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.

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. 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.

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.