Sunday, 26 October 2014

(SATIRE) Write a Gamasutra article: Why we won't be exchanging our megaphone for a sound card

(Trigger Warning: The article below contains satire and is therefore unsuitable for anyone who has a low tolerance to topical humour. Some claim that it was liberated from the Gamasutra mainframe by pro-GamerGate activists and is currently being held chained to a radiator at an undisclosed location. Others say that it was written in the early hours of a Sunday morning by a man clothed in only his underwear, who hasn't checked his privilege in years. We present the piece unedited and leave it to the informed reader to make up their own minds as to which of the two scenarios is the more likely).

Why we won't be exchanging our megaphone for a sound card: A plea for common sense

Video games provide ample opportunities for learning through play. These lessons can be good or bad, depending on the nature of the game and whether the player is of the bigoted classic gamer normo-type, or has adopted the enlightened values of the gamer plus model.

Super Mario Bros 3 teaches us that the patriarchy achieves its goal of rescuing a dis-empowered princess through cumulative acts of cruelty, such as jumping on turtles. By engaging in responsible ethical gameplay and encouraging others to do likewise (avoiding jumping on turtles, or even shunning games that present this activity as an opportunity for advancement) we can rewrite entrenched gameplay narratives and see them reborn as positive tropes.

The lessons that are learned from being good virtual citizens (Vitizens) can be taken back into society. This is already happening: Privilege Chess is a socially progressive variant on chess, in which armies made up of oppressed board game pieces throw off the identities that previously limited their movements, and band together against a privileged white CIS chess army. The game has its roots online but, thanks to funds raised through Kickstarter, real-life sets have been produced and there is now a thriving tournament scene operating in the bay area of San Francisco. It is well worth mentioning that in every game of Privilege Chess that has been played so far, the traditional white army has had its privilege not only checked, but checkmated.

Amidst all of this progress and positivity there remains one looming problem facing video games that has, so far, been unaddressed even by the more enlightened developers and commentators (come on guys, keep up!): That is the issue of sound privilege.

Too often ambient sounds in games are nuanced, ambiguous and lacking a coherent message. Put simply, sound in games provides neither positive or negative feedback in response to a player's moral choices. Something is badly amiss in the gaming industry when sound is used primarily as a means of providing environmental cues, rather than to communicate to a player when they have done something wrong.

Consider the following example: The player wakes up on a desert island. Small waves break upon the shore. The fringing jungle undergrowth seethes with the sustained chirping of cicadas. Nearby, but unseen, we can hear the rumble of a patrolling tank. What message is being conveyed here? War is bad? We need to do more to save the oceans? What effect would these disparate sound effects have, for example, on impressionable young boys who are fated by their toxic gender-identities to download the schematics of Challenger Tanks from the internet and then build working reproductions in their parents garages?

At Gamasutra we don't use sound cards. When we want to hear what a game has to say for itself we opt for a megaphone plugged into a consenting USB port. (Gaining informed consent from USB ports can be achieved by writing to the manufacturer of your computer, or, where that is not known, through your local police department. More guidance, along with the relevant forms, can be found elsewhere on our site).

A sound card is a disseminater of amoral or morally-ambiguous babble. A megaphone is always on message, delivering explicit moral judgement at a deafening volume, in the dispassionate, genderless tones of an authoritarian robot. There are no degrees of light and shade; only stark black and white, mimicking the all-seeing glare of a searchlight and the comforting looming shadow of ranked riot police, ever ready to step in and take whatever measures are necessary to restore order.

Going forward, Gamasutra pledges a universal boycott on all sound cards, and the principled adoption of megaphones when undertaking game reviews. We hope that, having read this piece, you will follow our example.

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