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.

03

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.

A Puppet of Yourself

Soon

Quick, listen to me. You’re in grave danger. If you don’t act, bad things will happen. I’m serious.

Your brain is dying.

You’re under constant assault. Right now. All the time. Your mind is a battlefield.

The enemy is not Error or Sin. The enemy is oblivion. The enemy is losing your ability to think, to criticize, to see the world as it is instead of how it’s convenient to see it.

You’re not alone in this battle. We’re all fighting it. No-one is exempt from brain rot. We’re all falling apart, all the time. Getting closer to death with every passing day, holding ourselves together by a combination of inertia and willpower that borders on transcendence. Always teetering on the edge of idiocy.

The enemy is out there: in the media, in society, in capitalism. It is capitalism. But it’s also in here: in easy solutions, in intellectual shortcuts, in comforting delusions.

The world is bombarding you with puerile stupidity. The things you see every day aren’t just a little daft. They’re braindead. They’re shit. The world is shovelling shit into your head and telling you no, this shit isn’t so bad; in fact, this shit is good, this shit is so shitty that it’s art. You’re dying because your brain is full of shit. We’re all collectively drowning in a diarrhetic ocean of shit ideas.

You’re killing yourself too, though. It’s not your fault, it really isn’t, but it’s happening anyway. You’re killing yourself with an overdose of tedium, sophistry and cliché. You’re dying of monotony and routine. Another set of words borrowed from someone else. Another idea you’re parroting because it’s expected of you. Do you have any notion of how easily wisdom degrades into dogma? How easily justice becomes a matter of selfishness? Nothing will destroy your individuality more quickly than your ego, your obsession with performing yourself.

You’re becoming a puppet of yourself, a puppet that can only repeat the same lines, a puppet that can’t even see the world except in the terms it was taught. Everything else is invisible.

It doesn’t matter that you call yourself a radical. All the conservatives believe they’re revolutionaries.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve gotten used to having shit shovelled into your brain. It doesn’t matter that you’ve convinced yourself that it’s wrong to expect more, that it’s elitist, that it’s pretentious.

Fuck that. Fuck the idea that you don’t deserve more. More intelligence. More fun. More meaning. More everything. And not some day in the distant future, when you’re more comfortable. You don’t have the time for that. You’re dying.

Fight to save your mind – from the world, but also from yourself. Don’t wait until later to ask the difficult questions. Don’t expect someone else to ask them for you. Go against the grain – yours and the world’s. Step outside your comfort zone. Read the words of the enemy. Listen to the music of the strangers. Break your own patterns. Invite alien thoughts into your home. Get over your fucking self.

I know you’re tired. I know you think you can leave this for later. I know you feel that you shouldn’t have to do this. The situation isn’t your fault, after all. But here you are. You’re turning into an idiotic puppet, whether you think it’s fair or not. Are you going to save yourself? (Just don’t convince yourself that saving yourself means saving the world, you conceited little shit.)

Your only hope is to run towards the unknown at every opportunity. Challenge yourself. Question yourself. Engage with the world instead of shielding yourself from it. Become a citizen of this stupid, wonderful, bizarre little planet, even if it kills you. It’s going to kill you anyway.

And for fuck’s sake, read a decent book every now and then.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

It’s Christmas here in the Kingdom of Merkel, so I thought I’d share a pretty song.

And don’t forget the very special Merry Satan Christmas Discount which will allow you to purchase award-winning game The Sea Will Claim Everything for only $6.66!

Rebellious Aesthetics and Indie Capitalism

Boots Riley is not only one of my favourite contemporary musicians, he’s also an artist whose politics are radical in a way that seems to be relatively rare in the United States. A while ago he wrote something (in reference to outrage about Urban Outfitters selling a “Vintage Men’s Punk Leather Jacket“) that I thought was really worth sharing and discussing.

Punk and “Underground” Hip-Hop is simply indie capitalism. Indie capitalism is not an answer to our problems, even if it didn’t develop into this.

A rebellious aesthetic is not an actual revolutionary movement.

An aesthetic is always absorbed and used by the class which is in power.

This is why we must have a radical movement that builds its numbers for revolution by using mass direct action to make material changes in the lives of those involved, while making it clear that we are out to create a new system- showing the class structure of the current system, while teaching through example that there is power in numbers and that we can win.

Next up for urban outfitters: whatever revolutionary uniform we’re wearing right now.

This is quite possibly the most succinct phrasing of the problem I have with so much recent “radical” art, whether it’s punk music or indie games: the belief that doing something aesthetically or socially unusual is itself a revolutionary act. And I see why it’s easy to make that mistake: after all, there is definite resistance from the established order! Whether your art is pushing a previously-excluded social identity or a new/rediscovered style or technique, the fact that you have to fight people who quite clearly identify with the system makes you feel like you’re fighting the system itself. But you’re not, and that’s the whole point of calling it a system – its current representatives are part of the machine as much as any worker is, and are just as easily replaced. Their position in society may be a manifestation of the inequality of the system, but they’re not the cause of the inequality – only its face.

Capitalism consists of a set of social relations, not of a group of capitalists. And the social relations of capitalism are all about conflict; capitalism thrives on conflict, and in its eternal quest for compound growth, capitalism loves nothing more than a new market. In fact, capitalism desperately needs new markets, because the existing markets simply cannot provide enough growth to avoid crisis. But when the big, sluggish, corporate world can’t innovate or indoctrinate quickly enough to produce new markets, who can help? Why, it’s the young, flexible, passionate indie capitalist, who has always felt excluded from the mainstream, who wants a new space, a new way of making or selling art… a new market.

And the history of social oppression? Well, that’s doubly fantastic. It means that the new target audience is hungry for art directed exclusively at it, experiencing a kind of nationalistic pride at being able to support artists that belong to the same identity group. And it also means that the pent-up anger of this group can be safely dissipated into “radical” art, the purchase and consumption of which gives the emotionally and politically engaged audience the feeling that they’re doing something for the greater good, that progress towards equality is being made. But all that’s happening is that a new market is being created, and indie capitalists are making money off of it. These new capitalists may be different in some ways (skin colour, clothing, sexuality, gender, aesthetic preferences, religious beliefs, nationality, etc.) but the system itself hasn’t changed in any way, except that representatives of the old order can pat themselves on the back for how “inclusive” and “forward-thinking” they are.

Then, given enough time, the glamour of recently accomplished “change” wears off, and it’s time for another rebellious aesthetic to fight for the right of a small group of people to make a living, never even noticing that “the Man” used to be a rebellious artist himself.

So what’s a politically radical artist supposed to do? Starve?

Many radical artists seem to struggle with that question. They dislike capitalism, so they feel bad about selling things – but they also need to pay the rent. Are they selling out? Are they hypocrites? Often the only way out of this dilemma is to embrace the myth that indie capitalism is somehow morally better than the regular kind, because the money is going to an oppressed person. In this way, they often end up perpetuating the narrative of the exceptional minority: look, this person made it, they’re one of us, they’ve struck a blow for our cause, everything is getting better. This is even less productive than worrying about your own hypocrisy.

The cause of this political and philosophical confusion in radical artists is a very simple error in framing their own situation. If you follow the logic of “the personal is the political” and understand capitalism as a matter of lifestyle, a matter of identity, then the only way to be morally pure is to “drop out” – and given that pretty much the entire world is capitalist at this point, that would mean abandoning civilization itself. The moral anticapitalist will always see a sinner in the mirror, and in every battle to destroy “the capitalists” will manage only to, in the words of Todd Gitlin, “change the color of inequality.”

But understanding capitalism as a system, not a sin, easily solves this problem. Everyone participates in capitalism, not just “the privileged” – capitalism defines and affects the totality of social relations, and no-one is free from it. But no-one is morally responsible for it, either. Rupert Murdoch may be a terrible human being and a blight upon the face of the Earth, but he’s far more a function of the system than he is its owner. Obviously most sane people wouldn’t be particularly sad if a dragon swooped out of the sky and ate him, but nothing much would be changed by this admittedly pleasant turn of events. If we stop fetishizing the personal, we suddenly remember how to see the political.

Letting go of the egocentric moralistic perspective means treating one’s art in a healthier, humbler way. It means not overestimating resistance to one’s aesthetics or identity as a sign that one’s work is inherently revolutionary; it’s also a reminder that genuine revolution has to go beyond art. It’s too easy to believe in one’s own myth and neglect to actually participate in the struggle.

Make your art. Sell your art. Don’t be ashamed. But if you want a revolution, don’t stop there.

Seeking & Selling

thorn

Two important links:

Links! 28/11/2013

Games, cats and communism. What else could you expect from this blog?

  • Ossuary is a new commercial game by Gregory Avery-Weir, creator of Looming and indie classic The Majesty of Colors. I wonder, do game critics nowadays even remember how big games like The Majesty of Colors were? Do they remember how for a while, Flash games were a space for genuine creativity that you could actually make a living from? Or is that all gone now, small-time stuff compared to Minecraft and the other Great Indie Hits? I hope not.
  • Exiting the Vampire Castle. “The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd. The danger in attacking the Vampires’ Castle is that it can look as if – and it will do everything it can to reinforce this thought – that one is also attacking the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism. But, far from being the only legitimate expression of such struggles, the Vampires’ Castle is best understood as a bourgeois-liberal perversion and appropriation of the energy of these movements. The Vampires’ Castle was born the moment when the struggle not to be defined by identitarian categories became the quest to have ‘identities’ recognised by a bourgeois big Other.”
  • WHO Fail: Claim that 50% of new Greek HIV infections self-inflicted for benefits totally false. In case you see anyone still spreading this story, give them this link.
  • OECD report: US life expectancy below international average. “Although the US spends more by far on health care than any other country—$8,500 per capita, compared to an OECD average of $3,322—this has not translated into improved life expectancy gains. The US also has a higher than average GDP per capita, but still falls short of the majority of its OECD peers when it comes to life expectancy—a key indicator of quality of life.” Because universal healthcare works, and insane capitalist chaos healthcare doesn’t. (The report itself: Health at a Glance 2013.)
  • World’s Luckiest Cat Runs Out of Luck. “I found Muppet the night of January 7th, 1996 as I was walking home from midtown Manhattan to my apartment on West 109th Street through the third-worst blizzard in New York City history. I was on Central Park West around 103rd Street when he appeared from between the garbage cans outside the front door of a building facing the park. He looked almost full grown, was incredibly friendly and didn’t have a collar or any other sign of belonging to people. And the snow was falling so thickly. I couldn’t help picking him up and taking him with me; what I remember is that he didn’t struggle at all, he just somehow accepted that I had his best interests at heart.”
  • Music of the Day: The Songs of Distant Earth.

The Trouble With Robots

The Trouble With Robots

I got The Trouble With Robots from the sadly-neglected Bundle in a Box. I’m not entirely sure whether I’d heard of this game before; it’s possible, as I tend to only briefly glance at game-related news most of the time, but it doesn’t appear to have been a huge hit. Which is a shame, because it’s quite good. It doesn’t tick any of the boxes games are supposed to tick these days (innovative, social, procedurally generated, free to play, etc.) but it does tick several that are far more important to me (solid, well-written, well-designed, charming). It’s a game that knows very precisely what it wants to do and does that very well.

The Trouble With Robots is a card-based strategy game about leading an army of fantasy creatures against an army of extremely bureaucratic robot invaders who want to turn their world into a capitalist paradise. The gameplay is accessible and enjoyable without sacrificing strategy; you do have to think about which cards to pick and how to deploy them. The cartoon graphics are lovely, with real attention to detail. The music is catchy and adds to the sense of fun that prevails throughout. And the writing is genuinely witty; I smiled and chuckled throughout, which is a lot more than most games ever manage to get out of me.

I used the word “solid” to describe this game, and I mean more by that than just “it’s not bad.” I mean that the individual bits are fitted together in a way that leaves few cracks. It’s a very confident, clear design. I think that kind of solidity is something a lot of games are missing these days. Even otherwise good games.

There’s also something very enjoyable about how the story and the gameplay interact. Structurally, it’s the simplest thing in the world. The gameplay doesn’t change the words and the words don’t change the gameplay. But they enrich one another, so that the final result is more than the sum of its parts. The graphics and the music contribute to that, too – all these elements work together to produce a very specific flavour, and that’s ultimately what makes the game memorable.

Which makes me think that all these discussions about the role of story in games end up fetishizing technological solutions and miss the most important point: putting good words in the right places.

Inevitably, there are things I’d do differently. The enemies with long-distance attacks are vastly overpowered, small tweaks to the speed of magic recovery and cards per level might make the game less frustrating in some cases, and some of the optional challenges are just insanely hard. But, precisely because the game is so solid, these feel more like theoretical disagreements I have with its designer than like flaws. The game didn’t try to achieve something and failed, it just achieved something that’s slightly different from what I’d prefer. Even when the game pisses me off, I’m not particularly bitter about it. That’s a very good thing.

Time to do something about the robots that have invaded our society, hmm? I’ll be with the dwarves, they like my beard.

Statement of Principles

I have tried, for some time now, to avoid spending my time responding to slander. To a large degree I felt, and continue to feel, that anyone who actually reads what I’ve written or engages with any of the art I’ve produced, will realize that such accusations are absurd; doubly so because my work has, if anything, been noted for its dedication to principles of equality. I know most of you see the claims made against me as the laughable attempts at smearing someone that they are.

However, the truth is that these individuals have considerably more power and attention than I do, and as such their slander may come to define the impression that many people have of me, particularly in the field of computer games. Given especially that these people are associated with non-mainstream gaming, as am I, this can pose a serious threat to my ability to continue making games and reach a friendly audience.

So, for the purpose of clarity, I would like to state some things about how I approach the world.

First, the basics:

  • I believe all human beings deserve protection from harm.
  • I believe all human beings deserve shelter.
  • I believe all human beings deserve nourishment.
  • I believe all human beings deserve access to the highest standard of medical care available to our species.
  • I believe all human beings deserve an education.
  • I believe all human beings deserve freedom of speech.
  • I believe all human beings deserve freedom of religion, so long as their religion does not infringe on the rights of others.
  • I believe all human beings deserve access to art and entertainment.
  • I believe all human beings have the right to be recognized as individuals, irrespective of various characteristics.
  • I believe all human beings have the right to love whoever they love.
  • I believe all human beings have the right to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they do not harm others.
  • I believe the economic and political system we live in is required to provide these things, or be considered inadequate.
  • I believe we are technologically capable of providing all of the above without all that much effort.

Now, about the current (highly inadequate) system:

  • I believe that our economic system defines the totality of our social relations. Not just in capitalism, but always.
  • I believe that social antagonisms are rooted in economic inequality and serve to reinforce systems of oppression.
  • I believe that we are on the brink of global social, economic and especially ecological collapse.
  • I believe that meaningful change can only occur through a democratic mass movement aimed at radically altering the fundamental principles by which our economy is organized.
  • I do not believe that this change can occur through creating “a better capitalism” and other similar constructs promoted by liberal (progressive capitalist) groups.

However, contrary to accusations, I also believe that:

  • Racism is a very real problem.
  • Sexism is a very real problem.
  • Many other forms of discrimination are also a problem.

The difference between the point of view of socialists like myself and that of “social justice activists” and related identitarian groups is that:

  • I believe that economic injustice (class, not classism) is not only the problem faced by the majority of humans today (the 99%, to use a modern term) but also the problem that underlies all the others.
  • I don’t believe social antagonisms can be eradicated without eradicating economic injustice.
  • I believe that attempts to eradicate social antagonisms without eradicating the underlying systems of economic injustice ultimately serve to reinforce the system of oppression by integrating a small section of oppressed social groups into capitalism while maintaining divisions between the oppressed (the majority of every population).
  • I believe that organizing around various concepts of identity is counter-productive, as it reinforces the divisions between people with the same interests.
  • I believe that many of the problems that appear as related to a particular form of discrimination are actually fundamentally economic (see the debate about identity and disability).
  • I don’t believe that guilt is a political emotion.
  • I don’t believe in ideological purity or in utopia; the point is to create a better system, one that minimizes suffering and promotes human potential, not to “get along” or to perfect human society.
  • I believe that the fight is not between the oppressed and society but between society (all of us) and the system.
  • I believe that organizing around objective material conditions is the only way to build a genuine mass movement.

This perspective is strongly influenced by history:

  • I believe there is an obvious connection between the present financial crisis and the rise of far-right politics, the media propaganda against immigrants and the poor, and the general xenophobia promoted by the establishment.
  • I believe an analysis of previous crises of a similar nature in the past irrefutably demonstrates the role played by ideologies of division in maintaining the existing order.
  • I believe the history of nationalism in Europe, not only in the two World Wars but also in the various movements of national liberation, shows how even an identity constructed against a backdrop of oppression will destroy diversity and allow the system to perpetuate itself with a slightly different face.
  • I believe it is important to remember that some of the most radical changes in women’s rights were accomplished by the early (non-Stalinist) Soviet Union.
  • I believe it is important to remember the lessons of the Civil Rights struggle in America; Martin Luther King’s increasing belief in the necessity of uniting for economic rights and Malcolm X’s rejection of the racist politics of the Nation of Islam and embrace of an internationalist perspective both point to the necessity of organizing along global economic lines.
  • I believe it is extremely necessary to examine and learn from world history, to avoid a perspective built entirely along the social divisions of one particular time and place. (On the internet this usually comes down to a US-centric or eurocentric perspective, though similar forms of self-centered thinking are far from exclusive to those parts of the world.)

One thing that this group of people finds particularly appalling is that I do not accept their terminology:

  • I do not believe that “privilege” is a helpful term or one that accurately describes the inequality that exists in our society.
  • I believe the privilege discourse is essentially a form of victim-blaming, in which one group of victims is elevated to being more deserving of equality than the other.
  • I do not believe in a determinist understanding of social origin in which all people from one category are inherently sexist or racist.
  • I believe in rights, not privileges. Not being harmed is not a privilege, it is a right. If one person is harmed and another is not, the blame should go to the one causing the harm.
  • I do not believe that racism comes down to a simplistic black-white dichotomy.
  • I especially do not believe that such a dichotomy can be applied to countries that are historically unrelated to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and/or colonialism and thus have no conception of “whiteness” to begin with.
  • I do not believe that “patriarchy” is a useful term (except in its very specific original meaning) and that sexism should be understood as the enforcement of gender stereotypes, not “male privilege”.
  • I believe that sexism has historically oppressed men and women equally, by forcing both to live their lives in highly circumscribed ways, subjecting women to servitude at home and men to servitude both at work and in the battlefield. To ignore either side of the equation is to ignore the suffering of billions.

Essentially:

  • I believe the most urgent need of our time is to change the economic system we live in, before the inevitable crises produced by the current one annihilate us.
  • I believe sexism and racism can only be fought by deconstructing the fictional borders that fuel them, and that uniting people in the fight for better material conditions is actually the best, possibly the only, way of destroying the arbitrary divisions that have socially enslaved every member of this species for so long.
  • I also believe that attacking sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination at every opportunity (as false divisions, not via the guilt-based privilege discourse) is essential to building a mass movement; this interlocks with the point above.
  • In other words, I am calling for a transcultural, internationalist approach to the fight for equality.

It should also be noted, however, that:

  • I could be wrong.
  • You could be wrong.
  • Being in error is not a sin.
  • Disagreement is not a sign of moral degeneration.
  • It is extremely destructive to claim that all those who oppose one’s methods or analyses oppose the very notion of equality or justice.

This is all very abstract, as one would expect from a summary. But you will find that wherever I have argued in favour of these ideas, I have provided detailed arguments for my position, and I have written many long and thorough explanations of individual points on this list, drawing on a global tradition of thought that includes people of all genders, sexes, sexual preferences, classes, colours, and so on.

To be entirely clear, I do not object to people thinking that I am wrong; I do object to the notion that these principles mean I am a sexist, a racist, a “manarchist” or any other such thing. I also object to attacks on my moral character (such as calling me a “creeper”) on the basis of these principles. If you dislike me because I once criticized an article written by one of your friends, fine, but do not pretend it is anything other than a petty personal vendetta. If you simply disagree with my positions, that’s fine too – either ignore me or talk to me. You’re not required to engage in debate, but responding to disagreement with slander is rather low.