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!
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!
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.
Games, cats and communism. What else could you expect from this blog?
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.
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:
Now, about the current (highly inadequate) system:
However, contrary to accusations, I also believe that:
The difference between the point of view of socialists like myself and that of “social justice activists” and related identitarian groups is that:
This perspective is strongly influenced by history:
One thing that this group of people finds particularly appalling is that I do not accept their terminology:
It should also be noted, however, that:
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.
We’ve had some interesting conversations about the future of humanity and the limits of population growth on this blog in the past, and though I’ve become a little more cautious on the issue than I used to be, this video contains some really interesting thoughts that are worth considering. Optimism about the future of our species is something that too many supposedly radical movements are lacking these days.
I wasn’t going to do another political post straight away, but this is too good not to post. Sums up everything that is wrong with that facile propaganda piece (from the masterful director of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Prawn).
I’ve previously expressed the danger that I see in terms like “differently abled” – or rather in those people who make it a priority to change how we speak about disability instead of changing how we deal with it in economic and political terms. You could sum up the core of my argument like this:
Disabilities are called disabilities because they disable you – because they are problems. Redefining the problem as a purely social one, i.e. insufficient integration into the capitalist model, buries the actual problems under a thick layer of euphemistic language and moralistic outrage, which suits those who would like to change the distribution of wealth in society just fine.
I actually recently experienced a rather excellent example of that myself. You see, I have a disability. It’s a very common one, and yet one which impacts my quality of life in significant ways: I can’t see well. I cannot recognize faces at a distance, let alone read. The world is a blur to me. Glasses help, of course, but they come with their own disadvantages, like distortions due to dirt, limited peripheral vision, and headaches. And it’s getting worse; I recently went to an ophthalmologist and she told me that, as I had feared, my eyesight has deteriorated quite a bit in the last five years.
So I needed new glasses.
Germany used to have an excellent healthcare system, the kind that most Americans don’t seem to realize is possible. Like almost all the achievements of Capitalism Lite (Social Democracy), it is now being dismantled as part of the vast transfer of wealth from public to private hands that is taking place all over the West, but it’s still quite a lot better than what people in the United States have to deal with. My visit to the ophthalmologist was entirely free, for example, apart from the monthly fees I pay (which won’t go up because of it). So I was somewhat surprised to find that the German healthcare system does not pay for glasses. Glasses which I need in order to be able to function properly in society. Glasses which can be quite expensive, even though they generally last for years.
I didn’t expect them to pay for the super-fancy glasses, mind you, just the basic types. But no.
How do German healthcare companies explain this failure to do what they’re legally supposed to? You guessed it: identity.
Yes, echoing the language of identity politics, they successfully argued that being visually impaired is not a disability, but just something you are, like ginger or black or Belgian. A deformity in your eyeballs is just part of your unique personality, you wonderful blurry little snowflake you! To suggest that maybe being unable to see properly is a problem… why, that’s just ableist! And who gets to define what “properly” means, anyway? Reality is just perception, and if your perceptions are different, then that’s something to be celebrated. The fact that your head hurts and you can’t tell which bus is coming or who’s waving at you or what’s happening in the movie – that’s just part of your unique contribution to our diverse, non-ophthalmotypical society!
(Excuse my sarcasm. I know it is nowhere near intense enough.)
In my case, having to pay for the luxury of being able to recognize shapes is a burden that I can still bear, though it’s going to put a definite dent in our financial plans, especially since I also need to buy a new PC. And even if I couldn’t afford a new pair of glasses, I would still be able to survive. But my disability is completely trivial when compared to those of other people – what happens when their problems are declared null and void? What happens when a person with multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s is no longer considered disabled? If you think that’s fantasy, I have one word for you: Atos.
In the UK, so-called “work capability assessments” are carried out by a private company called Atos, which is part of one of those enormous multinational corporations that artists are repeatedly told not to portray as monstrous. They have done all of the above, and thanks to them, more than ten thousand people have died in the last few years after losing their welfare benefits. At one point, they even classified a man as “fit for work” who was in a coma. If you put that in a movie, critics would accuse you of heavy-handed satire and writing yet another clichéd evil corporation.
And is it a coincidence that the Disability Living Allowance is to be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment? Every real problem is buried in layers of euphemistic “positive” language. (Much like austerity is being sold as “shock therapy” rather than just, you know, shock. Next thing stabbing will be called Spontaneous Surgery.) As for the other side of the coin, anyone who doesn’t enthusiastically embrace the new dogma of independence – like someone who is severely disabled and couldn’t work even if there were jobs, which there aren’t – must logically be the exact opposite: lazy, dependent, a drain on society. A benefits scrounger.
Identity, meanwhile, plays into it like this:
Identitarians argue that the main issues are empathy and representation. If only people knew how disabled people feel. If only they stopped using mean words about disabled people. If only everyone would step aside and let disabled people speak for themselves. But Stephen Duckworth is most definitely disabled. By identitarian logic, to attack him is to be ableist. It is silencing. It is going against the fact that Mr. Duckworth knows a lot more about what it means to be disabled than you do, so how dare you question his identity?
And what about David Cameron? He had a disabled child, Ivan, who was born with Ohtahara syndrome and died at the age of six. Do you think he has no empathy for disabled people? Do you think he doesn’t know what it means to grieve about what your child is going through? Check your privilege!
Now, some may argue that intersectionality* provides some kind of answer here, as this is “also” a class issue. But the truth is that the principles of identity politics make it impossible to respond as soon as anyone invokes identity. All that Stephen Duckworth has to do is say “I’m disabled and I know better, so if you disagree, you are oppressing me” and the discussion is over. Unless you’re a massive hypocrite and only stick to the principles when it’s convenient, of course.
As for “stepping aside and letting disabled people speak for themselves” – well, that would be Mr. Duckworth again. Oh, it’s not that all disabled people think like him. In fact, in my experience most (but clearly not all) disabled people are horrified by Atos. But if you build your politics around identity, you forget that people within one identity never all have common material interests, and capitalism is absolutely brilliant at adapting itself to social changes – so it will simply pick those people from that identity who have shared interests with the capitalist class, and give them all the media attention they could possibly want, meanwhile using the very logic that produced these individuals to silence the opposition. Stepping aside isn’t giving disabled people a voice, it’s running away from responsibility and analysis. Nobody can win this fight on their own.
But is there a way out? Of course there is: solidarity. Not stepping back or stepping in front of disabled people, but standing next to them, as part of one movement against the material conditions that keep all of us as slaves of the systems that are supposed to serve us. But solidarity requires a choice that breaks with identity. It means excluding Mr. Duckworth and his associates, no matter what they say about their unique insights. It means saying that, though they are suffering in a way you are not, they are wrong about what needs to be done. It means picking a side.
Most disturbing perhaps has been capitalism’s ability to, apparently, accept, take over and use for its own ends the slogans of the disability movement. So the long argument against the ‘medical model’ of disability is taken over by the giant insurance and health companies – the likes of Unum and ATOS – and their clients in the state, and used in their hands to promote a ‘social-psychobiological’ model of ill health and disability whose founding principles are that doctors are too expensive, not to be trusted, and replaceable with suitable computer programs; and that claimants are always lying. In fact the point of the medical model was that it identified an, often near total, power imbalance between doctor and patient (or inmate). To replace it with the power imbalance of an impersonal ATOS assessment is radically to pervert the intent of the original thinking.
In the same way the disability movement’s emphasis on disabled people’s creativity, and strength is turned against us by a parade of high-achieving disabled people – some of whom consent to be used in this way, many of whom do not – whose example is used to pour scorn on the rest of us. If we ask for independence, this is redefined as finding work – any work at all – with enforced penury as the only alternative. If we demand a voice we are given endless consultations whose outcome is always predetermined. Negative discrimination is outlawed – ineffectively – but it then turns out that what we needed was positive discrimination which is not on offer. We may apply for any unsuitable job we want but there can be no question of suitable jobs being created for us around our abilities.
So, in conclusion, we must not in any way ditch or weaken the social model but we need to sharpen its edge for the battles ahead. In those battles our main enemy, I suggest, will not be a diffuse prejudice or disablism – although we must continue the work of educating people away from such attitudes – but the capitalist state. The state it was that created our condition and the state it is that maintains us in artificial dependency, through the welfare system which is its primary means of disciplining us, through its shrinking ‘care’ provision with which it can control our daily activities, and through the rationed healthcare provision – no longer a National Health Service but private capital hiding under the capacious cloak of the state – under which we eke out our lives.
The enemy dictates the order of battle and we will need to use every opportunity to set the state against itself, through use of the law, though alliances with radical workers within the state and through relentless pressure on the political class who mediate between the state and the rest of society. We need to ally with any other victims of state oppression, such as non-disabled benefit claimants and ordinary workers. And we should be clear that the primary source of our oppression today, as before, is in fact the capitalist state in its welfare function.
– Richard Atkinson, Disability and the capitalist state
*I am somewhat conflicted about this term. I have almost exclusively seen it used by identitarians to justify fragmentation, navel-gazing and an opposition to any kind of genuine class analysis or radical organizing. I do think it partially describes something real about how various forms of prejudice interact, though I think it mostly misses how they are produced and what function they serve in capitalism. All in all, it is not a model that I find useful, but I acknowledge that in some cases it has been used to successfully describe certain dynamics. I hope we can agree that rejection of a model does not constitute approval of bigotry.
The Sea Will Claim Everything and a whole bunch of other indie games are on sale right here:
We love Steam. But there are lots of great games you can’t currently find there! Discover some of them here, and support indie development.
The minimum amount off is 25%, but many games – including TSWCE – are even cheaper. A great opportunity to support some of the smaller indie developers and get some awesome games for relatively little money.
If you already own TSWCE, remember that you can also get a copy for your grandmother, cat and/or imaginary friend.