The Repeater: The Digital Frontier Theory Advanced

The RepeaterThe Repeater is a feature in which important discussions are highlighted and linked from other authors to help the information get around to as many eyes and ears as possible. Relevant to video games? Maybe. Relevant to gamers? Definitely. Let these be your food for thought. (Image Source: http://www.devcom.com/)


It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for me with the topic of player’s rights being one of the most talked about in the Digital Frontier series. I actually never intended it to be a series, but it seems to have struck a chord with a lot of gamers, and anyway it always seems relevant to conversations about culture. Who knew I’d start the year with a topic that would provide almost a year’s worth of content!

The theme for this Repeater is just the Digital Frontier in general, as the cultural topics tend to vary quite a bit so far this Summer. That’s a good sign! I’ll start with “Virtual Conflict as Cultural Catharsis” (the impact of games and media on our perceptions of the world), a real think piece that does what most of us fail to do in writing about conflict in games: It builds a bridge from the real world into the game. It manages to make the point without making the point, which is an art with writing about culture.

The trajectory of tone and content in the ‘war is hell’ films from the 1970s such as Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter shifted dramatically to the restorative and cathartic films from the 1980s like Top Gun and Rambo. These films either painted the US military in a far more positive and victorious light or, in the case of Rambo, literally re-fighting Vietnam on-screen.

What is interesting is that in games after 9/11 this process moved in the opposite direction. The games that emerged in the first few years after 9/11 can broadly be interpreted as revenge power-fantasies. The largely tactical focus of these titles place the player in the position of a soldier with a ‘grunt’s-eye view’. This creates a space in which the player can rewrite history, restore agency and re-establish the ‘correct’ order of the world on an individual level; winning the battles AND winning the war. It is only in recent years that some developers have taken steps to question and critique what can be seen as a largely jingoistic and cynically simplified streamlining of complex geopolitical issues.

For a complex topic, the article is a quick read and well worth the time.

The New Yorker recently published a story titled “The Kiss That Changed Video Games”, in which it reviews the development of The Sims and how homosexuality was allowed into the game.

Barrett was asked to create a demo of the game to be shown at E3. The demo would consist of three scenes from the game. These were to be so-called on-rails scenes—not a true, live simulation but one that was preplanned, and which would shake out the same way each time it was played, in order to show the game in its best light. One of the scenes was a wedding between two Sims characters. “I had run out of time before E3, and there were so many Sims attending the wedding that I didn’t have time to put them all on rails,” Barrett said.

On the first day of the show, the game’s producers, Kana Ryan and Chris Trottier, watched in disbelief as two of the female Sims attending the virtual wedding leaned in and began to passionately kiss. They had, during the live simulation, fallen in love. Moreover, they had chosen this moment to express their affection, in front of a live audience of assorted press. Following the kiss, talk of The Sims dominated E3. “You might say that they stole the show,” Barrett said. “I guess straight guys that make sports games loved the idea of controlling two lesbians.”

First, I loved reading this. I never knew how that made it into The Sims and it’s really easy to just believe that the designers sort of went about it in a natural sort of way, not forcing it, not making a big deal, just letting it be. To hear that that’s pretty much what happened, but that it was made possible because the team didn’t believe it would be released any way, makes this tale that much more revealing. Also, before I even read the article I knew that the Kiss mentioned in the title HAD TO have taken place between lesbian sims. I was trying to imagine what the reaction might have been if two men had kissed during the live simulation. Could The Sims have been shelved, never to be known to us today?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the Battle to Exploit Gamers (Steam Summer Sale), Steam met it’s match when Reddit took it on in an effort to even out the wins for the competing teams. Haven’t you heard? In Soviet Valve, Steam plays you! By all observations, the efforts of Team White seem to have worked, but there’s currently no way to really know. What we do know is that for the first 5 days of the sale, the teams were trading wins equally. But the Red Team (of which I’m a member) has been on a streak the past 3 days. Is it due to the rule change that Valve implemented? Is there some Gray Team which is throwing all it’s effort into Team Red? We may never know. The part I liked the most about the whole thing is that players organized something with relative ease and successfully altered the outcomes for players. I think  that’s a lesson worth taking to heart, because on the Digital Frontier we’re going to need all the inspiration we can get.

One more piece worth repeating is brought to you by Wundergeek at Go Make Me a Sandwich where she explains why it’s difficult to add women to games (this one’s for you Ubisoft!).

Hey, it’s The Repeater and that’s two pieces of Awesome at the end of what’s usually a brow furrowing series. Have fun sharing!