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The Sunday Papers

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A plain white mug of black tea or coffee, next to a broadsheet paper on a table, in black and white. It's the header for Sunday Papers!
Image credit: RPS

Sundays are for holding a book about being calm in one hand while you doomscroll with the other, and trying to keep your toes warm because God knows that's the only thing you have any control over. Let's read some of the week's best writing about games and game-related things (which, as ever when I have to take over this column for a week, I interpret as broadly as possible).

To start, we are firmly in game territory. Black Myth: Wukong has huge buzz (why wouldn't it? I've been asking for games based on mythology that isn't explicitly European for years), and Rebekah Valentine and Khee Hoon Chan have a good investigation on IGN on all that weird sexism stuff swirling around the studio. The developer comments come off as extremely weird (in the same way that I usually don't find "offensive" comedians offensive so much as I find them incredibly boring), but the piece does a good job of placing this in wider context.

With all this in mind, we return to Black Myth: Wukong. The various remarks about women made by its founders have spanned the last decade, during which China’s online gaming communities have undergone a major upheaval in terms of how women speak, act, and exist within them. They are contemporary with dozens of other examples of similar behavior from much larger and more successful companies, but they also exist on a global stage where women are increasingly demanding equal rights, protections, and consideration. In the midst of these incidents, with Black Myth: Wukong nearly finished and international reputation only growing, women in China are demanding the studio’s developers take the other half of the entire gaming audience into consideration at long last. But the backlash has been fierce.

Now for the broad definition. Like me, you may have become vaguely aware that something happened with the ChatGPT company over the weekend, and I am pleased to share this very good breakdown from Read Max, the interested normie's guide to OpenAI drama. Did you know Joseph Gordon Levitt is tangentially related to all this shit? You do now. I like this newsletter especially for confirming my suspicions that I don't actually have to care:

For a variety of reasons (anxiety, boredom, credulity) a number of news outlets are treating OpenAI like a pillar of the economy and Sam Altman like a leading light of the business world, but it is important to keep in mind as you read any and all coverage about this sequence of events, including this newsletter, that OpenAI has never (and may never!) run a profit; that it is one of many A.I. companies working on fundamentally similar technologies; that the transformative possibilities of those technologies (and the likely future growth and importance of OpenAI) is as-yet unrealized, rests on a series of untested assumptions, and should be treated with skepticism; and that Sam Altman, nice guy though he may be, has never demonstrated a particular talent or vision for running a sustainable business.

Speaking of layoffs and offensive segues, Nicole Carpenter wrote about the actual human cost of the crushing video game company firings that have been happening this year. It's extremely unfair and frustrating (the situation, not the Polygon article).

The game industry’s growth over the past few years inevitably had to slow, but during that time, executives clearly incentivized short-term profit over long-term stability and the value of their workers. “A lot of reckless expansion of game monopolies has caught up to [the industry],” former Volition mission designer Alex Cline told Polygon. “Embracer owns a large part of the industry. Tencent owns a large percentage. We have huge consolidation of labor and IP. When you’re trying to get as much money as possible — if that’s ultimately your fundamental goal — then you’ve got to remove some expenses there. People were just an expense. They don’t necessarily care about the human impact.”

When we went through layoffs during the pandemic there were some responses like "but video games are doing really well!" as if all the money games make goes in a big pot labelled Video Games Money and is divided equally throughout the industry. It's desperately clear that all the money goes in a big pot labelled Video Game Money For Executives. I really hope that all the devs affected can find jobs, and the industry in general finds a stable, sustainable equilibrium.

When thinking about how we can do that, I found Edwin's piece on labyrinthine game design very instructive. Is it cheating to link to something on RPS? Probably, and doubly so because it came out on the 17th, but it is good, and it's thinking on similar lines to my calls to make games smaller again.

It makes this landscape intriguing, more substantial. The switchbacks lengthen the trek in a way that doesn't just feel like "padding": it's less about artificially extending the playtime than inviting you to spend that time in a more appreciative way, to enjoy your surroundings properly. And there is something strangely restful about it that owes something to the present cultural moment. In the context of open world projects that sometimes seem as exhausting to play as they are to develop, whose very size transforms their painstakingly wrought fixtures into white noise and friction, it's consoling to wander a world that feels built in such a way as to refocus the act of covering ground within it. The labyrinthine design makes me more mindful of the labour of that world's creators, and more inclined to see them in the thing they've made.

Also from the 17th, and therefore a cheat, Garbage Day did a good breakdown on how TikTok teens stanning Bin Laden was never actually a thing, really. Interesting case study in the somewhat-wilfully-misunderstanding-TikTok to mainstream-media-outrage pipeline.

And so the story has morphed from what should have been a weird curiosity — and perhaps even a moment to reflect on America’s post-9/11 legacy — into a full-blown national scandal with dumb-dumb headlines getting written about it, like CNN’s “Some young Americans on TikTok say they sympathize with Osama bin Laden”. I mean, I haven’t even had time in this piece to point out that a lot of the people I saw sharing the letter were millennials! But, yeah, teens fucking love Bin Laden. They’re saying 9/11 just hits different now no cap fr. Gen Z wants Baby Gronk to lead Al-Qaeda in a victorious jihad against the western imperialist hegemony gyatt!!

Bringing this sort of full circle, Wired carries a reminder to log off, via Thor Bensen. I agree! Doomscrolling does make me feel worse. But this article does not really address the idea that being able to log off from bad things happening in the world - to look away from the war, as it were - is a position of privilege. In some sense I feel a responsibility to witness what is happening rather than close my eyes. Thoughts? I do like the idea of applying your values more locally.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the news, Teachman says it’s important to consider what your values are and how you can act on those values in your daily life. Think about who you want to be and what you want to accomplish. This can focus your mind when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re not feeling like you’re who you want to be right now, she says, think of small things you can do to get closer to becoming that person. Think about the things you can do to get closer to that goal so you’re more capable of handling stress and feeling mentally well, and about the things you can do to help solve the problems you’re worried about.

I know Edders usually has a music recommendation for you, but this time I don't. I do have Bobby Fingers making a row boat out of Jeff Bezos's head, though. This video is, sincerely, possibly the greatest piece of art I've seen this year.

The latest Micro Fiction Games jam is themed Rule, Topple and Renew. Check it out! I particularly like Eclipse. Later taters.

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Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.