Last Week on the Colony is a new, regular Monday item here on Offworld, a special satellite transmission designed to highlight our favorite Offworld stories, wonderful trends, and the stories from elsewhere in the galaxy that got us talking.
Sidney Fussell brought us an article on the myth of "white neutrality" in video games, and how often we're given fantasy worlds where anything is possible—except, apparently, black people. Fussell looks at a recent example: The Witcher 3, which apparently has no people of color in it because it's a tribute to Slavic culture. And in his piece, he handily explains why that's an insufficient explanation: Games could do so many more interesting things with their themes if they weren't so totally focused on the comfort of the white male player at all times.
Tanya DePass previously did a piece for Offworld on a related theme, on the portrayal of people of color in BioWare's Dragon Age. Every game can muster a different excuse, but the conversations must continue—writer Tauriq Moosa was recently hounded off Twitter by harassers for raising the topic of race in The Witcher 3, a game which, come on, is fine and all, but is not such great art that criticizing it should warrant such consequences.
Katherine Cross has also done a wonderful Offworld feature for us on Microscope, a pen and paper game that helps players deliberately challenge roles and prejudices in the real world.
On a positive note, indie developer Catt Small joined us at Offworld this week to talk about how she developed a black woman protagonist as part of a jam team for an alien-shooting action game for mobile. What's interesting to me about her work with Prism Shell is that usually people assume that diversity work in games should generally stick to those genre where "story" and "characters" matter. Small's experience shows that even consideration for the identity inside the tiny ship can be refreshing and inviting to players.
My personal favorite game I played last week was Maquisard, a lovely, ornate little jewel-box of a hotel where you, as the attentive and unseen porter, must use your skills to sniff out an undercover agent. It's a fun subversion of stealth games, and it offers aesthetic credit to Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Thanks to the exciting launch of Google Sheep View, Laura offers us 7 games you can play with Google Maps. She also chose last week's Mobile Game of the Week (hey! That's a thing we're doing now, too!), which was You Must Build a Boat, a puzzle game that's not brand-new or anything, but that we thought deserved a shout-out (slavish devotion to the primacy of newness is killing games and games culture).
Our 'Play it Now' tag exists to help you quickly find new, free little games that you or anyone else should be able to play without prior literacy and without leaving your seat. Go visit it, because this week we found some new ones: An amazing online game world where you make your own levels out of emoji, a unique and crunchy arcade-style game about OCD, and a nostalgic watercolor platformer set inside a woman's head, among others.
Transmissions from Elsewhere
Sometimes Offworld receives transmissions from back on Earth, from those that are still left living. Kotaku boss Stephen Totilo decided to talk to Daniel Vavra, a "pro-Gamergate" (yes, there's such a thing among actual grown-ups) video game maker whose primary contribution to the canon of game development seems to be joining angry kids in complaining about how "social justice warriors" are stifling his creativity. Here he is grinning with famous knob Adam Baldwin, boasting that they do not at all understand the phrase they are making fun of.
Totilo had close to the seed of something interesting with his Vavra interview: Reading it, it's like, oh, obviously this guy has a mortal terror of censorship, he grew up under actual communism. I see what he was trying to do. But Totilo allows Vavra to repeatedly insist that "he just wants a conversation", when he joins a group that literally harasses people at their jobs constantly for trying to have conversations about representation, or women, or anything outside the status quo. The idea that what progressives want is to language-police or to stifle debate is a frequent straw man that Totilo allows Vavra to put forward with only the occasional reserved "I disagree." The fact that all the folks Vavra thinks are the most censorious offenders are all women (myself included) is something Totilo notices but does not interrogate.
The editorializing, the "I see his point" and other obeisances to neutrality Totilo makes in the piece actually seem to make it less neutral, and more the sort of placating "let's hear from both the sexist harassers and 'the other side'" rhetoric that's been so damaging. "I sort of get his issues with Sarkeesian" is a pretty destructive half-thought to leave dangling there—yes, it's easy to understand why a lot of people misinterpret and feel threatened by the rhetorical tools Anita Sarkeesian's videos offer people, but that's all they are—discussion tools. Anyone who claims they want discussion but suggests their "issues" are "with Sarkeesian" herself isn't helping.
We know it's challenging to have grown-up conversations at a popular gaming outlet and the Kotaku team is comprised entirely of rad people. If we ever moved back to Earth we'd want to hang out. But this transmission was a little too irradiated to pass our airlock.
Because you need to do other stuff besides games
Mare Sheppard, one-half of N++ developer Metanet Software, has unveiled a beautiful and unusual "marketing project" about fashion and body movement.