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.]

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.

Is Gillian from VA-11 Hall-A a Revolutionary Comrade?

Is Gillian more than a laid-back bartender with a mysterious past? Is he… revolutionary?

Cyberpunk bartending waifu simulator VA-11 Hall-A doesn’t shy away from having a progressive message, with a gay main character swooning over her boss, android sex workers with loveable personalities, and thematic critique of the dangers of a free market. But there’s perhaps more, hidden in one of the game’s almost-comic relief characters; Gillian.

Your co-worker in the VA-11 Hall-A bar is an elusive figure, working under the name of a deceased prior bartender, Robert, after appearing at the door of the establishment in a “disheveled and emotional state.” We know a few things, and I’m going to use them to support my theory that Gillian is a revolutionary comrade, of sorts.

 

He Work(ed) for the KGB

Let’s get the obvious out of the way; Gillian used to work for the KGB, the Soviet Union’s state security agency, in ways akin to the United States’ CIA or the UK’s MI6. We’re unaware as to the details of his involvement with the agency, but this involvement alone is enough to assume aspects of his political leanings.

What’s especially interesting to note is that, while the body text of his wiki page states that he was involved “sometime in the past,” the entry in his occupation list doesn’t specify it as a former job. In the timeline of VA-11 Hall-A, did the KGB perhaps survive, in secret? Does Gillian still work for them? We can only theorise.

 

He Defected from the Hong Kong Anti-riot Forces

Gillian used to be a member of the Hong Kong anti-riot forces; we know this because of a few dialogue encounters, including with CEO of The Augmented Eye, Donovan D. Dawson, who saw him at the infamous Hong Kong riots where he was assigned.

He defected, however, and stole supplies from the side he once fought on. Perhaps he developed a sympathy for the rioters and their cause? To fight against the corruption and the exploitation of the Hong Kong 1%? If we take into account his likely leanings assumed from his KGB role, it isn’t out of the question.

 

He Mysteriously Disappears for a Few Days

Otherwise reliable, Gillian will disappear for a few days from time to time, seemingly for unknown reasons. He always returns safe, and he seems to be able to take care of himself pretty well. Given all of the information we have, I think it isn’t out of the realms of possibility that, if we are to believe the KGB is still operating in-secret, that Gillian is a heavily-undercover agent.

What are the KGB’s goals? What is Gillian’s mission? We can’t know for sure. What we do know is, that if we combine what we know about his past with what we know about his personality, the resulting individual is a really likeable, laid-back guy, and a pretty probable comrade if I’ve ever seen one.

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

Does MCM Comic Con Think Communism Will Win?

I went to MCM Comic Con in London last weekend, and decided to ask those visiting the convention one important question; will Communism win? What happens next will shock you!

 

Music by Grandayy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=876tE…

 

Camera Crew:

Jane Aerith Magnet: https://twitter.com/maniacjaneiac

Wesley Jon Nux Elkins: https://twitter.com/fretting_lemon

Brütal Legend’s Revolution Against the Bourgeoisie

Brütal Legend is a 2009 action-adventure slash real-time strategy game by Double Fine starring Jack Black as a roadie named Eddie Riggs who is transported to a world inspired by the lyrics and album covers of heavy metal bands. Your task in the game is to amass an army of the downtrodden and the slaves of the land to eventually combat the bondage-clad forces of Emperor Doviculus. But not before bringing the fight to General Lionwhyte of the Hair Metal Militia, a denizen of Doviculus and the overseer of the continued slavery of humanity, at his pleasure tower.

That’s Communistic as fuck. Allow me to explain.

The Hair Metal Militia are the Bourgeoisie

The Hair Metal Militia reek of decadence and exploitation. Their base of operations is known as the ‘Pleasure Tower,’ a guarded monument filled with shimmering riches, high-class architecture towering monuments to Lionwhyte. He and his agents live in luxury, with hot baths, plentiful booze, and their ways with some of the Razor Girls who find themselves in forced pleasure employment. They’re comprised of those workers who chose to side with Lionwhyte, valuing the benefits he affords them over the freedom of their compatriots. Truly, the Hair Metal Milita encapsulate all the traits of the Bourgeoisie, also known as the Capitalist Class in Marxist theory.

The Headbangers are the Exploited Workers

One of the first missions we play in Brütal Legend is called “Exploited in the Bowels of Hell.” We must emancipate the Headbangers toiling their lives away in the Crushing Pit, a rock mine. Presumably this rock is used to construct the towering architecture of Lionwhyte’s pleasure tower, and we also know that car parts are  unearthed that Lionwhyte takes the leather and vinyl from to give to Doviculus. It also serves as a means of oppressing the people. They are the working class; subjugated by the Bourgeois Hair Metal Militia to do their bidding (or more specifically Lionwhyte’s) as a means of benefiting only themselves. We even see a very clear reference to Marx’s work, as we the player are given a Battle Cry guitar solo that we play in order to inspire the workers to revolt, and are told to “break the chains,” an abstraction of “workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”

The Battle Cry Represents Class Consciousness

A sub-point to the Headbangers; the guitar solo that Eddie plays to liberate the Headbangers of the Crushing Pit could be argued as a representation of class consciousness, as listening to it’s tasty licks is what gives them the realisation that they don’t need to toil their lives away for Lionwhyte. This, by extension, would make Eddie and Ironheade a Revolutionary Vanguard Party, of sorts.

There is Rebellion in the Game’s Lore

Honestly? We don’t even need to look at these representations closely to know of the revolutionary themes in Brütal Legend. Within the history of the world, there’s an outright revolution; the “Black Tear Rebellion.” A band of humans rebelled against their oppressors, the Tainted Coil, and tried to overthrow them and achieve their freedom. It failed when the Rebellion drank from the sea of black tears and lost their minds, but only after the demons gave them such a temptation to begin with, out of fear that they otherwise might lose.

I think there’s some compelling stuff here. Though, I like to think that with every game that I write about. What do you all think? Perhaps I’ve missed some other pieces of evidence? Let me know!

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

The First Half of Fable III is Pretty Damn Communistic

If you ignore everything about Fable III that stops it being Communistic, it’s actually kinda Communistic.

Fable III was the final main installment in Lionhead Studio’s iconic franchise, and despite a hefty amount of discourse online regarding whether the game was good or not, I actually rather like it, despite it being disappointing compared to its predecessor, Fable II. And if you ignore the constant of monarchy throughout the experience, it’s pretty communistic so I’m going to ignore it and give you a list of reasons why I’m definitely right.

A People’s Revolution

The first two thirds of the game are all about you, the main protagonist, amassing a revolutionary army to overthrow your tyrant brother, who subjects the people of Albion to destitute conditions of poverty and corruption. You recruit the military, the city resistance, a group of mountain dwellers, and various other groups and factions throughout Albion to assist you. Sure, the primary basis in convincing them all to join is that you’re the true heir to the throne, but that invalidates any point that I might have, so let’s envision a reality where this isn’t the case.

The Age of Industry

At the time in which we experience the lands of Albion, it’s experiencing an industrial age. There are factories, mechanised transportation systems, and a new era of slave-wage labour. It’s all very much inspired by the 1800s, a hotbed for a people’s revolt. It’s during this time that the formulation and rise of Communist thought occurred as a direct response to industrialisation exploiting workers in a way never before seen. It is therefore difficult to argue that Lionhead Stuios weren’t aware of the parallels between the narrative of Fable III and the dawn of Communism

Benevolent Dictatorship

Time to throw you all a curve ball! I’ll be acknowledging the monarchy aspect of this game. Because, if you look at it with squinted eyes and sprinkle it with a heap of wishful thinking, then you could vaguely describe your monarchical status in Fable III as resembling a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. Not my personal preferred flavour of Communism, but Communism nonetheless! This is further supported by all of the benevolent, for-the-people royal decrees, like abolishing child labour, free public libraries, and putting funding into looking after orphans.

At the end of the day, life is all about perspective.  And to many perspectives, Fable III isn’t at all indicative of a Communist revolutionary story. But my perspective, when looked at from the right angles, is that with a little optimism, maybe it is. Certainly makes the game a little less disappointing.

[THIS IS A DISCLAIMER THAT I’LL BE ADDING AS A FOOTNOTE TO ALL OF MY WORK FROM NOW ON: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

The Worker-Owned Studio Making a Game About the Revolution

This revolutionary development studio thinks worker ownership will change the games industry for the better.

We live in a Capitalist society. As a result of that, many companies share a similar business structure: workers, managers, executives, and a CEO. It’s hierarchical in nature, allocating tasks from the top to the bottom. The video games industry as a whole isn’t very different at all, with large development studios and publishers like Bethesda, Rockstar, and EA following what has become the standard for running a company. But this isn’t the only way to run a business.

“I felt like a team could be run better if everybody had a voice in making major decisions.” Ted Anderson is the founder and art steward of Pixel Pushers Union 512, a worker-owned independent games studio currently working on Tonight We Riot, a crowd brawler game about a people’s revolution. He’s worked in the industry for a long time for various companies, “but I’ve never seen one where a lot of people had a lot of voices, or there was any kind of real democracy in production.”

“So I figured that I might take some of the things I was kinda getting interested in, and one of those things was the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World, and their method of having shop democracy really appealed to me.” Shop democracy is a socialist principle wherein a workplace applies concepts like voting, equal pay, and flat hierarchy to the workplace, and Ted had been toying with the concept for a while. “I think the idea for the company is something I’d been chewing on probably ever since my first layoff. At least in some formative way I thought, ‘this could be better.’”

“And then over the years as I drifted further and further left myself, I eventually decided, this structure that currently exists is really untenable. It’s not fair to the people working in those companies. I was watching benefits disappear. When I started in the game industry, there were actually still royalties: you’d make money off the game you worked on. That doesn’t [really] exist anymore.”

“You’re much more willing to do something that you’re self-motivated to do without getting tired of it”

Ted’s of the opinion that as it currently stands, much like many countless Capitalist business structures, the games industry is exploitative of workers in their worth and their disposability. “One of the biggest issues I’ve run into in games in the past has been the boom and bust cycle of game development, where you throw a bunch of warm bodies at a problem and then lay everybody off after the project is done.”

“One of the things I hope pans out with the way we’re doing stuff is with the cost-sharing, the flat hierarchy, the ability for everybody to be democratically-involved in the process of making the game and decisions regarding its sale and release date, that we all have an impetus to make sure that the company never grows larger than it needs to be, and that the projects that we take on aren’t bigger than what we can do with the team that we have.”

For Ted, the equal share of profit made by Pixel Pushers through both their own work and their contract work isn’t just beneficial for the wellbeing of his co-workers. “it’s a much cheaper way to operate a company. We have no executive staff…say the game makes a decent profit. That profit isn’t immediately soaked up by one branch of the company. Instead, it’s divvied up equally amongst everybody who actually had a hand in working on it. And I’d much rather have that happen, I hope it takes off.”

Not only has shop democracy and worker ownership been good for Pixel Pushers both financially and in terms of productivity, but it’s also improved Ted’s general happiness through being involved in the company. “if some boss was telling me, ‘hey, fix this thing.’ And it’s so ridiculously broken, and I’m having trouble with it… it’d get kinda miserable. But the fact that it’s us, that I’m not being told to do this by some boss on high, that I’m choosing to do this because as a team we’ve decided that it’s the best idea… you’re much more willing to do something that you’re self-motivated to do without getting tired of it.” It’s improved interpersonal relationships between the staff too. “If someone’s having a hard time, I have genuine concern for them as a friend and I want to make sure that they’re having a good time working on this game, and we try to make it better.

“It’s not, ‘Okay, well that sucks, but chop chop we’ve gotta get things done!’ It’s more, ‘Let’s see how we can triage some of these issues, or table them for now, come back to them maybe later, and find something fun to work on.’ People don’t get burned out, people don’t get resentful, so it’s never me or anybody saying ‘you have to do this now.’” It’s a rather positive perspective, and it’s not just limited to Ted.

“a sort of growing foxhole mentality, a sort of fellowship”

“I do think it’s something fundamental about the structure.” Stephen Meyer is one of Pixel Pushers’ programming stewards, and has had extensive experience in a number of different industries, not limited to insurance and construction companies. Working on Tonight We Riot is his first professional foray into the games industry, and his first time working under a shop democracy. “Even if I had a very considerate boss who was taking feelings into consideration and making sure I don’t get burned out, doing this amount of work in this sort of schedule… I think on some level I’d start to resent that boss.”

“But because of the structure as it is, rather than resentment I’ve been feeling a sort of growing foxhole mentality, a sort of fellowship. It’s something fundamental about not having one person be in charge, not having a command given on high for you to do this or that.”

Despite there being a heavy focus on the ‘democracy’ aspect of Pixel Pushers’ business structure, Stephen thinks this working environment helps to keep everybody on the same page. “It sorta breeds consensus. There are votes, but usually because we realise that we all have the same stake in everything and that we respect each other, there’s not often a contentiousness. We’ll put things to a vote, but it isn’t angry. Very positive compared to previous companies.”

Stephen thinks that indie games have been championing shop democracy in a sense, whether labelling it or not. “In a lot of ways I think we’re just putting something explicitly that people were starting to intuit among indie games anyway…It’s definitely the testing grounds with these smaller groups.” Working in a company with shop democracy can also give people a greater feeling of job security. “Not having that extra dead weight on the top saves money.”

“It doesn’t completely break you free of the boom-bust cycle, but by saving that money, whatever money is to be made in games, there’s more to be spread out. And the individual employees can put away what they need to put away so that they can deal with it if there is still a cycle of profit and lack of profit.”

The resulting expansion of shared creativity that comes with giving everyone’s voice in a company equal weight can lead to some interesting things, and Stephen recalls one such example. “Our sound guy George recently had made a passing comment about how we could reuse these assets that we’d made for something else as an extra mini-boss that we could reskin as a crab as this silly little in-passing suggestion.”

“we’re just putting something explicitly that people were starting to intuit among indie games anyway”

“If it’d been some other company? He’s not the designer, he’s not the person in charge, it’s not his department… it might’ve just gotten lost in the shuffle, but because everyone has an equal voice, everybody took him seriously and said, ‘y’know what? Let’s think about it.’ And now it’s in the game. It’s really easy for anyone to have an idea about anything and they’re taken seriously.”

We hardly ever see worker-owned companies, let alone in the mainstream, and even rarer do we see unabashedly-leftist video games like Tonight We Riot. But more and more are coming out of the woodwork, and this is likely down to society’s shift in perception of left-wing theory. “Socialism isn’t a dirty word anymore. I think we’re kinda finally getting over McCarthyism fifty years later. Especially the younger now generation is realizing, whether they agree or not with the feasibility of this structure or that structure, they’re realizing that Leftists aren’t some boogeyman, they’re not the bad guys.”

“Part of it is probably the political climate in the last three or four years.” Michael Taylor is the AI programming steward for PPU, and joined the team a little over a year ago after finishing his associate’s degree. “It’s not been great for the last decade and a half, but the last three or four years specifically. And given that we are in a country that isn’t winning a lot of popularity polls right now, I think it’s kinda starting a punk-rock incentive in a lot of game developers to push back and tackle more and more political themes.”

Despite not having as much experience as the other members of Pixel Pushers, he can already feel the stark differences between working with them and working elsewhere. “I’ve taken a lot of personal contract work to make ends meet and I can say that the structure here is different from the rest of the contract work I do. Overall, I do enjoy the structure. It gives me a lot of leeway…we may not have a boss in the traditional sense, but we still have deadlines with enough space to feel like we have enough breathing room.”

Their upcoming game Tonight We Riot is rather thematically-suited to the ethos of PPU, as Ted explains. “You literally seize the means of production and have workers join your cause, and they in turn become your living health bar. So any time your main character dies, you’ll snap to being another person in your crowd until you run out of crowd. But your crowd also acts as a weapons modifier, so every time you attack they attack too, which generally means the larger the crowd you have, the better off you are.” The idea for the game developed alongside Ted’s growing desires for better working conditions. “About two and a half years ago I started tinkering with pixel art after making a Minecraft texture pack.”

“It kinda got me started on working with pixels, and I thought ‘Huh, this could be something. This could be a game.’ A sort of Marxist Mario Brothers, is what I liked to call it. I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be kinda funny if you were hopping and bopping on riot cop heads, and you’re this little 8-bit character. Maybe there could be something here.’”

What’s certain is that Tonight We Riot wears its political message on its sleeve, and it does so to fill the gap in the market of explicitly left-wing games, a gap resulting from a reluctancy that Ted has seen in the industry. “when I was playing Bioshock Infinite, I absolutely loved the first half of the game. One of the coolest experiences in a game I had ever was charging a factory with armed workers. I’d never experienced this before, it was so blatant and wonderful and over-the-top and amazing. I had such a good time, and then they kinda pulled the punch in a way, which left me a little bit disappointed.”

“I’ve never seen an unabashedly Leftist game, pretty much ever. One that didn’t make apologies for things like seizing the means of production, or make apologies for its content, or watering it down. So I said, ‘yeah, let’s do this, let’s try and make that happen.’”

“Socialism isn’t a dirty word anymore”

Stephen looks forward to seeing people try out what they’ve been working on. “It’s been a while since I’ve played a game that had a real statement that it was trying to make, and was also fun. It’s tough to combine both of those things, and I think we’ve got the fun part down and we’re getting the statement part down. We’re getting that narrative down, we’re getting those themes out, and the fun is definitely flowing too. I’m excited.”

Ted, Stephen, Michael, and the rest of Pixel Pushers Union hope that Tonight We Riot will spread the message and make people think about Leftist politics in a way they may have not considered before, and they want to convey this through a really fun game. In essence, as Ted puts it, “a lot of fun, interesting, cool experiences in it that’ll hopefully carry the day if you’re not ready to let your red rose blossom.”

Mario Kart’s Rubber-Banding is Like a Soviet Five-Year Plan

Once again, Nintendo and its creations eerily mirror the Soviet Union in a number of ways, this time with Mario Kart.

Mario Kart is a game designed for the whole family, pitting popular characters from the Mario and greater Nintendo universe against each other in a go-kart race to the finish line with speed boosts, sky-soaring jumps, and infuriating special abilities.

One of the ways that Nintendo have made the Mario Kart franchise universally accessible is through a number of balancing mechanics that keep every player continually challenged in a fun way and makes sure that, even if you’re lagging behind, you’re afforded opportunities that keep the race equally competitive. And I can’t help but see parallels between these mechanics and a Soviet five-year plan, so let’s look into this some more.

 

Rubber-Banding

When playing Mario Kart with AI, a patented mechanic is implemented: rubber-banding. Introduced in Mario Kart 64, the game will either give CPU racers who lag too far behind you an abnormal speed boost as an opportunity to catch up with you, or will hinder the performance of your vehicle for the same effect. While this may initially seem unfairly-punishing to players who put the extra work in to make it to first place, in reality it keeps the experience consistently challenging, and makes sure you’re always on your toes.

This mirrors the Soviet Union’s five-year plans, wherein every facet of economic development including agriculture, transportation, health and education, was carefully monitored and controlled to maintain an equal level of growth.

 

The Blue Shell

The Blue Shell is perhaps the most infamous of Mario Kart’s item roster, introduced in the 1996/97 release Mario Kart 64. It’s similar in function to the Red Shell, firing off and homing in on the player ahead of them to stall them for a few seconds and giving you an advantage. Only, the Blue Shell specifically targets the player in first place. It, and other powerful items, become more likely pick-ups the further you are from first place, as a means of giving players performing more poorly a chance to get back into the fray.

This aspect of Mario Kart also ties into the five-year plan system. During each five-year period, while every aspect of the economy was maintained at roughly the same level, special focus would be given to a specific industry throughout the plan in order to bolster it depending on the needs of the state.

 

Intention vs. Reception

Mario Kart’s balancing in these two aspects were always intended to make races an even playing field regardless of skill, experience and accessibility, because at the end of the day, Nintendo wanted to make something that anyone can enjoy: that sells. But, varying from iteration to iteration of the franchise, it’s always been ragged on by some who feel that it makes the game boring, and that it doesn’t reward players who put a lot of effort into being really good at beating their counterparts.

Similarly, many Capitalist thinkers who praise the free market as a bastion of diversity in options and that rewards the hard worker over what they’d call the “freeloader,” don’t understand that unregulated economy breeds systematic inequality, and harms the little guy who might not have the resources or opportunities afforded to those better-off, and thus will suffer under such a system.

 

What do you all think? I suspect, especially given Nintendo’s track record of being comparable to the Soviet Union, that this is pretty conclusive evidence of the Soviet Union inspiring a lot of what the Japanese company did and how they behaved, especially back in the day.

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

Complex Narratives, the Rise of Fascism, and Wolfenstein II

Wolfenstein is no longer appealing to the target demographic that the series has historically adored it, and there are two main reasons why.

As October creeps ever-closer, so does the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, MachineGames’ sequel to the 2014 revival of the iconic nazi-killing action series. Wolfenstein has been a mainstay of video games since the third title in the series, Wolfenstein 3D, revolutionized the first-person perspective by introducing simplistic, fast-paced gun combat into the series’ anti-fascist formula, and practically inventing the FPS genre back in 1992.

And once again, it’s bringing a revolution to the industry: or, more accurately, to an alternate version of 1960’s America where Germany won the Second World War. Nazi flags fly in the streets in place of the star-spangled banner, Klansmen talk with SS officers about catching up on their German lessons, and game shows like “German… Or Else!” are broadcast to every television set in the United States. And we, dear old B.J. Blazkowicz, fight alongside a unified resistance movement to try and bring freedom back to the land of the free.

And that’s all well and good, you’d rightly assume. If you asked someone to list things that they could kill in a video game, Nazis will almost always be one of their first three responses. Their historical hatred and acts of genocide has cemented their ideology as one of society’s generally-agreed true evils.

But in the past decade, far-right mentality–not limited to Fascism and white supremacy–has experienced somewhat of a mainstream resurgence. It’s always been there, creeping in the shadows and manifesting with subtlety in power structures across the globe, but until recently it hasn’t been worryingly-common to see them marching in the streets brandishing swastika flags. The normalization of such bigotry can no doubt be attributed to a fast-growing movement spawned by the likes of the National Policy Institute and 4chan: the Alt-Right.

The loosely-defined group of extreme right-wing thinkers purposefully evade any definitive goal or official organization, allowing them to dodge critique and paint the left as paranoid and reactionary. But in observing the beliefs of many who claim ownership of the term, much of the Alt-Right stands for one thing: the advocacy of a socially-conservative white ethno-state. They’ve always walked the fine line between what is considered socially risqué in a liberal-centrist society and outright Nazism, aiming to present a less-threatening image, tidying up their language; opting for dog whistle terminology like “identitarianism,” and “preserving Western values.” But in doing so, they’ve shifted the global political spectrum far right enough that bona fide fascism is beginning to be seen as simply a “differing political opinion,” and as such, more and more have begun to openly espouse the rhetoric of groups like the National Socialist Party of America.

Now, how does this all relate to Wolfenstein II? Well, Wolfenstein as a series and the countless first-person shooters that have spawned from its legacy have always marketed to a stereotype target audience: the young, hyper-masculine “dude-bro” archetype. This demographic is seen to have an undying love for fast-paced, action-packed, gun-running violence, and for a significant portion of the genre’s history, this was almost always directed at video games’ favourite villain, the Nazi.

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And for a while, this was absolutely fine. But, as with many things, we can apply a Venn diagram, and there’s a large intersection between the target demographic of the FPS, and the target demographic of Alt-Right recruitment: insidious propaganda campaigns designed to appeal to both the impoverished white working class and the middle-upper class yearning for a sense of purpose, making promises like “reclaiming the honor of your ancestors.”

Of course, nothing definitive or factual can be said of the circumstances without conducting studies and surveys, but we can at least theorize that a chunk of the typical first-person shooter demographic may have fallen victim to the temptations of the Alt-Right. This in turn may introduce these same people to other flavours of pie in the far-right pie shop, so to speak, possibly explaining fraternal groups like the Proud Boys.

And with the FPS genre focusing more on the modern day and futuristic landscapes in recent times, it makes sense that we haven’t seen this politically-incidental backlash until recently. Only now that video games are really returning to Nazis as the central villain in their worlds are we feeling the heat from Alt-Right gamers. The comment sections of The New Colossus’s trailers, the replies to tweets from the Bethesda and Wolfenstein Twitter accounts, and threads on forum sites like Reddit and NeoGAF are worryingly filled with comments decrying the game for encouraging the murder of ‘people with different political beliefs.’

But killing Nazis isn’t the only part of Wolfenstein II that’s fueling far-right outrage. Many are also critical of the diversity present in the resistance, and accompanying the defense of Fascism are accusations that Bethesda are pandering to ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice warriors.’

Those that Blazkowicz will ally himself with in The New Colossus are quite the varied bunch: people of colour, those experiencing varying degrees of disability, and even a positive portrayal of (genuine) Communists. B.J. himself even fits into this crowd, as a now paraplegic jewish person who only finds himself on his two feet and slaying Wehrmacht thanks to a futuristic exo-suit. And in reality, these are groups of people that would and do in fact lead the charge against Fascism wherever they see it.

The representation in Wolfenstein II is an example of how far video games have come in their ability to convey rich and complex narratives. In Wolfenstein 3D, due to technical limitations and societal perspectives on what video games should be allowed to explore, all you really did was run around a castle and shoot SS soldiers. But now that we have even bigger studios with teams dedicated to storytelling, all existing within a slowly-maturing industry, the stories that we tell in games have a heightened potential to show us more of the intricacies and details that one would find in the real world.

We saw resistance movements resembling that in The New Colossus in Nazi Germany. They were small and often disorganized, but they were certainly there. Red Orchestra, a group of anti-fascists, Communists, and Anarchists, assisted in the production of anti-Nazi propaganda and aided Jewish people and other targeted minority groups in fleeing the country. Not to mention the countless attempts on Hitler’s life throughout the period of the second world war. And it’s this aspect of a Fascist occupation that we can realize in games, with more dedication and time put into them, and it’s exactly what’s being realized in Wolfenstein II.

This no doubt contributes to the greater outrage surrounding the game. But it also has another impact: it’s making it more appealing to the progressive left. Whether intentional or not, MachineGames have, in their fleshed-out depiction of a Nazi United States, given the voiceless and the downtrodden some representation in a fight against Fascism. If it weren’t enough that one could enjoy killing Nazis with giant guns as it is, we can now do so alongside people that we feel stronger connections and a greater degree of empathy with.

Through a mixture of a global political shift, a rise in Fascism, and a greater ability to construct narratives in video games, the target audience of Wolfenstein, be it intentional or not, has shifted. No longer is the demographic the hypermasculine with a penchant for violence. Wolfenstein is now a game for the exploited, the minority, and the unashamed anti-Fascist.

(Special thanks to my editor Wesley Elkins for helping me with what was a very lengthy job.)