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Grunge, Grrrls and Video Games: Turning the dial for a more meaningful culture

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Grunge, Grrrls and Video Games: Turning the dial for a more meaningful culture

August 16, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next
 

Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander offers this thought-provoking opinion piece, originally presented at the Nine Worlds Convention in the UK.

Here goes: Your system sucks. I mean, gaming culture sucks.

This endless loop of dog-eared geek references and getting mad on the internet isn’t culture. It’s exhausting. While amazing little games and inspiring jams sprout like flowers all the time, the bigger conversations remain static.

If I’m to call what I’m doing “culture journalism,” I struggle to be content with celebrating and evangelizing the games and ideas I love and believe in only to the relatively-small audience that already likes them. Especially when, frankly, it often costs me a lot just to be here, pouring my heart all the time in the daily wringer of people who are offended by the very idea of change, by my unwelcome “alternative” presence.

Games are supposed to be about expressive play, creation and sharing, but often it feels more like it’s about nostalgia and gatekeeping, a competition to see who’s the most insular and obsessed. And let’s not forget about the guy rushing to the forefront to remind us that “games are a Business,” when he wants to talk about what he feels entitled to or why it oughtn’t be shared. There’s always that guy.

Bear with me, though. It’s not all hopeless. Things in the gaming world are not as bad as gamer culture makes them look. We’re standing at the precipice of a moment where we have the power to change everything: To reject complacency, to protest commercialism, to embrace diversity and to riot, screaming, toward our generation’s glorious inheritance. Everything is telling me it’s time.

Paula Abdul, Cracker, and Klax

I want to talk about the 1990s in America -- not as an exercise in ironic nostalgia, but to tell some stories about culture that might help us.

In 1993 I was about 12 years old, starting the seventh grade, wearing scrunchies and stonewashed denim and toting radio-friendly pop music cassettes. My little friend and I listened to Wilson Phillips -- songs with names like “You’re In Love!” -- and Paula Abdul, who had one of the year 1990’s most popular videos. It was called “Opposites Attract,” and it featured her dancing with a cartoon cat, even though it wasn’t a kids’ song.

The “Opposites Attract” video helped exemplify the naivete of popular music at the time. The music writer Steven Hyden, whose irreplaceable, must-read essay series “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation” heavily informs most of the music history I’ll share here, has a great quote about it, saying “it signaled that American culture desperately needed someone to wipe that stupid grin off its face.”

I hid from the 1980s playing computer games in the basement, engaged with the mysterious vocabulary of HyperCard shareware and stubborn, sagelike parser games. I didn’t really speak the language of pop culture, which demanded girls wear bright leotards and get yelled at in dance class by women with big hair. Miss Jane. Miss Sue.

At night, I’d get myself to sleep playing marathons of Klax into the night with my sister, and then I’d drift off to music I’d play on my clock radio in the dark. One night, something changed: I considered the manufactured, alienating pop music I heard and I thought, “If I don’t do something about this, I’m never going to be cool.”

When you’re young, “being cool” is, of course, just a shorthand for belonging, for feeling like you’re part of the world, for being able to share the conversation of the day with other kids without feeling terribly left-out and broken.

I decided to change the radio station to the rock frequency I’d heard of, the one my babysitter listened to when her boyfriend came to pick her up in a red pickup to go to a Mr. Big concert. I particularly remember the first song I discovered that night in the dark: It was called “Low” by Cracker, and it was shot through with a strange melancholy I’d never quite heard before. At first I didn’t even really know if I liked any of it, but it felt like a way out. It was called “Alternative music,” and it was for people who wanted a way out at the end of the 80s, at the turn of the decade.

Turns out a lot of people were left scarred by the 80s, an era marked by corporate climbing, capitalist idealism, and the machines of industry. Your dad was defined by the Business (capital B) he was in, and your mom was at the gym, feverishly climbing a Stairmaster to nowhere. My dad, actually, was a journalist -- he wrote about hi-fis, and ended up with a “home technology” column in the Boston Globe, back when the idea you could have technology in the home at all still felt new.

Video games entered the home during the 80s, too. Because of my dad’s work, we got sent an Atari, a Coleco. We had a Commodore 64 and an Apple IIe, and shelves full of software we’d been sent by companies hoping my dad would write about them in his home technology column. Those games were adorable, a newborn little art form learning to talk.

Very quickly, though, they were pushed into the service of showcasing hardware platforms, a job they serve even today, ever called upon to be the horseman of hardware strategy. By the end of the 90s, games ended up developing the precise obsession with fancier tech and more lavish graphics that the hardware arms race needed it to. They ended up belonging to The Man.


Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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Comments


Dane MacMahon
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I've always struggled as a consumer to understand why games getting more popular, mainstream and accepting really benefits me. I'm not saying they shouldn't, just asking why the average "core gamer" should care. Think about it:

What does more people playing your favorite genre get you? Well, usually it means change. They add quest markers so Joes and Janes with less time or smaller attention spans can find the solution. They take away your fantasy boob armor which, sexist or not, you liked seeing. They debate on Fox News how violent your game should be, they port it to platforms you're less interested in and make design decisions as a result. They add auto-aim, they remove mazes and keys, they tell you budgets are so high to attract more people that they have to attract even MORE people.

One day you wake up and that jock guy you felt so different from at school is tweeting you asking for tips on how to build a "tight rogue." You sit there wondering... How has this benefited me?

I'm not saying games should remain niche forever. I'm not saying aiming directly at a smaller male market is the best thing to do. I'm saying when we sell the hardcore on why it benefits them to seek this larger acceptance, this larger market, the hardcore will probably lighten up. We haven't done that yet, I don't think.

Asking hardcore gamers to wish that Nirvana moment grunge rock had would come to games only makes sense if they want to see their favorite game on MTV. Maybe they don't care. Maybe we have to make them care.

Ben Abraham
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"I've always struggled as a consumer..."

lol how about trying 2 b a human being less struggle mabe

Boyer Geoffrey
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What about being a decent human being yourself and not stoop to trolling a website for professional people

Amir Barak
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@ben
...
*sigh*
...

John Paduch
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@Ben - How about you don't troll and use english like an adult?

Dane MacMahon
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@ Ben

I used " as a consumer" to differentiate between that point of view and a developer point of view. Of course a developer wants the audience to grow, for common sense reasons. My entire point is consumers don't necessarily share those reasons.

Michael Ball
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@Ben Abraham
gr8 b8 m8 i r8 it an 8.
Seriously though, stop.

P.S. Dane MacMahon is the hero video games need.

robert smith
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Trying to sell to a playerbase rather than yourself is an awful thing.
Buying a game marketed specifically for you and because they are marketed for you is also an awful thing.
Quit both things and you immediately see that the world is much greater than 'for me' and 'not for me'.
You begin to see exactly why you like something or what irks you about it.
That's what ben's talking about, if you were struggling to see, as a consumer, what he was saying. You childish ponce.

robert smith
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How about you see this as something other than trolling?
My acquaintance ben is mocking this absolute douche for pretending that anyone is any less than a person. He is obviously laughing at the idea that someone is a 'consumer' and not a human fucking being and anyone failing to see that is a fucking idiot who doesn't deserve to know what he's talking about.
As a human fucking being, I have legitimate reasons for liking something. Not because it's marketed to me. But because I'm intrigued by it. Because I like something it did for me. This isn't about a core market. It's about the raw emotion one feels when playing a game. To have an intuitive game that is fun to play is different than being entertained by and enjoying a game. this entire fucking article is about emotions, and this absolute twat has the gall to comment about 'core markets'.
I think you should start thinking like a fucking adult before you tell other people to act like one.

Brian Milligan
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I think the thing you hope for is that you need to have a mainstream to have a counter culture. For the core mainstream gamer, they should care because there is a lot of money to make the bigger crazier franchises like GTA 5, Last of Us, another big COD, etc. What we need to fight for is that there is diversity for all sorts of titles and genres that cater to to niches rather than gaming be the niche itself.

Katy Smith
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@ Dane

I'm going to take off my normal, flippant, I'm-so-tired-of-having-this-conversation, feminist gamer hat for a minute and reply to your comment because I find it interesting that you are honest about wanting to keep game culture exclusionary. The thing I want to ask you is:

Who made you gatekeeper to my culture?

See, it's not just you who has played and enjoyed video games forever. I have, too. I want to see more games with diverse leads. I want less fantasy boob armor for no reason other than eye candy. Auto-dim does not bother me in the slightest. I'm thrilled when Preppy McPrepperton asks me for help on speccing because it means the thing I'm into is being accepted by others. I have the opportunity to guide people into a new hobby, to teach them the ropes of video games. The more people who play video games, the more video games are made, and that is awesome. Now, I want to be clear here, I am not saying there should be no more "NOUN of WAR(insert suffix here)" games with bald white dude protagonists. There's definitely a place for that. What I want, and I think part of the point of this article, is games that are different. In a post-grunge world, there is a place for Pearl Jam and Van Halen. For Soundgarden and Bon Jovi. For Kim Deal and Guns N Roses. Getting more people playing games means that I have more games to choose from. More games; that's how inclusive game design benefits you.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Katy

I think you missed a lot of the devil's advocate in my post. Like I said, I am not saying games should stay niche forever or target only males. What I am saying is the sales pitch for inclusion kind of sucks.

"Who made you the gatekeeper to my culture"... Well, couldn't I ask you the same thing? Who made you the revolutionary of my culture, perhaps? In the end we're talking about a person who likes thing A and a person who comes along and says "I like thing A too but I think X, Y and Z need to change about it." Well... I what if I like X, Y and Z exactly how they are? What is my motivation to change it all for your benefit?

"So we can all enjoy thing A! Even if you enjoy it less!"... that's not a sales pitch that resonates with hardcore gamers. It's honestly not hard for me to see why it doesn't.

We could change every TV show on ABC into a sci-fi serial so I like them more and want to watch them, but I have a feeling fans of The Bachelor would have a problem with that. A journalist on Kotaku commented once that his wife would probably like Bioshock: Infinite a lot if it didn't have all that FPS combat! Well... I like the combat, it's the combat mixed with exploration and story that makes the game so compelling. Why should I care what she wants? What would make her want to play it? Why does she need to play it?

Not everyone needs to like everything, some things can have target markets and exclusive audiences. In fact, I think designing for your target market tends to make better experiences, both in games and other media. The more mass market something is the more watered down it has the potential to be, and then you're not truly pleasing anyone, just mildly entertaining everyone.

So again, my core point here is... sell it better. Why should they care? You seem to have a vested interest in other people liking what you like, but not everyone has that. Not everyone cares. That could honestly be the true divide here.

You have to sell it to the not-we's on something better than shiny happy acceptance, IMO.

Mark Desmarais
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"The more mass market something is the more watered down it has the potential to be, and then you're not truly pleasing anyone, just mildly entertaining everyone."

Is that what you got out of this article? REALLY?

Dane MacMahon
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@ Mark

I'm not sure what your confrontational REALLY is supposed to mean. Mainstream entertainment says a lot about collective consciousness, and can shape it, which the article points out well. It does not, however, satisfy everyone all the time, which is why niche and smaller markets exist.

Mark Desmarais
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The REALLY is supposed to imply that you must be working from a truly warped interpretation of this author's intent if you think that serves as a counterpoint to anything being expressed here.

Mark Desmarais
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Your reinterpretation of 'inclusionary' as being 'mainstream' is totally ridiculous, off-base, and nonsensical.

Dane MacMahon
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Yes, I realized you were belittling me before you spelled it out further. Thank you anyway.

I was replying to Katy more than the article in the second post, from which you quoted. If you want to have a separate debate on inclusion versus mainstream we can do so, and no I do not think they are the same thing specifically.

My specific point, which you are not addressing, is that a niche market needs to be sold on why including more people benefits them in order for them to get on board the train. I don't think we are selling so-called hardcore gamers on this, I think we are just staring at them and tapping our foot saying "of course we want more people to play, what is your problem?"

That's not selling anyone. Neither is "your sister can play!" or "your husband can play!" or "there will be more games coming out (that you'll enjoy less)!"

None of it is working as a sales pitch. They're happier the more exclusively designed for them the experience is, and a lot of them don't care if you share their hobby.

Mark Desmarais
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I am not arguing the point about 'niche markets' because it's a silly point based on a silly worldview where inclusion somehow comes at the sacrifice of ANYTHING ELSE.

Dane MacMahon
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So you think we can make all games inclusive for everyone without changing them? Or you think change does not equal sacrifice for people with certain likes or priorities?

Katy Smith
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My original point was that there is a large market out there who is looking for all different types of games. To say that gamers like what is out there now and therefore it shouldn't change is a bit disingenuous. There are many who would like to see games be more than what they are now, and I think that was the point of the article. The thing I think we fundamentally disagree on is that I don't think that for games to be inclusive they have to be all things to all people. If every band was Nickelback, it wouldn't be good for music or music fans :). Right now, the industry is full of 32 flavors of David Lee Roth. It's cool if he sticks around, but I want to see more. Sure, we will get a One Direction or a Ke$ha now and again, but we will also get the Foo Fighters :)

Dane MacMahon
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Katy I don't think we really disagree, I am just trying to get across that the way we are selling the idea of change to current gamers is flawed in my opinion. Craudimir below perhaps writes this out better than I did, I tend to have a devil's advocate style which translates poorly on the internet.

At the core I don't think you tell the guy playing Might and Magic in 1992 that the game has to change so more people can play, you just make Oblivion and more people play because the game is good and more inclusive.

There is a crowd who think Oblivion is watered-down crap though, and those people have valid opinions. There is no pleasing everyone. I do think there is a risk of going too far, of turning every RPG into Nickleback, as you perfectly say.

I think Bioware has had this impulse and it hasn't done them any good. One thing lost in the recent Polygon article is Ms. Helper saying we need to directly target people who don't like playing video games, which I think is... well, over the top, probably. I think it's a good example of not aiming for inclusion or change, but for alienating the market you already have. "We need to change what you like so that it appeals to people who actively have zero interest in what you like."

It's a bad sales pitch.

Larissa Krasnov
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Trying to convince people to support your cause by appealing to their interests and taking their situation into account is bad form. Didn't you get the memo?

Seriously though, I understand the concern. The quest for accessibility/inclusivity/a bigger market is arguably a big factor in the collapse of the RTS genre. As someone who watched that genre mostly die, I think it's perfectly legitimate to fear that your favorite hobby will evaporate if its developers try to broaden its appeal, or stop working on it altogether to chase money elsewhere.

From a game design perspective, at least - IMHO, anyone whose experience is ruined because CoD adds women, or DA2 features more overtly gay characters, or similar changes, needs another 5-10 years in the cooker.

But on an industry-wide level, we haven't yet seen accessible games decimate traditional ones on a whole. We have Call of Duty but we also have Arma; Plants versus Zombies but also Defense Grid; Animal Crossing but also Dwarf Fortress. In fact - and this is the best sales pitch I can conjure up - there is a chance that the more accessible games boost the audience of the less accessible ones, meaning more money for those games. For 100 people introduced to military shooters by Call of Duty, a few might go on to discover Arma, which is probably good for Bohemia and thus Arma players (though there are always purists who won't take in newbies graciously). For every hundred Animal Crossing players, a few might discover game journalism websites and see articles about other, more niche games alongside those about AC.

I know this is an oft-repeated assertion without a lot of proof so far. I think the main reason we aren't seeing massive numbers of casual gamers move into more traditional games, though, is the platform segregation, rather than the gameplay differences. Accessibly designed games on PC & consoles don't have to change what fans love about other games on the same platforms; they can coexist, so long as developers of the latter are willing to develop for the smaller (but perhaps more dedicated) audience, and their audiences can feed off of each other.

Sharon Hoosein
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The reason why the idea of change has to be advocated is because change won't happen without it. The status quo doesn't need a sales pitch: by nature of being status quo it's already been sold.

Targeting people who don't already play games doesn't mean that people who currently love games won't have anything to play. If anything, new mechanics, stories, art styles, music, etc will probably emerge, which I personally find exciting.

Just because one game can't please everyone doesn't mean everyone can't have a game they enjoy and feel represents them.

Dane MacMahon
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Let me place a quote from Joshua Sawyer from Obsidian here:
___________________________________________________________
Josh: People look at something and go, “Ok, so we have this core of people that love the game and this other group that fundamentally hates it, so let’s make it a different game.” And it’s like, “Well… no. They hate the game. They didn’t like anything about it. You’re not going to win those people over. They don’t even like the idea of what you’re making.”
Some people think it’s a cliche phrase, but when I was at Interplay the model of Interplay was, “By gamers, for gamers.” And some people are like, “Well that’s every game.” But no, it really isn’t.

Del: Yeah, no, it really isn’t.

Josh: There are people that focus on making games for people that hate games. And… well, that’s ok, but I’m not not interested in doing that. I want to make games for people that love games. People that really enjoy them and playing them. I’m not not trying to make a game for people that do not enjoy the challenge of them of the idea of them. So it’s interesting when you get into these genres that are kind more enthusiast or ‘hard-core’ genres like RPGs and you’ve gotta be careful how much you’re appealing to people that don’t like RPGs. It’s like, “Well… they don’t like them. They don’t like any of them or anything about them.”
___________________________________________________________

http://www.gatheryourparty.com/articles/2012/10/10/interview-josh
-sawyer/

I think there's wisdom there.

We can certainly be more inclusive, sure. We can make the next big RPG release a little less male focused, a little more flexible in its systems, but at some point you're pandering to people who just aren't listening because they don't care. And to do it you're telling your established audience they're not good enough, and what they like has to change, for no real result that benefits them.

I get the desire but the sales pitch, the method, needs work.

Kelsey Martin
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You asked, "What does more people playing your favorite genre get you?"
For me, it means exactly that: more people. More people results in more diversity, which means diverse interests. I feel that diversity can put the "development" in game development. More people playing games can create a diversity of demand from games. Gamer consumers are always looking for new ideas and experiences, this is what you benefit.

Yes, maybe the next installment of your favorite series, with their new budget and fame, could be less difficult and less sexist. Bu tthis is just your personal preference. There are always difficulty meters and auto-aim options. With more people come more options. It's easy to forget though, that not all core gamers want to play on 1999 mode. Difficulty is simply a preference. Taking away difficulty doesn't always take away from the game. More importantly, if there are those sticklers that are turned off by others having the option to waltz through missions they themselves actually challenged themselves with, there is always going to be that library of other games they're bound to love with all the puzzles and unforgiving difficulty they desire.

As for the jock tweeting you for help about that "tight rogue", how has that harmed you?

Marijn Lems
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But what I think you're missing is that there's no need to convince hardcore gamers of anything. There is now a market for core games as well as other games (as the amazing sales of, for instance, Dear Esther have proven). No one's saying that existing games have to change, we're just saying that there should be room for alternatives as well. All Leigh is asking is that everyone does their part in supporting diversity, instead of becoming all defensive like core gamers are wont to do. There's no contradiction in the propagation of "anti-games" and the continued prevalence of core games like Sawyer likes to make. In fact, his argument cuts both ways: "anti-game" artists aren't interested in making games accessible to "core gamers" either, yet core gamers treat that as some personal affront, while simultaneously saying that core games shouldn't be made more accessible to "casuals"!
We can co-exist without the need to invalidate one another's existence.
EDIT: on further reflection, I'm saying the exact same thing as Sharon Hoosein is, so I defer to her earlier comment.

Dane MacMahon
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"No one's saying that existing games have to change"

I'm not sure about that.

If "boys and core gamers have their Call of Duty and we're making new social and casual games for outsiders, women, etc." is all people are asking for, well... welcome to paradise, because we have that now.

I'm pretty sure people like Ms. Alexander and Ms. Helper want traditional game experiences to be more inclusive and to find new audiences.

Marijn Lems
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I don't know where your being "pretty sure" about that comes from, so could you maybe give me an example of one of them saying that core games should be made more accessible at the cost of the deep gameplay that core gamers treasure (because that's what you're so afraid of)?
And what's wrong with the current "paradise" is that the games you dismissively call "casual and social" have to operate under exactly that stigma: "core gamers" constantly deride them for "not being real games", etc. This kind of marginalisation is what Leigh is railing against, because it has the power to stagnate the progress of the medium.
Also, you might want to read Leigh's recent Edge column about the logical fallacy you're operating under: making games more inclusive does not automatically mean "dumbing them down". http://www.edge-online.com/features/too-many-gamers-think-diversi
ty-means-dumbing-down-its-time-to-forget-that-outmoded-view/

Dane MacMahon
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@ Marijn

You're kind of taking what I am saying so wrong I'm not sure I want to reply. Read all my posts and see I'm talking about how we're selling change more than what I personally play or want.

Personally I only play PC games and usually only old or old-style FPS and RPG games, so very little of what comes out today interests me. And that's okay. I'm not advocating my tastes one way or another. As someone interested in the gaming industry for a variety of reasons I find the sales pitch for change incredibly flawed, which is what I was posting about.

William Johnson
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I get what you're saying Dane.

The question is why does the game industry need to change? To a "core" gamer, with all the abstract and ambiguous meaning that comes with it, they're already invested in the status quo. They are actively working to undermine the feminist critique of games.

Chastising isn't going to win over these people. Fat shaming doesn't work very well to get people to lose weight, and likewise shaming people (specifically men) is not going to win over these people, even if there are valid reasons to why they should be ashamed.

So rather than give these people bait to undermine the counter culture revolution, how can we made them into revolutionaries? How can we make them come to our side? Better to be allies then to be enemies.

My best argument to win those people over? We can get rid of the social stigmata of video games. Despite how popular games are, they aren't considered art by the masses. People can enjoy a book, a movie, and music without having to feel a social stigma. But video games? People don't consider them to be culturally relevant, which is what Leigh is talking about. Video games are a cultural wasteland, and not in the cool counter culture way of the Who. I mean, I THINK video games are extremely relevant, but I'm bias. When I try to talk with people about games outside of my normal circle, blank stairs. Its very annoying.

Dane MacMahon
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@ William

Good post. I'm just personally not sure what the percentages are on people who really care if their interests are popular, accepted, etc. It might be a standard introvert/extrovert kind of split, I honestly can't say. I think that drive definitely exists in a lot of journalists who write on this subject, but part of my post is about not taking for granted your audience shares that concern.

When I got into gaming I honestly kind of relished how it was a smaller, exclusive club. Especially PC gaming, which was a kind of niche within a niche at the time. Try talking about Under a Killing Moon to kids at middle school and see where that gets you!

Paul Marzagalli
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But not the hero video games deserve. (Someone had to complete the statement)

Charlie B
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I'm a woman and I've been gaming since 1984 for you to say to me 'how does it benefit me' seems ridiculous. Lets say we have been ordering your favourite pizza for 30 years and I say 'Hey you know what maybe I'd like some olives!' and you throw a damn hissy fit and label me the selfish one.

From my point of view my male friends are sitting there playing COD and Fifa etc year after year and I'm finishing games like Dark Souls and Spelunky and Gone Home and finishing Bioshock Infinite on 1999 mode on my second playthrough. Yet you label THEM the hardcore gamers? The only legitimate gamers to whom the industry owes some great debt, because they don't have ovaries. That doesn't seem at all odd to you.

All I'm asking is for you to take a step back and maybe realise that your gender doesn't decide what type of a gamer you are?

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I actually agree with you, Dane.
There are pretty famous cases like Dead space 3 or Resident Evil 6, adding fully unnecessary, borderline offensive components, and stripping away their nature to reach a broader audience.

Ken Levine himself said that they had directed their focus testing to fratboys, on Bioshock infinite. And I cant help but wonder if they are achieving anything with this. Bending your product out of shape to include a group that isn't inclined to enjoy your vision actively alienates your existing followers. There is no way around it.

I personally LOVED Dear Esther, but I know a lot of people that say "that's not a game, it doesn't have any challenge" or "if it at least had an antagonist" , and this is exactly the opposite issue. I would have HATED if the game bent it's relentless contemplation to accommodate a wider audience.

On the other side, I love bulletstorm (yes.. quite odd), but I understand that it is a completely different monster. Should bulletstorm be less horribly dude-bro oriented? well... maybe, It does make me roll my eyes quite often, but I'd be offended if the game changed it's idea for my sake.

I very much respect The Last of Us, for the same reason, it didn't fear being grim, borderline frustrating, challenging and complex even in a time where a lot of games take the path of least resistance.

Of course, I don't think anyone can argue against the need for more varied games though, the impulse to bring the widest audience and include as many people as possible generates a very stagnant medium. So its vital to understand that although there should be games for anyone, not all games should appeal to everyone.

All in all I find that the present is a very exciting time for the broadening of borders, observing how more independent developers are willing to generate a lot of very diverse experiences (for lack of a better word). For example, as a developer, I don't really hope to have broad appeal, the games we are pre-producing are not thought out to include a massive audience at all.

And we will not compromise this vision to appeal to a broader group. If we consider videogames as art, and I do, one should never request or encourage the creators to compromise their expression to please the audience.

Vicki Smith
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Broadening the cultural appeal of games does benefit core gamers. First, it help de-stigmatize the hobby -- people might stop immediately associating us with the Comics Guy from the Simpsons. Second, I don't think core gamers realize how incredibly an incredibly limited fan base limits the variety of games produced.


To illustrate -- the comic book industry has a very, very narrow target demographic. Comic fans are always whining about the constant recycling of old tropes, the lack of interesting new talent, but that's a direct result of having a small consumer base. Movies, on the other hand, you get everything. People will try *anything* You'll get rote summer blockbusters, you'll get chick flicks, you get Cloud Atlas, and edgy documentaries. There are just more moviemakers. And here's the real kicker -- the more moviemakers there are, the more geniuses float to the top.


The more people play your games, the broader the potential target audience. The broader the audience, the more types of games get made. The more types of games get made, the greater the chance of a video game Citizen Kane.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Vicki

None of that sells me though. I don't care if some people look down on me for playing games. I do not seek the acceptance of our entire society. Secondly if you only want to play FPS and "core" RPG games, why does limiting other options matter to you?

P.S. Deus Ex is Citizen Kane, or a thousand other games, depending on what you want from them.

Vicki Smith
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If you're only interested in FPS and RPG, and you think they're close to perfect now, and you don't really want them to evolve much or branch out, and you don't care if they gain respect, then, yeah, I see your point.


I think video games have the potential to be the defining art form of the 21st century. I think they're good now but could be a million times better. I think they could be incredibly varied and offer a really broad range of experiences. That would benefit me as a consumer -- it would benefit lots of people as consumers, far more than just the hardcore. So I'm going to work towards that.

Tom McGregor
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The funny thing is all these larger budgets and the "feverish need for larger acceptance" has been proven to the hardcore, to all be BS. We have had crowd funding open our eyes. Games marketing explicitly for us, not dumbed down, not sold to the mainstream. I don't even get your reply, as the article writer is talking about a counter-culture in gaming, and you're talking about justifying making games even more appealing to a wider audience.

More meaning in games =/= making games more popular and mainstream

Tom McGregor
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"The more mass market something is the more watered down it IS and then you're not truly pleasing anyone, just mildly entertaining everyone"

Corrected

Tom McGregor
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Everyone likes tailored, custom made suits more than Walmart sweat pants... you may try to sell the Walmart sweatpants as custom made suits... or try to convince some of the really simple that they're the same, or that it's better if everyone wears the same thing, but the rest understand the tailored custom made suits are JUST BETTER.

You are basically saying "we need to come up with a better way of fooling people"
Good luck with that.

Tom McGregor
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BIG difference in adding characters that represent different ethnic or gender groups and trying to change the very definition of a genre to make it more accessible to people who don't like said genre.

No hardcore RPG gamers I know would object to gay characters or characters of any ethnic group! Hell, we want MORE choices so bad, we play fictional races! RPGs are some of the most inclusive games ever. The first ones to feature gay characters as anything more than a joke or massive cliche.

Jakub Majewski
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"and women, as religion usually punishes women"

Wow, just wow. I wish you'd written this on the first page, so I would know not to waste my time with the rest of the article.

Leigh, you know that old saying? "Better to stay silent and let people think you're an idiot, than open your mouth and remove all doubts"? Well, you're not an idiot - but if you're so embarassingly ignorant about something, don't write about it.

And by the way - while I can understand grunge as a response to the 80s, it was a terrible response. "We don't like what our parents are telling us, so we're going to do nothing instead." The existential problem was genuine, but the answer provided by grunge was the very worst possible answer anyone could give - as Kurt Cobain so logically demonstrated by taking his message to its ultimate conclusion. Along with gangsta rap, it severely damaged a whole generation of young people, and its ruinous impact will probably be felt for decades to come.

Matthew Mouras
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Wait... World religions HAVEN'T punished women? Are we living on the same planet?

Grunge was also a response to the excesses of 80's glam and hair metal. As an "answer" to that, I think it was pretty effective. Not every "grunge" musician was an ideologue.

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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I think you hardly understood the response given by "grunge" to the 80s...they didn't meant "do nothing" they meant (in RATM clear words) "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me". So, step aside and don't play by the usual rulebook that dominated the 80s

Do nothing? Cobain claiming women rights and wearing dressings on stage it IS doing something (maybe not something new tho). Pearl Jam being politically aware and trying to raise concern about gun control issues IS doing something.

Telling those LUCKY young people who listened to them that there was someone else who felt like them it was definitely DOING SOMETHING.

If you don't get it or don't understand, I feel for you....but I can tell you that listening to Soundgarden's "Fell on black days" or Fiona Apple's "Criminal" was amazing because it gave me that feeling to be undestood in certain ways that no other music have replicated even since.

Disclaimer: I have a pretty regular non-ruined life at the moment

Amir Barak
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One should sometimes heed one's own advice Mr. Majewski.

I'd say that on the whole religion (mostly the monotheistic ones, I'm not going to name names but I'm looking at you Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have damaged a far wider audience through a far reaching timespan than "gangsta rap" and "grunge" ever did.

Anyway, I'm not sure what your reply has to do with the article other than a knee-jerk reaction to the word religion and maybe some form of criticism towards it...

Jakub Majewski
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I think if you try reading the article, you will realise that my response was precisely spot on. Leigh's basic argument is that she'd like games move away from simple commercialism, which is fair enough - but along the way, she makes an offhanded point that religion is something terrible that harms people (which is probably why the world abounds with civilisations founded upon atheism, and why atheist leaders have not been responsible for all the worst genocides in human history...).

My point, therefore, relates to the deeper question of what exactly she'd like to see in games. If it's more grunge-like nonsense that revolves around telling another generation of teenagers that they shouldn't listen to people older and wiser than they are - then, you know, I think I'd rather have more commercialist trash.

Mike Jenkins
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@Jakub
It really is a terrible analogy (or perhaps an apt one, time will tell).

'Hardcore' gamers are the fans of rock from 1950-1990. Sure, they were annoyed at the excesses of the popular hair bands (AAA games). Then Grunge (Leigh) came and said without question - hey! Old guard! EFF YOU. It wasn't good music. It was nothing more than a response. It got a big following very fast, and then died - and with it, it killed all of rock. That's a great blueprint you're following.

Disclaimer: I'm listening to Cosmo's Factory right now.

Matthew Mouras
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@Mike "It wasn't good music"

You had the framework for a decent argument until this line. It was a lot more than a response to many people... myself included. You don't have to marginalize fans of the genre in order to make your point.

Adam Bishop
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There are lots of great religious people as individuals, but it is indisputably true that *organised* religion (that is, power structures like the Catholic church) has throughout human history worked to hold women down.

Craudimir Ascorno
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Like when Christianism changed the prevalent view in Roman, Germanic and Scandinavian societies where the wife was just part of the "family" like the children, the other relatives, the workers and the slaves to the traditional view of wife we have nowadays albeit submissive to the man?

The simplistic way of looking at an specific institution from the past with the 20th century eyes and disregarding the whole context does no good. Of course the Catholic church could have done better, but it is not the only reason why women were held down through history.

Mike Jenkins
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@Matthew Mouras

"You don't have to marginalize fans of the genre in order to make your point."

Oh? And how do you feel about the above 6 pages, then?

Matthew Mouras
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@ Mike Jenkins

I think this article is like many of Leigh's works. It's an interesting academic exercise. In this case, I'd agree with you and say that the analogy doesn't quite work. Some others commenting on this article have given good reasons why. One reason I would add is that in the early 90's "popular" music was a wider national touch point than it is today. Consumers still received most of their product from MTV or the radio. There may never be a video game that can impact our culture in such a way because consumption of media has fundamentally changed.

But to be fair, Leigh does say: "Who is the Nirvana of video games? I don’t know if there’s a perfectly-fitting answer to this, but it’s a thought-provoking question"

This article is sprawling and maybe that's another one of its weaknesses... or at least it gives people more fuel for their fires. Though I think there are some interesting things to consider here and too many people are ignoring them in favor of criticizing the analogy or focusing on their dislike of the musical genre.

And you'll note that in expressing my opinion about the article, I didn't need to pass off one of my own value judgments as a fact.

Mike Jenkins
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@Matthew Mouras

And specifically regarding your statement:
"You don't have to marginalize fans of the genre in order to make your point."

Do you feel that applies in any way to the article?

warren blyth
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- i think people react strongly to broad cultural criticisms like "religion usually punishes women" because they feel it's misplaced attack on something that has real value.
(for example one might argue that the extremely high percentage of women dying in childbirth until about the 1920s was a far more important factor in the perception of women as weak, or objects to be protected and collected. They might see religion and law as structures that were informed by thousands of years of this single medical failing, not as the origins of it.
So they might be upset if it was being skipped over, so that blame could be placed on religion instead.

I'm just trying to explain this opposing perspective. To Jakub, it's probably like reading "mathematics usually punishes women." I can see why that'd be upsetting.

- I still think the article is extremely useful and worth reading, even if you disagree with some details, or broad strokes. The article as a whole serves as a catalyst for revisiting our perspectives of recent history.

As Matthew Mouras points out : the monoculture of the 90s is gone. It'll be hard to find such a singular influence as Nirvana, now that our culture is so splintered into niches. But Leigh's article might be one of the better ways to reach back towards a shared perspective of important events in entertainment. we need more of this!

Alex Scott
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That depends on whether you're talking about intensive or extensive religious organizations - Polytheistic religions, for instance, tend to be more diffuse in their influence. However, in the classical Mediterranean, religious festivals afforded rare opportunities for women to step outside of their often stiflingly patriarchal societies. Likewise, Mesopotamian priestesses typically enjoyed great power and prestige owing to their cultic role.

The notion that religion is somehow universally oppressive towards women is exasperatingly Eurocentric and contemporary. The recent track record of the Abrahamic religions certainly hasn't been great in this regard, but I'm equally shocked at how often people attempt to reinforce their own preconceptions about religious patriarchy with appeals to the historical record.

Damien Ivan
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@ Jakub: The day there's a female pope, then maybe I'll take you seriously.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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Hmm, I dont really know. I get your point Jakub, but I think the article is still worth reading...

About the discussion....

I am not a religious person, but I have studied religions a fair bit, and I find that there is a point here, It is a bit ignorant to blame religion or even organized abrahamic religions for the situation of women in the history of the world.

I feel a lot of people confuse religion with civilization. From a anthropological developmental perspective, Women because of their physical traits, lighter body structure, and childbearing capabilities have been considered from ancient times as the "fairer sex". Or a priced property (I don't agree with this but it is not hard to see the evolutionary root of this perspective), for which men could battle over, because it meant assurance for survival. This was also a reason why women were often considered the root of many conflicts, the temptress, and the deceiver, because men would often go through great efforts to secure them as property (sounds terrible, but even today some of that vision remains).

Lets remember that even Aristotle himself considered woman to be on a secondary level along with savages. His religion was mostly greek politheism, but these views responded more to his philosophical observations. Even when Greek polytheism presented female deities as commonly as male deities.

Religion as such evolved alongside human development, and we should understand that before being a spiritual guidance, religion was also a strong legal and political aspect of society. It didn't challenge the established norms, but it did provide guidance as to what was considered "moral" at the time.

In fact, all abrahamic religions expressly instruct to respect everyone, men or women, even when a lot of their laws did blame them. Their cosmovisions have both male and female evils and goods, and this social punishments responded more to their social condition than their belief.

Moreover, up to date, a lot of religious fanatics (and also less fanatic fanatics) defend certain views with ignorance, when the particular scriptures they are claiming to believe expressly direct them against it (I'm sick of the quoting of leviticus without any knowledge of everything written there).

It's a bit of an unfulfilling realization, but people can cling to almost anything to support their prejudices and fears, and it so happens that a lot of people tend to pick and chose whatever suits them to justify their issues. And this is not only religion ( although it is one of the prevalent ones ) tradition, politics, progress or even "nature", come up when making excuses for the most conflictive views.

About getting a female pope... (really? you'd want that? There are so many more significant, less traditional changes that could be made that could have far deeper impact). I know its hard to understand, but for a lot of people, the comfort of religion resides greatly in it's stability. Things in the world may change but their core belief and it's structure remains the same. I personally don't feel qualified to tell them that they do more harm than good, like any belief system most of it resides on its impact on the individual. And that simply falls back (and collides) on society and cultural structures.

Should we split away from culture? In many ways we are. The last few centuries have brought profound ideological shifts, and we've become slightly more free of tradition, but we still generate more culture, and there is still prejudist people, and in general everyone is ok with differences until they poke us in an uncomfortable spot.
The vision of Grunge was in fact not a viable possibility, even by going against everything you generate a status-quo. Such as post modernism and Dada before our time, we cannot avoid the influences or create in vacuum. Unavoidably, by creating a standard you generate divisions.

I think we have improved, Lets give ourselves some credit to that, we should not be enslaved to our social responsibility, but it is pointless to blame history for making us what we are. Some people are dicks, and some people get defensive when faced with any impulse they dont fully understand.
The thing is that people can do the worse things in the name of the best causes. And we definitely can't generalize.

Andy Cahalan
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Spouting nonsense that offends people isn't limited to atheists, though, is it?

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4076
http://alamoministries.com/content/english/Antichrist/nazigallery
/

Leigh's opinion that religion hurts people is a correct assertion. I'm glad yours works for you but the old "yeah well you're worse than us" argument is patently untrue.

Keep believer fun time off Gamasutra. K, thnx, bye.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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@ Andy Cahalan

I understand that Jakub's comment was quite incendiary, but the fact that people can be idiots no matter what ideology they have doesn't prove anything.. only that - hey, humans are horrible sometimes -

You yourself note that leigh's opinion is THAT, and opinion, and for that it cannot be correct or incorrect. Only Justified. Personally, I don't think anyone is worse than anyone.

I think that Religion can be a terrible thing for some people, but it can be a great influence on other people. Like Chocolate.

Can it hurt someone? yes... anything can hurt when used badly. Does it mean it's inherently hurtful and intentionally evil? no, definitely not.

Also, as I've said, Although I'm not a believer, I find it a bit offensive that you want to "Keep believer fun time off Gamasutra".
I mean, this whole place is here exactly for the purpose of exchanging ideas. And even the article expresses issues of faith.

So why would you even suggest that the contrary ideas shouldn't be expressed? Is it that tolerance should only be exercixed when people think similar to you?

Thats a pretty sharp glasshouse.

Rob Bridgett
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Lots to think about here, great piece!
An interesting production difference between music and games is that, for the bigger titles at least, games take so much longer to create. I think this often means they always feel about 3-5 years out of step with the times (all their film and tv references and assumptions about the audience are from popular culture that we saw 3 years or more ago). To continue the analogy, if Nirvana spent 3 years making and marketing Nevermind, relying on focus groups and a large team of writers, directors, producers... it wouldn't have been a Nirvana record... it would have been another Def Leppard record).
Indies do have a closer relationship with culture in this way, they can react quicker to what is going on and they can 'surprise' an audience with something completely 'new', as well being able to take risks as they have the advantage of not having an executive culture. But I think game culture 'needs' to have both indie and mainstream, just as music does, otherwise there would be nothing to react against.

Paul Marzagalli
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That's generally how I feel, too. This piece, and many similar ones, basically preach what would ultimately amount to (to make another music reference) "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Different rules, same bullshit.

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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I know the conversation it's about videogames, but the analysis is a bit wrong and shows lots of flaws of the general article.

where to begin?

Here:


"As “alternative music” went mainstream and became a commodity, though, a lot of the heroes of grunge wore the crown of fame poorly, warring with record labels and ticket bookers, sabotaging awards shows and even openly hating fans."


what are you on about there? really? the fact that Pearl Jam got in conflict with ticketmaster is a sign of poorly wearing that crown? (a crown that admitely they didn't want to begin with) they were fighting against a monopolistic giant and if you don't see how that it's good, then I fear your pose of "we vs. The Man" it's just that, a pose.


The Riot Grrrrl movement its parallel to the "grunge" one, or even slightly after, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Mudhoney, Green River, TAD were all active in the 80s while most Riot Grrls bands were formed from 1990 on.


Then, your thing about that it was music that induced to eating disorders...care to elaborate on that? the only one I can think of doing that is Fiona Apple, and I doubt that was her agenda, more like her emotional and psychological disorders, and you definitely cannot blain her for that.


I also disagree with what you said about movies (Slacker a popular firm? you should have better pointed to clerks, or Singles).


I kind-of-agree with the point of your article.


I disagree with the analysis in it.


PS: I reccomend anyone interested in the Seattle music to watch Doug Pray's documentary "Hype!". And sorry for the mostly off topic post!

Damien Ivan
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As you quoted, she clearly wrote "lots of heroes of grunge" and did not write "ALL heroes of grunge."

Examples of "heroes of grunge who wore the crown of fame poorly":

Kurt Cobain (duh) — heroin addict, commited suicide

Scott Weiland (Singer of Stone Temple Pilots) — chronic problems with heroin addiction

Layne Staley (Lead singer of Alice in Chains) — died of a drug overdose in 2002.


So yeah, I would say that her statement is pretty spot-on. Jesus Christ, people, learn to read before you start flipping out.


Edit: Spelled "Cobain" incorrectly.

John Hahn
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"As “alternative music” went mainstream and became a commodity, though, a lot of the heroes of grunge wore the crown of fame poorly, warring with record labels and ticket bookers, sabotaging awards shows and even openly hating fans."

Please read that paragraph again. She never mentions drug use. She talks about disputes with record labels, ticket bookers, and sabotaging awards shows.

Her reference to warring against ticket bookers is obviously a reference to Pearl Jam's feud with TicketMaster, which was a case of Pearl Jam being brave and standing up against the Man when no one else would, which should be applauded, not derided.

Her reference to warring against record labels was probably just a general reference to the fact that many of the grunge bands were "true artists" meaning that they wouldn't bend to the record labels wishes to alter their sound to sell more records, which is also commendable.

Her reference to sabotaging awards shows was probably a reference to the fact that some of the grunge bands thought that the music awards shows were just political, bureaucratic popularity contests (they are, by the way) and so they did various things to make a mockery of them.

Somebody who likes the underdog and wants to stand up to the man should applaud those 3 examples, not deride them.

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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@Damien

I'll go and say I read it properly. As John says above the jab was pretty clearly aimed at Pearl Jam (PJ did battle with record labels until they went full indie, they did fight with ticketmaster and also had issues with awards, the hating fans its just a nosense for me).

And to your list I'll just tell you to go check the careers of Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Mark Arm or Mark Lanegan (just to mention Seattle peers, otherwise we could throw to the mix the likes of Zack de la Rocha, Michael Stipe or Trent Reznor to name a few). And yes members of 90s rock bands had drug issues and other mental issues, but it's not like the musicians before them never had those issues (because clearly rock since its inception until 90s was substance abuse free?)

So sorry, but let me say it's not spot on, no more than saying the same for nu metal bands, contemporary indie rock, 80s pop music, heavy metal, 70s punk, 60s psychodelia and so on and on....

shayne oneill
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Oh it was real alright. As a 20 something in 90s a lot of us lived that culture and it frigging destroyed a lot of us. I had no less than 10 friends die from drug overdoses or suicides, all more or less set to the grunge soundtrack of our lives.

It was a glorious time to be alive, if you survived it, and not everyone did.

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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on that, I'm sorry to hear about your friends :(

I was in my teens and I think neither me or my friends got tangled with that side of the alternative culture.

Tommy Hanusa
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"Games are supposed to be about expressive play, creation and sharing, but often it feels more like it’s about nostalgia and gatekeeping, a competition to see who’s the most insular and obsessed."

What games are supposed to be is... complicated. I think it's best to say that games are supposed to be an abstracted experience. The creator may abstract it in such a way to creating meaning or an intended feeling.

so what you say is true; but I think games should be seen as more inclusive than just this; and being nostalgic isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially for a game that's personal. (I feel a lot of indies make performers because they are reminded of their youth)

"If it weren’t for Pearl Jam, we’d have no Nickelback or Creed, for one thing."
You have been added to Seattle PD's most wanted list for using Pearl Jam and Nickleback in the same sentence (sorry, no exceptions).

"When it comes to video games, the feminist-led DIY scene is probably the most important thing happening in game culture right now."

I wouldn't call it 'feminist-led' because I don't think that's the major point. The idea that people (anyone) can create an experience a game and try and share or explain an experience in their life is whats important. The fact that women are doing this is just a byproduct of the fact that women do things... (that sounds obvious but whatever).

"The fervent prizing of 'fun' is controlling the commercial game industry"

There are issues of accessibility and usability that come into play here. If you abstract an experience into a game nobody can understand; its not much more than a novelty. For instance 4' 33" is so obscure you need to dig to find meaning in it; its interesting in the conversation it generates (kinda like 'Proteus' )

"Instead of looking at expressive game makers, we’re still stuck trying to prove we’re valid by purchasing whatever marketers say the Hot Title is."

let's just say I heard a lot about the Backstreet Boys, N'Sync, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera in the 90's too.

Really what we have is most gamers are excited about what the marketers are pumping at them; while you also have a sort of counter-culture crowd that is interested in this indie scene. The indie scene is an enthusiast scene; its people that really care. Its not the mass market. That's the crowd it is, its not jocks and cheer-leaders and yuppies with popped collars. Its dorks, its hipsters, its scene kids, its the people who don't want to be part of the crowd.

If all the jocks and bros started playing indie games like Fez, Analogue, and Cart Life all the counter-culture crowd would make CoD clones, mini-mobas, and free-to-play social-mobile games. C'est la vie.


In closing I really agree with most of what you said and with how you said it (you know because I'm in Seattle and you talked about grunge music so your basically preaching to the choir). I definitely do think there will be a shift sometime soon where everyone will try and express themselves through games. Even if it never gets to that level, there will always be developers with expertise and game jams to create expressive experiences rather than just enjoyment, pop entertainment (or at-least facetious, unemployed developers who wanna poke fun of their last project/ colleagues).

I also really do want to play a twine game by and angst-y 14 year old about how much junior high sucks... because lets be fair, junior high only exists to embarrass you so you can learn to laugh about yourself later... that twine game is gonna be great...

Michael Joseph
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"If all the jocks and bros started playing indie games like Fez, Analogue, and Cart Life all the counter-culture crowd would make CoD clones, mini-mobas, and free-to-play social-mobile games. C'est la vie."
--

So Louis would become Lestat?

More likely I think if all games were like Fez, Analogue and Cart Life, a counter-culture of jocks and bros would arise to embrace and preach the gospel of fun, money, nihilism and go on to create CoD clones, mini-mobas, and free-to-play social-mobile games.

The current "counter-culture crowd" is not anti-mainstream for the heck of it. They are anti-illusion, anti-ignorance, anti-intellectual laziness, anti-spiritual laziness, anti-superficiality, anti-fake, anti-meaninglessness, anti-hacks, anti-cynical exploitation of the world, etc.

Paul Marzagalli
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"The current "counter-culture crowd" is not anti-mainstream for the heck of it. They are anti-illusion, anti-ignorance, anti-intellectual laziness, anti-spiritual laziness, anti-superficiality, anti-fake, anti-meaninglessness, anti-hacks, anti-cynical exploitation of the world, etc."

Or so they believe.

Craudimir Ascorno
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Every movement says they are anti-illusion, anti-ignorance, anti-intellectual laziness, anti-spiritual laziness, anti-superficiality, anti-fake, anti-meaninglessness, anti-hacks, anti-cynical exploitation of the world, etc.

But history proves that only one in a million movements are like that.

warren blyth
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there's so much being covered here, it's hard to comment. (but it's good stuff, so...)

- I think what's tricky about modern counter-culture is : people seem very naive about how sophisticated PR has become. Ashton Kutchner just gave a "real" speech at the teen choice awards, and lots of people are celebrating his courage in using his fame to take a stand. I look at it and think "you know this is PR to help prepare the public for his role as Steve Jobs in the upcoming movie right? He's no eddie vedder. That wasn't off the cuff."

- I think Douglas Rushkoff's comments on "program or be programmed" are an important aspect of all this that's being skipped over. Making a video game isn't like picking up a musical instrument. Video Games are so complicated that if you don't get a sense of the underlying systems, you end up unaware of the real breadth of possibilities. You don't know what you don't know. And the majority of new talent ends up thinking the only ways to innovate with "indie" games boils down to: pixel art throwbacks or Unity 3D.

- i think games are a way to experiment in a subset of reality. I don't think the problem is that too many games are "fun". I think the problem is that too many games support power fantasies.
At this year's GDC you had Jane McGonigal in one session explaining why escapism is a dirty word that we should never use again to describe video games, and in another session you have Dan Taylor saying we all know games are just escapist power fantasies so you should design your levels to support this.
I think this power fantasy escapism that is being recycled over and over (collect weapons and power, until you're a muder god by the final boss fight) is just as distasteful as hair bands and pop music from the 80s.

Mike Higbee
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"More likely I think if all games were like Fez, Analogue and Cart Life, a counter-culture of jocks and bros would arise to embrace and preach the gospel of fun, money, nihilism and go on to create CoD clones, mini-mobas, and free-to-play social-mobile games.

The current "counter-culture crowd" is not anti-mainstream for the heck of it. They are anti-illusion, anti-ignorance, anti-intellectual laziness, anti-spiritual laziness, anti-superficiality, anti-fake, anti-meaninglessness, anti-hacks, anti-cynical exploitation of the world, etc."

I believe you've just defined hipster.

While enjoyable, Fez is definitely about as overhyped in the indie scene (and god it comes off as pretentious as hell when people try to equate a causal puzzle game like it as something deep) as CoD is in the AAA market. Cart Life is about as subtle as a slap in the face.

@warren Or just we become more and more cynical and jaded the older we get and can't take things at face value.

Everyone likes to think their specific generation or choices in music are the best and don't like to look outside their little bubble.
Then you have sites like Kotaku and other "game journalists" (god what a joke that word has become) who run more drama and opinion pieces than actual coverage on games.

Michael Ball
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@Mike Higbee
"While enjoyable, Fez is definitely about as overhyped in the indie scene (and god it comes off as pretentious as hell when people try to equate a causal puzzle game like it as something deep) as CoD is in the AAA market."

THIS. THIS SO MUCH.
It's even more frustrating when Fez is compared to the Myst series. Only on the most superficial layer are the two at all similar; the puzzles in Myst series though (especially in Riven) actually tie into the overall narrative and amount to much more than WOW HERE'S ANOTHER COLLECTABLE.

Marijn Lems
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@Warren: "Making a video game isn't like picking up a musical instrument. Video Games are so complicated that if you don't get a sense of the underlying systems, you end up unaware of the real breadth of possibilities. You don't know what you don't know. And the majority of new talent ends up thinking the only ways to innovate with "indie" games boils down to: pixel art throwbacks or Unity 3D."

That's the tyranny of craftsmanship though. Lots of experienced artists in all media tend not to take anyone seriously who didn't go to the same prestigious schools as they did. Gaming counter-culture is exactly the same kind of "outsider art" that has value in other arts: it makes a virtue out of approaching an artform without knowing (and thus being constrained by) all of its technical intricacies.

Marijn Lems
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@Tommy Hanusa: ""The fervent prizing of 'fun' is controlling the commercial game industry"

There are issues of accessibility and usability that come into play here. If you abstract an experience into a game nobody can understand; its not much more than a novelty. For instance 4' 33" is so obscure you need to dig to find meaning in it; its interesting in the conversation it generates (kinda like 'Proteus' )"

I think you're misreading the intended meaning of "fun" here. In the games industry, "fun" is more important than in other media, even their mainstream parts. No one's going to call Schindler's List a fun movie but almost everyone agrees that it has enormous value. Not so in the game industry: if the game isn't "fun to play", it is instantly devalued. "Fun" and "accessibility" are not the same thing, and games that aren't "fun" aren't automatically "experience[s] ... that nobody can understand."

Yama Habib
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"If all the jocks and bros started playing indie games like Fez, Analogue, and Cart Life all the counter-culture crowd would make CoD clones, mini-mobas, and free-to-play social-mobile games. C'est la vie."

This makes no sense. The indie game scene didn't suddenly emerge as a spiteful response to top-selling games, it's a subculture that has naturally formed from the existence of developers with a desire to express themselves regardless of profit margins or trends in the industry. Indie modern military shooters, indie MOBAs, and indie cow-clickers still exist. There's no mutual exclusivity between AAA and indie game genres.

Boyer Geoffrey
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As a European and a non-native English speaker, I'm really struggling to see what I should understand from that article, not having watched some movies and listened to specific american music of the 90s. Especially with the passive-aggressive tone displayed in the introduction.

Is it about how game developers should set example for the youth by making progressive products? Is it about how games in the 90s were bad?

Mike Jenkins
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"Games are supposed to be about expressive play, creation and sharing"

Well that saved me 6 pages of reading.

Sjors Jansen
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Leigh, I appreciate that you acknowledge there is a difference between big business games and small indie games. And you are a loud voice behind the "games need to be better" thing for better or worse.
I got out of the industry for fear of doing the same hollow thing over and over again with only increased power and tech.
But, talk is cheap.


1) I agree that it would be cool to see more "meaningful" big expensive games. I doubt anybody actively opposes it. They don't have to come at the cost of mindless violence. All it takes for change is one big commercial success, then the industry will copy it. Just like with Nirvana.
Indies are drenched in nostalgia just as well as the big industry. And most indies also dream of being rich for free. Here's a song to get that point across: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoWMmZEoT84
Wanting free money is not something that will change unless modern capitalist society takes a drastic change. (making all transactions public for instance) There will always be room for experimental stuff, just like indie movies and the anarchist press but it won't become the modus operandi for the creator masses.


2) You cannot fault your audience for a negative response if you start out with "your system sucks.." and when a lot of the history you describe is lacking in perspective and research. You see what you want to see, which is perfectly normal, but you can see how it's going to raise issues right?
Nobody can have an unlimited perspective, so some important stuff you leave out:

Regarding game design: Most of the "old-guard game designer dudes" (and dudettes I might add) were experimenting a lot more back in the day than the indies nowadays. Making indie games is what being in a music band used to be probably. It's starting to be cool simply because we've grown up with games. That's why we now also finally are seeing more cool girls. Games were never completely anti-social or something, even if we appeared that way. But people reading books never looked any different. You can share experiences if you want.

Regarding Nirvana: Nevermind was set up to be a marketing success, Kobain sold out on plenty of things. The double voice trick that Lennon also used for instance. Just because it's catchier.
Promoting and exploiting lifestyle has been a big thing. The "Grunge" label was no different. It's that sense of wanting to belong to a group which you mentioned. There was also Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon (very much in regards to feminism), Lydia Lunch, etc.. There was punk, there was no-wave. (Seriously, go watch the documentary "kill your idols").
And there was also house, drumm 'n bass, jungle, and basically electronic music. 2 unlimited and Aphex Twin.

Regarding guns: I feel you can't omit the argument that a virtual gun has always been an easy interaction mechanism for videogames. It really doesn't matter if it shoots butter or iron. But it's not that easy to think up something that works. It's said that ideas are a dime a dozen but most of those ideas aren't worth a couple of million $ because they simply don't hold up that well when push comes to shove.
Are you willing to risk your job and those of a hundred more in doing so? I've seen games with millions invested canned because the designers couldn't figure out how to make it a worthwile experience.

Michael Joseph
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I like Tool but apparently I never really listened to the lyrics of "Hooker with a Penis" before now. I see now the song is about commercial prostitution. But I'm not sure I agree with it's message that one is automatically a "sell out" when they venture to create art to be sold.

In my view, the only component to selling out is loss of artistic integrity. In that song I suppose Tool is saying the foreknowledge of making an artistic work for profit automatically implies 'some' loss of artistic integrity. I'm glad it's Tool making this argument and not someone else.

It's an interesting question. I don't think that if you grow up in a capitalistic society that you will ever be completely unaffected by it. However I think there's a legitimate difference between making a good product and selling it at a fair price and knowingly selling inferior products and manipulating people to buy them at unfair cost.

Ultimately we can't even know what Tool or it's members actually think on this subject. It's just a song.

Sjors Jansen
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It's just a song?
It's just a game :)

Maybe this is better then: http://www.veoh.com/watch/e178381Gmta9Kdw
(dire straits, truly)

But yeah at the end of the day, you need to be ok with yourself. And external factors play a role in that but it's different for everybody. Mass delusions will probably always a problem though but in that respect I worry about society and human nature a lot more than about games or movies or books. We need to ban some more books man. Those are dangerous.

warren blyth
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i think the point Leigh is reaching for is more : mainstream games are hollow and repeating the same bullshit. much like the pop music of the 80s.
She uses Nirvana as an example of how a large hollow entertainment machine was disrupted just 20 years ago.

It's not that experimental stuff needs to be the modus operandi for the creator masses, or that Big Industry is stuck in nostalgia - it's that Big Industry is shovelling soulless crap, and the new kids with lots of free time don't even know how to start rebelling against it.

I think it's a big problem across the arts right now, summed up well by Arthur Penn in this rant
http://jamesgrissom.blogspot.com/2012/12/arthur-penn-in-defense-o
f-friction.html
...I shouldn't say "summed up". it's quite a rant.
basically he says that movies and plays are ruined by everyone celebrating talent's ability to get along with each other - instead of celebrating the hostile frictions that come from fighting for quality work.

- I think the interesting thing about the Grunge movement/sell-out/"scene" is that there were a bunch of real filthy tortured artists beneath it all. I think the story of kurt cobain is really that of a terrorist railing against soulless formulaic nature of pop music. Sure he got lost in the machine and inspired soulless formulaic bands for years to come. But you don't study a terrorist act by focusing on how it was perverted in the end. You mostly study how a powerless penniless nobody managed to make such a huge impact in the first place.

On the other hand, i think the most interesting music of the 90s came from Nine Inch Nails, with Tool, Radiohead, and Pearl Jam close behind. These bands are probably more worth studying for their reaction to 80s big hair bands, as well as how their disruptive influences played out over the decades.

Sjors Jansen
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I hear what you're saying, and I have sympathy towards it, towards confrontation. (Though I would replace hostile with passionate.)
The nirvana metaphore just doesn't really hold up for what she probably wants to say. But she should defend that herself.

I'll read Arthur Penn's rant probably sunday. I would also recommend the "Kill your idols" documentary again. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0407926/
It depicts this confrontational spirit a lot better than nirvana at least. (Some scenes contain sex I should mention.)


There's no doubt that a large part of gaming culture cannot deal with criticism well.

An example is the gamasutra moderator just now deleting a thread here, that yes, was once again the age old gender discussion. But it's not like no point was being made or the article above provided any new thoughts. It opens with a quasi insult.
So there's a lot of pot calling the kettle stuff going on. And personal perspectives distorting interpretations as always, losing parts of the discussion in the process.

Or look at the shitstorm that Jonathan Blow got thrown at him for being very critical of games. I've never seen the word prententious being used quite so often. I'm annoyed that he now obviously talks very careful and held back. But at least he's still doing his thing.

You mention more traditional arts, which have big identity problems as well which are way beyond relative child-diseases like multi culturalism (gender/race).
In general as soon as someone mentions post-modernism there's a knee jerk reaction. But that's where we have basically been stuck ever since Nietzsche died long ago.

And it's mostly our own faults, all those generations of new kids included.
Marketing or communication is the new art. Mr brainwash-banksy. whatever.

That leaves us with lolcats. Hm. Maybe the world isn't such a bad place after all.

Dane MacMahon
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You have to convince the people enjoying the present day hollow entertainment to move on to something else. Nirvana did it with catchy songs and interesting lyrics. Game professionals are trying to do it with a waving "naughty" finger. It's not as effective.

Michael Josefsen
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Lead by example and seek to inspire - not just chastize.

Michael Joseph
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"E3 is pure ‘80s: Aging men in tight pants who are still really excited about babes, robots and aliens."
--
Thought provoking article. I enjoyed looking at our industry through the lens of our popular culture. You really can tell a lot about a society and it's culture by looking at it's programming. It might even help us predict the future.

"Meaningful entertainment doesn’t take well to being commoditized, and that’s important to remember in the context of conversations about what the games industry “owes” players."
--

If game creators view themselves as artists, then I think the only thing they owe their players is artistic integrity. That's actually a lot to ask. And for many it's way too much. (that or you get diluted definitions for "artistic integrity")

"Eventually, “Alternative Nation” died with MTV, as the counterculture became as commercialized as everything that it was trying to protest"
--

I don't actually blame subcultures or counterculture for becoming corrupted. It's just too easy to do especially when the subculture is started by teenagers who haven't really figured out anything yet. Embrace and extend. Countercultures need a more complete philosophy about them to serve as built in safeguards against those who would try to infiltrate/takeover/exploit the subculture for profit.

Wendelin Reich
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I often find Leigh's articles and blog posts intelligent and inspiring, but this whole piece strikes me as a wasted opportunity.

For an article that starts out by (IMO rightfully) denouncing gamer culture's "nostalgia", the entire piece is weirdly nostalgic, and the drawn-out comparisons to a specific time and place in popular culture were hard and boring to read through, and least to me.

By the same token, the notion that twines and feminist indie games are somehow the Answer with capital A seemed pretty arbitrary.

This is sad because I share the premise: there really is something about gaming culture that is holding the entire medium back. Vast parts (in terms of money) of an entire industry are held hostage by adolescent males who seem to be the only ones who care deeply enough about games to troll forums, write reviews on Metacritic, harass outsiders and generally get on everybody else's nerves.

If we want gaming culture to thrive and diversify, the answer doesn't lie in feminism or in Anna Anthropy's Zinesters (though I'm not denying that their part of the answer). Instead, the answer lies in finding ways to end the hegemony of "angry young men". Just look at who dictates about 90% of the announced content for PS4 and XBone!

Joseph Elliott
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How is feminism not the answer to ending the hegemony you speak of? It might not be the only answer, but it seems to me that Anna Anthropy's zine scene is offering an interesting alternative, which is precisely what we need: alternatives. She, and a lot of other indies making entirely different kinds of games, are doing the best possible thing they can be doing, and that's creating the shit out of some weird, wonderful and new games.

James Margaris
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Edit: Mistake to try posting in this thread.

Michael Joseph
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But I agree that a lot of what drives gamers, game developers, game journalists lay completely outside of games and is embedded in their own personal world views and politics.

Games for them then becomes (and there's nothing wrong with it) a medium for cultural critique, advocacy and change.

James Margaris
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Edit: Ditto.

Michael Joseph
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.

James Margaris
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Edit: And again.

Michael Joseph
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I apologize James.

I saw you describe an effort as "pointless" and just extrapolated in the wrong direction apparently.

James Margaris
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I accept I guess? I do appreciate the apology.

Though I'm editing out all my previous comments. There's no upside to this sort of conversation. The comments section of a website is just not the right venue.

Craudimir Ascorno
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I think the problem with gaming community in that regard is just highlighted by this comparison with the grunge movement. What Nirvana (and other grunge bands) has made to change that "80s" mentality is only important because they shared the message they wanted to share through their own work and they climbed to mainstream levels of popularity without singling out other popular bands or movements.

Many bands must have been doing the same before or by the time grunge and other socially conscious bands started to become popular, but their message would be irrelevant without mainstream exposure. Besides, the "80s" mentality persisted with bands like Guns 'n' Roses continued success through the 90s because the socially conscious bands were concerned about delivering their message, not removing the other bands from existence.

Then you go to gaming community and many people today is advocating change in the "dudebro" standards of mainstream gaming (I am using the term commonly used and I am not debating if it is accurate or not). However, unlike the grunge movement, they are acting like preachers: people from outside saying that the game creators are wrong and must change their mentality because it is the only right thing to do. I am sure that preachers were against the "80s" aesthetics in music back in late 80s/early 90s, but their effectiveness to change youth's perspective was irrelevant. Instead, they attracted a lot of hate, that was countered with more hate and the whole point of the discussion was missed.

So, to promote a change in the "gamer" culture, people must change it from inside. It means, making games, hitting the mainstream with something new, toppling what is considered standard now. If the grunge movement had been just ultra-niche bands that no one cared about supported by journalists and critics spewing hate towards the "cool boys" culture, it would have gone nowhere. I agree that the "gamer" culture needs new perspectives, but people must act effectively from inside. People must be like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine, taking their guitars and messages to the road, facing hostile audiences in small venues to conquer the audience gradually. People must not be like intellectuals from Age of Enlightment that used their rhetoric to teach how the society should be and how people should behave while they did nothing they preached.

Dane MacMahon
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This is great. Thank you.

Marijn Lems
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I agree with your statement that a bloodless revolution is the best revolution, but it is simply beyond dispute that part of Nirvana's success stemmed from the fact that it was COUNTER-culture, which inherently sees existing culture as something that needs to be fought (and if not Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine says hi - and Allen Ginsberg before them). I don't know if you actually were in your teens in the 90s, but no Nirvana fan was going to treat someone who liked Take That or New Kids On The Block with anything but contempt, believe me.
The same thing is happening now: the pioneers of gaming counter-culture have been confronted with soulless entertainment that felt exclusionary for so long, it's way too much to ask to not let the movement be partially propelled by (righteous) anger.

Keith Burgun
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>>History has shown us repeatedly that rejecting the systemic machines and instead looking inward at what we have to express as people is one of the most important things a creative culture can do.

You're ignoring that Nirvana, for all their cultural relevance, were INCREDIBLY crafty songwriters who, despite what the timbre of their music suggested, followed in the classic songwriting footsteps of The Beatles.

In other words, we can't substitute craft for "personal-ness", and that's what's happening in the personal art games world. We can't be ANTI-CRAFT.

Anyway, great article overall.

Mark Desmarais
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Who the hell is anti-craft?

Marijn Lems
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No one's anti-craft, but in general, craft is very much overemphasised in the critical and (especially) mainstream evaluation of art. Focusing on craft exclusively is an inherently conservative impulse because it only rewards work that adheres to what we already think of as great art. For art to move forward, we desperately need artists who shake up the status quo by completely ignoring everything we think we know about craftsmanship.

David Huss
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This post was deeply inspiring (actually inspiring enough for me -- a long time lurker -- to sign in at 00:00 in the night when I have to take a flight in 4 hours). Inspiring for one thing: it reflects what I was thinking about "the Industry" how it is called. Well it might be an Industry. But it depends if you want it to be one.

When I was about 12 my first favourite Band was Rage against the Machine. I speak german so my english was bad back then. But even with 12 I understood what they meant. They were mixed differently, their voices had more in it, then everything I knew back then. And till today it is an constant in my creative work: you have to take the status quo and question it. That is what an artist does. And that is why I want to see an artists work: not only because I want to see "nice" things that fullfill my inner gaps for a short amount of time, but because I want to see the wrong things, the problems, the joy everything that moves people. I see very few games that reach that point.

Every new generation has to come up with solutions for problems the old guys never saw as problems just because they accepted it to be like this. This is why artists need to stay young, this is why artists never should focus soley on their audience: they will go blind for everything that happens, problems that occur.

That is why Indie-Developers are often closer to the term "Art" as I define it. But making games is a hard thing. It takes time. Work. Multitalent. Discipline. Money. Much like in films you see the same aspects: as soon as economics get involved the soul of nearly every movie dies. Simply because money change people. The goal "make a great game form everything that angers and inspires me" transforms into "make any game that sells well and gives us assets and tools to reuse". This is sad.

I'd rather make my art (Games, Music, Movies, ...) the way I like and live with it if only 300 people will get my release, than altering my art till sales go up. To use Evolution theory-words: don't use sales as a fitness-function for your art or it will envolve into the monster: a product. Of course best would be to make what you want and still be able to sustain yourself, but well if it won't happen and I am happy with the things I do..

However I have good feelings about the future. Many people my age and younger know how to convert videos, cut movies, photoshop something, animate a little, use blender, record some sounds, apply effects, program a little. And making games costs you not very much if you do everything by yourself, except time.

Jason Long
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"Every new generation has to come up with solutions for problems the old guys never saw as problems just because they accepted it to be like this." - Nice, brilliant quote.

Randall Stevens
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I thought this would upset me because it would somehow end up at the terrible conclusion that Nirvana was a good band. Happily I see that this is not the case, though I think many of those writing comments have missed that point.

I think that a bad message is being picked up from this piece, and I want to talk about that:

The indie darlings are already similar to the leaders of alternative rock. They are white kids with no real problems (having too much heroin is not a real problem), and they have gone away from something corporate to create something smaller and more personal, but what they created is very different. That is a good thing, because we don't want them to be the same.

Alternative rock bands (Nirvana especially) were not great technical musicians. They weren't even average musicians. They created music that has a special place because it echoed the thoughts of the youth at the time. Thoughts that were mostly selfish and petty. Then they sold out and we ended up with the terrible decade of rock music that followed. So we still had corporate rock, but it was laced with this shallow rebellion against... what? The society that had made your life so comfortable and without conflict? It was a time of rebellion without meaning, and crusades against nothing. You only rebel against your parents being "sell outs" and making too much money, because you don't know how shitty it is to grow up with no money, or family, or food. That was the movement that alternative music attached itself to. It wasn't timeless or well constructed, but it spoke to a lot of people who really needed that affirmation that their lives really were as tough as they imagined.

Now to the point. Is this really the case for big indie games of this last half decade? Are they actually pieces of shit that are only becoming famous because they happened to be different at the right place and time? Will their creators quickly sell out and begin making garbage that is missing both the spirit and the technical prowess? Will new players look at these games in a decade and be disgusted that these poorly constructed titles reached fame and fortune. Will the new players think of us as fools for liking something that was just playing to the paradigm shift that was happening in game appreciation. Is that what we want? I don't, and I don't think that is what we have. I don't think these games are poorly made, and I don't think that they will be seen as just cultural markers instead of good titles. The good titles we have will be considered good titles regardless of gaming generation, and that is something to be damn proud of. No new listeners in a decade will hear Nirvana and think it is good music. Those kids who had Creed or Nickelback or System of a down as the soundtrack to their teenage years may look on those bands favorably, but nobody else will. I believe that I could give Aquaria or Fez to someone years from now and they would have the same chance of liking it as someone today.

I don't think our good games are just riding ripples through a culture. I think games can be things that are both revolutionary and timeless, and that's what we should be looking for. That is what we should be trying to make. Things have to have meaning beyond the change that is happening in a subculture. If the only message is change, then you really have nothing to say to anyone later. Change was meaningful before because it required sacrifice. I am talking about real sacrifice, blood and pain and you and your friends never coming home again. Getting made fun of on the internet is not a hard life. The changes that will happen in this industry will not carry with them real sacrifices to lend gravitas to the message. So your works had better have something else to say once the change has past.

Thanks if you read this all. I'm off to listen to some avril lavigne... just kidding, I've got blonde on blonde waiting on my record player.

Marijn Lems
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Good points about the (hopeful) timelessness of current indie hits, but:

Just because there are lots of people in the world who have it worse than white teenagers doesn't mean their struggles with capitalism are invalid. It speaks to the cynicism of the right and the defeatism of the left that we are reduced to ridiculing anybody who takes a stand against the status quo by calling them out on "white people's problems". It becomes even more odious (and I'm not suggesting you're doing this, but it does happen) when privileged white males use this argument against female, gay, black or otherwise dispriviliged individuals who dare to raise their voice: "Be glad you live in a prosperous country." Your second to last paragraph smacks of that attitude because of the references to "real sacrifice": who are you to decide that art is irrelevant because it "only" produces meaningful change in a subculture? Who are you to say that "getting made fun of on the internet is not a hard life"?

Michael Josefsen
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I know its not relevant to the point of this article, but I have to point out that a lot of youngsters are getting into Nirvana and System of a Down now, essentially proving Randall wrong that these bands are not relevant outside of the time that gave birth to them.
If there is a topic-relevant point to this, it is that we can't know now what indie games will affect meaningful cultural change down the line. Maybe in time, Fez will be forgotten and Dynasty Warriors 8 will be seen as an important masterpice...

Mark Kilborn
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I read about a third of the comments on this and then stopped. It's just too messy. Too much pontificating.

Here's what I got out of this article. Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong, but this is what I'm moving forward with:

Being inclusive, as a culture, is good for us. Why? Because it brings us diversity. It brings us more options. It allows the medium to grow. Ultimately, that's good for all of us. Yes, even the hardcore gamers who love Gears of War or other mainstream games like that. Follow me for a minute.

If our culture becomes more inclusive and we, as a whole, create more diverse experiences, we're bound to reach a tipping point where we can't be collectively dismissed as "those people who like to play games about killing people and blowing stuff up." You can't say that about music or film as a whole, because there is such tremendous diversity in the content of those mediums (even if only a narrow range of it gains mainstream popularity), and it's VISIBLE to the world outside of that culture.

In games, we have the defensiveness many have described. We have death threats and people lashing out at anyone who dares to do (or speak up for) something a little different. And when those are the noisiest parts of our culture, people see that and the mainstream games, and they draw some unfair/somewhat inaccurate conclusions about us as a group of humans.

I do NOT think she's suggesting we water down games or even make "core" games more inclusive. Let Gears of War be what it is. I take this article as more of a call for a cultural response. Can we collectively make an effort to not be a bunch of asses to people who are not "core gamers," who don't fit our homogenous definition of a gamer. Just be welcoming. "You like Twine games? I have no idea what that is, but we're both gamers, so that's cool. Love what you love. I love what I love. And maybe we can each show each other something we haven't played before that the other will like."

Yes, it's kind of kumbaya-ish, but an attitude along those lines would do a hell of a lot to:

improve our image in the world
reduce scapegoating/etc. from outside of our culture
grow games as a medium

And WHATEVER you like about this culture, I don't see how those three things are bad, especially when all that's required is to be a nicer person.

So yeah, tell me if I totally missed the point, but that's what I got from it.

Marijn Lems
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Extremely well said. I agree 1000%.

John Gordon
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I thought this was a good read. Also it scratches the surface about a deeper point: the history of video games parallels the history of rock music in a lot of ways (although there is about a 20 year time delay).

Both started out in America but suffered a huge decline after about a decade. Rock and roll music was revived by the British invasion in the 60's, while games were revived by a "Japanese invasion" in the 80's. (And so on.)

So if you look at what was going on about 20 years ago in music, you see that people were getting sick of the bands backed by the big record labels, because it was like hearing the same type of content recycled over and over again. Sure the production values were high, but the content was unoriginal. So consumers got interested in "alternative" music, because the content seemed fresh.

This is the sort of thing we are seeing in games right now. One option is unoriginal content with high production values. The other option is seemingly original content with much lower production values. Which side will consumers go for? Personally I'm betting on content.

Michael Josefsen
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I'm so tired of this dichotomy of the big AAA man-shooters vs the oh so honest and important indies with their games about loss and identity. In reality, there's games of every imaginable type, made for every imaginable reason and on a fluent scale of production cost. I think we should stop even using the word 'Indie' as it always comes along with this implicit value judgment, that it is more respectable and valuable than those pesky not-indie games.
Also, I'd appreciate if people like Leigh would stop pretending that there's no value in games as challenging systems. I still think this is what games are best at. Sure, make your little games about emotions, but I have other mediums for that kind of thing.

Marijn Lems
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Well, I don't think anybody's saying that "there's no value in games as challenging systems", just that there's ALSO a lot of (unexplored) value in games as narrative art. What many of these indie (and, you're right, also some AAA) developers are trying to prove is that games can approach "emotions" in a different way than your other media can. What games are "best" at is hard to say, but at the very least, they're in a position to literally show us what it's like to walk in someone's shoes for a while, which makes them uniquely qualified to tackle subjects like identity, "otherness", morality etc. In many ways, games are just about the most empathetic medium imaginable, which makes it all the more sad that the diversity of perspectives in gaming is still so limited.

Michael Josefsen
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I admit to overreacting a bit there to some of the things Leigh seems to imply. I think there is unexplored potential in the medium of games and its probably a good thing if more people explore ways to express themselves through games and interactive fiction. Personally, though, I'm a lot more interested in games with deep gameplay prioritized over story and other content - which is something I often feel bloggers and indie designers scoff at these days. I still think the best game ever made is probably either a strategy game or a fighting game, and Journey didn't interest me at all - but some day a game like it will impress me I'm sure.

Marijn Lems
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@Michael: That's fair, and maybe it will never happen that a game like Journey will impress you, and that's fine too. I agree that it never does anybody any good to scoff at experiences that others value highly (though I must admit to succumbing to that impulse myself on numerous occasions).

Matthew Calderaz
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'What games are "best" at is hard to say'...

I disagree, I think games are far and away the best medium for simulation, (whether realistic or fantastic); for taking a complex rule-based system, abstracting the nitty-gritty details, and presenting the user with a 'game' based on input to the system.

Other approaches are certainly valid. I am personally quite skeptical that a game will ever have as powerful a narrative as a linear non-interactive piece of art. (Film, book, play, etc.). But of course that doesn't mean people shouldn't attempt it.

Marijn Lems
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@Matthew: Oh, I agree that it's not hard to say what games do best in comparison to other media, just that it's hard/impossible to say what games do best in comparison to other things they do well (such as the things I mentioned).

And hey, horses for courses, right? For me personally, even though I watch a lot of theatre, film and tv besides playing games, The Last Of Us and Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons were two of the most powerful narratives of this year (it depends on what you mean by powerful though: I'm talking about emotional power, whereas you might very well be talking about narrative complexity, which admittedly is an area games haven't excelled at quite as much).

Jonathan Adams
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Games can be amazing venues for demonstrating the complexities of human emotion - but power fantasies are good too. Both types of games should be regarded as conceptual peers, with their ultimate merits judged by their individual quality, rather than assuming one or the other is inherently better or worse than the other. We are all allowed our preferences, but one type of game is not more legitimate than the other, and we should all be sure we don't express our preferences in ways which are pointlessly insulting.

It's true that commercialization of art can cause art to stagnate, but I do feel it is worthwhile to speak up and try to reduce that stagnation alongside creating fresh ideas from the indie scene. Culture is always in flux, and capitalistic interests will always be in hot pursuit of what people are willing to spend on those changes, but this is only really a problem when the corporate interests become antagonistic or otherwise seek to impede competition from forming,

Will Burgess
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Great article, very well-written and the 90s breakdown was spot-on for us upper middle class white guys (high 5, bro!)

At the end there I think it seems pretty obvious why X-Bro gamers prefer CoD over Flower: they grew up playing Doom, Counter Strike, Quake and Unreal Tournament. I grew up playing JRPGs like Breath of Fire, so naturally I'm drawn to RPGs and MMOs today.

I don't think we're experiencing a revolution, we're experiencing a split. Different games for different people. This is the first time in history when gamers aren't just basement nerds, so naturally the industry is reacting to the new consumers. Among those "new consumers" are the basement nerds who are now parents and looking for something different.

Matthew Calderaz
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I think you're mixing up your gamer demographic groups; My understanding is that most gamers that grew up playing Doom/CS/Quake/UT on the PC generally can't stand games like CoD. (I know this is true for myself at least.)

The generation that grew up playing PC games like Doom is the same generation that grew up playing Wing Commander, Star Control, MechWarrior, Tie Fighter, XCOM (the original), Ultima Underworld, Thief and a host of other games that were considerably deeper in depth and richer in game-play than the majority of the current AAA console-centric equivalents.

X-Bro gamers != Doom/CS/Quake/UT gamers! (Even though they are technically all FPS)

Michael Josefsen
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@Matthew: You're spot on as far as I go at least. I grew up playing Doom, Hand of Fate, Pizza Tycoon, Tie Fighter, Mech Warrior 2, Xcom, Shadows Over Riva, Apogee and Epic shareware games... These days, nothing interests me less than CoD and other 'Content Rollercoaster Action Games' (thats what I call most triple A games) because the gameplay is empty and the games have no charming style to them.
I've really played every imaginable genre over the year. I'd say theres a demographic of unknown size that simply wants quality :)

TC Weidner
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while I understand the sentiment of this diary, the analogies however fail IMHO.

The 90s is when the entertainment industry became homogenized, not the 80s. The 80's music scene while sure there was glam- rock, but lets not forget every other type of music was available and thriving as well, from hip-hop to heavy metal, to progressive rock and everything in between. In the Gaming arena the 80s also had a huge variety of accessible gaming, from arcades, pinball to consoles, handhelds, and pc computers.

So while I may agree with some of your points, I would try to use a different analogy, the 90s is when it all started going down hill but as you admit, you werent around for the 80s, and thats a shame because it was a great fun decade. The 70s was even a wilder scene.

Steven An
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There are probably some imperfections and sensationalist exaggerations in this article, but overall I support the sentiment that "alternative games" are awesome and exciting :)

Michael Brown
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Overall I support this article; a wider variety of games is always good. I struggle to think of a monoculture that is conducive to interesting ideas. However, I wish to give my perspective on this statement:

"Guns are iconic of one’s sense of privilege over another -- I’m powerful because I can end your life. The whole idea of wielding a gun is bound up in racism and classism: If some poor person tries to take what’s yours, you can kill him, and if you were raised under American capitalism you probably have some problematic ideas about what that target who wants to take what’s yours looks like."

When only people with power have access to firearms, this is true, but look at the system that set up that situation; most gun control laws in the US have racism at their root. One of the express purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment was to stop states from disarming their black citizens, and New York's Sullivan Law was enacted largely to disarm Irish and Italian immigrants. Most criminals victimize people in their neighborhood, so most crime victims are also poor.

With "tough" gun control laws, only the wealthy can afford to stay safe, whether it's through moving to a nicer neighborhood if things get too rough, or paying the additional taxes and fees to buy a gun, or having the political influence to get an arbitrarily-issued permit, or influencing the system to acquire police protection. None of these options are available to the poor. To me, firearms are largely a tool of upward economic mobility -- when you're poor, every crime committed against you sets you back a long way, and having the option of responding to that threat with force is one of the only options available to prevent becoming a victim.

This aspect of firearm use would likely be difficult to portray in a game, but I don't imagine it's impossible. The easiest ways involve the role of the criminal or the soldier though, so that's largely what we get. Even within those subgenres though, we still often get gems; DayZ and Red Orchestra are all not really "fun" games, but they are quite engaging by showing how vulnerable we are in harsh situations. Spec Ops: The Line affected me deeply, and made me feel depressed for days after I finished the storyline.

I have fun with many violent games, but despite this, I welcome games of all kinds. I enjoyed Antichamber more than many other games I've played, even though it has no violence in it whatsoever. It was a fun game that made me think through it calmly and rationally, so I could eventually wrap my mind around each of the puzzles to come to a solution.

Marijn Lems
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Very off topic, but:
And yet, in Europe, where we have very strong gun control laws, we don't live in the post-apocalypse of inequality that you describe. I have to say that to a European the kind of thinking that calls firearms "tools of upward economic mobility" suggests a country that doesn't give a damn about its poor in the first place, and it seems a tad cynical to suggest that continuing to give all the poor people guns would be any kind of solution to that problem. But then of course, compared to the average American, we're all socialists over here! ;-)

Kyle McBain
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You are right.... very off topic. As an American I can say I don't see firearms as "tools of upward economic mobility" and not everywhere in the states is considered to be this atmosphere "post-apocalypse of ineqaulity"... ya socialist! ;-)

So anyway what did you think of the article in regards to games? It made me think because my initial thought was so what if guys like games about "robots, aliens, and babes". How does a man's interest offend somebody else? His interests don't ecompass that person. And it got me to thinking that maybe we need these "grunge girl band" type games for that reason alone. Maybe by pissing off the guy with bland interests and attracting a diverse crowd it would spark some really creative stuff. I hate that idea, because I am sad to say I am the guy with bland intersts. I play a lot of the same stuff. Pretty much anything set in the medievel period or something with zombies in it I am in.

To me indies are that grunge band. Indies are not the reason I turn on my PC or Console but I still revere them as interesting case studies. The only problem is they don't have much of an impact like triple A games do. We need a grungy triple A.

James Coote
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FWIW, I wouldn't pin your hopes on a single game / dev studio producing some radically different proposition.

Over time, those games and developers that have gone off to capture new audiences, their influence will seep back into the more traditional, hardcore side of the gaming scene.

Eventually (and talking 10 years here), there'll be a big budget AAA game that really hits it off with one of those other demographics. The sort of thing that makes a regular bookstore patron take their first steps into a video game store in search of this title

Jason Long
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Two things:

Great article, love it, ignore the haters in this comment thread.

Also, don't forget that Nirvana had to go mainstream in order for you to hear them. Counter-culture is always trapped in this weird place where they need mainstream culture in order for anyone to hear their message, but at the same time participating in mainstream culture is exactly what they are trying to rebel against. That's what I think killed Kurt in the end, and it's a heavy price to pay to get your message out. These days selling out is quick and easy, and I wonder if you can really be as counter to anything anymore since selling counter culture is mainstream now.


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