Professional

So there’s been a thing doing the rounds the past few days about a dude who had a job offer rescinded at 343 (current custodians of the Halo series of games) after he was caught being a terrible human on the internet.

As ever with videogames internet the story had a bit more depth than at first glance – rather than just being someone who made a few snarky remarks here and there, there seemed to be an unending supply of entirely awful behaviour from sexism to transphobia to lord only knows what else as I gave up pumping bad words into my face after a short while.

In summary, not very nice person gets caught being not very nice and pays the price. I have little in the way of sympathy for bigotry at the best of times so yeah, whatever. No love lost here.

What niggled about it was a number of people, when discussing this, reached for a couple of points that well, let me put it this way, they wouldn’t be the ones I’d reach for.

The biggest one was, upon seeing this charade unfold, asking people to be professional in their communications online if they wanted to work in the industry. The second (and related) point was to suggest that it is very easy to be professional in your dealings online so you know, remember that.

It is true that videogames is a relatively small industry and one where a lot of people know each other and that’s always worth remembering. It’s not just people gathering at conventions for a chat or what have you, job insecurity comes with the territory. Working in videogames can mean moving from studio to studio, working freelance for different companies and so much more. Even at an indie level, contract work amongst folk is pretty common.

People know each other. Word gets round fairly quickly in some quarters. If you’re a nob to someone in games, someone else will now. And look, I’ve been a nob, I know.

Just you know, being professional is something you’re paid to be. Asking everyone to always be professional in their online dealings is entirely unreasonable unless you’re paying them. Being professional is doing your job to the best of your ability, it’s making your business dealings fit with a companies ethos, it is turning up and doing your job then going home.

It is something you do at work. That, you know, is the point of being professional. The clue is in the name.

Being professional is amazingly incompatible a lot of the time with being a good person because the very core of a lot of our businesses (inside and outside games) are rotten and built on exploitation. A huge amount of very professional people hold terrible views, do harmful things, use positions of power to be terrible to other people. Yet they still remain professional.

If you want to make this place better for people, if you want to tackle a lot of the issues videogames (and elsewhere) has, you don’t ask for people to be more professional. You insist they not be terrible humans. You insist they don’t abuse people. You insist they don’t stalk people. You insist that they push for progress that makes this space better not worse.

Asking everyone you’re not paying to be professional is asking them to remain complicit in an often awful status quo. It is asking for the silence of people who are disproportionately hurt by our society and businesses in favour of towing the corporate line. It is playing the politics of politeness. It’s not just the terrible humans you ask to shush, it’s everyone.

Sure, folks might not think they’re asking for that but when you ask for people to be professional in their everyday dealings with every other human online ever, you’re asking to place the values of corporations over humans whether you mean to or not and no, no thank you. We must do better than this. It’s crucial we do.

The problem with this dude online wasn’t his level of professionalism in his dealings with people, it was being an awful tool to people. It was holding and promoting hateful views. It was being terrible. I don’t want this terribleness to slip by because people hide it behind a thin veneer of professionalism and politeness, I want the terrible gone. I want it to have no place here, not to thrive in private but be exposed in the occasional public slip up.

I want fewer people hurt.

And we’ll never get that whilst we put corporate values above people so you know, maybe consider not doing that.

Videogames Break

Videogames break.

I mean, most people sort of know this because they see the post release patch notes, they fall through the floor and stare agog at the surreal geometry that confronts them. They see the glitches, the wonky collision, the number that causes something to happen sixty nine times, which is nice.

It happens.

Videogames break.

I think sometimes the idea that games are conjured from nothing obscures that they break constantly during development in thousands of ways. Videogames are made up of so many different pieces, often the work of so many people, often built using the work of other people.

Videogames break because there’s a thousand and one ways they can break.

Maybe it’s the something someone in the building did, maybe it’s not – maybe it’s a tool, maybe it’s an oversight or strange way of doing things in something, somewhere by someone else. Maybe there’s source code access so someone can look under the hood, maybe there isn’t.

Videogames break.

An absurd amount of time is spent stopping games from falling apart. Arguably, the bulk of development hinges around stopping things from falling apart in some way. That, really, is software development in a nutshell.

There is, definitely, a joy to conjuring world’s from scratch. There is also so many hours of pondering how best to make something just fucking work dammit.

That’s just how it is.

Videogames break.

Maybe things were going well, maybe everyone had it nailed, maybe everything looked like it was in place then *bam* something, somewhere gets updated. That’s nothing abnormal, that’s nothing weird – that’s just how it works. Even if you make your own tools, there’s always something, somewhere else that can go pop.

Videogames break.

There’s a saying that it’s a miracle that anything ever works enough to ship and that’s the sort of wisdom that comes about from knowing that videogames break, always and constantly. It comes from the knowledge that human beings bust a gut to make stuff work, to make games do things, to make it all look like they exist by conjuration, not sweat.

Videogames break but people care enough to stick them back together – often doing so in less than ideal conditions.

Videogames break and sometimes there’s nothing to do but wait and hope someone else can fix something on their end so you can carry on.

Videogames break and fixes are rarely simple.

Videogames break and that’s OK.

There’s never been a time where it’s easier to release and fix things but it still takes time, it still takes work, it still takes a human or twenty to fix things.

Because videogames are made by humans who, for the most part, care.

Don’t be surprised when videogames break. Be pleasantly surprised that more often than not, people find ways to fix them and they do that because they want this bloody thing to work as best it can. They want you, dear reader, to enjoy your time with it as much as you want to enjoy the game.

Sometimes this doesn’t work out. Videogames break and sometimes things can’t or won’t be fixed. It happens. Circumstances change, money and time run dry, something seems, or indeed is, insurmountable.

Sometimes this doesn’t work out because someone truly doesn’t care or really should consider a different line of work but that’s so much rarer. No fucks given even rarer still.

Nobody expects anyone to like that videogames break, just you know, a little consideration that they do, a little understanding that this happens goes a long way. It’s not abnormal, it is The Normal.

Videogames then. They break.

It’s a thing, alright. Always will be. That’s just how these things get made.

Don’t Shut Up, But Do Make Games

Videogames, the people who make videogames, do not exist in a vacuum.

Changes to the political landscape, actions taken by those in power, those with power, directly influence the lives of the people who make videogames.

One political decision, somewhere, can be the difference between comfort and discomfort for a person, it can be the difference between eating and not eating, it can be the difference between being safe and being unsafe, it can be the difference between being alive or being dead.

It can be the difference between being able to walk down the street without being verbally or physically assaulted or not. It can be the difference between feeling comfortable and safe in your own home or not. It can be the difference between feeling comfortable and/or safe in your own skin, in your own mind.

Videogames are made by people and people can be hurt.

People can be hurt by words. People can be hurt by physical violence. People can be hurt by corporate decisions. People can be hurt by legislation.

Politeness will not rescue people from political violence. It will not improve the lot of people. Civility has limits in its utility when the world we live in leans towards acts of violence towards people.

Racism is violence.
Sexism is violence.
Transphobia is violence.
Homophobia is violence.
Violence is violence.

It is not in the interests of anybody to sit quiet and accept the status quo when the status quo hurts them, when it hurts friends, family, children, the environment.

Insisting that people stay polite, that people never complain, never raise so much as a whisper as the world does its level best to crush them is inhumane, at best.

There is no good reason to keep silent in games, as with any other artform, medium or space. We all benefit from this place being better – but being better is not just everyone is shush, says please and thank you and never complains. No swearing at the back.

Being better is more safety nets, more empathy, more work to stand up against people and ideas that seek little more than to hurt or damage people just because. This does not, necessarily, come with politeness. Historically, few gains are made by just asking for things nicely. Few gains are made by accepting the status quo. Few gains are made by never, ever, talking about an issue in case it upsets someone when there is so much more at stake than someone’s pride and sensibilities. When for people, just existing is a struggle – a please does not tend to yield results.

Pushing for change does.

There are times and places for civility, it is an important part of being human, being able to show compassion, respect and deference to those in need. Civility without compassion, without listening, without understanding is worthless. It is an empty and useless gesture. It only serves to perpetuate the damage that gets done to people daily.

Videogames are a part of the world we live in. People who make videogames have lives, loves, troubles. Empathy with that costs so little, takes so little work.

Unfortunately, so does calling for people to be quiet and never speak of things that upset or turn your world upside down because videogames or something.

Don’t shut up. Do make games. Make this place better. Make this place safer. Be upset. Be angry. Be happy. Be sad.

Be human. Be humane.

It’s all we can be. For the best.

Boxed In

I am feeling terribly boxed in by most of the stores or services I tend to use regularly. It’s quite the frustrating thing.

I have never had much luck with algorithm’s trying to sort out what I’d like or what I’d want to watch/play/listen to/read – more often than not, the more a service moves towards this sort of thing, the less useful it becomes.

And more to the point, the more work *I* have to do in order to find anything.

I have no idea, nor care, if this makes me a minority according to someone’s data or not. All I know is that stores and services are effectively making themselves more of a chore for me to rummage around and I’m less happy using them.

I used to get a giggle out of Last.FM and Audioscrobbling, their suggestions were often so obscenely far away from anything I’d want to listen to that it became a sort of entertainment to see what suggestions it would throw my way. Paul McCartney again? Oh me, oh my.

The thing about Last.FM and Audioscrobbling that differs though is that Last.FM was a passive service. I listen to music, I enjoyed the brief period where so many other folks were scrobbling too and we would chat about music we liked. The algorithmic suggestions were no obstacle to me. The service, as This Is My Jam would also do later, was something to spark off discussion and yeah, parade my awful music taste to the entire world.

I’m not there to buy music, right? That’s important.

Stores and subscription services though? They’re just a pain.

Netflix makes browsing for anything take a torturous amount of time. I’m sure it makes for some lovely engagement figures but it reminds me of the worst video rental stores. Just idly staring at box after box after box hoping that at some point soon, you’ll find something, anything you like. Blockbuster Syndrome, if you will.

I mention this partially for a reason. For my sins, I did time in a video store – many, many years ago. I would chat to the customers, I would know who went for the straight to video just give me any old crap to fill an afternoon up stuff, who would go for the quality horror, who would go for the two pound fifty and a duck budget ones.

I would know that if it was a Monday, there would be people in early in the afternoon and that they’d be getting a new release to watch before the kids came home and stuff like that. This stuff, despite the beliefs of the tech sector is not stuff you can replace easily with an algorithm because it’s a constant two way process, it would take an algorithm six months to get even close to what I (or any other good counter assistant, really) could nail in a week. And crucially, I would never be boxing customers in and making just looking round the shop difficult.

I worked record stores as well. As much as it would leave me exhausted, I would love the Christmas shifts. Anyone working in retail knows these are brutal, seemingly unending and there’s never enough time or staff available versus the amount of people who’ll be wanting to buy gifts. I loved it because I would hop around the shop grabbing things for befuddled parents, chatting briefly to people about what they were buying (and trying to suss out those who just wanted to keep their head down and go without any of this so that I wouldn’t be in their face). Again, it doesn’t take long to get an idea for suggestions in these situations and it requires so little effort on behalf of the customer.

Were I on the other side of the counter… well, I am definitely one of those folk who sort of just wants to buy stuff and go most of the time but still, knowing that a good counter assistant is there and will be able to guide me towards what I’m after is nice. It’s reassuring. Because sometimes I just don’t know.

The best counter assistants in a store are there when you need them and nowhere to be seen when you don’t.

Aside from lacking humans and any humanity, these systems folk are setting up now online – they sort of claim to be algorithmically powered but really, they expect me to do the work to make the algorithm even vaguely useful and look, if I wanted to work in someone’s store, I’d get a job there. I get that no-one wants to fess up that their systems are actually built on free labour but you know, they are.

The fundamental problem I have with what most of them show me is it’s like someone standing in front of you going “this one?”, showing you something you have absolutely no interest in, rinsing and repeating 30 times. I find it quite emotionally exhausting to have to deal with this stuff. No-one asks me my opinion on some grapes before I can get near the apples in a grocers, yeah?

I have incredibly eclectic tastes in the arts – I also have incredibly precise tastes. Like, just because I like one movie with Hugh Grant in doesn’t mean I want to bother with everything else he sticks his head up in. I might like one, and only one, Beatles song. And maybe I only really like one game from Ubisoft or something. I literally could not give a monkeys about the rest and never want to see them in my life at anything more than a passing glance.

Yet, in order to train an algorithm, in order to try and get to the stuff I want, stores have settled on a system that requires me to engage with stuff I don’t want, wade through stuff I don’t want and to do all this just to see stuff they think I might want to see, which invariably means if I’m lucky, 1 in 300 things I look at might take my fancy but by the time I get to the 2nd one that might take my fancy I just want it all to go away.

And this is how I end up responding to these stores and services.

I cannot be bothered with Netflix most of the time because it takes me as long to find anything as it often does to watch anything.

I am sick of the sight of the same twenty games Google Play seems to desperately want to throw my way.

Amazon’s book recommendations are, look, I’ve got clumsy hands and often click the wrong thing – just because I was nodding off and clumsily boffed my way onto the thirteenth Vernon Coleman book on sale that day, it doesn’t mean I want to see another thirteen of them. Ever.

Steam is now borderline useless to me for finding things. As a result of the sheer amount of work it takes to look for anything most of the time, I just don’t bother now. I have gone (even before my health went for a bit of a wander on its own path) from buying a ruck of games to maybe bothering once or twice a month at a push. Life’s too short to be working in online stores for the privilege of maybe finding something to spend money on.

The only service that’s even got close to tolerable (despite its increasingly nonsensical and oblique interface quirks) is Spotify and that only works really well because I can speed through songs to find something pleasing to my ears and settle on something that intrigues me with so little effort.

Like I say, maybe it turns out that I am a statistical anomaly or something, just some old person who doesn’t get it. It doesn’t matter much to me really, the end result is the same regardless.

More and more online stores and services are choosing to make themselves entirely useless to me. Are expecting me to put man hours into making them slightly less than useless.

And you know, I don’t want to have an opinion on every single piece of media ever. I just don’t. I’m going to die someday, I don’t want to have to teach a machine that I have no interest in seventeen Police Academy films, one by one, or something.

I want to find the things I’ll be passionate about and every system folks seem to be building into their stores now is just making that more and more difficult.

On the bright side, it saves me a fucking fortune. So there is that.

Pause/Continue

Well, you might have noticed that I’ve not been writing as much as normal lately. There’s a couple of reasons for that, some more serious than others.

First up, I managed to fall over a couple of months back and lamp my ribs in. Whilst I’m picking up and I’m fairly mobile again, sitting at my desk for long periods of time is pretty much impossible still. Well, sitting at my desk for short periods of time too – the leaning over to type absolutely does me in and I haven’t found a comfortable middle ground.

I tend to draft pieces from the comfort of my bed and then tidy them up whilst at my desk later. So there’s that but it also means that with not being at my desk, I’m not anywhere near as plugged in to the game-o-sphere as I usually am. Which kind of means I’m not reading as much or even paying quite as much attention as usual.

I haven’t worked out if this is a better or worse state of affairs than normal, really.

There’s the pain thing too – it’s more managed than it was a few months ago (as in, it is managed somewhat rather than not at all) but I’ve only recently hit anything close to a vaguely medicated level with things. Unfortunately, rather than this wind down and go into remission for a while as I’m fairly used to – I’ve been riding this pretty much none stop since last October. It is simultaneously boring and irritating to have a lot of time taken up dealing with the pain instead of just about anything else.

Funnily enough I would sooner do anything else most of the time but it sort of is what it is. I try to fit stuff in around that but being a parent and a carer doesn’t leave me much time for anything else before everything kicks off again. Since December last year we’ve been having one fight too many on the financial front and family health front so that’s been a battle as well. Sort of used to it but it doesn’t mean I like it, obviously.

Then there’s the tired thing. Thanks to the joys of having a silly pain that you can set a watch to, well, it turns out this kind of leaves you knackered after a flare up. Which is not very nice! So again, it’s time taken up napping here over writing.

Right now, I seem to be accumulating drafts and stuff – I’ve got about 4 or 5 pieces which are ripe for turning into something more interesting and quite a few games I want to talk about. So it’s not like I’ve entirely got lost on this but there’s two other factors which are, right now, taking precedence over everything else.

I’m very burnt out on writing about games. A lot of last year was spent writing about really horrible things in games. I covered a lot of avenues and a lot of angles on the sheer chaos, hurt and upset that can come with being in games. It all sort of wrapped up in a piece for Eurogamer that brought a lot of these threads together and well, it was an incredibly stressful thing to write and prepare for. And, of course, you never know how this stuff is going to go down. You never know if this piece “will be the one”.

Anyway, turns out that repeatedly poking your head into The Bad Stuff for a year does in fact take its toll – not only am I struggling to muster the effort to talk about some of the more serious things that happen in games, I’ve sort of forgotten what it means to write about games without writing about this stuff. You know, like normal human beings who write about games. The ones that don’t stick their head into the videogame toilet at every opportunity for a very long time.

It’s not necessarily that I want to stop writing about that stuff, more that the money and support for doing so is entirely disproportionate to the emotional toll it takes *right now*. I’m not sure there is such a thing as ever enough money for doing it so I’m not entirely worried there and I do appreciate the support I have/have had but stuff like this, it’s hard to feel appreciated for. Not necessarily because doing it isn’t appreciated but the very nature of the work grinds you down so much that it’s hard to come up for air. It’s hard to see the good when you’re constantly knee deep in the bad, yeah?

And the other reason? Well. It’s keeping track of what I’m doing long enough to get to the end of a piece with a point intact. Normally, I employ a system of post it notes, remarks in drafts and whatever else to keep myself on track but between pain and pills, cutting through the fog has been exceptionally difficult recently. And whatever goes on, excluding pain and pills, already sees me struggle to keep track of what I’m doing, where I am or what my point was. That’s normal.

Just recently, it’s getting a bit more complicated and I’m having to check words more, spellings more, reread stuff to make sure it really does go from A to B. It’s a vast amount of more work than I’m used to. I’ve every intention of working round this over time but working through it is taking priority. I’m having to accept that maybe writing about games at the pace and wordcount I was doing so before is not sustainable. My health isn’t getting any better so quality and integrity (and something vaguely coherent) seem like smarter things to push towards as time goes on.

It’s all really complex and really messy and yeah, it’s not helped by the state of the world at the moment either. Just between health, fighting so many financial fronts, the huge amount of words on bad things I spent last year writing and my forgetfulness, something is going to have to give.

So with that in mind, I’m mulling over some changes to my Patreon over the next month or so – both to adjust expectations to what will have to be a slower output of words from me so I can use some of my spare brain power for writing a game and to offer something a bit more in return for the kind support I’ve been receiving.

I don’t know what yet and folks are happy to prod me on the Twitters over stuff or whatever. Or complain. I don’t know.

It’s a weird situation I’ve found myself in – I’ve been in increasing pain for years, I’ve had periods of exhaustion and burnout before now, I’ve had serious family stuff to deal with too, just very rarely all at the same time. I’m used to having to turn down travelling and this that the other but these past few months I’ve had to turn down stuff where the pay would have been nice simply because I cannot do it right now.

And as ever, I try and talk about these things to at least some extent as I know I’m invariably not the only person riding a wave of effluence out at the best of times and nor am I in the worst situation out of plenty of folks I know. But it is uphill right now. Everything sort of seems uphill right now.

And that’s all why I’m currently down to one or two pieces a month right now. Despite all this, I do sincerely hope you still find some enjoyment in them all the same.