Diversity and Second Chances

I’ve mentioned before that some of my very favourite works of art – the film The Matrix Revolutions, the TV shows Lost and Stargate Universe – were things that I dismissed or actively disliked, usually because I’d gone in with the wrong expectations, or had at some point misunderstood what the artists’ intent actually was. I’m extremely glad that at some point, either on my own or via input from other people, I managed to change my perspective, because my life would be much poorer without these things.

But sometimes I really do dislike something for a valid reason. And, especially at a time so full of weird cultural tensions, it’s very tempting to just completely dismiss an artist because they made one thing I didn’t like. (Parts of Twitter seem to exist primarily for the purpose of disavowing one artist after another as if it accomplished something, as if purging your personal bubble from everything that doesn’t fit will somehow fix the world’s problems.) In recent years I’ve stumbled across a couple of really excellent examples of why I shouldn’t be too hasty in doing that.

The first one is China Miéville and Perdido Street Station. You see, that book just made me angry. It’s hard to summarize why. I suppose I felt that while it was full of fantastic ideas, something about its tone struck me as misanthropic, revelling too much in ugliness and pain. I felt that its conception of art ultimately boils down to pretentiousness and nihilism, and that when it was trying to be “artistic” it became insufferable. Most of all, though, I was bothered by how the suffering, the injustice of this extremely capitalist society, was depicted but not questioned. So much effort spent on describing the awfulness of New Crobuzon, but so much of it simply taken for granted. It provoked a kind of restlessness in me as a reader, a desire to scream at the characters to get off their asses and do something. That made the book hard to enjoy.

What made me doubly mad was that there was real genius in the writing, so much so that it actually inspired me to do some worldbuilding of my own (for a role-playing game whose story you might get to see in some other form someday). Yes, New Crobuzon pissed me off enough that I felt the need to create a world of my own and do it properly.

At this point, I might’ve completely dismissed Miéville. He might technically be a socialist like myself, but there’s a lot that I disagree with him about, and his most famous novel turned out to be long, exhausting, and infuriating.

But if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have read Iron Council, and Iron Council is incredible.

I decided to read Iron Council because, from the summary, it seemed like its story was going to be less frustrating to me. Finally it was going to be about resistance, or even revolution! Not that every story has to be about that, mind you, but the setting itself created a kind of narrative pressure for me which made such a story profoundly necessary. Of course, good intentions don’t automatically mean the book is good, and revolution is a theme that is easy to mess up, to turn into something awful and reactionary. I was worried about that. I didn’t start reading with a ton of enthusiasm, and I had a couple of false starts, bouncing off the rather dense prose in the beginning. But then I got into the story, and the book turned out to be riveting and deeply, deeply moving.

I haven’t really changed my mind about Perdido Street Station, even if I generally feel more tolerant towards it now. I still think it’s very flawed. I think Iron Council has a certain painful honesty to it, a reflection of the real history of the Left, so full of struggle and loss, which makes it a far more believable, far more human work. It’s too busy dealing with the revolution to show off or to add bits of Serious Artistic Writing – and as such it feels much more like genuine, serious art.

In any case, I’m glad I read it. I’m glad I know that China Miéville is capable of writing such a book, because it means the world is a better place than I thought it was; a richer, more interesting place.

The other, more recent, example is Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. My beef with Mr. VanderMeer was quite simple: he wrote an introduction to Lost Worlds, a collection of Clark Ashton Smith short stories, which derided and misunderstood the qualities of Smith’s prose to such a maddening degree that one might easily conclude that Jeff VanderMeer simply doesn’t understand words.

Except, of course, that I just read all three Southern Reach books and they are nothing short of brilliant. So really, all that one introduction means is that Jeff VanderMeer doesn’t entirely get some of the qualities of Clark Ashton Smith’s prose. Big deal! How many good and valuable things have I misunderstood or dismissed in my lifetime? Probably too many to count.

These days, we are frequently encouraged to dismiss and anathematize everyone and everything diverging even a little from our belief systems, to build for ourselves an illusory world free of “harmful” ideas. And partially that’s understandable, even necessary, given the strange fruit produced by the intersection of global communications and increasingly atomized societies.

But when excommunication becomes a way of life, life inevitably becomes duller and poorer; and when we feel that there’s nothing of value in the world, we turn to nihilism and misanthropy. “Diversity” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, mostly in reference to tiresome neoliberal identity politics, but we do need diversity in our lives. A diversity of ideas and possibilities; a diversity that allows for people to be capable of more than one thing; and above all, a diversity that includes a diversity of tastes, flavours, preferences, likes, dislikes, and all the rich variety of human thought and expression.

A huge world in which we can be surprised is a much better world than a tiny one in which we know everything.

Road to Gehenna

Hey folks,

I’m currently in Greece, on something of a working holiday, so I can’t write much. Typing this on my phone, which is quite hard with my oversized fingers.

Road to Gehenna comes out today! I’m quite nervous about it. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s really good, but it’s also much weirder, much more extreme than the original game, so possibly more likely to be divisive. Still, I’m quite proud of what we did, and grateful that we got to do it. Whatever its flaws and quirks, no-one’s done something quite like it before, and I think it explores themes that are genuinely interesting. (I’m being vague because it will be more fun without spoilers.)

Tom and I put so much stuff in there. I mean, it’s mad. It’s unbalanced. It’s ambitious. It’s silly. It has flaws. It has secrets. It’s a place.

We went in with the idea that we have to deliver something that’s as good as the original, but that DLC is also an opportunity to go nuts. And we did. It was fun.

Oh, and don’t forget to interact with the terminals after every puzzle. Gehenna is a living world, and if you ignore it too much, it’ll start ignoring you back.

In totally different news, today is our wedding anniversary. Verena and I have been married for six years. Time is a weird thing. I feel like our relationship is still new, but at the same time I cannot conceive of a time before it. How oddly pleasant and pleasantly odd.

Anyway, we’ll spend a relaxing day with friends, totally not constantly checking what people say about Gehenna.

– Jonas

Big Update Over Yonder

I’ve written a massive update about crowdfunding, game design and the future of the Lands of Dream. Go read it while I prepare some proper updates to this site, which is starting to get rather dusty. As I said on Twitter, I’ve been so busy writing that I haven’t had time to write.

Oh, and The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna is a thing that will happen. More soon.

Putting the ease in disease

plague

Hey everyone,

Apologies for the lack of updates, including the promised video about The Council of Crows. I am, to put it simply, sick as a dog. I got sick in San Francisco just before GDC, got even sicker in Boston during PAX, and then stayed sick for a long time in Frankfurt. For a while I was almost deaf, which wasn’t fun. I’m slowly getting better now, but “healthy” is still a state I can’t quite imagine.

Otherwise things are actually going really well, projects-wise. Loads of exciting news to share. As soon as I’m not coughing my lungs out, that is.

Infectiously yours,

Jonas

What Europe means for SYRIZA

Watching last week’s Eurogroup meeting has been fascinating. With SYRIZA replacing the servile ND/PASOK governments, which consented to every measure without debate, the fundamental character of the EU was revealed: it is an organization controlled by the German capitalist classes, steeped in an ideology of racism and nationalist contempt, and aimed purely and solely at maintaining the short-term profits of those classes at the expense of everyone and everything else.

(To be 100% clear: these are not the interests of German working people, or of the “German taxpayer” the German leadership so frequently invokes. They are the very opposite.)

As I wrote in my previous post, there is no need to have any illusions about SYRIZA: it is not a socialist party, not dedicated to dismantling capitalism. It is simply a younger, more vital Keynesian capitalist party, offering Europe a chance to revitalize its economy a little, stave off catastrophe by redirecting some funds towards growth and social stability. The big question the Eurogroup meetings were posing was this: can European capitalism still act in its own long-term self-interest?

The answer was a resounding no.

And that, it would seem, is where SYRIZA is running face-first into the limitations of its programme and ideology. The EU is not, as SYRIZA’s leadership fervently believes, a bulwark of cosmopolitanism, rationality and good government. It does not represent some kind of European ideal.

In the press conference after the last meeting, the journalist Paul Mason asked Dijsselbloem: “What do you say to the Greek people, whose democracy you’ve just trashed?” And that is a very fair assessment of what happened. The European Union does not care what people voted for. It is an organization with next to no transparency or accountability which is fundamentally opposed to the very concept of democracy. All the peoples of Europe are to be allowed is to choose the faces of the people who implement the EU’s predetermined policies.

The open contempt displayed by the Eurogroup leadership, the stoking of racism in Germany, the utter inflexibility even within the capitalist framework, all point to one fact: the EU cannot be reformed. It must be overcome.

The irony of all the pre-election propaganda is that SYRIZA is constitutionally incapable of doing so. It cannot even imagine itself outside of the EU, outside the fantasy of liberal capitalist cosmopolitanism.

The question that remains, then, is: what can SYRIZA still accomplish? Since we’ve reached the point where Germany claims an occupier’s right of determining which policies a Greek government can or can’t implement, what changes will they allow? And are any such changes still conductive towards the goals of a socialist movement? At this point, I’d say it’s still unclear. On the one hand, if SYRIZA can take advantage of wriggle room in the agreement, they can maintain some of their momentum and make some meaningful changes. Even relatively minor improvements could make a big difference in establishing the idea that change is possible, while – perhaps more importantly – there might be a certain degree to which optimizing capitalism in Greece by dismantling some of its more extreme clientelism and bureaucracy might actually make it more feasible to build a genuine socialist movement.

On the other hand, SYRIZA’s failures could well lead to a total disenchantment with the Left and to the renewed rise of the far right. (Paul Krugman described German policy as objectively pro-Golden Dawn.) If they cannot break with the memorandum in the slightest, then their inability to understand or accept what the EU really is will lend credence to the most extreme nationalist forces and undermine the Left for years to come. If they cannot take the necessary radical measures to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Greece (because Germany forbids them, or because they choose to appease Germany), they will be forced to employ tactics that will make them extremely unpopular and will probably break up the party from within.

That’s certainly what social-democratic parties have done in the past.

In the long term, parties like SYRIZA cannot deal with the fundamental contradictions at the heart of capitalism. These contradictions have produced a state of economic and cultural decay that SYRIZA is now coming up against in its attempt at becoming a renewing force of the kind that have previously lifted capitalism out of crises. But it would be a mistake to think of capitalism as cyclical – these crises are never really overcome, merely displaced. Germany’s rigidity is the rigidity of a corpse, the rigor mortis of capitalism.

Can SYRIZA buy us some time to organize before the zombies come to feast? Stay tuned for next week’s episode.

What SYRIZA means for Europe

The electoral victory of SYRIZA in the Greek elections has been described as everything from momentous victory of the Left to gigantic catastrophe, but the truth is that a lot of the coverage wildly exaggerates what SYRIZA is, what it stands for, and what it aims to achieve.

The Past

stats

It’s impossible to detail the long and tortuous history of labour struggles in Greece, but a couple of important historical facts should be noted before we look at recent events.

  • In World War II, Germany invaded Greece, slaughtered its population and looted its economy. At the end of the war, Germany’s massive debts were forgiven, as rebuilding the German market was extremely important to the revival of capitalism. Small countries like Greece were left devastated.
  • Over and over, from the end of World War II to the Greek Civil War (1946-49) to the military dictatorship (1967-1974), Western European countries and the United States supported the most reactionary elements of Greek society in order to maintain geopolitical advantages. This included siding with Nazi collaborators to slaughter the Greek Resistance.

Austerity hardly began with the recent economic crisis. The necessity of austerity was already a major mantra of the PASOK government of Kostas Simitis (1996-2004). PASOK, like most social-democratic parties in Europe, turned to increasingly extreme neoliberal policies long before the crisis, policies that continued to intensify under the notably corrupt Nea Dimokratia government of Kostas Karamanlis (2004-2009). The notion that Greece was some manner of “socialist paradise” where workers enjoyed huge benefits is erroneous and cannot be backed up by facts. In simplistic terms, Greeks always worked more hours, for less money and with fewer rights, than Germans.

It is ironic that the PASOK government of George Papandreou (2009-2011) was voted into power precisely to stop this process of erosion, as it was this government, under the pretext of “we have no other choice,” that began the total destruction not only of labour rights, but of democratic processes and general quality of life. When his government fell apart, it was followed by an unconstitutional, unelected “interim government of national unity” – strongly supported by Germany and the EU – which included the far-right party LAOS and legitimized fascist and neonazi tendencies that ultimately gave rise to Golden Dawn. This illegal government (2011-2012) was followed by a coalition between Nea Dimokratia, PASOK and DIMAR (the Democratic Left, a short-lived party formed in a successful attempt to divert votes from SYRIZA), under Antonis Samaras (2012-2015).

Read the full post »

General Updatey News Stuff

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So, hey, The Talos Principle got some pretty nifty reviews, and even won some awards! That’s pretty cool. In fact, that’s awesome. I’m very, very happy. Whatever reservations I may have about the state of games criticism, I’m pretty glad that we were right in assuming that the people who play games aren’t as stupid as we’re constantly being told, that treating players as adults is not actually a crime. Sure, there’s a lot of infantile stuff out there, but if we all tell ourselves that nothing else can succeed… well, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m currently extremely busy alternating between really fun stuff and really boring stuff. On the one hand, there’s The Council of Crows, which is basically what we said we were going to do when we started Ithaka of the Clouds. It’s a full-sized Lands of Dream game. It has a really unique atmosphere. It has some of the best images Verena has ever drawn. It has stunningly beautiful music. And it even covers some of the themes Ithaka was meant to cover, which makes sense, since at one point it was actually part of Ithaka, though that seems silly now.

It’s obviously taking a bit longer than I’d like to, but that’s mainly because it started as a medium-sized game and now has as many images as The Sea Will Claim Everything. (It’s differently structured, and thus probably a little bit shorter, but it’s still quite big.) In general, it’s going really well and I’m very excited about it.

Unfortunately, I also have to take care of a bunch of tax-related paperwork, which is extremely exhausting and time-consuming, and it doesn’t help that January and February are usually the months when my depression is at its worst.

There’s also other work, good work, to take care of, so right now my schedule is somewhat overloaded. Overall, I feel like I’m making progress, like my promise last year that I would accelerate is working, but I’ve got to make sure I keep some kind of balance. It’s easy to start feeling hopeless and cynical when the world is full of problems and the main respone seems to be hypocrisy.

You should really read Lud-in-the-Mist, by the way. I read a lot of good novels last year, but that one went straight to my top ten favourites. I realize that’s a pretty random thing to say, but there you go.

(Oh, and if anyone’s looking for a writer… my schedule is really full right now, but it won’t be in a few weeks, and I could use another gig. Just saying.)

A Postcard From Afthonia

It's a magic postcard!

There’s a new Lands of Dream game!

A Postcard From Afthonia is a short excursion to the Isle of the Sun, set shortly after the events of The Sea Will Claim Everything. But don’t worry, even if you’ve never played that game used that portal, the people of the Isle of the Sun are very friendly and you’ll manage to find your way around.

Want to help two parents who are worried about their baby’s future? Spend some time in the beautiful city of Afthonia? Hang out with the fantastic inhabitants of the Fortunate Isles? Well, download this magical postcard!

If you want to help support the development of more such magical portals to the Lands of Dream, you can also purchase the Special Edition, which includes a delicious audio commentary and an insightful moussaka recipe.

Note: If you backed Ithaka of the Clouds on Indiegogo, you got a free copy of the Special Edition. If your gift code got lost in your spam folder, please write us an email and we’ll fix you up with a new one.

The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle is out today!

Here’s a small selection of favourite reviews:

The Talos Principle is perhaps the most human game I’ve ever played.
Gaming Trend

The Talos Principle is my runaway choice for Game of the Year for 2014, and if you have any interest in puzzle or adventure games, you must play it.
Dark Station

Each individual fragment of story is so small, but it’s like mosaic tiles. Suddenly you’re eight hours in and gasping because you just found a crucial text and unraveled a key part of the larger whole and it’s hit you so hard you half-stand up out of your chair.
PC World

It’s a game that aspires to be more than what we traditionally expect, and one that has an intangible quality that makes it more than the sum of its parts. It’ll stay with you after you’ve completed it and call you back to explore its hidden corners to see what else you’ll uncover there.
Gamefront

It tickled my brainbuds and got inside my head in that way which sees you drawing diagrams of levels while on the tube or puzzling them out as you lie in bed pretending sleep might turn up at any moment. It’s one of my favourite games from 2014.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun

The Talos Principle is a game of challenges and conundrums and philosophical wonderings, filled with logic puzzles and cerebral mysteries. Its chunky mechanical processes are underpinned by a compelling breadcrumb-trail narrative that tackles the intangible notion of humanity and consciousness. Consequently, despite playing a robot that interacts with computer terminals and takes instruction from a disembodied voice in the sky, it exudes personality and charm; its mechanical precision complementing its aesthetic qualities. For an experience bereft of human contact it boasts a very big heart indeed.
Eurogamer

It’s a huge, meaty endeavor of grand vision, lunatic ambition, polish, and composure.
Everybody’s Talking at Once

Looks like we didn’t screw up! Now, does anybody need a writer?

The Talos Principle is coming

As the release date of The Talos Principle approaches, I’ll be posting reviews and other links of interest here. I am, however, also preparing the release of A Postcard From Afthonia, which is ready and just being set up at Humble, and The Council of Crows, which I’d love to release before Christmas (but I’m not sure I can). I’m also working on a post about the writing of Talos and another one about Ithaka of the Clouds. Loads of stuff happening right now!

Unfortunately I’ve spent the last few weeks utterly and completely inundated with terrifying tax and healthcare paperwork that I can’t safely ignore, so I’m way behind.

Still – at least people seem to be enjoying Talos, which makes me very happy.

Talos has managed to present a narrative that makes us think, and not only think, but question ourselves. It doesn’t do it in a terribly pretentious way, either, not like we might expect from philosophy. We’re presented with a compelling version of reality that begs us to question our own, and Talos tells it with sci-fi aplomb.

Melissa Vach, Pixel Dynamo

Isn’t that cool?