Category: opinion

Valve Software is a Worker’s Paradise? Maybe for the Bourgeoisie…

A few weeks ago there was a lot of talk about Valve Software’s New Employee Handbook and some other things like a blog post by Michael Abrash, a podcast with Gabe Newell, and a story on Bloomberg Business Week. All of them paint a picture of Valve as being a Worker’s Paradise where there are no bosses and everyone can do what they want and everyone rides around on magical giant puppy dogs.

Somehow I have a hard time swallowing that pill. It tastes kind of bitter.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Valve games as much as anyone. I like Steam. Portal 2 is the only game I’ve paid full price for in years. The New Employee Handbook paints a picture that is awesome. I would love to work there.

Well, let me modify that statement: I would love to work there as someone involved in making games. That’s a key requirement and the reason why I don’t really believe Valve is the Worker’s Paradise everyone seems to eager to want to believe it is. Even with statements from Portal co-creator Kim Swift claiming there actually are bosses at Valve, I think there is still a lot of work that isn’t taken into account in this idealistic story.

I’m a terrible grad student and so before I went all Marxist I wanted to make sure I was correct on who were the Proletariat and who were the Bourgeoisie. When I did I found out that according to Wikipedia, Bourgeoisie is derived from the Old French word for walled city which I think makes sense since I think the creative class at Valve are living a live largely walled off from the Proletariats who make it possible for the games to be made.

Pyramid of Capitalist System
Pyramid of Capitalist System

I’m sure that the designers and people coding the games probably find the situation described in the handbook and elsewhere to be largely accurate but what about the other people who work at Valve? What about the people responsible for keeping the Valve website up? Or playtesters? Or the people responsible for keeping Steam working? Or heck, what about the janitors or the people responsible for keeping the refrigerator stocked and clean? I really doubt that those people really have the freedom to do whatever they want or can just go off on their own and start making Half-Life 3 or something. I would love to be proven wrong, though.

I don’t want to trash Valve too much here. I really do enjoy their products. I just think that when we hear about something that just sounds too good to be true, we need to step back and look at what is left unsaid and ask some questions.

In other words… Don’t Believe the Hype:

See, I told you so!

In my last post, I wrote about hoping for more work on videogame history that went beyond the now standardized canon of videogame history.

Now, a Gamasutra article explores how even that standardized canon may not be all that accurate. The article shows that when it comes to the early days of videogaming, a lot of the details are fuzzy at best. If, as the article shows, the actual North American release date of Super Mario Bros. can’t be verified, then we have some real work to do.

I wonder if someone could get a kickstarter project funded for a multiyear project to do some in depth archival research and ethnographic work in order to heavily cite some of the history of videogames?

Too Much Videogame History

I thought it would be good to try to provide a brief history of LAN parties and LAN games in the intro to my dissertation. This has turned out to be a surprisingly tough thing to do.

Although there seem to be no shortage of great books about videogame history, there still seems to be some big gaps. As useful as books like The Ultimate History of Video Games, Replay, and Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames are, I still had a lot of trouble finding the “first” game to allowed people to link together two or more personal computers together and play with one another. I’m not blaming these books at all because in all the history of videogames that is a pretty specific thing to try to find.

Moreover, finding the “first” of anything is pretty tough to do anyway if only in part because of the difficulty in defining what a “videogame” is. For example, Wikipedia has decided that “video” in “video game” traditionally refers to a raster display device if only because people who seems to be most interested in the article have chosen that definition.

I guess what I’m saying is that it would be nice if we could get some “new” history. Something that didn’t rehash the Atari-ET-Nintendo-Tetris highlights. Something that finds out something about the proto-videogames, home computing, and those other things.

February

Although it may have been a really warm winter, it is still winter. School starts again. Teaching again. Grading again. Not blog posting again!

In between trying to finish this dissertation, trying to find a job, teaching, and all that stuff I’ve neglected the blog.

In Defense of the WTF-ness of Games

A few years ago I ran across a Korean FPS called Nitro Family which at the time declared “the weirdest FPS ever” in part because part of the premise is that you play a man who is carrying around his wife on his back and when you fill up your meter you can shoot your wife into the air and she will rain down destruction on the enemies.

Well, since that time, however, I’ve played a few other games that certainly give Nitro Family a run for its money. For example there’s ZPC which uses the Marathon 2 engine and has graphics seemingly designed to cause seizures and make you ask, “WTF?”:

Then there’s You Are Empty which reminded me of Half-Life 2 but with zombie nurses. Then you get to one of the art-film-like cut scenes and once again “WTF?” comes to mind:

You Are Empty seems positively normal compared to the premise of Operation Matriarchy which looks like it uses the Quake 1 engine and has the following WTF backstory:

A planet-wide epidemic caused by an extraterrestrial virus totally changed all women of the planet of Velian. Their bodies transformed to become parts of collective intelligence, presumably controlled by some non-humanoid creatures. The Velian men proved to be resistant to the virus, but they lost their status of free intelligent beings and only existed as suppliers of biomaterial for further gene experimentation and as parts of complex biomechanical systems. The society became now a kind of matriarchal hive.
The Galactic Federation lost several dozens of transports due to enemy attacks in the second half of the 24th century. A deep analysis of the situation made it clear that the aggressor comes from the Velian star system. It is there that the Federation is sending an expeditionary corps to destroy the hostile civilization that threatens the very existence of the human race and to investigate the fate of the missing colonists.
You are a trooper of the government army sent with the expeditionary force to attack Velian. As you accomplish missions given to you at the headquarters, you get new opportunities in selection of weapons and military equipment. Each mission will also get you closer to the secret of the origin of the Velian anomaly of the human race.

The most recent game that made me exclaim, “WTF?” is Venus Hostage. Venus Hostage starts with you playing a man who meets a blind date who you promptly have R-rated sex complete with polygonal bare breasts. You get knocked out and then spend the rest of the game trying to escape from a bunch of leather clad guys who look like they were modeled after The Gimp in Pulp Fiction and solving like one of the Penumbra games.

Playing these games got me to thinking about the kinds of games that the gaming community tends to heap praise on and how these games certainly aren’t among them. They are weird, buggy, bizarre, and frequently not even that much fun. And yet they were created by people who were trying to do something different, something unique.

Especially when it comes to First-Person Shooters, we often complain about how so many games seem copying each other. With all the Modern Battle of Honor games out there it is easy to have that mentality. So when a game like Nitro Family or Operation Matriarchy comes along I think it should get a bit more attention than it deserves — the kind of attention that some of the more obviously arty games get.

The notion of “affect” is one that is gets used by a lot of academics these days. I’m not an expert in affect. I’ve had long conversations with colleagues about what exactly affect is and I’m still not entirely sure. I don’t know why I play these games. Maybe it is some kind of affect, I don’t know.

What I do know is that these games do have something that makes me say, “WTF?” and I, for one, am going to embrace that.

Mountains of Misogyny

It seems like the last month has been a great one for all the he-man-woman-haters not only in gaming but in comic books as well. (To be pedantic, not all the things I’ve seen are clear cut examples of misogyny. Some of them may more accurately be called examples of sexism against women.)

It started a few months ago with the case of powersgaming.com who was having a launch event for Battlefield 3 and on the page describing the event they wrote:

“Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts. Though we’ve done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we’ve certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event.”

This post got picked up by a lot of websites and the powersgaming people started editing and changing their website. (Missing out on saving some of the edits of their page is what was what finally convinced me to install the scrapbook firefox extension). At one point they posted a “misogyny statement” which read, in part, as follows:

This is the truth about the “misogyny” statement, why we had it on our event page, and the reason it was posted there.

We started these events back in ’99, and always allowed women to attend. Keep in mind this is a private function held on private property with no more than 25 attendees. I would say 1/4 of our attendees back then were wives or girlfriends or simply women we’ve met in the gaming biz. It was like having a bunch of friends over for a backyard BBQ; nothing more. But on one occasion we had a guy named “Joe” show up who was being a total jerk to a girl gamer named “Jane” (not real names) to the point where she complained to my daughter. We kept an eye on the situation, and yeah, Jane was right; Joe was a complete a**. Warnings to Joe went nowhere, so we tossed him out the front door and finished the event. Jane had a great time and remains a good friend of ours. Joe.. We never saw again.

Afterwards, we had to make a choice. Since we didn’t know this “Joe” guy before he signed up, how could we keep this from happening again ? Sure we could deal with it if another “Joe” showed up, but honestly we come to these events to have fun and relax, not to police morons like Joe.

So, we made a decision to invite guys only, and that “misogyny” post (below) was based on the above experience; that’s it.

Like most of their edits this too has been taken down. Luckily for me I was in the middle of revising my chapter on masculinity and these guys were perfect examples of performances of masculinity.

The thing that neither the people on the site nor any of the sites I saw criticizing them noted that aside from the obvious issue of punishing women for the actions of a man, the site is also full of casual sexism as well. The group’s message boards — and indeed the very posting that got them in trouble in the first place — has lots of examples of using pictures of women as sex objects. So even though the website has tried to erase all traces of their discrimination they still display their sexism on their sleeves…

 

 

In the comic book world, DC recently rebooted their comics (except in certain cases like Batman and Green Lantern and the Legion of Super-Heroes where they didn’t) and a couple of the characters, namely Catwoman and Starfire, were depicted as as basically vapid sex objects.

I bring up comics because the new Batman game is out and I don’t think I’ll be playing it because it seems to be “super duper sexist” (warning this link is written by someone pretending to be the Hulk and as such is written exclusively in caps which is really off-putting).

 

 

Even if the game turns out not to be so sexist, I know one site I won’t be reading about it on: Destructoid. I never really went to their site that often any way because I never liked them ever since they got their start at E3 back in the day by walking around while wearing a robot head and photobombing other people’s interviews.

 

 

So between this and reading that not only are some men who want to make videogames sexist but so are some of the people who make them, it has been a disheartening few weeks.

Is there any good news?

Poor, Poor, Pitfall, Me…

Warning, rant ahead.

<rant>

You may not have heard this but the economy sucks.

You know what else? Being a grad student sucks, too.

I’m trying to finish my dissertation (got all the chapters written and a couple revised) and I’m sick of being poor. This is especially true now that it doesn’t look like I’ll be teaching in the fall and no teaching = no money.

This stinks but to make things worse, I’m going to a conference in a couple months and the student rate is over $200. The student rate??? WTF? Let’s just put that in perspective: In my department when I did have funding I made less than $13,000 a year. Then you add in airfare to the conference. Right now the cheapest flight I can find is $339. Then you add in a hotel. Of course the conference isn’t held in a Day’s Inn or some cheap hotel. The conference hotel’s “conference rate” with $447. Split 3 ways (I’m going with two other people) that’s $149 a person. Now we’re up to $688 and that’s if I don’t eat anything the whole time I’m there and somehow get to the airport and back for free. At the very least then this conference would take up over 5% of my year’s salary — assuming I had a salary.

Now obviously the conference can’t be held responsible for the cost of airfare but over $200 for students and being at an expensive hotel? Of course you can stay at another hotel and save some money but then have to walk all around a strange city. I did that at one conference and when I arrived in the city and got a taxi the driver said, “are you sure you really want to go there?” and I ended up making sure I was back in the hotel before dark every day. And of course there are travel grants and things that some conferences give but how many of those do they give? I’ve never seen a conference give out more than can be counted on one hand.

Then there is also the price of books. Recently a book came out that sounds like something I really need to read for my dissertation. The price? $99. For a book. Textbooks are often more expensive but often they can be resold. The good news is that this particular book is also available as an electronic version (only password protected pdf as far as I can tell and not on the kindle or nook). The bad news? The ebook is also $99. (ok, to be fair I found one site selling it for the rock bottom price of $89…). I know authors don’t really have any say in the price (which is why I’m not naming the book. I’m not here to shame a fellow academic by any means.) but $99 for an ebook seems a bit of a markup to me. I’ll try to get it through interlibrary loan but since the book just came out the library may say that it is too new to get that way (something I’ve been told before).

I can’t wait until I get tenure. Not only will I never wear pants again but I’ll go out to eat without checking my wallet first…

</rant>

ok, rant over….

Supreme Court Causes Curious Comments.

In the days after the Supreme Court declared that videogames are entitled to First Amendment protection I spent a lot of time reading comments on major news websites. I know I shouldn’t have been but I was really shocked at how many comments were ignorant or the result of really poor literacy skills.

In addition to the usual comments implying that film ratings are legally enforced and people seeming to think they are First Amendment experts by claiming that this wasn’t a First Amendment issue, there were some that were so crazy or so hyperbolic that I really wanted to believe they were super sarcastic trolling but sadly I don’t think most of them were.

It is easy to judge people without giving them a chance to respond so as much as I want to I won’t make snarky comments about these. These come from major mainstream news sites, not some fringe extremist site. So here are some of the more “interesting” comments:

by adrenalin666 June 27, 2011 9:50 PM EDT
does anyone believe that the republican party is not just about money?

daddy bush and bush jr. made this supreme court and this is the crapola that comes out of these schmucks?????

what parent does not want control over what goes into their child’s head?
as a parent how do i influence my child to become the kind of person that i think they should become… to be a good person, be a good citizen, to see people as human beings and not as objects….

but the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SAYS THAT I DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO TELL MY CHILDREN WHAT THEY SHOULD WATCH, WHAT THEY SHOULD DO AS AN ACTIVITY, WHAT THEY SHOULD BE LISTENING TO, WATCHING, SPEAKING…..

WHO THE HELLLLL DOES THE REPUBLICAN COURT THINK THEY ARE????

kiss my arse christian right wing taliban, teaparty…. a hols.

by nleeklee June 27, 2011 7:22 PM EDT
This is obviously wrong. We have no standards as a nation. It’s the evil business that can hire the “best” lawyers and cause its side to win. These store owners have no morals. It would be better if they believed in hell, because it is real, and they are going there. Sadly, though, if they relented and switched professions or jobs or careers, someone else would fill the gap. This shows that Christ’s words about few being saved are true. No matter how much evil is in this world, salvation is still real; those who choose to follow Satan will pay their dues in eternity, while those who follow Christ enjoy all the blessings of heaven forever. Nothing can cancel out the salvation believers have, are experiencing, and will receive when Christ returns. Praise the Lord!

by Canuck42 June 27, 2011 5:27 PM EDT
nolalou..you are obviously one of the individuals who believes that it is all right to corrupt young minds and create criminals for the sake of extreme freedom of expression. There has to be limits to freedom of expression. When freedom of expression begins to corrupt society, it is not freedom of expression. It becomes propoganda. You are obviously one of those who love violent games. Do you allow your children to play them, too? By the way I live in the best country in the world and it’s not the USA.

by freeamerica31 June 27, 2011 5:55 PM EDT
Your right. How about the next time a pedophile sits down next to your kid and ask them “you wanna play house” and your kid says yes. We don’t want to violate their freedom of choice! If we don’t have limits on choices to protect our kids when parents or under adult supervision isn’t around, where does the freedom begin and stop? You have to have laws to safeguard children from those adults who would take advantage or keep them from content not suitable for their age.

by slatep June 27, 2011 2:43 PM EDT
Parents do not have much choice, because these are almost the only video games on the market.

eyeofsauron
Hoover dam got built because of the lack of opinions. Nothing is possible noadays; freedom this, freedom that…. where is common sense. what good does encouraging bad behavior do? stealing, killing ….. to the kids, taking a real gun and blowing people up is pretty numb after a while even if it’s for real.

living4life
A few video games are art. Most aren’t. Then again, most modern art isn’t art. Now that the average person is allowed a ‘valued’ opinion that must now be respected, society is dying in every way. Idiocracy all the way!

cubiksrube
video gamers need to wake up to the fact that the violence in games is a tragic error from the 90ies:
Graphics card needed to be sold with visceral impact, while there was not money to develop actual content.
What’s easier than to populate the hi-res 3D world with targets you need to kill because they threaten you?
Why did the games never make as much progress as the graphics?
And why does it appear is if the only way to demo new graphics was to make another version of the +- same killing game?

David
Brooklyn, NY
June 27th, 2011
1:00 pm
My sense is that there are “Manchurian Candidates” placed on the Supreme Court by rogue regimes seeking to destroy the US from within. No other explanation to these latest rulings make sense.

foxhound4
Jersey City
June 27th, 2011
2:25 pm
Since the rise of violent gaming, too many children in all age groups under 18 have died by the hand of another young person known to them, using, most often, a gun, followed by knives and swords.

JC
Westchester NY
June 27th, 2011
6:50 pm
Scalia has got rocks in his head. He is Pharisaic in his interpretation of the law straight by the book, no common sense. The right thing to do for society’s sake would be to limit children’s access to violent material. This is a no brainer. And of course the material that children see, and hear has an incluence on them! Another no brainer. Just look at how fashions, habits, and behavior has changed over the last few decades based on the kind of music and popular entertainment that was “in” at the time.
If you take Confucius, Plato, Aristotle and Buddha they all would agree on this that what people hear, and see will influence their minds and behavior. Scalia is on the other side of boat.

Johnsy
Long Beach
June 27th, 2011
10:12 pm
This is absurd. Those kinds of games should simply be banned altogether.

Duke Nuke Them Four Forever

Back when Duken Nukem 3D came out there were lots of people pitting Duken Nukem 3D vs. Quake and arguing over which was better. Well, now that Duke Nukem Forever is out I don’t think there is really any game to compare it to.

Even if you ignore the storied history of the development of DN4, the game is really dated in lots of ways. The graphics look like they are about Doom 3 level. The humor is straight out of the previous game and the weapons are too. It also really feels pieced together from numerous different parts. There is a random strip club section which is just pointless. Perhaps weirdly, there is a whole section in an alien space ship that feels like it was taken from Prey complete with doors that look like vaginas. The physics are pretty weird too. For example, in one section you have to stack some barrels to tip over a shipping container and when the container begins to tip over one of the barrels floats in midair and if you get too close to them you bounce off weirdly. The most dated thing about it, however, is the gameplay. There are parts that feel very dated with basic physics puzzles and numerous boss fights.

The game it reminds me a lot of the original Half-Life for some reason. Oddly enough, Duke Nukem Forever was originally meant to come out back around the same time Half-Life came out. I wonder if it had came out back then if people would be pitting Duke Nukem Forever vs. Half-Life?

As it stands, Duke Nukem Forever is eminently forgettable. There is some juvenile and offensive misogyny in the game which might spark some controversy on slow news days. I think that Gearbox really just wanted to shove this out the door as quickly as possible so they could make their own Duke Nukem game. Maybe that one will be more memorable…

wordpress updated

Just a fyi, I updated wordpress and once again had some trouble with it so if anything is broke please let me know.

Upgrading the blog software makes me feel like I do when I have to take my vehicle into the mechanic. It should be easy but it never is. Whenever you change one thing it turns out there are other things broken.

Next time my hosting bill is due I’m going to bite the bullet and move to a host that automatically updates wordpress for you.