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a closed mind

the games press has been really excited about this game called a closed world, a game about the experience of being “LGBTQ” and dealing with oppression! of course, christine love, robert yang, stephen lavelle and i have been making games about being queer for YEARS. why does a closed world get the big press?

because it’s not challenging. i’m not referring to the game’s difficulty, although you can’t ever lose the game. what i’m talking about is that in a closed world, homophobia is an rpg monster that you defeat using skills like ETHICS and PASSION. it’s not a complex system of interwoven and often subtle oppressions. it’s not the reason most of the trans women i know are on food stamps. it’s a bad guy, and you kill it, and you win.

it doesn’t ask straight people to acknowledge their own privilege. at the end it gives you some shallow, non-threatening message about how WE’RE ALL THE SAME (so the next time some queer is complaining about how she can be fired from her job with no legal repercussions because she identifies as a gender other than the one her boss decided she was, feel free to ignore her UNIQUE-SNOWFLAKE whining). a site like gamasutra can post about this game, then rest its little head and drift off to the sound sleep of one who has done their duty to ensure that videogame culture is a safer, more inclusive place to be lesbian gay bisexual transgendered queer, instead of having to think about the ways in which the corporate and player cultures of videogames are hostile to queers, to take any responsibility for trying to change that, or to acknowledge or give press time to the incredibly personal works that queer game designers are making every day.

well, if making a shallow game about rpg-battling homophobia is what gets a queer designer press, then here’s mine. click to play A CLOSED MIND. owls and crickets provided by dobroide on freesound.

39 comments

  1. none wrote:

    I think I liked you better when you were a game maker first and an angry dyke second.

    10/5/2011 at 4:57 pm | permalink
  2. auntie wrote:

    there has never been such a time.

    10/5/2011 at 5:00 pm | permalink
  3. Bagels wrote:

    Yup, Closed World was swallow and yeah, someone really should have pointed that out instead of mindlessly applauding it. Not surprising though, we live in a world where Call of Duty 4 won a BAFTA. Wish someone would do for us what Ramses did for awkward teenagers.

    10/5/2011 at 6:38 pm | permalink
  4. leigh wrote:

    anna.

    gamasutra — no hey wait, i — wrote about that game to let the designers talk about how complex they found the issue and what they saw the limitations of their effort to be. i don’t think anyone is fawning on it as some kind of definitive statement. i mean, at least i’m not, and i am the only outlet you call out explicitly here so i figured i should answer.

    the game isn’t about fighting homophobia, anyway it’s a short, intern-made stylized sketch that depicts -some aspects- of the search for self in the context of community. the team chose to focus on broad-stroke issues and given that it was made in the academic environment the goal is that it can get, say, classrooms of adolescents talking about the idea that gender is a socially-restrictive concept.

    in this game, your ‘sweetheart’ is always socially-expected to prefer a gender that isn’t yours, no matter what you pick. everyone’s androgyny is emphasized. i think it is a good starting point for encouraging straight people to acknowledge their privilege.

    it’s one single attempt at answering what’s a massive design problem in the eyes of a normative audience.

    i admire your anger so much, but efforts designed to be understandable by your average person do not take away from the unflinching, honed work you do and aren’t mutually exclusive from your work and sometimes i wish you saw it in those terms — i.e multiple voices create a positive landscape versus one correct way to do it, etc.

    i wish you didn’t feel it was a zero sum game, you know?

    meanwhile if you’re wondering why less decisive, more tepid and friendlier games get more mainstream press i think it’s probably because you scare us by saying we’re idiots all the time.

    brb back to writing column about your carnivorous lesbian dating sim <33333

    10/5/2011 at 6:41 pm | permalink
  5. auntie wrote:

    i probably singled out gamasutra because i guess i’m like impressed that kotaku could get through a whole article on this game without using the word “fag?”

    leigh, you are basically outright saying GEE ANNA, IF YOU WEREN’T SO SCARY YOU’D GET MORE PRESS. and that’s where this game came from, really, the frustration that queer games need to be non-threatening in order to get heard, in an artistic and cultural landscape that desperately needs more queer voices. i guess you already know that i have a poor attitude towards compromise.

    10/5/2011 at 7:08 pm | permalink
  6. leigh wrote:

    it’s not that the games need to be non-threatening, but you deliberately challenge a completely uninitiated audience with aggressive self-expression when i think most of them have yet to even be exposed to the building blocks of what you want to say. most people are zero, you’re sixty. most need a little bit of 35mph before they can appreciate your road.

    i am absolutely not advocating you dilute yourself. you set the pace, you create a goal. i would absolutely hate for you to compromise. it just always strikes me as curious: you are overtly frustrated with the limitations of considering a mainstream media and gamer audience; you respond by owning your own segment of the field, but then you still seem unhappy that they won’t meet you here.

    part of the job of the press is to translate complex things for a wide audience. in that regard the job of the press is to dilute.

    furthermore, you’re scary not because of anything to do with ‘queer games’ or anything like that. it’s because you are that combination of 99th percentile high-level with an aggression that doesn’t accept compromise. to try to speak for you — or on your behalf, or even on the behalf of the values you want us to express — is a losing proposition in terms of you being pleased with the result.

    you still write about your work better and more purely than any member of the press could. all people like me can do for you is try to advocate and propagate a climate where people who are ready for more seek you out.

    or where maybe your portfolio stands as part of a gradient and not as some foreign extreme. raising the low end and the middle helps with that. i’ve always viewed it as a long and often-tedious information campaign, not a grand and brilliant coup.

    i don’t think it will be like this forever.

    10/5/2011 at 7:35 pm | permalink
  7. Vanishing wrote:

    Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. When they actually acknowledge a game about queer issues, you get mad at them for it not being a game to your tastes (i.e. basically because it’s not a game by you). This whole argument is made all the more bizarre because you and Christine Love definitely get loads of press on your games, Stephen Lavelle too, occasionally. You’re such a fucking attention whore, “Oh no, they wrote about somebody who is doing things in the same genre/theme/whatever as me, but they didn’t mention me!!! RAGE!!!”

    10/5/2011 at 8:22 pm | permalink
  8. Vanishing wrote:

    Also Leigh please stop the ass-kissing, Anna is wrong and it’s OK for you to say it…

    10/5/2011 at 8:25 pm | permalink
  9. leigh wrote:

    You say “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” and then call me an ass-kisser if I’m showing someone respectful disagreement?

    I think I did, actually, say she’s wrong, unless your reading comprehension needs a little nurturance. How am I supposed to suggest she be more diplomatic without being diplomatic myself?

    If it’s “OK” for me to simplify my reaction and be hostile when someone’s wrong, then fuck you for “attention whore”, by the way. That’s one of the most gender-hostile things you can say to women speaking up for themselves. Real useful contribution to the discussion here.

    10/5/2011 at 8:54 pm | permalink
  10. muteKi wrote:

    You know what? I think they’re on to something here.

    You know what you should do, Anna?

    You should make a game in which you’re an angry video game developer, and you have to smash all the deeply-entrenched elements of bad design and stupid philosophy that permeates the professional development market. Maybe with a slingshot.

    Put it on the Apple Store.

    The only thing I worry is that by actually making it a clone of Angry Birds, you jeopardize the sort of message that the game would try to send. On the other hand I suppose it IS a very accessible title at this point.

    10/5/2011 at 9:04 pm | permalink
  11. Vera wrote:

    I was going to complain about the victory text going away too quickly so you didn’t have a chance to see the result, then I remembered Closed World did the same.
    After all, that’d give the player a chance to reflect on what’s happening rather than just mashing the attack button until a cutscene pops up to say “homophobia is bad mmkay?”

    10/5/2011 at 9:24 pm | permalink
  12. Me wrote:

    Well, sorry, but in my run through the game I got a heterosexual protagonist and lover and a homosexual community, didn’t quite realize it until late in the game, and thought that was a pretty powerful effect, because (at least in my case) the reaction was “*gasp* wait, they’re destroying a HETERO relationship! GRR! GENUINE ANGER RESPONSE SUDDENLY! …fuck jesus am I that fucking bigoted I mean fuck I’m a guy who’s into guys even *self-examine self-examine*”

    So nope sorry don’t agree.

    10/5/2011 at 11:51 pm | permalink
  13. Kenneth Hoyt wrote:

    Sour grapes much? One things success doesn’t reflect on your success, and not everything has to be exactly the way you envisioned it.

    10/6/2011 at 2:10 am | permalink
  14. kateri wrote:

    As part of GAMBIT, isn’t A Closed World basically a student project? Yes, it’s trite, unsubtle and unrealistic in some ways. So is a lot of the stuff that gets made by students, since they’re still learning their craft, experimenting with ideas and suchlike. Constructive criticism is great, but can we cut them a little slack, here?

    If these are the folks going on to work in the games industry in the future, I’m happy this is the stuff they are examining and experimenting with, even if not all the experiments are 100% successful.

    10/6/2011 at 2:13 am | permalink
  15. Alex wrote:

    a closed world is really incredibly lame and your parody is funny

    but everything else in your post is really dumb fuck you

    10/6/2011 at 7:48 am | permalink
  16. Anna,

    As one of the artists who worked on ‘A Closed World’, I would just like to say that I’m happy that you took the time to play the game, even if you found it shallow and (at the very least) un-fun.

    I can’t speak for the rest of my team, but I knew that it was going to be difficult to tell a story that was personal enough to go beyond a surface-level exploration of these issues, and whether or not we succeeded is up to anyone who plays the game to decide.

    What I can say though, is that I’m glad that gay and trans-gender issues in games are at least being discussed, perhaps as a direct result from the press our game and others like it have received. Hopefully it will be to some good.

    10/6/2011 at 9:01 am | permalink
  17. Pavitra wrote:

    For some reason this eats up huge amounts of my cpu and the spinning flashing animation is super slow. Is that on purpose?

    10/6/2011 at 9:45 am | permalink
  18. Allison wrote:

    Well… I have to say, for someone that creates an interesting way to fight back at the Michigan “Womyn” festival for outing and harassing trans-women, this post comes off as the same anger that inspires the harassment in the first place.

    That’s a shame. Then again, I also clearly don’t have the same rage towards things. Still, as a trans-woman myself, I’m also disappointed because I liked a Closed World. I thought it was a good start for a student project. Some subjects have to be treated ambiguous at the start, for the very reason that the subject matter is ambiguous at best. The whole point of fighting for LGTBQ rights involves trying to drive home the point that the world is not as black and white as the “Normal, hetero” world tries to make it.

    So you counter a grey-area game about a grey-area subject with… a black and white rebuttal.

    You make great games… I just doubt your political message making, is all.

    10/6/2011 at 1:41 pm | permalink
  19. auntie wrote:

    “this post comes off as the same anger that inspires” someone to post a bunch of women’s pictures online and call for them to be harassed?

    WOW, I’M GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE ISSUE WITH THIS STATEMENT. yes, i’m angry. maybe better than is good for me? i made a game about michfest, which is horrible, and i made a game about some student game about being gay, which is merely shallow. there’s obviously a difference between these two things and maybe it didn’t come off this way. i feel a little silly now about allowing myself to get angry about a closed world.

    but so what? my critique still stands. i think the game trivializes oppression. i still think games journalists are going to use the game as their token gay rpg and then pass off the rest of their responsibilities to the subject. NOT YOU OF COURSE LEIGH, because sexuality in games is something you actually care about.

    i hope everyone who worked on this game doesn’t call the subject finished and goes on to make more personal, complex games about the experience of being queer or being anything in a hostile world. i hope they do great things instead of getting swallowed by the industry’s corporate culture.

    10/6/2011 at 2:49 pm | permalink
  20. Kenneth Hoyt wrote:

    Sort of wish I just played your games and never started reading about them

    10/6/2011 at 4:07 pm | permalink
  21. Hamish wrote:

    thank you anna. it’s an embarrassing to see people hold up a jrpg as if it would be able to explore this issue. again.

    for too long, developers have been pretending to tackle difficult themes by dressing them up with shallow mechanics. games that do this should not impress us any more, especially when they’re being made by people who are missing the opportunity to express something real. if the game happens to have outstanding pixel art, so much the worse. the artists shouldn’t be encouraged to continue wasting their time and talents.

    the fact that it was made by students is absolutely no excuse. some of the best games of all time have been made by students. in this case they seem to have had far more capabilities than most indies do. if they had had any interest in the language of video games, they could have made something genuinely interesting.

    10/6/2011 at 4:10 pm | permalink
  22. “i hope everyone who worked on this game doesn’t call the subject finished and goes on to make more personal, complex games about the experience of being queer or being anything in a hostile world. i hope they do great things instead of getting swallowed by the industry’s corporate culture.”

    In regards to this: while the specific team of 9 students isn’t going to be coming together, and I can make no guarantees that my proposal for the coming summer will be accepted (we only take 5-6 out of the considerably more that apply), I can say that I have every intention of trying to make a different game in the next summer project that builds on the successes and failures of this one, which is why I find critique valuable, and why the students who DID make this game care about it as well.

    As for Team Fabulous themselves, if they go on to careers in games with a heightened awareness because they worked on this project, I think that’s a good outcome regardless.

    10/6/2011 at 5:01 pm | permalink
  23. matt w wrote:

    Hamish, if I don’t follow that link (partly because it’s PA, mostly because I don’t want to watch a video), is there a nickel summary about what’s going on there? thankyouverymuch.

    10/6/2011 at 5:30 pm | permalink
  24. Hamish wrote:

    it’s an extra credits video that praises the presence of two queer characters in persona 4.

    extra credits are a lot like team fabulous: they could be well meaning, but they have silly priorities.

    10/6/2011 at 5:46 pm | permalink
  25. matt w wrote:

    Thanks!

    I haven’t played Persona 4 (and don’t play games like that in general), but I suspect you would not like the first sentence of this article.

    10/6/2011 at 5:50 pm | permalink
  26. Hamish wrote:

    urgh. no, i don’t. but the second sentence is humble at least: “his existence is a small and positive move forward toward a more socially diversified gaming universe” – this is actually true. a similar thing could even be said of “a closed world”. but it’s all symptom-treating.

    10/6/2011 at 6:12 pm | permalink
  27. Mike wrote:

    I love that I get to live in a world where when people get angry, they can make a game about it before the anger even wears off.

    10/6/2011 at 7:57 pm | permalink
  28. Praveen wrote:

    Hi Anna,

    As the game designer on Team Fabulous, just wanted to chime in with some thoughts on our game – also, much love for the parody!

    I agree that the game is simple, and to that end it has many faults because of it. Sexual identity is a complex issue, and for the longest time we struggled to find the best way to represent it to it’s fullest. Unfortunately, we had time constraints and many others to work with as well, so the end product wasn’t everything we wanted either.

    We eventually went with one of the simpler (yet important) aspects of sexual identity as the core of the game because we wanted to make a game that EVERYONE could take something away from. Sure, that makes the result feel a bit watered-down for some, but for most, we hope that it’s a gateway into the more complex regions of the subject matter – where games such as yours would lie waiting to be discovered.

    Given more time, maybe we could have done something more in-depth and layered. But, as Kevin said earlier, at least our efforts have got people talking about the subject matter, so it’s something :-)

    All the best with your future projects!

    10/6/2011 at 8:26 pm | permalink
  29. Are you outing the Black Mage?

    10/6/2011 at 11:22 pm | permalink
  30. Jake wrote:

    What bugs me about this game (closed world) is the goddamned small town midwest queer sob story that it ultimately is is totally unrelatable to me and my experience with sexuality. And I know I’m not a special case. This is “lgbtq-friendly” only in a world where the lgtbq community hasn’t evolved past the seventies or something.

    10/9/2011 at 8:53 am | permalink
  31. Vanishing wrote:

    Leigh, I reacted because Anna is a complete asshole and your response came across as a bit too much “oh I’m so sorry I exist, I’m probably wrong BUT…”

    Is “attention whore” gender-hostile? I didn’t say it to refer to Anna’s gender and I would have used it irregardless of it. I’ve never ever heard anybody refer to it in the way you did (I even googled, only found this blog) but if it’s there’s consensus it’s one of those expressions best avoided, I’d avoid it. But for now, I’ll say fuck you for telling me to fuck myself over a word it seems you decided on the spot is sexist or oppressive or whatever.

    10/12/2011 at 11:52 pm | permalink
  32. auntie wrote:

    yeah, no one has ever read “whore” as a gendered word before today.

    10/13/2011 at 12:39 am | permalink
  33. C wrote:

    Of course, ‘lesbian spider queens on mars’ tackled issues of gender identity with much more depth.

    Auntie, you really are the Martin Luther King of not-quite-gay trans-trans-gender male-lesbian game designers everywhere.

    (sarcasm ends here)

    I think you wave the queer banner for an excuse to have a rant – unfortunately at the expense of others. In this case, a game was made by people who were making a genuine attempt at exploring new ground, and you gave them an earful.

    I think your game theory articles are interesting, but this was childish.

    10/14/2011 at 12:49 pm | permalink
  34. daphny wrote:

    they responded to the earful way more thoughtfully than you did c

    10/14/2011 at 9:18 pm | permalink
  35. Two game designers have a thoughtful and nuanced conversation about the battle between approachability and passion representing a minority issue, and how it relates to the mainstream industry. Other commenters precede to throw around slurs and shout at the top of their lungs while decrying those in the conversation as “attention seekers”. Good job, trolls.

    Leigh and Anna, thanks for the commentary. It was very insightful regarding both approaches to queer exposure. It’s possibly to critique something without calling it evil or saying you hate it, and without calling the creator a horrible person or a hack.

    Any creation has a life and a personality outside of the environment and artist’s intent that spawned it, and it’s worth critiquing that end result. A work’s impact is often quite different than the original intent. This kind of dialogue is sorely needed in the industry.

    10/15/2011 at 3:55 pm | permalink
  36. MKS wrote:

    It’s hard to fictionalize these experiences of ours because to be truly alive and sexual is to follow one’s bliss without giving in to the lies of ‘culture’, which is really just other people (which includes governments, corporations, SIG) going ‘follow my way which is based on my experiences’.

    10/15/2011 at 7:40 pm | permalink
  37. Dollywitch wrote:

    I posted these on Christine’s blog responding to this, originally, but I think you should see it too:

    ” I’ve showed DTIPB to some young gay/lesbian friends of mine, and it did seem to speak to them on some level… it might not be “about” being gay in a sense, but sometimes when you make something like that it comes off as too preachy rather than showing how things work in a wider context.

    When I set out to make Celestial Knight Iris I wanted to create something where a Trans person was in a positive role, and dealth with issues of gender and sexuality, but it’s underlying plot wasn’t necessarily “about” them. If you create a trans person in something that’s all about trans, it’s hard for that character to become a “hero” to anyone except a few trans people.

    You can sometimes reveal more about an issue when you show how it occurs in a particular setting driven by other issues – showing how queer people and their issues “Interact” the world, affect it and be affected. Actually, that’s sort of part of the theme too. Making something that only deals with queer issues usually means only dealing with the obvious queer issues, rather than playing out how it works in a variety of situations.

    If you watch Extra Credits’ series on “Diversity”, (sexual diversity etc.) they come to the same conclusion from a different point.

    If you really want to reach the mainstream, I don’t think you have to compromise all that much but you have to present it in a context where people who aren’t specifically interested in LGBT issues can still engage themselves in character & a plot. Series like “Hourou Musuko” are very valuable too, but it’d be nice if the mid way point I’m talking about existed – in a sense it would weaken segregation between “Pro-LGBT” works and issues that are more oblivious of those issues.”

    “If you think about it in terms of race – which POC characters are more likely to become “heroes” to white people? A black person in a movie that deals entirely about african american issues, or one who stills deals with those issues in a wider context, such as a typical high octane action movie? Even the movies that do deal primarily with those issues, such as “Do The Right Thing”, still rely on not being overly “preachy”(I don’t like that word, but I’m using it as short hand for being overly up front), using a lot of typical comedy tropes to endear the viewer to the character. Using European characters that are more “relatable” to white people probably helped too – and didn’t detract from dealing with African American issues – if anything, it helped – going back to what I said about presenting such issues in a wider context, interacting with different kinds of people.

    We can all understand the idea of adversity to some degree. This is probably one reason why X-men is so popular – it presents itself in the framework of a familiar superhero comic. It has good guys and bad guys beating each other up, and they interact with some of those familiar superheroes and villains from time to time.In a sense, perhaps they had the right idea, for different reasons, of presenting this game in the familiar framework of a JRPG – they came to a similar conclusion to what I did, but went about it in the wrong way. You present the themes and issues in a familiar context, rather than reskinning the context with just the themes.”

    10/17/2011 at 2:59 pm | permalink
  38. IE wrote:

    This page is published in the latest issue of Game Developer Magazine(Jan 2012 Vol. 19 page 58-59). The creator of A Closed World is interviewed and he mentions your “parody”. All I can say is it’s quite embarrassing reading some of these comments. Many of you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    BTW Anna – did you ever figure out how to use a shower?

    1/6/2012 at 7:25 am | permalink
  39. auntie wrote:

    what kind of half-assed “zinger” is that supposed to be?

    are you trying to say i smell … over the internet??

    1/6/2012 at 11:41 am | permalink

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