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636.x600.ft.muppetsOne of the most common spurious defences against #Gamergate’s appropriate concerns about censorship is to dismiss those concerns as ‘Criticism isn’t censorship’. Now, technically, that is true, but the trouble is that what most people understand by ‘criticism’ is now what your ‘SJW’ means by it.

Criticism

As most of us would understand the term ‘criticism’ we would think of it in terms of ‘The analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work’. So a film critic watches a film and gives their assessment of its plot, cinematography, storytelling prowess, acting, set design and so forth. We might also think of this in terms of ‘constructive criticisms’. Offering reasoned, valid analysis with the hopes of making things better.

Art is parasitic on life, just as criticism is parasitic on art.
- Harry S Truman

Literary Criticism

Literary criticism, by contrast, is ‘The study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature.’ While it’s called literary criticism, it can be applied to many different art forms including games and films. The emphasis is on interpretation. The trouble with literary criticism, and the related field of literary theory, is that it is all completely subjective – sometimes wilfully so – and as such its interpretations are only really true for the individual applying it. They can tell you essentially nothing about the work itself, only about the person doing the interpreting.

Literary theory is essentially a set of ‘lenses’ through which literary criticism can be applied. A literary critic using feminist theory, for example, might subject a piece of art to examination based on the Bechdel test or unsupported hypotheses such as objectification. Obviously, to use these lenses it to deliberately and wilfully invite a huge amount of subjective bias, something not normally invoked in any serious study or academic discipline, which usually strives for objectivity – insomuch as is possible.

Literary criticism need not be entirely useless. It may be able – in aggregate – to help us understand how people interpret different symbols, metaphors, similes, music, palettes etc, but in individual cases it remains largely useless (save for understanding the critic) and relies overmuch on the arrogant conceit of ‘death of the author’.

Isaac Asimov repeated in several places an anecdote based on this: He once sat in (in the back of a large lecture hall, so semi-anonymously) on a class where the topic of discussion was one of his own works. Afterward, he went up and introduced himself to the teacher, saying that he had found the teacher’s interpretation of the story interesting, though it really wasn’t what he had meant at all. The teacher’s response was “Just because you wrote it, what makes you think you have the slightest idea what it’s about?”

Critical Theory

Critical theory is defined (OED) as: ‘A philosophical approach to culture, and especially to literature, that considers the social, historical, and ideological forces and structures which produce and constrain it.’

As with literary criticism (to which critical theory is in part related) the problem with this is that it tells you more about the critic (or the ideology they are using) than the subject of the criticism itself. This philosophical lens that they apply is distorting to such a degree that it can only really tell you something useful about a product that derives from that same philosophical basis.

Critical theory is also steeped in Cultural Marxism, stemming as much of it does, from the Frankfurt School of sociopolitical thought. As such it was originally predicated upon the idea that fictional and cultural constructs are operating tools of oppression that shape a culture, rather than deriving from it. In cases of cults, closed societies or propagandist totalitarianism this may be valid, but in a pluralistic media landscape it’s clearly nonsense.

Modern critical theory, at least as applied by activists, applies the same idea to a wide variety of different causes and ideologies and takes it further. Any examination or attempts to understand the topic in question are to be ‘deplatformed’ lest they cause damage.

Conclusion

True, actual, criticism strives for objectivity and distance. It assesses an artistic artefact on its own terms and adjudges its success. Some of these matters are subjective, some are objective (especially when it comes to games).

Literary criticism is entirely subjective and as such can tell you little or nothing about the artefact or product in question – and a great deal about the critic. Literary criticism is not ‘this is…’ but rather ‘I think…’ or ‘this made me feel…’ This has no real place in a consumer review and is of the quality and type you’d get in a small conversation with friends.

Critical theory only tells you about the ideology of the critic, not the quality, intent, execution or true nature of the artefact being assessed. It’s literary criticism writ large. Of the three literary criticism is probably the most ‘problematic’ (to coin a phrase) as it relates media content to real social problems, apparently as a means of justification for not liking something. As such it transmutes a matter of taste into a matter of policy, which is then used to justify censorship, control and limitation.

Lit crit and crit theory have their place in commercial product assessment – in editorials. If you want to know about the actual product, stick with those who simply and purely are critics.

The_2de74d_2130342 (1)

grim-9Back from holiday in the US. A much needed break after another scrape with self harm and a deep attack of depression that could have claimed my life. Sadly, this has become ‘normal’ after a fashion, so much so that when people were coming up to me at IndieCon and expressing gratitude I was confused momentarily what they were talking about.

I’m mostly OK now and my therapist thinks I’m in the clear, but has also recommended I take four day weeks from now on, for the foreseeable future. This sounds great, I’m sure to a lot of you, but I find it very hard not to be doing something. It’s bad enough that I’m only really capable of working half days on a single project, losing a day will help my energy, but not the amount of work I’m doing.

Things are tough. I’ve – somewhat – taken a step backward from Gamergate involvement to be a bit more ‘aloof’ but the cause is still engaging and extremely important, so it’s hard to leave it alone. It is just… frustrating to be constantly and consistently – wilfully – misunderstood and misrepresented. It’s also incredibly disappointing that people I otherwise respect are falling for propaganda and misreprentation and seem to have so little respect for free expression and the preservation thereof.

Its hard to judge when things quite got this bad, and its depressing to contemplate, but the usual problem plagues us with people talking past each other or arguing entirely different subjects. This is made especially difficult by semantics. The opposition has redefined a huge number of words in bizarre ways that bear little or no relation to their actual meaning. In some contexts this makes sense (scientific meaning of theory) but in many of these arenas the specialist language doesn’t exist to clarify, but to confuse.

Speaking of which, I intend to make a post or video (or both) making clear the difference between actual criticism, literary criticism and critical theory at some point soon, since people are masquerading censorship and calls therefore behind ‘criticism’.

I’m very tired bloggery chums. Very tired of this chain of harassment and fighting that has been going on for so long now. Accusations hurt, not because they necessarily have any meat to them but as we have seen with Gamergate, because people listen to them and then don’t amend what they think in the face of evidence. Emotive arguments void of substance are, unfortunately, effective.

Since publishing ‘In Defence of Rape’ I’ve been force-fed an overdose of what some of the crazier end of the internet call ‘red pills’. I’ve always considered myself a progressive chap, in The Enlightenment sense (advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition) but increasingly find myself at odds with those who say they are progressive, but who in many ways seem to be quite the opposite. Disturbingly I find myself increasingly on the side of the Libertarian right, at least so far as social issues go (minority and gay rights, drug legalisation, free expression etc) despite being a left-anarchist and a pragmatic socialist.

Looking out there at the world, the arch conservatism of many college and university campuses, groups like No More Page 3 etc, extremists like Gail Dines being given the time of day and fuelling spurious moral panic against sex workers and adult performers to force censorship upon them. Seeing companies de-list and hide adult or difficult content, seeing payment services refusing to cooperate with those who sell similar materials, forcing them to use services that gouge them mercilessly. Seeing the deeply anti-sex slant that so much modern feminism etc has taken is shocking and appalling. 50+ years of sexual liberation and hard-won freedom seems to be being rolled back and curtailed based on nothing more than some people’s offence – though they characterise it as social ills.

Why I’m so into Gamergate is because it finally represents a genuinely liberal fight back against this state of affairs and while the battle and hostility is exhausting (and increasingly dangerous) gains have started to be made in terms of ethical policies and alternative sites and businesses springing up. Maybe that will turn out to be the best way forward, but it’s going to leave the main problems that led to all this unaddressed.

I was asked to relate all the horrible shitty things that have been done to me in relation to Gamergate and events before it, but given recent attempts to fuck with me that have been escalating, I don’t really want to do it again. People can find out for themselves if they care that much. The recent harassment has included apparent impersonation online and having a provocative item sent to my home address.

Even with all that and everything else that has happened to me I haven’t had it as bad as some GG people who have lost their jobs, lost their partners (from false accusations) been beaten up, thrown out of their homes, SWATed (having police sent to their homes) and being doxxed.

Its still worth it, but it takes a toll. Most especially, out of all of it, dealing with friends who can’t seem to tell which is the right side to be on.

I don’t really know what to say. Anything seems trite and stupid and I feel ashamed and stupid about letting this happen to me.

It was a perfect storm of things that lead to this.

A low ebb in the natural ebb and flow of depression.

Two days of headaches, stomach upset and not eating properly.

I have been profoundly, soul-deep, disappointed in so many creative people being against Gamergate and believing what they’re told by its enemies and that has crushed my spirit, especially when its people whose back I’ve had or who I’ve given support in the past.

I’ve been fighting some of the aspects of this same battle in tabletop games and fiction for years now and, thanks to my involvement in Gamergate people have been dredging up old, nonsense accusations against me and dragging my name through the mud. This happens every time and every time there’s more of it and no matter how often you deal with it, it springs back up.

I try, very hard, to be a good, principled man and when people are endlessly repeating false accusations of bigotry or rape apology it’s a stab in the soul

I was also, bullied, horribly, for years when I was a kid/teen. So, make of that what you will.

Being called a ‘madman’ – while perhaps more accurate than the person meant – didn’t help either.

I thank you all so much for caring so much and coming together. I understand a bunch of you gave a lot of money to a suicide prevention charity and that is a fantastic thing, as has been the effort to fund anti-bullying campaigns. I’m going to try and keep – and print out – many of your positive, caring messages to read through next time I feel low.

Inevitably some people have been saying I am lying, or that I deserve to feel bad, or trying to get mileage out of switching gears and being concerned when they’re the self-same people contributing to the problem. If it’s given them pause and highlighted hypocrisy, good, but forgiveness doesn’t come that easy I’m afraid.

Maybe later on, once I’ve recovered and am back in the country I can reach across the divide to someone similarly affected on the other side of the argument and we can get something productive out of a bad time for lots of people.

I’m staying out for a while, and we’re supposed to be going away to the US next week, just in time to catch ebola, so I’ll be out for some time but maybe I’ll be back after that. I don’t see things stopping any time soon.

I’ll try to honour my appearance on KingOfPol’s stream on Sunday, but no absolute promises. I just don’t like letting people down. I’ll understand if people want to ask about what happened, but let’s keep that to a minimum please.

I don’t expect special treatment because of my illness any more than someone with a physical disability and I don’t want my breakdown used as a weapon either. Just look out for each other and be the best representatives of Gamers, or their opposition, you can be.

I am Grim, I have severe depression and I am Not Your Shield, but I am Not Your Sword either.

Bayonetta2banner

In a stroke of massive good fortune, since I’ve been wanting to do this as an exercise for a while, Polygon have published a heavily politicised review of Bayonetta 2.

We played Bayonetta and loved it despite of (because of?) the bizarre and meaningless plot, the hyper-stylisation and how ridiculously over the top it is. We even got the edition with the little gun in the wire stand.

So, anyway, here’s an exercise in de-politicising a review. Red text is me altering/adding/removing material.

BAYONETTA 2 REVIEW: HEAVEN AND HELL

Bayonetta 2 is unapologetically, even defiantly old-school.

This is a knife that cuts both ways.

Developer Platinum Games has once again gone for broke, creating an action game of spectacle so big that it’s occasionally incomprehensible. Bayonetta 2 is the kind of game where you might ask, seriously, why you’re not allowed to strap a massive multi-bladed scythe to your high heels. It’s extravagant, like the golden age of Japanese action games never ended, like that arms race just escalated on and on.

It’s also the kind of game that left me asking how many times and how many different ways developer Platinum could run a camera up the main character’s spread legs and cleavage.  

On one side of the knife

Bayonetta 2 is a character action game that refines the incredible combat foundations of the original Bayonetta and avoids the lack of variety that dragged it down in the last third.

On the other, the deliberate sexualization and objectification on display serves as a jarring distraction from the creativity and design smarts elsewhere.

STRANGE THINGS ARE AFOOT IN BAYONETTA 2
Set an indeterminate though presumably short time after Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2 opens in what looks like New York City during Christmas, though, honestly, this doesn’t matter all that much. Within minutes, Bayonetta is back to her old tricks, fighting off monstrous angelic enemies atop a fighter jet.

This is not even remotely the strangest thing that happens in Bayonetta 2.

There’s a plot driving Bayonetta 2, theoretically, though you might be hard-pressed to explain it until most of the way through. How much you get from that narrative will likely hinge on how much you like anime staples like overwrought, over-dramatic dialogue and nonsensical non-sequiturs. There is some stuff to like, though. Bayonetta gets some much-needed development as a human being who cares about things other than herself; her motivations go beyond the agonizingly trope-y amnesia setup of the first game. It’s a good look for the character.

Less positive is the same exaggerated sexualization that hung heavy around the last game’s neck. I’ll forgive the high heels and the exaggerated proportions, if only because there’s so many other things to criticize. Bayonetta’s new outfit delivers bold new developments in revealing clothing with the introduction of diamond cutouts on the ass of her jumpsuit, creating what I can only refer to as “under-butt” cleavage. When standing in place her shoulders are bent back to point her chest at … whatever.

But even this is minor compared to the game’s camera, which zooms in on Bayonetta’s parts like they’re products being sold in a commercial. There are enough gratuitous ass-shots, cleavage jokes and spread legs to fill an hours long super cut. The camera doesn’t look at Bayonetta — it leers at her.

This is frequently provided as an implicit reward for doing well. For anyone who didn’t play the first game, here’s a bit of premise: Much of Bayonetta’s supernatural power is tied into her hair. Her clothing is actually composed of this hair magic, and as she performs more powerful attacks, more of this hair magic is diverted from covering her to compensate. Put simply, Bayonetta’s strongest attacks result in her clothes flying off. For more intense quicktime sequences, she’ll even do a sexy pose as it flies off, with the absolute barest minimum covered.

It’s sexist, gross pandering, and it’s totally unnecessary.  

Bayonetta 2 needs prurient rewards less than the original Bayonetta did, because the on-screen chaos you can wreak through skilled play is infinitely more satisfying.

Bayonetta 2 has the same basic mechanics of the original. It’s a character action game — meaning that it’s you against enemies who can kill you quickly if you’re not mindful of what’s happening. Proper timing and combo use are important, but Bayonetta 2, like Bayonetta, adds a very specific, very cool wrinkle to the genre: witch time.

MULTIPLAYER
Bayonetta 2 introduces online multiplayer to the series, but it’s a limited implementation. Matches are limited to trials, which blur the lines between cooperative play and competitive design, as each player has their own score and their own in-game currency on the line. Everything works, but at times the mode’s design seems at odds with itself. It’s hard to force yourself to revive a downed partner when it provides an opportunity for you to get your score up even more.

Witch time is invoked by dodging with the right trigger just before an enemy’s attack would connect. When done properly, this turns the world purple and temporarily slows down time around Bayonetta, allowing her free reign to manhandle enemies. Witch time is a luxury early, on, but it’s an absolute necessity later; it forces the kinds of considerations that other action games just don’t. If you want to have a maximum advantage in Bayonetta 2, you have to put yourself in a position to get hit by an enemy, which can be extremely detrimental to your health.

To do well, you have to take bigger and bigger chances. The risk makes the reward even more appealing. There’s also an unforgiving but nonetheless motivating rating system in place that assesses your performance and rewards you with currency to use at an in-game shop. It creates a feedback loop: I wanted to do better to get more stuff to do better and get more stuff. And though Bayonetta 2′s levels are full of secrets and items to pick up and use in battle, even Platinum knows that the excellent combat is the draw — fights are hidden around each level along with pickups, and when you finish a level, you can see whether or not you found them all.

There are also golden LPs hidden around Bayonetta 2, frequently in pieces. Redeeming them at the in-game shop The Gates of Hell rewards you with new weapons, each of which can radically change the way Bayonetta fights. She also has weapon slots on her legs and arms, and many weapons can be used on either (or both, if you’re willing to cough up the cash to buy duplicates), with very different, often surprising results — hence my complaints about not being able to put a scythe on my feet.

Still, you can accessorize your heels with a pair of chainsaw weapons, which turns them into murderous rocket skates. I’d classify that as a reasonable consolation prize.

These systems aren’t new to Bayonetta 2, but the whole package feels a lot more considered. The weapon systems in particular feel more relevant than before — combat trials encourage experimentation with different weapon combinations, which in turn lends itself to more variety in the main game than I experienced in the first Bayonetta.

Bayonetta 2′s difficulty curve is also much less harsh, and I imagine it will feel more accessible to players with less experience in this genre. There’s less time spent fighting the same massive boss monster over the course of half an hour, more time spent moving forward, which eases off on the grind that Bayonetta often became. There are even more collectibles this time around, many of which unlock challenges to be played in the new cooperative mode — though, sadly, this is limited to challenges alone. The sequel is also shorter, though it feels that way in part because of the reduction in retreading and overextended boss battles. Both of these are, to me, net positives.

WRAP UP:
BAYONETTA 2 IS A GREAT GAME
When Platinum Games is on, it’s really, really on, and Bayonetta 2 is in almost any respect that counts a better game than the first, whose mechanics were already exemplary.

But every time I’d feel on a roll, enjoying my time with Bayonetta 2 immensely, I’d be broken out of it by another cheap shot of T&A. I would be wrecking a flock of angelic or demonic enemies, sliding in and out of witch time almost at will, and then the special weapon I had picked up became a literal stripper pole for Bayonetta to dance on, because … well, because, I guess.

I won’t guess why the blatant over-sexualization is still there, often more intensely than before. But it causes an otherwise great game to require a much bigger mental compromise to enjoy.

Bayonetta 2 was reviewed using a “retail” download code provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

Score: 7.5
Wii U

***

OK, back to just me talking now.

Looking at this review the only significant negatives are really the writers politicised reaction to the sexual elements. These are, however, utterly irrelevant to the gameplay, the graphics and for fans of the series they already know what they’re getting. Similarly the ridiculous and over-the-top elements are a selling point, not a detraction. The complaints about the style of presentation are political, not aesthetic and utterly irrelevant to the review of the game. Buzzwords like ‘sexualisation’, ‘objectification’ etc pepper the text, the PoV comments stop just short of mentioning ‘male gaze’ and alienating 50%+ of your audience by demonising them.

There’s a couple of solutions to this if the author feels so strongly about the issue.

  1. Write an editorial about it and publish it separately.
  2.  Include a box-out opinion section in reviews that cover this kind of thing but don’t reflect in the score.

A more general problem seems to be that people are reviewing games of the style/genre they don’t particularly like, which means they can’t give informed and contextual opinions on the games that they’re reviewing. This was hugely obvious previously when it came to Dragon’s Crown when many reviewers spent so long being judgmental they didn’t mention side-scrolling beat-em-up heritage at all, let alone the hugely appropriate referencing of Tower of Doom and Shadows over Mystara.

I think you can do better.

On the plus side, there’s a link to the ethics policy at the bottom.

Given that the main thrust of complaint in the review is a) irrelevant and b) misses the point entirely the 7.5 seems utterly unjustified. Otherwise the complaints seem somewhat niggly, limited to multiplayer and customisation issues.  Given that a score of 9 to 9.5 seems more appropriate and the reviewer seems to have allowed pointless, irrelevant and extreme minority gender politics to fuck up an otherwise fairly glowing review.

C-

See me after class.

BxKJ1VtIUAAGN2bMisleading title, but that’s partially intentional as I want people who are against #gamergate to read this.

You think this is about misogyny, representation of minorities, about the maturing of a medium, about art etc and you think this is about some sort of pushback from a conservative cultural group that embodies – for some reason – everything that you hate.

You think your cause is just and so you think the ends justify the means. Those ends seemingly and possibly include twisting media representations, taking control of academic debate, avoiding peer review, applying pressure via various means, writing hit pieces and failing to question your own conclusions and positions. [See here]

Now, personally, I wouldn’t consider that a conspiracy, it’s just activists trying to do what activists do, but it does contain a lot of underhanded tactics, dogmatic thinking and ethical issues. Trying to avoid peer review? That’s a pretty serious breach of academic ethics that you don’t normally see outside of Creationism, who have also set up their own ‘journals’ to try and legitimise their ideas. This ties in with Anita Sarkeesian here.

I recognise that you think you’re doing the right thing and I agree with you on a lot of your ideas and claims – just not all of them or the way you go about it.

I don’t think there’s anyone in #gamergate who is against more kinds of stories, more kinds of characters, different stories, different approaches and all the rest. Flower, Journey and (less so) Flow all did pretty well with ‘conventional’ gamers. The Last of Us was praised (also damned, showing you can’t win) for its presentation of female characters and story. So this side of things isn’t really the issue aside from a very small fringe of actual misogynists and bigots who genuinely deserve to have those slurs thrown at them.

The issue is the tactics espoused by DiGRA, the dishonesty, the nepotism, the lack of journalistic ethics and – yes – the politicisation of game media and the censorship that goes with it. [See here]

And yes, I know you’ll claim that it’s not censorship because government isn’t involved and its not legally enforced, but I find that to be a very, very narrow understanding of what censorship can be. Self-censorship is a form of censorship and it stems not from government or law, but from the kind of harassment campaigns that ‘social justice warriors’ launch against anyone or anything outside their narrow, political and social ideology. Strangely we never hear complaints about this side of harassment, we only hear when someone gets harassed for ‘speaking out’ and then, usually, only because they’re a woman, the fact that they said or did something awful is never brought up and they’re ‘brave’ and to be looked up to for sticking to their guns, while a publisher who determines to stay gory or sexy in what they produce is not.

Still, this all has a chilling effect on creativity and free expression. People feel less free to make art (even if it is commercial art) that they want to and that is the opposite of your stated goals.

I need you to understand that we on the other side to you, whether devs, journalists, people working in related or unrelated media, and gamers themselves, also think we’re doing good and I happen to think our position is clearer, less muddled and lacks the hypocrisy of your side.

I genuinely believe in free expression and that that freedom includes ‘problematic’ expression. It also covers your right to criticise, of course, but pointing and shouting ‘witch!’, harassing the people who make the materials and infecting reviews with your dogmatic viewpoint is not criticism, plus it leads to shitty reviews. [Satire here]

So long as your agenda is going to be ‘you’re not allowed to like these things and we want to stop them being made’ you’re going to encounter resistance. So long as you try to push the idea that the fictive world of games (books, movies etc) has a real and profound effect on interactions in real life, you’re going to encounter resistance for the same reason Jack Thompson did.

The way you, and everyone, wins is to commit to a world of free expression where games of all kinds can compete in the marketplace of ideas, if not necessarily the economic marketplace. Games like Beyond, Heavy Rain, The Last of Us or the Lara Croft reboot do far more for your ’cause’ than any amount of ideological brow-beating or collusion to try and game the system or avoid peer review. Make good games from your perspective and broaden people’s horizons, rather than shitting all over what other people like and trying to constrict their ability to express themselves.

There’s room in the world for Depression Quest, Dysphoria and Gone Home alongside Grand Theft Auto, Dead Island and, yes, even Battle Raper. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Make more art.

5406911445_13b999a812_zNever, ever, ever, ever use this website to book flights or anything at all.

Here’s our tale of woe.

We’re supposed to be going out to visit a friend in the states this Halloween and in a quest for affordable flights, booked through TravelUp (via Travelsupermarket), without – sadly – doing a proper check to see what reputation they had.

Let’s just say it’s not good.

Let’s also say that it’s not good with good reason.

When we booked a small mistake was made resulting in us having a layover of 12 hours in Washington, we tried to correct this but nobody would call us back or respond to emails, meaning that even though we booked Saturday it wasn’t until today that we finally got through to anyone.

Surprise, surprise they’re not exactly cooperative with fixing anything.

If we cancel the flights we only get £51 back.

If we change our second leg, not even the whole flight, they want to charge us £750, for a flight that only costs £500 in the first place.

They even charge you to call them and deal with their inevitable shenanigans.

At every step they’ve been unhelpful, unresponsive, unwilling and it’s pretty clear they’re scam artists.

Nor are we the only people to have had similar issues. I’m linking to a few stories here:

Never Again

Rude and Unprofessional

Extortion

Please pass this on so nobody else gets suckered, and maybe ask Travelsupermarket why they’re still listing a company under investigation for fraud and extortion.

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