Gotta Strike ‘Em All – A Post-Mortem of the Voice Actors Strike

Last October, the video game voice actors’ strike came to an end after almost a year of protests against unfair pay and poor treatment. But is the deal that the union SAG-AFTRA made good enough for the people that they represent? Astrid Johnson investigates.

[Updates – Ryan Brown is no longer a staff position Games writer for the Daily Mirror, and Ashly Burch reprised her role as Chloe in the final chapter of Life is Strange: Before the Storm.]

Crypt Keepers – An Exploration of Video Game Dungeons

I wrote about video game dungeons and spoke to a host of level designers and experts for GamesMaster magazine. You can pick up an issue of the copy here!

Nintendo Direct Announces Marx for Kirby Star Allies

Kirby fans and comrades alike will be pleased to know that revolutionary German philosopher Karl Marx was announced as a playable character in Kirby Star Allies during tonight’s Nintendo Direct.

The colourful platforming adventure game promises the return of many classic Kirby characters playable in up to four-player co-op on the Nintendo Switch, including Blade Knight, Sir Kibble, and father of modern Communist theory, Karl Marx.

The game’s story mode will take Kirby to Dream Land, where he absorbs a Dark Heart and is granted the ability throw printed segments of Socialist theory at his friends to recruit them as comrades for the Planet PopStar Revolution.

Trans Exclusion Has No Place in the Labour Party

It’s been a few weeks since Jeremy Corbyn’s confirmation on live television that, yes, trans women are in fact women who belong on all-women shortlists. And after a couple of weeks without retraction, the suspension of transphobic Labour members, and support across the country from MPs and left-wing political commentators, one thing has been made clear; insidious exclusion of transgender people is not welcome in the Labour party.

As a community we’ve seen all manner of abuse and discrimination, disguised as progressive activism, within the Labour sphere: last month, a group of Labour party members began a fundraiser on GoFundMe to campaign against trans women being included on all-women shortlists, that raised a worrying £30,000. And last year, feminist Linda Bellos made her intentions clear regarding trans women being allowed in women’s changing rooms that, “if any one of those bastards comes near me I will take off my glasses and thump them.”

 

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The bigotry of these people is made clear, if not in the online abuse they dish out and the campaigns they champion against transgender people, then in the deceptive language that they use. Distinctions are made in opinion pieces and tweets between trans people and women (presenting a larger issue of the erasure of trans men and non-binary people) alluding to the idea that trans women aren’t “real” women, ringing hollow their insistence that we are a community that they wish to support (those who started the anti-trans GoFundMe claimed to support transgender rights in the campaign’s description.)

But from these depressing and demeaning incidents, we see positives. Jennifer James and other women who began the aforementioned GoFundMe have since been suspended by the party on grounds of their transphobia, and Bellos’ place in the party has been brought into question on a number of occasions over her statements. Moreover, this sentiment of transgender people being excluded from spaces reflective of our identities looks to be rejected by the party consensus, with many constituency Labour MPs and university societies in the country voicing their support for our inclusion.

These are, of course, positive steps. But transgender equality, even in the Labour Party, is a battle that we are admittedly still far from winning. Only this week, we saw the publishing of a deceptive school resource back on transgender students, smattered with dog whistle phrases like “trans-identified” and published by Transgender Trend, an organisation that claims to work with parents questioning the “trans narrative.” And this resource has been shared by the likes of infamously-transphobic Nicholas Davies, an individual hoping to join the ranks of his local Labour candidacies.

No doubt that there will continue to be cases like this. And whenever they may occur, no matter how exhausting and dehumanizing they may be, they must be fought against, by ourselves as transgender people, Labour or not, if we’re able. And when we are not, then by our allies with greater reach, influence, and ability.

Momentum has done an outstanding job of establishing a clear and unified path for the Labour party in democratic socialism and progressive politics. We need to follow suit for our trans comrades; raise awareness, deplatform those who wish to spread hate, and fight the good fight for a better Labour, and a better country.

The False Impartiality of Debating Transgender Rights

The BBC has a problem with false impartiality in some of its reporting, and its coverage of transgender activism is no exception

As a journalist, one tries their best to abide by a set of values, like truth and public interest. Perhaps one of the more significant of these values is impartiality; the importance placed on portraying an issue or scenario as realistically as possible, taking into account the players in that issue and the weight that each of these sides have in it.

Sometimes, this can be challenging. Especially in a 24-hour, social media age that demands the latest news as quickly as is possible – not a negative thing, in fact it’s a very desirable circumstance. But this methodology will at occasion leave impartiality at the wayside, in favour of a balance not truly representative of the matter at hand.

Perhaps the most important epicenter of this phenomenon as someone living in the UK is the BBC. Other news outlets with a clearer bias, like the tabloid press here and Fox News across the Atlantic, experience this too, but in a deliberate fashion. The BBC, however, strives to be a bastion of objective and unbiased reporting on truth. Which, while admirable, is not always the case, and there have been a number of instances in which a false impartiality has been executed.

We’ve seen it in climate change debate, where on a number of occasions, the BBC staged debates on outlets like Radio 4 between climate scientists and climate change deniers as if both of these viewpoints held equal weight, despite much of the scientific community outweighing the other in support of man-made climate change existing as a phenomenon. And in Brexit, where many of the Leave campaign’s bold claims were in fact found to be falsehoods, the BBC reported on them without fact-checking or challenge.

We’re now seeing this phenomenon with the transgender community. As discussion surrounding big political moves like a reform of the Gender Recognition Act are underway, trans people are being invited onto BBC TV channels, radio stations and in articles to be interviewed about who we are and what we want. The issue therein is that we will go on to be pitted against right-wingers and trans-exclusionary radical feminists alike, debating our rights and often our very existence as if we’re the next hot topic.

Like climate change and like Brexit, the fight for our rights and dignities that we have so desperately sought for centuries has been falsely framed as a debate with two sides of equal weight. There is, however, another significant aspect ignored by this frame; the balance of power.

Like other minority groups, the transgender community is fighting against a system inherently designed against us; built into the very foundations of the structures of our society, and ingrained in the cultural assumptions that exist within it. The cards are stacked against us to an unimaginable degree, with little support available to us but from each other. To portray our struggle and those which we struggle against as on an equal footing, let alone as morally-indistinguishable, is not only a great disservice, but also in line with the oppressive status quo.

Trans-exclusionary radical feminists will claim that we trans people are in the position of power; that the continued affording of rights to us in society will benefit the patriarchy, shifting away the focus on fighting for women’s rights and putting women in danger if self-identification becomes an option for us. But in doing so, they uphold the values of the patriarchy; a system that seeks to enforce the binary of gender and purports a biological inferiority in women. This is the same biological essentialism that TERFs claim uphold them as the “true feminists.” And it’s the same biological essentialism that we’re assaulted by, from the patriarchy that systematically upholds it, and from the bigots that deludedly believe it is their salvation.

It’s false to portray what’s happening here as a reasonable debate with equally-invested sides presenting well-intended arguments for and against. Quite the opposite; the situation as it stands is on one side, a group of people who are fighting for progress that is both essential for their well being and inseparable from their existence. And on the other, a large and imposing oppositional force, fabricating loose threats and using their excess of power to enforce their bigotry and crush dissent.

The BBC have corrected themselves in the past. After the backlash from their climate change debates, they adopted an official stance that “there is broad scientific agreement on climate change.” And while the critique they received over their coverage of Brexit continues, they do appear to be observing the whole situation with more scrutiny than before. But it’s only after complaint, backlash, and criticism that the BBC have made these changes and reevaluated these stances.

So, make your voices heard; let it be known that the way they are treating us cannot continue, that they need to change and improve like they have done before. And don’t limit it to the BBC; news organisations and media outlets universally need to improve their coverage of transgender issues. And after enough shouting, they will.

Review – Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

 

Visceral Nazi-killing catharsis that brings with it a rich and relevant narrative

I’ve written a lot about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. I’ve talked about how its audience has changed with the times, and about its depiction of Marxists. I’ve now played the game at last, and I can safely say that it absolutely did not disappoint me.

You reprise the role of B.J. Blazkowicz, hardened badass World War II veteran and arguable figurehead of the Kreisau Circle, a resistance group fighting against the Nazi regime. You find yourself in a critical state after the events of the previous game, when General Deathshead pulled the pin on a grenade that you were caught in the blast of.

“whether intentional or not, carries with it a myriad of parallels to the current political climate”

You awaken on the Eva’s Hammer, the u-boat stolen in The New Order, from a five-month coma, having had organs removed to facilitate your recovery. Frau Engel, formerly a secondary antagonist and now Lieutenant General of the SS, mounts an assault against the u-boat, and you emerge from your comatose state, fighting your way wheelchair-bound to the surface. Caroline Becker, leader of the Kreisau Circle, is killed, and you obtain her Da’at Yichud Power Suit, and escape.

This is where we encounter the first point of online debate in the critique of The New Colossus. The injuries Blazkowicz sustained are terminal, and for the first half of the game, the only thing keeping him alive and functional is the power suit. To reflect this, throughout this period the health bar is halved.

Very interesting and understandable from a narrative perspective, but it does impact the difficulty, and in some cases, the enjoyment of the game. It almost becomes an example of where ludonarrative dissonance perhaps should have been deployed, as fellow games journalist Jim Sterling pointed out. There’s a reason games have recharging health bars and an often almost superhuman ability to dodge bullets and soak damage; these unrealistic aspects in a game make the experience more enjoyable.

That’s not to say The New Colossus isn’t fun. On the contrary: the fluidity of the movement, the power and impact of the gunplay, and the visceral satisfaction of the hatchet executions all leave me wanting more of what Wolfenstein brings to the table in the other shooters that I play.

I’ll echo what other critics have said regarding the difficulty of stealth. It seems the Wehrmacht have upped the ante when it comes to perceptiveness. This makes outright stealth playthroughs, and even my favoured play-style of picking off officers quietly and then rushing in for a final assault, incredibly challenging, even on easy difficulty (through which I played the entire game). It’s still fun to try it, but at least in this regard it can sometimes feel like you’re limited in your options of approach.

“these unrealistic aspects in a game make the experience more enjoyable”

Your arsenal feels smaller than in The New Order, though part of this is due to the lack of any significant time jumps showcasing an improvement in technology. And they make up for a slightly-trimmed selection of weapons by expanding the options you have regarding upgrades. Where The New Order allowed you to stumble across, say, a suppressor for the handgun, The New Colossus opts instead to allow you to find upgrade kits in the world that give you the option to purchase a selection of up to three upgrades for each weapon. With the handgun for example, you can buy a suppressor, an extended magazine, and a magnum upgrade that acts as a secondary firing mode, upping the damage, but also the recoil and the noise.

The diversity brought in by these secondary firing mode upgrades effectively gives you two weapons in one, as they can really change the feel and the situational suitability of each weapon. Early in the game I barely touched the Sturmgewehr (assault rifle) but after unlocking its marksman scope, it became the weapon that I used the most.

I touched on the narrative earlier, and despite how satisfying the gameplay elements of The New Colossus are, the story of the game is definitely its strongest aspect. MachineGames have gone a long way to develop a rich, complex, and dark world that, whether intentional or not, carries with it a myriad of parallels to the current political climate. I talked about the potential in modern gaming to tell more nuanced and thoughtful stories in another piece about Wolfenstein, and it’s nice to see that the trailers and teasers we saw of the characters, themes, and events of The New Colossus leading up to its launch didn’t betray this potential.

The New Colossus gives us a very honest and realistic (as realistic as dieselpunk fire-breathing Nazi robot dogs can be) image of a Nazi occupation in America and its inevitable resistance. There were many in American society, especially in the early twentieth century, that would likely either have welcomed Nazi rule or quietly complied out of convenience, and a resistance against this regime would have reflected the opposite; the outcasts and the marginalized.

We see B.J., a man with Polish-Jewish heritage, fight alongside Marxists and Black Liberation fighters to rile up the people of America into pushing back against the status quo, and these are, realistically, the people who would best act as a force for change in such circumstances.

But that isn’t to say The New Colossus is a serious, humourless game. In fact, at times it can be incredibly funny and entertaining in a way that doesn’t create a tonal disconnect. The Nazis are comically evil, but not in a way that renders their monstrous nature cartoonified. The resistance are a group of society’s beaten-down, but they still have fun and enjoy themselves.

“as realistic as dieselpunk fire-breathing Nazi robot dogs can be”

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus isn’t a perfect game. But it’s a really bloody good one, and one that’s incredibly important right now, however convenient its timing may be. If you’re going to play a Triple-A game before the end of the year, make sure it’s this one.

Steam Link || £39.99 / $59.99 / €59.99

Pong – A Secret Communist Propaganda Video Game?

Pong; it was the first commercially-successful video game and a universally-known arcade classic. But is there more than meets the eye? Is Pong… subliminal communist propaganda?

Come with me on a journey of subterfuge and conspiracy to find out!

Background Music – Hello Lenin! by Schnitz Productions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDB3I…