Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rape Culture in Rebuild 2: Why I'm Done With Kongregate

Writing this and posting this were tough decisions to make. Trigger warnings: prostitution, rape, rape culture, human trafficking. It's not my usual posting style, and I reserve the right to make further edits.

I am currently on medical leave from work. I remembered Rebuild 2, a game I had played on Kongregate a couple years ago, and re-played it yesterday.  You control a small band of survivors after a zombie apocalypse, in an isometric top-down view of a town.  As the game progresses, you fortify your stronghold, investigate different story-paths, and are prompted to make some choices about how your new civilization progresses. Some of the prompts were disturbing, and I discussed it with close friends and relatives, and decided to write about it.

Here's a screenshot in one of the problematic sequences.

Gross, I mean, just gross. Here's the decision tree, first declining the offer:

 Then, accepting it:
Here's another of the "Yes" answers:
Again, I traded in-game food to make my band of survivors, men and women, happier with virtual prostitution.  This is sickness, embedded in entertainment, without the ability to escape it.

Women are being presented as objects for men's enjoyment. This is rape culture. Who decides to write this? Sarah Northway is listed as the game's creator in the credits. There's clearly more to the story, and another sequence makes me wonder about what's going on behind the creation of Rebuild 2.

One of the other mission choices you can take involves rescuing a defector from the evil "Last Judgement Gang:"
 Rescuing her has in-game consequences:
The saga continues:

With such evidence, when you're eventually prompted with an opportunity to stick the boot in, it's not hard to make the choice to destroy the gang:
This triggers one of the game's winning endings (you can keep playing afterward, looking for more of them in an effort to boost your score):

Unfortunately, Rebuild 2 isn't content with even this level of horrific choices:
Seriously? This is gaming? This is what we, as a society, consider to be acceptable entertainment? For the sake of this essay, I chose yes on this final play-through:

As far as I can tell, there's no aftereffects for engaging in virtual human trafficking, beyond losing the female character. If you select the option not to sell her off, you're told that she "doesn't cry but looks very relieved." YEAH, YOU THINK? I don't have a screenshot because that's the first path I took through the game, and I don't want to have to play more to get the screenshots. I'm disgusted with the game, the site, and myself, and part of writing this is to come to some sort of understanding.

As a whole, this entire episode reminds me of a performance piece/game-as-art/experience I've read about where players are told to maximize efficiency in packing train cars, then informed they've Nazis all along, helping the Holocaust. It's a sucker punch, designed to con. I got no warning that I was going to be offered this devil's bargain. We're playing games, then we're into the deep end of the human experience. To use one internet phrasing, "This is a Bad Game, and you should Feel Bad." I do, Northway, and I hope you do, too.

I'm done here. Done with Rebuild 2 and done with Kongregate. My playing the games gives Kongregate money in ad impressions, and ultimately, this is propagating the notion that these are choices we can have, and live with ourselves. I'm researching Houston's many organizations that fight human trafficking to make a donation and asking you to do likewise. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Dawn of a New Day

Whew, health problems of various types have kept my posting down.  I do have an upcoming game review being published in The Proof at some point in the future, so be sure to support them by grabbing a copy or even a subscription.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

FreeStarter designer giveaway contest and interviews

Four game designers I follow on Twitter have banded together and are giving away two sets of four games  (one more casual set, one more serious set), as a promotion for their design interviews and as a neat way to drive traffic. Contest entries due by Friday, so get crackin'.

I don't usually link to contests, but I wanted to point out these folks because I read their insights and struggles in game design on Twitter and think they're definitely people to watch in game design. As a group, they've done a lot of the goals I'd like to do, with an emphasis on taking lots of different ways to succeed in getting games published.

Of the four's games, I've played Grant Rodiek's Farmageddon, which passed the Mom test and proved to be a decent take-that game with more depth than expected, at a very reasonable price.

Group Interview with AJ Porfirio (VanRyder Games)-great teaser on Tessen, which sounds like it's right up my alley.
Group Interview with Cheevee Dodd - Cheevee's posted a lot of good game design angst about Tuesday Night Tanks in his twitter feed, and I'm interested to try it.
Group Interview with Matt Worden ooh, good intro shot of Space Mission. On my radar as a pnp game gone pro, something that is tough to do without standing out as a gem.

(Watch this space for the last interview link with Grant Rodiek.)

For the contest entry, they do ask you to follow all the designers on twitter (@VanRyderGames, @cheeveedodd, @MattWordenGames, @herrohgrant), but honestly, if you care about indie card and board gaming, you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A quick note to my search query folks

I love looking at the Google searches that people are using to get to my blog!

"does half price books have board games"
Qualified yes.  If the games are still in shrink, typically they'll be shelved in the game books section, between  Dungeons & Dragons and chess books.  Since the staff don't want to inventory open games, any game out of shrink will be marked at a couple of dollars and put in the Clearance section.  I've gotten two copies of Travel Blokus this way.
"Expedit board games"
I love our Expedit shelves for board game storage, and it's nearly perfect.  Two minor points: if you push the shelves all the way to the wall, you won't lose Travel Blokus pieces down behind the shelving, but if you do that, some games will stick out farther than others.  My thrifted copies of Mouse Trap stick out about 4" from the Expedit shelf itself.
"board games like High Frontier"
It depends on which axis you want to progress along.  If you like "pick up and deliver," then Lunar Rails or Merchant of Venus might be next logical steps.  If you like complex simulations, the other Sierra Madre games like American Megafauna or Origins: How We Became Human are hugely-complex affairs.  You should also check out Dominant Species (mix of mechanisms, similar competition for sites), and Here I Stand (all-day game, depth of study in the subject area).
"mike doyle game art"
Yes, Mike Doyle's game art is fantastic.

In other news, I need to do a wrap-up post on OwlCon.  Spoiler: it was fun!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Houston Gamers have lost a friend

One of our friends, Doug Curry, passed away Thursday morning.

He is survived by his wife and adult children.  Doug was a gamer, but more importantly, he was a great human being who was an all-around good guy.  My memories of Doug are all happy ones.

Please, tell your friends and family you love them, because you never know how much time any one of us has.

As I head off to Owlcon today, there's a lump in my throat because I never told Doug how much his presence at the game table was appreciated.  Seeing the folks I see rarely will be bittersweet with the knowledge of Doug's passing, and I'm going to do my best to thank those people for the joy they bring to the world.

Everyone who's participated in my gaming experiences, I appreciate you!  Take good care of yourselves.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Houston game stores

I was reviewing my blog's hits and saw people searching for Houston board game stores... For those of you on the west side of Houston or the east side of Katy, I continue to recommend 8th Dimension Comics & Games highly. Their location at Highway 6 and West Road is easy to find, the store has a great, kid-friendly ambiance, and the service is excellent.

Their board game stocks are a good mix of the last few years' Eurogames and LCGs, with plenty of excellent card games as well.  They use Alliance and have been great about ordering what I don't see on the shelves.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Oreobytes: Sketches for $10

One of my artist friends is offering $10 sketches - I've enjoyed a lot of her art and now you can get some of her work, basically to order!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Blogroll trimmed

I trimmed a few items from my blogroll and added one. Whoo, regularly-updated sites!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

More Game Assembly

I've been trying out my new-to-me paper cutter and the results are phenomenal.  The track tiles for 18AL are coming out so well, I may be satisfied with the results, at long last.  For those of you keeping track, I'm on my third or fourth round for components.

If my replacement phone arrives, I should be able to post pictures.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

James Ernest: one of my personal heroes

This was a pretty good anecdote by Lewis Pulsipher over on BGG.

James Ernest is one of my game design heroes, with a large back catalog that is slowly being revived as print and play over at Cheapass Games' website.

I follow him on Twitter, and have enjoyed catching snippets of the Kickstarter campaign for Unexploded Cow.  (No, I didn't back it.  It's a good deal, but I'm Kickstarted-out for a while.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Yucata, moving ahead

At the end of June, this cryptic message was posted for everyone on Yucata.de:
The Wrath of the Gods cannot be stopped. The Omen, the gods’ warning sign, was to no avail. Rather than guide us, our priests protested that they were being condemned unjustly. But now we know that when they asked us to make sacrifices to the gods, our food offerings went into the bellies of the priests instead. Our high priests are supposed to be the best of the best, but reality has shown them to be sorely lacking. 
Until today, at the completion of a game, the reputation (ranks) of the players, rather than their true skill levels, were compared to determine the points gained or lost for winning or losing the game. As a result, some of the priests shied away from real challenges, hoping to hide their lack of skills. They were gaming the system and using tricks and monotonous work to keep and gain undeserved ranks, seeking reputation for reputation’s sake, rather than perfecting their playing skills.
This all will change as of today. The existing temples, rules, ranks, cities - the entirety of civilization - will cease to exist. The new rules for promotion and demotion will start as a mystery to everyone, ready to be explored and discovered. The goal is to build a new civilization.
I'm loving the new changes.  It seems to have revitalized the meta-game, and encourages more players to play both the games they know well, and to learn new games.

Good stuff..

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Boardgamely shows promise

As my board game collection expanded, I began trading on BoardGameGeek.  Trading games is great, except when it's not:
1. People care a lot about game condition, perhaps too much. It's common on BGG for people to post pictures of the slightest flaws.
2. You need an exact match of your stuff vs. their stuff.  Getting an exact value can be frustrating and subjective.
3. Even if your mutual trade lists overlap, they may not feel like trading... or may not feel like trading with you!  Earlier this week, I deeply regretted sending a game to Canada, to the tune of $32 in postage.
4. Until you make a trade, your game sits on the shelf, taking up space. Unless you trade 2-for-1, you'll never get to reduce your collection or upgrade much at a time.

Boardgamely is a newer board game site that adds much-needed liquidity to the trading scene.  In essence, you're converting your games to a token economy in "silvers", then trading silvers (and $3) for new games.  It's a really neat idea, and one I hope gains traction.  While it won't solve the cost of shipping to Canada (which for now, isn't available for the US-only site), Boardgamely does approximately solve all four problems.  There are only three condition categories, for which you receive tiered levels of silver trade tokens. If a game's in excellent condition, you might get 10 silvers, while a slightly-used copy earns you 8, and a very-used copy 6. The game must be in playable condition. Smaller, cheaper games are worth fewer tokens, and there's also an "Elite" class of games that tries to account for the most desirable games, to keep people from raiding all the copies of the New Hotness.

As of this writing, I've earned a few silvers by listing several games, and earned a few silvers by having one of the games I listed be requested. I shipped it out to the recipient, and I now have 20 silvers, enough for most likely 2 good games, maybe 3 or even 4 if I choose smaller games that are well-used.  The list of games is now fairly decent, and I look forward to seeing even more titles make an appearance briefly, before being snapped up. Twitter followers rejoice, as new Boardgamely acquisitions are announced there as well. I have a second round of games to post, and see if they get requested soon.

The UI is still in active development, and Adam Thorsen, the maintainer, has promised a new appearance and more sorting soon.  Adam is responsive to questions, and overall, I have a good feeling about Boardgamely.  While not all the games I'm looking to send out are yet available with full listings, I'm looking forward to sending and receiving more games from Boardgamely.