Category Archives: Social Media

Maelstrom – Unscheduled, Inclusive and now with Sponsorship

There is a new gaming convention coming out soon called Maelstrom, April 4th to April 6th. I want to mention it here because as taken from the website this is something that people here would be really interested in as it’s got a focus on being unstructured and inclusive. They got a lot of attention last year with their Diana Jones Nominated play-testing convention Metatopia for being a great spot to talk about design, as well as being inclusive to their guests with lots of discussion based around queerness, mental health, and social change in games.

That said, maybe Morristown NJ is a little too far for you, and the money isn’t there? Thankfully for this new convention, the people to the IGDN are providing a sponsorship to a designer from marginalized communities whose work supports the discussion and exploration of issues that affect marginalized communities. The best thing, for those who are still worried about it, is that having published material isn’t a pre-requisite to get the sponsorship.

There are more details on the IGDN website.



Love is Just a Game: A Review of Your Friends Close

A red-haired woman in a red dress is seated upright in bed, cradling the head of her boyfriend in her lap.

Becca (Jocelyn Kelvin) and Jason (Brock Wilbur) in a rare moment of calm.

Your Friends Close might be termed a “video game movie,” a dubious taxonomizing term if ever there was one. “Video game movie” is not a genre, it’s a crude descriptor that sloppily groups films together based on the simple presence of video game content; it describes films as diverse as Doom (2005), a truly abysmal and unnecessary adaptation of a mindless first-person shooter, and Ben X (2007), a sensitive portrait of a boy with autism who immerses himself in an MMORPG universe.

To call Your Friends Close a “video game movie” would be a disservice. It is one of the first video game movies I have seen that rewards prior knowledge of the gaming world without requiring it, that strikes the fine line between using games as a plot element without losing itself in their details. This is not a video game movie; this is a tale of ambition, greed, and codependency set against a backdrop of video game development culture.

The film tells the story of a programming couple named Jason and Becca (played by writer-director team Brock Wilbur and Jocelyn Kelvin) who invite their colleagues (“friends” would be too strong of a word) to a house party celebrating the success of their new game. The game—also called “Your Friends Close”—is a massively multiplayer online Turing test in which players compete to guess whether or not their fellow players are human. Two rules: one wrong guess and you’re out of the game, last player standing takes all. Continue reading

Bunk Bed #2: Redshirt

Welcome to the Border House Bunk Bed, a feature in which Zoya and I respond to a game’s treatment of gender and sexuality with two short essays. Each half of Bunk Bed is written in isolation; we are forbidden from reading each other’s work until the feature is done. Bunk Bed is meant to capture the unedited, honest (and sometimes divergent) feelings of two queer games critics. Readers are invited to try the featured game and share their own responses in the comments section. 
A photo of a bunk bed.

Welcome to Border House Bunk Bed!

The Game:

Redshirt (The Tiniest Shark, PC and Mac, $19.95 USD) is a sci-fi social media simulator that transports the player to a Star Trek-inspired future while lampooning the Facebook of the present. By navigating social media website Spacebook (get it?), the player builds relationships, acquires skills, and climbs the career ladder. Redshirt will be available on November 13th, 2013 on Steam, GoG, and through direct download.

Top Bunk: Samantha

It’s my dream to be queer in outer space. Why? Queerness and outer space are the two coolest things ever, so they should be mind-blowing in combination, right? My partner and I would live on a homey little space station orbiting Jupiter, far away from all the straight people. We’d be so beautifully isolated and, in the stillness of space, I would perfect the art of the Barbarella-esque, zero-gravity striptease.

When I booted up Mitu Khandaker’s Redshirt, I was ready to live out my dreams of sultry space sex. I made a green-skinned Asrion character named Samantha, indicated an erotic interest in women on my profile and began my simulated space sojourn. But alas, the endlessness of space couldn’t shield me from the vagaries of love. Redshirt was not the queer getaway of my dreams but it did produce an unforgettable tale of love and heartbreak. Continue reading

Grand Theft Discourse: Comment Culture and Petty Hatred

GameSpot's logo; each letter of the word "GameSpot" is circumscribed by a circle with a red border, while the 'O" is surrounded by a starburst.

“Still harping on the same subject, you will exclaim—How can I avoid it, when most of the struggle of an eventful life has been occasioned by the oppressed state of my sex: we reason deeply, when we forcibly feel.

— Mary Wollstonecraft, emphasis mine.

When contemplating the locks behind which lay the internet id’s sewage, it always helps to remember what often causes them to swing open and let slip the furious, malodorous torrent of utterly degraded commentary: women who speak their minds.

Adding to the litany of women caught by the deluge of threats and bigotry, GameSpot editor and critic Carolyn Petit has been attacked by online commenters because she gave Grand Theft Auto V a near perfect review. A 9/10 was her verdict; however, some particularly and lamentably vocal fans wanted her to bless the game with a 10/10. Yes: for want of a lone point she has been called everything from a “bitch” to a “tranny” to “a shitty trap” to demanding that GameSpot “never, ever, let a woman review games like this!” to a “mentally ill freak”—the term “self-mutilating” came up far too many times to count.

Some of the more “reasonable” commentary bemoaned such extremes but, of course, sought to reassure us that not all gamers are like this and that, after all, these people are mere individuals (hovering somewhere between the ages of twelve and fifteen) who are solely responsible for their own vulgarity.

To this, I ask what I have always asked: How many individuals does it take before it becomes a social problem?

Time and again we see these cresting tidal waves of hateful spew, in which we can only see the screaming oblivion to which these people would consign democratic discourse. The comments Ms. Petit received display a singular lack of humanity that we must take upon ourselves to heal. To look at the hatred directed at women who speak their minds is to see the wracking death of discourse and, indeed, the source-code of patriarchy itself. Ms. Petit’s crime was to mention— offhandedly, no less, in an eight minute review that was mostly focused on non-political issues—the fact that GTA V relegates its women characters to outmoded and dehumanising archetypes. For this, she was put in the YouTube stocks.

For giving the game a 9/10 instead of a 10/10, it bears repeating. Continue reading

Finding My Voice in Games: Speaking, Singing, Streaming

The gestures a character can perform in Dark Souls.

The gestures a character can perform in Dark Souls.

First, I snort like a horse a few times. Then I sound out all the vowels in turn, sliding my pitch up and down, up and down. I think of my voice as a river running through me from my lungs to my throat to my lips and I know that I have to change its course.

I dam my voice at my throat and try to make it run through my forehead instead. Then, locking in my pitch as high as I can muster, I read a few pages of a book aloud. I imagine a helium balloon over my head, insistently pulling my intonation upward at the end of each word, each sentence.

And there it is.

For a few minutes, I can sound like me, like Samantha, like how I always imagine myself sounding. I can slough off the dreary baritone I’ve been stuck with since puberty and speak instead in a soft alto that lilts playfully through every phrase. It feels sublime. But it exhausts me.

Like many transgender women, I started taking hormones after puberty had irreversibly thickened my larynx. Apart from a risky surgical procedure, the only way for me to produce a conventionally feminine speaking voice is through practice.

I have just started to do rigorous vocal exercises like the one described above. They’re not going well so far. I can produce a “believable” female voice but I feel like I’m impersonating someone. It’s so hard to get used to the idea that this can be my voice now, that no one has to know how I spoke before my transition.

Singing is even harder for me. If I want to sing at high volume, I need to access characteristically male features of my voice. As much as I love belting out “A Whole New World,” karaoke is off limits unless I’m in a queer-friendly space. When I sing, I can hear disturbingly powerful echoes of the person I once was. It’s uncomfortably dysphoric or, more simply put, it makes me feel weird about my gender.

But when Cameron Kunzelman asked me to record a new version of my song “Transcontinental Alpaca” for the game Alpaca Run, I jumped at the chance; I loved to write music but I had not recorded any new songs since 2009, well before the start of my transition.

Ingrid, the transcontinental alpaca and star of Alpaca Run.

Ingrid, the transcontinental alpaca and star of Alpaca Run.

I had missed singing so much, I realized. I listened to my old music and heard prescient hints of changes to come. Through my music, I had been feeling my gender identity out in the dark, finding circumlocutory language to describe a precise but shadowy feeling. In one song, I complain to the addressee: “Don’t tell me to be the man. I’m not. / And neither are you. / So where does that leave us?” In another, I preemptively mourn an impossible future: “I could have made it if I were a man / but I didn’t have a plan for this.”

“Transcontinental Alpaca,” by comparison, was lighter fare indeed. I first recorded the song in 2007 and, at the time, it was a heartfelt song about a boy and his alpaca travelling across the country and an anthem for Ingrid, my beloved alpaca stuffed animal.

When I returned to the song at Cameron’s behest in 2013, I had to ask myself what had changed. Was the narrator of the song still male even though my own gender had changed? The lyrics of “Transcontinental Alpaca” provided no clues; the only pronouns in the song are “I” for the narrator and “she” for Ingrid. Was my relationship to this fictional alpaca gendered in 2007 in ways that had gone completely unexamined at the time? Were Ingrid and I sisters now when once she had been my maternal protector? I even pondered the “trans-” prefix in the chorus (“She’s the transcontinental alpaca…”), a single syllable that sounds so different to me now than it did in 2007.

I tried to push past my puzzling questions but, as I immersed myself in the recording process, my confusion only deepened. How should I sing this song? Should I impersonate the person I had been in 2007 or should I try to sing differently? How comfortable was I leaning into the humor of the falsetto break before the chorus, that peculiarly gendered humor of a “male voice” suddenly sounding “womanly” as it launches itself into a higher register?

The questions piled up, as did my reservations about attaching my voice to the project. This would be most people’s initial experience with my voice and it would not, to my mind, leave them with a convincingly feminine first impression. I didn’t want the audience to hear that voice; I wanted them to hear the lilting alto of my fantasies.

I’d like to say that I came up with an amazing theory as to how my transition had changed the song. I’d like to say that I subtly altered the recording process to reflect the personal shifts that had taken place over the past year. I didn’t. I just sang. I lost myself in the mechanics of the process and shoved the theory aside. I got a good take. I sent it to Cameron. I shelved my trepidation.

When Alpaca Run first came out, most of the people who played it knew who I was. But, as it spread beyond my own queer-affirmative circles, my fears about my voice were quickly justified. One YouTuber, upon seeing the credits of the game, concluded that someone named Samantha Allen could not possibly be the singer of “Transcontinental Alpaca.” I wrote a clarification in the comments and he was understanding. But I wondered how many of Alpaca Run’s thousands of players envision a male narrator as soon as the soundtrack kicks in.

I played Alpaca Run again yesterday for the first time in weeks with a longtime friend looking over my shoulder.

“I don’t like that song,” she said. “It doesn’t sound like you anymore.”

And indeed, in that moment, the song struck me as a strange relic, out of time and out of place. Who was this person singing? Did I sound like myself? How could I not? I am me, after all. And yet, how alienating it was to hear it through her ears. How strange it was that this curious song about an alpaca’s journey across the USA was now a portal through time to a version of myself that I had left by the wayside.

What I’ve discovered through my transition and especially through the process of singing for Alpaca Run is that voice remains of the most powerful perceptual cues that people use to understand each other. Transgender folk wisdom has it that it takes about four female cues to overshadow one male cue. As hormones reshape my body, as my hair grows out, as I hone my makeup skills, more and more female cues are lining up for me. But my voice—my pesky, stubborn voice—can bring them all crashing down in an instant. My voice shapes how people approach me; it changes whether they think of me as a woman or as a “third category.”

It shouldn’t be this way, I know. We should be able to accept a variety of voices coming out of a variety of bodies. Some people choose to thwart conventionally gendered notions of voice and I honor that choice but, in my personal case, I do want to blend sometimes. For me, shifting other people’s perception is worth the labor of vocal training. And so, haltingly, I continue my exercises. First, I snort like a horse…

A couple of weeks ago, I started streaming Dark Souls on The stream began as a way for my sagely older brother to guide me through a first playthrough of this notoriously difficult game but others started to tune in as well. Some found my stream through my Twitter and, as such, probably know that I’m transgender. But other chat participants seem blissfully unaware of who I am beyond my bio photo.

In a short time, Twitch has become an escape for me, the one corner of gaming culture in which I can just relax and play a game without wearing my trans hat. When I’m harassed on Twitter during a video game controversy, people intentionally misgender me but, in my little Twitch oasis, chat participants use appropriate pronouns at all times. They have no reason not to. They’re so innocent.

I communicate with the chat through hurried text messages and through the ever comical Dark Souls gesture system. But I want to talk. I want to crack a joke. I want to scream when I run into a trap and cheer when I finally defeat a boss.

Voice has become an increasingly important facet of gaming culture: from podcasts to “Let’s Play” videos to Twitch streams. I want to join the conversation, too.

But I’m scared. I still have so much work to do on my voice. Every time I stream Dark Souls, I look down at the red light on my headset by the words “Mic Mute.” And I wonder what will happen if I turn it green.


Casual Fridays – Full Bloom

We’ve done a lot of flash games, but there’s something I’ve been playing for a while that I’ve really been enjoying and want to share with you. It’s Playdom’s Full Bloom game which is available on Facebook. The premise of the game is that you’re a newbie gardener who is looking to learn about flowers but what it really does is mishmash a “match 3″ type of game and an isometric garden building game that has a lot of the trapping of most facebook games. It’s free to play, but you can of course spend money to buy gold which allows you to buy nifty extra special pieces to put in your garden or more things to clear out the rubble.

What I like about this game is that it’s actually got an isometric putting stuff in play that I enjoy. There really isn’t a huge emphasis on what you put in your garden, only that you have one as the “nicer” your garden is the more areas that get unlocked in the other part of the game. What you put into it is really up to you, and there’s a nice enough diversity of plants to choose from that don’t cost money that it’s really possible to have a very nice set of colours and arrangements.

A garden scene with some cobble stone paths surrounding a white picket fence which contains some flowers. There is a bush next two some flower boxes with a different set of flowers.

You can have nice neat ordered rows with nicely ordered plants (which is what I tend to do) or you can have a wilder garden with colour everywhere. There are levels too, you can put down soil or wood chips or just leave everything as is. Regardless of what you do, it’s a lot of fun.  You can even remove everything — though it’s one at a time, having a select more or all option would be nice — and start over. The interface is a lot more intuitive now than when it started, and there’s no limit to the amount of things you can store which comes in handy when you’re trying to complete any quests that they’ve set up that deal with planting and growing flowers. Growing flowers requires certain amounts of various items that you can get from your friends, but this game has a 100 item per person limit so you won’t be left out if you don’t have any friends who want to plant flowers with you.

The other side of the game is the “Match 3″ game where you get a bunch of flowers and you need to slide a pair of them so that you match at least 3 of the same type of flower. While some of the levels are timed, most of them run off of a “move” amount, you have a limited number of turns in which you need to

A playing field with various flowers, there are three explosions happening which are clearing more flowers from the field.

achieve the stated goal. There’s a nice enough variety between the game events, either with the board being of a different shape or rather than just collecting flowers you have to clear brush, by making matches on afflicted tile, or brambles, by making matches next to the brambles. You have to deal with bees, or trying to clear the way for sunlight, or even the spreading of mushrooms.  Some of the levels are really hard too, frustratingly, banging your head against the wall hard. They do offer a way around levels, or special bonuses while playing the level but again these all cost gold. I’m pretty far along the game, so I know that the levels are beatable but we are talking several days worth of trying one level again and again.

Full Bloom does what a lot of other of the Facebook Clones do, but thankfully with a kind of refreshing take on the whole thing. It’s not farming, you don’t have to come back to check on things when they’re done. It’s not trying too hard to be super serious. It really pretty, and fun to play which is a mark a lot of games are missing.

Completely Arbitrary Number Value Judgement: -{-* -{-@ -{-< -{-# -{-()  Look! It’s my pretty five flower garden!

Briefly: The News

A bunch of interesting things have happened today, so I thought I would throw together a brief post.

The Good:
New Dreamfall from Ragnar Tornquist’s new studio - more info at Kotaku and an interview at Rock Paper Shotgun.

Halo 4 Creators Introduce Lifetime Ban For Sexism - An awesome initiative, and we can all agree that Kiki Wolfkill is an awesome name.

The Bad:
Chivalry Dev said adding women to their game would be “degrading”, with bonus “missing the point”.

The Headdesk:
The Vita is like a lady with 4 boobs.

Anything else going on that we’re missing out on? Comment away!

Why Lim is an incredible accomplishment

A screenshot from Lim – shows a labyrinth with walls made of black squares, the protagonist as a purple square, and other characters as brown squares, against a pale magenta background.

I played Merritt Kopas’s Lim a couple of weeks ago. I was very impressed, but thought it was too obviously brilliant to be worth writing about. But now it’s been featured on Rock, Paper Shotgun and commenters are calling it ‘pretentious’, and saying it’s a bad game, and nothing more than an art exercise, and feels like a drawn-out level of Dys4ia, so I feel I have to write something. Spoilers follow, as well as triggers for bullying and gender dysphoria.

Play and strategy

Lim is a game about fitting in. It’s a metaphor constructed out of game mechanics – the playable character is a square that is able to take on the colour of the majority of surrounding squares – or it can just stay the same colour as it already is. It’s up to the player to choose. The level design takes the form of a labyrinth. When the protagonist is spotted not fitting in, it is attacked by the surrounding squares. There’s no depleting health, no chance of dying, but the attack is loud, uncomfortable (physically so, as the flashing and juttering of the screen causes motion sickness for many players) and makes it harder to move around the game space.

The answer seems simple at first – just always blend in with your surroundings – but as the game progresses it turns out that this isn’t enough. Some spaces are mixed, and in those spaces you’re bound to be attacked. Some squares notice you looking different before you have the chance to change – by then it’s too late, and they attack you anyway.

When things go wrong

I don’t know whether this happens for all players – it felt like a bug, but many commenters have mentioned it happening to them too – but at some point, the square may end up pushed out to the outside of the walls of the labyrinth. This makes it easier to get to the end, as nobody can get to you to attack you, but in the words of one commenter, “it doesn’t feel much like freedom.” It feels lonely and meaningless. Eventually you find another square just like you – in Merritt’s own words, ‘multivocal’ – and you stand on either side of an impermeable wall, both flashing in many colours, both free from having to choose one colour or another, but both isolated.

When this happened, I imagined that if this ‘bug’ hadn’t occurred, I would be able to actually be with the other multivocal square. I thought other players would experience the game without this unfair event, and I had just been unlucky. I was on the outside looking in, imagining that we could have been friends and supported each other if I wasn’t so isolated.

Being an insider

One of the charges of pretentiousness stems from the idea that you wouldn’t ‘get it’ unless you looked up information about its author. Merritt tweets publicly about the physical and social effects of coming out as trans and undergoing hormone replacement therapy. I feel uncomfortable describing someone else’s personal experience, but my understanding is that at the moment, she is sometimes read as male, sometimes as female, and can adjust her gender presentation for certain circumstances.

I knew this when I was playing the game, but I felt that the metaphor was much more broad than that – it’s not an autobiography, but a metaphor that represents a social phenomenon surrounding fitting in. I thought this was something we all struggled with.

I went through it a lot at school, because I didn’t hide the things about me that made me different – all the people I respected were telling me to be myself. It was only a couple of years later that I realised there were lots of other people who would have also stood out for the same reasons as me, but they did a better job of concealing them or re-presenting them in order to fit in. Even though people’s disapproval can’t hurt me the way it used to, adulthood has been about trying to find ways of skilfully and strategically re-presenting or concealing my idiosyncracies – and like all strategies, it doesn’t always work. That’s what Lim demonstrates for me.

Simplicity and complexity

The other charge of pretentiousness is that the message wasn’t ‘deep enough’ – commenters impatiently described it as ‘bullying is bad, be yourself.’ It’s ‘pretending’ to have a deep meaning, but it’s actually very simple. But a metaphor doesn’t have to be deep in itself. It’s the emotional and discursive domino-effect that it sets off that’s interesting.

Is the message of the game really ‘bullying is bad, be yourself?’ Is it telling people not to attack those who are different? There’s no good or bad outcome of the game from which to draw a moral conclusion. It’s just descriptive – this is what socialisation looks like.

As for the ‘be yourself’ side of it – for me, the game doesn’t say that at all. There is no ‘yourself’ to be in this game. You’re floating between states of presentation, and you settle upon them dependent on the situation. You would have a hard time finding ‘yourself’ in this. The reality presented by Lim is that you can’t just ‘be yourself’ without a social order structuring the entire problem – only when society is far away can you float again and not have to think about ‘being’ at all. ‘Being’ is a social question. The game isn’t preachy. It doesn’t even present a solution. It just describes a problem.

Beyond gender

What’s really incredible about Lim is that it elegantly uses simple game mechanics and good level design to describe a phenomenon without putting language to it. This is a phenomenon that is immediately complicated by language. If it was presented as a game about ‘being trans’ then it would immediately set that ‘multivocal body’ as one thing or another.

This game was made at a time when the entire discourse around gender variance is changing. Some people identify as one gender, find themselves in the ‘body of the wrong gender’, and are simply trying to repair that dissonance by transitioning. But within this, gender identity can still be complicated for some – “Yes, I’m a ‘he’” said one person to me this weekend, “but I’m not *that* kind of ‘he’. I’m a faggy dandy kind of ‘he’. So I’m kind of ‘they/he’”. Some people are ‘non-binary’ and may or may not experience dysphoria related to their bodies. Still others are cis-gendered but still have their gender presentation policed every day because of their career, their interests or the way they look.

There are no words to describe all of these people in a way that they would all be happy with. It’s something we struggle with at DapperQ and Saint Harridan all the time.

Lim could be about any of these people and more. And it can only be so because of the simplicity and ‘meaninglessness’ of its metaphor. How the game has been presented turns out to be just as important as the mechanics themselves – it is after all, a game about how you choose to present.

What is the social class of an adventurer?

Coins arranged in the shape of a question mark

A while back, Mattie Brice tweeted a very interesting observation about her play style. She said, “For some reason, I really dislike using items. I usually just sell them.”

Adam Flynn then responded with a link to this article, asking “I wonder if this relates to your internal metaphors of value and income”. The article paints different characters of middle class graduates with different metaphors about money, arguing for example that entrepreneurs don’t consider $1m to be an obscene sum of money but instead see it as one year’s running costs for a 6-person startup.

Mattie pointed out that her own background doesn’t match those identified in the article, “I’ve never (on by own) been financially middle class,” she tweeted. She said that it was perhaps significant that she grew up lower middle class, surrounded by upper middle class culture.

Reading this conversation got me thinking: does class affect play style? How might we expect it to make a difference? And is this something neglected by game designers?

Does class affect spending?

Before looking at how class affects item use in games, I tried to find some studies of how people of different economic classes use money in the real world. We all, I think, have a habit of using social class to explain idiosyncracies, so I didn’t want to take Brice’s class-based explanation at face value.

To contradict her statement, it would have been very useful to get evidence of the kind of phenomenon described by this Cracked article on stupid habits you develop when you grow poor – ‘stupid’ here meaning ‘no longer rational if you have money in the bank.’ [Editors Note: The author of this post is not endorsing Cracked's use of the word 'stupid'] I want to be able to confidently point to the situation described by Zygmunt Bauman in Wasted Lives – he argues that consumer culture has created a social need for brand-name clothes among people whose means would suggest that it is more rational to buy the most basic clothes possible.

However, I’ve had trouble finding evidence to back up the anecdotes and opinions. The Consumer Expenditure Survey asks people ‘what do you spend money on?’ but not ‘do you buy the cheapest clothes possible?’ or ‘what do you do with your tax rebate?’ Measuring spending isn’t the same as measuring the attitudes to commodities that Mattie seems to have been referring to.

Fictional economies are different

Eventually I realised that no real-world evidence would really be applicable to virtual worlds and fictional economies, because the models of wealth, production and labour are deliberately constructed around a fantasy of a simpler, more forgiving world. This is something I looked at in a term paper on Final Fantasy games last year – the economic models of video games often reflect the economic changes happening in the real world at the time the games were made, but they are deliberately recalibrated to give players a great deal more agency. Often that agency is a kind of virtual artisanship or mercantilism, with game mechanics that encourage crafting items out of found materials and the exchange of goods for virtual money made relatively frictionless. Selling off your possessions for cash in the real world is not nearly as easy as in video games.

The means by which middle class people generate and hold onto their wealth are not available in most video games. Keeping money in the bank to accrue interest is not an option. There’s no investment, no leveraging of debt, not even the ‘three for two’ shopping deals that John Cheese writing for Cracked identifies as a rational purchasing decision that he fails to take advantage of because of his experience of poverty.

In the majority of video games, there’s just objects, gold values given to those objects, and gold received in exchange for time spent grinding. The economy is simple. You put time in, you get gold back, and you spend the gold on better goods. They are giant virtual shopping malls, and players are effectively made into lower-middle-class consumers by the fictional economics of the game itself – money is earned, rather than grown as wealth.

So do personal money metaphors, or class-based experiences of wealth or poverty, affect play style? In most games, probably not – the question is whether the economic landscape of a given video game world really gives that much freedom for class differentiation. But I think the economic behaviours engendered by the constrained economic structures of video games could tell us a lot about the relationship between social class and gaming. It’s something we should look into more often.

Let’s Discuss: Apologies

Originally posted on Vorpal Bunny Ranch.

Oh no! Suddenly your social media feeds and inbox are full of irate people peppering you with accusations of being insensitive, a bigot, all because you used a sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/etc. word, image, or phrase. What do you do?! Fret not, I will go through a list of actions you should take and avoid.

DO: Apologize
“I am sorry for <insert thing I did/said/insinuated here>.”

DO NOT: Shift
“I apologize if I hurt or offended you.”

It may come as a surprise, but people are not always collectively unintelligent. Indicating you are apologizing for offending shifts the blame on the people to whom you are offering the apology: “I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those knee-jerky, want-to-be-offended kids! Ooooo!” Instead, apologize for what you did, which can help the conversation move forward.

Note, the longer this process takes, or the more steps you toss in along the way to an actual apology, the more difficult it will be for some to take the apology seriously.

DO: Understand and listen
The world is a big place. You do not know everything. You will make mistakes. When someone is angry, try and listen to the words they are saying.

DO NOT: Think you understand
Making assumptions about what people are saying, rather than actually listening, can cause problems. If you receive a variety of complaints, take a moment to look into the common underlying themes, try searching the internet for resources, and learn what it is that went wrong.

Very few of us are perfect. When I was a freshman in college, I said some pretty heinous things to a black friend of mine regarding Egypt and its ancestry. I was just parroting back what I’d learned in school, and only a year or so later did I educate myself enough to learn of the historical significance of discounting Egypt as part of a rich narrative of black accomplishments — a tactic often used to belittle African Americans as ‘obviously’ inferior, as they had no culture that was noteworthy.

I felt like a tool. My friend was incredibly patient, and when I apologized, and explained why, he was glad that I had learned from the experience and that I had taken the initiative to educate myself (largely because he realized sometimes we have to come to something ourselves, and he didn’t want to argue over this — it was not his responsibility).

DO: Show consistent actions
It’s difficult, but once you’ve made one mistake, people will look out for others. If you take what you hopefully learned and make sure to educate anyone else on your team about this, slip-ups may still happen, but you can easily and quickly rectify course on the matter in the future.

DO NOT: Apologize and go do it again and again and again
Drat! We totally just did the same thing again a month later. Oh no, now we’ve happened to do this wrong! It’s a cascade!

Just because you apologized, someone does not have to accept it. By showing consistent actions, you can help repair any harm done. The focus is not necessarily to make sure everyone likes you, it should be to do no harm. That person who won’t accept the apology may never come back, but you can make sure you do not replicate that instance.

Also, whether unfairly or not, the internet is a place that can dredge up past mistakes. If you’ve been suffering foot-in-mouth disease multiple times over a short period of time, it will be that much easier to bring up past mistakes and transgressions. Remember that bit about learning? Please go look over that again.

Again, we all make mistakes. The question is whether you genuinely apologize and see what you did as wrong, or if you dig in your heels and alienate potential customers, friends, users, or whatever your case may be. While the impetus for this is the numerous game companies I’ve seen this apply to, I believe it is much more general than that.