Sean HTCH's End of 2015 Itemized List About The Games Community

Inspired by Liz Ryerson's end of 2015 itemized list, of which I have some similar feelings. As mentioned there, please don't take any of this as a personal attack, I am commenting on the state of things as I see them, I want us to take a step back, and think about how the games and Internet cultures operate.

1) I'm tired of hearing about Undertale. For the record, I consider Undertale to be an interesting and annoying game built on philosophical premises I can't agree with. I would not call it a 'bad' game, though I have problems with it. Yes, I know the 'true' ending.

I'm just tired of hearing about Undertale in the same way I'm tired of hearing about Star Wars... it takes up the airwaves. I'm tired of seeing people insist Undertale is the best game ever, insist on particular ways of playing the game, tired of seeing its fans condemn and attack people who dare venture a negative opinion. These things, the things I'm tired of, suspiciously mimic fandoms of "classic" video games like Ocarina of Time, or movie fandoms, or probably fandoms in general. I'm tired of seeing a culture that produces these objects people build identities around in a way that they become hostile or hurt when there exists a minority of views that don't agree with theirs. Yes, the Undertale fandom is not as toxic as the Call of Duty or Dark Souls or Ocarina of Time fandoms. That's good. But taking the GameFAQs contest as an example, people sure rushed to say 'we totally don't care about this' while, well, organizing to ensure that the game would win the 'meaningless' contest.

This phenomenon, I think, says something about some toxicity inherent in how we consume, talk about, and build communities around video games. This phenomenon says, that while games have moved away from some of its toxic origins, the mode of consumption and identity-building of gamers hasn't changed much.

2) Why did people talk about The Beginner's Guide so much? Christ almighty, I am tired of the 4th-wall breaking "Talk at you" or "Game about a game" sort of thing posing as being clever or deep, coming off as whining about yourself in a convoluted manner. You're a multi-millionaire.

3) I hardly see any examination of how wealth stratifies within game culture. We can feel this though, with worries over Indiepocalypse, difficulties of being sustainable, whether or not these trends are true, the anxiety exists. Think of a few people you heard about a lot in games. Think of some games that sure got big, who their creators are. Undertale. Beginner's Guide. Crossy Road. We recommend games by creators who probably don't need the recommendation, airtime, creators who are already multimillionaires.

4) I feel an increasing sense of having trouble finding a wide audience for my work. I get mostly dead responses to posting music, and anything I post on the Even the Ocean account that isn't an image or a GIF largely is ignored. When I write something I might get a sentence or two response. This isn't to say I have no audience - I do get responses and appreciate them on things. But I hope you can understand that this can feel demotivating at times.

5) This sense of trouble leads me to a belief that games are and will continue to be a heavily surface-oriented medium. The games I see gain wealth can usually be described as shiny and visual oriented, or covered in a veneer of 'fine art profundity', or are full of emotionally crafted, "Screenshot Dialogue" meant to elicit strong emotional response despite lack of depth, or are remarkably meme-y, gamer-inside-joke-y in nature.

6) On the plus side I do see some games not in these categories gaining visibility. However it's the sort of visibility that doesn't lead to much financial support for the developer, or there are weird dialogues around the game saying how it's 'horrible and not fun but like worth playing.'

7) Game development is still a culture where 1% become lifelong citizens of the economic elite, maybe 10% make a decent living, and the rest are barely scraping by, borderline begging. I don't see much of that changing. Itch.io and Patreon have made things easier, though, which is a good step. However we'll always be working under a system that serves the popular games (who gets featured on sales or front pages?), and will continue to stratify wealth in this way while leaving most people poor.

In this sense, it feels like the only way to financial stability in this field is going along with some trend and polishing something there.

8) People who know more journalists become more popular. People who don't want to network won't. This is a rule anywhere, but it sure as hell applies in games. And it's annoying, because it's based in how social media works, snowball effects for those with bigger audiences or stronger personal brands. Over and over. Let's not forget that this leads to a Western-centrism in games, based on who has the money to attend events in "Centers of the Gaming World" like New York, SF, places in Europe, etc.

On the plus side, I have been hearing of and seeing games from other countries, so that is hopeful. However these developers no doubt face an uphill struggle for stability.

9) It's great to see so many groups working as how-to-make-games groups for underrepresented minorities.

10) There is very little critical, non-surface insight on mainstream websites and in most of reception to popular games. I know of a few critics whose writing I like, but again, for all the criticism I see of toxic aspects of gamer culture, people in games continue to uphold these giant, blockbuster games as crowning achievements, and sure keep talking about and buying them.

11) I'm tired of the HD remakes, of our rosy-eyed views and sad attempts at recapturing a nostalgic, lost youth. I'm tired of how we complain about these, but still buy them and talk about them.

12) There's a sense that the games community wants to see rehashes of design elements and motifs of old, 'classic' games, repurposed and remixed into new forms. We delight in being able to spot a reference, it seems like we care more about finding things to compare, or relate to, rather than the game itself. It's this sort of wanting to find things we know, a sort of, 'BINGO! culture' which is annoying. Rehash, rehash rehash rehash.

13) People in games seem mostly interested in, well, games, and related cultural ephemera. I see people getting worked up about the next Super Smash Bros. Character, or FF7 HD Remake Whatever or Mega Gun Shooting Violence Game 29, or whatever new pop culture thing, only stopping to talk about something else in situations like Black death in popular news, or when a mass shooting reaches a level where it would "be awkward not to talk about it."

Because of the sum of these things, I feel myself more and more pushed away from games, seeing it as a place where we seem fine with patting ourselves on the back for a sort-of-socially-relevant game that pops up now and then, enough to assuage us of our guilt in taking part of one of the biggest escapist and fantasy-driven consumer industries, where we then retreat into the next, slightly-different escapist experience, or as designers justify it to ourselves as trying to achieve some kind of mechanical perfection blah blah ideal whatever.

13.5) Speaking of game dev culture, I am sure tired of all the self-deprecation about how "game dev is so hard!" I mean, sure, game dev can be hard, but why does it need to go hand in hand with self-deprecation? I see it as, well, a 'meme' at times. Moreover I see a lot of praise for flashy gifs and stuff, and it's a little tiresome.

14) I've become more interested in writing, art and social/political issues - things important to me as a mixed-race American - things which people definitely care about in a minority of the games community, but not to an extent where I feel it's worth staying here and having to hear all the talk about (new popular game here). I don't feel there's a possibility for a large support network of these things, though I have met people who definitely do support those things and have been inspiring. There's also the thought, occurring at times, that maybe I could communicate better through a practice that isn't entirely games. I worry about accessibility a lot, with each person I meet that doesn't play games or know what Steam is, etc. However, I think staying in game *development* is worth it, from the value alone of my artistic partnership with Joni Kittaka, and some others I know.

As a reiteration, there are a lot of great things people are doing and organizing in the games sphere. And in general it is becoming healthier. And not that I intend, at all, to cut down on those peoples' achievements, but I feel that games, as a whole, are still tied so heavily to its roots in escapist/consumeristic culture, and otaku-esque culture, that gaining audiences for work in the games sphere relies, to an extent, on staying up to date with those other aspects of the culture.

So, this leads me to the decision that (on the Internet) I'd like to move away from engaging with the games community as much. This isn't leaving game development activities, though there is an intersection. I intend to continue the practice of game development, as well as with local developers during critique sessions, however. I haven't decided yet but I'll probably be playing fewer games next year.

I probably won't be attending GDC or conferences again, at least not for a while. Of course, I'll continue to market Even the Ocean up to and after release, and I'm not quitting game development (which is still enjoyable). I just feel my time could be better spent, post-Even the Ocean, if I'm not as engaged with the games community as much... I've been thinking a lot about local activism or organizing, too, and those are things, in addition to writing more and other sorts of art-making, that I'd like to focus on during and after the completion of Even the Ocean.

15) Now I'd like to turn to non-game things. I'm tired of aspects of how "social justice culture" operates on the American Left. Stuff like, "idiot white person" this or "idiot cis guy" that, piling up and becoming outraged over one person's tweets (this happened the other day with Brianna Wu), calling anyone on the right anything tantamount to "fucking idiot", telling people to die, etc. I sense a desperation of wanting to cling to the 'right side of history' without putting in work, without making any effort to communicate with someone on the other side. I've done a lot of this, I think, and I don't feel I've done enough in the sense of 'putting in work', which is something I'd like to move towards.

Insult the other side, feel smart, retreat to popular culture, comment on fucked up thing, insult the other side, etc, repeat.

There's a reason why the right always ends up misappropriating and twisting around terminology used by the left.

Anyways, I love the Internet for its organizational abilities. But as far as engaging with any other side, it is problematic. It's hard to, in a warm way, communicate on a human-to-human level, it's easy for things to be misinterpreted.

We retreat into our camps, our identities, attacking people when they infringe on something of ours. To an extent, this is necessary. Solidarity within identities is useful. But when taken too far, I feel as if it separates us.

16) That's about it. There's a handful of other personal goals and milestones and things I could mention, but this post seems fine as is. The year has been pretty good, overall, despite the aforementioned things, and the events in the world. I've become more confident in writing, finding interests in photography theory, video-making, 3D and 2D art, reading, etc, hopefully informing some kind of politics I can put into more action in the future. At the least it has informed and enriched the way I can look at games and other media, and the world's events. Thanks to all my friends and family in 2015 and here's hoping for a better 2016.


2015/12/31