Is it weird that I hope this is how Game of Thrones will one day end?
…just dragons and friends.
Is it weird that I hope this is how Game of Thrones will one day end?
…just dragons and friends.
Help me out. I don't understand how people could be offended by Luftrauser's graphic style. Yes, the nazis were bad but these are cartoonish caricatures in an arcadey video game where you can fly a knife plane. There is no plot. I'm usually with people on these things but I'm totally lost. Let me rephrase, I can understand why people could be offended, but I don't understand why there is an uproar. No artist should cave because some people aren't happy. Not trying to fight, just confused.
Let’s start unpacking this.
"I don’t understand how people could be offended by Luftrauser’s graphic style."
The first step is realizing you might not understand someone else’s position but can respect them for having it. That’s basic empathy. You don’t have to agree with them, but given your life experiences are different from this other person, it’s possible to, at least, realize they have a reason for it.
Now, let’s look at what Elizabeth Simins (a terrific artist whose work you might be familiar with on Kotaku) and Rob Dubbin (a writer on The Colbert Report) originally said. From what I understand, Simins started publicly talking about this issue, and Dubbin later came to her defense.
I have a question about Luftrausers: is there some political point to playing as nazis or is it supposed to be funny?— Elizabeth Simins (@ElizSimins)April 4, 2014
Aaaand I feel like it’s a bit weird that there’s this v popular indie game where you play as funny nazis and nobody is talking about that?— Elizabeth Simins (@ElizSimins)April 4, 2014
It’s easy to give the benefit of the doubt to Beloved Indies but I’m telling you I’ve heard lots of fans say “you play as nazis, right?”— Elizabeth Simins (@ElizSimins)April 4, 2014\
So I guess if you are playing Luftrausers, just at least keep in mind what it would feel like for a Jew to play it? Because ugh— Elizabeth Simins (@ElizSimins)April 4, 2014
Simins does not ask for developer Vlambeer to change the way Luftrausers looks, but simply raises the question about whether its aesthetic could be reasonably seen as leveraging nazi imagery in a way that’s been glossed over because the game is so damn fun to play. (Which it is.) This is what we call criticism, and it’s especially important to be critical of that which we love. That’s often the hardest.
A few hours later, Dubbin weighed in on Twitter, as well.
so luftrausers: as a jew, what offends me is the aesthetic. as a game designer, what offends me is the absence of critical distance from it.— Rob Dubbin (@robdubbin)April 4, 2014
most jews of my generation grew up hearing “never again” from their relatives and hebrew schools. easy to dismiss as pablum, but here we are— Rob Dubbin (@robdubbin)April 4, 2014
i don’t believe vlambeer are nazi sympathizers or anything vile like that. seems more to me like *fascination*. which is its own problem.— Rob Dubbin (@robdubbin)April 4, 2014
more broadly, it’s all of our problem that it’s only coming up now + normalized to where “nazi stuff” is at worst a “con” in a review— Rob Dubbin (@robdubbin)April 4, 2014
and you know i was a part of that, in the sense that i only talked about this privately until @elizsimins was braver than i was and spoke up— Rob Dubbin (@robdubbin)April 4, 2014
so: let’s not pile on vlambeer, let’s definitely not pile on @elizsimins. the cure for this is education/awareness/sensitivity. never again.— Rob Dubbin (@robdubbin)April 4, 2014
A-ha. Dubbin underscores the subtext of the aesthetic content in Luftrausers: maybe we’ve become desensitized to nazi imagery as a culture, likely in a way less true in Jewish circles for…obvious reasons. This big picture cultural question isn’t easy to digest but worth asking.
Vlambeer doesn’t have to respond to this. Dubbin and Simins expressed their opinions, and that could have easily been the end of this. But Rami Ismail has proven himself to be an intensely empathetic figure who is OK listening to the opinions of others, even if it’s critical of his own work. It’s not easy to acknowledge criticism, and even harder to grant it any merit.
Yet, Ismail does exactly this in a blog post. There’s far too much to quote, but here’s the part that underscores what I’m talking about:
"We do have to accept that our game could make some people uncomfortable. We’re extremely sad about that, and we sincerely apologise for that discomfort.
The fact is that no interpretation of a game is ‘wrong’. When you create something, you leave certain implications of what you’re making. We can leave our idea of what it is in there, and for us, the game is about superweapons. We think everybody who plays LUFTRAUSERS can feel that.
But even more so in an interactive medium, we do have to accept that no way of reading those implications is ‘false’ – that if someone reads between the lines where we weren’t writing, those voids can be filled by the player, or someone else. If we accept there’s no wrong interpretation of a work, we also have to accept that some of those interpretations could not be along the lines of what we’re trying to create.”
From there, Ismail goes on to explain why he disagrees with Dubbin and Simins, even while acknowledging their opinion is a valid interpretation. That line is so critically important to having a reasonable, nuanced dialogue about difficult subjects, and it’s the part we often miss out on.
It often feels people confuse “criticism” with “censorship” in a way that is never intended when those speaking up are explaining their views.
It is unlikely Luftrausers will undergo any major aesthetic change as a result of what Simins and Dubbin said, but the conclusion of this exchange brings a better understanding of what Vlambeer intended by creating Luftrausers. No one has to agree with either side, but our understanding of Luftrausers’ place in game culture was deepened.
That’s not controversy. That’s criticism, and I wish we had way more of it.
Civility and empathy on the internet :D
Still our favorite “family friendly” card game. (Unless, of course, you choose to make it very unfriendly, which happens to be our preference.)
Story War is 1 year old today! Here’s a celebratory Blingee! Which is more a gift for ourselves than anything. Oh, you wanted something? Well actually I did get you this 25 song album that you can download right now for free:
The Story War Battle Album is an album of ambient loopable music designed to match each Battlefield in the Story War card game. It’s a pretty sick album in it’s own right, cuz we commissioned it from Infinitefreefall and he’s a pretty sick musician!
But if you loop the appropriate song while playing Story War fun gameplay things happen! For example, the song for the Volcanic Island card has a volcano explosion sound that’ll probably affect your story in real time. It’s sort of like musical chairs combined with roleplaying!
I’m so exhausted from all the fun things I did today but I just had to stop myself and draw some twitch plays pokemon fanart because WE DID IT!!! We beat the game I’m so amazed and happy oh gosh
Now everyone can finally relax… until the next adventure
How does it feel being the new Pokémon Champion? ⊟
16 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes, and 33 seconds later, it’s finally over.. There’s a lot of fanart commemorating the end of Twitch Plays Pokémon, but this one from Kiyokon is my favorite.
The silence is coming.
Late last year I wrote a paper for one of my classes about Gone Home. Today, it was announced that Midnight City will be bringing the game to consoles in 2014. The fact that this game will reach an even larger and more diverse demographic has made my heart swell, and I could not be more excited.
PS: Please keep in mind that this is an undergrad paper with a boring structure and not many original ideas. I just love talking about this game…and, by the way, SPOILERS ALL AROUND.
Gone Home defies typical narrative and video game tropes in order to tell a compelling and surprising story that results in an unexpectedly empathetic experience. The Fullbright Company has created a game that plays right into typical gameplay conventions, and then makes a surprising turn around each (literal and metaphorical) corner.
From the first few minutes of the game, the player encounters a number or horror game tropes. There’s a dark, lonely house with a cryptic note on the door that calls the player to action. This, like almost every other clue and story point, is unlikely to be what one would expect. As the door opens it is revealed that the house’s foyer is filled with boxes, not bodies. From here on out, each possibility for agency leads the player through a narrative that defies what most know video games to be.
Every room within the house of Gone Home (save one, Sam’s) is shadowed in darkness. This presents a moment of agency each time a player enters a room. The first thing to do? Turn on a light. Most would expect some sort of grim setting, but every room is just as typical as one would expect from a home in the mid 1990s. Instead of being surprised by something scary, the player can be surprised to see a room very similar to one they, or one of their friends, had while growing up.
Again and again, Gone Home uses this expectation of horror and turns it against the player. Similar to the “lights out” motif, there are staticky televisions in multiple rooms. The player will creep up to a TV, expecting perhaps a poltergeist. Instead, they’re greeted by an adolescent couch cushion fort that’s been abandoned but is still filled with used coke cans and snacks, as well as old copies of The X-Files. Once again, the player is greeted with nostalgia, as well as another potential bond with the unseen characters of this game. This sister, Sam, seems like a typical teenager.
The very same thing happens when entering Sam’s own room. Yes, there’s a creepy staticky TV, but there’s also a Super Nintendo with Street Fighter moves scribbled on a scrap of loose leaf paper. At this point, Fullbright knows that they have hit on a number of objects that will trigger emotions within the player and connect them even more strongly to Sam.
Each bathroom that the player enters is similarly creepy. Until the player turns on the lights and sees that it’s a typical bathroom with soap, tampons, and magazines from the 90s next to the toilet. There is a prime opportunity to scare the player with shadowy reflections in the mirror (or a frightening reveal of what the player character looks like) but there are no mirrors to be found. In one instance, however, there appears to be blood spattered across a bathtub. Yet when the player picks it up, it’s nothing more than red hair dye and another connection to Sam.
As the horror tropes continue to subvert the player’s expectations, a parallel story comes into the narrative. Things that shouldn’t be frightening such as an old family photo, old letters, and newspaper articles are the most troubling objects within the game. When the player first encounters remnant’s of Terry, Sam’s and Kate’s father, he seems like a typical dad. He loves books and records, and looks to have a stable job writing reviews of stereo and video equipment. Then the player starts to uncover the dark corner’s of Terry’s life that are often in the literally dark corners of the house.
A strange science fiction novel involving time travel to thwart the assassination seems to have been fairly successful, but as the player finds more evidence it is obvious that Terry is in a downward spiral. Letters of rejection from his editor sit next to empty glasses (of presumably scotch). In the basement, there is a note written from Terry’s own father that he has been a disappointment and that he can do better. In fact, Terry even wrote his father’s harsh words on a post it note so he must constantly see it on his desk. These elements may not be “scary,” but there is a cold, darkness that seeps in between the nostalgic trinkets littering the house.
Along with her Terry’s professional failures, other found objects suggest that his wife is having an affair. Flirtatious notes can be found in throughout the mother’s living space, and there is even an incriminating ticket stub that suggests she went to a concert with her lover.
Eventually it is revealed that the parents haven’t been brutally murdered. When the final section of the house opens up, the player may except to, at last, find bodies, but instead there’s simply a note revealing that Sam’s and Katie’s parents have gone away for the weekend. This could seem anticlimactic for the actual player, but for the character of Katie, this could very well be frightening.
As a character in this narrative, Katie is experiencing these unsettling things right along with the player. There may not be traditionally spooky elements, but a young woman coming into her family’s home and uncovering these secrets would be undoubtedly be scared. After being gone for a year and coming home to a life in shambles, one would undoubtedly be shaken. It’s not the seance candles or the ouija board that would be frightening to Katie, but rather the secrets that her family is holding.
Most troubling of said secrets is the history between Terry and his uncle, Oscar. Scraps of newspaper in the basement reveal that Oscar owned a pharmacy for years, and then suddenly gave it up to live alone in his large house. Upon his death, Oscar gives it to his nephew, Terry. The player discovers this through a piece of paper that’s been mangled so that an apparent apology letter Oscar gives to Terry isn’t legible. Eventually, a safe in the basement reveals clues suggesting that Oscar was addicted to morphine and probably gay. The player slowly comes to realize that Oscar sexually abused Terry in 1963 and become ostracized from the community. This is the year Terry’s growth chart stops on the wall, and the year all of his novel’s take place. Terry has written a fiction about a man going back in time and stopping a national act of violence while he himself wishes he could prevent the personal violence he experienced.
This, ultimately, is the scariest part of Gone Home. One man’s taboo sexuality led to an vile assault of a young boy and turned into drug addiction. That young boy grows up and has a gay daughter who is afflicted by her father’s own prejudice and anxiety about what his child could become. The house in Gone Home is indeed filled with fear, just not the kind typically found in video games.
Up until the conclusion of the game, the player could believe that Sam has had a tragic death. With the revelation of the house’s dark past, literary and cinematic clues point to a fatal tragedy for a queer character. The final journal entry and the cryptic messages left on the family’s answering machine by Lonnie, Sam’s girlfriend, indicate that something has gone terribly wrong. Knowing that she has been rejected by her family and that Lonnie is leaving, it’s reasonable to believe Sam has committed suicide. But, as the player runs through the attic, quickly rummaging through objects in an attempt to find out what happened to Sam, a single journal is found illuminated by a desk lamp. Instead of succumbing to a trope that has plagued cinema and games for decades, the tragic gay hero, Gone Home concludes with optimism and possibility.
Of course, the family is still in shambles. There is no resolution to the marital conflict or to their parental homophobia. In fact, the player isn’t even sure if Katie is happy about her sister, or if she’s even more afraid than when she entered the house. This may be Gone Home’s biggest rejection of traditional video game narrative: there isn’t a resolution for the player’s avatar. What there is, however, is a happy ending for a character archetype often on the sidelines: the weird/teenage/lesbian sister. Sam and Lonnie’s relationship could (and probably will) end abruptly like most teenage romances do. But for what feels like the first time in a video game, a young woman without large breasts, a gun, or magical powers, gets to win.