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'Nobody wants your cock,' and other highlights from the Rant Apocalypse
'Nobody wants your cock,' and other highlights from the Rant Apocalypse
March 20, 2014 | By Kris Graft

March 20, 2014 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design, GDC

For the 10th year running, GDC hosted its annual rant session, where people who are involved with video games publicly air their grievances.

Jason Della Rocca with Execution Labs and independent developer Eric Zimmerman hosted the event once again this year. It’s a difficult session to cover, with its rapid-fire ideas and presentations that border on performance art, but here are the highlights.

After Della Rocca reviewed 10 years of rants, Zimmerman played an interesting game: He revisited past problems that ranters ranted about back in 2005, and then evaluated whether or not those problems were still present in 2014. If the problems still existed, the point went to 2005 — if they’ve been adequately addressed, the point went to 2014. Here were the results:

Game industry veteran and Loot Drop senior game designer Greg Costikyan afterwards took the stage to explain that while there have been great opportunities and successes for independent game developers to make and sell games, “the walls are closing in once more.” Platform holders, whether it’s Facebook or Microsoft or Sony, put business before the passion of making games, he argued. “Apple doesn't care about games. Google doesn't care about games. Facebook doesn't care about games. Valve may care about games – but my bet is that they care about money more,” he said.

“How many of you go to work every day thinking, ‘I want to maximize shareholder value’?” Of course, no one in the audience answered in the affirmative. Game developers go to work thinking of making the best game possible, he said.

Independent game developer Justin Hall ( said there’s plenty of things to complain about, but his concern today is that due to the nature of online and digitally-distributed games, when a company closes down or a game is shut off, often the games simply cease to exist. And it’s not just the games themselves that are lost, but the work and the lessons learned by game developers who work on ill-fated games.

He encouraged game developers to not only preserve the work that went into a game, but to share it using the Twitter hashtag “#OGDY,” which stands for "Open Game Data Yes."

“It’s pronounced ‘Oh goody,’” said Hall. “You can be timeless, you can be an example, you can be a role model. Your games can live beyond their shelf life.”

“Share and discover your source code, player data, financials with #OGDY,” he said. “Be excellent to each other.”

Ian Bogost is an author, critic, game designer and professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. His presentation was “‘Taxonomy of Extinct Terrestrial Tribes’ (A microfiction),” in which some type of scientist or researcher looks back at this extinct race, some of whom were known as “developers.” In this dystopian era, games had become less about entertainment and art, and more about monetary transactions.

“While historians agree that ancient works like Civilization and chess still provided inspiration, games primarily became a specialized form of banking,” read Bogost in the voice of the fictional researcher.

Heather Chaplin, founding director, for the Journalism & Design Program at The New School joined by pre-recorded video, and took to task developers who create “games” that are merely digitized Skinner Boxes.

She touched on the the free-to-play market’s use of the term “whales” for the users who pay the most money towards a free-to-play game. "“Whales” is also what casinos call the big spenders.

"When you're taking something from the slot machine industry, you really have to ask yourself what kind of moral ground you're standing on,” Chaplin said. “This trend [of Skinner Box design] is actually not only morally reprehensible, but actually bad for business if you just design down the hole leading to addiction.”

SpyParty developer Chris Hecker took the stage next, and after duct-taping Della Rocca and Zimmerman together (yes that happened), pointed out how many great games came out in the last year — games that were by different kinds of people, commenting on different types of subject matter through games.

Hecker seemed more content than usual, so he said he’d run a RantStarter campaign to get some new rant material. He’s already got support from Double Fine’s Tim Schafer:

Commentating on free-to-play business models, he actually stopped his presentation mid-sentence, when this slide came up (he didn’t continue till someone in the audience gave him a dollar):

Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris is founder of The Tiniest Shark, developer of the game Redshirt, a game that’s about social networking on a spaceship that also serves as actual social commentary.

Khandaker-Kokoris said she “fucked up” when she didn’t leave a trigger warning for one of the playable races (a race that was a commentary on the sexy green alien female trope), which attracted unwanted advances from certain characters in the game (see more about that here).

Khandaker-Kokoris explained the reason for updating the game with a trigger warning by first defining what happens when someone is “triggered” (“It’s evoking a physical and/or emotional response to a survived trauma or sustained systemic abuse”) and by explaining why they are important.

“Trigger warnings mitigate harm,” she said. “Art should never be at the expense of the people you’re advocating.” She added that when a person is triggered, it does not mean that the person is just made angry or sad about a topic or situation. When a person is triggered, they feel real physical symptoms.

She doesn’t see the inclusion of such warnings as compromising her artistic vision, nor does she see trigger warnings as some effort to be politically correct. “Trigger warnings are about inclusivity,” she said. “As a game developer and human being, I choose to give a shit about people.”

Frank Lantz is a long-time game developer and also director of NYU’s Game Center. To get the gist of his talk, just say “You’re doing it wrong…” and finish with any of the following:

- If you aren’t proud of the game your’e working on
- If you set the difficult to easy so you can see all the content
- “Mediums” (this is not the plural of “medium,” he stresses)
- If there aren’t any games that you love
- If you can’t summarize your opponent’s position and give the best existing arguments for it
- If you run on your last click
- If you think everyone else is doing it wrong.
- If you are flat broke. (“Overcome the anxiety we all feel about money,” Lantz said.)
- If everyone is mad at you
- If you’re sitting in a giant beige box and doing PowerPoint

Veteran game designer Brenda Romero of UCSC gave a powerful, blunt talk regarding sexual harassment in the game industry and urged people not to blame the victims of sexual harassment.

She started off by bringing up the ugly incident involving a game journalist whose brilliant plan to get information out of a developer was to harass her on Facebook by saying things like “I will kiss your vagina.”

Romero took to task the people (often men) who said what the victim should have done — that she should’ve been more blunt and just said “stop it.” But when you do that, you’re blaming the victim, and putting the pressure on the victim to control a negative situation that she did not choose — or want — to be in.

“Stop blaming the victims,” she said.

Romero also told of another disturbing incident, this time involving herself. (I suppose I might need to insert a trigger warning here for sexual harassment!)

Romero explained how she was in the lobby of a hotel during GDC, having what she thought was an interesting and enlightening conversation with a colleague she respected. The other person then moved his jacket, which was on his lap, to show that he had an erection, right there — in his pants, but there.

She left, and went back to the conference. “I felt like a deer in the fucking headlights,” she said. “And we know what happen to deer.”

Part of her point was that in awful situations like that, you don’t know how you might react. But one thing is for sure. “Nobody wants your fucking cock, ok?" she said angrily. "Nobody.”

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Mark Velthuis
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“Stop blaming the victims” small note on this : People often don't tell these victims what they should have done in order to blame or pressure them, but rather for support and advice hoping that the person will be less vulnerable in case it happens again. It's not allways the case tho, but keep these intentions in mind before you take it as blame.

And for those trying to give advice, try to avoid those particular words "should have done". Rather use words like "If it happens again", this makes it sound more like advice/preparation. "Kick him in the balls" tends to work in some situations aswell :p

Nathan Destler
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While I understand this attitude, and the desire for someone to be able to make themselves safer, in practice that's not how giving advice comes across. If someone is harassed and then you give them unsolicited advice on how they should've handled it, or how they should handle it in the future, it comes across as criticism and blame no matter how it is intended. That's harmful. More than that, it feels controlling at a time when someone is likely very sensitive to control issues. In other words, don't do it. I realize that many (not all) people who give this sort of advice mean well, but that is not how it's generally received.

Mark Velthuis
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So when would you consider it a good moment to give people advice ? Or should we just never give advice to other people unless specifically asked for ?

Katy Smith
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You don't. At least not until it's asked for. Here's a personal anecdote:

I remember getting "sexual harassment prevention" crap shoved down my throat in health classes since Middle School. I definitely don't have a problem speaking my mind, so you would think I wouldn't have a problem telling idiots to knock it off when getting harassed. (Spoiler Alert: It's not that easy)

I went to a game development school. In my C++ class, I was the only woman out of 70+ students. Let me be clear that almost all of the other guys in the class were perfectly decent human beings. One day after class, a guy asks me "hey Katy, do you want some gum?" and I say "sure!" assuming he meant bubble gum and not his scrotum, which was currently exposed out of the front of his pants which he was pointing at and laughing. So what did I do? Did I report him to the school? Did I tell him his approach was unwanted and unwarranted? NOPE! I think I went "ugh", rolled my eyes and went elsewhere. Later, I thought of about eleventy thousand ways to tell him to fuck off, but in the heat of the moment, I couldn't think of one.

Later, I was telling a friend about this and he says "why didn't you say something?" and I wanted to punch my friend in the face. Of course I knew what I was supposed to do. But when it's happening, it's not that easy. This Is what was going through my head at the time:
Is this going to make the rest of my time at school miserable?
Can I blow this off and have it go away?
Seriously?! Is this seriously happening right now?
If I tell this guy to go die in a fire, will it make things worse or better?
Great, I'm supposed to report this, and it's late and I didn't technically get hurt or physically harassed, so it would just be my word against his, and it would make the administration get involved and then I'd be labeled "one of those girls" with the rest of the students, and I can just send evil thought vibes his way during class and karma will catch up to him, right?

Any advice after that feels like blaming the victim. Chances are the person discussing the harassment already knows what they are "supposed" to do, and was so taken by surprise that it was happening at the moment. It's a very high-stress experience, and sometimes you handle it well, and other times you just don't want to deal with it.

Mark Velthuis
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Thanks, I'll keep that in mind.

I do think it's a sure fire recipe for a cliche situation tho.
"Why didn't you tell me you had a solution to my problem?"
"Because you never asked"

*shrug* maybe that's just me.

G Irish
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I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that:

A. No one has ever criticized you for 'not telling them you have a solution' to their problem with getting sexually harassed
B. You do not have a solution to sexual harassment

Someone who is ignorant enough to perform unsolicited genitalia exposure is not going to instantly be enlightened no matter what you say. They have a basic lack of respect for boundaries, decency, and the opposite sex. Even if you punched them in the balls that's not going to change their outlook on life.

What possible advice could someone give to Brenda Romero? Don't talk to men about games lest they expose an erect penis? Don't talk to men period? Don't go to GDC without bodyguards?

Your intent in giving advice is noble, but waiting until asked to give your opinion on sexual misconduct would probably be a better way to go.

Andy Lundell
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If there's one thing people love, it's getting 140 characters of unsolicited advice from complete strangers on a serious topic.

Christian Kulenkampff
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@Markus: "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." This is why exposure to diversity (in general) is essential for a peaceful discrimination-aware coexistence in any group and organization. Only exposure to diverse perspectives allows the development of empathy, otherwise we just cling to those who are "like" us (see e.g. publications of Tomasello:

David Canela
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I think a lot of victim blaming/naive hindsight advice (let's be honest "say stop" or anything along those lines is not a genius insight the victim never would have had without external help) most of the time stems from two causes:
A: our fear of losing control. Pushing back when the illusion is shattered that if we just do the right things, say the right stuff, dress the right way, nothing bad will happen to us. It feels very bad to be reminded that sometimes bad stuff just happens and there's nothing you can do about it. So some people reflexively start imagining scenarios and alternative courses of action where bad stuff could somehow have been prevented, had the victim only reacted "the right way".
B: a lack of empathy and understanding (not necessarily malevolent) just how startled one can be when you find yourself in such a situation. And a lack of understanding what is needed at the moment when someone tells you about such an experience. Some of us have problem-solver minds. When we hear about bad situations, our first reaction is to try to offer a solution. But often, that's not really what's being asked of us at that moment.

basically, if you find yourself listening to someone sharing such an experience, think, before you speak: if I were that person, what would I need to hear right now? Is it really advice about how the issue could have been avoided/solved? Probably not.

Mark Velthuis
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Just to clear up some confusion that I think people way have about my post.
Intentional blaming. For example "She shouldn't have worn that slutty outfit".
And unintentional, the kind being discused here.
When I said "keep these intentions in mind", I meant that people should make sure what kind of blaming they are dealing with. I'd say the last thing you want to do is get angry at people who are trying to help, even if it isn't realy helpfull.

Andy Lundell
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Someone can have good intent but ALSO speak based on the assumption that something isn't really a big deal because the victim could have use one weird trick to avoid it.

Steven Bobson
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I'm guessing this whole victim blaming topic came up in this rant because of Jaffe's tweets at the time of the facebook harassment incident. He's a pretty high profile person and was talking a lot about how the woman could have avoided continued harassment by conducting the conversation differently.

I haven't seen anything to indicate that Jaffe thought that the harasser's actions were fine or not a big deal. The big assumption with "victim blaming" is that you're blaming the victim instead of the offender. But this is often a busted assumption... people should try to be a little more thoughtful about it.

Andy Lundell
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Did Chris Hecker have 1¢ ready in change for the in-presentation-purchase?

K Gadd
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I'm told he did.

Neil Kirby
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He did indeed have a penny, but only one.

Jon Manning
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I'm the person who paid $1.00 for him to continue. He gave me 1¢ change. I still have it.

Robert Grant Stanton Sr
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That's one of those moments, Brenda, when a hot cup of coffee in front of you would have provided a memorable end to that story.

Neil Kirby
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Nice try. Giving advice after the fact is not helpful, it's wistful thinking.

Brenda clearly mentioned a huge disparity in power.
She mentioned being very shocked.

So she's supposed to think up a workable confrontational response on the spot?
So she's supposed to escalate to physical assault?
So she's supposed to jeopardize her career over it?
She's to run that calculus in real time, with no prep, whilst shocked?

Yes, coffee would have been memorable. An assault charge even more so. A "he-said, she-said" saga for the ages might be impossible to forget. A terminated career not so much.

Here's the rule, and it's hard for guys:
Offer the victim support, not advice.

(In other words, fix the perpetrators, not the victims)

Robert Isaac
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Actually, yes, Brenda is supposed to run that calculus in real time whilst shocked. You tell us to to fix the perpetrators yet allow the victim to skate off without reporting the perpetrator to whoever handles such things.

Granted, she gave us a nice pithy remark to reuse in sexual harassment training, but she is more than capable of reporting the behavior and not playing the part of shocked victim.