Articles on Race and Ethnicity in Games from non-American Perspectives

Articles on race fron non-American perspectives

Below is a collection of articles, papers, videos, etc. that interrogate issues of race, ethnicity, colonialism, representation, and other related subjects in videogames from non-North American perspectives.

What is shown here is intended not as an all-encompassing list of such materials, but rather a jumping off point for those who wish to read and/or share alternative perspectives on a wide variety of topics under the umbrella of ‘race in games’.

Every link was submitted by individuals from various communities and disciplines. For the collection to grow, it needs your help. If you know of something in any language that may belong here, please leave a comment below with the author, title and link, and hopefully I will get around to incorporating it into the post soon after. If you’d prefer to send a recommendation through Twitter, you can reply to this tweet here.


English

Denis Farr (2012) ‘Papo & Yo: Monsters Inc.’ Gameranx http://www.gameranx.com/features/id/9204/article/papo-yo-monsters-inc/

Sos Sosowski (2015) ‘The indigenous tribe of Witcher 3’, http://sosowski.tumblr.com/ http://sosowski.tumblr.com/post/121111103487/the-indigenous-tribe-of-witcher-3

Souvik Mukherjee (2014) ‘Playing Subaltern: Postcolonialism and Videogames’,  Meaningful Play conference, Michigan State University https://www.academia.edu/8984862/Playing_Subaltern_Postcolonialism_and_Videogames

Souvik Mukherjee (2013) ‘‘The Playing Fields of Empire’: Empire and Space in Videogames’, Games and Philosophy Conference, Bergen https://www.academia.edu/5113669/_The_Playing_Fields_of_Empire_Empire_and_Space_in_Videogames

Stephen Beirne (2015) ‘Irish Travellers and American Blindspots’, Normally Rascal http://normallyrascal.com/2015/06/30/irish-travellers-american-blindspots/

Tauriq Moosa (2015) ‘Colorblind: on the Witcher 3, Rust, and gaming’s race problem’, Polygon http://www.polygon.com/2015/6/3/8719389/colorblind-on-witcher-3-rust-and-gamings-race-problem

Ulrich Schädler, Andrew Morris-Friedman (2003) ‘“Juden Raus!” (Jews Out!) – History’s most infamous board game’, Board Game Studies, vol 6 https://www.academia.edu/2149566/_Juden_Raus_Jews_Out_History_s_most_infamous_board_game

Various authors, Mark J. P. Wolf (editor) (2015) ‘Video Games Around the World’, The MIT Press https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/video-games-around-world

Vit Šisler (2008) ‘Digital Arabs’, European journal of Cultural Studies http://ecs.sagepub.com/content/11/2/203.abstract

Vit Šisler [Warrants another entry for their larger body of work, though too varied to list individually] http://uisk.jinonice.cuni.cz/sisler/publications.htm

French

Sybille Lammes, Sébastien Martinez Barat, Johan Hoglund, Mehdi Derfoufi (2009) ‘Le gaming postcolonial : géopolitique du jeu vidéo’ [Collection], Poli https://polirevue.wordpress.com/anciens-numeros/numero-1/

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Embassytown: Before the humans came we didn’t speak

Embassytown: Before the humans came we didn't speak

Artwork by Crush

This piece is community funded. If you enjoyed this article, please support my writing by visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron. 

You should first know two things about China Miéville’s Embassytown. One: it has a pullquote on the front cover from Ursula K. Le Guin branding it as “a fully achieved work of art”. Two: the back cover summary so confused me that I fled to the nearest young adult fiction, which happened at the time to be Railsea, as I was cornered by a small army of Miévilles as if in ultimatum.

Keep those in mind when I say, to talk about the structure of Embassytown is to juggle sand. It’s a wonderful, fascinating, elusive beast, in part because of a thematic richness to which I can’t do justice here, and in part because of its structural metacommentary on left-wing politics in colonial states, to which I can. It’s mainly elusive because of what the end of Embassytown says about the start of Embassytown. And since this is a book interested in describing the breach of a world-shattering status quo change, it’s elusive because in the fuzzy emotional space of newfound self-awareness, my mind four hundred pages ago is estranged to my mind now. Continue reading

A Manifesto on the Correcte Identification and Maintenance of Members to Our Deare Club

Manifesto for Our Club

Thee words hence are community funded. In the accident that one should wish to see them continued, one may support my work by attending my Patreon and becoming a patron.
Words and artwork by Stephen Beirne.

Long is thee day upon us in which we, my proud brethren and I, must dedicate oureselves in embarking upon the very right of our self-preservation. Equally long have we reclin’d indulgently, leading us directly to this trial, where we have allowed, through benign acquiescence, thee subtle march of undue women through our places of traditional refuge. As one does a curious sparrow through one’s garden windowe, we have watch’d with passivity as these troops inseminated our homes, our livelihood, with themselves, and oh now we taste, that veiled poison that is their traitorous minds.

For troops are these truly—an invading force of female spies, whom have arrived collectively in drips and drabs for the sole tactical purpose of subverting, and corrupting, the values upon which we predicate oureselves, my fellow brothers. Warring on not just thee fact of our identity, but our culture, our simplest values, basic and fundamental, for thee sole purpose of rattling from inside out our state of peace and brotherhood away from them, but waging unprovok’d battle out of spite and greed that we should be pleased without them.

Nevermore.

Though we count what ground they have won in yards, it is not yet lost forever to thee clutches of these wretch’d pursuers, say I; as with certain motives taken deep into our hearts may we regather our position to dispel those feminine colonists back to their hatefilled land of Gloome.

Together in the effort of my collective gentlemen, who shall remain unnamed, for the safety of themselves against the threat of their local females, this manifesto is publish’d in structuring thee affairs of our future comportment and self-identification, in protection against thee future risk of contamination, and outlining principle stratagem by which we may obstacle thee continued annexing of our peaceable homes.

Principles by which our Club may be Sanctify’d against the Female Horde

Principle 1 –

Prior to discerning thee propere character of our enemy, ‘tis of high priority we should establish means by which inclusion within our home may be ratified, by process of deduction from its innermost nature. Fortuitous so, that the time-honour’d integrity of our club brings forth time-honour’d marks by which members are accredited, through activities shared in our habit as establish’d by tradition. Pay heed to yesterday and yesterday’s doing, for these did us well in our youth.

Such it is, as we knew each other yesterday, so we will know each other tomorrow, through enjoyment of the activity of bygone times; for newcomers shall find these to be strange and foreign, having not the chance to grow accustom’d to their normalcy. Pay not attention to today’s occupancies which do not abide the custom of the respect’d past, their Goeth Homes and their Candy Crush Theses, for they certainly represent an alien spirit with absent care for their clear blaspheming.

Through lavishing objects of our preferences with thee quality of utmost integrity and validity, one casts in mental iron appropriate categories expect’d of the form of our sacred recreationals. A secondary effect of this, pertinent for tactics to follow, is to preclude as untrue any example befitting the soppy humours of the human female, which, one can later attest, is a division innate to the nature of the whole category, and therefore propere. By this we expel the females through ablution of thee medium, cleansing it from their touches of production and favoure.

Principle 2 –

Reput’d as is our club for its loose attribution of members, attract’d here only by the common love and appreciation of their oddity, so reject’d from society on no basis other than being who they are. Hold in oneself that this shall stay the heart of our community, by which we outcasts shall accept one another and others aside as our fellows and brothers, for struggle so as we do together in this cruel world. Open one’s heart to all finding their way here, be they familiar or unknown, friend or foe, on the sole ground of this mutual love of our activities, and say to them, let all men be welcome.

But beware thee female, that sly creature, whose present’d adoration is most commonly found as a falsification. Know the liar by thee ignorance she conceals, on the status and minutia of our preferred medium, proving her love as superficial and dubious.

Though tales are heard of some sincere female specimen, the wise brother should take great caution to interrogate each strange female to root out false applicants, as deduced by criteria establish’d in Principle One, or by the female’s declaration of taste for activities unusual within one’s doors. By this rule, should the female human respond to inquiries with an interest in foreign components, such as Le Sims, or the incorrecte part of any traditionally acceptable activity, one must cast her back in rejection, and mock her incessantly. One is oblig’d so in maintenance of the purity of our very identity.

Principle 3 –

Alas one may encounter a staunch brother, proven in sincere love for oureselves by his visible nature, yet having abandon’d the creed which is here set out, and taken up arms as comrade to the females against his very home. This sorry state becomes of those who seek too far the affexion of the feminine enemy, for the hunger in his loins overcame his senses, and so he turn’d native and now festers in their debauchery. No other cause is conceivable.

Refrain from combating our Fallen Brother, but instead regard him in pity, for his betrayal is despite himself a symptom of more female corruption. Lavish him with the title “White Knight”—a figure of great fame and moral integrity in eras past—for thee irony of such an accusation shall be instantly recognizable as scathing and wittiful. My brothers, your shocking words will seed within the Fallen Brother’s bosom for years to come, until one day it flowers, to toss him from his foul horny disposition and restore him to our place. Such is the great effect of the association of “White Knight” it is expect’d many a Fallen Brother shall return to us any day now.

Principles by which Females may be Expell’d from our Club

Principle 4 –

Having staked the ground and marking it as rightfully oures, with our urinations, we may now progress to the execution of thee active expression of our dispositions through open communication with the enemy, in reclaiming terrain lost to those swarming crawling womanly oppressors.

I say, have faith that the kindly prestige of our club shall protect oneself in this affair, for it is here both a shield and a sword. Many brethren have discovered, in exuding with confidence a pleasant demeanour, and lacking all presence of hostility and disgust for their reptilian lot, one may engage with a female in totale invincibility and sinlessness, as evidenc’d by one’s airs. Pretensed so, one is made unassailable by dashing the female’s lone chance for attack: her accusations of mysogyny, which, with no immediately obvious substantiation, dissipate harmlessly into the atmosphere as breath in the wind.

Coat’d in this benign armour, one may barrage any number of females, to politely demand a portion of their time and effort be dedicated, with respect, in attending a menu of arguments against their existence, which, it is known, no female can or has ever anticipated. For each civil inquisitor who joins in this venture, the female correspondent is obliged to commit words, such that a single female may be diligently peck’d with pleasantries by a flock of gentlemen, until she inevitably withdraws from exhaustion, with no risk to the gentlemen themselves.

A danger here resides: the actions noted above are perilous, for by their very nature a fellow may come to encounter the females, and may thereby be contaminated, as in Principle Three. Be forewarn’d not to dally, nor to perceive in writing or sound thee responses a female offers to one’s batterings, lest the snake’s words rid you of your senses.

Principle 5 –

Should the female refuse to engage one’s nattering in civil communication, by responding with edged tongue, or responding not at all, a facility is in place for this occasion. It is, in truth, a fortunate alternative, when thee manoeuvre outlined above proves too strenuous for a gentleman to maintain, as communication with females is understood as a notoriously trying affair for the duration that one masks one’s contempt.

For the civil inquisitor who tires of the act too early, and for the impatient gent whose sensitivity disallows him to even feign tolerance, drastic matters are to be undertaken. ‘Tis acceptable, in the case of an unruly or vocal female, to discard the shackle of civility and let loose on the fiend all manner of valid and correcte insults and recommendations.

Reference the correspondent with names of unsavoury and exotic beasts. Denounce her lineage as remov’d from thee noble houses, a likelihood in most cases, while reminding her of the improbability by which a suitor might validate her adult life. Relate a maxim once said by a popular comedy man. Thee cheekiest of fellows might insinuate themselves as favourable to thee female, and so are socially permit’d, when that generosity is invariably rebuked, to decorate yon wench with a counter-intuitive reputation.

‘Tis a most joyous pastime, best undertaken with a dry Riesling of one’s choosing, so do ensure one explores one’s best imaginations with regards one’s interjections.

Seized by a righteous frenzy, a fellow may then feel it propere to grow full hooligan, and turn his destruction onto thee privacy and livelihood of any female in proximity, being carnage unbound, for a female’s protective scales are as diamond against the emotional toil affect’d by this upon any normal human. I say then: pursue that whim. For the purpose now is to raze thee land, our rightful home, into as hostile and wretch’d an environment that only we approv’d gentlemen should wish to stay. No threat nor damage to property nor sanity is too far, for we are validat’d in our actions by thee moral high ground, predicating our standing, and presumably still held, or we have yet to recognize otherwise.

Recall, as motivation and comfort, that the female originally escalated the conflict in impressing herself upon our scenery, whereas before she was discrete. By this meter, that one merely reacts to a cause, compiled with the evidence of the target’s grotesque gender, one is absolv’d of any crime of character typically attribut’d of such heinous actions. Openly regard your deeds as harmless, naught more than mere words and prankstering, and know that this is wholly true, for our benevolence prevents us doing otherwise.

Nevertheless it is suggested, in guarding access to Principle Four should future need arise, for a fellow to place one horsehair moustache upon his upper lip, purchased in a shoppe for twopence, to conceal his identity. By this inscrutable disguise, social distance may be contriv’d between gentleman and hooligan, though they sometimes be one in thee same, so hence one may denounce thee latter character as suits to preserve thee honour of our fine club, with females none the wiser. Alike goldfish, the fey buffoons. This, again, deprives thee female horde an opportunity to admonish oureselves as misogynistic, which we maintain we are not, regardless of actions recently undertaken.

Principle 6 –

Finally, as loose a band of individuals we are, it is reasonable that we form organized contingents, and structure our innermost society contrary to its open nature. Never mind that, but obey in thee application of our combin’d force against thee unify’d female throng, for doubtless they are so connect’d in secret collusion, all together, thereby explaining their dominance over men.

Do not hesitate in this, for the females assuredly manifest our impending demise, already intimated as they are to our social betters, such that, with one word, a single female will set the ban to dozens of treasur’d activities. Oh the monstrous, writhing coven, they have us dead to rights! Pray fear them! They do outnumbere us!

With this now known and here proven, it is imperative for we to seek out new monarchs, to figurehead oureselves in opposition to the females’ similar rallying. Demonstrably bless’d by God are we, for such leaders come quick to mind in their multiplicity, and pre-exist theirs by years, and proclaim greater numbers of followers, such that our joint political power dwarfs thee efforts of even thee shrillest enemy gorgon.

Command’d so, only then may we celebrate our prized autonomy, the foundation of identity and self-adulation upon which our deare club is form’d. Brothers, clad yourself as soldiers, every one of you, in the uniform of an iconic character from yon popular pantomime, the Masked Gentleman Clown, for in modelling oureselves on a mime known for his political posturing, we shall most assuredly be accept’d in the vein of seriousness to which we aspire. Adopting this guise, we shall absolutely celebrate each of our identities, and bask in mimick’d respect of oureselves by virtue of thee visage of another.

I say to you now, already we find, scatter’d amongst thee vastness of our club, a legion of infantry beyond what we had dreamt. And outwards, to the society that shun’d us in our youth, supporters do rally to our cause in the clothes of dukes and monarchs, so likeminded are we, brethren in all, together against thee females. In those who outcast us we will find allies, for our differences are like thread to the bonds we share in hatred and fear of the new tourist. Reside not much longer on this point, but accept by my words that the female devil threatens all of civilization, but is, at the same time, no threat to our mighty civilization.

For ‘twas indeed our land before they scuttl’d in, and such with the certainty that our strength comes tenfold, one hundredfold, one thousandfold times theirs, know in your heart that we underdogs, we oppressed, shall prevail against thee feminine tyranny.

Irish culture is not a novelty hat

Some years ago, my ethics professor put the question to the class, “What does it mean to be Irish?”

I was bewildered. I’d never really left the country, or interacted with foreign or international communities in such a way that provoked me to reflect on my culture in a deliberate, conscious way. When I was growing up my dad had to take medication; I assumed it to be a normal thing that adults do, and that when I got to a certain age I’d have to do the same. You live in this state for so long it seems natural, inseparable from reality. It was the same with being Irish: I simply was Irish, always had been. There was no meaning to it, it just was.

Things are different lately. I’ve been a games critic for some years and I’ve had plenty of exposure to the outside world. I’ve been to countries where it’s warm. Every once in a while, especially around Saint Patrick’s Day, I’ve seen plenty of what it means to be Irish, at least according to other people, mostly Americans. I’ve been made to feet small and inconsiderable, as if the reality of me is irrelevant to their perception of an idea of me. So, because it’s largely not the Irish who command the conversation on what it means to be Irish, here’s me now.

I remember an episode of Johnny Bravo where he went to Ireland. Everything was overly-green (sure how else would you know) even though he never left Dublin. Someone shouted “Get out of that garden” at him, which I later learned was a thing Irish people are thought to say. He probably met a leprechaun. I was very young so it was endearing for the show to even bring him here. The exact same thing happened in Jackie Chan Adventures and The Simpsons and every other show ever made.

RTE used to run an ad for the cartoons they aired. Cartoon Network made these wonderfully edited marvels, so RTE tried their hand at the same. They had this one clip of Spider-Man saying “Irish stew”, over and over. Imagine that, Spider-Man said something about Ireland! It’s like suddenly being recognized by the other kids at school after four years of sitting at the edge of the classroom, which also happened to me.

I’ll be seventy years old and still that image of Spider-Man saying “Irish stew Irish stew Irish stew” will haunt me.

We import a lot of our films and TV shows and games from the UK and the US, so if these are the things you go to for fun it can be hard to find an Irish voice in your media. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was kind of nice for picking out the accents that seemed authentically Irish. Here was a lovely colourful game with people who sounded kind of like me! That novelty alone gave it some staying power. My patience has long worn thin for the presence of Irish characters in games at large, always derived from the ancient stereotype of a primitive drunken lout.

TheUsualIrishWayofDoingThings

It’s interesting that the caricature born out of sheer prejudicial oppression seems to have been taken up by its victims and internalized to such a point where it’s now considered a habit of pride, within Ireland as without. The reputation of the drunken Irish originated from emigrants who’d discover a taste for the drink as a coping mechanism against a country that didn’t want them there–until only comparatively recently Ireland was fairly moderate for alcohol consumption. It’s also worth noting what has not been exported alongside those prejudices: though we may be up there for alcohol consumption per capita, we’re number three in the world as tea drinkers, two spots above the UK. But tea drinking is seen as culturally sophisticated and clashes with loutishness, so we get internationally characterized as drunks and the Brits are characterised as posh.

So I nearly fell of my chair during BioShock Infinite. A bunch of poor folk are attacking a vending machine, I don’t know why, and one of them shouts “I’M HUNGRY BILL” in an accent I’m told is a brogue. I’ve never known anybody outside of my TV to speak in a brogue. I’ve heard a few stories of people on a visit to the US being told that their accent didn’t sound authentically Irish, which is the anthem of all American impressions of Irish culture.

You’re told from a young age that the country is small and fragile, but wonderful and powerful and great by virtue of its spirit. Oh the Irish have a fantastic reputation for their work ethic, from back when they fled from their occupied homeland and were happy enough to commit to hard work for pittance, so long as they were working. Like the phenomenon of a Saint Patrick’s Day parade, this concept has been reimported and internalized by the Irish people as a point of integrity, which is a nice way of saying we’re expected to toil for nothing. Enda Kenny and Bono and that lot are all for propelling that idiom forward of the laboured, enduring Irish people, as a pat on the head for having strangled us half to death. Still, the only thing we love more than a martyr is seeing ourselves martyred, especially if we can tut about it afterwards.

A joke: an Irish scientist has discovered the cure for begrudgery, but he wont tell anyone it.

Taking the piss out of something that is very serious is a national pastime here, as is moaning. It’s a normal, perfectly acceptable form of communication, born out of a need to cope with the misery that comes with having to live in Ireland. I say that with love. It manifests in exclamations of surprise and betrayal whenever it rains, which is every day. It manifests in how we people from the south remember our history and think about the north only ever in an abstract way, as another country with a separate culture to us, even if that’s completely unfair to the Irish people who live there. Oh thank christ there’s peace, sure haven’t we down here all gotten over that by now, but still, 700 years. The Irish are a fine example of existential absurdity.

I often see other game critics, or journalists really as they’re invariably employed, tilting their noses whenever a controversy lands one of their colleagues in hot water. They’re likely to say something along the lines of, “Oh, why is everyone so negative“, or, “How about being nice instead of criticising what you don’t like.” As if giving out about something is a disdainful thing to be doing with your time, as if you should feign their apathy and smile inanely because, at the end of the day, at least you are videogames. We are all videogames. I’m not sure where this oblivious font of cheerfulness comes from but it’s certainly not native to Ireland. No, ours is a different oblivious font of cheerfulness, the sort that comes out of being culturally bred to resign yourself to the thought of a lifetime of resignation. You tell your jokes and you moan your moan because sure at least you have that measure of control over your life. I’ve enough cultural pride to not stand for any denial of that.

Also not native to Ireland:

1. Lucky charms.

2. Pinching someone for not wearing green on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Saint Paddy’s Day has been exported to the US and reimported back here, and since the time of my youth it’s grown into a plastic grotesquerie, a racist joke about Irish people we honestly laughed at and took home and put on the wall. It’s the one day a year where “everyone is Irish” by virtue of wearing a big green felt hat and acting the maggot. At least, that’s what’s been taken to Dublin City. This year I attended the parade in Celbridge, a decent-sized town one commuting distance outside of the capital. I wore blue and black and got off pinch-free. From all the people I saw, less than half decorated themselves in green. It was a nice, sedate affair. There was a small handful of floats, mostly local businesses and community groups. The Men’s Shed had built a wishing well.

And there was a goat. I took a photo of it.

Saint Patrick's Day in Celbridge

There wasn’t an epidemic of pinching.

Originally, the whole ‘wearing of the green’ thing came about from the need for hedge schools. I’m probably going to butcher the history a bit so apologies in advance. The teaching of Catholicism was prohibited, so the people used to host discrete masses at the side of the road or in a ditch somewhere. Wherever they could organise it for. They’d wear a spot of shamrock to denote their participation with the religious activity since they couldn’t openly decree their practising of it, the shamrock symbolizing the holy trinity as Saint Patrick used it for. Having shamrock on your lapel was a symbol of solidarity with an underground community, a cultural resistance. So it wouldn’t have made sense for them to wander around cheekily pinching all the Protestants and getting themselves locked up.

The whole pinching thing is an American imagination, as are the voices they say are Irish, as are the characteristics they say are Irish. Even the Irish-American politics that they claim to be Irish are a decades-stagnated version of the politics here. The majority of the Irish people now support gay marriage, so this business of not letting them in the New York parade isn’t on us. Same with the backlash against inviting the PSNI, the Police Service of Northern Ireland. By no means do I speak for all people of the Republic, but near everyone I’ve spoken to has expressed but goodwill towards the north and sorrow at the thought of continued conflict. This notion of us sitting about reciting songs of oppression and making steely-eyed claims about getting the six counties back is an Americanism. It’s as unflattering and alienating of the Irish people as brashly stating that Americans are more Irish than the Irish themselves.

Although it’s nice and all how we’ve a spot in the heart of the US, there’s a fair amount of overwriting I see being done of Irish identities in the way we’re presented and discussed, or rather, in how we’re omitted from the discussion. Irish-American traditions subtly become ‘Irish traditions’, Irish experiences and identities are represented by a certain type of American experiences and identities. Irish heritage is shifted a few thousand miles westward in reference to this heritage. In passing, a couple of hundred years of Irish history are left out of the equation; the current snapshot of Ireland isn’t one of austerity but the same romantic 30-year-old Connemara postcard. The best way for young Irish people to find a job in Ireland is by leaving–Irish games writers have better luck finding work in London than they do here. When industry veterans say you need to be located in a city to work in this business, they don’t mean Dublin or Galway or Cork. Being a young-enough person in Ireland means I’ll never have an opportunity to attend GDC or E3, I’ll never have that option to network and build connections that I’m told is so vital to promoting my brand. I’ll never be able to work locally at the office of a large publication.

Few of these drawbacks are unique to Ireland, as opposed to other, less represented countries. However, this is seldom an issue I see brought up in the discussion of accessibility and diversity of representation in games criticism and journalism. What section of the field that constitutes English-language games criticism is tremendously centralised to a few global hotspots, privileging people with accessibility to these places over those located more remotely. Programs like livestreaming and archiving conferences, and giving speakers the option to pre-record their talks so they can contribute without having to be physically present, such as were available for last Sunday’s Critical Proximity, are vital for the decentralization of gaming’s critical culture.

For our part, at least let us have our moan.

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Flappergasted by Videogames’ Colonialism

Although Flappy Jam is premised on being a motion of moral support either towards the creator of Flappy Bird or to Flappy Bird itself, I wonder if its not further perpetuating the problems it thinks itself opposing. It’s a big jumbled knot we face in trying to find out what it thinks it’s attempting to say, what it’s actually saying, what’s provoked it to say that, and so on, because all the factors playing into its creation are of varying visibility and meaning. Perhaps a good way to untangle that knot would be to grab the nearest loose thread and follow it backwards.

So, it’s a game jam that uses certain rules and contexts to encourage political activism. The parameters Flappy Jam lays down are that submitted games must be near-impossible to play and their assets must be classically inspired. The implicit statement here is that it’s OK to make a game with either of these things, that it’s not shameful or inferior as an example of the medium, in protest to perceived cultural pressure that difficulty and derivation are objectionable. Putting aside the fact that you needn’t look deep into any videogame community to find the error there, such as how difficult games are traditionally labelled ‘hardcore’ and elevated to elite status, and how retro-aesthetic games are still quite fashionable, I suspect few people interpreted these as earnest contentions by opponents of Flappy Bird, nor the true cause of its creator’s ostracisation.

To be short on that point, there’s a neat and accessible rundown of the game’s commercial history by Christina Warren here, together with tidbits showing the creator’s increasing anxiety since it’s sudden boom of popularity late last Winter. Note one central platform for motivating scorn at Flappy Bird was a preposterous Kotaku article initially titled “Flappy Bird Is Making $50,000 A Day Off Ripped Art“, which I hope you’ll agree is safe to assume as having inspired the framing of Flappy Jam’s parameters. It’s a big messy affair resulting from rowing factions of many collaborating feelings, values, and perceptions; the best I can hope to do is suggest a broad social phenomenon as the causing factor, for although certain individuals may have contributed to the storm, I find it more to be a travesty of social weather.

Mattie Brice wrote that capitalism was the driving factor behind the blacklash, as it always is when gamers get in an uproar about something that might challenge the status quo. To this sentiment I would add colonialism as forever pivotal to the interests and behaviours of the videogame community-at-large. If capitalist values are the values that must be protected, colonization is the manner through which it will be done. It means cultural protectivism, insularity, centralization, elitism. It manifests as racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and so on. The hate against Flappy Bird bears remarkable similarities to that against Zoe Quinn or Feminist Frequency or Gone Home or Jennifer Hepler, for it’s much the same mentality spurring it on: a sense of protection over gaming as culturally owned by a certain group with certain values, with anything going against this group or these values thought alien or threatening. The horrible sexism of videogames is not wholly disconnected from the horrible racism of videogames.

Colonization isn’t just a mentality of aggressive ownership and expansion, it’s also a process, insofar as social and political phenomenon can inspire behaviours to abide by a pattern. As a process it’s characterized by treatment of the ‘foreign’ culture according to the rough stages of denial, destruction, belittlement, tokenism and exploitation.* It’s a flow of power that wants to obliterate anything in its way; if it can’t do that, the obstacle must instead be weakened and demeaned, then appropriated, co-opted and profited from. Political history has seen colonization stripping countries of their natural resources and people and wealth, but it’s also taken shape in the spread and control of cultural ideas, such as demolishing an entire people’s native religion and language and self-worth.

You might be looking at that and thinking where the exploitation of feminism comes in within the sphere of videgames, which is a fair thing to wonder. I’d hazard we’re seeing some of that already in the ways some major outlets stage feminism within their marketing strategies–Lana Polansky articulated it very well regarding Polygon in this podcas regarding the kyriarchy of Western cultures from which gaming inherits its social structure; undoubtedly these past few years have seen a shift in how quick most publications are to hone in on controversies of a sexist nature and benefit from their reporting, though very few have internalized feminism structurally.

Feminism is just one example of a threat to the cultural mores of gaming, however, though it’s one with an abundance of evidence to suggest a colonial nature of games press and communities. In the case of Flappy Bird, I see denial, destruction and belittlement, though for what reason other than colonialism I can’t fathom, given that here is an unknown Vietnamese developer making a casual game which attained stunning popularity through no marketing or purchasing of market manipulation. There’s a lot there going against the grain of what’s contrived as acceptable to the perceived common wealth.

Considering that the cold light of day reveals the supposed criticisms of Flappy Bird’s difficulty and use of assets as impossible tripe, of so little substance they couldn’t possibly carry a mob all the way to the front gate, they are more likely thin excuses to justify a desire to harass and belittle, a mask to hide behind from oneself. A game being bad or tough isn’t generally enough to incite such vile and rage in massive amounts. It’s normally coupled with some other inflammatory character, such as a person having the wrong gender, or looking slightly different, or perhaps they abided by a different understanding of the nature of the medium and its potential. In every single case, there’s an underlying motive that’s so deeply seated as to be presently immovable from the enraged person’s worldview. It’s usually dreadful and much, much bigger than the appearance of familiar art assets.

In this case, what does Flappy Jam achieve in its moral support? It mistakes the symptoms of a broader social ill as characteristic of the problem itself and recreates the ‘offending’ trait over and over, just to be cheeky really, to give the finger. As it was with Candy Jam and as it generally is with game jams of a protest nature: take some political stance that is preposterous and objectionable and antagonize it.

Except where Candy Jam was activism against corporate greed, with a very clear line drawn between something King.com wanted to stamp down on and a clear expression of resistance through celebration of that thing, it’s unclear how Flappy Jam offers moral support by opposing criticism of derivativeness and difficulty. Fundamentally, it’s making the assumption that these criticisms are what bothered the developer, and that copying his game and rebranding it over and over will satisfy him. (Though it’s not mandated in the Jam’s guidelines, many of the games submitted are in fact just rebranded copies of Flappy Bird.) Perhaps the idea is to show how it’s actually acceptable to make a derivative game if it’s made by the right people, to highlight the double-standard of the gaming press and community against ‘outsider’ developers**.

It is still the case, however, that the right people are stepping in to co-opt this game and redefine it to suit their ends, that this is a privilege they are entitled to, and they don’t challenge that privilege by exercising and entertaining it. Similar to how ironic sexism is really just more sexism.

Remember that tokenism and exploitation are further manifestations of colonization. While there certainly can be games successful in honouring Flappy Bird while presenting the above protest narrative, and games definitely have potential to be critical responses to something upsetting, they mustn’t be divorced from the social conditions in which they exist. Flappy Jam is a social structure informing and contextualizing its games; it’s a form of grassroots organisation towards a rhetorical goal, and to that end it has encouraged the twisting and reforming of Flappy Bird for the benefit of its participants. If Flappy Jam never existed and the same games came about naturally as a stand alone complex it might be another matter–it might be wonderful and benevolent and justified–but sadly that’s not the case. As it is, it’s an example of people rebranding someone else’s game and manipulating his personal narrative to fit their present use.

It’s souring that this is a cultural sphere colonizing something in supposed opposition to that same sphere previously colonizing that thing. Top this off with the traditional nature of game jams as opportunities for developers to get creative juices flowing, to self-serve and self-promote, and this particular game jam asks participants to have fun, it’s hard not to see Flappy Jam as irreverent and exploitative in form. Earlier this week, Aevee Bee insightfully said this of reportage on Flappy Bird:

“There’s nothing inherently different between this article and any other, except that it is misleading and ragemongering (as well as angermongering), which should be of no comfort because, by taking someone else’s story into your hands and making something out of it you are always, always going to be selling that person out.”

As well as I know that’s true of Kotaku’s articles and Flappy Jam, I fear it’s now true of me. This morning I had wanted to avoid writing anything, absolutely anything, on Flappy Bird, for despair of contributing to the state of games criticism as irrevocably in love with whatever’s trending. I see it as a symptom of gaming’s perpetual centralization of ideas and “what’s relevant”, because what’s relevant only ever feeds the machine or is wrung and misshapen until it does. It demands that we talk about the latest games, the most exclusive social affairs, the most prestigious expos and conferences, or be drowned out and irrelevant and frustrated. It privileges the wealthy and the well-located at the same time as it stunts the flow of ideas from more unknown games and unknown voices. It’s another colonial tactic.

Although I never wanted to add to the five hundred or so articles about Flappy Bird this week, I’ve found myself this way compelled in the hope that my message is justified despite having transgressed it. I’m contributing to the trend to try to break the trend. So, rather than leaving with my hands in the air, in the spirit of breaking the centralization of ideas and in replacing Flappy Jam with something less alarming, perhaps we could collectively redouble our efforts to share around and celebrate games made by ‘outsider’ developers, not just on one day but in general.

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*I’m taking these points from here because they seem fairly on the ball but I haven’t researched the source past that page.

**Imagined barriers are still barriers.