TSWCE Greenlit!

So, not only has The Talos Principle been announced, but now The Sea Will Claim Everything has been greenlit!

And the week isn’t even over yet.

Holy shit.

The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle has been announced! It’s a new game by Croteam, which I’m co-writing with the lovely Tom Jubert.

Links! 08/06/2014

It's a rock.

A delicious selection for all internet-compatible humans:

  • EFF: On 6/5, 65 Things We Know About NSA Surveillance That We Didn’t Know a Year Ago
  • Konstantinos “Gnome” Dimopoulos is doing one of those Patreon thingies. He’s been quietly, humbly writing about indie games for nearly a decade, getting the word out about hundreds of interesting games without inserting himself into the story. Worth supporting, if you can afford to.
  • The Sea Will Claim Everything is currently in spot #79 on Greenlight. Vote for it or something.
  • This article about trigger warnings by a psychiatrist specializing in trauma is worth reading, as is this article by a group of humanities professors who actually subscribe to many of the same politics as supporters of trigger warnings.
  • Greek politicians have decided that Greek beaches should be privatized. You can sign a petition against that here. Will it make a difference? Probably not, no.
  • The Electron Dance article about zombies, combined with the fact that I’ve been playing co-op Dead Island lately, reminded me that I’d like to make a zombie game at some point, just to see if I can make it interesting. I’ve always really admired George Romero, after all.
  • I know it’s sad, but every now and then I remember the huge manatee and I start laughing uncontrollably out of the blue.
  • Odds Are cheers me up, in a dark sort of way. If you don’t want to be cheered up, listen to Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel instead. Brilliant song, mind you, just heartbreaking.
  • I enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow. Solid, smart, and surprisingly funny. Not the most profound movie of all time, but worth seeing.
  • I’m pretty sure there was something important I was going to tell you about… oh well, it’ll come to me.

Ithaka of the Clouds and other news

I’ve just sent this email to our backers:

Hi everyone,

We thought we’d finally share some news about Ithaka of the Clouds and the Lands of Dream in general, because we know we’ve been entirely too silent. This is not because anything’s gone horribly wrong, by the way, but simply because we’re always worried about spamming people and giving away too much of a game’s magic. (But it certainly isn’t good PR, and our backers deserve to know what’s going on!)

So. Here we go. The news:

– Ithaka of the Clouds will be released this winter. We don’t want to name a specific month, because you know how these things are. If we name a month, it won’t be that month.
– The Council of Crows, a smaller Lands of Dream game that will be free for everyone who backed Ithaka, is coming out… soon? It turned out bigger than originally intended, but it’s nearly done. We just need to make sure we can have the time and energy to publicize it enough when it does come out, so there are some scheduling issues that have to be resolved.
– These are not the only Lands of Dream games coming in 2014. That’s all I can say for now.

All in all, we’re making progress. We should have anticipated a longer development time, really, especially given how easy it is to get interrupted by health issues when you’re such a small team (Jonas and his teeth…), but we’re definitely getting there.

Speaking of getting there, we’ll also finally get to all your perks that relate to actual game content. Expect emails. Actual emails. From us. :)

Thanks for your continued support!
Jonas & Verena & Cat & Chris & possibly some mushrooms

PS If you haven’t played The Matter of the Great Red Dragon, it’s now available on the Lands of Dream website.

Sympathy for the Hollow Artist

Leave me alone.

It’s often easy to condemn the artists of the past for their political ignorance. Easy and also necessary – particularly in the last sixty years or so, when art has made tremendous strides backwards, away from radicalism and visionary genius and towards pseudo-intellectual masturbation of the ego with a hint of watered-down liberalism and a vague smell of dull, desperate mysticism.

See? Those words come so easily, and they’re a fair represenation of what I think of the trajectory of art in general. Even the exceptions are frequently disappointing – works which are supposedly critical, but which never seem to have the guts to go far enough, leaving us with little more than a moralistic “What if we could all just get along?” or another individualistic appeal to our guilt. Is it really possible that none of these people could understand anything about what is wrong with the world? Were they really all so blinded by their middle-class upbringing that they were incapable of a decent systemic critique? So much talent wasted on so little substance.

And yet, I wonder whether that’s fair. Not in terms of the politics – there really is a depressingly huge amount of smart, well-intentioned people who ended up dedicating their gifts to vaguely socially-progressive capitalism, people who are now terminally confused as the parties they supported wreak havoc on the world – but in terms of intent. How many of them, I wonder, had much more radical thoughts? How many knew that the real issues were bigger and more difficult, but settled for at least saying something, being socially progressive if not politically radical?

Because God knows I understand how tempting that is.

Merely being socially progressive – i.e. talking about representation, not exploitation – gives you that air of being politically engaged, but it also gets you patted on the back. Sure, there’s always some anger from lunatics, but the majority of people condemn that kind of thing. You’ll have the liberal capitalists on your side in this, and sometimes the conservative ones, too. You want minorities to have more chances? You want more women CEOs? You think we should be kinder to the poor? You want to have a national conversation about race? That’s all quite acceptable. You’ll get patted on the back, maybe even called brave.

You can even call yourself an anarchist and say you oppose capitalism. As long as you’re suitably moralistic and individualistic, people will take this as a sign of how deep you are: anticapitalism as the new bohemianism. Sure, this might get you into a little more trouble, but as long as your anarchism is confined to an aesthetic, not to direct political action, you’ll be fine. They’ll know you’re basically a hippie libertarian. You’re not a threat.

And hey, you might really feel that you’re making a difference. Within the framework of capitalism, things might get a little better for some people you care about. Things will simultaneously get worse for some other people, but that’s not really your fault, that’s just how the world is, and at least you tried. You helped. You can feel fine about yourself. And the best part? You get to keep doing what you love. You get to be a creative artist with a good reputation and the opportunity to keep creating.

But if you don’t want to improve things a little bit for this or that group, and you’re not interested in advocating for a utopian future that everyone knows is more about showing off your beliefs than about causing change? If you want to unite people, you want to destroy the old categories, you want people to seize control not of the discourse, but of the means of production? If you want to do this in a real, practical sense – you want to do this today, not as an ideology, not as a dream, but as a coherent political movement? If you are, in other words, some kind of socialist?

Then you better watch out, because things will get ugly fast.

And here’s the real kicker: most of the really nasty attacks on you won’t come from the Right, but from people supposedly on the Left. They’ll call you an extremist. They’ll say you’re arrogant and deluded and oppressive. They’ll question your morality, call you a creep, insinuate you’re motivated by bigotry. Instead of just generically hating you or ignoring you like the Right will, they’ll loathe you, smear you, do their best to turn you into a persona non grata in the very circles where you’d normally find an audience. After all, you’re far more of a threat to them than to the Right. Who’s going to have a national conversation about race when people of all races are united in their fight for socialism? Who’s going to write soul-searching articles when we no longer have time for bullshit categories? Who’ll talk about patriarchal discourses when men and women are fighting for fair wages for everyone? Who, most importantly, is going to be a consultant? Of course they want to destroy you, you’re trying to take away their niche in capitalism. It’s how they survive. They’re defending themselves.

And it works, too. When a fascist calls you a socialist, you nod and you smile and you fight back harder. When a feminist calls you a brocialist, you die a little inside and you wonder whether it’s all worth it at all. You could just stick to the obvious social stuff, the stuff you’ll get praised for, and maybe people will see you as a significant artist and give you the opportunities you so desperately want. If you conform just a little bit more, if you take out some of your radical ideas, if you don’t say this one thing that might upset middle-class liberals, if you choose to remove this other bit… if little by little, you whittle away at your vision until it’s acceptable to the mainstream that doesn’t realize it’s the mainstream, maybe you can live the life of the artist that you’ve always wanted.

Maybe that’s what happened to all these artists who were so clearly so talented, and yet never quite managed to fulfill their potential. Maybe that’s why there’s always a sadness to their work, a hollow feeling as if something was missing. Maybe it’s not that they didn’t know better, but that they simply felt there was no alternative. They wanted to survive. They wanted to keep making art. They were afraid of being hated by their peers.

What’s worse: never getting the chance to create what you wanted to, or creating it but knowing that it’s hollow?

Notes:

  1. Anarchists stopping anarchists from talking about anarchy. When I see this, I want to put on that helmet and never listen to the world again.
  2. The Politics of Denunciation. An article written by someone who was going to be a speaker at the conference linked to above. Apparently the article was considered to be pro-rape.
  3. First as tragedy, then as farce…then as low-budget bondage porn
  4. The ultimate form of modern politics.
  5. “It is not because Angels are Holier than Men or Devils that makes them Angels but because they do not Expect Holiness from one another but from God only” – William Blake
  6. Of course there are  successful exceptions. There always are, or we’d all be dead.
  7. I catch myself being afraid to tweet even the most basic of political comments. The most powerful censor lives in your head.

Free Speech and the Means of Communication

This XKCD comic caused quite a bit of discussion recently. There’s plenty one could debate here regarding freedom of speech and the various campaigns to oust this or that person (from Brendan Eich to Jonathan Ross) from a position because of their views (or views falsely attributed to them), but there’s a deeper flaw in the comic’s argument that should be mentioned.

The understanding of free speech the comic promotes is fatally undermined by the fact that the means of communication are privately owned.

Look at that first panel again. The basis of the argument is that “the right to free speech means the government can’t arrest you for what you say.” In the context of capitalism, that’s an incredibly reductionist definition. If speech is supposed to be free, we must ask: who owns the means by which speech is expressed and transmitted in the modern world? Who owns the newspapers? Who owns the TV channels? Who owns Twitter? Who owns Facebook? Who owns the film production studios? Who owns the ISPs? And so on. The answer is always the same: not the government. Not the people, either. All of these things are owned by capital. All of these things are industries.

So, in a situation where public discourse takes place in privately-owned spaces, how are the handful of people who ultimately own most of the media any different from a government? Apart from the lack of any kind of system of democratic control or a pretense of accountability, that is.

An old example of this is the Hollywood blacklist, in which people who were suspected of being leftists (or “communist sympathizers”) were prevented from working or receiving credit for their work. This is a classical example of censorship, and yet, according to the XKCD comic, it’s actually not a free speech issue at all, since it was a private initiative and not something forced onto Hollywood by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Yes, all that happened was that some powerful people in Hollywood thought that leftists were assholes, and showed them the door.

A newer example would be anything to do with Wikileaks or the War on Terror. When Twitter “disappears” trending topics about Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange or proof of various government-committed crimes against humanity, is that censorship? Not according to XKCD, because the government isn’t forcing them to do it. It just so happens that the political interests of capital are the same as those of a capitalist government, and so they act to protect each other. Twitter just thinks that dissenters are assholes, and is showing them the door.

But where are the public alternatives to Twitter or Facebook? Sure, you can kick somebody who’s annoying you out of your garden, but what happens when your garden is also the agora? What happens when the location of public discourse is not public?

Ultimately, what this comic is selling is a strange libertarian capitalist fantasy of freedom, where freedom is defined solely as freedom from government interference, but freedom from the structures of authority produced by the accumulation of capital is never considered.

Comments Off

I’ve permanently disabled comments for all pages and posts on this website.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. In a way it’s absurd that the notion of turning off comments requires commenting on (hah). Why should it? When did we suddenly simply accept it as natural that every bloody piece of text we read has a little space at the bottom in which we can add whatever our brain is about to fart out? And when in God’s name did we come to assume such a thing would be healthy?

Don’t get me wrong, debate can be quite healthy. But debate isn’t the same as comments. I’ve often enjoyed reading written debates in collections of letters or articles; there are authors who are primarily famous for precisely such texts. But these are coherent texts, presented in their own space. They are a proper response, often enjoyable and thought-provoking even to someone who hasn’t read what they are responding to. Comments, on the other hand, are this weird growth that continues where the proper text stops, more like a strangely-shaped mole on the text’s bottom that you can’t quite look away from than like… well, something worth reading.

The problem, I suppose, is that comments become part of the text. They affect – or perhaps infect – our reading of the text in ways that a separate response does not. They’re right there, after all, on the same page, as if they were part of the author’s intent. This effect is particularly strong with negative comments, of course. You can write thousands of words about the interaction of culture and economics, for example, and all it’ll take to completely skew people’s perception of what you’ve written is someone leaving a comment to say that “you obviously think racism doesn’t exist” or “you’re clearly a Men’s Rights Activist!” or “how dare you suggest that violent Stalinism is the only solution to the world’s problems!”

What do you do in such a situation? You can delete the offending comment, though that can easily lead to making your comments nothing but an echo chamber. You can respond politely, wasting hours of your life on restating basic premises that did not require restating and draining yourself intellectually – which, in the long run, leads to apathy and depression. Or you can respond with the same level of thought they put into their comment and tell them to fuck off – which is perfectly justified, but ultimately just gives fodder to the people who claim that you’re unwilling to engage. Finally, you can ignore the comment, leaving it to fester in everyone’s reading of the text. None of these solutions are helpful.

This also happens with less hostile comments. Comments encourage a kind of intellectual laziness, because it’s easier to just say “I don’t understand this!” than to actually think about what premises the author is arguing from or what the context of their argument is. A complete text, uncommentable, is much easier to consider as a whole than a text that is perpetually unfinished, always awaiting another explanation by its author. The relationship that comments encourage between author and reader is not a healthy one. (That applies to most parts of today’s consumer culture. Artists are no longer visionaries or messengers; they merely provide a service to their customers.)

Even completely well-intentioned comments that aren’t based on ignorance or malice can completely derail people’s understanding of a text. I’ve often seen wonderful articles followed by ten times as much text debating one minor aspect of something mentioned in passing by the author, to the point where at the end it feels like that minor detail was what it was actually all about. Now, it’s not that that conversation is boring or bad; it’s what it does to people’s perception of the original text, which was after all written for a reason.

Let’s go back to the idea of deleting comments you don’t like, because that relates to the other reason for having comments: ego. Yes, the public acknowledgment of one’s brilliance. People saying “that was a great article, you’re so right!” It’s always a huge rush and an encouragement to get these. But ego is the enemy of truth. You start writing in order to get that response – not to be right, but to be cool.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being happy about positive feedback. I crave that feedback as much as anyone. I’m just suspicious of it in that context, where it’s not a thought-through appraisal of something you’ve written or a private communication, but part of the author’s performance of coolness. If you don’t let the words stand on their own, the presence of the author overwhelms them, and suddenly we’re discussing the author, not the work.

All of this is not to say that I don’t appreciate the majority of comments left on this site, or that I don’t enjoy engaging with people on a variety of issues. I love a good debate, especially since I’m not one of the people who are so fond of trying to censor language or who believe that differences of opinion inherently signify differences in moral stature. But I don’t want those debates to happen in the swollen flesh-sacks hanging off the lower sections of the internet. This site is where I want to put the stuff that I create, to stand or fall on its own merits.

There are plenty of places where we can talk; let’s not talk in the cinema, OK?

Notes

  1. See also: Popular Science, Why We’re Shutting Off Our Comments.
  2. I don’t really want to debate stuff on Twitter, either.
  3. I may make exceptions for technical issues – reporting bugs is easier to do when you know what other people have already run into.
  4. If you want to talk to me, please do write me an email. I’m slow to respond, but I always try to.

Sing About Love

I was going to write something about why I keep going on and on about politics when I hate politics, but then I remembered that this song exists and says everything more eloquently than I could.

Bear With Me

A BEAR!

I saw this the other day, and figured it was probably more important than identity politics.

Bundle of Love

The Sea Will Claim Everything is currently part of the Bundle of Love for Brandon Boyer. The story is one that should be unsurprising to anyone who is familiar with private healthcare in the United States: person gets healthcare, person gets sick, healthcare company refuses to pay, person is left destitute.

Humble Bundle has teamed with independent developers to put together a bundle like no other. To help support this cause, pay at least $25 to receive a ton of games and all proceeds will go directly to the Brandon Boyer Cancer Treatment Relief fund. In addition to Brandon’s medical bills for cancer treatment, the excess funds from this promotion will be donated to a select cancer research organization.

I’ve already seen people complaining that this is a terrible thing to do because Boyer is white, male and privileged. Apart from being unbelievably, breathtakingly petty and unkind, this is also completely missing the point. The barbaric state of healthcare in the United States – and its decline to that level in other countries – is a systemic problem. It cannot be solved by Gofundme, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, Humble or Patreon. Millions of people are struggling with such problems in the US alone. Charity can, at best, be a personal gesture. An individual choice that helps an individual. Which is good and fine, and if I get a chance to help someone, I’ll take it. But to support, say, a black disabled trans journalist (which I would also do, given the chance) instead is just as much an individual choice that helps an individual, because it still leaves the same millions of people struggling to survive. However, to assert that some people are less deserving of the money because of their skin colour or gender is not only inhumane, but completely undermines the idea that all people deserve free healthcare. All of them, without exception.

Yeah, Brandon Boyer is lucky because he’s famous for the work he’s done and a lot of people want to support him. But the same is true of every game developer’s or journalist’s Patreon that has popped up recently. The people who get this kind of support are, for the most part, getting it because they already have an audience. Millions of people are losing everything right now who’ve never even heard of crowdfunding, and who wouldn’t get a single cent if they tried it – because they aren’t artists or journalists or capable of promoting themselves in the right way. That does not make them less valuable as human beings, or less deserving of our support.

Pointing fingers and talking about privilege is missing the point. Yes, we must be very aware of the fact that charity does not solve systemic problems. We must make sure that laudable efforts like this one don’t blind us to the fact that most people have to face such situations alone. But under no circumstances must we accept the logic of fighting for scraps when we deserve the whole buffet. Everyone deserves the right to as healthy a life as our civilization can provide. The crazy cat lady in the trailer park. The black teen from the gated community. The white game developer from California. The old man from Greece. The young immigrant in Italy. Everyone. No exceptions.

So, if you want to be angry, don’t be angry that some white guy is getting some donations. Be angry that donations are necessary at all.