Tag Archives: Games

One Hundred Thousand Words

I was doing a bit of cleanup on the column today – totaling up invoices, updating spreadsheets, all the not-fun writing stuff a writer needs to get paid – when I came to an interesting realization.

As of last week’s column, I’ve written over 100,000 words in a paid publication.  And even more astounding than that – 84,500 of those words have been in Critical Intel, which I’ve only been writing for ten months.  If that rate continues, than by the time CritIntel hits its one year anniversary I’ll have written over 100,000 words in just that one column.

Damn, that’s a lot of words.  That’s the equivalent of writing a 360 page novel in ten months – and I worked 40 hours a week most of this year.

Had you asked me last year if that was even possible I’d probably have said no.  When I started the column I genuinely didn’t know if I’d make it through the first three months, not to mention the first year.  Sure, there was the excitement of having my own space in a magazine every week, but there were the doubts too.  What if I got tired of it?  What if I ran out of material?  What if my work schedule and my life got too crazy?

But I never got tired of it.  Never needed to worry about running out of prompts.  And even though my life got way crazier than I could’ve ever imagined – when I started the column I had no idea that I’d get married and move to Hong Kong inside a year – I’ve only missed a single week, and that was for my wedding.

All I needed was a target – to have an endgame every week where I had to turn in a piece of writing no matter what.  It got my lazy ass in gear, forcing me to write 1,500-2,900 publishable words a week, rain or shine.  And here I am, almost at the top of a mountain that felt insurmountable only ten months ago.

Turns out mountains aren’t so high when you climb them one cliff at a time.


How to Pitch a Panel

You may have noticed that I speak on panels every once in awhile.  In total I’ve done five at PAX, three of which I pitched myself and served as moderator.  I’m pretty good on panels – I can throw out a joke and chew on a topic with acceptable skill, and usually don’t enter a fugue state when I see the audience (usually), but by that time, my most valuable skill has already been used.  See what I’m really good at is pitching panels.

So with the Escapist Expo opening its doors to panel submissions, I thought this might be the perfect time to talk about how you go about it.

Pitching anything isn’t that hard as long as you put some thought into it.  Really you’re just trying to convince someone to give you a room and a couple of open microphones.  It’s similar to applying for a scholarship or grant, or even a job.  Everything will work out fine as long as you bring an interesting and unique topic and show that you have your act together.  Check your spelling and grammar.  Be professional.  Don’t use curse words or too much slang in your submission.  Use on email address that isn’t CocaineSatan@BabySealExecution.com

You’re not just selling a panel here, you’re selling the idea that the con staff can trust you with a PA system.

1. Do you Really Want to Pitch a Panel?

First you have to decide whether you want to pitch in the first place.  What are the parameters?  How long would you have to talk?  Are you comfortable speaking in front of several dozen, or even several hundred people?  Do you think you can get enough people to come out and do the panel with you?

2. No Seriously, DO YOU REALLY WANT TO PITCH A PANEL?

You’ll be sitting at the front of the room and everyone will be looking at you with their scary eyes.  They’ll expect you to say things without stammering incomprehensibly.  No hysterical gibbering or onstage breakdowns allowed.  If you’re moderating you have to manage your fellow panelists.  If you’re not comfortable with that, then seriously don’t pitch a panel.

3. Choose Your Topic

Figure out what makes you unique and pitch to that strength.  Maybe you’re a veteran D&D GM and can chew the fat about how to control wild players.  Alternately, you may have a day job that has an interesting angle on geek culture, think “Actual Lawyers vs. Rules Lawyers” or “Stim Pak Fallacy: Medical Professionals Talk Healing Systems.”  Life experience could come into play too – the year you spent abroad observing Korean game culture or how military FPSs relate to your own service in the armed forces.  Panels can literally be about anything, I saw one at Rooster Teeth Expo that was just members of the 501st showing off their costumes and taking questions about how to join the group and make armor.  Range far and wide for topics.  If you want to get ideas, look at what got accepted at the last PAX.

4. Choose Your Panelists

Panels live and die at this step.  If you and your friends are going to an event locally, this isn’t always a big deal, but if you’re traveling it can foul up the whole thing.  One of your panelists might not have the vacation time, or be able to afford the flight, or he might want to stay home with his pregnant wife to see the birth of his firstborn, the selfish bastard.  Point is, whatever your topic you need to lock down 3-4 people other than yourself that can commit to going to the event.  I try to invite four at the least, so if one drops out I still have a relatively full panel.  In all cases though, never ever list someone as a panelist until you’ve cleared it with them first.  They need to willingly consent to the appearance – don’t put them down just because the topic is in their wheelhouse and you don’t think they’ll mind, that’s a pretty big faux pas.

5. Recruit More Panelists If Necessary

Maybe you’re lucky and have 3-4 friends all willing to speak on a topic immediately.  That’s probably the case if you’re a game journalist and have a good network, but if you’re just an average joe who wants to do a panel, you may have to cast your net wider.  When I built my recurring panel “Borders, Bigotry, and Body Dumps: International Videogame Controversies” I only knew one person who I wanted as a panelist who was able to show.  The next panelist that I added I knew only from his articles, and the final one was through a recommendation.  That particular panel came together so nicely we reunited twice, but I only got those last panelists because I cold emailed a lot of people, some of whom said no.  If you have to do that, look for like-minded people that you think can handle their own in front of a crowd.  If they’re already coming to an event, that’s better than having to convince them to travel.  Just make sure you’re polite and clear in your dealings with them – remember, you’re soliciting their participation, not the other way around.  Don’t treat them like a job candidate, you’re courting them.  Be nice, be helpful, and respect their boundaries, especially if you’ve never met them in person.

6.  Herd the Cats

Two to three weeks before the submissions window closes, start making people give you a concrete “yes” or “no.”  If someone’s waffling, start researching replacements in case they drop out on you.  Get the vital information for each panelist, which usually includes their name, their work title (if necessary), where they work (if necessary) and their email address.  You’ll have to enter this on the panel submission.

7. Keep an Eye On the Deadline

(ZZZZZzzzznuzzle, snort.)  Gaaah! Wait, what? What do you mean the submission deadline was yesterday?  Damn it!  I should’ve put it in my calendar or something.  Also I should buy a calendar.

8. Choose a Title

I’m going to be honest here: I hate titles and I’m bad at them.  Titles are hard.  The first panel I pitched was called, as I mentioned, “Borders, Bigotry and Body Dumps: International Videogame Controversies.”  The eye-grabbing language definitely roped in some audience members, but it was too long to print on the banner or in the schedule, where it just appeared as “International Videogame Controversies.”  Try for something punchy that gets the point across, or put the punchy name upfront and a subtitle after the colon.  If your panel is, “Demons in Your Pocket: How Japanese Folktales Became Pokémon,” it’ll probably show up in the program as the catchier first half.

9. Official Description

This will take you the longest because it’s what goes in the program and there’s usually a character or word limit.  Start by writing your panel description in a word processor – not the submission field – and just see where it takes you.  Write down the big idea of the panel first, whether it’s a statement or a question you plan to answer.  Next go onto the smaller topics you’ll cover, then list your panelists with their titles in parentheses   Now run a word count and cut down.  Then cut down again.  Then leave it for awhile, come back, read it, add what you need and cut it again.  Most submission forms give examples of successful panel pitches, so look at those and steal their structure if you want.

Here’s an example of one I did recently:

Borders and Bullets: Global Game Controversies

As videogames become an international hobby, games increasingly run into problems of representation and localization.  Military shooters often use international conflicts or real locations as their backdrop, igniting controversy in the countries they portray as well as raising questions about the portrayal of foreign people and the impact of violence in digital space.  This panel will explore the more worrisome aspects of this trend and discuss possible solutions the industry can use going forward.

 

What’s the favorite game of Hezbollah militants?  What are the ethical questions we need to consider when designing violent media? How’d Castro feel about getting shot in Black Ops?  This sequel to PAX East’s “Borders, Bigotry, and Body Dumps” will take on Oliver North, The Red Cross, and whether Spec Ops: The Line represents a new breed of ethically-centered shooter.

This is actually pretty long for a panel description.  If I had to do it again, I’d probably cut out the Castro line.  Note that this is a more academically-centered panel as well – don’t use so much jargon if you’re pitching, “Warhammer Conversions 101.”  Keep it light and bouncy.

10. Additional Information and Technical Information

The “Additional Information” field is where you make your case if you’re not sure of yourself.  For example, if you’re not a game developer or writer and feel like you need to justify why you belong up there, you can list achievements that would make you a good panelist (speech and debate club, for example, teaching experience) or drop links to your blog or podcast.  Get creative if you want – upload a video of you and your panelists to YouTube showing that you’re fun to listen to.  Another great use of this space is to list alternate panelists if one of your primaries wasn’t able to give you a solid answer by the submission deadline.

“Technical Information” on the other hand is what you need from the con.  Microphones, chairs and water are always provided, but if you’re going to use a PowerPoint you need to request a screen and projector.  Also, if you have any panelists with special requirements – wheelchair access to the stage, for instance, it’s best to enter that now.

11. Submit the Panel and Wait for a Response

If it gets accepted, congratulations!  If not, well, everyone tends to fail at this sort of thing before they succeed at it, so don’t get discouraged.  Resubmit next year.

That about sums it up for pitching.  If you have any questions, be sure to ask them below.


My Five Favorite Critical Intel Columns of 2012

Critical Intel is off and running.  Originally, I’d thought the column would provide an interesting side note with niche appeal, but instead I’m seeing comments from regular readers and getting appreciative messages in my inbox.  (That’s always humbling, wonderful, and weird.)  It seems CritIntel‘s audience is larger than I anticipated.

Given that, I really want to thank everyone who’s read, commented, tweeted, and shared in support of the column. At the risk of sounding biased, CritIntel readers are my favorite audience on The Escapist.  You’re overwhelmingly positive and engaged, and when you disagree with me, that dissent is (with only a few exceptions) well-reasoned and polite.  Moreover, you’re all pretty kind to each other even when discussing controversial topics.  I think it says a lot that I wrote a column on the Mexican Cartel War the comments didn’t explode into xenophobic tirades. Despite writing about contentious political topics like conflict minerals, drone warfare, gay rights, and BioWare, I haven’t received a single piece of hate mail to date.  You guys are amazing.

So here’s to another year of thoughtful analysis and clean comment threads.  To celebrate, here’s my favorite columns of 2012:

1) King Washington the Wicked

This column was the essence of why I stared doing Critical Intel – I wanted to bring players smart, detailed analyses of the real-world content in games that include the perspectives of subject experts.  I’m still on pins and needles waiting to see if my predictions for The Tyranny of King Washington come to pass.

2) Desperate Housewives of Skyrim

Skyrim is one of my all-time favorite games.  That being said, Skyrim‘s stilted social relationships are an endless source of unintentional hilarity.  I love writing humor pieces, and I’d like to do more in the future.

3) Killer Robots and Collateral Damage

Articles that post on or near a holiday tend to get a lot less traffic – which is unfortunate, since this piece on the portral of drones in video games was one of the better things I’ve done this year.

4) Conflict Minerals in the Game Industry: A Two-Part Series

Yes, it’s cheating to post two as one.  Conflict minerals haven’t gotten a lot of traction in the games media, and it’s a topic I’ve wanted to address for years.  I still have a lot of unresolved feelings regarding Part II, since I’m honestly not sure where I stand on what we should do to address the problem.  Still, I’m proud that I took it on.

5) Cuddly Pokemon and the Demons That Spawned Them

Confession: I don’t like Pokemon.  I’ve never played it because I can’t stand turn-based games.  On the other hand, I love Japanese folklore, especially stories of violent spirits and creatures.  Originally, this was going to be a two part column, but it dragged so I cut it down to one.  There are lots more bizarre spirits that influenced Pokemon, and I highly suggest you check them out if you’re interested.


One Month of Critical Intel

As you probably know, I’ve been hard at work recently on Critical Intel, my new weekly column at The Escapist.  It’s been a great month packed end-to-end with work that makes me really proud.  Frankly, having a dedicated space each week has made me understand what it’s like when dogs go to a leash-free park.  First they stand there staring at their owners, blinking, as if to say: “What?  I can go anywhere I want now?”  Then they’re off like a shot, tearing over the scenery as quickly as possible, making giant leaps and running circles.

I’ve always had enough ideas about games to write an article every week, the two things I didn’t have were the time and the dedicated venue.  Of the two, the venue was the most difficult part (I can make time) and I can’t thank the good people at Escapist enough for giving me my own little corner of the web.

So what, exactly, is Critical Intel?  Broadly, it’s a column that examines the overlap between videogames and the real world.  That covers a lot of territory – one week I might be talking about an historical event or legend featured in a game, another week I might be discussing military or medical uses of game technology, while I finish up the month with an in-depth look at the trouble games get into overseas.  It will be always intelligent, always well-researched, and often international.  My goal is to take you a level deeper.

Just to give you a sampler, of the three articles that have come out so far, the first was about game censorship in China, the second discussed how games misrepresent the Mexican Cartel War, and the third addressed whether Assassin’s Creed III‘s DLC pack passes muster historically.  The fourth, out this Thursday, is about something entirely different.

Writing an article every week – while holding a full-time job – has been a real challenge, but the warm response all of you have given Critical Intel makes all the long nights and sacrificed weekends worthwhile.  Thanks to everyone for sharing this new journey with me, and I’m looking forward to showing you interesting new stuff every week – bringing need-to-know information to the people who need to know everything.


Beyond Borders: Global Game Controversies (Video)

At PAX Prime 2012, James Portnow, Steve Watts, Elisa Melendez and I hosted a panel on the many issues games run into by portraying real events – especially in an age where games are played around the world.

Have a look:


Game Journalism U: Research Tools

Sitting on the How Not To Succeed As a Freelance Game Journalist panel was the first time I had to stop and think about how I pitch, research, and write articles.

You’d think I’d know my own process, wouldn’t you?  I didn’t, though.  After riding the Find Story-Pitch-Research-Write carousel around and around for over a year the exercise had become second nature.  I asked myself why I had succeeded when so many others hadn’t, and mainly it boiled down to this: I accidentally developed the necessary skill set by pursuing things other than game journalism.  Occasionally, I’ll be talking about these skills here on RobWritesPulp under the heading “Game Journalism U.”

“Say what?” you say.  “You’re barely in the industry yourself, and here you are trying to teach?”  That’s a fair assessment.  If you think you know more than me, you probably do.  Go, I release you, run free to other blogs!

WHY FOCUS ON RESEARCH? 

Research skills were one of the main things that separated me from the sad little box of adopt-a-kittens that is the aspiring freelancer population.  Oh sure, when the editors looked at Kitten-Rob they thought, Well, he seems well-trained, he won’t scratch the drapes and pee the carpet, but it was also obvious that I was a good mouser — that I knew how to stalk, catch, and disembowel stories to leave at the Escapist’s doorstep.  Basically, I wasn’t just well-behaved and professional, I was useful.  Being a good researcher will get you further in journalism than being a good writer.  Editors can smooth out and gloss over shoddy writing, but there’s not enough gloss in the world to hide poor research.

Research is the skeleton of every article you write.  They are the facts you can’t get wrong and should add up to a truth you’re trying to express.  Long-form journalism is case-building.  As a journalist, you’re a prosecutor laying evidence out before a jury of readers, and your goal is to bring them around to your point of view.  Sure, you can make pretty courtroom speeches, but if your facts don’t hold up the case will fall apart, the jury will turn on you, and the story will get away scot-free.  You don’t want a dangerous story roaming the streets: collect your evidence, verify your sources, build your case, plug the logic holes, Book ‘em Danno!

THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB

Part of researching well is getting yourself the right tools.  Carpenters have their hammers, chefs have their knives, assassins have their piano wire, and researchers have these.  Do you need an accordion file?  Technically no, but it helps.  Organizing your information is just as important as finding it in the first place — that amazing quote or statistic doesn’t do you any good if you can’t find it in the heat of writing and rewriting.

Printer Ink

Why printer ink?  Do we not live in the days of the Internet?  Ink is an expensive ointment made of gold dust and mummified pharaohs.  We don’t want to waste it by printing stuff out, do we?  Yes, yes you do.  If you find a source, print it out.  Having your resources in hard copy is important.  What if your computer crashes?  What if someone alters or removes the information?  Also, research shows that people may not do their best critical thinking looking at a screen, partially because the light does weird things to your brainwaves, but also because links can be distracting when you’re pulling quotes and reviewing sources while writing.  Many writing hours have been lost to the blue, come-hither coyness of an interesting-but-unrelated hyperlink on an article.

Files and Organizational Containers

So now you’ve got all those lovely articles, corporate earnings reports, academic studies, and crime scene photos that prove Hideo Kojima masterminded the Watergate burglary.  You’re going to need a way to organize them and keep them separate so they don’t breed when you’re not looking (paper breeds when it’s not corralled, this is a fact of nature).  Start off with some clearly labeled manila folders kept in an accordion file or bucket file, separating your research by article.  Also consider keeping the business cards and contact information of any interviewees in the files.  (And when the article is published, keep a copy in the file too.  If an online publication goes out of business, your work my disappear.)  When you fill that file up, upgrade to a plastic file box.  When you fill that, it’s time to level up and get a file cabinet baby!  At that point, you’re a success by pretty much anyone’s rubric.  Congratulations, have a scotch.

Pro Tip: Scotch is not a business expense. The IRS gets mad.

Flags/Sticky Tabs

These are referred to as flags, page markers, or in my personal parlance either sticky tabs, or daddy’s little lifesavers.  I wrote two research-intensive theses back-to-back with these bad boys, on similar topics, with nary a crossed wire.  Mostly I use them to flag information so that I can find it later, but that would be like saying I use my iPhone to make phone calls.  I use them to take notes, I use them as reminders to reference another part of a text, and I use them to set goals for how much I need to read before going to sleep.  When I wrote my theses, I used an intricate system where different colors of tabs denoted what part of my thesis the information related to.  I LOVE sticky tabs.  They’re my go-to secret weapon and one of my favorite things in life.  If a girl I’m dating ever answers the door wearing only sticky tabs, I’ll probably propose on the spot.  Our wedding will be sticky-tab themed and sponsored by 3M.

Associated Press Stylebook

I’m going to take a stand and say you should absolutely buy it.  If you’re planning on actually living and working as a game journalist (or any journalist) it’s a good idea to speak the lingo.  After all, you wouldn’t move to a foreign country without picking up a local phrasebook, would you?  The Associated Press Stylebook is basically a 400 page cheat sheet that gives you the standardized spelling and grammatical structure of common words and phrases, along with a glossary of common terms.  For example, I just opened my book to a random page and found that “checkup,” without a space, is only used as a noun (as in “Janet is seeing the doctor for a routine checkup”) while the standard verb usage is “check up” (as in “I should probably check up on Janet — that’s a lot of screaming for a routine checkup”).  The Styleguide also gives you the proper capitalization rules for unfamiliar words, tables for the Heat Index, metric conversion charts, and a briefing on business reporting and media law.  Seriously, buy this book. It’s updated regularly to cover new buzzwords, but at this point if you wanted to save money and go with the 2009 guide, you’ll probably be fine.  Oh, and did I mention you can get it for around $13?  That’s the price of a movie ticket.

A Pocket Style Manual

This is optional, but it’s great to have and you can come by it cheap.  Go to a college bookstore and I almost guarantee you’ll see Diana Hacker’s little jewel somewhere.  A Pocket Style Manual is a quick-and-dirty guide to proper grammar usage, citation formats, and bibliography-building.  “What?” you say. “Bibliographies?”  Yep, bibliographies.  When you’re a journalist of any stripe you deal with information, and being able to marshal and organize that info on one sheet of paper is a huge advantage.  Sure, the reader won’t see it — in fact, your editor won’t see it — but it should be there in your file should a fact get challenged or you need to check a source.  It also gives you a lot of credibility in a pitch or article if you cite sources in a consistent, correct style.  I’m not telling you to bog your pitches and articles down with citations, understand, but if the source for a fact is something like a book or magazine article that you can’t link to online, it’s best if you lay the smackdown with a good-ol’ Chicago-style footnote.¹

Access to News and Information Publications

As a journalist, you’re the Doctor Frankenstein of information: it’s your job to scavenge disseminated pieces of knowledge and sew them together into a living, breathing whole.  You’ll have to hunt down stories and get different angles on a situation–and some of those will come from (gasp!) non-gaming publications.  Start developing a familiarity with both traditional and gaming media.  Read your local papers for news of gaming studios, set up Google alerts on Gmail for gaming-related stories, consider a digital subscription to the New York Times to know what’s going on in the world.  (Do not steal it by getting the stories through Google.  Don’t start your journalism career by screwing over your fellow journalists.)  Learn who does the best international coverage, the best tech coverage, the best domestic coverage.  If you’re really hardcore about international coverage, start subscribing to private intelligence newsletters.  Develop a similar knowledge of game publications.  Haunt Games Industry International for business coverage, GamePolitics.com for politics, Polygon, Penny Arcade Report and Escapist for compelling long-form features.  Read your gaming news and comment–you’ll learn more technique than you will passively watching a video.  One exception: listen to NPR.  You can learn a whole lot about nonfiction storytelling by listening to NPR.

A Library Card

Shhhh.  Here’s a secret: all across the country there are ancient buildings the public has forgotten.  These buildings are the home of an arcane order, and to access them, you have to be a member of their society.  Should you join their brotherhood, their temples can give you knowledge beyond your imagination.  Newspapers!  Magazines!  Microfische morgues!  Books by the thousands!  Learn to use a library and you’ll become an unstoppable research juggernaut.   Your Google-happy competitors will cower before you and you’ll slay Wikipedia-citers with a word.  The moment you read a nonfiction book for research, you become part of a very select club in game journalism and your article will vault over roughly half of your competition.

Handy Dandy Notebook

I’m always shocked when I meet game journos who don’t carry a notebook.  Notebooks are a must-have at a conference or on assignment.  I use mine to jot notes on panels, ideas for stories, and names of people I meet — along with biographical details and what subjets they know well.  That way, if I’m researching an article about a topic I’m not familiar with, I have someone who can provide a quote or recommend sources.  Notebooks are essential for keeping interview questions in order.  And no, taking notes on your iPhone or tablet is not “basically the same thing.”  See the above section on printing things: hard copies are better.  iPhones can do in a pinch, but transcribe your notes to something physical when you get home.  Writing by hand is also faster than typing on a phone and requires less mental focus.  I like Moleskine notebooks² and their knock-offs, but you can use anything you want — even index cards or slips of paper kept in your wallet.  Just have something to write on.  I’d also recommend a keychain pen in case you have an ink failure.

Digital Voice Recorder/Voice Recording App

I can’t tell you how much my interview skills improved when I switched from writing quotes to recording and writing them.  It keeps your focus on the interviewee and frees your mind to ask follow-up questions.  I use a $5 iPhone and iPad app, but you can get a perfectly good one for free.  Make sure it can record at least an hour of speech and picks up phone conversations well.  Beware of “voice memo” apps.  Some will only record 60 seconds to five minutes of speech.  It’ll put you in transcription hell for sure, but your misquotation rate will drop to near-zero.  Remember that you always need to ask for permission to tape a conversation or interview — even when it’s assumed, it’s just good manners.

NOTES:

  1. Sorry English majors, MLA sucks and Chicago style reigns supreme.  I don’t understand why English departments, who theoretically teach clear writing, insist on using a citation format so textually invasive.  Though I will admit that as a double major in History and Religion I’m unabashedly partisan when it comes to Chicago style.  We all are, every one of us.  One day, the American Historical Association will summon all History majors to their banner, and we’ll storm the Modern Language Association and put everyone to the sword.  I know I’m unreasonable on this point, but Chicago is just better and doesn’t make your writing ugly.
  2. Pro tip on Moleskine notebooks: I love them but those damn elastic bands tend to give out with extended use.  If the band starts to stretch out, cut it out and replace it with one of those Livestrong-type wristbands.  When you open the notebook to write, just put the wristband on.  Easy!  You can do the same thing with a flat-sided rubber band.

Game Journalism and the Scandal Cycle

In the wake of E3, there has been an avalanche of articles, blogs, and Twitter postings on the following topics:

All of these topics are important and I’m happy the game journalism community has given them the attention they deserve.  Even better, judging by the comments on these articles, a lot of people seem to understand the problem and would like to see a change.

However, reading all this made me feel like I was free-diving in sewer water.

Once you’re past the U-bend you’re homefree!

One of the greatest lessons of the Internet is that outrage is the only thing that sells better than sex, and controversies get hits, comments, Tweets, and Facebook shares. I’m not suggesting that gaming sites drum up controversies solely for hits–I doubt anyone could call the above concerns illegitimate, at least not in good conscience–but that social media users tend to be drawn to sharing stories that provoke an emotional response.  When shared on a wide scale, these stories create a sort of feedback loop where everyone in the community wants to join the discussion whether they’re a journalist, player, or part of the PR machine.  A PR gaffe turns into a news story on a news site like Kotaku, which is editorialized on a blog, which is Tweeted widely, which attracts harassing comments,  and those comments then become a story on Kotaku.  While this particular scenario is theoretical, anyone who spends time on the Internet understands what I’m referencing.

However, I would also suggest that these controversies tend to be chain-reactions.  Look at the list above and you’ll find two major themes: 1) the predominance of sexist thinking in games and game culture; and 2) the perceived stagnation of the AAA market through the over-emphasis on “dark,” violent games.

It’s no accident that these two memes are currently dominating the outrage circuit since one controversy tends to bleed into another.  Put simply, once one powerful article has been read and discussed at large, people have the tendency to see the world through the lens of that controversy.  For example, I absolutely believe that the Tomb Raider controversy wouldn’t have made as big a splash were it not for the Hitman and rape culture articles that preceded it, or even the negative tweets about E3 “Booth Babes.”  Each controversy lays the groundwork for the next, not only because readers still have unresolved feelings, but because thinking about and discussing problematic representations or exclusionary social norms makes the community more likely to recognize and share new examples of both.

And don’t get me wrong: This Is A Good Thing™.  The fact that we’re recognizing the underlying problems in gaming and discussing them at all is major progress.  Just like every nation, industry, religious order or hippie commune, the games community has deeply-ingrained issues we need to work out.  The representation of women in games and treatment of female gamers, for instance, is a problem that’s been building ever since women began to join the community in large numbers.  At this point in time, forty-eight percent of game players are women, meaning misogynist language is potentially alienating half of the community.  If we don’t combat the misogyny in the gamer population, we’re going to see fallout throughout the industry–it’s an appendix about to burst, and removing it is going to be a painful process.

That’s what we’re going through now: an appendectomy.  As painful as it is to trudge through tweets, articles, and blogs full of anger and justification, the end result will ultimately make us better.  Surgery hurts.  Drugs cause side effects.  Healing is generally a painful process that makes you feel weak and sick.  I’m not going to lie: opening the gaming community to women and minorities, as well as shaking AAA games from their current torpor, isn’t going to be a fast or fun process, but the end result will make it worthwhile.  By recognizing and discussing problems, we’re showing both the industry and our peers the kind of games–and society–we want.

But discussing that means exactly that: discussing, not preaching.  Read widely.  Listen more than you talk.  See a problem from someone else’s perspective.  When you understand what’s driving their concerns, you’re more likely to find common ground.  State your case with precision.  Use examples where games got it right, not just games that failed.  Avoid insults and condemnations.  When you condemn people, they’ll never agree with you–and that’s your ultimate objective, isn’t it?  Conversion, not conquest?  Let me tell you a secret: you don’t win an argument by telling your opponent “I’m right and you’re wrong,” you win by making your case so clear and compelling that your opponent links arms with you and says: “Let’s be right together.”

There’s another, crucial component to all this: positivity.  I mean really people, I feel like I’ve spent two weeks guzzling bile, can you give me something good to hold onto?  This stuff makes me feel so bad that I’ve actually had a hard time reading games journalism lately, and I’m a games journalist.  The danger of fighting and re-fighting all these controversies in such a short timeframe is we run the risk of succumbing to scandal fatigue, where everyone gets entrenched and reactionary, and is generally just spoiling for a fight.  I recall something I said during the Game Journalism panel at PAX East, namely, that games journalism tends to have a lot of negativity, and we need to resist the urge to snark.  Games are a medium full of wonder and possibility, but we spend most of our time harping on its flaws rather than celebrating the great things it can do.  Games take us to new places, bring us knowledge, and even help heal the sick.  Just because we’re elbow-deep in wrangling the uglier demons of our culture doesn’t mean we have to lose our sense of collective amazement and enthusiasm.  In denigrating the bad, we must not fail to champion the good–especially since building on positive success is what will ultimately let us transcend and overcome our bad habits.  Also, peppering in some positive news lets us relax a little, giving us the time to take our hands off each others’ throats and rebuild our community’s bonds of trust.

I know it can be hard to avoid the snark sometimes, but we have to try.  Take WonderBook for instance.  When it debuted at E3 I could barely contain myself.  The demo itself wasn’t the best of the show, true, but there’s massive potential.  We could design textbooks that contain 3D depictions of planets, moving physics models, cutaway topography maps!  Consider how amazing an Incredible Cross Sections book would be if you could strip layers at will–and imagine my disappointment when this peripheral was greeted with yawns and eye-rolling and “get-on-with-it”s from most of the gaming press.  I’m going to be honest–I kind of needed some enthusiasm and vision at that moment.  I think, after seeing so many guns and guttings and Booth Babes and arguments, we all needed to see that old gaming magic again.  At that moment, I felt like E3 had opened Pandora’s Box, and there I was searching through the bottom, wondering if they shorted me on Hope.

Make no mistake, these controversies are a struggle for the soul of gaming.  But we have to remember that even as we have our disagreements, we need to keep nurturing and celebrating that common soul we all share as gamers, that delight we feel interacting with a new and vibrant world.  We need to celebrate our successes just as much as we nitpick our failures, since it’s only by elevating the good examples that we find our way forward.  Because ultimately we’re all part of a community, and if we’re to integrate and co-exist, we also need to focus on our common values.

Let me suggest this as a start: We All Love Games.