My name is
and I am a
Video Game Artist
The last few weeks in videogame culture have seen a level of combativeness more marked and bitter than any beforehand.
First, a developer—a woman who makes games who has had so much piled on to her that I don’t want to perpetuate things by naming her—was the target of a harassment campaign that attacked her personal life and friendships. Campaigns of personal harassment aimed at game developers are nothing new. They are dismayingly common among those who happen to be women, or not white straight men, and doubly so if they also happen to make the sort of game that in any way challenge the status quo, even if that challenge is only made through their very existence. The viciousness and ferocity with which this campaign occurred, however, was shocking, and certainly out of the ordinary. This was something more than routine misogyny (and in games, it often is routine, shockingly). It was an ugly spectacle that should haunt and shame those involved for the rest of their lives.
It’s important to note that this hate campaign took the guise of a crusade against ‘corruption’ and ‘bias’ in the games industry, with particular emphasis on the relationships between independent game developers and the press.
These fires, already burning hot, were further fuelled yesterday by the release of the latest installment in Anita Sarkeesian’s ‘Tropes vs. Women in Video Games’ video series. In this particular video, Sarkeesian outlines “largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players.” Today, Sarkeesian has been forced to leave her home due to some serious threats made against her and her family in response to the video. It is terrifying stuff.
Taken in their simplest, most basic form, a videogame is a creative application of computer technology. For a while, perhaps, when such technology was found mostly in masculine cultures, videogames accordingly developed a limited, inwards-looking perception of the world that marked them as different from everyone else. This is the gamer, an identity based on difference and separateness. When playing games was an unusual activity, this identity was constructed in order to define and unite the group (and to help demarcate it as a targetable demographic for business). It became deeply bound up in assumptions and performances of gender and sexuality. To be a gamer was to signal a great many things, not all of which are about the actual playing of videogames. Research like this, by Adrienne Shaw, proves this point clearly.
When, over the last decade, the playing of videogames moved beyond the niche, the gamer identity remained fairly uniformly stagnant and immobile. Gamer identity was simply not fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people. It could not meaningfully contain, for example, Candy Crush players, Proteus players, and Call of Duty players simultaneously. When videogames changed, the gamer identity did not stretch, and so it has been broken.
And lest you think that I’m exaggerating about the irrelevance of the traditionally male dominated gamer identity, recent news confirms this, with adult women outnumbering teenage boys in game-playing demographics in the USA. Similar numbers also often come out of Australian surveys. The predictable ‘what kind of games do they really play, though—are they really gamers?’ response says all you need to know about this ongoing demographic shift. This insinuated criteria for ‘real’ videogames is wholly contingent on identity (i.e. a real gamer shouldn’t play Candy Crush, for instance).
On the evidence of the last few weeks, what we are seeing is the end of gamers, and the viciousness that accompanies the death of an identity. Due to fundamental shifts in the videogame audience, and a move towards progressive attitudes within more traditional areas of videogame culture, the gamer identity has been broken. It has nowhere to call home, and so it reaches out inarticulately at invented problems, such as bias and corruption, which are partly just ways of expressing confusion as to why things the traditional gamer does not understand are successful (that such confusion results in abject heartlessness is an indictment on the character of the male-focussed gamer culture to begin with).
The gamer as an identity feels like it is under assault, and so it should. Though the ‘consumer king’ gamer will continue to be targeted and exploited while their profitability as a demographic outweighs their toxicity, the traditional gamer identity is now culturally irrelevant.
The battles (and I don’t use that word lightly; in some ways perhaps ‘war’ is more appropriate) to make safe spaces for videogame cultures are long and they are resisted tempestuously, but through the pain and suffering of people who have their friendships, their personal lives, and their professions on the line, things continue to improve. The result has been a palpable progressive shift.
This shift is precisely the root of such increasingly violent hostility. The hysterical fits of those inculcated at the heart of gamer culture might on the surface be claimed as crusades for journalistic integrity, or a defense against falsehoods, but—along with a mix of the hatred of women and an expansive bigotry thrown in for good measure—what is actually going on is an attempt to retain hegemony. Make no mistake: this is the exertion of power in the name of (male) gamer orthodoxy—an orthodoxy that has already begun to disappear.
The last few weeks therefore represent the moment that gamers realised their own irrelevance. This is a cold wind that has been a long time coming, and which has framed these increasingly malicious incidents along the way. Videogames have now achieved a purchase on popular culture that is only possible without gamers.
Today, videogames are for everyone. I mean this in an almost destructive way. Videogames, to read the other side of the same statement, are not for you. You do not get to own videogames. No one gets to own videogames when they are for everyone. They add up to more than any one group.
On some level, the grim individuals who are self-centred and myopic enough to be upset at the prospect of having their medium taken away from them are absolutely right. They have astutely, and correctly identified what is going on here. Their toys are being taken away, and their treehouses are being boarded up. Videogames now live in the world and there is no going back.
I am convinced that this marks the end. We are finished here. From now on, there are no more gamers—only players.
You guys!!!! Amna and Saif is like….AROUND THE CORNER from Never Alone at PAX! So happy! The madness begins in one hour….
beng2112 said: I'm pretty new to game developing and it's really confusing. so here are my questions : 1) What is the specific job of a game designer? What do they actually do? 2) I've heard about Game design documents, what are they and how many are there? How important are they? Do you have any examples of each by any chance (links would be great too) 3) So after the game is designed what do I do with it? Who do I take it to / how? What do you guys look for in game designs?
I could probably write entire books answering the questions you ask, so I’m just going to give the short answer and provide links for further reading. Hopefully that will be sufficient. If you want more, ask again with more specificity. I already get complaints about how long my posts are.
First, let me link my FAQ. It answers a lot of common questions.
And next we move on to the questions:
What do game designers do?
Designers are creators of content.
- In each environment, the placement of the relevant objects - guns, people, buildings, cover, power-ups, checkpoints, were placed by level designers.
- When you level up and distribute points into your relevant stats, you’re using systems created by system designers.
- When you talk to an NPC, complete a quest, or fight a boss with different behaviors, you’re dealing with content created by a scripter.
- When you watch a cinematic, see the camera move, and see characters playing animations, you’re looking at the work of a cinematic designer.
- When you find some loot and compare it to the last piece of gear you had, you’re looking at the work of item designers.
Designers use tools (level editors, spreadsheets, proprietary tools, etc.) created by programmers to actually create the content. Designers are the masters of the specific, while programmers are the masters of the general. If you’re ever talking about a specific instance - this NPC, this weapon, this boss fight, this cinematic, this stat, you’re looking at something a game designer did. They are the ones who craft the level to be the shape it is, the item to have those stats, the specific character to have that personality.
What are game design documents?
Game design documents are documents that game designers write to outline and explain how a new mechanic or feature works. They write these documents to communicate the details of the feature to the artists, programmers, and other designers who will have to actually create them. The document acts as an intermediary, so that these folks can get their questions answered when the designer is unavailable, as well as keeping the design straight since human memory is notoriously fallible.
- Anatomy of a Design Document
- Hulk (2004) Core Game Design Excerpts, by Radical Entertainment
- Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel 2 General Game Design Doc, by Interplay
How does design fit into the overall development process?
Designers create documents during the preproduction phase to outline the details of the features that need implementing. Then, during the production phase, they use the tools and assets created by the programmers and artists to actually create the specific content that uses the features they outlined in their documents during preproduction. It is an ongoing process, with a lot of iteration - the artists add in new assets to use, the programmers make more features available, and the designers need to use these new features to create the content.
What do hiring managers look for in game designers?
- How can a game designer get a job with no experience?
- Do I need 3-5 years of experience to get a job?
- Does making mods and maps for games help me get a job?
And, as always, that FAQ link again:
Hey guys, PAX Prime is this coming weekend and I’ll have 2 games I’ve worked on there. If anyone is interested in saying hi, pop by booth #6819 on the 6th floor. Amna and Saif will be there as well as Magnetic by Nature!
Also if you’re not a super creeper and are checking out any of the panels below, feel free to shoot me a message so we can recognize each other in our non-internet forms. o_o
I recommend reading the whole article in the link. It’s long but good, and also points out the annoying trope of Hollywood thinking that as long as the female character gets a token “can beat people up” scene, then it’s totally fine that otherwise they still are filling very typical fictional roles women are pigeon-holed into, and usually are still just a love interest or plot device.
Also, to the above quote, this is about having that diversity in a single story, or even having many of those traits in 1 character, and not just plucking a few examples out of all of fiction and go “see, in this story, the woman was shy and quiet, and in this story, the woman beat somebody up, and this story the woman was mean. There! Diversity!” It’s about overall trends, it’s about not just having one or two women in a cast, it’s about how women are situated in the story, it’s about whether the women are protagonists or plot devices, it’s about all sorts of ways that women are marginalized, pigeon-holed, etc in fiction, and not simply just about one thing. There’s no easy fix where you go “see in my story, the woman warrior wears a shirt and she doesn’t get raped!” The problem is there are so many issues with the way women, and every other marginalized group, are portrayed in fiction (and even more so with the intersectional problems with characters who are part of several of those groups), and only so much that people can talk about in one go, so usually people are only able to address one or two issues at any time, and it leads to the idea that as long as you fix (or superficially) fix that element, then it’s all good, and it’s more than that.
From the standpoint of this blog, sometimes there comes the misconception that as long as a story has fully armored women, or has battle-ready posed women, then that’s something that’s necessarily a good story about women, or necessarily a good depiction, and it’s more than that. It’s a step forward, definitely, and I absolutely think it’s good for people to keep the visual portrayal of women in their minds when creating fiction and not just doing one thing over and over because it’s just how we’re so used to seeing women depicted visually. But it can’t stop at that. How many women there are in the story matters. Whether or not she’s portrayed as being “exceptional” for her gender, and therefore all other women in the fictional world are still flat stereotypes matters. What happens to her in the story, how she’s situated, presented, talked about matters. Whether she’s the protagonist, or if despite her armor, she gets kidnapped by the villain to anger the male hero matters. It’s about more than simply avoiding one single way women are portrayed, and then dusting off our hands and patting ourselves on the back for fixing how women are portrayed in fiction. It’s about examining the way we see women in our society, and being aware of how that affects the way we depict and situate them in our writing, often without realizing it.
Escher Girls, The Bechdel Test, Bikini Armor, etc, are all catchy terms, and great things to keep in mind when writing fiction with women in it, but it’s not as simple as just “not doing this one thing”. These phrases and ideas are meant to highlight specific issues about the way women are written and drawn in fiction and to open up a discussion about the larger picture of how women are portrayed. The Bechdel Test is meant to point out how few women have roles and how even fewer of them have stories of their own that don’t revolve around men. Escher Girls is about showing the prevalence of female characters being contorted or dressed in ways that maximize titillation over function. They are symptoms, not the cause, and addressing just one of them once doesn’t fix the underlying issue. Change comes by challenging ourselves to not just settle at “my princess punches people before being captured” or “the male hero’s love interest talks to her female friend about dogs at one point”, but to be willing to examine the overall way we’re depicting women in our fiction, how many there are, and how they’re situated. Centaur women, battle bikinis, and the boobs and butt pose are the beginning of the discussion, not the end.