utterly.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Let's gameplan it. If you could wave your magic wand and get masses of people to follow your guidelines. What kind of scchedule / timeline / milestones are we looking at?

Is there killing? Brainwashing? New laws? Revoking of old laws? What institutions are torn down and which remain?

Let's gameplan it.

I'm not sure I can go into much detail; not without going beyond the limits of what this place allows.

But the ideal scenario, as for methods, is Caesarism — we get an Augustus seizing power. Worst-case scenario, then, is probably Boojahideen — the Left gets to see what an actual "Christian Taliban" looks like.

Is there killing?

Definitely. The question is how much will be necessary.

Brainwashing?

Russell conjugation: I educate, you indoctrinate, they brainwash.

New laws? Revoking of old laws?

Both, and massively so.

What institutions are torn down and which remain?

As with Augustus, the surface forms of some old institutions would probably survive, but the substance would be radically replaced.

For example, with academia, our Caesar's actions should fall somewhere between Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries and 1960s Suharto.

Is this meant to appeal to conservatives?

Who do you mean by "conservatives"?

The GOP establishment, for whom lower taxes on Big Business is priority one?

The "I didn't leave the Left, the Left left me" trailing edge of the perpetual revolution, who want to go, as Neema Parvini puts it, "back to Fresh Prince"? Or the Obama voter who's now voting Republican because they have nostalgia for the 2009-2010 "post-racial moment" and think that rationing covid vaccines by race is a step too far?

The "conservatism" that Michael Malice called "progressivism driving the speed limit"? The one of which Robert Lewis Dabney wrote in 1871:

This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn.

American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader.

Or maybe there's the "paleoconservatives," perhaps the sort about whom Wikipedia says:

Samuel T. Francis, Thomas Fleming, and some other paleoconservatives de-emphasized the conservative part of the paleoconservative label, saying that they do not want the status quo preserved.[15][16] Fleming and Paul Gottfried called such thinking "stupid tenacity" and described it as "a series of trenches dug in defense of last year's revolution".

As one of the Brits at the Lotus Eaters podcast put it recently (this is from my imperfect memory), "we live in a revolutionary time, so any 'conservative' opposition must actually be counter-revolutionary."

So, do I expect to appeal to the temperamentally conservative sort who stands athwart history yelling "slow down just a little"? No.

Do I expect it to appeal to the people who hold to some standard beyond a mere affection for the status quo? Who believe there's precious little left to conserve, and that every day we keep on "playing the game" by the current rules we see a tiny bit more of it chipped away? Who see that, much like planting a tree, the best time to "flip the table" was 30 years ago (or more); the second best time is today?

Perhaps.

But let's put aside speculation about technical issues and focus on what is SBI's department: writing. Well, thing are not looking so good there either

There are maybe 10 AAA games that have ever been released with passable writing, and probably two thirds of them are from two studios (Rockstar and CDPR). That’s passable, by the way, not good (which would lower the number to maybe one or two, though I’d rather not debate which exactly they are).

Game writing was dreck before these consultants and is so now, too. The reason for this is simple - almost all game writers are D&D geeks who almost exclusively read science fiction and fantasy garbage and have no understanding of classical literature or even film to broaden their ability. Everything is a Marvel movie to them because it’s all they know.

Kotaku has written an article about it, the article's author claims that you can't be racist against white people.

Gawker was famous for paying writers for clicks, she seems to be doing a very good job. Amusingly, the same practice on the same website (then under different ownership of course) led in substantial part to the original Gamergate moment.

Like for example many western AAA titles in recent years struggle with modeling female faces for some reason, and the in-game models look uncanny valley-ish and quite unlike the people they're modeled after, and the conspiracy-inclined are saying that the characters are deliberately made ugly to challenge the patriarchal standards, or something.

Japanese games always anime-ify all their characters’ faces, even in the rare cases in which they use facial capture. It’s extremely jarring when playing yet another Japanese game with ‘realistic’ (by which I mean not-cartoon or exaggerated in art style) environments and anime plastic skin triangle face NPCs, where everyone looks like the picture Koreans bring to the plastic surgeon. But that’s a personal preference, probably.

Western games tend to go for direct scans rather than yassification. I think there’s a general emphasis on ‘more real’ characters, but it’s pretty common across the board. British TV tends to avoid casting extremely beautiful actors in many roles (especially in comedy and ‘gritty’ drama) and it seems to have been that way for a while, and probably isn’t the result of feminism. And, for example, the women in ‘Suicide Squad’ by Rocksteady, which you note these consultants worked on, don’t seem to have been made particularly unattractive physically in the clip you link, judging by Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman at least.

Mass Effect Andromeda

This really brought me back. But really, the face model for Sara Ryder does seem to look a lot like the final character model, people just cherrypicked pictures in which the model was mewing/posing instead of smiling or moving her facial muscles and therefore showed her prominent jowls and squareish jaw.

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Game writing was dreck before these consultants and is so now, too. The reason for this is simple - almost all game writers are D&D geeks who almost exclusively read science fiction and fantasy garbage

I occasionally see this self-deprecating tendency among fans of sci-fi and other types of genre fiction, where they assume that there must clearly be some inherent property of classical literature, unbeknownst to the plebians, that sets it apart - that the English majors are hoarding the secret sauce for what makes a work "actually good". I assure you that they're not.

The average work of canonical literature is, in my opinion, not that good, and most of these works have "stood the test of time" only due to accidents of history, rather than their own intrinsic merits. This isn't because of any particular failing on the part of the writers or critics involved, but is instead a simple corollary of the fact that the majority of works in any domain will tend towards mediocrity. The average sci-fi story ranges from "meh" to "ok", just like how the average work of "literary" fiction ranges from "meh" to "ok". It's debatable how many truly Great Books have ever even been written - think of how many physics books/articles throughout history have truly advanced the frontier of understanding in a deep and meaningful way, compared to the mountain of unread and irrelevant papers produced each year to feed the tenure committee machine. All domains of human activity function in essentially the same way, including art, including "high" art.

Of course I'm by no means advocating for total aesthetic anarchism. Some works are better than others; some works are really bad and some works are really great. And being conversant in artistic theory and the history of art will help artists produce better works instead of worse ones. I just want to be careful that we're not engaging in a knee-jerk elevation of the classical just because it's classical. In fact 20th/21st genre fiction has made clear advancements that were largely undreamt of in previous eras of literature, particularly in terms of the range of plot structures and character types that it treats.

I occasionally see this self-deprecating tendency among fans of sci-fi and other types of genre fiction, where they assume that there must clearly be some inherent property of classical literature, unbeknownst to the plebians, that sets it apart - that the English majors are hoarding the secret sauce for what makes a work "actually good". I assure you that they're not.

The property is called "not having a second leg to stand upon". Genre fiction has two legs: the literature leg and the genre leg. It can have bland characters that talk like it's an autist convention, but it's offset by also having murder mysteries, aliens, dragons, dark and handsome billionaires that are into BDSM, superheroes, scary supernatural shit, funny antics or cultivation (I can't get over how much this sounds like farming) etc.

Classical literature has only one leg. It has mundane characters that are stuck in mundane situations. How do you make the readers eagerly follow the brooding stream of consciousness of a father of two (three) that has every component of the American dream, but is deeply unhappy, if you can't lure them with murder mysteries, aliens, dragons, dark and handsome billionaires that are into BDSM, superheroes, scary supernatural shit, funny antics or cultivation?

Classical literature has only one leg. It has mundane characters that are stuck in mundane situations.

The "second leg" of literary fiction is form and prose quality; the language of the book itself making itself apparent as an independent object with intrinsic aesthetic merit, instead of acting as a transparent window through which the content of the story is viewed.

See: Joyce's Ulysses, Nabokov's Pale Fire.

How do you make the readers eagerly follow the brooding stream of consciousness of a father of two (three) that has every component of the American dream, but is deeply unhappy, if you can't lure them with murder mysteries, aliens, dragons, dark and handsome billionaires that are into BDSM, superheroes, scary supernatural shit, funny antics or cultivation?

There's no law that says that "classical" literature can't have anything interesting happen.

The Iliad has many elements that would be at home in a Marvel movie. Shakespeare racked up quite the body count over the course of his oeuvre, particularly in the lesser-known but notably violent Titus Andronicus. Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow caused some commotion upon its release due to its lurid sexual content.

The "second leg" of literary fiction is form and prose quality; the language of the book itself making itself apparent as an independent object with intrinsic aesthetic merit, instead of acting as a transparent window through which the content of the story is viewed.

That is the part of its first and only leg, I guess I did a poor job of implying that. Unless you meant one could write great literary fiction that was masterful prose, but told nothing and went nowhere.

There's no law that says that "classical" literature can't have anything interesting happen.

The Iliad has many elements that would be at home in a Marvel movie. Shakespeare racked up quite the body count over the course of his oeuvre, particularly in the lesser-known but notably violent Titus Andronicus. Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow caused some commotion upon its release due to its lurid sexual content.

I didn't say that. Something Happened is one of my favourite books and is filled with mundane, but interesting events.

I occasionally see this self-deprecating tendency among fans of sci-fi and other types of genre fiction, where they assume that there must clearly be some inherent property of classical literature, unbeknownst to the plebians, that sets it apart - that the English majors are hoarding the secret sauce for what makes a work "actually good"

If you want to be classy you don't write sff, you write "speculative fiction"

Atwood's infamous talking squids comment comes to mind.

This isn't because of any particular failing on the part of the writers or critics involved, but is instead a simple corollary of the fact that the majority of works in any domain will tend towards mediocrity.

It's the Matthew principle all over again! The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

I think it's probably best to see "literary fiction" as a genre, not a quality marker (TM). It's a style and set of focuses that people, even today, choose deliberately to write in -- and some don't. And, within the modern literary fiction works, few are very good, and even fewer than that will ever be remembered.

Our view of the past is colored, always, by what has survived. Sometimes things survive because they just truly are brilliant and inescapably good, and people can't help talking about them. Sometimes, however, they survive because of being in the right place at the right time. The Great Gatsby is pretty good, I enjoyed reading it. But no one today would ever have heard of it had it not had it's post-war resurgence due to soldiers reading it during the war. It was, like you said, a historical accident.

Of course, the works that end up being selected are probably better than the contemporary average, if the selection process adds any value whatsoever.

But yes, there are no special qualities to classics, nor are English departments especially powerful selectors for value, especially when there's inertia to maintain.

That is not to say that the books are bad—the Count of Monte Cristo is delightful, Les Miserables is enjoyable, A Tale of Two Cities is fun, Austen isn't bad. Verne's nice (though is that veering into the realm of science fiction)? Of course, some are much worse.

Perhaps one reason, though, that @2rafa considered science fiction and fantasy garbage is if they are meant more to entertain, whereas the other books are meant to shed light on the human condition or something.

I would think, though, that science fiction often does that better, by putting humans in more radically altering frames (saying this as someone who has not read much science fiction).

(This is not the only way in which things could be considered trash.)

I would think, though, that science fiction often does that better, by putting humans in more radically altering frames (saying this as someone who has not read much science fiction).

As someone who has read a fair bit of sci-fi, this is exactly the strength of sci-fi, using the fantastical to ask the hard questions. A number of sci-fi books are made school-required reading for this reason.

Game writing was dreck before these consultants and is so now, too. The reason for this is simple - almost all game writers are D&D geeks who almost exclusively read science fiction and fantasy garbage and have no understanding of classical literature or even film to broaden their ability. Everything is a Marvel movie to them because it’s all they know.

All the same, I will gladly take the ending paragraph after beating Quake, pictured below, to the utterly preposterous current year demoralization nonsense crammed into every nook and cranny of a modern AAA game. Bizarre out of context quips shitting on capitalism, men, white people, etc. There is something totally orthogonal to the quality of the writing going on here. There is a naked contempt, a visceral unmasked casual hatred, that oozes out of every pore of modern AAA game writing, totally independent of it's quality. The only thing the quality achieves is putting a thin veneer of artistic acceptability on it, where as the worst examples are just unhinged.

Edit: Tried to attach the screenshot of Quake's victory screen, threw an error, you can look it up. Sorry.

Game writing was dreck before these consultants and is so now, too. The reason for this is simple - almost all game writers are D&D geeks who almost exclusively read science fiction and fantasy garbage and have no understanding of classical literature or even film to broaden their ability. Everything is a Marvel movie to them because it’s all they know.

I think it really speaks to the utter incompetence of the types of writers that work at and are sympathetic to Sweet Baby Inc that even by these extremely low standards, the writing they produce is recognized as significantly worse than the standard dreck of AAA game writing. The way that they allow their ideology to completely subvert their ability to write "good" characters and narratives - again, "good" only by the extremely low standards of AAA video game writing - is actually pretty fascinating, especially given that these are people who specifically claim to have insight about how to write good characters and narratives. This seems to be the same phenomenon as in the film/TV industry where even literal Marvel movies have had what little artistic merit they had nearly completely destroyed in a large part due to this type of writing, with the financial consequences that follow.

I think it's a good reminder of the fact that, in life, things are never so bad that they couldn't get worse, and whether or not it does get worse matters.And, in fact, it's often the case - certainly in this one - that many people are actively pushing to make those things worse while telling you that it's better.

Game writing was dreck before these consultants and is so now, too. The reason for this is simple - almost all game writers are D&D geeks who almost exclusively read science fiction and fantasy garbage and have no understanding of classical literature or even film to broaden their ability. Everything is a Marvel movie to them because it’s all they know.

D&D geeks have been writing nothing but in-jokes and sci-fi references since before MCU films were good, and WAY before they were bad. I'm surprised you didn't use the boo-word "capeshit." Being incredibly derivative and tropey are would be an improvement over woke writing.

D&D geeks have been writing nothing but in-jokes and sci-fi references

Excuse me, sir, we don't call those "in-jokes and sci-fi references", we call that "allusion and intertextuality".

There are maybe 10 AAA games that have ever been released with passable writing, and probably two thirds of them are from two studios (Rockstar and CDPR).

Baldur's Gate 1&2, Icewind Dale 1 and Heart of the winter, Planescape Torment, Batman Arkham Asylum and City (lets pretend the others didn't happen, please), VTmB, Silent Hill 2 & 3, Soul Reaver 1 & 2, Clive Barker Undying, Portal 1 (okay, not quite AAA but brilliant), Portal 2 (weaker writing than portal 1, but classes above most of the modern crap), Assassin's creed II, Fallout New Vegas,

I would say that in the golden age of PC games - roughly 1997 - 2007 -sh good writing was expected from games that were supposed to have writing.

Edit: Freya in God Of war and god of war ragnarok have quite the visual differences and not in the favor of the ragnarok ones.

You didn't even mention Deus Ex

Half Life 2 was interesting. Breen's speeches about collaboration were kind of thought-provoking. Humanity got stomped in the war, it makes sense to collaborate and evade total destruction. He wasn't a stock bad guy, even though the collaboration he oversaw was the slow death of humanity.

There's lots of rich ambience going on in that game, lots of implications left for players to come debate: G-man, the Vortigaunts...

Fall From Heaven 2 also has pretty good writing IMO, at least the base version of the mod does. The modmods get a bit crazy and weaker.

It's one of the few pieces in a subgenre of science fiction that I love which is seeing humanity deal with getting colonized by a much more powerful force.

There's V of course, but that's kinda campy by today's standards, Colony was great but got cancelled, and Captive State was really well executed but still fairly obscure.

I think it's underutilized which is a shame because it's a setup that allows you to completely erase cultural and ethnic lenses and deal with colonization as a pure concept and understand how people who may think of it completely differently from you are coming from.

HL2 is also cool in that I think it legitimately contains the most totalitarian society ever depicted in fiction. I've yet to see worse than the Combine. And yet it seems so understated and natural (unlike the more typically gloomy ambience of the beta). They're not cackling in your face, you just see the effects of a system, and the implications are horrifying if you think about it for a minute. It's great storytelling.

The Three body problem series gets into that kind of thing, albeit from different angles. There's also parts of the Xeelee sequence that deal with it.

HL2 was great, I think a big part of a game's quality is in how many fanatics it generates. The people who go to great efforts making mods. Gmod, Entropy Zero 1 & 2, Black Mesa... the Half-Life franchise produced an enormous fountain of creativity.

Baldur's Gate 1&2,

Look, I love Baldur's Gate as much as the next DnD geek, but its writing on its own was not very good. I love Ed Greenwood and Forgotten Realms as a setting (I am currently running a DnD game set near Neverwinter right now) but his writing is, well saying derivative is putting it very kindly. Icewind Dale is renowned for being even more of a combat simulator than BG1 and 2. I thought the Arkham's were good games, but their story was just very basic Batman.

I will definitely give you Planescape, VtMB and New Vegas though. Portal was ok, Silent Hill were very hit and miss. Undying I will say was very true to Clive Barker, but he is definitely an acquired taste.

Look, I love Baldur's Gate as much as the next DnD geek, but its writing on its own was not very good. I love Ed Greenwood and Forgotten Realms as a setting (I am currently running a DnD game set near Neverwinter right now) but his writing is, well saying derivative is putting it very kindly.

Yea, worldbuilding and attention to detail are Ed's strenghts, if you like fantasy kitchen sink world of pseudohistorical cultures where everyone has lots of fun.

Ed answering his fans questions on Realms discussion forum, Twitter or Discord is example of this creativity.

"Dear Ed, in 1992 supplement "The Shithole Lands" in chapter five "The Plague Swamp" on page 142 there is map of town of Rotting Hollow. On the map key number 116 marks house of Grug the Grumpy. Who is Grug and what happened to him he is so crotchety?"

And Ed immediately answers with long detailed treatise about Grug, his origins, his family, his friends, his exploits, his business deals, his hobbies and his sex life.

Exactly right, and I think that is certainly why it has been the most popular DnD setting for a long time. It is great as a setting for a game, it is entertaining.

Well, Hasbro hadn't thought so and burned it all down.

True fans do not forget and do not forgive. Grey Box forever.

It's ok, it all went back to prior to Spellplague pretty much. That's the gas leak edition. I've always been leery about Forgotten Realms having in universe reasons for edition changes. It's not like Greyhawk did the same, though of course Greyhawk is an intensely bland setting.

Why not Fallout 1/2 and Arcanum as well?

Fallout was good but changed a lot between 1 and 2. Arcanum was excellent though. One of my favorite games of all time despite the gameplay being very janky.

How did Fallout change from 1 to 2? I played both and found it to be a straightforward continuation of all the good stuff the first brought.

At the time, there was a lot of vocal critics of the tonal shift from 1 to 2. 1 was a much darker, dirtier, more hopeless portrayal (with some few exceptions, the Tardis and so on), where 2 leaned much more into comedy. You can see some of the follow through of that into New Vegas and beyond where you could take perks or enable the "sillier" elements (Wild Wasteland trait I think). Indeed that trait was a compromise between the developers who preferred the wilder and wackier tone against the more "grounded" one.

To steal a random comment or two:

"I played Fallout 1 and 2 back to back. Fallout 2 felt insulting to Fallout 1. Sure, there's a lot more content, but it's absurdly immature.

LOL PORNO. LOL MAGIC THE GATHERING. LOL ASIAN PEOPLE. LOL SCIENTOLOGY. LOL GETTIN' RAPED BY A SUPER MUTANT. LOL DAN QUALE."

"Fallout was kind of like Wasteland, but different. Fallout 2 was kind of like Wasteland, but worse."

"I'm old and played the games as they came out, though I was young. Fallout is a masterpiece, Fallout 2 is too silly for me. I like the darker tone, which is probably part of why I loved 3 as well. It sucks that 2 didn't even improve the gameplay. Contrast that with Baldur's Gate, which was a great game followed by a sequel that is probably my favorite PC game of all time."

And of course if you want to start an argument on RPGCodex you can simply mention that the retcon (in Fallout 2) about vaults being social experiments rather than actual attempts to save people, was a superior choice and watch the fires burn... not as hot as if you claim Fallout 3 is a good game of course, like the chap above. We prestigious monocled gentlemen have standards after all.

If I'm remembering correctly, the extremely hardcore Fallout fans complain that Fallout 2 had different humor. I can't remember how. Maybe Fallout 2 had too many pop culture references? Or it was more wacky and zany instead of dark and dry?

I, like yourself, noticed no such thing on my contemporary plays through them in 1997 and 1998.

Fallout 2 is very wacky and experimental in a good few ways and a few obnoxious ones (eg, that fucking temple tutorial). While the original Fallout had more than a few references and direct jokes, such as a Doctor Who popup as a random encounter, 2 integrated them much more heavily -- Goris as a talking deathclaw was a big pinch point even into the mid-00s, and there's a lot of emphasis on sex jokes. I don't mind the change, and 2 was still really dark comedy at times, but it was definitely a change.

((It was also a good bit more rushed; even today and with third-parties trying to fill in the gaps, there's a lot of jank or trimmed content. At release, it was just buggy. Having a mandatory combat final boss pissed a lot of people off.))

On the flip side, 1 was complete because it was comparatively tiny.

Too much pop culture and too wacky and zany were exactly the complaints yes. I like both and probably lean slightly towards 2 being better. But it was a big deal back in the day and still can cause flame wars in the right spaces.

Planescape likely has the highest volume of text among those infinity engine options. But if you were to compile every bit of it into a pdf book, which some have, and read through it as a novel without the game giving it an interactive body, you’d find it is pretty lame and cringe standing on its own. I don’t know of any good writing in games off the top of my head, save for a recent run though Disco Elysium.

I'm not sure how compelling "game writing is bad if you remove it from the context of the game" is meant to be?

Yes, just reading a text dump of the game isn't very entertaining. But games are games, and the writing in it serves the purposes of the game as an integrated whole. It's like pointing out that just reading a film script is usually worse than reading an equivalent novel. Of course it is! It would be bizarre for it not to be!

Ironically I actually disliked Disco Elysium - I found it clunky and unappealing as a game, and I found its writing a bit too precious; notably I actively disliked the gimmick where your skills talk to you, as if you're a schizophrenic. But I think the point holds. Game writing ought to be evaluated in the context of an entire game, and it is no sign of bad writing that it doesn't stand up if removed from that context.

Let me take a specific example. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often considered one of the best video games ever made, and I'd argue it has great writing. If you just read its script you might find that surprising, but I think its script contextualises its gameplay really well, and successfully contributes to the overall success of the game. Some of the game's most effective moments work because of the writing - stepping out on to Hyrule Field for the first time is a very memorable moment, and that's achieved due to the graphics, music, etc., but also because the story has contextualised what that means by making you spend the first hour or two of the game in this restricted, dense forest environment while reminding you that Link has never left this area, that nobody ever leaves the forest because they fear they'll die, and that Link is nonetheless adventurous at heart. The huge field rising before you, the horizon, the iconic swell of music is all powerful, and the writing contributes to it. Even if no one element by itself is that amazing.

To me, that's what good game writing looks like.

as if you're a schizophrenic

What you mean, "as if"? The detective is quite obviously mentally ill.

almost all game writers are D&D geeks who almost exclusively read science fiction and fantasy garbage and have no understanding of classical literature or even film to broaden their ability. Everything is a Marvel movie to them because it’s all they know.

If you put Marvel movies, Tolkien, Lem, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Vernor Vinge and Ursula K. Le Guin in the same quality bag then it is not a very useful bag.

Unless by "science fiction and fantasy garbage" you meant "garbage tier materials from this genres", not "all fantasy and SF is garbage"?

Tolkien isn’t fantasy garbage, but it’s ridiculous to suggest that the average quality of fantasy writing that fantasy writers consume is even remotely close to Tolkien’s level. To be clear, I’m not making the point that all literary fiction is on the level of Joyce or Austen either, but the average quality in the fantasy space - particularly in games - is much lower.

Oh, I am not suggesting that all fantasy it of not terrible quality. But the same goes for classical literature.

Except that for old stuff higher-quality is less likely to be forgotten.

I was protesting against "understanding of classical literature or even film to broaden their ability" being necessary (unless you count say Tolkien as classical literature).

I am not going to argue how average work in fantasy compares to average work in literature, in both cases at least 90% of things will be terrible waste of time.

almost all game writers are D&D geeks who almost exclusively read science fiction and fantasy garbage

I've no idea where you get your ideas about 'science fiction' and 'fantasy' ? Bottom of the barrel WH40k or Star Wars novels ? But generally popular and acclaimed writers of either can write. I'd argue that SF writing in the last 30 years completely pwns "Golden Age of SF" writing. Standards have risen.

Problem isn't what they read, problem is they don't practice writing much. Which is why they suck.

I think it’s kinda both. I think in order to be able to write passable fiction in science fiction and fantasy it’s absolutely essential to get out of that genre in your reading. Not because science fiction and fantasy are all bad, but because without a rounded literary toolkit you end up lacking tools that can make your story more interesting. Use mystery and clue dropping to get more tension in a story rather than simply info-dump. Use stuff from romance so your characters feel like they’re actually hot for each other. Use horror elements to make enemies that are actually scary.

I’ll also suggest that I suspect that a lot of game writers are failed screenwriters and novelists.

Use mystery and clue dropping to get more tension in a story rather than simply info-dump. Use stuff from romance so your characters feel like they’re actually hot for each other. Use horror elements to make enemies that are actually scary.

You don't read recent sf much, right? You could learn all that without ever leaving the genre-

I was tempted to make reference to Half-Life, which was a revolution in storytelling in games (or FPS games, at least), and that game's main writer was indeed a sci-fi writer who had published some works in the 90's before coming to Valve.