You know, it’s been quite a long time since I made a blog post. I wasn’t too sure how to feel about it at first, but then I realised I didn’t like it. This is the very front of my site and it’s not being updated? That doesn’t look cool.
So I thought “I should make a new blog post”, but I didn’t have anything much I wanted to say. So I thought, “Maybe a blog post can be totally pointless.” and it turns out I’m totally fine with that!
If you read this, you wasted your time, but at least my blog has a recent post on it, isn’t that nice!
Recently, people decided that a new way to justify their absurd hatred of Phil Fish was to say it was wrong of him to call out youtubers who display game content and call it stealing.
“If you generate money from putting my content on your channel, you owe me money. Simple as that”
Now OF COURSE this is totally wrong because… actually, wait a minute… maybe there’s something to this? Something we ought to look into? You know, maybe let’s think about stuff before we do our best to make someone miserable?
YouTube and Video Games:
It’s probably news to nobody that you can make money by recording gameplay of a videogame and throwing it on youtube. YouTube throws up adverts next to your video and sends you some cut of the money from that. But whose work are you profiting from? Is it your own? Is it the game developers’? Perhaps some muddy mix of the two?
If we removed the “game” aspect from the equation, it would certainly be problematic for youtubers to do. Very few people would have a good time trying to justify taking artwork/music/animations/etc someone else made, putting it online and making money from them without having something worked out with the creator. There is plenty of criticism for sites that steal artwork/comics from artists’ own websites and earn money without the artist seeing a penny, doing that is an easy way to get recognised as an asshole.
But the same isn’t true for games, sure if it was just artwork, or music that was being taken and profited from there would be problems, but people seem fine with it when that stuff comes from a game. If we remove the ability for people to play a game and put the rest in a video, do all of the game’s non-interactive elements become worthless? Is it OK to use my textures, my 3D models, my audio work, my writing, etc as you please just because you can’t “play” with them anymore?
I’ve seen plenty of people argue that sprite-ripping and the like is bad, especially for commercial work… but somehow that argument disappears if instead of putting those game assets in another game, you put them in a video. At least sprite-rippers usually try to mix things up a bit, but in these youtube videos the content is copied direct from the game. Content which doesn’t materialise out of thin air and attach itself to gameplay – it takes real work to build every aspect of a game. I’d like to think all the effort that goes into writing dialogue, designing characters, building models, setting up lighting, painting textures, animating monsters, mixing audio, recording foley, authoring particle effects, and so on (and on and on and on…) does not become worthless the moment it isn’t attached to one other aspect of a game (the “gameplay” in this case). How much of this stuff does the youtuber have the “right” to make money from, without a thought for the people who did the work of making it in the first place?
It’s certainly not absurd to think that the people who do this work, might react much the same way as any non-game creator would react if their novel/comics/art/music/whatever was taken by someone else and used for profit without any consideration.
But gameplay videos are different right? The person playing the game is doing some creative thing that sets the recording apart and makes it unique… right?
I say no. Here’s a thing many people don’t know about gameplay; the game developer designs that too. To an extent that might surprise a lot of players in fact. Every action a player can do in a game is enabled and afforded by the game’s developers. No less crafted than character portraits, the old castle level’s architecture, the way footsteps echo when you walk through that one bit of the map. It’s a popular perspective that what exists as the “game” is a thing created through the combination of a player and the game, but in reality this is no different to a reader and a book, a viewer and a movie. A player’s actions are within our scope of crafting because they are largely reactions; We decide when you are surprised, we decide when you are inclined to push on, we point you down the paths you follow, we decide when you find things more difficult, we decide when you die (in the game that is, I’m not making a threat :P). And this isn’t just ‘grand’ actions, it comes down to each and every frame – we decide how things move from one moment to the next, we account for every possible input and decision a player can make in a game and tell the game what to do under those conditions.
Certainly, some games are great mediums for a player to express their creativity, a quick and simple example would be players making their own structures in minecraft. And there are things we can go and have a discussion about like finding the optimal playset in a game so complex a developer must constantly re-balance as new plays are discovered, or we could talk about things like exploiting bugs and so on.
But all the same, those systems used were crafted by someone. Crafted in a way requiring no less skill, effort and dedication than learning to paint or compose or sculpt or whatever.
Even if you want to discount that (though I’d rather you didn’t), and argue the gameplay “belongs” solely to the person playing the game at the time of recording – the entire rest of the game is still most certainly the valuable work of someone else. And they ought to have some say in how it is used, and most certainly ought to have some say in how it’s monetised.
But where is the harm?
When I brought some of this up on twitter, plenty of folk felt the very strong need to tell me youtube videos of games is good for games. It’s “free exposure!”, and it “leads to more sales!” after all. But this is certainly not true in even the vast majority of cases, and the youtubers this is said to be true of, tend to make far more money than the game developers whose work they use, but most importantly, it’s beside the fucking point.
The point being that a person who does some work on a thing ought to get a say in how it is used. It’s about respecting the people who craft games (including everything that makes up a game) and the things they craft themselves.
And let’s not forget that “free marketing” is not always something that is desired. Plenty of us have a hell of a lot of dislike for various aspects of marketing, sometimes even the concept of marketing itself. Assuming everyone is a fan of the exact same model of capitalism that you love is inconsiderate to say the least, and not letting people have a say in how their own work is “marketed” is bullshit.
But hey, let’s assume that developers don’t deserve a say in any of it. Let’s assume that taking their work and putting it in videos is valuable marketing that any developer would want. We can do as we please so long as we can argue that what we do will send some money to the developers, right?
It’s a shame you can’t really argue that though, since the draw of a lot of games are the story, of experiencing something for the first time, of the artwork, of the music, of how the game explores a theme. A gameplay video spoils almost every aspect of a game besides the part where you are the one pressing buttons, which is very often not the most valuable part of a game. Plenty of people can watch a gameplay video, appreciate the work that has gone into the game, but have no need to play it having taken everything of value already.
But hey, fuck all this stuff! Fair use right? FAIR USE!
Yep, this is about when we get to the legal discussions, if we can’t argue that youtubers are right in using other people’s work without consideration the next step is arguing “hey, maybe it’s wrong, but if it’s legal than they should do it.” or at the least, that if it’s “legal” it can’t be wrong (I shouldn’t have to explain why that is a bullshit perspective).
I am not a lawyer… but hey, neither were the people making these arguments to me so let’s continue shall we?
First up, fair use is something many people bring up, but what they think it is and what it actually is tend to be quite different things. It’s not a license to profit from someone else’s work so long as you can put up some seemingly reasonable justifications for it – it’s a set of considerations to take into account when there is a copyright dispute. It’s also strictly a U.S. legal issue, sure there are various equivalents in various places, but we are an international community so don’t act so surprised that some people will call bullshit on your own so-called “fair use”. In general though, if you reproduce large portions of a work without any consideration/licence and make money from that you’re going to have a tough time arguing fair use.
So what’s next? Derivative work of course!
People talk over the top of these game recordings, and sometimes bookend them with branding for their particular youtube channel too. So these videos are original work belonging to the youtuber, right? It doesn’t matter what the original developer says and the youtuber can do as they please!
Except that’s not quite the purpose recognition of derivative works is supposed to serve, as best as I can tell it’s meant to protect both the original author and the author of the newer work, it doesn’t look much to be about stripping the original author of their rights.
In truth, I don’t understand this level of copyright law all that well, since this stuff is not straightforward and intersects with a bunch of other copyright issues and if you’re not well read in all of it, you’d probably do best not arguing what is and isn’t a derivative work, and certainly not what that means you can do with it, if you don’t want to look like a fool.
Regardless of legal stuff though…
It’s certainly common for game developers to be fine with people uploading and monetising videos of their games, and I am no different myself. But that attitude is not something that should be expected (and certainly not demanded) of the people who make games that we enjoy; their work deserves respect and if they object to how their work is taken and used then they have every fucking right to voice that objection.
If you have a problem with that, fuck you.
If you are a youtuber and have a problem with that, let me know so I can download all your videos, put them in a game environment with minimal peripheral changes and charge money for it. I need the money myself after all.
(comments are still disabled because I know what you fucks are like :P)
It’s 1998 (but you’re pretending it’s 2005), you have made your way onto an island full of hostile soldiers without much commotion. You reach the surface and see the snow falling gently through the night for the first time. After a few hushed words with HQ over the radio you push onward.
“crunch, crunch, crunch”.
Your steps leave little footprints behind you. You might have realised it sooner, but this drives the point home; this is a well crafted game, it’s special. You haven’t played a bad game that had footprints left in the snow. Amazing set dressing, it really speaks to how much the artists cared about this world.
“Huh? Whose footprints are these?”
Holy fucking shit. Just like, freeze everything what the fucking fuck. This has never happened before, what the hell is going on? This motherfucking toy soldier has noticed the pretty set dressing and is using it to hunt me down, holy shit am I going to die?
These days in games it’s not uncommon to joke about enemy AI characters vocalising their current AI state. We’re well aware that “Did you hear something!?” translates to “I heard the player and now I’m announcing that I’m going to go look for them”, the AIs that are usually out to kill you, are kind enough to tell you where they are, where they think you are, what they are doing, when they are doing it and so on.
It’s laughable and if you’re trying to take a game seriously the absurdity of this feedback will really ruin the mood (not necessarily in a bad way, but I don’t feel like it’s much of an accomplishment, outsmarting a group of soldiers who move slowly and tell me what they are doing each step of the way). So why was this time on Shadow Moses Island any different?
Because it had never happened before. I expected the enemies to follow their little paths until I got close enough and that would be that. That was what always happened, I expected one thing and I got another. The AI surprised me, but it wasn’t some cheap “AHA I UNEXPECTEDLY SPOTTED YOU!” surprise, it spotted some secondary part of me that I had thought was nothing more than nice graphics. It communicated immediately what had happened and I had time enough to both be shocked and think up a way to deal with the problem.
I’ve talked about surprises in games before, how a game can use a player’s existing expectations (or instill new expectations) and subvert them for great effect. Link here so I don’t have to repeat myself.
SO that expectation that footprints mean nothing, that enemies will never suddenly suss you out by a trail you’ve left behind no longer exists. “Whose footprints are these?” and all other related phrases that have been used in games since, don’t *feel* the same because we now see them coming. They are just a part of a standard problem presented to gamers and games don’t seem to ever try and subvert this new expectation.
Which would actually be really easy! For example you could still have stupid “you search that way, I’ll search here!” dialogue, but what if the other grunt responds “Fuck you, I’m tired of your shit! I’m doing this my way!” and barrels down the corridor right towards where the player is. “No! Caleb!” screams the other grunt. BOOM you just had your expectations subverted and a memorable gaming experience. Or how about another? invert that stealth shit; the enemies already know where you are and they are trying to sneak around you (to surround you or something) and it’s only when you see them (or their footprints!) that they make a noise “Shit, they spotted me!”
“Huh? Whose footprints are these?” is not memorable or remarkable because it’s the first instance of AI verbalising their current state that most players experienced, it’s because for a little moment when you heard it; you didn’t know anything anymore. This little clump of polygons on a playstation had just become sentient and you had some skynet motherfucker alive in a videogame and hunting you down. You had this expectation of what a game was and for a few glorious seconds after hearing that audio-clip, a videogame could be anything at all.
So a while back I wrote about the concept for “Gender Swap”/”The Machine to be Another” and touched on how it relates to trans-ness. And yesterday, Polygon also covered these things. This coverage was problematic for a number of reasons so I’ll dip into them now.
first of all, and perhaps most importantly, a big problem is this:
Ben Kuchera is not the person to speak about these issues. Were the topic covered by someone with experience and a deeper understanding of them, many of the problems I talk about here would not have come up. However, looking through Kuchera’s feed this morning it looks like he appreciates this and hopefully we can expect Polygon to have more diverse writers, covering topics that they are knowledgeable of – though, time will tell on that one.
I’m not optimistic that this will happen though, partly because video games “culture” has beaten the optimism out of me, and also because Kuchera has already burned a lot of bridges with people who could really enrich Polygon’s opinion section and will avoid pitching to him, or would probably turn him down if he approached them. A change of heart is nice but he already has a reputation for being inconsiderate and having the first response to criticism simply be ignoring it because it’s just people that “dislike him“. Trust doesn’t come easily so soon after being consistently dismissed.
Anyway, on to the post itself.
“The demo Girl Mirror Look is a very rudimentary way for someone to experience inhabiting the body of a woman”
Problems start with some accidental sexism pretty early on, the implication is that “someone” is not used to this experience, when ~50% of someones already experience it pretty regularly. Maybe Kuchera doesn’t assume all or most of his readers are men, but the language used suggests otherwise.
“by using low-cost virtual reality equipment to achieve something that sounds like science fiction: They’re allowing people to trade bodies.”
If you haven’t already, please read my original post on this. You simply can’t trade bodies. Saying that you can is dismissive of a whole mountain of things that people have to go through and are forced to experience because of their bodies.
The article then goes on to discuss how seeing things from another person’s physical perspective could perhaps create empathy. It’s an interesting idea on the surface but it doesn’t paint people in a good light: that many can’t empathise with another person without literally seeing through their eyes for a few minutes – I don’t think that gives credit to people’s ability to empathise.
It’s not hard to just look at another person and imagine what it’s like from their physical view point, but the empathy connection comes from bridging a gap – it’s not what you see but what you imagine. You have to imagine what it’s like to live that life, what that person has to go through and the struggles they face. Changing your perspective of this person’s body and life is really not that much – you’re still not living it, you’re still not listening to what they say.
Using visual perspective as a path to empathy also indicates a massive lack of trust – you can’t trust a person’s description of their own life, you need to put your eyes in their head and “have a go” for a few minutes before you decide what their life is like? No, people should speak for themselves. There is quite a bit here in common with hijab tourism and how “trying on” another person’s life for a little bit robs them of their own voice – a worthwhile read on that at this link.
The article then goes on to describe how in Gender Swap, participants are always matching each other’s movement and in constant agreement, that with this, “The sense of empathy can be powerful” we’re told – but I wonder how much use it is to have a tool that can be used to empathise only with someone you already completely agree with and respect?
Then arguments are made that this system relates to studies that “show seeing yourself as someone of another race may decrease your implicit bias”. The one study linked had full control of virtual avatars, and was not a shared consensual experience. I suppose that might apply here, but it just as well might not – the experiences are substantially different. But this is really not my main problem, that starts when Kuchera says;
“While Bertrand is quick to note he’s not a scientist and has no background to discuss the potential mental health benefits of this technology, I did speak to at least one expert who thought the ability to explore the body of another gender could be helpful in treating individuals suffering from gender dysphoria.”
OK, I’m just going to do my best to unpick everything that is wrong here.
1) ” I did speak to at least one expert” – as far as I can tell, here “at least one” means “one” (and that ‘expert’ says some really problematic things herself).
2) “the ability to explore the body of another gender could be helpful in treating individuals suffering from gender dysphoria” – I have NO idea what is meant here, either it’s a trans-person swapping viewpoint with a cis person of the opposite birth sex (in which case BOTH bodies have the same gender) or it’s two cis people of different sexes, and couldn’t be said to help “treat” anyone suffering from gender dysphoria.
3) the notion of “treating individuals suffering from gender dysphoria” in this way at all is problematic. Honestly I think this is just as likely to be actively harmful to a person with dysphoria. (If pushed I might be able to articulate why, but honestly this is enough of a strain for me as-is, I would rather not go into it right now – though Sam Prell, quoted in the polygon article, touches on some of my concerns).
“Gender dysphoria is a state in which individuals identify as a different gender than their birth-assigned sex. My feeling of discomfort and unease at seeing a female form looking back at me from the mirror in the Oculus Rift demo gives one an indication of what it must feel like for someone who knows they are a man or a woman, but sees and feels the opposite reality in their body.”
Just because you look in a mirror for a minute or so and see a body that you don’t feel fits you does not give you even an *indication* of what it’s like to live with that body (again; see my original post, and again; the idea that YOU need to figure it out like this and not just listen to what trans people tell you their lives and experiences are like is dismissive of their voice).
From here we start to get into some especially unpleasant stuff, Kuchera’s “expert” says… well, a bunch of unacceptable harmful bullshit (I couldn’t find a more diplomatic description than that for it). She begins;
“I can see where this sort of virtual gender-role expression could be at least temporarily helpful,” – “It is a form of cross-dressing in a way. The image you see on the outside is much closer to what you really want, than what cross-dressing would give.”
Dr. Vitale here, is WAY off the mark. For one, when trans people cross dress – they wear clothing typical of the gender they were assigned at birth. A transwoman wearing a dress is NOT cross-dressing, and it’s harmful to say so. Another issue is the conflation of how we want to dress and how we want our bodies to be. They are not equivalent – a lot of doctors treating trans people insist that we spend a certain amount of time (we’re talking years here) acting and presenting as the gender we say we are. Essentially we are expected to conform to various stereotypes associated with being a woman or being a man that seem to be more about making sure we fit in the “normal” gender-binary boxes and are not about helping us find out who we really are when it’s outside their stereotypical expectations. We are judged for not wearing dresses if we say we are women, or vice versa. Despite the fact that our issues with our body and how we relate to clothes – though often linked – are not the same thing. Yes, some trans people will wear clothing typical of their gender as part of an exploration of who they are, but not all – and the requirement of it is problematic because it discourages trans people who just don’t want to. I never wore a skirt until years after coming out as trans, and any doctors I spoke to or who saw me always wore a highly skeptical look – a dangerous and scary thing when they are the gatekeepers between me and effecting changes I want on my body. I felt a pressure to conform to stupid stereotypes from these people who held power over me, and here Dr Vitale is perpetuating that system.
Later, Kuchera says;
“Dr. Vitale was skeptical of how useful this technology could be to treat those with gender dysphoria”
So if Dr. Vitale wasn’t the “one expert who thought the ability to explore the body of another gender could be helpful in treating individuals suffering from gender dysphoria.” I wonder who was, because they certainly aren’t quoted anywhere.
Dr. Vitale is quoted again saying:
“”It should help cisgendered women partnered with gender dysphoric males to appreciate what gender dysphoria is and what drives their partner to seek relief through hormonal and surgical means,””
The doctor botching gendered language here, the implication is clearly that the cisgendered woman’s partner is MAAB (Male Assigned At Birth), and gendered female – the partner is therefore female and should be addressed as such. Honestly I worry that a doctor who can’t get stuff like this right is treated as an “expert”.
Dr Vitale goes on to say;
“The machine allows her to retain her female gender identity while seeing herself having a muscular hairy body, no breasts and penis and testicle appendages she might experience as being ‘very wrong.’”
This description is… well, it’s yet another problematic thing. For one, not all transwomen have “muscular hairy bodies” not all of them have “no breasts” not all of them have “penis and testicle appendages” (who the hell says “testicle appendages” anyway?) but most importantly – some transwomen do have some (or all) of these things and don’t experience them as ‘very wrong’.
It is super common for doctors to impose certain expectations on trans people – they imply that gender dysphoria is black and white – either you want to have a sex change and hormones and other surgeries and treatments and ALL of that, or maybe you’re just not gender dysphoric after all. It creates an atmosphere were transpeople have to “act” the expected part and/or lie to get the treatment that they actually need. Plenty of women have penis and testicle appendages without feeling ‘very wrong’ – and the implication that they would is the implication that they should. It’s shaming bullshit.
A thing that is missed here is that a hell of a lot of people experience gender dysphoria but don’t align with “traditional” or expected trans narratives. This article and especially Dr. Vitale’s quotes in it could do real harm to these people – they see an article like this, (one with an “expert” consultant, published in a notable and respected publication) and they will see no place for their identity in any of this talk about dysphoria. This kind of erasure inhibits a person’s ability to explore just who the hell they really are and can result in repression when that is the last thing they need. Dysphoria and transgenderism do not begin and end with people who want a sex change and to fit into a neat stereotype invented by a cis culture.
My final (and relatively minor) Kuchera quote;
“Bertrand admits that the technology is new, and he’s unequipped to deal with the possible medical or scientific value of the work the team is doing. They’re looking for partners in the scientific or art world to help with taking the next steps, and of course funding is a part of that process.”
Just wanna say you shouldn’t give this guy any money for scientific research, the equipment required is relatively cheap anyway and this appears to be someone who has viral impact closer to heart than scientific advancement. Art folk though, this is right up your street I guess.
Ultimately it seems the focus of the piece seems to be that Gender Swap helps cis people empathise with (some) gender dysphoric people, but it is never made clear how it could help anyone who has gender dysphoria. It’s for cis people, it’s so cis people can understand us. We are given no agency – Gender Swap simply isn’t for us, but somehow it’s still about us.
I feel I should say that not all of the article is problematic, quotes from Sam Prell and Jessica Janiuk are informed by experience and understanding (much more-so than the so-called “expert” Dr. Vitale) and I especially appreciate the inclusion of the point “For those of us who live that feeling of dysphoria, we don’t have that relief of being able to just lift the helmet off” which is a key point the article otherwise ignores – that unless you are TRAPPED in another body, you won’t have the slightest idea of what it’s like to be trapped in another body.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this, and especially to thank Andi McClure for proof-reading this and giving extensive feedback and suggestions. Comments are disabled but if you’re not going to be a jack-ass then feel free to get in touch with me on twitter.
So I’ve noticed recently a few folks seem to be very impressed by “Gender Swap” an experiment using The Machine To Be Another (a couple of VR headsets with cameras on them – each headset displaying the view recorded by the other).
So I’m gonna say a couple of things about this, firstly; yes, it’s a fascinating idea. Spending a few minutes seeing what it’s like from someone else’s physical viewpoint is way cool. And who knows, looking in a mirror one time and seeing someone of a different race/gender/whatever might trigger empathy in people who were incapable of relating before. And of course it certainly appears to be an inventive way to get intimate with a person you respect and care for (because I’m asexual, I don’t get it myself but if this is the kind of thing you and your sweet want to spend some time doing then you guys rock on <3).
It’s not about swapping gender, it’s about tricking your brain into thinking you’re a different sex – for a few minutes, in a safe environment where you can quickly step out if things aren’t going how you please. Sure you can put your eyeballs in the head of another for a few minutes (and yes, this is really interesting stuff!) but you’re not in that head yourself. You don’t know what it’s like to have had to live with that body.
You haven’t had to experience with how people treat that body. You haven’t felt pressure to change based on the expectations of having that body. The bodies we are born with force us to have experiences which are outside our control. These experiences shape us as people and who we are in our minds is not so easily separated from them. You can put on the headset and look at a mirror, but you have no idea what life the body’s owner will return to when you take the headsets off. Like I say, it’s an interesting idea but it’s important nobody thinks “Oh, so this is what it’s like to be X” because your life is more than what you see – it’s also years of other people seeing you, speaking to you, touching you AND how they do all that. It’s what you see happen to people who are like you and people who are not. It’s your own head thinking for years on end trying to come to terms with all of this. You can’t be someone else without going through this.
I do believe ‘the machine to be another’ could certainly be an aid to help in understanding and relating to others, but I think it’s very important that we’re all clear that both the machine and the experiment are… well, at the very least they are wrongly named. You can’t ‘be’ another by spending a couple of minutes in a safe and controlled space where everything is mutually agreed – that’s not much like life. And you can’t ‘swap genders’ just by looking down and seeing a body that’s sex doesn’t match up with your own gender (I have a lot of experience on this point).
I’m pretty much done so if you want to stop reading now that’s fine, but because I know people will ask otherwise;
To head off any idea that because it’s not swapping gender it might give you insight into being trans; it really cannot. That wouldn’t happen short of putting on the headset, and finding you couldn’t ever take it off again. That everyone treats you like you were always in this mismatched body, that you have complete sensation of the body, and that you don’t have a ‘partner’ you’re sharing the experience with anymore. – and that’s only a slight picture, you probably won’t have had to go through the horror of puberty in that body.
Like I say, you can’t be someone else – You can wear someone else’s shoes but you can’t truly understand unless you also walk everywhere they have been in them.