On Perspective

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about feminism and equality.

While I’ve been (or at least have been attempting to be) a feminist* for a few years now, the discussion around inequality in regards to video games and game development has been increasing, and it is helping me slowly realise that while I believe in equality, I am still a ways off successfully viewing or approaching situations without the bias of privilege.

One thing that I want to get off my chest in particular is something that I see happen a lot on Twitter or on forums that I frequent.

A dude will jump in on a conversation about feminism or a recent issue that involved feminism in some way, and will offer a critique from his perspective to a feminist. This critique will usually be met with an invalidation – an alert that his critique is couched in bias – and the guy’s hackles will then be up, as he was just trying to help, just offering his honest opinion; he’s not sexist!

This will usually start an argument between the guy in question and whoever is trying to get him to understand why his approach isn’t correct, which can go on for hours. This debate involves well-meaning people attempting to explain why the guy’s opinion doesn’t make sense or is potentially offensive, and the guy being super defensive, attempting to derail every comment with a rejoinder that he’s figured out, and acting like he’s being silenced by a powerful majority for speaking his mind.

It’s incredibly frustrating to watch this happen, as not only do I usually agree with the people trying to help this guy see reason, but I know exactly how it is from his side as well, since I’ve been there (and continue at times to go there). I can see how he feels put upon, and how he fights back against that feeling.

These are some things that I always want to tell this guy directly, but usually don’t, because I usually feel that it’s pointless. He’ll feel I’m just another person piling on criticism, instead of someone who perhaps has gone through what he’s going through and can attempt to offer some (hopefully) helpful points of advice, like maybe these:

Try not to start from your perspective.

In life, when you figure things out, you start thinking from your perspective. You start with “this is a thing that I think”, and then you work your way forward from there, offering yourself logical points and taking them on or discarding them as you see fit.

If you’re in a discussion with another person, you do the same thing – you offer points from your perspective, and allow the other person to offer counter-points or observations that you then take on or don’t as you see fit. It is the responsibility of the other person to convince you that you’re wrong and they’re right, or to convince you of another point of view.

When you’re thinking about feminism and trying to figure things out, you start the same way, and you don’t know where to go from that starting point, as you have no frame of reference for it – you haven’t experienced living as a woman. So instead, you go to a woman on Twitter and say “this is where I am, offer me a logical point to move forward”.

I can’t figure out exactly how to explain it, but this simply does not work. I think it might have something to do with the fact that the method of argument that you use to learn is inherently biased because of the privilege that you enjoy.

You have had people listen to your opinions, and instead of ignoring them or shutting you down, these people have respected you enough to spend their time and energy to figure out the best way of explaining their reasoning to you in terms that you will understand – from your perspective.

This should be a right, but it is unfortunately a privilege that a lot of women experience far less than men; that the person you’re talking to actually cares about what you’re saying, about what you’re thinking, as much as they would if you were a man.

You are the majority.

This may not seem obvious at this point in time, considering you are a lone voice being told that you’re wrong by (probably) multiple voices. But that is just in the context of this conversation.

As soon as you move on and continue with your normal life, and as soon as the person you’re arguing with continues with their normal life, it will go the other way – they will be the lone voice, being told by everyone around them through words or actions that their opinion or perspective is wrong.

Likewise, everything around you will subtly confirm your opinions and reinforce your bias. This happens all the time without you even noticing. This is why feminism exists; because inequality is built into the foundations of our society, and permeates through the entirety of it.

You live 99.9% of your life being part of the majority. Savour this short amount of time that you’re the minority. Imagine feeling like that all the time.

Listen, don’t respond.

I left this one until last, because it’s going to be the hardest to get across. I know what this sounds like – it sounds like I’m saying that instead of honestly saying what you feel, you should just shut up and accept what the other person says without question.

I am not saying that. What I am saying is that you need to listen to what the other person has to say without figuring out a rejoinder that invalidates what they’re saying. It is always possible to argue against anything, and you’re not getting scored for displaying your intelligence as you find the best counter-point to every point.

The key to finding a resolution is to empathize. You need to remember that you have not gone through what this person has gone through. You have not had to deal with this your entire life. You are able to find endless points of logic to fire back because you don’t understand or empathize with this person.

Instead, you need to think about what they’re saying, and try to imagine how they’re feeling. It is no longer an argument; it is you listening to the other person and, having now listened, attempting to understand what they have said. Your task is not to agree or disagree with it, you simply need to try to understand what they said and why they said it.

You’re not doing this so that you can successfully offer an opinion, argument or counter-point. You are doing this because it is the only way that you will ever begin to attain a deeper understanding of this issue that you have an inherent bias against.

 

I regularly fail to follow these points of advice but I think, especially when I follow that last one, I become better able to understand the life of someone who isn’t a heterosexual white male, and why my instinctive reactions to situations and issues might be fundamentally biased.

Incidentally, one of the best ways to listen without responding is to play a game that communicates a life different to yours – I highly recommend Anna Anthropy’s dys4ia as a starting point. Playing that game earlier last year was a catalysing event in broadening my understanding.

 

 

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.

This Year

This was a big year for me. So big that I feel compelled to document its large-osity. Plus, this is a great chance to just summarize every post that through the year I half-wrote and never finished.

 

If you’d told me a year ago that I’d fall madly in love with board games this year, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

After being introduced to the recent Game of Thrones board game earlier on in the year then Flash Point: Fire Rescue and Carcassonne in May, I began a journey into the realm of board games filled with wonder and discovery. It’s a very rare sensation, to explore a medium that I have barely scratched the surface of, and to find so much magic that is intrinsic to the format.

It was like I was a child again, discovering books, films, or video games for the first time, and it was a mind-expanding experience, particularly in terms of game design. Board games have such varied and nuanced game rules and systems, and in general video games are far behind in this area.

Also, I spent a lot on board games.

 

This year, a game that I had a fairly large part in making was released on the App Store, and over ten million people have played it so far. While this has had an effect on my professional life, the personal effect is far more profound. I had a hand in making something that has touched the lives of millions of strangers.

“Touching lives” sounds like the game is doing something life-changing, but that’s not really what I mean. The majority of people probably downloaded Catapult King, played a few levels, had a bit of fun, and then never loaded it up again. There’d be people for whom it would have been an overall negative experience as well – too generic, too repetitive, not innovative enough – these are all fair complaints in areas that we could improve on.

But in general, in order for it to have had the success that it’s had, and the word of mouth that’s spread thus far, players must generally enjoy their time spent with it, and (according to the analytics at least) it seems like quite a few really enjoy it. This means that what we set out to achieve, we achieved.

Whether that was a worthy goal in the first place, I’m still not entirely sure.

 

Which brings me to the next big change of 2012, partially brought on by this hard-won success, but that has also been in motion for a long time previously. More than ever before, I wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing – why I’m making the games that I’m making, and whether that’s what I should be doing with the limited time I have to exist.

I listen to the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, and this year I heard Cynthia Ozick read Steven Millhauser’s In the Reign of Harad IV. This incredible tale of the evolution of a miniature maker’s craft is so deeply about the act of creation, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Is perfection for the sake of perfection – and for the joyous difficulty of attempting to reach it – really a worthwhile goal?

And – along another track that my thoughts often head down recently – with the eventual but inevitable extinction of humanity and the subsequent erosion of every trace that it ever existed, can a worthwhile goal exist?

That might be getting a little too far ahead of myself.

 

In any case, what I’ve realised at this point is that my current baseline is experiencing the joy of creation, regardless of what I’m creating, and that’s a pretty awesome baseline for a human being to have. Do I need to have burning desire to see the game that I’m developing exist in the world? Or is that baseline enough?

I guess I’ll see if I can find an answer to that in 2013.

On board games and development

I’ve recently gotten pretty heavily into the board game scene – after visiting a friend who introduced me to Carcassonne and Flash Point: Fire Rescue, I went out and grabbed myself copies of Arkham Horror and Space Alert.

Do not mess with disco monkey.

Learning and playing Arkham Horror has slowly been affording me some really interesting insights into game design, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the board game and video game mediums.

The first thing that jumps out to me about board games as a form is strength through necessity of limitation.

A board game needs to be simple and abstracted away enough to not only be understood relatively easily by the player, but also enough for the player to be able to manually drive all the elements of play.

This is probably an incredibly frustrating limitation for board game developers, but the end result is a tightly connected and well organized system conducive to emergent situations. In fact, emergent gameplay seems to be much more a core element of board games as compared to video games; it is mainly the emergent results of interconnected game systems that define a board game’s complexity.

 

Board games by necessity are very tokenized – they take complex systems and abstract them away to something that can be entirely managed and actuated by the player. Due to this fact, the theming of the game systems and elements becomes incredibly important.

Take for example, the Clue tokens in Arkham Horror.

A delicious Clue.

In gameplay terms, Clue tokens represent:

  • a randomly appearing resource that the player can collect.
  • a resource that can be saved up and expended in groups of five in certain situations to increase the group’s chance of winning the game.
  • a resource that can be spent at any time to give the player another die roll on a failed skill check.
The theming of this resource as a “clue” isn’t perfect – why do you spend clues to increase your chances of running away from a monster, or to use your .45 Automatic more effectively? But it works really well in certain situations, such as:
  • You haven’t explored the Historical Society for some time – if you could only make it there, you would find several clues that could help you in your quest to save the town of Arkham.
  • You have carefully explored the board, and have gained enough information about the evil that is attempting to arise in the town of Arkham that you believe you are now able to use your gained knowledge to permanently seal one of the other dimensional gates.

Even this imperfect theming of a gameplay element can still have powerful consequences in the development of the player narrative that is constructed through the course of play.

The large card is turned over to reveal the Great Old One – the horrifying force that, for the duration of this game, is attempting to cross over into our world. (pic by @RussellDilley)

Arkham Horror is a cooperative board game where players struggle against otherworldly forces represented by Mythos cards, which spawn monsters, open gates and suddenly switch up the game in often dastardly ways.

A really interesting advantage of board games over video games related to this is that because the players must manually drive the Mythos elements, they are intrinsically more able to keep up with the intricacies of the game’s systems and its sudden changes.

Due to this fact, these antagonistic forces can be far more chaotic, nuanced and unrelated to the player character’s experience, which engenders a richer play experience as the player characters exist in and are affected by a world that truly does not seem to be catering specifically for them.

This catering to the player is a common issue that I experience when playing many video games. Because the player is focused on their player character and their immediate surroundings, the overarching game systems cannot change subtly or sharply without strongly telegraphing this change to the player character (and therefore to the player); if it does change without telegraphing, the player simply has no idea what is happening, and it takes the player butting heads with the game in order to realign their mental model with what is actually happening in the game world.

 

The culmination of all of these thoughts is a new potential avenue of development with BUREAU.

I’ve been struggling recently with exactly which part of the game to implement next – should I implement more NPC types? Should I add a “quest” structure to the game? Should I attempt to simulate the economy and social infrastructure over the turns of the game?

It seems the best path forward for BUREAU now is to use the limitations of board games to get the initial game systems and elements into place. If I treat its development as if I were making a board game, I won’t be tempted into diving deeper into the simulation before I have the gameplay down, and I will be focusing on getting the core gameplay mechanics and pieces interacting correctly with (hopefully) interesting emergent results and decisions for the player.

Once I have an initial, playable implementation of this, I can then use the expansive power of video games to delve deeper into the sim and player experience – but I will hopefully be able to pick and choose where I implement this depth, to keep things simple where they don’t need to be complex.

This is kind of back to the drawing board, but in a good way I think. I’m going to spend the next few working days on defining the “tokens” and overarching systems of the game, and then attempt to implement a working version of it in the game engine.

We’ll see how it goes!

BUREAU

Hey there! Like usual I haven’t updated this blog for ages, so I thought I’d do a post on the prototype I’m working on at the moment.

BUREAU is kind of similar to Civ, but with an tight focus on individual characters. You’re the leader of an secret society of magi in medieval France, and your task is to grow the Order as you see fit, while keeping out of the crosshairs of the Church, whose Knight Templars are completely immune to magic.

I’ve got several ideas for which direction to take it actually, and that describes one of them… I’m trying to focus on core gameplay and prototyping first, and then grow the game from there.

The gameplay will be management focused, as you train up apprentices into fully fledged magi, assign tasks to your magi (like enchantment, research or information gathering), and react to events like dragon attacks, rogue magi or plagues.

Visually it’ll be pretty abstracted, the idea being that the game gives you just enough information for your imagination to fill in the blanks. It won’t be completely text-based, but will probably be pretty text heavy. This is partly because I feel like that’s an interesting avenue for development, and partly to avoid having to make heaps of art.

I’m making it in OpenTK using C#, which means that I should theoretically be able to build it to PC, Mac and Linux, although so far I’ve only got a working PC build.

Where I’m at at the moment:

Screenshot of BUREAU prototype.

I’ve got the map working, and you can command the magi to go to different locations, and then hit the End Turn button (that weird square in the bottom right corner) to make them go there. Next up I think I’ve got to get some kind of “information card” working so that you can click on a magus and get their information. I also realised today that I haven’t actually planned out the system of magic, so I spent a bit of time on that, but will probably need to spend some more.

I’m working on this in my spare time, so no idea how long until I’ve got a playable build somewhere… it’s a project I started as a pure hobby/fun thing, but I am starting to get the feeling that I miiight actually be able to get it to the point that it’ll be playable.

It is pretty experimental, and there are a definitely a few obstacles that I’m going to hit – I still don’t really know what you’re going to be spending most of your time actually doing in the game, or what the flow is going to be like. It’s been fun so far though!