musing on a trio of old posts by thecatamites/@myfriendpokey and midboss: one, two, three, and a somewhat later post by thecatamites four. as ever i’ve probably missed everything that’s interesting about what they’re saying and am responding to some shallow tangential aspect that I’ve gotten wrong anyway, but w/e.
As much as Yoko Taro might strive to break out of the prison of what’s ‘permissible’ in games, and draw inspiration from things like the coca-cola ‘small world’ machines, the NieR and Drakengard games ultimately aren’t that weird, they don’t do that much to change the entertainment commodity system or push ‘videogames’ into different places. Getting into Nier Automata still works on the same “identify with what you consume, buy the artbook for more of The Story, read and edit the wiki, buy the figurines, watch the play, draw and share fanart, tell everyone about how much you love the Product” model as something like Star Wars or Warhammer or any other huge franchise. You’re a Weird Person; look, you like Yoko Taro’s Weird Games!
I know this because I get really into that stuff - look at me trying to synthesise all the pieces of the NieR franchise or whatever (a project I intend to finish). I do enjoy it as an activity, but also I think there’s some subconscious level where I think being a fan of NieR games says something about me that I want to project to the world. I guess most people don’t do that.
I don’t think it’s inherently bad to get into stuff - at least, of all the pointless and kinda fucked-up things that global capitalist culture pushes us to do, it’s not all that bad. It’s not like I’d be doing something else more “valuable”, and, fuck, I reject that logic anyway. But it’s not going to challenge shit, and I still feel like I don’t want to give up, that it would be good to challenge something about this awful world thing.
But anyway, the release of Drakengard did not push the action game genre into more careful moral reflection; rather it spawned a little subcommunity of people who like what the game was trying to do, or cried at the end of Automata, etc., and I’m sure most of us will also go on to play the next big AAA shooter without much worry once we’ve exhausted everything to do in NieR. A bubble of ‘Yoko Taro fans’ has formed; the market continues as ever, unperturbed, with one more place to circulate largely similar products.
In that regard, I can understand why Yoko Taro feels like he’s failed, even as, at the end of that GDC talk, he speaks to the hope hope to that the next generation of game developers will pick up the torch.
It’s extremely similar to how indie games do very little to really change anything; the second market of tiny games on itch.io are much more radical and odd than Yoko Taro’s games, but this, too, hasn’t really done anything to change the concerns or bottom lines or existence of the big studios; they exist in a kind of comfortable symbiosis. You get people who like weird indie games and blog about weird indie games, a weekly column on a gaming site in between the latest news on hair rendering in The Witcher 3 and the next set of hats in Team Fortress 2.
Undertale was wildly popular, and discussed as a critique of the way games deal with violence or something, and it was that; but it succeeded more in terms of inspiring fandom and imitators than pushing anyone else to change or reconsider what they’re doing. (And that’s cool! I know people treat Undertale fans as ‘cringe’, but they’re pretty harmless, and I like that they’re so creative and productive and all that?)
Molleindustria has built a niche creating small ‘political’ games, which are often incredibly didactic and overt in what they’re Saying To You, and often the notions they produce are pretty shallow - but, even if they weren’t, I am not particularly persuaded that these games would be like, an instrument for change, rather than a means for some small group of people to express that they are a Person Who Cares About The World, as evidenced by their consumption and discussion of these Political Games.
I’m sure there’s something similar in how like, I threw myself so hard at the trans game scene (before it collapsed into abuse), porp’s writing etc. - not just because her writing made me cry, but I wanted to communicate that I was the kind of caring, decent person who cared about This Kind Of Thing, to myself, to the world, idk. Nerd culture teaches us that the books we read and the films we watch define us and talking a lot about a particular set of things is how we express who we are… and I continue in that path, because I haven’t figured out any other way to exist, even if I reject like, the maleness and all that. Even as I decide to try to transfrom from a ‘fan’ sort of expression to a ‘connoisseur’ sort of expression I’m still doing the same damn thing.
This thing thecatamites wrote in the fourth post affected me a lot (paragraphs added for readability):
which brings us back to indie games, and to a certain awkward argument within them; namely, are these things meant to be replacing the existing industry or just supplementing it? with the consensus, by now, firmly with the latter. it’s a little eerie to imagine “indie games” on their own, out of the contrast with some AAA counterpart - they immediately begin to seem more diffuse, if not distracted, stylish but also curiously listless outside of the deep mulch of practice games, physics toys, and abandoned projects that make up the majority of development practice.
how much more sense they make as kind of a vitamin tablet, as transient and local infusions of colour, inventiveness and thought helping to smooth over cracks in an otherwise regimented genre landscape
and acting the same way in a moral capacity, where playing a short cute, weird, empathic or political game sort of clears your conscience about going back to play another 50 hours of destiny in the same way that jogging to work “earns” you a packet of crisps later on.
which isn’t necessarily to dismiss these games, which i think might require another 10 years to see clearly, to understand what “indie” meant to people growing up online or playing videogames - but i do think that lending themselves so readily to a place in this moral economy, acting as the human, creative supplement which makes videogames seem bearable, being the GOOD games, plays maybe more readily into the ideological survival of a dismal market consensus than maybe anyone involved would like to think.
Anyway i want to make games and i want to make games that are ‘weird and different’ and push this industry/discipline/whatever to change (how appallingly pretentious lol). I feel like we could do so much more with computers than what we’re currently doing, even though i’m as susceptible as anyone to a same-old bioware plot or big open world. Does that mean we should do so much more with computers? idk but I’d like to??
I’m a long way from being able to make games at all, at least games as complex as i want to make them to really use all that cool tech we have (VNs and RPGMaker and twine games and etc. can be incredible - I love @porpentine‘s twine stories so damn much, they affect me much more than like the AAA titles, and talk about emotions and situations that just aren’t even slightly touched even by the best AAA games like NieR Automata - but I also enjoy the tech stuff despite myself, I find clever shaders and rendering algorithms exciting, I enjoy character action and boss fights and all that, so on some level I want to figure out what we can do with all this fancy tech that would affect people the same way as Porpentine’s writing).
Maybe the problem is that I’m still buying into all this elitist bullshit, making the best, most affecting meaningful game, instead of just a little personal game in a sea of little personal games. I’m buying into the capitalist notion of progress, the holodeck fantasy etc. - the idea that a game system that took a billion dollars to produce and decades of graphics research to develop algorithms for is necessarily capable of more than words and hyperlinks. Maybe it’s not just the pressures of the market that make AAA games shallow and repetitive, but something inherent to that kind of enormous-scale production process.
Related to that, I had an interesting discussion with @baeddel about how mass media like the star wars EU might be replaced ‘under communism’.
canmom: i wonder like, how this kind of thing would look, to be a little cheesy, under communism? the 'expanded universe’ is very much a product of capitalism i feel like, a big studio wants to make more money out of an IP, so they pay a bunch of writers to write for it, and the writers treat it as a job to produce a certain amount of material within the parameters; fans are encouraged to build an identity about being an 'x work’ fan and buy as many books as possible to understand “what really happened”/“the full story”
i wonder if like, if there wasn’t that big studio aspect, it would be a bit more like fanfiction, with writers writing about stuff that interests them without attempting to build a shared universe on the same sort of scale? but fanfiction is also a product of capitalist mass media, and everyone having the same referents etc.
baeddel: yeah yeah definitely! I always think about this. I’m not even sure if mass media could exist under communism
baeddel: like, a printing press that prints certain works in massive quantities doesnt seem compatible, really. I wonder if there will be a return to prominence of local culture
canmom: I guess like, if certain media like film continue to exist, making a film requires a lot of people to work very hard together in an organised way; people are unlikely to do that without the hope of distribution
baeddel: yeah, but would people do that?
baeddel: Its possible we will lose some things and gain others, which are impossible today
canmom: and i guess like, modern communications tech makes dissemination really easy. if every work of art is free on the internet…
baeddel: right, but would there be an internet?
I used to think we’d probably lose all access to electronics but I learned that koltan is totally recylcable, and so on.
so its possble that in world without planned obsolecense, it’d be easy to build stuff that’d last close to forever and not require like, a constant accumulation of materials to sustain electronics
canmom: hehe, it’s hard to tell because 'communism’ is so vague. i have a lot of attachment to the internet, i’d like to think we could have it ‘under communism’
assuming all that comms tech could be produced in a way that doesn’t require the kinds of exploitation and dehumanisation of the modern tech industry
baeddel: right. yeah uhm, the thing I always think abt is like… I like the internet because my meatspace life is absolutely miserable
but in communism it wont be; real life will be as good as the internet - so the internet might not be needed. or, the kind of freedom one can find in virtual space is a clue to what life looks like under communism
what we need from the internet - human connection, principally - might change…
canmom: right… i feel like, there’s value in connecting with people who share something that is unlikely to be found in real life. i wouldn’t want to only ever know the people who live within a few miles of me, i’ve been glad to connect with people who live remotely from me (and not just because i could learn what transness is)
baeddel: yeah, I know what you mean
mostly I’m just like, trying to steel mysef to a possibly inevitable loss 😛
canmom: it’s not really healthy to spend this much time on social media i guess, idk
baeddel: I mean, its not healthy to spend any amount of time in miserable capitalst social relations. the idea that social media s worse than real life is BS, imo
idk, I have a very grim outlook of the world lol
canmom: tbh… i feel like 'communism’ is a vision that guides us, a 'horizon’ in endnotes’s words, but not only do i not feel it’s inevitable, i struggle to think it’s even likely. new social formations will come, and perhaps some of the harms of capital will be ameliorated, but the idea that we can create a new world where things are 'ok’… i guess i don’t really hold on to that belief 😞 i don’t mean that in a 'There Is No Alternative’ sense, i just… whatever follows capitalism won’t be a utopia, no more than capitalism was a utopia compared to feudalism. it will be different… i just struggle to see why after millenia of cruelty and death and disposability it’s suddenly now going to change idk
we moved on to talking about like, premodern societies and Joseph Tainter and stuff but uh. that conversation stuck with me idk
Regardless, there’s the question of what we do today, caught in the vice of this particular capitalist hell, how we use all the things around us to communicate and touch each other and try to feel something and all that.
I don’t have any conclusions except like, what I imagine I’d want to do may be impossible, but it wouldn’t be wrong to focus on making something that’s like, 'my little bit’ and throw it out into the approximately 200 games/day that get published on itch.io because making things is fun in its own right and a mess of little projects is a good thing. Maybe something I write will catch on, probably it won’t; regardless, i’m not going to find some ‘correct’ combination of words, a magic password that will change the world, or even ‘the games industry’, but if any of us knew what would actually change the world, things wouldn’t be like this.
But maybe there’s still, at least, something worthwhile in finding a way to help someone on the other side of the world have a good cry.
This doesn’t seem like a particularly satisfying or hopeful outlook.