GamerGate and Trump: A Systemic Analysis

Before you read this – especially if you aren’t familiar with the term “GamerGate” – you ought to read Matt Lee’s article on this subject in the Guardian. He’s a better writer than I am and he’ll give you a much better context on what GamerGate was and how it relates to Trump and the alt-right.

Having said that I’ve been thinking about Trump and GamerGate from a systems analytics perspective, and I want to share some insights into the underling system at work here:

In the beginning – i.e. the 90s – the game industry developed and marketed games towards a relatively small market that consisted predominantly of straight white males. These people were the “core” gamer demographic, and happily purchased games that appealed to their tastes. Due to this market’s interest in the subject a small journalism community sprouted to write game reviews, previews, and editorials.

It was a simple and functional system. Gamers were interested in games. Developers created games and sold them to gamers. Game journalists wrote about games and were supported by advertisers because they wrote articles that gamers read.

However, in the late aught’s, the game industry expanded rapidly to a variety of new demographics. Nintendo released the casual-focused Wii, Apple ushered in the era of mobile gaming with the iPhone, and enough people coalesced behind the indie games market that it began to be profitable. These events caused a whole lot of new people to enter the games market – new people who were very different from the “core” gamer demographic.

All of this caused predictable changes to the system. Instead of just the “core” gamer demographic, there were now the “casual” gamers – who would pay for simple fare such as Wii Sports – “mobile” gamers – who would pay for games on their mobile devices – and “indie” gamers – who would pay for games with more experimental content and/or pixel art. However, the “indie”, “casual”, and “mobile” gamers vastly outnumbered the “core” gamers. Because of this game developers and journalists found it profitable to produce games and articles targeted towards them.

Historically, this kind of thing has regularly occurred in population systems. A group of humans are living happily in an area. Suddenly several new groups of humans move in. The original group – lacking the ability to force the newcomers out – experience a change to their way of life and a weakening of their cultural power. They don’t like it. It’s a common story – from the Book of Exodus to the Eternal September. It probably even predates humanity. And in nearly every version, what happens next is conflict.

The first thing to really change was game journalism. This was to be expected, because game journalists can adapt their content much quicker than game developers. A game studio might take four years to transition between developing Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell to Just Dance, but a game journalist could do it virtually overnight by deciding to write about Anna Anthropy’s Mighty Jill Off in addition to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV. To the “core” gamers this appeared as a stark difference. Suddenly their favorite sites contained a lot of content that didn’t appeal to them. Additionally – as these sites sought to retain and encourage their new readers – they adopted much more inclusive language, and featured much more inclusive viewpoints.

In hindsight it seems obvious that “Ethics in Games Journalism” became the rallying cry for GamerGate. Biased journalists – who would trade positive coverage in exchange for sexual favors – were all the explanation the small group of “core” gamers needed to form GamerGate. Then – pointing to the biggest change – they proceeded to brutalize the less powerful demographics. In this case it was the women in and around the games industry.

While politics works on a different scale than game markets, the systems are similar and the same pattern is playing out. The demographics of America have changed and – due to migrants seeking to escape the economic stagnation of Latin America and the brutal wars in the Middle East – that change is accelerating. One of the most prominent features of this change is that the media is producing content to appeal to these new consumers. A portion of the former majority has coalesced to rail against ethics in journalism – the Crooked Media, the Lügenpresse – and brutalize those from less powerful demographics.

GamerGate surprised us by how successful it was. We weren’t prepared for the tenacity behind their violence, nor were we prepared for the amount of people willing to stand by and let them get away with it. Trump’s success is a familiar surprise.

In the end though, GamerGate didn’t reverse the demographic changes to the games industry. Developers are still making games that appeal to the “casual,” “mobile,” and “indie” consumers, and game journalists are still covering those topics. And in spite of the real damage GameGate inflicted the system continues it’s trend towards more inclusive content for a more diverse market.

I hope that the political system will be similarly resilient.

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Z is for Zombie

Z is for Zombie

It’s Halloween, and that means zombies!

Or, at least symbolic representation of zombies using ASCII!

Explore!

explore

Escape!

escape

And experience the true terror of the letter Z!

experience

I made this game because I love old-school ASCII roguelikes, but know too many people who are put off by how dense they are. Z is for Zombie captures the aesthetic of these games, but without the steep learning curve required to “see the matrix”

Also… because zombies

Z is for Zombie

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Generating Documentation using Sphinx

Recently I’ve been working on a python project and decided to use the highly-praised Sphinx package to generate useful and beautiful documentation for it. Unfortunately I found Sphinx’s own documentation to be a somewhat lacking – which is kind of ironic if you ask me. Anyway, here are the steps I found to go from “A dirty pile of python code with no documentation at all” to “A dirty pile of python code with beatifully formated sphinx-generated documentation.” Continue reading

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Three Kings

3Kings

 

I made Three Kings for the 2013 Holiday Game Jam by Glitch City. It’s an interactive exploration of one of my favorite Christmas carols: “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

I’ve worked on it since then, cleaning up the bugs and making it a little less “game-jamy” The levels ended up being a little too long, and cinematic scenes are still a little rough, but overall I’m very happy with how the game turned out.

The music for this was done by the ever amazing Angus McKay.

Download Three Kings for Mac and PC

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Psychology Books for Game Designers

A few months ago I saw a question on reddit (in the /r/gamedesign subreddit) asking about useful books on psychology for game designers. At the time I had just finished a book on Jung and had been thinking a lot about how idea of the collective unconscious can be used in game design – so I had a pretty good response ready. Continue reading

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Jordan

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been inspired by stories of american slaves escaping north through the Underground Railroad.

I built this game prototype to see how these stories could play out in an interactive experience.

The build of the game is in a decidedly Alpha state. The core experience is there, but it’s missing lot of models / animations / sounds. Especially the slave hunters – who are pink capsules – and the cabin at the end of the game – which is a pink cube.

I’d love to develop this game further sometime.

Jordan – Windows

Jordan – Mac

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Monster

monster_feature

I’ve always been fascinated by simple pleasure found in physical play where the rules are enforced socially rather than mechanically. My kids have given me plenty of opportunities to experience this.

This game is an experiment to see if rules can be socially enforced by an NPC. I think it works pretty well.

Play Monster

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One Button Mayhem

One Button Mayhem is Starcraft – simplified in to a one-button game.

I made this custom map a few years ago based on my earlier game Squirrel Fight. My goals was to convey a full RTS experience in a one-button game. In One Button Mayhem you tap the button to spawn a zergling and hold it down longer to spawn larger units.

The map should still be available on battle.net, but I haven’t checked in a while.

I got a lot of positive feedback from people in the Starcraft community – including a feature on SC2Mapster.com, a shout-out from Day[9], and a cute replay of Korean pro-gamer Sen playing it.

I learned a whole lot about game balance in making this game – in particular that a balanced game is by no means a fun game, and often quite the opposite. It takes a lot of work to keep optimal unit combinations from becoming overpowered and leading to long boring matches. And it’s amazing how much a tiny change – say +1 hit point here or +1 damage there – affects the final game.

People in the Starcraft community sometimes complain about game balance, but having seen the amount of work that goes into it, I’m amazed at how well the designers at Blizzard have done to make Starcraft both balanced and  fun.

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AR Experiments 1 and 2

I made these for the 2010 Game Developers Conference as an exploration into Augmented Reality – and a clever gimmick to make my business cards stand out. You play the games using a webcam and the QR code on my business card.

I really like motion controls and wish there were an accessible way for people to use them. Even something simple – like giving the cursor an orientation – opens up a realm of new gameplay possibilities.

ar1

ar2

 

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Squirrel Fight

squirrelFight_feature

I made Squirrel Fight for a one-button game competition in 2009. The idea for it hit me as I was riding my bike home one day and by that evening I had my first prototype. It’s an RTS game – like Starcraft – but with extremely simple controls.

It’s a two-player game, so you’ll have to grab someone nearby and play with them.

 

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