The Bravery of Being out of Range

Ah, good old Roger Waters. The imagery at the beginning may no longer apply to the current Leader of the Free World, but the rest? This still says everything:

Just love those laser-guided bombs
They’re really great
For righting wrongs
You hit the target
And win the game
From bars 3,000 miles away
3,000 miles away

We play the game
With the bravery of being out of range
We zap and maim
With the bravery of being out of range
We strafe the train
With the bravery of being out of range
We gain terrain
With the bravery of being out of range

It still breaks my heart. So bitter, so true.

If only we had more artists like him.

Controversial

Why is it controversial to say that governments should not be allowed to act in violation of their own constitutions, but spying on every single citizen is just something that happens?

Why is it controversial to say that nations should not break international law, but definitely breaking international law to punish a nation for allegedly breaking international law makes sense?

Why is it controversial to say that torturing people is wrong, but incarcerating people without trial for years is simply the way things are?

Why is it controversial to say that people going hungry while there is food to feed them with is wrong, but burning people alive from the inside-out is fine?

Why is it controversial to say that the citizenry in a democracy should have a say in major decisions, but allowing those who profit from economic devastation to run the economy is sensible?

Why is it controversial to say that the economy should be organized to benefit everyone, but perfectly normal for millions of people to live in poverty?

Why is it controversial to say that people should not be divided against each other by notions like nationality or race, but claiming that members of a single species can never understand one another is lauded as progressive?

Why is it controversial to say that whistleblowers should not be prosecuted for revealing crimes, but morally acceptable to shoot children from helicopters?

Why is it controversial to say that human rights matter more than profit, but destroying lives with depleted uranium and cluster bombs is a regular use of one’s tax money?

Why is it controversial to speak, but acceptable to be silent?

Authentic Pronunciation

I’m working on making lots of games for you people, which is why I don’t have enough time to write something interesting. So here’s a video of David Mitchell talking about linguistic authenticity and what happens when you scrutinize language too much.

World English, English World

I love the English language. I genuinely do. I’m not writing in English because I have no other choice; location being (almost) everything, there might be many advantages to writing in German. And while I did recently have a book published in Greece and loved working on that, the truth is that I do have a thing for English. A connection, you might say. Even my accent sounds kind of vaguely British. I love many aspects of what one might call British culture, whether it’s the poetry of William Blake or the comedy of Frankie Boyle. You can see it in my work, in my influences. My games have been described as “very English” more than once, and I don’t take offence at that.

And America? Well, we all know quite a lot about America. Partly because its culture is just so damn pervasive, partly because it’s bloody terrifying. People in the rest of the world tend to know a lot more about American politics than Americans know about international politics, for example, simply because we’re scared. We follow what’s going on in the United States not because we’re afraid that the American President will say something mean, but because we’re afraid of where the bombs will drop next. That sort of thing makes you pay attention. But even beyond that, despite all the terror, there’s plenty in American history to be inspired by. The history of the Civil Rights movement, for example, is full of truly courageous people, fighting against a system of apartheid that was frighteningly backwards even for its time.

English, as anyone interested in postcolonial/transcultural literature can tell you, is a world language in a sense that goes far beyond tourism and Hollywood movies. In fact, what could be a more perfect illustration of that than the fact that as I came over from Greece to Germany all those years ago, the book I read on the plane was Paradise Lost? I write in English.  I think in English. I speak English all the time. A big part of why people love my games is how they use the English language.

All of which is fine.

There’s a thing that happens, though: because I can participate in the English-language discourse a lot better than most non-native speakers, people tend to place me in categories that aren’t really appropriate. One of the most frustrating things about the Anglophone world  is that it is often very inwards-looking. (Something to do with having so few borders, perhaps?) A lot of people, including people who would place themselves on the Left, whatever that means, seem to have absolutely no idea that systems of thought other than their own exist – it’s not that they disagree about how to best describe reality, but that they instantly categorize anyone who doesn’t follow their particular logic and idiom as a terrible, terrible bigot. And the standard response to a form of thought critical of certain tenets (i.e. that racism is only when one race oppresses another, not when humanity is categorized into races in the first place) is to call the person expressing these thoughts “privileged” and “white” – to categorize them, essentially, as a white middle-class American, the traditional bogeyman of a certain type of radical politics.

What does not seem to be apparent to the people reacting in this fashion is the ridiculous cultural imperialism behind their response – the assumption that everyone can be neatly categorized into the tiny bit of the world that surrounds them. It is a bizarre spectacle to see American radicals raging about the white privilege of people from countries like Greece or Argentina; countries in which their simplistic dichotomies of “white” and “black”, barely applicable to the societies that originated them, are at best ludicrous, at worst accidentally supportive of fascists. The only people in Greece who would seriously argue that Greeks belong to some sort of “white race” are the neonazis of the Golden Dawn. My dad’s skin is quite brown, and that’s hardly unique where I come from.

The details of my background have nothing to do with the fantasy that I am “just another white dude”, to slightly paraphrase what I’ve been called by angry identitarians who are put off by Marxism. My Greek grandmother was a Pontian refugee; she and my Greek grandfather were resistance fighters. My German grandfather also fought in the war – but on the other side. A hundred years and a few days ago, the city I grew up in still belonged to the Ottoman Empire. There are histories and complexities here that have everything to do with colonialism and imperialism and racism and nationalism – and nothing to do with whiteness or other Anglophone discourses.

The fact that I speak English doesn’t mean you can throw labels at me. I’m not a middle-class American. I’m not English, either. I’m not your bogeyman. If you’re saying these things, you don’t know the first thing about me – or the world we all live in.

But I’m not the inscrutable Other, either. You can do your research. You can understand where I’m coming from. Greeks and Argentinians and Romanians and Poles and Venezuelans are not aliens – we’re people, just not the people you’re used to blaming. It’s really not that difficult to understand that diversity means more than a bigger variety of Americans who subscribe to the same ideology. It also means understanding that English is a world language, but that that doesn’t mean the world is English.

Thankfully, though, there is one language that is truly transcultural – the language of logic and facts. Instead of resorting to labels, we can do the hard work of finding out what’s going on in the rest of the world and trying to engage with it. We don’t need to agree about everything, but we can’t get anywhere if we never look beyond our borders.

ARGH WTF LOL

a demon

New vet verdict: his problem is communication, not necessarily skill (though he’s not very good at handling the animal). The operation was probably necessary. It’s hard to judge as a non-expert, which is why we’ve had some really bad experiences with doctors (remember my teeth?), but it looks like this disaster was unavoidable.

Cat is recovering well so far, which is at least something.

(Edited again to add: I just realized I deleted the original text of this post, in which I complained at the universe.)

Scary Times

Our favourite monster.

As you may know if you follow me on Twitter, our cat has been diagnosed with a fast-growing tumour in her bladder, as well as a partially damaged kidney (which may or may not be unrelated). There’s nothing we can do about the kidney, and so far her overall kidney function is still OK, but the tumour has to be taken out as quickly as possible – tomorrow, that is. If you have a cat or have been reading this blog for a while (or have played The Fabulous Screech), you will understand how scary this situation is for us.

It’s also going to be very expensive, but that’s not going to affect our decisions. She’s family.

Anyway, if I’m hard to reach during the next couple of weeks, and some things get delayed a bit further, that’s the reason.

Secrets

hint

Sometimes we work on projects that aren’t Ithaka. Because Verena’s fingers need time away from crayons. Because I like variety.

And because it’s awesome.

The Bogeymen of the Indie Scene

Human beings have always been susceptible to bogeymen. It’s a lot easier to get angry at people instead of getting angry at systems. We are persons, so we seek to personify the world. Thunderbolts come from Zeus, pestilence comes from Yahweh and your indie game problems come from Jonathan Blow. You can’t block capitalism on Twitter, after all.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I care less and less for the “indie scene” and whatever other ways people have of erecting borders around themselves. I think this focus on scenes and cliques and identities and other increasingly fragmented echo chambers is not helpful to anyone; but I doubt it’s going away anytime soon. Nevertheless, let me invoke the wise words of William Blake – “When I tell any Truth it is not for the sake of Convincing those who do not know it but for the sake of defending those who Do” – and defend some bogeymen.

Let’s begin by saying I’m not putting myself above this. I attacked Raph Koster in Designing for Grace and I was completely wrong to do so. I thought Koster represented that awful reductionist school of thought that cannot see purpose for the medium except some kind of vaguely-defined “gameplay”. These people do exist. Some of them showed up to attack me with utterly nonsensical arguments later on, and I believe I was quite right to ban them. But I was wrong to count Koster among them; in his own words, he “takes grace for read.” Our disagreement, essentially, came down to that most pathetic of controversies, terminology. Joel Goodwin asked whether I basically wouldn’t be OK with Koster if he just used the term “mechanicsblob” instead of “games” – and he was right. Koster’s overly-specific definition of “game”, which he was using solely for his own analytical purposes, was pushing my buttons. But it was hardly a meaningful disagreement.

I was also – naturally – influenced by other indies, especially at a time when I wasn’t quite aware of how prone to turning people into bogeymen and getting upset over thin air the “radical” part of the indie scene was. A lot of people seemed to think Koster was the Antichrist, a man full of condescension and technical jargon, and that influenced my reading of his articles. But that’s not who Raph Koster is. I don’t always agree with him, I may even disagree with many of the fundamental aspects of his approach, but he’s not my enemy, or a bad guy, or anything other than just another person trying to contribute their best to the world.

And Jonathan Blow? If you believe what people have said about Jonathan Blow, he must be the chainsaw-toothed, kitten-eating Jerk King of White Privilege. And really, he’s not. Don’t get me wrong, he and I disagree about a lot of things. Does he have an attitude? Yeah. Do I? Yep. Do a lot of other people, many of them considered great and wonderful indie artists? Definitely. But why do some people get to be as impolite and aggressive as they want to be and are considered “cool” and “awesome” while Blow is the incarnation of evil smugness? Yes, he’s said things which I think are wrong. He’s also been a major champion of Michael Brough’s work, which most of us will agree is a very good thing. Frankly, I’ve never seen anything to suggest he’s anything other than genuinely dedicated to games as a form of art. If he occasionally expresses his dislike for something, is that really a reason to get so upset?

Look, I understand that emotions run high when so many people are trying to make a living off games and not everyone is equally successful. God knows I’m jealous of people whose work gets more attention than mine; we all believe in our work and can’t help but feel that it deserves more than it’s getting. And as I’ve made very clear in the debate about Greenlight, I don’t believe this has anything to do with quality – “just make a good game and you’ll be successful” is delusional bullshit.

But getting angry at individuals about systemic problems isn’t much of a solution, particularly when those individuals simply aren’t the representatives of the system we make them out to be. It’s easy to project all the things that piss us off about how the world is run onto individual people, and to thus distract ourselves from what’s actually wrong. Please note that I’m not saying there aren’t people who are just assholes. Of course there are. And sometimes it’s perfectly fine to speak out against someone instead of just ignoring them. But that’s not what is happening, is it? Because it’s become fashionable to search for bigotry everywhere, to try and find something to be outraged about in every statement. Everyone needs to be the victim and the righteous crusader, because that’s what gets you attention. So let us venture forth and slay the terrible bogeymen, like George Lucas, who ruined your childhood, and Jonathan Blow, who is personally coming to your house every night and oppressing you in your sleep.

Societies create bogeymen to distract themselves from the real problems they face. The world we live in is in pretty serious trouble, and whether people know it or not, every discussion between indie game developers is tinged by the anxieties and contradictions of late-stage capitalism. Money. Healthcare. The immense success of the few paraded before our eyes while so many fail. The desperate desire to succeed, to be able to make a living. The fear of never having that One Big Hit that we all know we’re dreaming about, not necessarily because we want the fame, but because then we might be able to stop worrying about the rent. Combine that with a culture that teaches us to always be on the lookout for the bad guy – and that applies as much to the social justice crowds looking for the next impure sinner as to the gamers looking for the next traitor – and you have a situation in which a lot of people are perpetually angry at trivial nonsense while the massive issues that touch everyone’s lives go ignored.

Obviously this is not unique to indie games. From celebrities like M. Night Shyamalan or George Lucas to political actors like Julian Assange to the horror stories of the Daily Mail about the Muslim father of fourteen who lives off the state by stealing the wheelie bins of the NHS with the help of urban foxes, we’re constantly bombarded with people to hate, with supervillains that will require the equivalent superhero to defeat. The actual villains, the ones who bomb and torture and impoverish, well, let’s not talk about politics. Much better to talk about emotions. Emotions sell. Did you hear what so-and-so said about so-and-so on Twitter? Outrageous!

It happened to me twice, with Raph Koster and Jonathan Blow, and in both cases I regret saying what I said. I don’t regret disagreeing and making my disagreement obvious, but I do regret letting myself get distracted from more serious issues by this pettiness. The Sturm und Drang of adolescent emotion is very captivating and may feel radical and revolutionary, but in the end it’s about as useful as acne and schoolyard fights. I think we could all do with a bit less emotion and a bit more intellect, with seeing ourselves in social and historical context instead of acting as if the high school of indie games was the world.

(Shh, Jonathan Blow is under your bed!)

Ithaka Update #2

The time we spent in Greece was great for Ithaka of the Clouds. Verena did a lot of drawing every day and, after some stylistic experiments, finished most of the images for the first part of the game. Yes, the game is divided into parts… but I really don’t want to spoil this stuff for you, so I won’t tell you everything. The first part is not the biggest part of the game, but it is fairly extensive and very important to the story, and being able to engage with it as we did in Greece really helped us to further define and shape what the game will be about.

I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone else, but one of the things that terrifies me about working on a new project is that trying to imagine something that is still just an abstract concept isn’t really possible. I remain quite nervous until the project turns into something specific, until it has characters and places and ideas I can work with, even if they’re flawed and require revision. That’s where we are with Ithaka now: it has people in it. And creatures. I believe I can honestly say that they include some of our daftest ideas yet, and that’s coming from the people who brought you a sentient piece of toast. So, yeah. The valley of the trolls is starting to feel like a real place now.

In other good news, Helen Trevillion, the composer of The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge and The Book of Living Magic and most of The Fabulous Screech will be contributing some music to Ithaka! I’m extremely pleased about this, since Ithaka ties the previous games together on a variety of levels and it would feel wrong not to have some of Helen’s music in there. I still can’t believe how lucky I’ve been with the composers I’ve worked with over the years.

The updated versions of The Book of Living Magic and Desert Bridge are both still scheduled for later this year, and there might even be some other surprises. As for Ithaka itself, it will still take us at least six months. The reason for this is that I think we should not, under any circumstances, rush the game. We’re working on it constantly and we’re not wasting your money, but I think the only way to do the story justice is not to let ourselves be forced into cutting the game down to meet a self-imposed deadline. That’s the freedom crowdfunding has given us, the freedom to make the game right, and we want to embrace that. If you enjoyed our previous games, believe me when I say that the result will be worth it.

(Let me put this another way: a week ago or so Verena drew an image with ninety mushrooms in it. Ninety. God. Damn. Mushrooms. Yes, the images are bigger than those in The Sea Will Claim Everything. No, I have no idea how I’m going to write so many mushroom puns after having already filled several games with them.)

Now I will go back to work, and later Verena and I will celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary. Yay!

Thanks again for your support, everyone.