commentary and unused notes from my Motherboard article “Did Russia’s Vladimir Putin Just Endorse a Ukrainian Post-Apocalyptic Video Game?”
This post is recommended for readers
- who are already familiar with the Areal/Kickstarter/West Games controversy,
- read my relatively neutral news piece on VICE’s Motherboard about West Games and want commentary and analysis
I couldn’t help but notice that every media outlet that accused West Games of being a scam, or illegitimate, failed to mention the indie company is based out of Kiev. Cringe-worthy, I know. I get that West Game’s ineptitude at what appears to be all online media and activity is overwhelming to us Westerners, but that is no excuse to ignore context and plausibility. Are we really going to pretend that the deteriorating relationship between Russia and the Ukraine, where a few months ago snipers were firing on people in Kiev proper, wouldn’t affect a video game company trying to get shit done? Like maybe this is why they are still in pre-Alpha and don’t have any new concept art from this year?
But hey, I am primarily talking about video game journalism here, so I can’t really be that surprised by lack of context. I was shocked, however, by how big of a critic West Games made in Forbes blogger Erik Kain. (Check out hisseries of negative posts about the company, including his latest which urges “backers to get out now” as the campaign may or may not be “a total scam.”) Clearly he hasn’t finished scratching his “West Games sucks” writing itch. West Games PR is so shockingly bad, they’ve driven this blogger into a spiral of distrustful, angry posts about them and made an enemy out of reddit of all places, reddit, who loves the STALKER series!
Unlike Kain (and reddit), however, I am not enraged. This lack of anger allows me to see clearly what West Games biggest “red flag” is, and that is their PR person is a moron. To quote Hanlon’s razor,
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
More on that stupidity in a bit, but first, I personally don’t think the Kickstarter is a scam. I base this viewpoint on my emails with Kim, and I think they will eventually finish their game as it sounds like they have a plan to do so.
On the use of the Unity presets, Kim wrote “many game developers use unity assets and presets to convey their game, with a more prominent example being Wasteland 2, from Inxile Entertainment.” Using Unity presets to show off a game in pre-alpha is not unheard of or unusual. STALKER didn’t have particularly amazing graphics any way.
Kim estimates Areal will be complete in late 2015 with some Kickstarter backers getting Alpha or Beta access if they choose those rewards. West Games plans to hire more people as “development ramps up” to help finish Areal, as their small team can’t handle the ambitious project alone. Kim wrote quite a few local game developers were interested in working with them, before adding “there are a lot of highly experienced video game developers right now who are out of work in Ukraine, and we’re more than happy to employ them.”
This spring, Polygon found most Ukrainian video game developers had been laid off because of the conflict, were considering leaving the country, or had escape plans ready should the situation worsen. “This might be the end of our country, so of course people are looking elsewhere,” game developer Sergey Galyonkin told Polygon at the time. In an email about the physical dangers in the Ukraine, West Games seemed more patriotic than earnest. They don’t have any escape plans at the moment because right now “it’s safe in Kiev!” but were quick to add “we do plan to move over time” though.
Now, back to how West Games doesn’t know how to Internet. They’ve already admitted they were woefully unprepared to run a Kickstarter campaign, but not being good at running one does not necessarily constitute a crime worthy of Internet harassment. If that was West Games only issue, than okay, I’d feel sorry for them.
The Kickstarter fumbling is not their only PR problem, however. Their entire team seems preoccupied with what is going on online rather than getting shit done. They’ve literally spent the bulk of their time since launch of their Kickstarter campaign in June proving they are who they say they are, instead of actually working on their game.
Unpublished quote on all the trolls, critics and haters:
“It has been incredibly difficult,” wrote Kim in an email. “It has definitely affected us from a monetary standpoint,” he added, and “it’s hindered development, but as you can see with the early gameplay teaser, it hasn’t stopped it.”
An example of a West Games troll that got the entire team worked up in to a tizzy:
If their PR person managed to do their job properly, the rest of the team wouldn’t be caught up in all this online drama, and in an “information war” between Ukraine and Russia. With the death threats, online impersonations, and known Kremlin-backed trolls paid to live on and disrupt Western media sites, West Games’ skepticism of all Western press and unwillingness to engage in most online activity is understandable, but unfortunately online engagement is necessary in order to run a successful Kickstarter.
West Games could turn all this negativity around if they were actually honest about their situation and plans, and a good place to do this would be their Facebook and Twitter, but activity on both those social media platforms is practically nonexistent. Their AMA was a ruined opportunity to regain the public’s trust, as instead of actually engaging the community, West Games cut and pasted from their Kickstarter. Of course redditors freaked out and raged. Granted, the inaccurate online sleuthing on reddit reads more like a witch hunt than citizen journalism, but at least the community’s heart is in the right place. Reddit wants a new STALKER game, for crying out loud! By appearing shady and closed in the AMA, West Games added fuel to the skeptic fire and made more enemies.
Finally, West Games doesn’t know how to engage with press online. They’ve been going after media outlets for being critical of their Kickstarter but even if West Games firmly believes these outlets have been infiltrated by the Russians, they need to stop attacking the press. (Forbes quality deteriorated with the advent of their new blogging section, NOT because “of China,” this is known.) Every time West Games denounces an outlet, it gives the outlet’s post more credibility and legitimacy and makes West Games look even more paranoid than they already are.
Besides dissing outlets, West Games needs to stop demanding journalists do things for them, including changing things after an article has gone up. A personal example: Kim emailed me after my post went up asking me to change what video I linked to in my piece, because the new video they just made looks better, completely missing the point on why I linked to the crappy West Games video in the first place. I linked to the first video and called it “shoddy,” so don’t ask me to then link to a video that is not shoddy when I am pointing out how unprepared your Kickstarter game is.
To conclude, West Games needs to fire their PR person ASAP (their CEO Eugene Kim seems to be doing most of that work anyway) and focus more on actually building their potentially supercool game.
Update: This kickstarter was suspended due to West Games violating their rules and Terms of Service. I’m not surprised, given all the dishonest behavior.
In the past week, there have been two heavily publicized instances of little girls stabbing their loved ones in the name of Slender Man; the first being the two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls charged last week as adults for stabbing their “best friend” last year, the second a 13-year-old in Ohio who tried to stab her mom while wearing a white mask. The media has tripped over themselves trying to explain Slender Man, and inadvertently (or purposefully) demonized Creepypasta, unsupervised Internet usage and online culture. Even those outlets that did not demonize these suspects still failed to properly portray the reach of Slender Man and the stabbings in context of the Slender Man community.
Like all killings the media takes a shine to, a large roster of armchair psychologists have come out of the woodwork to bloviate on Slender Man. Everyone, including those not qualified, especially those not qualified, are theorizing on online culture while completely glossing over the community aspect of a phenomenon like Slender Man. Folks that are qualified to write about online culture, like this lady at the Washington Post, this lady at the Verge and this gentlemen at the Awl (not linking to said trollish article), have also massively fumbled to explain these stabbings in context of the community. (Why the Verge is linking to the awful tone-deaf Awl piece is beyond comprehension, but that’s a post for another matter.)
So here’s the first thing wrong with all this Slender Man stabbing coverage: the absence of Pew Die Pie and adequate mentions of Slender Man in video games
Why is top YouTube celebrity Pew Die Pie important? Well, a large portion of his fan base comprises of girls in the same age range as the little girls stabbing their loved ones. Teens and tweens don’t watch TV as much any more, they watch YouTube and play video games. Pew Die Pie’s main claim to fame is his Slender Man videos and many little girls got into Slender Man because of his charming accent, golden locks and good looks. My now-13-year old brother used to complain all the time about how all the girls in his class are obsessed with Pew Die Pie, and subsequently Slender Man because of Pew Die Pie. My evidence is anecdotal, but that doesn’t make it less true. In the case of the Wisconsin girls, they cite and favor video game lore; they want to go to Slender Man’s mansion, which only exists in the video game. A video game made popular by Pew Die Pie.
The little girls first tried to stab their friend in a public restroom, then in the woods. Both scenes, of Slender Man catching up with you in a public restroom and in the woods, happen in the first episode of Pew Die Pie’s Slender Man video series. Is Pew Die Pie responsible for the stabbings? No, of course not.
In the case of the 13-year-old girl, her mother mentioned her daughter plays Minecraft, and the ultimate bad guy in the game is Enderman, a creepy figure the creator of Minecraft admitted to being inspired by Slender Man. Is Minecraft responsible for the stabbings? Again, no, of course not, but yet again every outlet has failed to mention the Slender Man-inspired monster in Minecraft.
The second thing wrong with all this Slender Man coverage: it glosses over the role of the community WHICH NOW INCLUDES THE PRESS in perpetuating the Slender Man myth.
Think of Slender Man as a community art project, where for years now adults, teens and tweens have been fabricating fake news articles, photographs, and even video games and comics, about Slender Man, this all-powerful, all-knowing spectre-monster with long arms (shaped like claws, or tree branches, or tentacles depending on the artist) that mind controls and kills people. When these two Wisconsin girls say they wanted to honor the Slender Man myth, to make him “real” and prove the “skeptics wrong,” it sounds more like they wanted to participate in the community by creating the most credible news article about Slender Man ever. They didn’t want to make him real by doing another photoshop, that’s already been done. So how do you make the most credible news article about Slender Man? You actually go out and make Slender Man happen in a way the news can cover.
Not only that, but these two little girls then gave their best friend the ultimate Slender Man experience by becoming Slender Man for her. It’s sick and it’s twisted, but if we are charging them as mentally fit adults we can’t say they didn’t know the line between reality and fantasy because mentally fit adults do know the line between reality and fantasy. Unless, you have two girls purposefully blurring the line between fantasy and reality in order to contribute to this online community producing Slender Man lore. Slender Man wipes memories and mind controls, remember, which is convenient for all three girls then, including the one in Ohio who say she doesn’t remember anything after trying to stab her mother.
The Wisconsin girls completely changed the meme and contributed significantly to the Slender Man community/phenomenon with their attempted murder, and by doing so in this way, have completely changed the narrative of Slender Man lore. Slender Man used to just be a fantasy. Now he is a reality. He is a reality because anyone can become a proxy for Slender Man if he or she wishes. This is evident in the stabbing of the 13-year-old girl who tried to stab her mother. Three little girls have now stabbed two people in the name of Slender Man, not in a fan fiction or in a video game, but in very, very real life. Like all things digital these days, these girls got instant feedback for it too. And not just from online.
The Verge almost got this right, when they quoted psychologist Peter Langman:
Online communities may provide stronger reinforcement than other forms of media, Langman says, because other people are providing feedback.
Any media outlet that reports on this story and fails to mention that they as an outlet are now contributing to the Slender Man myth, is laughably ignorant and dangerous. The press does not exist in a vacuum. The press cannot blame CreepyPasta and memes but not blame itself or Pew Die Pie.
In fact, the primary driver of the Slender Man myth is no longer Pew Die Pie, Minecraft, CreepyPasta, reddit, 4chan or Something Awful, but the press itself.
August 2014 edit: TRIGGER WARNING FOR DISCUSSION, DEPICTION OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE
In case you can’t tell from the title, in the latest Tomb Raider installment (and reboot!) the lead female almost gets raped by her captors. This made a shit ton of people mad, and while their intentions were good, the outcome was ultimately…worse.
The game designers explained this rape attempt was to make Croft, who is known for being a gun-toting bad-ass, more “vulnerable” and “human,” perhaps thinking society could finally have a rational discussion about rape. Boy were they mistaken, judging by the online reaction! (Which incidentally led to a detracted statement that could easily be construed as a silencing attempt, almost mirroring the aftermath an actual rape victim would find themselves in.)
The online reaction was the typical knee-jerk foaming-at-the-mouth feminist “oh my god how could they do this to my favorite female hero and literally one of the only few strong female hero’s” arguments. And it was especially nice to see the men wringing their digital hands louder than any one else.
But how often has a video game tackled rape? And have they ever approached the subject in even as remotely delicate of a manner as the latest Tomb Raider?
The answer is a no, again easily answered by the level of outrage.
Mic Wright wrote in the Kernel, “I don’t remember Master Chief ever being anally raped to help us empathise with him more.” Helen Lewis also compared Croft to the male Halo franchise hero in the New Statesman: “Bungie didn’t think that the only way players would root for Master Chief was by having him raped.”
I don’t know how Wright or Lewis can be confused, but in case you dear reader are too, I’d like to take this moment to point out to you that Master Chief is a man, and Lara Croft is a woman.
And not only that, but, RAPE is one of those weird sexual things men have been doing to women since the dawn of time.
The Hebrew Muslim and Christian god condoned and advocated using rape as a weapon of war in the Old Testament, and armies to this day still use it as as demoralizing tool all over the world. Even military contractors and soldiers in modern war zones still rape women, and they even rape women who are not their enemies but their comrades-in-arms.
Recent statistics for rape in the United States put a sexual assault or rape at every two minutes, and 1/6 of the female population in America will be raped, or fight off a rapist in her lifetime. Globally, one in every five women will be raped. But you didn’t come here to read rape statistics, and if you’re bored by all those numbers, sorry. I just thought I had to note them, because I laughed when Kellie Foxx-Gonzales wrote, NOT IRONICALLY, on The Mary Sue:
“The responsibility is wholly upon her to protect herself, it is not upon the scumbag rapists who are trying to hurt her. “
Duh, Kellie. Do you not know how rape happens? Women usually have to protect themselves alone, from the men attacking them. And rapists are generally scumbags. That’s why they’re rapists!
Not to keep picking on Kellie from The Mary Sue, but she went on to say rape shouldn’t be in any video game because she’s “had enough of that in real life.”
Great. So now we can’t talk about rape because it happens too much? I thought one of the biggest problems with rape was that people don’t talk about it enough: the crime doesn’t always get reported, etc. Read the rest of this entry »
Abstract: This image problem is rooted in a failure by the mainstream media (and film) to treat video games as an acceptable pastime, making gaming “a dirty word“, and perpetuating the notion that women shouldn’t have authorship over technology around them. The male gaming community is only partially responsible, and this will be discussed in a subsequent post. This post was formulated after analyzing video game coverage by major female-oriented publications and by my personal memory of video game scenes in movies.
“One of the things we were trying to combat with 3G was how girls are discouraged from learning anything about technology beyond how to use it, [not] to be responsible or have a form of authorship with it.” – Terence Hannum, Internship and External Relations Coordinator at Columbia College
Any female in her 20’s that plays video games knows gaming has an image problem. Not only does the community you play in make you feel unwelcome a la the blog “Fat, Ugly or Slutty“, your parents find your enjoyment of video games off-putting, as do 30-somethings co-workers. I’ve had more than one conversation at slightly older dinner parties become painfully awkward when I mention I like/want to write about video games. The women scan the room and decide it is time to mingle. Then I am left with some guy, and as the silence continues between us, I begin to question his intentions. Sometimes I can see this male have an OMG-GIRL-GAMER-freak-out moment, all in the eyes, and when it abides he hesitantly remarks I must be the male gamer fantasy or some other weird crap. Then I decide it is time to mingle.
My mom keeps thinking I will grow out of my love of video games. She is not impressed when I tell her I am laying down plumbing because my city’s population explosion is forcing me to expand my city limits.
There is a common thread behind these awkward interactions: people born before the 80’s view video games as either a waste of time or a childish hobby. How can that be, when video games have been around for 30 years – and adults now play video games and teachers use video games as part of their curriculum? Read the rest of this entry »
Will Congress balance the budget? Will there be a government shut-down? Are we going to rob from the rich to give to the poor, or are we going to rob from the poor to give to the rich? Are we going to become communists? Are we going to become corporate fascists? Are we all going to die?
Every time I feel myself getting sucked into the media hysteria that is the budget deficit, I go back to an interactive deficit puzzle created presumably by the New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt in November of last year.
This interactive deficit puzzle has soothed me many times, and each time I begin the puzzle, I am reminded of how simple and effective it is. I can balance the budget without hurting the elderly or the poor, and upon balancing the budget, I am left feeling joyful. My euphoria only lasts for a few minutes though, because in completing Leonhardt’s puzzle, I am left wondering why the budget has taken months to balance when I can balance it in less than five minutes… has every member of Congress sat down and used a tool like this?
I know all those fogies in Congress probably don’t remember anything from their last economics class, so maybe a puzzle/tool/application like Leonhardt’s would be most helpful in getting these elected officials to think about budget deficit concepts in terms of money and not social agenda. Leonhardt’s project breaks down US spending and tax areas in concise and understandable language, and with its point and click format, even new computer-using Congressmen can understand how to solve the deficit.
Can’t the Speaker of the House and Joe Biden send out a mass e-mail to all Congressmen demanding everyone use Leonhardt’s interactive puzzle before the next session? That mass e-mail should close with a line something like… “Any elected official that refuses to use Leonhardt’s puzzle because it is on the New York Times site will be barred from the floor.”
^^ If the rest of the United States looks like this, I just might move to Canada. Collecting firewood is only fun the first couple of times… ^^
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I never download anything the day it becomes available, as it requires discussion (I currently share a video gaming machine with my boyfriend). Nevertheless, the Crysis 2 demo was downloaded and I didn’t even have to pitch it.
I had a great time with Crysis, and it was the demo that originally sold me on the game. I especially became adept at firing on enemy targets with the assault weapon attached to a boat. My whole strategy for attacking this encampment by the water involved this boat (think to the tune of this song). I have good memories of the first demo, so saying I was excited is an understatement.
Then we went away to Florida for 6 days. The demo was not played.
Upon returning from vacation on the 25th, what is found? The Crysis 2 demo is multiplayer, and only available to play from March 15th to March 22nd. If you try to play the demo after March 22nd, there are no servers available for you to play on. What kind of marketing madness is this??? Sure, this limited demo-play generates buzz, and Crysis 2 demo players get another reason to feel all superior, but what about me? I am left heartbroken and the high interest of paying $60 has dissipated.
The void was filled by Neverwinter Nights 2 and all the expansion packs….
No competition, really.