Saturday, November 29, 2014
If you go to a game convention, and even more to at a game awards show, the ratio of men to women is appalling, a sea of men punctuated by a few women.
It's peculiar, because no one I know actually wants the game industry to be so ridiculously masculine. (Not to say no one wants it; only no one I know.) Everyone thinks, in the abstract, that it would be good to have women environmental artists and animators and programmers and designers. However, it's rare to find a company that is more than 15% women. The games industry is as much of a meritocracy as any creative field can be. People hire the people they think are best, and the people they think are best tend overwhelmingly to be men. No one is willing to hire a less-good programmer or a less-good environmental artist simply because she's a woman.
On Contrast we had two women on a team of ten: our concept artist and our animator. Now we have two women, our concept artist and our lead programmer. At one point we had a woman environmental artist. In almost any other field, that would be considered a sexist workspace. In games, we're considered fairly pro-women. (It helps that our last game starred two women, and passed the Bechdel test.)
How did this come about? The conventional wisdom is that when games started, you had to be a programmer. People like Jordan Mechner made their own games, which meant they had to be programmer, graphic artist, animator and storyteller; but above, all, programmer.
The thing was, there were vanishingly few women programmers. In my Intro Comp Sci class at Yale -- the one required for the major -- we had 60 students, of which three were women.
Why was that? Because in most universities, you were expected to already know how to program if you wanted to take a programming class. That meant either that you happened to have a great computer lab at school (as Bill Gates did), or you had a personal computer. But personal computers, such as the TRS-80 (affectionately known as the Trash-80), were marketed to boys.
So girls arrived in Comp Sci 221 and all the boys already knew how to program, and they were left behind. And then they didn't go on to make games.
What's mysterious to me is: why did women continue to drop out of computer science?
Personal computers really hit around 1985. Oddly, that's when there were the most women computer science majors. There are now many fewer, as a percentage -- even though pretty much every middle class kid has access to a computer, and the Internet does not ask whether you're a girl or a boy.
Is it that games is, outside my happy little indie company, a truly sexist, female-hostile world? Or is it just passively hostile, bro-culture? Or is it that until recently most games were built for 14 year old boys, and girls didn't come into the business to make games because no one was making games for them?
At MIGS this year, Manveer Heir gave a passionate speech about needing more women and minorities in games. Our game designer, said, "Okay, I agree, but what am I supposed to do about it?" He's a white bro dude. The best answers I could come up with is:
(a) Go out of our way to find great women candidates for jobs, and then hire the best person.
(b) Make games that women dig, which will inspire women to join the industry.
No one's going to hire someone who's less good, just because they're a woman. But I think it's legit to look a little harder to find women candidates. And it's just good business to make sure your games reach both halves of the human race.
What do you think?
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
- What if they’re right?
- What’s the problem behind the problem?
- Is there a short-term solution
with long-term benefits?
- Everyone has a motivation. What’s theirs?
- Is it
a disagreement about the script or miscommunication between me and them?
I express this as clearly as possible?
- Don’t expect anyone to know the
script as well as I do. That’s my job.
- Are they seeing the big picture?
Take them through the falling dominos.
- What can change? What can’t?
- Am I
standing up for myself or just being defensive?
"I found this scrawled in a notebook. A list I wrote of ten things to remember that I made while waiting to go into a notes session with some studio executives and my producer. Shared in case it helps anyone in some way..."
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Nate Silver is a baseball stats geek who turned himself into one of the most accurate interpreters of political polls. He nailed the 2008 and 2012 elections while Republicans were deluding themselves over "skewed polls." I wasted nearly as many hours reading his columns during elections as I have recently enjoyed wasting playing Europa Universalis IV.
Silver has expanded his site FiveThirtyEight
to cover Big Data analyses of politics, economics, science, sports and culture. Walt Hickey recently posted an analysis of spec scripts. Which genres of scripts get the highest ratings?
The data come from The Blacklist, a site that offers evaluations from pro script readers for a fee. They're the people the exec will give your script to first.
What do the Blacklist readers like?
First-time writers tend to go one of two ways, said Kate Hagen, a former reader who now oversees the hundred or so readers at The Black List. They write a deeply personal, pseudo-autobiographical screenplay about nothing in particular. “Everybody basically writes that script at first,” Hagen said. “You have to get it out of your system.” Or they swing for the fences and go in the opposite direction, thinking, “I’m going to write a $200 million science fiction movie,” and plan an entire universe and mythology. Those scripts, Hagen said, tend to fail for entirely different reasons.
However, Big Data are not necessarily useful to a screenwriter. If you consider the odds against becoming a professional screenwriter, you'd be mad to try. But, "never tell me the odds." I don't think I know any pro screenwriters who took the odds into consideration. We just kept writing, and got enough encouragement (words, followed by checks) to keep at it. It takes heaps of arrogance to figure you're better than the other ten thousand would-be writers. But then, a screenwriter is someone who creates people, families and worlds, so a certain megalomania is practically a prerequisite.
I would be very wary of Big Data. If you think you're a comedy writer, you should write comedies. Your first will be terrible. Possibly your first ten will be kinda bad. But that doesn't mean you should write dramas, on the thinking that dramas "do better." The question isn't whether dramas do better; the question is whether your
drama will do better.
It won't. If you don't love what you're writing, no one else will love it either.
By the same token, don't avoid science fiction because it doesn't "do well." The first script you write isn't going to do well anyway. You're still learning your craft. Write that science fiction script. Hey, a vampire script got me into the UCLA MFA program. (It was terrible! But, I guess, promising in some way. And here I am.)
In fact, the flip side of it is: if you are, at heart, a comedy writer, then you are not likely to write a better drama than writers who love drama. But you might, with practice, write a better comedy than other comedy writers. If what you love is SF, then you're more likely to break in with an SF hook that no one else thought of, than with a drama that you wrote because you thought you ought to.
"Write what you know" doesn't necessarily mean "write stuff about people like you." It means "write stuff you know in your heart."
On the other hand, stretch your muscles. Don't write drama because it "does well." But do write a drama because it will force you to write strong, dynamic, dysfunctional relationships -- that you can then put into your comedy scripts, which need heart, too. Write a drama because a great science fiction movie isn't just about the science fiction -- it's about people, in strong, dynamic, dysfunctional relationships in a science fictional world.
By the same token, if you're a drama writer, try writing a comedy. Maybe it will loosen you up. Can't hurt to try. My creative writing professor, Kenneth Koch, made the very good point that no one is born with a certain number of words. You won't run out. So rather than dithering for a month about what to write, write something.
You level up by finishing missions, right?
The reason people call this sort of writing expedition an "exercise" is because exercise is what makes your muscles strong.
What you can use the Big Data for is to get insight into the minds of script readers. If they find most SF scripts annoying, make sure that you're not falling into the same errors. Make sure your SF script has characters and heart, not just whizbang.
This gets back to "addressing notes." All feedback is valid feedback, and you ignore it at your peril. If script readers don't like something, there's something wrong with it. They are often wrong about what
is wrong with it. But if they think something is wrong with it, you better fix what is
wrong with it, or you're not going to go very far with it.
Sunday, November 02, 2014
“The single-most important thing was the art of working in the studio system,” Nolan told me of his experience with “Insomnia.” “It takes time to learn how to take notes. In the corporate structure, the people giving you the notes are not responsible for the final product. You are. It’s not their job, it’s yours. When you’re taking notes, it’s possible that you’re having an interesting conversation with a very smart individual and everything they’re saying is correct. But they’re wrong. So you have to go back and approach it from a different angle.” He continues to treat executives as, essentially, representative filmgoers. At a development meeting — at, in other words, a conference-room table — before “The Dark Knight,” he had to explain the Joker’s motivations. “Execs are very good at saying things like, ‘What’s the bad guy’s plan?’ They know those engines have to be very powerful. I had to say: ‘The Joker represents chaos, anarchy. He has no logical objective in mind.’ I had to explain it to them, and that’s when I realized I had to explain it to the audience.”
And so occurred the fabulous "some men just want to watch the world burn" speech.
Notes can be excellent. There are two kinds of notes: notes from people who understand story, and notes from everyone else. Everyone else can often include people with power over you and the money to fund your thing.
If someone who understands story gives you notes, then you might benefit from executing them.
If your note-giver is not someone who understands story, then executing the notes might make your script worse. The solution is not "doing" the notes but "addressing" the notes. . "Addressing" the notes is harder. It means finding out where the gap occurs between your vision and the reader or viewer's experience. Note-givers usually focus on where their experience is bad. "This scene is too slow; trim it down." The scene may be too slow, but maybe it's because we don't care enough about the main character; making him more compelling 20 scenes earlier fixes the scene. Or maybe it's because the scene never really gets to the meat of the drama. Sometimes it needs to be longer, not shorter, to build up steam.
Unless you are independently wealthy, your creative career will always depend on your ability to address notes successfully, without always executing them as is.
Saturday, November 01, 2014
I've been having a bit of back and forth with a pro-Gamergate colleague, and here's my take, fwiw.
But [Gamergate] isn't, and has never been about [harassment of women]. That's the point. You're making it about women game developers feeling safe, but that has nothing to do with gamergate's positions. Gamergate has condemned harassment from day one, and has never wavered. But I don't think you'll ever understand that until you do more research, because it's easy to buy in to the world view that gamergate is a misogynistic movement. It fits the narrative you more generally associate with (as I do too).
My problem is there seem to be two groups of people who call themselves gamergaters. One is a small group of people who'd like games journalism to be more, y'know, like journalism. The other is a vast warren of trolls [hmmm, what's the noun of congregation? a grunt of trolls?] who jumped on the bandwagon in order to harass women.
[Philip Wythe's article on The Flounce, "Harassment, Abuse, and Apologism: Sanitizing Abuse in Social Justice Spheres "] is interesting because the "neckbeard, virgin gamer" type harassment is being thrown around so much yet isn't getting reported on. Do you not understand why that is a problem? If social justice (and by extension the gaming media) continues becoming the bully, then it will lose all the momentum it has begun to achieve. That's what this article is about.
I take your point that if games critics want social justice, then mocking gamers by using social stereotypes is not OK. But getting the majority to feel victimized is always the first page in the right-wing playbook. I mean, why now? Folks have been calling gamers neckbeards and virgins since -- well, at least the 70's? D & Ders didn't have a big social reputation at my high school. Any why, particularly, aim at "social justice warriors" mocking gamers, when almost everybody mocks hard-core gamers.
I suspect that what's really going on is that young, socially inept gamers now feel their "gamer" identity is threatened by soccer moms who play Farmville at the field. And they're transferring that fear onto a small number of "social justice warriors." (People who make that an insult worry me. It's like people who use the word "feminazi.") Because obviously they can't do anything about the soccer moms, who either don't even know they exist, or cook dinner for them.
And, I think, gamergate may be the tipping point in the industry for that, because people are sick of being bullied by having their identities attacked.
Really? I think mainstream society is always going to poke fun at geeks. When I was an active witch, neo-pagan geeks were always complaining about portrayals of witches in the media. C'mon, guys, you use the word, people think of you in a pointy hat. Bondage geeks complain that people (especially Jian Ghomeshi) don't understand that it's all done with carefully negotiated consent.
What seems to have got 'gators up in arms are some silly articles about "gamer" as an identity being "over." The very premise of the articles is ridiculous. They remind me of the sort of "trend" articles the New York Times prints whenever a reporter knows three friends who are doing some new thing. The NYT had an article about how beer bellies were becoming sexy. Um, what?
"Gamer" will be an identity so long as people self-identity as gamers, the way "queer" will be an identity as long as gays and lesbians share political needs.
I don't believe there ever was a "conspiracy" against the "gamer" identity. I know journalists, and they talk, and they're usually desperate for something to write about. If there were 10 articles, I can believe a few emails were passed around, but that's in the nature of a meme. A meme in the sense of "what are we going to fill our column inches with this week?" That's laziness, but that's not Dr. Evil. I don't believe a meme is the same as a conspiracy.
Your sympathies are important (no one disagrees with you about creating great work environments for [female] developers), but compassion has to go to both sides...
Okay. Good point.
But I think Gamergate projected a heap of frustration onto a tiny number of previously unknown people. Who ever heard of Zoe Quinn before? That was not constructive. The real question is not "what do we do about some minor female devs and/or anthropologists whom we feel insulted us," but "how do we deal with our precious identity being submerged in a vast welter of games that are not made for us."
If that's a real question. I mean it's not like we're never going to see another Grand Theft Auto game if Zoe Quinn gets her Kickstarter funded.
And, in return, the 'gators riles up a bunch of trolls, who in turn got mainstream feminists like Joss Whedon to come down on the whole Venn diagram with mockery.
Which, in turn, solidifies the gamer identity
by defining the social borders better. The quickest way to answer the question "who are we" is to create a ruckus that crystallizes everybody into "us" and "them."
Kai Eriksen wrote a fascinating sociological book (that's not an oxymoron) called Wayward Puritans
. His theory was that the Puritans were used to being an out group. But then they came to the New World where they had no neighbors to compare themselves to. (The Natives didn't count, obviously.) They had no "us" and "them."
So they created the witch trials, so they'd have a "them." It was subconscious -- Cotton Mather really through he was fighting the Devil -- but deep down they needed an enemy.
#Gamergate might have accomplished a subconscious purpose. I submit to you that a bunch of white, male, socially inept kids had "gamer" as an identity. Then along come soccer moms who play "Farmville" and call
themselves gamers. And people make games about coming home and discovering your sister is a lesbian in the 90's. And the game press jumps all over these games, which are not actually very good games, because lesbian content practically guarantees a good review. (When was the last time you read a seriously negative review of a lesbian-themed film outside of the gay press and the Westboro Baptist newsletter?) And you hate Gone Home
and you don't want people who like Gone Home
to call themselves gamers, because "gamer" is your identity
Or even worse, you proudly self-identify as a geek, and now all these mundanes come along and say, "Hey, we're geeks too!" And they're better looking than you, and go to the gym, and really spend very little timing geeking out. Where previously nerds were proud underdogs, now mainstream society fawns on Bill Gates and cosplay has its own reality show. Your culture is not your own any more.
So, you, as a group, pick a fight with some women developers and feminist intellectuals. There's no point picking a fight with Kotaku or Ubisoft, because they won't pay attention. But if you hurl abuse and death threats at some women (or give other, crazier people who share your politics the excuse to hurl abuse), you will provoke a lot of people to come to their defense.
In short order, you and your buddies are the laughingstock of the Internet. People are calling you neckbeards and virgins, and making memes
, and #Gamergater becomes an ironic Hallowe'en costume.
But all that, perhaps, is full of win
. Your identity is secure. Once again, it's clear who is "you" and who is "them."
The point of #Gamergate, subconsciously, was to provoke a witch hunt. But not against feminists. Against themselves.
Deep down, perhaps, the point of #gamergate was to provoke a witch hunt in which they were the witches.
Now, I have no idea if the above is true, and it's unfalsifiable if it is. But I think it's an interesting way to look at it. A retcon, if you will.
And that's my take on #Gamergate after my conversations with my articulate colleague.