Tag Archives: Rants

Forget Movies – Games Now Have Far More in Common with Books

Video games industry analysts are fond of comparing the games industry with film: both are splashy, highly visual and visceral, both cost a lot to create/market/distribute, and both compete for people’s entertainment dollars and time. When news hit a few years ago that the video game industry had overtaken the film industry in revenues, we gleefully paraded that news through the streets like we had an ousted dictator’s head on a stick. But with digital distribution and a temporary disruption in the games publishing ecosystem, business has changed dramatically. Those looking to get ahead would be far better served to study publishing, rather than film, to inform a sound strategy.

Let’s look … in a bookOH GOD WHY IS HE READING THAT?

A Year on Your Rear

With a staunch amount of dedication and a very comfy couch, you can conceivably watch an entire year’s film output. Wikipedia lists the major film releases of 2012 at about two hundred and sixty flicks. Games are a different story. As of Q4 2012, there were over twelve thousand games in the Apple App Store alone. Divide that by the three years the store had existed, and that’s a rate of about four thousand games released per year (although, to be fair, annual App Store growth is not so evenly distributed). Movies may average two hours, but how long does a game take to play? AAA titles can run anywhere from twenty to one hundred hours, and many mobile titles are designed for endless play. If Joe Average Canadian were to spend his 5.5 daily leisure hours exclusively playing iOS games for the entire year, he could only spend half an hour on each one.

And tell me: who could spend only half an hour on Trucker Parking 3D?

That’s four thousand games accounted for, but the iOS App Store is only one unique marketplace of many; add to that the yearly throughput of Steam, Android, the three home consoles and the wider PC market, and i wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of games in existence after these forty years outnumbered the total number of films released in the past century. While Joe Average Canadian could watch all the movies released in a year, he could never, ever play all the games.


(but not for lack of trying)

Getting Lit

Joe Average Canadian would have even more trouble finding the time to read all of the books released in a year. Wikipedia claims that the total number of books released in a single year in the United States alone is 328,259! Books are priced similarly to games, with big-ticket bestselling hardcover tomes coming in at $40-50, down to cheapie legacy or fan fiction one-offs being digitally distributed for a buck. Books require a similar time commitment as games; the the amount of time i spent playing Skyrim is probably on par with the time i spent trying to muscle through George R. R. Martin’s Game of Holy Shit – 924 Pages??. And owing to mobile devices, games have been freed from their specialized locations; just as film escaped theatres to living rooms, so too did games escape arcades to those same living rooms, and now travel with us everywhere in our pockets. We’ve long been able to enjoy a book under a tree in some isolated meadow, and now we can enjoy video games in the same setting.

Uh … yes. An isolated meadow. (shifty eyes)

Lately, i’ve been freaked out about the overwhelming number of games that have been flooding the marketplace. The Internet, which brought digital distribution, has been our printing press. Fairly newbie-friendly development tools like Flash, GameMaker and Unity are our desktop publishing. Open stores like XBLiG, the iOS App Store and the Android Marketplace are our print-on-demand.

Episodic Nancy Drew games are our episodic Nancy Drew novels.

Glut-hurt

Teeth clenched and hair turning rapidly white from stress, i’ve been repeating the mantra “nobody needs another video game”. And frankly, they don’t. We have enough video games to keep us busy for a good long time. The inevitable response to my Chicken Littling has been to say “well the world doesn’t need another movie, and people keep making and watching movies”. But that’s not the best comparison. For a true understanding of what’s happening with games, we need to look at books. At an output of over a quarter of a million new books a year from the US, people really don’t need another book. But we still buy books.

The reason why you buy one book, and read an Amazon review summary of another, is likely the same reason why you play one game, and watch a YouTube Let’s Play video of another. Figuring out that reason could be one secret to increased success selling games.

Any indie game developer, then, would be well-served to closely study how the book publishing industry functions if he wants to make a go of things. What role do publishers play? Some may give authors advances against royalties (our version of project-level development funding), but i assume that many more book publishers serve as marketing machines, ensuring that book stores and marketplaces stock your title, and that your title gets seen above all others.

How do book stores help customers find what they’re looking for, amidst a fresh dumping of 328,259 new titles a year? Market intelligence on book stores states that the vast number of customers browsing through a physical store don’t know what they’re looking for. A book store’s shelf layouts, end aisles promotions, search kiosks and friendly staff serve to ensure customers leave happy, with interesting products in-hand.

Book store staff went from selling content, to selling e-readers that can read content. Perhaps the role of an Apple Store staffer will transition from selling content readers like iPhones and iPads, to selling content like apps and games.

Games may look like movies, but they act like books. And increasingly, the games industry more closely resembles book publishing than it does the film industry. What lessons can we learn from books, with their dramatically more dire supply and demand problem, that we can apply to our own industry?

Don’t ask me. i’m only a game developer.

The Myth of the Digital Native

There’s a term flying around that really gets my goat, to put it like a Nancy Drew character. “Digital native” purports to describe a young person who has grown up surrounded by digital technology. It is a dangerous, grossly misleading term that needs to be nuked from orbit if we ever hope to move forward into a healthy relationship with The Future. Here’s why.

There Is No Fork

i remember a quote making the rounds during a conference on kids and technology. i’m not sure if it was borrowed from somewhere, but the gist of it was this: we’re not excited about using forks, because we’ve grown up with forks all our lives. Kids today have the same relationship with the Internet.

It’s true: there now exists a generation of people who have never known a life without the Internet, smart phones, VOIP, video conferencing and game consoles. So it must follow, some people reason, that these new technologies are as commonplace to them as are eating utensils.

Ageism

To compare something as earth-shattering and civilization-changing as the Internet with something as mundane as a fork already betrays a lack of appreciation of the capability and complexity of the current Age … and i capitalize “Age” because i have no doubt that the networked computers have ushered in a capital-A Age of human technological development: as in Stone > Bronze > Iron > Internet. An astoundingly myopic focus sees only Pinterest and cat pictures; what’s happened in the past few decades is nothing short of epochal.

The Internet has been compared to the printing press, but that invention was not made available at a very low cost to millions of people enabling the unfettered transmission of type, sound, AND images – both moving and still – WITH automated language translation and free duplication and instant WORLDWIDE distribution. Take a much more macro view of human existence, and the printing press won’t even rank.

But more importantly, the term “digital native” subtly implies that because young people are surrounded by networked technology, they intuitively know how to use that technology. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn’t matter what sort of technology you’re surrounded by: no one comes out of the womb knowing how to type a search engine query, pilot a spaceship, or even use a fork.

Priorities

The crucial difference, continuing with our fork/computer comparison, is that today’s parents know how to use a fork, they know the importance of using a fork, and they consequently teach their children how to use a fork. In contrast, today’s parents do not know how to use computers, they do not know the importance of using computers, and they therefore do not and cannot teach their children to use computers.

Father may know best, but he definitely doesn’t know how or why to defrag a hard drive.

Calling kids “digital natives” seems to leave technology education up to forces of nature, as if kids are somehow going to learn how to properly use a computer by osmosis – much like we’ve done with sex education, and look at how that’s turned out. i’ve seen the resulting ignorance that a tack like that produces; when i taught a group of first year college students a few years ago, i required them to zip their midterm test file and email it to me as an attachment. The class erupted with protests. They did not know how to zip computer files. They did not know how to attach files to emails. They did not know how to send emails. And in which program were they enrolled? Video game design.

So in this computer course, you want me to … USE … a computer?

But why should they know how to send emails? Email is a very recent advancement. It’s really only seen widespread use for the past fifteen years. i didn’t really begin to use email heavily until i was working full-time in an office setting. And how were these kids supposed to know how to archive a collection of files? It’s an easy thing to do, but you don’t know what you don’t know. Archiving has only been a recent addition to operating systems; prior to its inclusion in Windows XP (i believe?), you had to download a shareware program like WinZip or gZip or WinRar to archive files. It’s not really something you’d naturally know how to do until you’ve been required to do it.

Tying your shoes: not incredibly difficult, but definitely a learned skill.

Wickedpedia

i found that the students i’ve taught and the young graduates i’ve mentored – “digital natives”, all – have been completely hopeless at using search engines, a skill i call “Google-Fu”. They’ve been taught by their high school teachers never to use Wikipedia as a source because it’s “unreliable”, due to the fact that “anyone can edit it”. (Teachers, if you think that just anyone is on Wikipedia writing extensive entries on complex mathematical theorems, ancient Jewish mysticism, and common practices in the manufacture of thumbtacks, kindly retire. The Future will take it from here.)

Lately, this admonishment has softened to become “fine – use Wikipedia, but it can’t be your only source”, which is equally ridiculous, because many well-written Wikipedia articles are already cross-referenced to the nines with links to all of the material that would turn up through diligent independent research anyway [citation needed]. And often, articles that are further off the beaten path all have Talk pages which feature ongoing discussions on how those articles are being written and refined. Talk pages are excellent resources to help young researchers identify authorial biases and to develop media criticism skills.

And again, the fact that so many young people i meet have been told not to use Wikipedia as a source suggests an education system that, itself, does not understand the current Age and has been teaching neither adequately nor accurately.

If someone vandalizes a Wikipedia article to make Magellan a contemporary of Cap’n Crunch, and a student cites that passage verbatim, the problem is not Wikipedia.

Forgotten Knowledge from the Mists of Time

i attended college on the cusp of the changeover between a period in personal computing where it was a niche interest of hobbyists, and the explosion of networked machines into the lives of everyone on the planet. And being involved during the changing of the guard, i was very fortunate to attend a class at my school that unravelled some of the crucial mysteries of computing for me, and to this day, i am immensely thankful that i have this knowledge.

The course taught me what a disk is, and explained the actual physical process involved in storing data inside a computer. i learned what RAM was, what a ROM was, and why waving a magnet around near your computer was a bad idea. i came to understand how digital displays worked, and the difference between our increasingly old-fashioned cathode ray tube monitors, and these newfangled flat LCD monitors. i learned what a bus was, how a microprocessor worked, why we talked about “BOOTing” computers, and where the term “spam” came from. i learned how search engines indexed web pages on the Internet, and that knowledge alone has made me particularly adept at Google fu. i was taught about viruses, what they were and how to avoid them.

To this day, i understand how disk drives and CDs store digital information. This should be common knowledge.

All of this amazing and wonderful arcane knowledge is stuff that we no longer teach, because we have a generation populated by “digital natives”. Our kids know how to thumb around on tablet and smart phone devices that have one button. They can communicate with each other as long as it’s nothing too complicated, and as long as it all boils down to one gigantic shiny graphic element that says “SEND”. Some know it all boils down to 1′s and 0′s somewhere down the line, but they have no idea how or why, or why they should care. As long as it all just works, they’re fine. They can’t swap the battery out of their devices, but pretty soon they won’t need to: companies like Apple are leading the charge with perfectly impenetrable little boxes that we must return to them to service. The days of tinkering are disappearing. Our future – The Future – belongs to the companies who build the devices, who hold the keys, and who alone understand how things work.

Making Us Go

IANASTF (i am not a Star Trek fan), but one Trek episode introduces an alien race called the Pakleds:



The Pakleds appear to be very simple-minded, yet somehow they’re flying around in spaceships. That’s because they steal as much technology as they can get their hands on – “things to make us go“, without ever putting in the effort to develop their own technology, or to understand how their stolen technology works. They desire only the power that this technology brings, and they don’t care about the ramifications or consequences of using it.

The poisonous term “digital natives” excuses us from effectively teaching our children how to properly use, appreciate, and understand the incredible networked computer technology that now permeates our lives. We don’t want to learn how to program – we just want programs that work. We want things to make us go. We have become, and we are raising, a generation of Pakleds – a devolution of humankind which, instead of standing on the shoulders of giants, is dandruff on the shoulders of giants. To wit: we’re flaky. It’s time that we do away with the term “digital natives” altogether, accept our responsibility, and recognize the importance of teaching our young people how to effectively navigate and steer the incredible future they will soon inherit.

Indie Game Dev Goes Down in a Blaze of Glory

For some people in the video game industry, this is where the debate about games-as-art will be tried in the court of public opinion.

Until today, indie game developer David S. Gallant was a part-time customer service rep in a Canada Revenue Agency call centre. David did not enjoy his job, and wanted to make games instead. Desperately. So he committed to spending one day a week at the Untold Entertainment offices to learn whatever he could about the industry and our craft. After leaving Untold, David made a few games on his own, including I Get This Call Every Day, a game he used to express his frustrations about his job.



Today, after an incendiary Toronto Star article in which the reporter appears to have tipped off the office of the Canadian Minister of Revenue Gail Shea (David was always guarded about where he actually worked), David was fired from his job.

Never Again the Burning Times

The claim by TOJam co-founder Jim McGinley and others, who are seeing red, is that the Star article (and the Minister’s reaction) reveal a distinct bias against video games as an art form. Jim asserts that if David had expressed his frustrations through any other artistic medium – writing, painting, stand-up comedy, film, interpretive dance – he would not have provoked the same reaction.

As someone who has been fired from his job for being critical of his employer, i’m not so quick to call this an anti-games witch hunt. A few years ago, i remember being so aghast at the incapability and apathy of the students at the Hervé Velasquez School For the Digitally Inclined (my nickname for George Brown College), that i wrote a pair of articles called What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges (Parts 1 and 2) expressing my frustration. In those articles, i went much further than David did in his game, by actually naming my employer (among other schools), and by being a general dick about it. The Dean at GBC sniffed out my articles in a Google vanity search, and i was fired from my teaching position shortly thereafter.

i regret to inform you that your employment is hereby terminated immediately! (How’s THAT for a catchphrase?)

Sidenote: i regret nothing. When you’re so unhappy with a job that it oozes – achingly – into your art, getting fired is an absolutely blessing … a fact i truly hope David will come to realize in time.

Gag Reflex

The best consolation i received from anyone about being fired from George Brown was that in this new age of digital media, old institutions like schools (and governments, in David’s case) need to control the message. And thanks to blogs like this one, where i can freely criticize George Brown College, these institutions’ inability to control the message drives them completely bonkers, and they feel that their only recourse is to aggressively dig out the cancerous cells with a spoon. Bleeding be damned.

There. We’ve burned this relatively-unknown novel “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. That’s the last we’ll be hearing about THAT.

Of course, as we’ve seen so many times, these institutions don’t stop to consider the backlash their knee-jerk reactions cause. In my case, after my firing was widely publicized, i was able to single-handedly dismantle all heartless Ontario college diploma mills and replace them with tightly-focussed, effective programs that produced skilled and educated students (and uh … and then i woke up.)

In David’s case, the video game community is rallying to his cause with Twitter hashtags like #saveGallant (David is currently trending on Twitter in Canada), and organizations everywhere are encouraging people to buy and upvote his game. (PROTIP: By paying more than the $2 minimum donation suggestion, you can help float David for the next little while until he finds a new job. Give generously!)

So does the Star’s article betray a bias against video games? i’m not sure it does. Plain and simple, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you, even if that hand is also strangling you and periodically feeding you shit. Did i do something wrong for slagging off George Brown College? Yes. Am i thrilled that i’m no longer working there? You betcha. Did David do something wrong by criticizing his call centre job? Most likely. Will he one day be thrilled that he’s no longer working there?

You betcha.

Reeling From It – Part 1

Recently, i grabbed a Groupon for VHS to DVD transfer, and i decided to convert my student demo reel and share it with you all, along with the sordid tale that goes with it. Here’s the reel:



And now, the tale.

The Tale

i graduated from a condensed 3D graphics and animation program at Seneca College, after dropping out of Sheridan. i left Sheridan because i somehow got into their Illustration program despite never taking a single art class all through high school, and i found i was unable to keep pace with my excellently talented classmates. Stepping into Seneca from Sheridan was like leaving Downton Abbey and stepping into Welcome Back Kotter. Or the Wire. It was bad.

Stay classy, Seneca.

The school was clearly out to make a quick buck (and not much has changed here in Toronto, with Seneca being far from the only culprit). My program was accelerated, clearly so that they could churn more students through and increase their profits. The “campus”, at the time, was in a strip mall at Finch and Dufferin, across from a peeler joint called Charlie T’s – the outdoor signage of which, on a daily basis, invited me to “come get wet with the hot tub girls”. A good number of my classmates actually DID heed that call, and would come back from the strip club half-soused, ready to “fukkin’ model some three fukkin’ dee”. Their resulting work was often big-titted chrome robo-babes. Sigh.

3D model by Keaton3D (note: NOT a Seneca student from my class. The give-away is that the quality is way too high.)

It was one of those schools where like so many others (Centennial comes to mind), the program “offered” a co-op placement. What this means is that the school really only had a connection with one studio in the city, and could only place two students there – their own pick, naturally. The rest of the thirty students had to fend for ourselves. The co-op “class” was a prerequisite for graduation. One girl got a placement typing up schedules at her uncle’s trucking company. i found my own placement teaching technology at an elementary school.

WHERE’S MY $60k STARTING SALARY AS A 3D ANIMATOR, YOU LITTLE WHELPS??

My on-campus classes ended in May, let’s say, but my co-op position ended in June. At the time, a wild rumour was circulating among students that if you could only arrive at the promised land, the SIGGRAPH conference, you could land a job no problem with Pixar or Digital Domain. Cinchy. So naturally, i ponied up the cash for a plane ticket to Orlando so that i could shop my reel around the conference. The problem was that i didn’t have a demo reel.

A Reel Problem

A week after my co-op placement ended, i booked Seneca’s edit suite for a weekend, with my plane leaving the following Monday. The pressure was intense. i had to assemble and edit all of my school assignments together in a reel in that one weekend so i would have something to show in Florida. What’s more, i didn’t live in Toronto – i had to commute an hour through the worst part of town to my geriatric great uncle’s condo, limited by whenever the buses stopped running. So off i went.

In the middle of my sleep-addled Hell Weekend, the big gruff Eastern Bloc guy who handled equipment bookings stormed into the edit suite. “WE HAV PROBLEM,” he announced.

(you’re going to suplex me?)

“Wh… what’s the problem?” i asked.

“YOU ARE NOT A STUDENT HERE ANY MORE.”

In my defense, i told him that my last class (for that’s what my co-op placement technically was) had ended the week prior. i also pointed out that it was a dead weekend, and that no other student had the room booked.

“TAKE YOUR THINGS, GEEV ME THE KEY, AND GET OUT,” he intoned coldly.

i was in shock. My reel was only half-finished. “What’s the big deal?” you ask, because you are young and don’t know any better. Well, this was in 1998. All of my work was on these thick-as-a-dinner-plate ZIP disks. This weekend predated digital editing – everything was done on tape editing machines. To complete my reel, i’d have to book time in an edit suite in town somewhere, which also had to run 3DS Max and the other software i needed to produce rendered frames. So i was completely hosed.

Nothing says “completely hosed” quite like a ZIP disk.

i walked down the hallway to the President’s office carrying my things in my arms, feeling weirdly like an assault victim. i remember very clearly standing in her office, the stress and pressure of the weekend and my plane tickets bought with money i didn’t have and my lack of sleep weighing down on me, and begging her with tears in my eyes to allow me to finish cutting my reel.

Think about that: Seneca College, which took my money and gave me the bum’s rush, booting me out the door of their computer animation program without even offering a portfolio readiness course or sufficient time to produce a demo reel, made me beg them to let me produce the one crucial artifact that would help me successfully land a job in the workforce. This is why until now, you won’t have caught me mentioning i ever attended that school. i have actively avoided them throughout my professional life.

Proclamation and Banishment

The President waved her sceptre and deigned to let me use the suite for one more day, sternly warning me that i was not to return to the school, and cautioning me that if i partook of any food or drink while i was there, i would be trapped in Seneca’s Finch and Dufferin strip mall campus forever, never to return to the lands above.

i had no urge to return. i cut the rest of my reel as fast as possible, left the place, and have never looked back.

So if i’m ever hard on Ontario colleges these days, i feel justified; they were first hard on me.

Then What Happened?

More on how this steaming turd of a demo reel was received in Florida, and elsewhere, in the next post.

White as a Sheet

i began a brief Twitter conversation with Theodore Waern of SkyGoblin, whose graphic adventure game The Journey Down debuts on iOS this week at an introductory price of 99 cents, which at least one reviewer has called criminally low. i haven’t played the game myself (it’s been sitting in my Steam queue along with the hundreds of other casualties of the service’s too-good-to-pass-up software sales), but it looks gorgeous. The game’s characters have African-inspired masks for faces.

The primary argument for increasing the diversity of the mostly white, mostly male game development workforce is that it will result in a similarly diversified product. “New and varied stories can be told, and new voices can be heard”, to cop a few phrases from film and/or National Public Radio. The Journey Down had me curious about whether a diverse dev team had led to a “black” cast of characters, so i asked Theodore how many SkyGoblin devs were black. “Actual devs are white as hell”, he answered. :)

i looped lily-white Tim Schafer into the conversation, thinking back to his game Grim Fandango, which starred a cast of primarily Hispanic characters. The game wasn’t at all maudlin or stereotyped (but, being white myself, how would i know?). So how did Tim pull it off?

“I relied on my Spanish-speaking actors to make the dialog more authentic. Tony Plana came up with a lot.”

Theo took a similar approach:

“I encouraged our actors to experiment a lot with the script as well. Definitely killed off some of the überwhite.”

i would hazard a guess that neither Tim nor Theodore approached their games thinking “i want to make a game about people of colour”. Rather, they both saw a cultural art style (Día de los Muertos and African ritual masks respectively) that they wanted to use in their games, and it made sense to hire voice actors to suit the style (although The Journey Down advertises a “black African twist”, while the characters’ accents are West Indian – the confusion over which prompted my original Twitter question to Theodore).

Do Not Go Gently Into That Non-White

It got me thinking about how i approach diversity in my games, and the best word i could come up with was “fearfully”. Our upcoming game Spellirium was originally intended to reach the PC downloadable “mom” market, and yet it stars a white male protagonist. Why? Because i don’t dare write anything but white, for fear of someone calling me out for my non-white or non-male character being stereotypical, offensive, or – at the absolute worst – outright racist or sexist.

Spellirium is a very male-dominated game because i am cowardly. The sex divide, at this point, is ten male characters to three females. i took (what i felt was) somewhat of a risk having a female in the main cast of characters. i patted myself on the back for asking our character designer to give her a small chest, and for marring her face with a big red scar to “de-beautify” her. Despite this, she still turned out smoking hot:

(if you’re into ice-cold ass-kicking redheads, that is)

All in all, i was pretty happy with the Hunter. Here was a woman who was holding her own in the apocalypse, living off the land and sustaining herself, defending her hand-built log cabin with a blunderbuss and a snarl. She isn’t in the game to be a love interest for the main character; she knows more about the game world and its creatures than anyone else, and she joins the quest to satisfy her revenge sub-plot. She makes it through the game without anyone kissing her. She does get rescued at one point, but the Spellirium is self-referential, and the characters cheekily mention how disappointing the moment is. So … pretty good, right?

Well, no? During development, along came Anita Sarkeesian’s controversial Kickstarter campaign with her run-down of female video game tropes, and my Hunter character could arguably fit at least three of them – the “Sexy Sidekick”, “The Fighting F#@k Toy”, and “Man with Boobs”. Sssssuper.

Give Him Enough Trope …

i will point out, though, that it’s possible to disagree with Sarkeesian civilly, and i do. Her final video is titled “Positive Female Characters”, implying that every other trope on her list is negative.

Simply identifying a trope (and feeling all clever for it) does not necessarily beg a value call on that trope. TVTropes.com (one of my favourite websites since they shut down thisIsWhyYoureFat.com) is packed with oft-used scenes, characters and story elements … but because a trope merely exists, i don’t believe we should stop using it. i defy anyone to try writing a story that doesn’t use a single trope from TVTropes.com … or to try writing a female video game character that doesn’t even remotely fit one of Sarkeesian’s depictions.


(What – we’re not allowed to do the “hand over your badge” scene any more? Preposterous!)

i had a hard time when Anita launched her campaign, because as a white male who was already nervous about writing non-male, non-white characters, i felt that Anita was making it even more perilous to do so. Let’s face it: not every game calls for Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. Sometimes you need that cigar-chomping roid-raging testosterone-stuffed space marine. Sometimes you need a sidekick. Sometimes that sidekick is female. Any why not make her attractive while you’re at it? Entertainment media is no place for ugly people.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: no fatties

The Seeds of Fear

When i was in the eighth grade, we had an assignment to draw a character from a historical fiction novel we were reading, which starred a boy and a girl. i opted to draw the girl, because i thought it would be a nice challenge. i had trouble with her chest. i had almost zero experience with boobs, and this was in the early 90′s, when … ahem … source material was hard to come by. So i did my level best, and was pretty proud of the results. i showed the teacher, whose eyes bugged out. “What’s the matter?” i asked. “Good God, Ryan,” she said, “She’s a 13-year-old girl.” i took that to mean her chest was too big? Ashamed and embarrassed, i don’t believe i drew another female until i was in art college.

i feel like i should include some sort of picture here, but plugging “13yo big boobs” into Google Image Search is problematic.

i was in a performing arts program in high school as a drama major. We were placed in groups, and tasked with putting on a short play. It was my first role as a director. We had been reading George Bernard Shaw, and i chose his play Passion, Poison and Petrifaction, which had three roles: a husband, a wife, and a villain. One of my group members was the program’s only black student. i cast him as the villain, because being a Shaw play with its antiquated language, it was a period piece. As my reasoning went, i figured i couldn’t cast the black kid as the husband, because an interracial marriage in a period piece would have been conspicuous. i didn’t even consciously consider the villainous nature of the third role, or the connotations of having a black villain. i caught hell for it from our lesbian feminist extreme-left drama teacher.

Again, if i add a picture after “lesbian feminist leftist”, i’m a dead man.

So for me, striving for game content diversity is a case of being once bitten and twice shy. i’ve hired both women and people of colour to work with me at Untold Entertainment, but i’ve always been terrified of saying the wrong thing around them. i’m altogether too nervous to write a female or a person of colour in one of my games, for fear of the Anita Sarkeesians and the drama and English teachers of the world calling me out for inappropriate chest size or for perpetuating harmful stereotypes. And on the flipside, i worry that i’ll catch flack for continually writing games with only white male protagonists.

i’m not offering up any real solutions here – just thinking out loud. i guess i hope that as my depth and breadth of experience grow, my writing and confidence will grow along with them, allowing me to shake this fear and trepidation. But those who are banging the drum for increased diversity both in the games workforce and in depictions of women and minorities in games could, i think, help things along by approaching the subject from a position of love, patience, understanding and humour, and a commitment to appreciate honest attempts at increasing diversity without the Damoclean threat of lawsuits, placards, shouting and ostracism.

And with that, i humbly present to you the blog comments section. :)