Tag Archives: videogame industry

On catching fire in the upper atmosphere


I marched with the Writers Guild in 2007.

The WGA, as you might remember, was striking over unfair credit and compensation practices in the television industry, in particular with respect to web media, which at the time was only just getting going in earnest. There was a huge furor about it. Rallies in downtown Los Angeles. Charity benefits. Thinkpiece after thinkpiece.

I wasn’t a member of the WGA and at that point in my education at UCLA’s film school, I didn’t have any plans to join it. I was already writing a thesis on game audiences by then (“oh Kris,” my professors said at the time, “who would ever watch someone else play a game?”), but even among the more screenwriting-inclined of my class, there wasn’t much interest in attending the marches. I only found like-minded classmates among the graduate division, who thought of me as a child, rather understandably.

Still, I went. I marched, I chanted. I took a friend to one of the charity benefits. I have a button.

The marches did next to nothing for the WGA’s membership. When the strike ended, the terms were barely different than they were before. But it drove two things home for me:

1. There is a tremendous cultural inertia that denigrates the work of writers, in any media, such that writers themselves will joke about being worthless and accepting terrible terms (which they ended up doing).

2. The old media dinosaurs may be on their way out, but that doesn’t benefit our current stock of creatives — we’re the generation caught in the middle, and even if a few get lucky, most won’t.

Samantha Allen — whom I admire greatly — wrote a post tonight calling writers like us “comets.” We burn brightly, but quickly; our light is the result of brutal conditions which may create our best work, but will ultimately destroy us.

I can say only that I don’t feel very destroyed. Not even, dare I say, curtailed. What has happened in the last 48 hours or so has come at the end of a long internal debate and discussion with a therapist, and in the end, if this is destruction, I chose it.

I could have retracted the statements I tweeted in anger, but I didn’t and I won’t. I might believe some of it was poorly worded, and I can agree it no doubt hurt individuals who might otherwise have ranked among my peers. It’s even possible that in the midst of my anger I’ve cast all this in a far more dire light than was needed, and by doing so some of my former colleagues may feel betrayed or alienated. I can acknowledge all of this, mourn the fallout for it and still hold fast to the truth at the crux of what I said: that this industry favors the old guard even as it lays dying, and I won’t feel sorry for myself for not managing to cling to its side any longer.

I am going to stop using my main Twitter account as an all-purpose feed and focus it toward game-related things only. It has a decent following and I’d like to use that to continue to reach people. My personal thoughts and stuff related to my creative writing projects I’ll take to a different account.

(I’ve gone ahead and followed most of the individuals with whom I had a friendly rapport on @KrisLigman, so I’d be honored if you followed the new account if you happen to notice it. But it’s not obligatory.)

This will also not affect Critical Distance, for which I will remain senior curator until I feel like I’m not doing an adequate job anymore. When that happens, barring some unforeseen catastrophe I’ll commit myself to properly finding and training a replacement. We’ll also work out what to do with the Patreon, if it’s still going by then.

I am proud of the outpouring of support for struggling writers that has happened in the last two days and as much as I can I will keep signal-boosting it. However, it’s like I said on Twitter, and as many others have said before or since: the bottom of Patreon is going to fall out eventually, and what will be there to catch our fall, who knows.

I think, if we want to be smart about our situation, we need to think of ourselves less like comets and more like meteorites: we have survived entering a hostile atmosphere — not unscathed, but intact enough to reach the earth — and now we have landed. Perhaps not gently, but we’re here and the gravity is probably enough to keep us grounded. What now? How do we survive this world that just tore most of who we are into dust and a brief spot of light?

What I am saying is that it might be prudent to think of contingencies for that post-industry, post-Patreon world. Not because we’re somehow morally required to (how that would work I don’t know, but more than one conservative politician seems to believe it), but because if history is any indicator, no one else will. We’re already “moochers” and “unnecessary people” just by dint of being broke and writers, so what is next for us, besides coming up with our own solution? By that I mean, something more fulfilling than diving headlong into some minimum wage job and leaving our urge to write and discuss behind us forever.

I suck at utopianism so I don’t know what that better world would look like. What I do know is that I’ve fallen, burned up and crashed, but I’m still here. Which is more than I might’ve expected, after all that bother. And it’s a good place to start.

How the other side lives (and the other side is me)


(Content warning: harassment, misogynistic slurs.)

This is not another personal account of pervasive sexual harassment on the internet.

All the same, I need to put a few things in context. A couple days ago I noticed a Twitter troll was harassing several women including GameSpot writer Carolyn Petit and those he found standing up for her. I tweeted a link to Twitter’s report form for abusive users and attached a screencap of one of the things he’d said. After 50 or so retweets (thanks), he found me, and began an off-and-on assault of tweets calling me a slut, saying I would feature in an anal sex minigame in the next Grand Theft Auto, and announcing he would kill me and get his money back from my apparent prostitution services.

This is the first time I have experienced this.

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Future-proofing Critical Distance

criticaldistance_kotrt_newI was speaking with one of my favorite game critics the other night. He told me, wistfully, of how proud he was of his most popular article to date, and how he wished he could take credit for it — but he couldn’t, because he’d face untold harassment.

This is sadly common. Every writer I’ve known who has signed their name to a deeply personal piece of writing — especially if it’s an account of the harm they’ve experienced in life — has faced no end of online abuse for doing so. They also seem to get pigeonholed, shut out from being known for any of their other contributions to become, instead, that one who wrote that one thing. The latter might be natural of how we process microcelebrity within our incredibly niche sphere of writing but it’s unfortunate and frankly awful all the same, and taken together with the former, it poses huge risks and endless disappointment for writers no matter if they sign their work or don’t.

(This is not, I should add, some impassioned defense of “confessional writing” or whatever semi-pejorative you wish to drum up. My stance at Critical Distance has always been that we welcome all kinds of critical games writing and commentary, which is great, because what we receive each week is always richly diverse. This here is decrying the fact we can’t seem to talk about assault, sexism, racism, harassment and so on without the writers inviting those same things upon their head, as though the universe decided it must prove a point.


I wanted to tell this critic friend that “some day things will be better.” That some day we will grow out of fouling up comments sections and hurling abuse over social media. But I doubted it would happen within the lifetime of this present games crit ecosystem of ours.

Meanwhile, we’ve all seen what the ephemeral nature of the web does to the critical writing that already exists. Check out all the 404s this (quite well intended and lovely) Twitter bot has drudged up, just by going through Critical Distance’s archives. A former colleague of mine, Mark Filipowich, blogged recently about this as well. The longer C-D goes on, the worse this problem is going to get.

At that moment I imagined my critic friend’s work not only never seeing proper attribution, but evaporating into the digital ether when the site which hosts it dies, or moves, or revamps. Not only was it all but certain we wouldn’t be around in time to see a web readership that could treat his brave words with the respect they deserved, it was a pretty sure thing even the words themselves won’t outlast us.

It’s been proposed a few times now that Critical Distance create some sort of anthology, and I’ve always been a little resistant to the idea. Obtaining the rights would be such a headache, I told people. Organizing, doing the layouts, motivating volunteers, going through the endless debates of how long and which pieces and do we want to do a print version… It’s hard enough to do that sort of thing without distraction; it’s an unimaginable drain on your energy when you have a full-time job on top of that.

But this needs to happen. I’m convinced of this now. We need to do something to preserve some of this writing before it vanishes.

And there are other projects Critical Distance needs to get a move on as well: more Critical Compilations (we welcome your pitches!), an updated search engine, more foreign language coverage, new podcasts, cross referenced tagging system, resources for new writers. These are all things we’ve discussed (and continue to work on) behind the scenes, but it’s slow going. We’re a completely volunteer outfit, most of us work, and all of us find our free time in short supply.

There’ve been suggestions for how to help remedy that too, of course. I’m not going to launch into proposals for those today, but they should sound familiar: tip jar buttons, subscriptions, funding drives, etc. Frankly I’m a leery of asking for money until I send out the remaining backer rewards for my GDC trip — those are still coming, I promise — so don’t expect to see C-D rattling a coin jar in your face in the immediate future, but still. This is something we need to address, if we’re going to be able to commit the human resources to seeing these projects happen.

Please note this is not saying Critical Distance is in jeopardy of shutting down. Ben and I have enough worked out between us that we’re pretty sure we can sustain the site for quite a while. I’m talking about expansions only here. Mind you, I think some of them are pretty necessary — post tagging and the anthology in particular. Especially the anthology. If we even print one copy and bury it in a time capsule somewhere, I want this work to survive. It’s the least we owe these writers.

(No, I am not actually suggesting we print out a single copy and bury it somewhere.)

So, there you have it. Someway, somehow, this is a thing I want to see happen. When Ben handed Critical Distance off to me in 2011 I was mostly concerned with just following on the path already set out ahead of me. Now I have worked on the site nearly as long as Ben has — hard as that is to imagine for me, still — and it feels like it’s time for the site to start growing up. After all, it’s here to outlive us both.

Burning Invaders: A Return to IndieCade

“I hope one day this thing is huge,” a young games journo tells me breathlessly. He wears a fedora and a pixel tie and I would peg him as not old enough to drink.

I frown. The kid has just finished bragging about “sneaking in” to his first E3 this summer, a so-called industry conference about which I have some pretty strong feelings. E3 is still not back up to its tottering pre-2007 top-heaviness but it’s still horrifically large, unsustainable in its girth and the inertia of its own technological obsolescence. I do not want IndieCade to ever resemble that.

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BrE3thing out

Over the span of several weeks I’ve been contributing a series of E3 retrospectives for the Features section over on Gameranx. The last finally went live today –thank you, Ian– and with it, I feel like a bit of weight is finally off my chest.

I won’t say they were difficult to write or to commit to– better writers than me are writing more incisive and heart-rending pieces every day, and at some point, doing this series just felt like I was reiterating an already well-articulated personal stance. If these pieces went live at Kotaku or IGN, I could potentially wake up to an inbox full of death threats and comments about my weight, but at Gameranx I’m pretty well insulated from the fanboy vitriol du jour. Although surely an exaggeration, it feels like even more of an echo chamber than the sort of feedback loop I’m criticizing. It doesn’t feel bold, no. Not compared to the writing of folks like Katie Williams, Jenn Frank or Mattie Brice, women who truly stick their necks out there fully expecting the unsavory elements of the internet to go for their throats. Me, I’m cowardly, compared to them. I don’t feel I have much of a right to call what I wrote difficult. It was very easy, in fact. Arduous at best.

But it’s still nice to have it done and over with. It’s August now, a full two months since E3 wrapped, and it’s a relief to finally have the subject behind me since, you know, I really do not care for it, nor do I care for discussing how much I don’t care for it. That may surprise you. In point of fact, I chose to write a negative series because 1) no one else seemed to be paying E3’s atrocities the attention they warranted and 2) honestly, negativity is easier to write, even if it’s much harder to sustain. So it was a matter of taking a path of least resistance, once again.

Because positivity is tougher, it really is. I told my E3 photographer Jennifer Roy –who is a personal friend of some 12 years; I even tend to call her family my own– that I was lucky to have her around this year because I could enjoy the event vicariously through her. As a critic, it’s not even a matter of being paid to be negative; it’s that positivity is bred out of you from a very early point in your critical education. Everything comes to be viewed through a lens of spotting the flaw, or developing a problematic, and that’s a nice academic way of doing things but tends to rain on the parade of average fans. Which is why I envied Jenny during the conference. Jenny, as one of those average fans, could simply embrace everything that she saw and did, no strings attached. E3 would be a perfectly fine event, if it presented itself as for fans like her.

On a funnier point, around the same time as my E3 retrospectives were coming out, CTRL-ALT-DEFEAT ran a piece of mine in its “Addiction” issue on a way more personal (and consequently tougher to write) subject. It was a little baffling to see it held out as “a good example of New Games Journalism,” since what I was doing didn’t seem new or journalistic in any way. It’s really just an essay on a confrontation I had with the big dark abyss in the back of my own skull. The same one that’s currently telling me that none of this work is adequate, and I could be doing so much better, I could be bolder, I could be more abrasive/cutting/insightful/wise. That could be why I prefer the curatorial role Critical Distance offers me: it lets someone else be the brave one; the negative or positive one. I’ll just be hanging out back here in the great sweeping wastelands of neutrality, thanks, where I can’t disappoint myself with my own impossible standards.

On that note, in a last bit of State of the Kris news, I’m on the judging panel for this thing. I couldn’t be happier about that. It’s an excellent team of critics to be part of and I’m flattered for the opportunity. It’s also just a little overwhelming. By creating “winners” we create “not winners” and I’m not certain that’s the single most productive way to go about advancing what we might, at a stretch, call a discourse… On the other hand, I suppose the first necessary step to dismantling canonization is to have a canon to dismantle, so bring on the prizes, I say. And regardless of any long-term ideological goals, I think it’s great that we’re openly rewarding great work, point blank. If it convinces even one person that we do, actually, have work worth acknowledging in this field, then surely it’s a positive step in the short term.

Politics of Control Revisited: What Has Changed?

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered their decision on Brown v. EMA (formerly Schwarzenegger v. EMA), a case arguing the strict regulation of mature-rated game titles in California. The 7-2 decision to overturn the California law in favor of the game industry was hardly an upset to perhaps anyone but Senator Yee, but I would ask a larger question: what, if anything, has changed?

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