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This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Ageism to the Downfall of Neopets
This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Ageism to the Downfall of Neopets
August 25, 2014 | By Mark Filipowich

August 25, 2014 | By Mark Filipowich
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Indie, Design, Business/Marketing

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Mark Filipowich on topics ranging from the economic downturn of Neopets to ageism in the game industry.

Economics and Faerie Magic

On The Mary Sue, Victoria McNally reflects on Neopets’ economic history since its 1999 release:
In Neopets, the rising rate of neopoints got particularly bad as it expanded. The trend didn’t go unnoticed, either; as early as June 2001, many economically savvy users noted in the Neopian Times that inflation was occurring and might need intervention to balance itself out… [suggesting] the site is now “a horrifying and disturbing look into the faults of late capitalism and the unfettered exploitation inevitable in unregulated economic systems[…]”

Zombies Ate My Culture

At Paste Maddy Myers reflects on the pre-9/11 anxieties represented in the original Resident Evil along with what would now be considered its genre-defying message of cooperation, "Most strikingly, however, the original Resident Evil differs from post-90s-era zombie videogames because it does not have a libertarian message."

To compare how zombies have changed, take a look at Reid McCarter’s analysis of The Last of Us as a conflict between “the Apollonian virtues [of Joel] (logic, individuality, denial) and Ellie the Dionysian (chaos, universality, acceptance).”

Lastly (and not technically involving zombies), Dan Whitehead of EuroGamer hopes that Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s collaboration on the next Silent Hill will bring back the weirdness of Silent Hill 2.

First-Person Whistleblower

Kill Screen’s Christ Priestman talks to Nicky Case about Israel aggression in the Gaza strip and police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri and how they relate to his upcoming game about citizen journalism.

Case hopes that his game will illustrate how controlling the narrative of something like escalating police violence in Ferguson controls how people understand the event: especially given how mainstream news outlets failed to broadcast what went on.

Battlefield: USA

Speaking of Ferguson, EA’s upcoming first-person shooter, Battlefield: Hardline has been scrutinized by a number of writers for its indifference and outright enthusiasm for the “warrior cop” figure seen in so many images of Ferguson over the last week.

Mike Williams of USgamer warns that "Life Imitates Art":
Battlefield: Hardline plays on the growing militarization of the police, showing scenes of all-out war between heavily-armed police and criminals. It's a war game in a different skin, something that should probably disturb us more than it does.

His concern is that Hardline equates police with soldiers and cities with warzones.

Meanwhile, in an article for the Paris Review, Kevin Nguyen is disquieted by how nonchalant the game appears to be toward police violence: “Simply put: as a cop in Hardline, you have the choice of killing people or not. The decision is entirely dependent on your mood.”

More Conflict

Mike Joffe investigates the relationship between conflict minerals and electronics on his blog, Video Games of the Oppressed. It’s well researched piece covering a topic that often gets ignored in both gaming and tech circles (Content warning: discussions of rape and slavery):
The current climate of phone consumption encourages people to upgrade and replace phones as often as possible. This is mirrored in the video game industry, where the lifespan of consoles is ever shrinking in favor of increasingly incremental upgrades. Even activist groups admit that recycling, even on a colossal scale, can not approach meeting the current demand.

Won't Someone Think of the Gamers?

(Content warnings for this section: sexist language, harassment, stalking.)

Zoe Quinn (you might remember her as the woman who helped create Depression Quest, a free resource designed to help people through mental illness) is under attack for an alleged professional transgression.

For the last week a hate campaign including a number of prolific videogame personalities has coordinated harassment of both Quinn and her friends and colleagues. In Quinn's own words:
Suddenly I don’t have any right to privacy or basic dignity. Suddenly I don’t get to live out normal parts of life, like going through a bad and ugly breakup in private. I have forfeited this by being a blip in a small community, while those who delight in assailing me hide behind their keyboards and a culture that permits it, beyond reproach.

My life and my body are not public property. No one’s life and body are public property.

In response, Liz Ryerson sifts through the 4chan forums where Quinn’s harassers lurk and analyses the conservative extremism behind their thinking.
the idea of trusting the word of a frighteningly narcissistic ex who's out to ruin her reputation is fine with them, because it meshes with their worldview. suddenly they have a convenient situation that explains away all their disillusionment and misgivings with themselves and game culture.

At The Border House, Zoya Street dissects how prominent video game personality TotalBiscuit, in discussing the harassment campaign against Quinn, has leveraged his privilege to deflect criticism.

Luke Pullen, on the other hand, looks at how gamer culture at large has taken literal fascist leaps of reasoning to protect the purity of videogames as an institute.

(End content warning section.)

Rules of Engagement

Lana Polansky pens a reminder that harassers are not entitled to a place in the conversation, adding that comment sections do less to democratize discourse and more to distract people from making a point of their own.

Elsewhere, Mattie Brice offers some practical advice to those wishing to help:
Instead of ‘how can I solve oppression for every person on the planet,’ start close to home; are you doing things for your loved ones? Have you sat down with the people in your life you know are minoritized and had meaningful conversations about these topics and how you could contribute to their safety? Do they even know they can come to you in the first place about these sorts of issues?

A Culture Fit

David Mullich, a long-time game developer, writes on Gamasutra about his experience with ageism in the industry, dispelling many of the myths associated with older developers and pointing out the ridiculous anxieties that prevent older devs from being hired.

At The New York Times Chris Suellentrop salutes a number of women who are a neglected part of game development history.

Things I Couldn’t Connect with a Bad Pun

Mathew Burns uses an analogy of a consumer-king and his board of advisors to break down the consumerist logic behind the gamer-reviewer relationship.

Wendi Sierra examines Always Sometimes Monsters, cautiously applauding it for “attempting to tackle serious issues” while critiquing it for “coming off as too exaggerated to be relatable.”

Dennis Scimeca praises the educational value of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago and Oregon Trail.


So as you can see this week has been a bit of a downer. But if you’re looking to lighten your mood you can submit a humorous takedown of your favourite game for Patrick Lindsey’s Crit Roast.

As ever, Critical Distance depends on its readers to submit links to critical writing by email or by Twitter! And if you’d like to support us further you can help us keep growing by contributing to our Patreon. Thanks for stopping by.

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Carl Chavez
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I don't consider myself a conservative, and I'm certainly not a Male Rights Activist, but I do have issues with how the gaming media is handling certain aspects of the Zoe Quinn issue. Why are they casually dismissing the harassment claims by Wizardchan, The Fine Young Capitalists, Wolf Wozniak, and others against Zoe Quinn and her associates? It doesn't seem fair, since those tactics when applied to women are quickly (and it can be argued, appropriately) pounced upon by the same members of the media. For example, this very digest page refers to Zoya Street's recent blog post that somehow takes TotalBiscuit's relatively level-headed post about the wrongness of DMCA takedowns as censorship and the collusion that definitely exists in not just gaming media, but all media, and conflates the post into misogyny and threats without actually pointing out the evidence in his post that shows how she arrived to her conclusions. (Even the phrases that she put into quotation marks don't actually appear in his post.) I'm willing to ignore much of the conspiracy theory stuff, but I'm not willing to ignore the hypocrisy of the gaming community when they ignore claims of harassment, regardless of the gender of the claimants, and when they are willing to demonize some people but not willing to humanize one of their own.

Leonardo Ferreira
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If you have been accompanying Critical Distance in the last months, you would have noticed that they have a strong political bias, which is quite an irony, considering their name.

Sadly, this is not anymore harrassment or equality, but the single narrative that the current games media adopted; an us vs. them, manicheist approach, in which everyone that disagrees with what is being said is wrong. Don't expect self-criticism from them when you can blame the boogeyman of the internet masses.

Even sadder, this political stance is drenched in hipocrisy; there constant talks of privilege and inequality, and yet, this are all largely north-americans, imposing their home-grown politics of gender, race and politics on what is a global community, and a global debate. Fine Young Capitalists is a Colombian endeavour, for instance, so don't think is an accident; there are larger groups of "minorities", being ignored simply because they are not close enough to the center.

The nature of the digital discourse mean that every response have to be considerated in many levels, as the truthfulness of an argument is always in question; but it seems the people in charge of emiting and moderating the main messages are too confortable in blaming the Other.

Chris Book
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Because, while 4chan has the capacity to do rational things like back TFYC and show how hypocritical Zoe's camp is, they also go way too far with harassment and managed to set her up as the perfect victim. So instead of being able to focus on all the unethical things she's been doing, she is now beyond criticism thanks to the idiots that threatened her and her family.

Also as much as I hate TotalBiscuit, he did NOT harass Zoe Quinn. At all. He called her out for abusing DMCA to silence critics. Calling that harassment is beyond disgusting.

Kyle Redd
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"At The Border House, Zoya Street dissects how TotalBiscuit, one of the aforementioned videogame personalities involved in harassing Quinn, has leveraged his privilege to deflect criticism."

Umm.... What? Where and how has TotalBiscuit harassed Quinn in any way? I've read his entire piece on the matter ( twice now, and I must be missing something. I hope you can point out exactly what the problem is, or issue a correction.

Yama Habib
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Agreed, Zoya's blog post was baseless, emotionally-driven tripe. It read like an opinion piece on creationism.

She's free to write what she wants, but I thought more highly of Gamasutra than to encourage that kind of vapid discourse.

Christian Nutt
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In response to comments here, in another story, and via email:

1. Mark Filipowich is not a Gamasutra staffer; he curates This Week in Video Game criticism for Critical Distance. He also reprints his blogs on Gamasutra, but we have an open blog system.

2. It's a roll of links to externally produced critical blogs and articles and not our internal content. We offer it so as to provide links to game writing that does not appear on Gamasutra to our readers, as a service.

3. Filipowich's statement seems to be an accurate representation of Zoya's piece and also seems to be the sum total of what he's said about Bain in the context of this installment of TWIVGC.

Statement follows: "At The Border House, Zoya Street dissects how TotalBiscuit, one of the aforementioned videogame personalities involved in harassing Quinn, has leveraged his privilege to deflect criticism."

4. As far as Street's piece goes, it's, again (a) externally linked and hosted and (b) while deeply critical does not appear to me to cross any ethical lines that would merit its total exclusion from TWIVGC.

Kyle Redd
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Thank you for replying Christian. I disagree with how you are interpreting that line as representing Zoya Street's editorial, rather than being Mark's own opinion. And I think most others who read it would concur. I understand that Mark is not a Gama staffer, but I hope it would not be too much to ask to at least send him a message to request that he *clarify* that statement to make it clearer what he intended to convey, one way or the other.

Christian Nutt
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On reflection, I think this aspect of his comment: "TotalBiscuit, one of the aforementioned videogame personalities involved in harassing Quinn" is not accurate and will edit it from this version of this post.

To my knowledge, while Bain has been openly critical of Quinn and made statements that could be considered to INDIRECTLY legitimize harassment, he has not DIRECTLY harassed her, and the statement could easily be read that way.

Further, it does not seem Street meant to imply he had directly harassed Quinn either.

Kyle Redd
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I very much appreciate you following up. The edited version is fair.

I personally feel that not only did Bain not harass Quinn with his editorial, either directly or indirectly, he didn't even accuse her of any wrongdoing. The entire piece is carfully worded to make clear that Bain doesn't actually know what happened; he is only commenting on what others are claiming.

In any case. Thank you again for looking at this.