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Assassin’s Creed and Emotionally Resonant Mechanics

By Shamus
on Monday Mar 31, 2014
Filed under:


Link (YouTube)

As part of the Errant Signal Patreon Campaign, Chris promised that if he got above $500 he’d do some extra short-form episodes called short-wave transmissionsThese were originally called “Blips”, but since his vids are shown on Blip.tv, that was kind of confusing., as a way of putting more content out there. He hit that target, so here it is. Except, it’s ten minutes long. Which means instead of doing “an additional short episode” he’s basically doing “an additional episode”. So everyoneExcept Chris. Apparently editing is time-consuming? Who knew? wins, I guess.

Going by the feedback I’m seeing on YouTube, I feel like I ought to build a little flame-shied for this episode. Someone already accused him of being a “Social Justice Warrior”. I see a lot of these kinds of responses from people consuming long-form critical analysis like the kind you get on Spoiler Warning, Experienced Points, Diecast, Super BunnyHop, Errant Signal, or MrBtongue. See, here’s the thing…

I don’t know if it’s an internet thing, a gaming culture thing, or a younger generation thing, but there always seems to be a cluster of people who don’t “get” the purpose of these conversations. They want to reduce opinions on a game to a binary good/bad, and if you’re critical of something they want to boil your thoughts down to some sort of active agenda. The thinking seems to be that games journalist = journalist, and journalist = news reporter, and news reporter = a clear and unbiased delivery of unambiguous factual information. But I’ve never wanted to have anything to do with that sort of journalism. I’m not qualified or interested. I’m an engineer, and a huge portion of my head space is dedicated to identifying, diagnosing, and solving problems. A lot of these other pundits seem to behave the same way. We don’t talk about flaws because we want to bitch and moan and hate everything. We talk about them because that’s where all the interesting thoughts and conversations come from.

Saying that the mechanics of Assassin’s Creed Liberation are dissonant or conflicting with the themes of the game doesn’t mean that the game is bad. It doesn’t mean the game shouldn’t tackle those themes. It doesn’t mean that the mechanics are bad. It certainly doesn’t mean that the game or the designers are racist. It just means that there’s something to think about and discuss. But no matter how many times Chris (or whoever is doing the analysis) says this, there will always be some madman trying to declare the discussion void because the overall product is “good”.

But look. The Two Towers is “good”, inasmuch as it’s part of one of the most important pieces of English Literature in the 20th century. I still skip the pages of songs everyone sings about Boromir.

Adam: I love riding in this convertible, but the wind always messed up my hair. By the time I get where I’m going I look like Doc Brown.

Bob: What is wrong with you? Riding in a convertible is awesome. Why don’t you give yours away if you hate it so much?

Adam: I said I loved it. I’m just pointing out an inherent difficulty in riding in one.

Bob: I’m sorry the laws of physics can’t bend to your whims to protect your precious haircut. Has it occurred to you that maybe some things are more important than whether or not your HAIR looks good? How stupid and petty are you?

Adam: ?!?!?!

And people getting worked up about it seem to be attempting to enforce some sort of system where you’re not allowed to point out imperfections without “balancing” them with… what? I have no idea.

This is not a new problem. I’ve been thinking about it for years. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a solution.


[1] These were originally called “Blips”, but since his vids are shown on Blip.tv, that was kind of confusing.

[2] Except Chris. Apparently editing is time-consuming? Who knew?

Comments (138)

  1. Isy says:

    “Going by the feedback I'm seeing on YouTube”

    Well there’s your problem.

    I sometimes wonder about people who throw around accusatory flames without even trying to rebrand the issue. Is “Social Justice Warrior” supposed to be taken as an insult by anyone reasonable?

    • Henson says:

      You find this stuff everywhere. Even here. Thankfully, the proportions are very different.

    • StashAugustine says:

      “SJW” has undergone a similar mutation as ‘politically correct.’

    • MadTinkerer says:

      I would be pretty insulted if someone said that of me. The reasons why I’m against racism and sexism, etc, have nothing to do with the social justice agenda.

      Because IMHO socialism is socialism whether it’s National Socialism or International Socialism or Rebranded Socialism Plus Certain Pet Causes. But just because one particular awful dehumanizing philosophy has been (ironically) conflated with civil rights, that doesn’t mean the civil rights movement was wrong. Nor is acting like an asshole to people excused by claiming you’re doing it to oppose the socialist agenda.

      Part of the problem of Rebranded Socialism Plus Certain Pet Causes becoming so popular is not just the subtle damage it does on it’s own, but that when it’s the status quo, Rebranded Socialism Plus Certain Pet Causes becomes “the thing” to rebel against for rebelliousness / coolness’ sake. And those Pet Causes, no matter how important they actually are, become tainted by the fact that the socialists try to claim them exclusively, saying that if you hate socialism you hate animals and black people and women and clean air. But acting like no one argues against sexism(&etc) other than to advance the cause of Rebranded Socialism Plus Certain Pet Causes just gives the socialist bastards more fuel to justify what they do because their opponents are lining up and publically declaring how awful they are.

    • AbruptDemise says:

      The “Social Justice Warrior” thing that got thrown at Chris is more because of the large amount of SJWs talking about video games, and SJWs becoming games journalists. So, to these types of people, long, lengthy discussions about video games + any mention of social issues = SJW.

      This is a baaaaaaad time to be talking about video games.

  2. Infinitron says:

    I'm an engineer, and a huge portion of my head space is dedicated to identifying, diagnosing, and solving problems.

    Hmmm, but on the other hand, you tend to focus almost exclusively on “identifying, diagnosing, and solving problems” with regards to narrative and story. That’s an area which the stereotypical “spergy engineer” tends to disregard or not really understand.

    • Derektheviking says:

      This is a total strawman argument. There is no such thing as a “stereotypical Spergy engineer” in the real world, and as someone who has demonstrated something of an affinity for writing, I think we can safely say that Shamus has more than a baseline understanding of narrative artifice, even if he feels that his particular strengths are in analytical thinking. Similarly, there is no wall between art and engineering – a beautiful building has to stand up, allow for sufficient heat and light. There is no fundamental difference between the study of either area, with the exception that since so much art is perception-based, as well as dependent on context, the definitions and “rules” are woolier and more interesting to break.

      • Infinitron says:

        Argument? What argument?

        • Derektheviking says:

          Interesting question, pithily answered by:

          The one into which I entered when I posted a reply


          “ar·gu·ment (är”²gyÉ™-mÉ™nt)
          a. A discussion in which disagreement is expressed; a debate.”

          • MichaelGC says:

            If the argument (qua debate) was created by your advent to the discussion then Infinitron’s post cannot have been a “strawman.”

            • Derektheviking says:

              But on my posting, it became an argument, and the first post part thereof: in setting out a position to argue against, one has made an argument which others can choose to enter.

              • MichaelGC says:

                Yes indeed, but the first line of your post described Infinitron’s as a ‘strawman argument.’ However, that post was created before there was an argument. So, the post itself wasn’t an argument, and a fortiori cannot be a specific type of argument.

                • MrGuy says:

                  “A Fortiori jerked his thumb over his shoulder and said “Screw.” The harried young man jumped out of bed and ran away. A Fortiori climbed into the bed and became Dunbar again.” –JH

            • Derektheviking says:

              To try and shut this down before we go too far into esoteria: ok, I admit it: my last couple of posts were fast, loose and somewhat dubious wordplay (though I have a gut feeling that they stand up).

              The true nature of the argument I was referring to is, of course, the second definition given on that dictionary page, clause c:

              c. A set of statements in which one follows logically as a conclusion from the others.”

              With that out of the way, we can either continue a discussion about what is an invitation for debate online, and what constitutes good debate, or we can get back to whether the is such a thing as an archetypal Engineer in the real world.

              • MichaelGC says:

                Righto! Well, personally I believe there are no stereotypical anythings in this world, so I’m pretty much a dead end when it comes to that debate! (The actual debate, that is, rather than the debate about debates…)

                • Derektheviking says:


                  Looking at things now, it’s kinda interesting how this kicked off. When I originally read Infinitron’s post, here’s what I read:

                  “Shamus says that he is an engineer and looks at things analytically”

                  Infinitron identifies use of analysis on narrative. Infinitron posits that engineers do not traditionally do narrative. – extrapolation: Infinitron’s argument is that analytical thought and narrative/story are incongruent.

                  Here’s how I now think Infinitron meant it:

                  “Shamus says that he is an engineer and looks at things analytically” with an implied BUT…

                  Infinitron points out that Shamus focuses on narrative, as opposed to the stereotypical engineer that doesn’t, making a no-true Scotsman argument about Shamus’s engineering (i.e. “don’t worry about thinking like an engineer, because you do other stuff and there are obviously not (just) an engineer)

                  The mis-reading seems to have come about because I (and, in my reading, Shamus) do not feel that engineers need defending when applying their tools to non-technical matters, whereas Infinitron does.


            • “An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. It’s not just saying ‘no it isn’t.'”
              “Yes it is!”
              “No it isn’t!”

              . . . OK, with that off my chest–it can be a strawman, just not a strawman argument. More a “strawman claim” or “strawman proposition” or something. But I’d have to agree with the argument enter-into-er that the idea of “stereotypical spergy engineers” (um, depending, what does “spergy” mean?) is a controversial one.

              • Derektheviking says:

                I never expected using the word “argument” to be so controversial.

                Yes, it is a strawman argument (as I saw it, in my initial reading), in the second form of the noun. A statement has been made in which an imaginary target has been painted (a strawman), and reasoning has been derived from that statement (an argument). Engineers don’t do story (strawman) -> contradiction between Shamus = engineer and Shamus = story (argument).

                As above, I have changed my reading of the statement, but the use of the word argument in this context is (I believe) valid.

    • Volatar says:

      >the stereotypical “spergy engineer”

      You just made a very offensive statement about an entire group of people that I am classified under.

      I am having a very hard time not chewing you a new one. Let this serve as a warning. Don’t use that terminology again.

  3. Eruanno says:

    That Adam and Bob argument is surprisingly reminiscent of arguing with my mother…

  4. What’s really odd is that as you described Aveline’s experience based on dress and location, I realized I’ve been really wanting that in my games since forever, and not just in the context of race. I’ve lost track of how many times have I wandered into a location, full of people who I strongly feel should be reacting to my character’s gender, lineage, class, how I’m dressed, or how bristling with weapons I am. I fully expected something to “go wrong” based on my appearance/actions, but that seldom happens.

    Of course, this has been retread over and over in Spoiler Warning and so on, where we can’t even get games that are made to have NPCs even comment on the fact that your avatar is covered in blood, wanted for several murders, and, in some cases, on fire.

  5. I wouldn’t expect the “social justice” decriers to understand, but slavery in Freedom’s Cry is a lot like the War Assets in ME3: Saving people is heroic, but the game just treats them as numbers for a win state. There’s more to rescuing someone, especially from death or enslavement, than just unlocking a door or keeping the bad guys at bay while they get away.

    In essence, you’ve got a huge conflict going on in both games that could be rich sources of character development or exploration of ideas, even with just a few seconds of dialog. Making them into ways to just mine points seems like being served flat soda: Yes, it’ll quench my thirst and it could even taste good, but some fizz would’ve been nice.

  6. Wulfgar says:

    you can’t take feedback from comments. especially individual comments, you can’t do that. if there is large number of posts on specific issue, then you consider opposite points/views and if you still think they are BS – ignore them (ignoring comments in the first place is good idea).
    most people don’t leave positive feedback under youtube clip. me for example. i liked this episode, i didn’t write anything about it.

  7. Chamomile says:

    “Social Justice Warrior” specifically refers to people who use the buzzwords associated with civil rights defense to bully people into silence. Of course, it has since been reappropriated to bully people who are actually discussing social issues into silence (like what’s happening with Chris, though I doubt he’s fazed by it). I’m sure we’ll have some new term for those people before long, which will itself be turned into an insult casually hurled at people who dare bring up the topic at all regardless of what they’re saying about it, and the cycle will continue.

    • Ciennas says:

      That’s consistent with human nature though. We dislike change but we NEED it. Thus we bitch about it endlessly, even if the change is inarguably for the better.

      The question that I wish would shut the ones who are bullying people into silence is ‘why do you even care? What do you gain from silencing us?’

      (The answer is Status Quo. It’s less like Hollywood portrayed things- you don’t win the argument with one guy and the rest follow suit. You have to argue with multiple people, very few of who have read the liner notes.)

      The only good version is when somebody is complaining about a problem that doesn’t exist or is already being fixed.

      ‘Things are pretty okay! No need to worry about this issue.’

      • Chamomile says:

        Neither actual social justice warriors nor those who use the term inappropriately are advocating actual change. Social justice warriors are specifically people who don’t care about helping victims. They’re oppression olympians who use the jargon of civil rights or social awareness movements to direct attention to themselves, inventing minority groups so bizarre they have to be seen to be believed, so that they can then place themselves into those minority groups, claim to be oppressed, and yell at people about all the privilege they have for not being a part of the minority group they just made up. The blogs maintained by social justice warriors are seriously veering into Poe territory more often than not. It’s nuts. These people have a clear motive and it has nothing to do with advocating for genuine social change, nor are they arguing to maintain the status quo. They’re indulging in a delusion in which they are an oppressed group who are owed restitution for the crimes society has committed against them.

        On the other hand, your response does kinda fit with the people who are appropriating the term “social justice warrior” to deride anyone who takes about social issues at all. So maybe you were only responding to half my comment? I dunno. I’m way tired. I probably shouldn’t be posting stuff now.

        • WILL says:

          This is exactly what I wanted to say. There’s legitimate discussion to be had but it gets mudled by “tumblrpolitics”, things you’d see on Tumblr in Action (which I’ll admit only presents the craziest parts of “Social Justice”. This is what causes huge backlash.

          • Karrius says:

            And to prove that Social Justice Warriors are so bad, you link to a website that is well known for harboring misogynists and pedophiles, that not only has slurs on the first page, but also routinely posts pictures of *themselves* saying things on anon or with fake trolling accounts in order to make others look bad?

            The reason tumblr gets called “social justice warriors” so much is because it actually has people beyond straight white cis men talking about their experiences, and the stuff they have to put up with, which apparently disgusts a lot of people. Oh no, not the racism, that’s not the disgusting part to them – that some people are’t OK with it. That’s what really gets them.

            If reddit thinks I’m doing something wrong, that means I’m doing something right.

        • Ciennas says:

          For the record, that’s not what I was trying to do. I was just noticing a thing. Thank you Chamomile for explaining the crucial distinction that I had missed.

          I’m sure there’s another word for ‘victim complex people who have to create a victimization group’ but I can’t think of it.

          Okay. Thanks for explaining it to me.

          • Hydralysk says:

            In that kind of context I’d just say it’s someone with a persecution complex. Hearing ‘Social Justice Warrior’ just makes me think of someone who fights for social justice, which doesn’t sound like a bad thing.

            Though I can understand how ‘Someone with a PC’ would be more confusing than simply calling someone an ‘SJW’.

  8. Anon says:

    This video reminds me of this blog post about giving characters meaning via mechanical impact

    • Derektheviking says:

      Thanks for sharing. Interesting how it there is some contrast with one of the first “moral choice” games – Missile Command, where the cities were fantastically balanced on the cusp of increasing difficulty versus increasing score, for most players motivating a sacrifice at some point in the game to decrease difficulty.

      The article shared implies that this, to some degree, is “wrong” – that such pragmatism will ultimately lead to us being ruthlessly pragmatic in our own lives.

      Perhaps by tying that sacrifice so closely to difficulty, though, I never found it easy to give up a city – as a point of pride, if nothing else. Maybe increasing increasing the difficulty of keeping a family to the point of “challenge” would cause thematically appropriate player-behaviour without having to make them so danged useful.

      • Chamomile says:

        I disagree. The win state of Missile Command is “get a high score” (such that there is a win state at all), and the win state of The Castle Doctrine is “get phat lootz.” In Missile Command if you can juggle all four cities it is unquestionably desirable to do so. You only ever sacrifice one city to defend others because you’re unable to defend them all.

        In The Castle Doctrine, a family with no value can be sacrificed freely without any risk to your win state at all. At best, they might be seen as a distant secondary objective to defending the vault in order to hold onto bragging rights. In Missile Command, you sacrifice one city to save another. That’s a tough choice, but not necessarily a wrong one. It’s a moral dilemma reflected in gameplay. In The Castle Doctrine with no income tied to the family, you sacrifice your family to save your stuff. That’s basically universally agreed to be a horrible thing to do. It’s a dilemma not between two different morals, but between a convenient path and an obvious moral high ground, which is also potentially interesting, but in a completely different way from Missile Command.

        • Derektheviking says:

          It’s interesting that we appear to have had different experiences with missile command (perhaps because the version that I played had six cities, compared to your four, affecting the balance.) I do, however, know that I am not alone in my experiences with MC: Slight Hyperbole

          The way it normally manifested was I would try to (and be forced to) take riskier shots with more cities, attempting to conserve missiles. The riskiest shots, I would always reserve for those cities furthest from the launchers (my version was on the Game Boy, and had two, randomly-placed launchers), since these would be more difficult to save once the going got tougher.

          So, was it a different balance for you, or did you just not feel the tension between conserving missiles by making risky shots and keeping your less-valuable cities alive?

  9. AR+ says:

    “People go funny in the head when talking about politics. The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring: In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death. And sex, and wealth, and allies, and reputation… When, today, you get into an argument about whether “we” ought to raise the minimum wage, you’re executing adaptations for an ancestral environment where being on the wrong side of the argument could get you killed. Being on the right side of the argument could let you kill your hated rival!

    Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you’re on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it’s like stabbing your soldiers in the back””providing aid and comfort to the enemy.”


    The link above discusses “politics” in the sense of what most people think when they hear the word, but anything can become political once somebody lets even a little of it into their personal identity or begins to associate with people on the basis of that thing. Game fandom being an example.

    • Problem is, politics still is a matter of all those things. In North America it’s usually someone else’s life and death that’s involved, but most of the other stuff is still on the line fairly directly. Which means skipping it because you don’t like the head space it puts you in might not in the long term be smart.

    • Ofermod says:

      “Politics is an extension of war by other means.”
      Eh, I’m of the opinion that it’s the other way around. War is, as Clausewitz put it, “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.” Warfare can be considered merely a political tool (actually using Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick when speaking softly does not suffice). Politics aren’t a tool of battle (other than insofar as armistices and such end battles, but that’s like saying that a car compactor is a tool of an auto mechanic or driver).

      You can certainly make a metaphor of politics using war imagery, but you can do the same with American Football. Or a lot of other things, for that matter. War is a convenient metaphor. But being a potential (or suitable) metaphor does not make it an extension of said thing.

  10. Disc says:

    Arguing about a thing with people who have a strong emotional investment with it is about the most often I personally run into that kind of behaviour. There’s no real absolute solution at least there, since it’s about the values of the individual. I find the best you can ever really do, is trying to understand why they’re getting so worked up about it and trying your best to convince them that you’re not, nor trying to be, their enemy. Which admittedly is often more effort than is really worth it, but I haven’t really found any other way to effectively get through the kind of people we’re talking about here. If you don’t placate them somehow, they’ll more often than not just use some annoying excuse to dismiss everything you say.

    • Shirdal says:

      I agree that what you describe is usually more work than it is worth. More often than not, getting past this kind of emotional barrier doesn’t really encourage an ongoing discourse. My experience with this behaviour taught me that people more often look for an echo chamber than for a place of discussion. They want to enthuse or to hate and to share their enthusiasm or hatred with like-minded people, which is perfectly understandable behaviour, at least until the bile comes out when someone dares to disagree, however politely and respectfully. Often people just want to share their experience, and not have some jerkface ruin their emotional high with his annoying critical thinking. It’s just a pity that we have to be so toxic about it.

    • Abnaxis says:

      I would agree with you up to a point–that point being, that in any disagreement you have to address the individual you are talking with, because they will have their own values and perceptions they are projecting onto whatever issues are important to them.

      However, I think it is very much worth it to do so because they person you are arguing with isn’t the only one reading your words.

      It’s like asking a question in class. If there is something you don’t understand, there are probably other people who also don’t understand, but they don’t want to be the ones to raise their hands. Similarly, when discussing something on the internet, you are addressing a specific person, but there are likely many other people reading the words and projecting their own perceptions on them, they just aren’t posting.

      In the end, I think it’s worth engaging in the discussion for the silent majority as much as for the sake of discussion with individual you have a disagreement with. It really helps advance awareness.

    • I actually just quoted the whole of this particular thread to a group of friends/fellow admins for a way too large group about a very sensitive subject which we admin. You, my dear Sirs/Madams have hit the nail on the head.

  11. Alec says:

    While your convertible analogy was nothing short of SUPERLATIVE as a depiction of the sort of degenerate discourse we get on these things, I also must point out that youtube comments are totally, completely, absolutely and entirely embracively *worthless* as any sort of forum, or even a barometer of discussion.

    In dead seriousness, the Battle.net forums, and in fact 4chan, are both consistently superior by every available metric. I do not know why it’s like that, but I have never seen such a concentrated nexus of stupidity, ignorance and illiteracy as the youtube comments. By reading them at all, and letting them enter your thoughts as a potentially valid slice of opinion, you are actually becoming part of the problem.

    They have no validity at all as even a fleeting component of any part of a discussion about anything. And I wouldn’t even say that about the State Television of North Korea.

    • Grudgeal says:

      Oh I don’t know, they make for excellent citations/valditation on any study of the Greater Internet ****wad Theory.

    • Trix2000 says:

      While I’d agree that a significantly large portion of Youtube comments are as you say (a majority probably isn’t a stretch), I wouldn’t say they’re completely worthless as a whole. Particularly in smaller audience videos, you can find examples that are entertaining, interesting, and in some cases uplifting.

      Basically what I’m saying is Sturgeon’s Law. (Apologies in advance for the link to a certain website)

      • False Prophet says:

        Chiming in to agree. When I used to upload videos of the indie bands or some of the period war re-enactments I went to see a few years ago, I often got positive feedback on both from the bands, the re-enactors, and fans of both. But I don’t think any video of mine ever got more than two dozen comments.

        In general, I think any useful public space has to be governed by some kind of decorum, and the majority of the participants have to agree to that social contract. Golfers and hunters alike try to avoid injuring each other, only one or two members of a sports team can talk directly to the referee, you turn your phone off in the theatre, etc. YouTube is notorious for being unmoderated, and although I have no personal experience with it, everything I’ve heard suggests their recent changes hasn’t given channel owners enough tools to do it properly. If you won’t or can’t moderate your online discussion space, you probably shouldn’t have one.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      They’re not 100% worthless. They serve as a useful marker of superlative. Claiming something is worse than a YouTube comment thread is a thing which most internet denizens recognize as hyperbole, but identify with intuitively. And that’s .. not useless, where even a shred of commiseration is sometimes enough to bring folks together enough to avoid an argument. “Well, we haven’t sunk THAT low. I guess we’re alright.”

  12. Jeff says:

    On a tangentially related note, have you folks considered doing a Patreon type setup for Spoiler Warning and/or the Diecast? Would be nice to have a systematic way for those of us who enjoy said things to support the making of more of them…

  13. kdansky says:

    I use a chrome plugin Youtube Options for a couple reasons, one of which is: Comments are always hidden. It has a few bugs, but that feature alone is worth it. Youtube comments are the equivalent of Kindergarten trash talk.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      There is a much better plugin that I use on my browser,and it is bug free.Its called the plus key.Ive basically adjusted my zoom so that any time I open youtube,I have to scroll down in order to read the info about the video,and scroll down even further for the comments.So unless I want to read them (mostly for the lulz),I wont.

      • ET says:

        This is pretty much how I deal with internet comments.
        Sometimes, I’ll stumble upon a website which has a relatively level-headed, calm community.
        More often that not, however, I just get stressed out, trying to wade through the flame wars. :|

    • Grudgeal says:

      Personally I run a greasemonkey script that appends the sentence “but then, I’m a frakking moron” to every youtube comment.

      And then I don’t read them. But it’s the principle of the thing.

  14. Railan says:

    Just a quick comment, I think the link on “for years” is not what you intended. It redirects to … nevermind, probably the text on my feed wasn’t updated and you fixed it :)

  15. Mersadeon says:

    I think the problem you are talking about is inherent in human nature. Unless one makes a concious effort to stay reasonable and think, this inability to understand other opinions as what they are is simply our default way of thinking, I guess.

    Probably the worst people are those that don’t understand that what they like doesn’t mean should be objectively liked by everyone. Like those who say “how can you LIKE retro-style graphics, we worked so hard to get AWAY from that!” (which is my fathers favourite argument against the “silly games” I play).
    Or how one Soccer Team is somehow better than all the others, even though the only reason someone is a fan of a Soccer team is pretty much because you were born there, or you moved there, or you just one day said “I like the way they play, I wanna be a fan of this”. Seriously, try to get a conversation going with ANY serious Soccer Fan. Argh.
    Or “how can anyone be gay, kissing dudes is so yucky and I would never stick anything up my bum!”, which somehow is still used as an argument against gay people.

    People just forget that other people aren’t them. And when you’re talking over the internet, it’s even easier to forget that behind every post and every opinion, there is a person with their own experiences, their own life and their own view.

  16. Abnaxis says:

    I wonder how much the lack of nuance Chris is asking for in his video is related to the discussion Shamus started about getting people riled up with analysis?

    The thing is, no matter how deliberately or nuanced you try to portray an issue of importance, giving it any sort of weight within the context of a game (or movie, for that matter) is going to make people angry.

    It’s not good for developers or publishers to do this, and not just because the games themselves are expensive and need to sell millions of copies to break even. I think mass media has evolved to a place where it is extremely difficult to use it as a conduit for political discussion.

    That’s not to say we can’t use Assassin’s Creed mechanics to serve as a springboard for discussions about the economics and politics of slavery and racism, but expecting the game to properly address those issues directly might be setting the bar higher than we can reasonably expect.

    • Mechaninja says:

      I’m pretty sure that the pitfall inherent in asking people to think and analyze is the same reason Two and a Half Men is still the number one show.

      People like Shamus (and I daresay most of us who enjoy his stuff) find complexity to be a source of … entertainment? That’s not the right word. There’s something about complexity that makes us feel like we’re not wasting our time, maybe. I don’t know how to describe it.

      But the point is, other people don’t all feel the same way.

      • Mathias says:

        I don’t necessarily think it’s higher than we should expect. I’d much rather expect a game to be able to tackle something with the same amount of nuance as any other piece of art. If it doesn’t live up to it, I’ll say ‘maybe I had too lofty expectations’ and take what I can get, and still try and look for places where it actually succeeds rather than initially setting the bar low.

        • Abnaxis says:

          I didn’t jump into this much in my initial post, because I’m not 100% sure what I even think of it yet. It usually takes a good day for me to get a good, well formed idea of what my gut tells me and why.

          However, when I’m talking about setting the bar too high, there are a lot of different angles I see that from.

          One angle I see is in terms of appeal–and not just for the purposes of revenue either. Yes, games are have exorbitant production costs that lead to unreasonable expectations for sales numbers, but even beyond that I think the discussion is greater enriched the more people are added to it. If assassin’s Creed can bring a hundred thousand more people to the discussion with a watered down portrayal of American slavery, that can be better than the alternative of alienating those same people with difficult concepts.

          Second, it is inherently difficult to treat any issue with any semblance of nuance when there given how many people are involved in making a game. These ideas can be deeply personal, and as a result dialogue is going to have to have some personality inherent to it if it is going to be effective. With literally hundreds of people, all with their own individual perspectives of the issue at hand, it’s a nightmare to keep the game unified unless you paint these themes in broad strokes.

          Related to the above, it is expensive to refine an idea through the medium of gaming versus other media. If I’m writing a book an screw something up, a few changes to a text file is all it takes for a reprint. If I make a movie with egregious errors, it’s more difficult but manageable with a few more takes and editing. In a game, you could be talking about assets, design, acting, programming. Any mistake gets multiplied. A book author pays a lot less for realizing their anti-slave protagonist is objectifying the slaves they free after they’ve written the book, versus a movie director who realizes it after they’re done filming, versus a game developer after first build. Creators make mistakes, and mistakes go up with complexity.

          …I had another point, but I forgot it while making the first three. What I’m trying to get as, is that it’s really hard to do what Chris is asking for, and I’m not 100% certain it would be that beneficial if it were pulled off. I’m all for portrayal of salient societal issues in gaming, but I don’t know how helpful it is to expect the games themselves to give more than a broad overview of these issues directly.

          • Mind you, and OK maybe this is asking for the bar to go higher still, doing something like this better doesn’t necessarily mean everyone uninterested in that has to notice you did it better.
            Going back the The Two Towers . . . Tolkien agonized over the names in LoTR; many of them have relevant archaic meanings or relevant meanings in Elvish or what have you. We know, partly because he did a guide for translators as to how to go about finding names with similar resonances in their languages. Most people are unaware of this, or at least unaware of most of it. But it is there, and people interested in stuff like that will get a bit extra from it.
            And there’s, like, lots of symbolism and stuff. But lots of us don’t think about the symbolism and stuff when we’re reading it, it’s just a ripping yarn. It is nonetheless there, something we can think about when we come back to read it the fifth time. There’s an ecological message . . . OK that part’s pretty obvious.

            Similarly, in Hunger Games there’s a fair amount of class struggle and media critique. But many people just pay attention to the life and death, the shooting people, the ambivalent love story.

            So I think you could put stuff in a game that invited people to think about eg slavery, the implications of it or what have you, without the kind of people who post on youtube ever really noticing the difference; maybe subliminally they’d feel it was a touch richer. And those who appreciated such things would appreciate it (and be more likely to buy the game).

            • Abnaxis says:

              See, this is where I tell myself I should have waited to post, even if it meant I say something after everyone has left. I am terribly mangling my idea here…

              I’m not trying to argue against the mere acceptance of a game that delves into (say) slavery in a nuanced way, I’m trying to say that the way games are made, and they way they are viewed, make it prohibitively hard to make a game that delves into slavery in a nuanced way.

              Let’s say you have hundreds of people, all collaborating to communicate a particular theme–take for example “slavery bad.” Some of them don’t understand why it was bad. Some of them think yeah, it was bad, but not so bad as it is made out to be. Some of them think it was bad, but we’re no better off today. Some of them think we should just quit with this hoighty-toighty “conveying the theme” crap and get with stabbing some pirates.

              All of these people will do their damned best to make the game the Director is telling them to make, but they’re going to miss. The people who don’t understand will make assets that fit their understanding of the point being made. The people who disagree will make assets to match their understanding of what they think the point being made is supposed to be. Some will do whatever they can to make the player feel powerful, because screw the theme did you just see that guy get stabbed with a machete!

              Oh yeah, and if anyone makes a mistake that isn’t caught right away it’s going to potentially require hundreds of man-hours to correct.

              At the same time, the game is being released to an audience that is notoriously not difficult to piss of. Any off-color material will cause controversy. Anything remotely resembling condemnation will cause controversy. A poorly implemented mechanic will cause controversy.

              Given the above, I’m just trying to make the point that it’s bloody hard to make a mass-media game that addresses societal issues with any sort of finesse, more-so than any other media. I agree that Hunger Games and LoTR both contain themes underneath the surface that invite introspection about important issues, but those were books. While still not trivial, it’s a lot easier for book authors to do stuff like that.

              • Trix2000 says:

                While you’re right about the difficulty, I feel like it just makes it all the more impressive for a studio to go through the effort in realizing it anyways.

                I’d love it if in large-scale game development they could have a distinct enough plan ahead of time and organize it as-such that they wouldn’t have to worry about miscommunication or misinterpretation – if someone makes a mistake, someone else could spot the discrepancy from the original outline and have them correct it. A well-nuanced game simply becomes the result of enough planning and cross-checking.

                …But it should be obvious that most AAA developers just don’t manage that scale of organization. Still, I like to be optimistic about it, since it’s not a complete impossibility.

              • Axe Armor says:

                I dunno. I think it might be happening already. I mean, the game we’re talking about is about slavery. Sure, it may be dealing with it in a shallow way, but if Ubisoft had actually wanted to avoid controversy, they would not have made a game about slavery.

                I think we’re reaching a stage where AAA developers, in their eternal bid to be taken as seriously as movies, are becoming willing to approach difficult subjects with seriousness for the sense of maturity that projects. Like, The Last of Us is trying to be about a father-and-daughter relationship, not about shooting zombies. Tomb Raider is trying to be like a proper character study, not just a game about action. They might not handle their subjects with all the nuance they could, but I think that the industry is recognizing that games that are about proper serious stuff can make some proper serious money.

  17. Bropocalypse says:

    As always, the primary pitfall for any creator, or anyone else for that matter, are dumbasses.
    Though it is a fine line to walk- The critiqued have to have the wherewithal to differentiate genuine arguments from irrational trolling. There are, of course, those who take the irrational to heart and lose their ability to function. On the other end of the spectrum there are those who think anyone who says anything negative about their works are inherently wrong.
    It’s an unfortunate fact of human nature that no matter which side of this interaction you’re looking at, there’s a large number of people who just don’t follow reason.

  18. Shirdal says:

    I never heard of Super BunnyHop before, but I’ve taken a look and so far I like what I see. I’m always on the lookout for new sources of insightful commentary on video games like the kind found on this site, Errant Signal and MrBtongue. Thank you for pointing it out here, Shamus.

  19. deda says:

    My problem with SJWs is that they seem to treat everything as a battleground, bringing their agendas to games that have absolutely nothing to do with them (you know: “this game is sexist because that woman has big breasts”, “that game promotes domestic abuse because that man who kills dozens of other men kills a woman” , things like that). If this game actually tries to tackle racism and gender roles it’s perfectly reasonable to argue if it did a good job or not.

    On the other hand, if you don’t want to have people complaining, you probably should avoid statements like “white dudes have all the privilege”.

    • Retsam says:

      To clarify, his statement was “in this setting, white dudes had all the privilege”. When talking about the Caribbean in the 18th Century, that seems less like a “Social Justice Warrior” opinion, and more like historical fact.

      • deda says:

        I don’t know about the Caribbean in the 18th century specifically, but historically men have always been expected to do most of the hard work and to be the ones to go die in wars, most of the privileges that men had only really applied to the high classes (a very small minority), so saying that men had all the privilege as a fact is a bit misleading. The “white vs black” part was right, but I still don’t think “all” is a word that should be used when discussing politics.

        Also he seemed to imply that, in present day first world countries, white males still have some privilege, which is… debatable, at least I don’t think that’s true.

        But the greater problem is actually the way he phrased it, “privilege” is literally the favourite word of SJWs and “white male” is what they always say when trying to dismiss those who are not part of their group, the only thing he was missing to sound like the stereotypical radical SJW was the “cis” before “white male”.

        The point I’m trying to make is that if you simplify such a complex issue so much, in such a “this side is right” kind of way, while using words typically used by the radicals of that side, some people are going to mistake you with one of those radicals, I honestly had to ignore that part because it made the rest of the video feel completely different.

        • Trix2000 says:

          Considering the way he phrased it, I think he meant ‘all’ in a more exaggerated sense. That and, unfortunately, it wouldn’t be THAT much of a stretch for the 18th century. The world of several centuries ago was, relatively speaking, not very accepting.

          I think it’s better to take it as a way to get people thinking “Wow, glad we’re not like that anymore”. A way to learn from the past, essentially.

        • Retsam says:

          Is his statement slightly hyperbolic? Yes, history is never perfectly black and white, and yes, more accurate would probably be “wealthy white men had all the privilege”. But is it so hyperbolic that it really deserves all the attention it’s getting? No, I don’t think so.

          I understand where the knee-jerk reaction is coming from to the word “privilege”*. But I think it’s being entirely too sensitive to expect that every single sentence be worded in a way that not only doesn’t include an “unwanted political opinion”, but doesn’t even imply an “unwanted political opinion”.

          And I really do understand. Suffice it to say my views aren’t the ones you probably expect from how we’ve interacted, and I have plenty of experiences of people sticking slams against my views into their opinions on video games, movies, books, cooking, whatever. But it’s usually not appropriate to get offended; I can’t expect people to completely separate their political views from the content they produce.

          And most of all, it’s incredibly discouraging for someone to spend hours and hours making these videos and only to have the discussion be mostly “You said X and X offends me!”. And I suppose by continuing this discussion I’m contributing to that, so I may just end this here…

          * After writing this, I entirely agree that we should avoid the word “privilege” in these discussions. It’s entirely too difficult for me to spell correctly. (Why is there no “d” in that word, or why do I expect one?!)

          • syal says:

            I support the idea of spelling ‘privilege’ as ‘privy ledge’.

            And I thought the ‘white privyledge’ comment was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the stereotype of the Social Justice Warrior, because everyone was already calling him one for talking about stuff like this before.

          • M. says:

            And most of all, it's incredibly discouraging for someone to spend hours and hours making these videos and only to have the discussion be mostly “You said X and X offends me!”

            You make a valid point, but there are some words which are guaranteed to derail everything into a massive flamewar and “privilege” is one of them. If you’re speaking to a broad, suspicious audience about a touchy subject and wish to genuinely communicate with them as opposed to touch off said flamewar, you have to adjust your words and tone to get past their automatic defenses.

            Of course, some people will take offense no matter what you say, and you should feel free to tell those people to jump in a lake. Indeed, I’d say you are obligated to do so! But there is a line and taking it into account is part of being a good communicator.

            • Karrius says:

              Why should a totally accurate word and concept be banned because extremists want it to be? Why do people have to tap dance around the feelings of the very jerks who say that the feelings of others don’t matter?

              • Shamus says:

                Sure, extremists SHOULDN’T have any sway over a conversation, but they do. In this case there’s an interesting trade-off. “privilege” is a nice short word that conveys the concept. It’s also a firework. Not because of how it’s used here, but because of how it’s abused elsewhere. Sometimes you get away with it. Sometimes someone freaks out and overreacts. Then someone on the other side jumps in with the oh-so-helpful “SEE? THIS IS HOW THEY ALL ARE!” Then more people join in and suddenly the article is forgotten and it’s just a pointless flame war.

                Do I use the short-and-concise word that might start a fire, or do I spend an extra sentence using less efficient but less provocative words? It’s an interesting trade-off, and I feel like I go through it a half dozen times in the course of writing an essay.

                • Karrius says:

                  In this case it was barely being used in the way those people care about, though. Those people are STILL complaining, even without mentioning that word, because he’s talking about “political issues” and “not just having fun” and so on. You absolutely cannot win with these people – they will kill you with a thousand cuts with a thousand different complaints about your ‘political beliefs’. What was actually wrong with the word as used in that political context? I mean we literally have people now saying they’re “not sure” that men were ‘more privileged’ in a time where women were basically treated as property, because men had to work.

                  I mean, “SJWs” is the favorite insult of a lot of bigots – tumblr is full of literal, actual nazis (like, people who talk about how they like Hitler) who constantly complain about “SJWs being intolerant of them”, when in truth it’s “people who I want to kill don’t like me”. But yet somebody making the argument of “SJWs use that word” is using the same word as those nazis. Clearly, they should change for that reason… right? *TWO* people have linked to a website that used ableist slurs to attack people they deemed as “SJWs”, and I was the only one who called them out. Yet for some reason, these people aren’t expected to be less like those jerks.

                  The word privileged is a useful phrase, and an important concept. Campster used it in a way that was a good point, and a funny joke.

                  • M. says:

                    “The word privileged is a useful phrase, and an important concept. Campster used it in a way that was a good point, and a funny joke.”

                    So you say. And yet, what actually happened is that instead of folks calmly discussing his point the discussion melted down into a flamewar because he used the P-word. You can complain about that kind of reaction all you want, but the only way that will cease is for people to stop being people. And, you know, good luck with that.

                  • Shamus says:

                    “I was the only one who called them out.”

                    Yeah. Hello, new person, mysteriously jumping into a hot topic without getting to know anyone. Lot of that going around lately.

                    You seem to think you’re obligated to fix everyone. Take your crusade elsewhere.

  20. Bloodsquirrel says:

    “I don't know if it's an internet thing, a gaming culture thing, or a younger generation thing, but there always seems to be a cluster of people who don't “get” the purpose of these conversations. They want to reduce opinions on a game to a binary good/bad, and if you're critical of something they want to boil your thoughts down to some sort of active agenda.”

    It’s basic tribalism. People are hardwired to group others into in-groups and out-groups, and to believe in the superiority and moral value of the in-group over the out-group. The original basis separating the two isn’t even relevant once the groups are established- that’s why you have people going insane and starting fights over sports teams. How well your city’s football team does has absolutely nothing to do with you, does not practically affect you, and does not reflect on you in any way whatsoever. But as far as your primitive ape brain is concerned it’s a perfect way to divide the world into the virtuous, civilized Saints fans and the filthy, wife-beating Falcons fans.

    90%+ of politics is based on manipulating in-group/out-group psychology.

    Since the internet makes it even easier to do this, you’re always stepping into these fights. Criticizing a developer for handling a racial issue poorly doesn't make sense unless you're calling him a racist. That's where the line between the in-group and the out-group is. If you're not calling him racist, then you're on the side that says that there's no problems with the way that face is portrayed in video games, so why are you criticizing the developer?

  21. SlothfulCobra says:

    One of the reasons that people react like that is it’s hard to balance between trying to communicate a point strongly, and trying to communicate clearly. Campster is trying to strongly make a fairly subtle point, and in turn, many people are mistaking it.

    It doesn’t help that slavery’s one of those things that nobody talks about, so everybody probably has slightly different perspectives as to why it’s a bad thing, and their personal perspective may not jive with Campster’s misgivings.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Exactly. And there’s so much that was carefully (if perhaps to smoothly) praised and praiseworthy in the video and game…

      I don’t think too many people (or rather gamers) are ready for the alternative though: a game where the mechanics are as invisible as in real life, where you don’t even see a “Bastienne will remember this” marker that anything you’ve done is significant. There’s too much acceptance of filling progress bars and unlocking achievements as measures of success to only leave the story to play out and leave the “success” part to the player’s imagination.

  22. Retsam says:

    I definitely agree on the “Collect X freed slaves to unlock the sweet loot” is a bit of a self-undercutting mechanic, but I’m wondering how else the game could have done it that would have worked better. It seems like there’s 3 options for something like this: (*disclaimer, the last AC game I played was 2*)

    1) Force the player to free the slaves, for example by putting them as required mission objectives.

    2) Let the player choose, but incentivize it, as the game did.

    3) Let the player choose, with no tangible incentive to freeing slaves.

    With #1, you could justify this railroading based on the character’s motivations, (“obviously the escaped slave will want to free the other slaves”) but this is a fairly uninteresting way to go about it, would conflict with the general series focus on letting the player do what they want, and would limit the context of where slaves could be freed to where missions objectives can require it.

    Taking the third option would be interesting; it asks how many gamers would take the moral option just because it’s moral, but it also presents the game as seemingly ambivalent to slavery, which itself could be problematic. And it probably would cause some interesting dissonance, since presumably the narrative supposes the character cares about freeing slaves.

    The second option, at least on paper, I think makes most sense, but it’s an interesting problem to do this in a way that doesn’t lead to the games existing issue of trivializing the thing it’s trying to incentivize.

    • deda says:

      With the third option freeing the slaves would still be just an extra objective, something that players who want 100% completion would do, in practice it would be the same as option 2.

      I think what they should do is try to hide the game mechanics better, you know, try to allow players to forget that they are playing a game at all, “press B to free slave” and “20/30 slaves rescued” is so blatant that it’s just ridiculous.

      • Trix2000 says:

        This, really. Option 2 could work, but the apparent implementation in AC4 seems a bit simplistic. Maybe it would just take having the individual slaves you freed come by later to thank you, then maybe offering to help out (with the additional implication that they’re helping of their own free will). I think it would much better classify them as people, rather than macguffins/resources.

      • Retsam says:

        Well, 3 is only the same as 2 if the game actually keeps track and notifies you of how many slaves you have freed. If there was no “10/30” counter, and all freeing the slave did was cause them to thank you and then run off, I do think that would be a significant difference than how it currently is.

        And, yeah, sure “allowing the player to forget they’re playing a game at all” would be good, but how do you accomplish that? (It’s a little like saying you need to get better at basketball by “scoring more points”) How could you better allow the player to rescue slaves in a more immersive way than walking up to them, killing the guards, and pressing a button?

        • deda says:

          Actually I usually argue against games trying to be more “immersive”, and in fact, games where the main appeal is “immersion” tend to be among my least favourites. Because immersion is something that depends on the player, not the game, he is the one that decides if he wants to be immersed or not, that’s why I said “allow the player to forget” as opposed to “make the player forget”, because that’s what this game appears to do wrong (I haven’t actually played it so I’m just going by the video), it doesn’t allow the players to do that, it’s so blatant in its presentation that it just becomes absurd. You don’t need to even change the mechanics of the game, just hide the “game” parts in some menu and add a few details to the presentation, then the player will decide to get into it or not, it’s actually an easy thing to do, a lot of games do it.

    • Psy says:

      There is also the option hide incentives with how the game world reacts. You start with a legend growing around the players actions and then have fractions within the game world so freed slave and abolitionists will help the player if the player frees slaves and there will be areas the authorities lose control of as they concentrate their forces in response to slaves disappearing (and the player killing guards).

      • Retsam says:

        Yeah; this would definitely be a better way to go about it. It’d just be wicked hard to do correctly. While the freeing slave mechanic is pretty easy to slip into the existing AC series established system, this would be basically be an entire system unto itself.

        • Thomas says:

          When I saw the video on Youtube I was thinking about starting a discussion on the forums purely about the problem of how to represent freeing slaves in an emotive way.

          I definitely think hiding the incentives is incredibly important. You should never ever have a % freed stat or tell people that there are X slaves in the game. And hiding the advantages slaves give you is good too.

          I don’t actually think implementing the mechanics Psy suggested would be that hard though. It’s something similar to what the series has done before in previous games (I believe) and a fairly easy thing to do at least in a simple way. The more slaves freed the less guards, after X slaves freed(a number hidden from the player) all the guards are removed from the area.

          I would prefer to make the system even less self-serving or obvious than that though. This would actually be more complicated but what I would like is a lot of mini vignettes of the evils of slavery happening on the streets. Along with this the crowd are more likely to be moody and give less taunts. Very very subtly more NPCs should get in your way and if AC4 still has them, there should be more of the types of NPC around who openly hassle you. You can choose to completely ignore freeing the slaves, but without being aware of it the world will be hostile to you and seem to get in the way and irritate you more.

          If you free slaves in an area there are more vignettes of little happy moments, the number of hassle you NPCs goes down and the colour palette gets turned up. If this is done subtly enough that the player only notices the vignettes but not the colour palette or beggar thing then they should feel happier and less frustrated when they free slaves without even really knowing why

          • Chauzuvoy says:

            I haven’t actually played the game, but when they mention building a community of freed slaves, is that an actual visitable area? Or is it just an off-screen thing with a plot NPC through whom you interact with it? Because I think that’s where you can make a huge emotional impact, without losing the mechanics aspect (though obscuring it would still help a lot.)

            One of the things NWN2 did absolutely right was crossroad keep in acts 2 and 3. Your given a keep to build up, and as you go through the later parts of the game you’ll find a lot of people and resources that you can recruit or invest into the keep, and the single most satisfying part of that game was watching your soldiers change from barely armed rabble into full knights in shining armor. You invest money in rebuilding the walls and then actually watch as the walls are rebuilt. You get to go from a ruined fortress to a capable fighting force and regional power base, and once the finale hits and the place falls under attack you’ll be ready. Or not, if you don’t invest the resources.

            There’s a sense that you’re really building something, and if they’ve skimped on that sense in favor of a progress bar then they missed a major opportunity.

    • Retsam says:

      Perhaps they could have used a negative incentive? In the same way that attacking civilians “desynchronizes you” (i.e. takes away health) because it’s not what your ancestor would have done (at least, it was this way in the games I’ve played, 1 & 2), they could have implemented a system that “punished” you if you didn’t free the slaves, because it’s what your ancestor would have done?

      Heck, maybe just tying it to synchronization/health would have worked, i.e. you gain max health by freeing slaves? Sure, you’re incentivizing freeing slaves, and it doesn’t really help humanize them, but at least the reasoning for why you’re “profiting” from freeing slaves (because you’re better following the life of your ancestor) is more clear, and they’re less of a “commodity”.

    • syal says:

      You don’t have to stick to one. If you have an incentive to free the first slave, you don’t need any more incentives to convince people “This is something I should be doing.”

      Personally, I’d make the initial incentive help in combat; the first time you free a slave, they either help you in a fight, or create a distraction so you can avoid one. Every time after that, it’s a gamble whether they’ll help you, hurt you by drawing people’s attention to you, or leave and have no mechanical impact.

    • Karthik says:

      The game does #1. Your progress in the narrative is gated by an “X slaves freed” counter. At multiple points, the next “memory sequence” was locked until I ambled around the town freeing more slaves.

      I never could finish it, by the way, because Freedom Cry inspired sufficient apathy (for the reasons Campster mentions) to deem it not worth playing.

  23. Nonesuch says:

    “The thinking seems to be that games journalist = journalist, and journalist = news reporter, and news reporter = a clear and unbiased delivery of unambiguous factual information.”

    As someone who has actually gone to school to learn the (unfortunately shrinking) trade of looking at things that have happened and converting the facts/events to a format that people can consume and understand as ‘news’.

    The problem isn’t connecting games journalism to journalism. Games journalists are in the same boat as the people who write for newspapers. Unfortunately the operations they are attached to don’t hold to the same ethical code that they’re expected to(see Gamespot).

    The problem is that last two connections because not all journalism is unbiased facts. Hell, tabloid journalists are still a kind of journalist! Reviews are fundamentally a type of opinion piece, which is itself a form of journalism. Editorials, reviews, travelogues and other opinion pieces are as valid as any other form of journalism and while it’s important to be clear and not lie about the underlying facts, the facts aren’t the bricks that you’re building with, they’re the foundation that you build on top of.

    Without reviews and advertising you don’t get the rest of games journalism, which includes things like Errant Signal and the Diecast, the same as without advertising we don’t have all that many newspapers.

  24. Thomas says:

    ‘SJW’ is getting thrown around by bigoted idiots constantly, but the stereotype is something that reasonable people are annoyed by. I wouldn’t consider any of the hosts of Spoiler Warning(and many other journalists ‘accused’ of being SJW) to be anywhere on the SJW scale.


  25. M. says:

    Unfortunately, the “real” social justice warriors have poisoned the well of discourse. To follow on from the convertible analogy, there are actually people who would consider Bob worse than Hitler for owning a convertible, and many of them work for automobile magazines and broadcast their opinions about convertible owners to a wide audience. This makes the convertible owners hypersensitive to any perceived slight and it becomes difficult to have a reasoned discussion about the pros and cons of convertible ownership.

  26. Adam says:

    Shamus, I think your problem is people. You need an environment where everyone’s opinion of “having an informed, measured discussion” is “yes, I’d like that” regardless of what they think of what is being discussed. The only way you’ll solve the people problem is to kill everyone else. (Then you’ll at least know YOU’ll enjoy the discussion. No dissenters!)

  27. False Prophet says:

    Ostensibly, the gaming community, or at least many vocal advocates within it, worked long and hard for many years to convince the culture-at-large that video games aren’t just toys for children, but a legitimate adult pursuit, even so far as to proclaim games as “art” alongside books and film and music. Part of being accepted into that club means people will analyze and critique the hell out of your product on that level. Every other artistic and entertainment aimed at adults has dealt with–and even welcomed–this level of discourse for decades, if not centuries. Incidentally, even forms of mass entertainment enjoyed by responsible, law-abiding, mature adults that are not usually considered “art”, like professional sports, have also faced this kind of discourse.

    The commenters who want to plug their ears and proclaim “Who cares? They’re just games! You play them for fun! They shouldn’t be political or race-sensitive or whatever! They’re made for white males aged 15-25!” to me are basically saying, “Yup, games are just toys after all.” To then have the gall to be upset when the Jack Thompsons and Leland Yees of the world then try to treat them like toys, and go overboard in the metaphoric equivalent of preventing children from cutting themselves on sharp edges and swallowing small pieces, smacks of having your cake and eating it too. If you want games to be treated as art appropriate for mature minds, then you should be able to deal with criticism of the medium maturely as well.

    (I might be a little unfair. I suspect a lot of the “who cares about politics in games” crowd are probably young, and don’t have first-hand recollection of gaming’s struggle for legitimacy. But game devs–or more likely, publishers, marketing, and journalist types–who belittle critics’ or customers’ concerns or talk down to them help perpetuate the infantilization of gamers as a subculture.)

  28. How the heck did this end up as one of the more controversial posts on Twentysided? Is really Chris that of a brilliant wordsmith? (he does have a way with words though).

    Anyway, I agree with Chris, but I wish that a alternative had been suggested.
    Releasing the slaves as part of a game mechanic did feel odd (thanks for pointing that out Chris).

    So how do one solve/improve this then?

    Well, the slaves should be freed as part of the story itself, (even fail horribly at times to show how bad it can be).

    What about the game mechanic that is now lost then?
    Hmm, how about having the player get weapons, food, resources and housing materials etc. Game mechanic lend themselves well to such resource gathering.
    Helping build a sanctuary for the freed slaves (so they don’t have to live in makeshift huts) would be a nice game mechanic.

    I just find it amusing that Chris just sat tere one night and went “Hey, wait a minute…”
    Why didn’t anyone making the game do the same? Maybe they did but it was too far into development?

    • Retsam says:

      I feel like the “build a sanctuary” mechanic might actually be worse than the current one, for a number of reasons.

      The main one is that I think it’d be difficult to present that mechanic in a way that wouldn’t feel like “They can’t even provide for themselves, unless the main character does it”, and characters that are dependent on the main character I think generally feel human rather than more human (an exception being children characters, who you would expect a certain level of dependency).

      I think the game ended up this way because the current solution looks ideal at first glance before you really think about the implications. Freeing slaves is good, we want to encourage players to do it, how do games encourage certain actions? By providing a reward for them. It makes perfect sense… until you realize that providing a reward for the action of freeing slaves, essentially turns freed slaves into a currency.

      • “They can't even provide for themselves, unless the main character does it”
        Do you actually want me to outline the idea even more? (I’m not writing the game here you know).

        The player character gets around, talks to people, he knows things and sneaks around, ensuring that food and resources and equipment are routed to the right places, grease the right officials to look the other way, stuff like that.
        I didn’t say pick up a hammer and nail and build it for them, however the player should be able to upgrade their village (a nice feature of one the earlier games).

        I know, none of this sounds very assassin like, but that boat sailed long ago (oops)!

  29. Henson says:

    I’ve been thinking that the problems with having conversations on the Internet about social issues may be a function of the number of people involved.

    Conversations are about a back-and-forth, give-and-take dynamic. In person, it’s hard to have conversations with more than five people: hard to hear everyone speak, hard to pay attention to people further from you, hard for people to be quiet for longer periods of time. Any more in a gathering, and the group separates into two or more different conversations between different groups of people. Conversations remain between small groups, so the give-and-take is much easier.

    On the internet, everyone is having the same conversation in one place. If person B replies to person A, there may be ten or twenty or fifty comments in between before person A can respond, all taken from different points of view. Hence, it’s harder to have a real conversation rather than a hundred people talking past each other. This problem intensifies the more people you have, which could partly explain why YouTube is a much more vitriolic place than blogs like this.

    Anyway, to get back on the topic of this post: nice video, Chris! Always enjoy your work.

  30. Eljacko says:

    Honestly, I don’t think there was a better way to execute the slave freeing mechanic in Freedom Cry. I don’t think the player can be made to empathize with so many interchangeable, faceless NPCs, and I don’t think dispensing with the mechanic entirely would be preferable either, since it’s a logical outgrowth of the game’s premise.

    • Axe Armor says:

      It shouldn’t be completely impossible. I mean, consider Fire Emblem and Valkyria Chronicles. They’re rurn-based tactics games where you have an army to manage, but the characters in your army aren’t faceless. They aren’t well-rounded or anything; at most they’ll have a unique face, a unique name, and a few lines of optional dialogue. Gameplay-wise they all fit into a class template and don’t differ much mechanically from any other character in their class. But that small amount of uniqueness is all it takes for people to savescum the shit out of these games to keep even a single soldier from dying.

      Assassin’s Creed 3 was actually sort of on this track, I thought. Instead of the usual nameless sameface Brotherhood assassins, you had a small number of unique individuals with backstories and unique missions and everything. Your base, instead of just being a bunch of unpopulated buildings you can use to soak up your cash, was actually completely populated by unique characters who had quests and even had conversations with each other. Really, the system’s only failing was how boring everyone was.

      That said, the homestead minigame is essentially exactly the solution to Chris’s problem with Freedom’s Cry.

  31. straymute says:

    I think people basically saw Campster, Mrbtongue, and Superbunnyhop and thought they might get a Plinkett for gaming. Someone who clearly had a deep passion and understanding of the medium, but wasn’t afraid to deal out harsh criticism and kept things fairly light and apolitical.

    Mrbtongue was the closest thing to being that, but he rarely makes videos so there are attempts to try and force someone else into the role.

  32. John Lopez says:

    Having run forums, I really pity anyone trying to manage comments on YouTube. The system is fundamentally broken because it doesn’t provide the tools for a sane discussion on the Internet.

    In every group there will be outliers. In small communities they can be kept in check via the social peer pressures naturally present in a *community*. As the group size gets larger, the number of outliers grows proportionally, but unfortunately the *community* self regulation fails at a certain size. Good moderation tools baked into the system can help a lot (allowing that scale to be larger).

    At the scale of the Internet there are trolling communities that target specific causes. Every TED Talk given by a woman gets hit by the same predictable misogynistic comments because there is a group dedicated to that particular trolling methodology.

    The anti social justice group is a newer (at least to me, maybe they have been around since Usenet) form of this which takes perverse pleasure in finding things that are seems objectively good (“puppies are cute”) and finds edge cases (“that puppy could grow up to rip the throat out of a small child”). They specialize in making mountains out of mole-hills.

    Much of the supposed “Social Justice” they rail against is created by the very same group, making it a self perpetuating trolling platform. (Of course, they can find some nutters to take up their banner on their behalf as well.)

    If you argue with them, they have a infinite supply of more and more bizarre arguments to fall back on because *reason* isn’t even on the menu. The best solution (as with any trolling technique) is to stop them cold before the wind up any steam.

    Sadly, the YouTube comment tools make that very difficult and these groups are large enough to create infinite new accounts from distinct IP addresses, so the only real solution is to weed constantly.

    • Karrius says:

      The fact that it’s outright been proven that most of the things quoted are either out of context or literally made up by people who agree with them to troll. And it works, as shown in these comments. Look at how many people are basically saying “minorities suck” in coded terms.

      When it was found on tumblr a TON of anon messages that made SJWs look bad were actually sent by an anti-SJW blog so they’d have something to blog about… people ignored it, because what are facts to get in the way of good old bigotry and hate?

      • John Lopez says:

        Yep. If you have fought any of the more organized trolling you can see the footprint of the “fake plants” in the posting patterns. The irony is that most of it isn’t even bigotry and hate. Simply “stirring up the pot to see what it looks like at a full boil”… which sadly tends to dredge up bigotry and hate :/

        • Karrius says:

          And there are even cases where the actual IPs have been tracked, proving beyond all doubt that yes, it’s literally just redditors stirring up trouble because they enjoy making fun of those silly tumblr people. Which, you know, are statistically more likely to be women, black, gay, or trans than redditors.

          It really makes the entire thing look SUPER disgusting, but it’s still accepted for some reason. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

      • WILL says:

        It’s not a technique that’s unique to anti-SJW, there’s been plenty of proof of SJW types doing to same thing in mostly anti-SJW settings.

        There’s people on both sides being asshats, sometimes in the same way.

  33. Phrozenflame500 says:

    Honestly I’m not sure how Chris’s video can really be construed as “social justice”. The point was more about how mechanics can be used to personally demonstrate a point instead of just showing it. The closest he gets to it is the one off comment on privilege, and even then it relates more to the 18th century than the modern day.

    Anyways, great video as always.

  34. BeamSplashX says:

    I think I’d much prefer Adam & Steve to Adam & Bob.

  35. Hitch says:

    I think it’s time to acknowledge that the internet has become one giant, fully interactive, Monty Python Argument Clinic. Nobody has time for a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition when you can get by with just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes and move on to the next room (or webpage) for a new argument.

  36. Nimas says:

    Ok, decent chance you won’t see this Chris, but Thank you for this episode. I *tried* to follow the Assassin’s Creed games (especially given how much I loved the first) but even with cheap steam sales I couldn’t get more then slightly into Ezio’s third damn game.

    If not for this episode, I would most likely have never even known about some of the things Liberation does, which now means I’ll probably pick it up on steam when I see it on sale. (Also *finally* getting an Assassin’s Creed game with a female lead)

    • Shirdal says:

      I also find it noteworthy that these games not only contain a female lead, but a black as well as a biracial lead. Not a common enough sight in triple-A releases, and I wonder if this means developers (and audiences, I guess, but I always saw that as less of an issue) are getting more comfortable around none white male leads.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      I really wanted to like Liberation, but the controls didn’t feel very tight to me, even compared against what I remember of playing the first game.

  37. ET says:

    Minor bug with your website, Shamus:
    In Firefox (but not IE or Chrome) the background image stops tiling vertically, a little after (down from) your post on April 1, 2014 at 3:24 am.
    If it’s just a bug with Firefox itself, leave it;
    This is probably the only post in a long time, which has gotten this many arguments, or this many long arguments.

    Thanks for the cool website, and the community it harbours! :)

  38. burningdragoon says:

    How many discussions explode into big arguments simply because people have varying definitions of some word or phrase and assume theirs is the only one? Somewhere in the ballpark of… all of them?

    • ET says:

      I really hope not. ^^;
      From my personal experience, it might be more like:
      – 40%: legitimate disagreement about which side’s viewpoint is right
      – 30%: argument gets sidetracked by semantics (aka definitions of words)
      – 25%: arguers misunderstand each other (non-semantic reason)
      – 5%: miscellaneous?

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