Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment

EDGE - - DISPATCHES PERSPECTIVE - NATHAN BROWN Nathan Brown is Edge’s edi­tor, a cor­po­rate apol­o­gist, a virtue sig­naller, a shill and a half­way de­cent Street Fighter player

Pol­i­tics, if you’ll per­mit me to ut­terly man­gle a phrase, is the third rail of videogames these days. So it’s with some trep­i­da­tion that I write this – not least be­cause Steven Poole is the brainy one around these parts. Fun­nily enough, he didn’t go for my sug­ges­tion that I do the clev­er­clever stuff this month while he writes about how an­noy­ing his kids are while crow­bar­ring in a load of dad jokes. Next is­sue, per­haps.

Re­lax. I am not about to draw par­al­lels be­tween the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and The Videogame Hate Move­ment Which Shall Not Be Named, be­cause it’s al­ready been done far better than I ever could do it. Nor am I about to pen some blog-style con­fes­sional about how, I dunno, Stardew Val­ley helped me feel better about, say, Brexit, be­cause there’s al­ready too much of that non­sense out there. I don’t want to talk about pol­i­tics at all, re­ally – but the state, and the qual­ity, of dis­course around con­tem­po­rary pol­i­tics re­minds me so much of the cur­rent videogame cli­mate. Both are, of course, en­tirely, mis­er­ably aw­ful.

The Guardian colum­nist John Har­ris re­cently put this per­fectly. “Out­lets that value the idea of dis­pas­sion­ate in­quiry and dogged re­search are feel­ing the pinch,” he writes, “while a great ocean of polemic... grows ever larger. There is a new kind of out­let that fits snugly into this new world. It de­cries sup­pos­edly ob­jec­tive stuff as hope­lessly bi­ased while claim­ing that its own over­heated polemics shine much brighter light on the truth.” Har­ris is not merely talk­ing about blog­gers, but pun­dits and so­cial-me­dia gob­shites. He quotes the Times colum­nist Hugo Rifkind, who gets right to it: “They can­not com­pre­hend the dif­fer­ence be­tween anal­y­sis and ad­vo­cacy… So they think their own ad­vo­cacy is anal­y­sis, and re­gard the anal­y­sis of oth­ers as ad­vo­cacy.”

Both were, of course, writ­ing about much grander and more vi­tal causes than, say, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of loot boxes in Shadow Of

War. But ev­ery time some­thing like that comes up I am struck by the com­plete nu­ance vac­uum that is the cur­rent videogame dis­course. On one side, any­one dar­ing to try and un­der­stand why these things ex­ist in games, or how they might be made better, is a cor­po­rate apol­o­gist or a shill who hates their au­di­ence. On the other, any­one dis­miss­ing out of hand the no­tion of mi­cro­trans­ac­tions in full-price videogames is an en­ti­tled, whin­ing man-baby.

The prob­lem is that both points of view are equally fed by par­ti­san me­dia. On Twit­ter, a noted con­tent cre­ator (ugh) will alert their enor­mous fol­low­ing to the ex­is­tence of some­thing in a game they deem to be against their au­di­ence’s in­ter­ests as con­sumers. The claim will spread across fo­rums and so­cial me­dia. Smelling an op­por­tu­nity, oth­ers will re­but it out of hand in fo­rum posts, ar­ti­cles, tweets and videos; oth­ers will try and get to the truth of the matter, likely land­ing some­where in the mid­dle of the ar­gu­ment. All will be de­cried for do­ing the wrong thing for hate­ful, or at least sus­pi­cious, rea­sons. Later, the game in ques­tion will come out, and chances are it will all have been a fuss over noth­ing. But the dam­age is done, and the re­sult is a game that, hav­ing been pub­licly tarred and feath­ered, is harmed for no good rea­son – mak­ing postre­lease mon­eti­sa­tion meth­ods all the more likely in fu­ture, nat­u­rally, so thanks for that – and ev­ery­one on both sides just feels more marginalised and an­gry and en­trenched.

Matt Lees, a writer and YouTu­ber, wrote the de­fin­i­tive ar­ti­cle about the link be­tween the videogam­ing right and the forces that gave us Brexit and Trump. It ap­peared in The Guardian last year. But I think this goes back even fur­ther than 2014, where Lees sees the com­par­i­son emerge. It tracks back to two of the old­est terms in on­line jour­nal­ism: click­bait, which is pan­der­ing to an au­di­ence by telling them what they want to hear; and flame­bait, which does the op­po­site, pok­ing a cor­ner of the in­ter­net with a sharp, shitty stick. De­pend­ing on your point of view, the two con­cepts are in­ter­change­able. The anal­y­sis be­comes ad­vo­cacy, and so on.

Yet which­ever side of the di­vide you fall on, I hope we can agree on two things. First, we are un­fairly harm­ing the prospects of games with scant re­gard for the facts; and that se­condly, we are all get­ting both dumber and an­grier. And yes, to be clear, I’m talk­ing about games, not pol­i­tics. But the two feel in­creas­ingly sim­i­lar, all hope for rea­soned dis­cus­sion drowned in an ocean of polemic, where only the ex­trem­ists sur­vive.

The re­sult is a game that, hav­ing been pub­licly tarred and feath­ered, is harmed for no good rea­son

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