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.

Against All Nationalisms

Irony

“Why do you write about identity politics and all that stuff if it’s just going to alienate people?”

I get that question a lot. Why always insist on the big picture, on internationalism, on transculturality? Why not support the nationalism of the oppressed? It makes people angry, it goes against what’s expected, it causes trouble and loses you allies. And it’s tedious. It’s cold, hard logic versus the seemingly liberating fire of intense emotion. It’s abstract argument versus the intimacy of personal experience. I get it. Trust me, I wish this stuff was irrelevant. I hate politics.

But take a good look at that picture.

What you’re seeing there is members of the American Nazi Party attending a Nation of Islam rally. (For those unfamiliar with the American Civil Rights Movement, the Nation of Islam was a black nationalist organization that had very little to do with actual Islam. Its most famous members included Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.) That’s right: members of a white supremacist movement were guests of honour at an event dedicated to the dignity and pride of African-Americans. It gets better: the Nation of Islam also worked with the Ku Klu Klan.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manning Marable describes the relationship between the two groups:

Most of the details about the planning and logistics of this meeting are still sketchy. What is established is that, despite a previous exchange of hostile letters [...] both the Klan and the NOI saw advantages to crafting a secret alliance. On January 28 [1961], Malcolm and Atlanta NOI leader Jeremiah X met in Atlanta with KKK representantives. Apparently, the Nation was interested in purchasing tracts of farmland and other properties in the South and, as Malcolm explained, wanted to solicit “the aid of the Klan to obtain the land.” According to FBI surveillance, Malcolm assured the white racists that “his people wanted complete segregation from the white race.” If sufficient territory were obtainable, blacks could establish their own racially separate businesses and even government. Explaining that the Nation exercised a strict discipline over its members, he urged white racists in Georgia to do likewise: to eliminate those white “traitors who assisted integration leaders.”

[...]

Jeremiah X, who was actively involved in the Klan negotiations, participated in a daylight Klan rally in Atlanta in 1964, receiving the public praise of the Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Robert M. Sheldon.

[Manning Marable, A Life of Reinvention, p. 178-179]

I know that this is the kind of disturbing fact, so far outside the common narratives of what it means to be progressive, that one almost instinctively tries to ignore or downplay. But there’s no avoiding the truth. Look at that photo again. Read the last sentence of that quote. Jeremiah X received the public praise of Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Robert M. Sheldon. And it’s hardly the only such case – the collaboration of Zionist organizations with the Nazis is well-documented (including by Jewish historians such as Lenni Brenner). Read this, for example:

Between 9 September and 9 October 1934 the Nazi Party Berlin newspaper Der Angriff, founded and controlled by Joseph Goebbels, published a series of twelve pro-Zionist articles by Mildenstein under the title A National Socialist Goes to Palestine. In honour of his visit, the newspaper issued a commemorative medallion, with the swastika on one side and the Star of David on the other.

[Wikipedia entry on SS officer Leopold von Mildenstein]

Given the events that followed, it’s difficult to imagine anything more horrific and absurd than “a commemorative medallion, with the swastika on one side and the Star of David on the other.” Yet in many ways, it’s a perfect symbol for nationalism.

This is the part that’s important: on a very fundamental level, all these nationalist organizations were in agreement about how the world was structured. Sure, the white supremacists thought white people were better and the black nationalists thought black people were better. But where they all agreed was that there was such a thing as Whites and Blacks and Aryans and Jews, that these were meaningful divisions of humanity and that these divisions should be upheld. To construct an identity always requires the construction of an Other, against which one can be defined; as such, these nationalisms were different sides of the same coin.

They also shared a common enemy: the many, many people on all sides who refused to be categorized. The majority of German Jews, for example, who did not conceive of themselves as a special group based on ethnic identity (Zionism was a fringe movement at the time). The people on both “sides” who fought and died for equality. The people who committed the sin of intermarriage. And the most dangerous bunch of them all: the communists. To defeat the latter, any alliance would do.

To question the nationalism of the oppressed is not to question the existence of oppression; in fact, the very suggestion is one that “silences” or “erases” (to use the terms commonly employed in modern identity politics) all the many, many people who never embraced an ideology of borders in the first place, who fought for full equality and freedom beyond any concept of identity. It ignores the millions of people who fought and died for their right to be people. Not black people or Jewish people. Just people.

Today’s proponents of identity politics/intersectionality are not that different in their goals from the Nation of Islam: pride for their identity, lifting people of that identity up from poverty, creating jobs for people of that identity, creating and maintaining (and policing) communities. They’re opposed to oppression, but rarely to exploitation – i.e. they conceive of the problem with capitalism as being the unfair representation of minorities in positions of power, not the inherent relationship between working people and the system. The poor whites that Martin Luther King Jr. was so concerned about are dismissed as privileged.

And that’s what it always comes down to. All nationalisms – whether the literal kind, or those of gender, religion, or other cultural groups – are ultimately segregationist in nature. To believe that identities intersect, you must believe in separate, clearly divided identities. To believe that appropriation is a problem, you must believe that cultures exist as contained units. And so there must always be an Other; to construct that Other as the “white heterosexual cis man” instead of the “dark foreigner” changes nothing about the underlying logic. The West isn’t superior to the Orient, but neither is the Orient superior to the West – the real point is that there is no Orient, and thus there is no West. Cultural borders are a fantasy, and it is that very fantasy that we must destroy. We can’t do that by reinforcing the very logic that creates the fantasy in the first place.

I write about these issues because I believe that people should have the freedom to live their lives as they choose to. I believe that the world is plagued by inequality, oppression and exploitation. And I firmly believe that history shows us that nationalism, no matter how attractively presented, no matter how emotionally justified, can never lead to freedom.

Notes:

  1. Malcolm X, of course, eventually grew disgusted with the Nation of Islam and tried to find a way towards equality that embraced everyone. That’s when he became a real threat to the system, and he was killed long before he managed to complete his evolution.
  2. “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice, and equality for everyone, and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think that it will be based on the color of the skin.” – Malcolm X
  3. Is the Turk a White Man? American liberal politics appear not to have moved on for over a century.
  4. Transculturality: the Puzzling Form of Cultures Today, by Wolfgang Welsch.
  5. The Invention of the Jewish People and The Invention of the Land of Israel by Shlomo Sand.
  6. “In the logic of antiracism, exposure of the racial element of an instance of wrongdoing will lead to recognition of injustice, which in turn will lead to remedial action—though not much attention seems ever given to how this part is supposed to work. I suspect this is because the exposure part, which feels so righteously yet undemandingly good, is the real focus. But this exposure convinces only those who are already disposed to recognize.” – Adolph Reed, Jr. in The Limits of Anti-Racism. And yeah, he’s black. Does intersectionality have space for those of the oppressed who don’t subscribe to intersectionality?

Reload

We were on German television the other day, in a show about videogames called Reload. We show up somewhere around 23 minutes in. (And it’s in German, of course.) I haven’t watched it yet, but people tell me I wasn’t too embarrassing.

Fear of Twine

The Matter of the Great Red Dragon

Fear of Twine is an online exhibition of text-based games made by a highly diverse group of people from all around the world. It’s not just diverse in its list of authors, though: it has everything from fantasy to horror to science fiction to deeply personal explorations of kink to abstract political fiction about working-class politics. The site’s a little minimalistic, but the content is fantastically rich.

Fear of Twine features my new Lands of Dream game, The Matter of the Great Red Dragon. I know I’m supposed to be either insincerely humble or ridiculously boastful for the purposes of marketing, but the truth is that I’m just really happy that I got to make this game. It turned out exactly as I wanted it to and thinking about it gives me the warm, fuzzy feeling of having met some old friends and found that we still get along. So there you go. I hope you enjoy it.

Fear of Twine also includes Verena’s first solo game, Zombies and Elephants. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome, with a lot more layers to it than the title might suggest (as is true of a lot of pulp fiction), but then again I may be biased. (I’m not. I’m a very harsh critic.) I know there are still a couple of things that Verena would like to change, but you know what they say about art. It’s full of the undead.

There’s a lot more to Fear of Twine, though I can’t figure out how to start another sentence with it. I haven’t played all the games yet, but I should definitely mention Abstract State-warp Machines by my dear friend and accomplished, original poet Ivaylo Shmilev. Interactive science fiction poetry! You’re in for a challenge and a treat. (And then there’s Workers in Progress by Konstantinos Dimopoulos and Truth is Ghost by Joel Goodwin and and and…)

I hope this exhibition will gain some traction with the press. I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like it, and it deserves some attention.

(The site was recently updated, by the way, and is now more accessible.)

Project Update

Crows!

I recently finished my text game for the upcoming Fear of Twine exhibition. It’s called The Matter of the Great Red Dragon, is set in the Lands of Dream, and has turned out quite wonderful, even though the whole thing came to me in a flash at the last minute, after I’d thrown my original idea out the window. I don’t mean to brag, I’m just really happy with how it turned out. You should be able to play it in a week.

I am now returning to work on The Council of Crows, which may or may not be a working title. This is a short(er) Lands of Dream game – bigger than The Book of Living Magic but not as huge as The Sea Will Claim Everything – and will be free to all those who supported our Indiegogo. The rest of you will be able to get it for an affordable sum. Chris Christodoulou has written absolutely fantastic music for it, and Verena has drawn some of her most evocative art so far. I think it’ll be beautiful.

(The screenshot is old and a little unpolished, but that’s pretty much what it looks like.)

Incidentally, this game was supposed to come out much earlier, but I ran into a serious problem with how Windows 7 handles fonts in Multimedia Fusion games, and had to engineer an ugly but functional solution. This has also caused a delay for Ithaka of the Clouds, but don’t complain – you’re getting a free game!

(If your text looks weird and a bit jagged in The Sea Will Claim Everything, it’s a Windows feature called ClearType. There’s nothing I can currently do about it, so if it bothers you, you’ll have to turn it off before playing. I’m very sorry about this, and more than a little irritated. There doesn’t appear to be a simple solution, and I cannot currently go back and rewrite all the code for a game that sells almost nothing. Thankfully, not that many people seem to have had this problem or noticed it.)

I’m also working on a few other projects in parallel, including a platformer and another text game which… pertains to the Lands of Dream, to slightly paraphrase Dunsany. In fact, I’m quite in love with text games at the moment. Or actually with writing in general. Every now and then I get a chance to do really write and I remember that writing is actually what I’m all about.

And then there’s the Secret Project I’m Not Allowed To Tell You About, which does not involve squirrels, scorpions, or the use of the word “pronk.”

Exciting times. Now to just convince my body to defeat the common cold.

The Greatest Moment in Human History

web

Always remember the past, comrades!

Class and Identity

Rosa Luxemburg

Debates between identitarians and socialists often break down around one central point of contention: identitarians believe that a movement for change must be inclusive towards all oppressed identities, and accuse socialists of “class reductionism,” which to them translates as “you only want to fight for your identity, which is defined by class.” This is wildly inaccurate, but not in the sense that the opposite is true; rather, it stems from a complete misunderstanding of socialist thought and history.

Identitarians, particularly those who believe in intersectionality, see the world as consisting of a complex set of overlapping systems of identity-based oppression, in which people experience different amounts of “privilege” according to how oppressed or un-oppressed their intersecting identities are. Class is usually ignored in these debates, which tend to focus on “race” and gender, but sometimes an effort is made to include it. The intersectionalist view of class, then, is that it is another form of social identity. Matt Bruenig very accurately sums up how this view of class simply can’t fit into the identitarian framework:

The fundamental problem with cramming poor people into the identitarian framework is that, unlike every other identity treated in that framework, justice for poor people requires their elimination. The appropriate remedy to racial oppression is not to make everyone white, nor is the appropriate remedy to gender oppression to make everyone male. But the appropriate remedy to the “oppression of the poor” (as identitarians describe it) is to make them no longer poor. Poorness is not an identity to be celebrated or lifted up; it is an identity to be done away with altogether. The oppression of poor people is that they are poor people. The same cannot be said for any other marginalized group.

- Matt Bruenig, Identitarianism’s class problem

Identitarians, then, usually aren’t actually concerned with class; they’re concerned with classism. Their objection is to the way snotty rich (or middle-class) people treat poor people, not to the system that produces these divisions in the first place, and – as with other forms of identity – their suggested solutions usually come down to a fairer integration into the capitalist system, or measures that will allow a small percentage of people (ideally artists, activists or academics) to achieve middle-class status.

Since identity politics, and therefore intersectionality theory, are a bourgeois politics, the possibilities for struggle are also bourgeois.  Identity politics reproduces the appearance of an alienated individual under capitalism and so struggle takes the form of equality among groups at best, or individualized forms of struggle at worst.

- Eve Mitchell, I am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory

In the identitarian view, class should be treated as no more or less important than any of the other forms of social identity. To elevate it beyond that disregards the other identities and is therefore racist, sexist, oppressive, reductionist, etc. But in the Marxist sense, class isn’t a social identity; class is a relationship to the means of production. It’s not just that the solution to the class problem is different; it’s that “class” describes an entirely different manner of thing. I can’t emphasize this enough: Marxism isn’t elevating one identity over another, because it never assumes that an economic function in capitalism is the same as a social or cultural identity. Nor is class a personal issue – it doesn’t matter whether the rich are nice or mean, whether the poor are saintly or beastly. It’s not about how one defines oneself or what is offensive and what isn’t. It’s about how production is organized. Who owns the factories? Who owns the land? Who owns the housing? How are resources distributed? How is this vast and impressive apparatus of workers, technology and knowledge employed?

Marxism examines the structure of our economic system and finds that the entire thing is geared towards creating profit for one very small class of people, while completely failing to represent the interests of the majority of people – the people who actually do all the work, but own none of the results. This isn’t because the people who profit from this system are lacking in awareness of their privilege, or because they are classist. It has absolutely nothing to do with them as individual people, their social identities or minority status. A disabled black female capitalist is exactly the same as an able-bodied white male capitalist in the function they serve in the system, which is also why electing people of a different social identity has never by itself made a political difference.

The relationship between class and identity as understood by socialists is also quite different from that of identity politics. Identity politics is built around ideology; that is to say, it sees the world as being primarily shaped by how we think about it. Socialism, on the other hand, argues that ideology exists to justify material conditions. Identity politics believes that slavery happened because of racism; socialism argues that racism was invented to justify slavery, but the real cause of slavery was – to put it bluntly – money¹.

Where identitarianism seeks to somehow unify the world’s often highly contradictory personal narratives of oppression into a coherent idea of social justice, Marxism looks at what makes the system itself tick, and finds that the vast majority of people have something very real in common: their position within the economy, i.e. their relationship to capital and the means of production. It’s around this that it seeks to rally people – not around moral or personal judgement, but around their objective common interests. Ideologies of social division, in the socialist view, mainly exist to keep people from realizing precisely those interests. Divide and conquer, as they say.

Socialism does not seek to unify people on the level of social, national or cultural identity; it is inherently internationalist and transcultural, because it operates on a completely different level. But that’s precisely why socialism is emancipatory by necessity: because to unite the working class means to unite people across the barriers of identity. The concept itself is inclusive, and cannot be realized without the inclusion of the majority of people, including people of all social identities. Nor does it exclude those who wish to see systemic change but belong to the upper classes; after all, it’s about reorienting the goals and methods of the system, not about personal moral judgement or the condemnation of people because of an accident of birth. Socialism does not posit some sort of economic equivalent of Original Sin that makes people unable to see beyond their own lives.

The latter point is particularly important since, as Ross Wolfe has convincingly argued, the origins of identity politics lie with a perversion of socialism itself:

Historically, identitarian ideology is a product of the failure of the Left. The various forms of identity politics associated with the “new social movements” coming out of the New Left during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (feminism, black nationalism, gay pride) were themselves a reaction, perhaps understandable, to the miserable failure of working-class identity politics associated with Stalinism coming out of the Old Left during the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s (socialist and mainstream labor movements). Working-class identity politics — admittedly avant la lettre — was based on a crude, reductionist understanding of politics that urged socialists and union organizers to stay vigilant and keep on the lookout for “alien class elements.” Any and every form of ideological deviation was thought to be traceable to a bourgeois or petit-bourgeois upbringing. One’s political position was thought to flow automatically and mechanically from one’s social position, i.e. from one’s background as a member of a given class within capitalist society.

Anyone whose working-class credentials were not considered impeccable were expected to go through rituals of self-criticism or “autocritique” [from самокритика, a crucial shibboleth in the Stalinist vocabulary] confessing one’s incorrigible bourgeois intellectual habits in order to purify himself. Maoism radicalized this with application Third World and minority contexts. Indeed, much of the tedious discourse of “privilege-checking” derives from this [...]

- Ross Wolfe, “Identity” – the bane of the contemporary left

The catastrophic failure of the international Left in the face of Stalinism is a lesson in the dangers of identity politics – not only for advocates of intersectionality, but for all those who wish to cause meaningful changes to society, including socialists. It’s not possible to build a progressive movement around concepts of cultural or personal purity. No matter how oppressed one is, no matter what horrors one has experienced, genuine systemic change can only occur through an understanding of the objective issues that bind us together; only through the struggle to change the material conditions that produce ideologies of discrimination can we finally destroy those ideologies and create a society in which people can be free.

Either we’re fighting for everyone, or we’re fighting each other.

Footnotes:

  1. This is clearly a simplification for the purpose of explaining the principle. Note that by racism I mean the belief in biological races, not xenophobia in general, and by slavery I mean the African slave trade, which predates such theories. This was originally a bit clearer, before an edit removed some quotes that I felt were driving the article off course. The main point is that the root of slavery was financial interests, not hatred of black people.

Links! 18/01/2014

saloniki

Hey, it’s four in the morning and I can’t sleep, so here are some links!

  • I’m currently reading “Debt: The First 5000 Years” by David Graeber, and it’s gone from highly interesting to immensely frustrating. This review over at The Charnel-House is the best I’ve found so far, though I could probably add a lot more to what is said there. (I may do so at some point.) For the moment I’d just like to say that this book is the perfect illustration of why ideology, no matter how liberal and well-intentioned, is not a solid base upon which to build one’s analyses.
  • Nine Problems with Identitarianism. “Demanding respect for people as blacks and gays can go along with notably rigid strictures as to how one is to be an African American or a person with same-sex desires.” —Kwame Anthony Appiah
  • Ever wonder what kind of people the EU is so desperate to keep in power in Greece? It’s the folks responsible for this kind of thing: “A man who created a Facebook page poking fun at a revered Greek Orthodox monk has been sentenced to 10 months in prison in Greece after being found guilty of blasphemy.” Also a very useful illustration of why it’s a terrible idea to support laws that make it illegal to offend people’s beliefs.
  • You know all those stories about out-of-control public spending? Here’s a real case, but one no politician wants to do anything about. “Vast amounts of public money, running into billions, are spent every year on policies that make devastating floods inevitable.”
  • Adaptive infant aerodynamics: a beautiful marriage of physics and biology.
  • Steven Brust writes about History and Objectivity. I find the idea that “there can be no such thing as objectivity in history” as annoying as he does.
  • I was recently reminded of Second-Hand Elf, an article I wrote for the Escapist. Still rather fond of that one, and of the others I wrote for that site as well. One thing a lot of people don’t seem to get, though: shitty modern fantasists aren’t stealing from Tolkien. They’re stealing from people who stole from people who stole from people who misunderstood Tolkien. Today’s clichéd “elves and dwarves” resemble Tolkien’s magnificent creations only in the vaguest of ways. The same is true of Peter Jackson’s “adaptations” of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: they have more in common with Dungeons & Dragons than with Tolkien’s actual words.
  • I’m enjoying Saints Row: The Third just as much as I enjoyed its predecessor. Now here’s an argument for games as art! They’re not unlike the Lands of Dream games, really: the insane attention to detail, the belief that silliness and seriousness aren’t mutually exclusive, the giddy sense of freedom behind many of the storytelling choices… it’s one of the few games to make me laugh out loud on a regular basis. And I want to quote every single line of the dialogue.
  • If you made a TV series out of the Lands of Dream, it would be a lot like The Mighty Boosh (and especially like the episode linked to here, The Priest and the Beast). Except more melancholic, and, you know, communistic. You have no idea how much I would like to do that. Maybe someday…
  • Today’s music is Mark Knopfler, We Can Get Wild. I find this song inexplicably moving and sad.

Winter Blues

sky

Every now and then, I get hit by a big fuck-off wave of depression. I feel paralyzed, constantly exhausted, unable to focus. I get insomnia and my rhythm goes out of whack and I go to bed at five in the morning and wake up at two in the afternoon. Sometimes I have brief panic attacks, but mostly I just can’t get myself to do anything, and I become increasingly stressed out by the fact that I’m falling behind schedule. When I do work, I work far more slowly than I should. I start eating too much and regain what little weight I’d managed to drop in the summer. I feel trapped in a bubble of anxiety and apathy, which is an extremely annoying combination.

This usually happens in the winter. It’s a common, well-documented problem for people who grew up in sunny countries. I can’t stand the winters in Germany, especially in Frankfurt, a soulless city dedicated mostly to banking. It’s OK when it snows – the brightness cheers me up and it’s funny to see the cat jumping around in the garden to avoid getting wet – but that only happens very rarely. I dread the winters, I really do. No matter what I do, no matter how much I try to distract myself, I end up falling into this hole. (I tried to capture some of that in Moonlight.) That’s why I keep talking about moving; it’s not just about finances or cultural preferences, it’s about survival. I’m not suicidal, I never have been, but these periods of depression feel like a real threat to me, and the effect of each winter seems to be cumulative.

This is my eleventh winter in Frankfurt. I don’t know how I’ll get through it, and I can barely imagine a twelfth… or a twentieth. So I go into these endless loops of “How do I get out of here? What can we do? Where can we go?” that lead nowhere. Moving to another country presents a long list of problems. Moving whithin Germany seems like giving up on ever getting out of here, a guarantee that we’ll still be trapped here ten years from now. There are many advantages to living where we do. And so on.

I realize, of course, that a major part of my depression could simply be described as capitalism. I think that’s true of a lot of people, whether they’re aware of it or not. Too many things are lacking: opportunities, a sense of community, a real safety net, even just a collective future for the species that is worth looking forward to. Life really is getting shittier. It’s not in your head; it’s the natural result of an extremely uneven distribution of resources. Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t constitute a solution to my depression. I might feel better if I thought there was a real global movement to end this absurd situation, but there isn’t, at least not yet. What passes for the Left these days is as alienating and depressing as everything else.

And don’t even get me started on game development. The only way I can justify still working on this stuff is the hope that someday, maybe a couple of decades after my death, someone will actually go and have a detailed look at what I’ve done. Working for a future audience is not the most encouraging of activities. (I do appreciate the few hundred people who really love the Lands of Dream. But on days like these it’s hard not to be frustrated about the critical acclaim that seems exclusively reserved for juvenile shit that wouldn’t be taken seriously for a second in a more mature artform. It’s easier to appreciate the good stuff on the depression-free days.)

I hate the place depression has taken up in modern culture. It seems almost impossible to talk about such a phenomenon in a rational way. Half the world fetishizes it into some kind of badge of artistic honour and personal depth while the other half dismisses its existence altogether. The solutions suggested are either “always take these drugs, no matter the context” or “no, never take anything chemical, eat this endangered species’ butthole instead!” As with so many other things, nobody seems to want to fix any of the problems; they either want to hide them or redefine them into advantages (or, God help us, identities).

Having this problem doesn’t make me special. It’s not a mystery that you can never comprehend or an excuse for me to feel better, deeper, or more oppressed than other people. But it is a problem, and it’s not easy to deal with. Still, that’s all you can do.

Try to get through another winter.

My 2013

arkas

2013 was a weird year. I didn’t release a single game. But I worked. I worked unbelievably hard. I wrote and designed and programmed and squingled and boingled and frummed. And it’s all really awesome stuff, too, big promising projects that in many ways are unlike my previous work. Some of them are even so secret that I’m not allowed to tell you about them. (Seriously.) I’ll be releasing stuff nonstop next year. It’ll be madness. You won’t be able to keep up. It may start raining goats.

I’m in a strange place when it comes to games, though. As my toolset for making games grows, I keep experiencing these amazing moments of inspiration, much like when I first thought about making games. I’m more excited about the possibilities than I’ve ever been. Simultaneously, though, I’m about as disenchanted with the games “scene” as you can possibly be. It often feels like there’s absolutely no point in making games with any kind of artistic or intellectual ambition; when critics say that games need to evolve to a higher level of storytelling, they mean the level of a mediocre TV series. If you go beyond that, they won’t even recognize it. There are a few exceptions, and I’m glad they exist, but I can think of no other medium where there is such a catastrophic lack of critical depth. (I think it’s mostly due to the cultural isolation of video games from other art forms.)

Anyway, as a result of that, there are some projects that I’ve decided aren’t worth making as games. They were stories where I was on the brink, undecided as to whether they’d be better as games or in some other form, and I’ve come to the conclusion that making games feels too much like screaming into a void. To start new game projects with the intellectual and artistic complexity of the Lands of Dream would feel like too much of a waste. So I just want to finish what I started, make those games that I feel have a chance, and then stop. Or maybe semi-retire, focus mainly on writing for other people and making a game of my own every few years. Something like that. 2014 will bring a veritable explosion of games, including Ithaka of the Clouds. That explosion may continue into 2015. But not too long after that I’m going to be done. 2013 made the necessity of that very clear to me: I can’t keep making games for the rest of my life. I never wanted to. At least not as my primary occupation. I’m a writer, and I need to write.

My favourite piece of concept art.

Speaking of Ithaka of the Clouds, the crowdfunding campaign was one of the biggest things that happened to me this year. It was great to see that while the Lands of Dream may not have a huge audience, they do have a very real and very dedicated audience. It was not only gratifying, but also immensely helpful – thanks to the crowdfunding campaign (and Verena’s tireless work), our finances have gone from Argh to Surviving, which is a pretty big deal. And I can’t wait to show you Ithaka. It’s still a few months away, but it will have been worth it.

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Less financially lucrative, but also thoroughly important, was the release of our children’s book, Στη σκιά του Αόρατου Βασιλιά (In the Shadow of the Invisible King). Perispomeni Publications did a great job producing the book, and the reaction has been magnificent. It hasn’t reached as many people as it might have a few years ago – people in Greece are desperately poor, and due to its size and quality the book is quite expensive – but the people who did buy it loved it. And not just parents, either! Verena and I have always said that people underestimate children, and I’m glad we were right about that. Children weren’t scared of the dark parts of the book, weren’t freaked out by the weirder ideas, and weren’t confused by the book’s political and philosophical contents. After all, all of those are the ingredients of a good adventure story, and that’s what we wanted the book to feel like: an adventure. (I know, I know. Translations. Looking into it.)

marx

2013 was also the year in which I became persona non grata to a section of the indie games scene that I used to have a fair amount of contact with. In hindsight, I’m not particularly surprised that happened; the ideology of that particular group of people is so prone not only to fragmentation, but to the personal demonization of dissenters, that it makes the communist Left look like one big happy family. It was my article Would You Kindly Not that started the avalanche, but I realize now that the pressure had been building for some time, and I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with the reinforcement of most thoroughly racist and sexist ideas. I’m sorry for these harsh words, since I think a lot of the people involved aren’t aware of how shockingly imperialist, capitalist and US-centric their views are, but it got to a point where I could not live with myself if I didn’t speak up. Perhaps it would have been wiser to simply cut off all contact immediately, but at the time I hadn’t fully realized just how deeply these problems went, and I was under the impression that a culture of open debate was something most people on the Left desired. Now I know that, for the most part, American “anarchism” is not that closely related to the international kind, being more of a warmed-up liberalism, or even neoliberalism.

It’s depressing to think that even in 2013, the most radical perspective one could take of human beings is that they’re all equal. Hobsbawm may have had his issues, but this quote still sums it all up for me:

So what does identity politics have to do with the Left? Let me state firmly what should not need restating. The political project of the Left is universalist: it is for all human beings. However we interpret the words, it isn’t liberty for shareholders or blacks, but for everybody. It isn’t equality for all members of the Garrick Club or the handicapped, but for everybody. It is not fraternity only for old Etonians or gays, but for everybody. And identity politics is essentially not for everybody but for the members of a specific group only. This is perfectly evident in the case of ethnic or nationalist movements. Zionist Jewish nationalism, whether we sympathize with it or not, is exclusively about Jews, and hang — or rather bomb — the rest. All nationalisms are. The nationalist claim that they are for everyone’s right to self-determination is bogus.

- Eric Hobsbawm, Identity Politics and the Left

I can’t say the fallout from writing Would You Kindly Not didn’t affect me. I think what bothered me most were the personal attacks – not the political disagreement, but the sudden attacks on my character and the character of my friends, especially coming from people I’d always supported. I’m talking about shameful, outrageous slander against people who’ve never stood for anything other than equality and freedom. (And by the way, why isn’t it outrageous to accuse others of causing suicides, but controversial to say it’s not OK to judge others by their ethnicity?) By now I realize that this is how the entire “social justice movement” functions, but at the time the viciousness and childishness of it all was a little shocking. I was also depressed by the sheer number of people belonging to groups that one might categorize as oppressed who wrote to me saying “I’m X, I agree with or don’t have a problem with what you’re saying, I think the reaction is horrible, but I can’t say something in public because I’m afraid of being bullied.” And I don’t even blame them – look at how the people who did speak up were treated!

It’s mostly behind me now, or at least I hope so. I’m still writing about political theory, so identity politics does naturally crop up, but I try not to mention any names, and I block anyone involved with bullying tactics on Twitter. Occasionally someone will have a moment of self-righteousness about how evil I am (opposed to justice, not wanting people to have bodily autonomy, other things that completely oppose anything I’ve ever said), but generally they’re too busy hating each other, and I fully understand now how pointless it is to argue with people who thrive on outrage. If this is their niche, and this is how they make a name and an income for themselves, fine. I wish them no harm. But I’m glad they’re out of my life, even if I am now a “controversial” person who is less likely to receive support from the community.

cats

On a much happier note, 2013 was also a year in which I made several new friends, partially out of this controversy; it’s inspiring to discover that there are people in every part of this world who don’t fall for the neosegregationist propaganda, who enjoy art that engages with the world out there and not just with the distorted images in the mirror and the invisible lines that divide us; people who give me hope that the hateful voices are just a very loud minority. I am really grateful for having met you all, and for the continuing friendship of many others. I know you all struggle with the inanity and insanity of the modern world as much as I do, so I’m deeply thankful for your kindness, your support, and your terrible jokes. Don’t give up, comrades! The revolution is coming any century now.

Finally, Verena remains the cute octopus that holds together my raft of log-shaped dream metaphors. I wouldn’t get anything done without her. Well, I would, but I would probably drown in the process, and then who would get up in the middle on the night to let the cat in? Ghosts would, yes, but then there would be ghosts everywhere, and you know how they are. So I’m glad we’re all still alive and healthy, more or less. Especially the cat. She’s the best.

Our favourite monster.

And so I’ll end on that hopeful note, without dwelling on all the other unpleasant stuff.

Watch out for the koalas.