Talk at Interaction16

I just got back from Interaction in Helsinki having given my talk about how Conversations are the New Interfaces.

I have been blown away by the response to and kind words about my talk. I think this is a conversation (!) worth continuing. Stay tuned for details on that.

Here now is a collection of photos I found of my talk (for my personal archive):

Firewatch lowers the narrative bar for games and that is fine

I was really anticipating Firewatch and I was sorely disappointed as was of course bound to happen.

This bit I liked:

The best part about the game

A video posted by Alper Cugun (@alper) on

The art and environment are the stars of the game. The attention to detail and craft that went into creating the world and nature you are walking through are breathtaking. It’s a nice touch that you get to take pictures and keep pictures.

What’s problematic about the game is that even people who don’t like it as a game think that the writing is really good. This is just not the case. The setup is embarrassingly bad, juvenile, and sexist. The cliched story of cheap self-pity and codependence made us want to quit the game then and there. As many people have remarked, the dialogue between the two characters is good and manages to entertain at times and move things forward despite the poor setup. The actual plot and reveal on which the game hinges is awful and inconsequential. The other characters and what happens with them do nothing more than distract from the core of the game: the natural environment & talking with Delilah.

I get that gamers don’t read literature and have historically low expectations when it comes to story. But when so many people think that the writing in Firewatch is good, it lowers the bar for all games. That is something that has been happening for a long time already and it has led us right here.

Lots of people are happy with Firewatch however poor and unsatisfying its story is. But maybe there could also be works with good writing? And maybe those should not be called games with all the expectations and limitations that come with the term?

A not so secret Hitler

Rob Dubbin at the Awl has written a comprehensive account of what is wrong with Secret Hitler. I agree with his critique but I want to highlight one issue in particular.

I tried ignoring Secret Hitler but their design notes kept making their way into my twitter. I skimmed through them and found them to be well put together. The last one about illustration and graphic design however convinced me that the game goes well beyond just bad taste.

The problem is that the identity cards for fascist players in the game (shown below) display them als lizards where the liberal identities are shown as human. Fascists are inhuman, get it?

fascists

This is simplistic and immoral. If it’s not obvious why, here are three reasons:

  1. Depicting certain groups of people like vile animals is a way of objectifying them and an excuse to exterminate them. One of the lessons of history is that we don’t produce this kind of propaganda.
  2. Depicting the fascists as animals is not a reversal that makes it all right. The fascist of my fascist is still a fascist.
  3. Depicting fascists as intrinsically different from other people and easily recognizable as such is a deeply wrong and misleading fantasy.

This way of thinking is part of an ongoing trivialization of fascism and spreading it is harmful.

As Rob Dubbin says in his piece:

There should be a high bar for invoking this person, and there should be such a thing as falling well short of it.

The people making Secret Hitler are obviously intelligent, skilled and have vast resources at their disposal. I can only guess why they would make a game about this topic and then do it so poorly.

Breaking into the English speaking world

Last week we finally got featured with Bycatch on Boingboing and Fast Company thanks to our invitation to the XOXO festival. It is amazing to see what that attention does and what kind of effect that has on sales.

Now that we have finally arrived in the English speaking world we can relax a bit and keep pushing out the marketing we had planned all along. I would be curious to see whether something similar happens at some point for Japanese and Chinese speaking online communities.

DOTA night at Meltdown Esports Bar

Dota night at Meltdown

Yesterday I attended the weekly Dota2 night at Meltdown esports bar for the first time. I’m looking for people who I can play with regularly because going out into solo queue is becoming a bit tedious and unpredictable. There is a small crowd of people there who play 5v5’s in a private lobby against the Meltdown London cafe. It’s a lot of shouting and mostly fun.

What strikes me when I go to these get togethers is that however different the people are, there is a shared culture because everybody reads /r/dota2 and watches the same streams and tournaments. It is fairly homogenized everywhere with the exception of China which is insular with its own client, servers and a slew of native language media.

I was also happy to see that the gender balance wasn’t as one-sided as I had feared. There’s still a long way to go but what I saw at the bar makes me optimistic.

The second victorious team