A Review of Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana (Chapters 0 & 1)

Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana is a show produced by Geek & Sundry and available free online which, to put it simply, is just a recording of a tabletop role-playing game being played. Below is my review:

I’ve always been a fan of Geek & Sundry, in theory. I dig what they stand for, what they do and how they do it. However I never really got into any of their shows on Youtube (where I am a subscriber to their page), and while I’m a big board game enthusiast I never really wanted to put on a 40+ minute video and watch people play board games. For this very reason I didn’t think I would end up watching Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana, and I am assuming that if I had been sitting at my computer that would have been the case. However I decided to pull up the Youtube App on my television and watch Chapters 0 & 1 (totally a little over 60 minutes) while sitting on the couch casually answering emails. All I can say is that I enjoyed it greatly, much more than I was expecting!

Like actually being a players in an RPG, you can let your attention waiver for a few moments and still not miss anything in the game. This is also the case with watching people play tabletop RPGs. Anytime I had to focus on something for more than 30 seconds I would pause the episode, but otherwise I found myself mostly ignoring my emails and becoming ingratiated in the show. I’ve been playing and GMing RPGs for over a decade, so the format of the show and its content are not foreign to me. The production value of the show is excellent, with accompanying sound effects, original art work, onscreen dice counters, and battle overviews. The people on the show are great as well. Will Wheaton bring his usual sincere, unironic campy-ness that lends itself so well to being a good GM, and the players are fantastic. I especially enjoy seeing Hank Green in the show, but that’s probably because I’m a avid Nerdfighter and vlogbrothers fan.

Wheaton’s homebrew fantasy/sci-fi setting is easy to become immersed in, especially given the fine art work that’s used through the show. It’s the type of thing a GM could only dream of: having professionally drawn art work drawn up for particular scenes withing a game. The post-production work in put into the show really makes an already great context more vibrant and immersive. And as one would expect, the actual role-playing and player interactions are fun to watch.

Overall I am excited to continue watching Titansgrave. Weekly episodes are released every Tuesday on Geek & Sundry, and then those episode show up on Youtube that Friday. This is a great show, and it makes me want to go through Wheaton’s back catalog and watch all the board game playthroughs I skipped. In my opinion it is better watched on television, versus sitting at your computer, but that just might be my style. If you’re an avid role-player like I am it a great indulgence, and blast to watch.

Gamergate: A Tea Party Moment For The Gaming Community

“Gamergate” is a tragedy. Most importantly is it a tragedy because of all the people, mostly women, who have suffered through a deluge of harassment and vitriol. Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Felicia Day, Leigh Alexander, and the myriad of gamers who have been the targets of threats and hatred are the tragedy of this horrific “movement” in gamer culture. It’s also tragic because it’s hurting the games industry and gamer culture. It’s another factor that convinces so many young and creative developers, often women, to not pursue a career in games. And it reinforces the popular notion that video gamers are nothing but puerile, angry men with a collective inferiority complex. This whole situation makes me genuinely sad. It makes me not want to self-identify as a gamer, and it sickens me that such violence is perpetrated by our community under the pretense of “ethics.”

Okay, I needed to state all that before I got any further. *Ahem,* so over the past few days as I’ve been digging into all the nonsense surrounding gamergate, something dawned on me. Where have I seen this before? Where have I seen a reactionary movement, led by mostly entitled white men, that cloaks itself in a righteous and populist veneer to hide its conspiratorial world view of its own imagined subjugation? Where have I seen a movement that uses this pretense to perpetrate a campaign of fear and hate, targeted mostly at left-leaning individuals in structurally oppress groups, until everyone realized just how crazy and hateful the group was and abandoned that group? Well if you read the title of my post you probably have already figured out where in recent culture we’ve seen this dynamic before, the Tea Party.

It’s hard to remember but back to 2009, right after the election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party seemingly appeared out a nowhere and billed itself as a populist movement where people could express their frustrations with the recently crashed economy. Polls around that time showed the Tea Party had massive support among Americans. And there was much discussion about what the Tea Party stood for. Their main focus was the Federal Government’s budget deficits and debt, but the movement brought many people together and never really articulated much that was substantive above a general worry of the economy. Sounds familiar? Many writing about gamergate have noted that “Gamergate’s ‘argument’ is an irreconcilable mess of trembly fingered accusations, vendettas and uncertain nods to complex problems.” Like the early Tea Party movement gamergate is poorly defined, and its individual proponents espouse wildly different ideas regarding the goal of the movement. Also like the Tea Party, the pretenses of the movement are a veneer to hide its true intentions.

While there was plenty of economic malaise to go around in 2009, the Tea Party’s leaders were very much focused on government debt and the deficit, specifically in the hopes of reducing it. While the Great Recession would certainly raise the deficit, it really was odd to focus on this, especially since the leaders of the Tea Party movement were all from the politically conservative side of the spectrum. It was odd because government debt had been skyrocketing for 30 years under Republican administrations, stopping only for a few year under Clinton. So why now? Why did conservatives all of a sudden care about the deficit, why was it all of a sudden the most important issue of our time? What changed? Well, the skin color and political affiliation of the President changed. It was only when a black Democrat took office did the deficit all of a sudden become this huge issue. Of course the pretense of caring about the economy soon fell away when the Tea Party started demanding Obama’s birth certificate and was exposed for what it really was: a hateful, racist and reactionary cadre of white men who were unable to accept the idea that white men don’t dominate politics anymore.

Does this sound familiar? Gamergate’s false pretense is ethics in journalism, but this issue has existed for over 20 years. Anyone in the industry during the past 20 years can tell you about the cozy relationship between game reviewers and game publishers. So why now? What changed? Well like the Tea Party before it, gamergate is grounded in a reaction towards rising minority representation, specifically women in video game culture. So when Zoe Quinn supposedly slept with Nathan Grayson for a favorable review of her game Depression Quest, the festering ire towards women in the gaming community finally had a woman to paint on a target, all under the pretenses of “ethics.” Several things stick out about this catalyst of the gamergate movement. The most prominent of which is that these allegations are patently false. First of all, these allegations came from Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend. The devil himself couldn’t be a more dubious source than someone’s ex-boyfriend. Second, Nathan Grayson never wrote a review of Depression Quest, which debunks the whole premise of the claim. Lastly, not a shred of evidence was ever produced to support this claim, and all evidence gathered since then has definitively shown the claim to have been false. But that doesn’t matter to the gamergate crowd, by that point the conspiracy had taken root: Barack Obama fabricated his birth certificate Gawker and Kotaku were selling good reviews for sex! The conspiratorial nature of this movement is evident when one reads this depressing interview with Adam Baldwin, the person who coined the term “gamergate” (it’s depressing because someone awesome enough to play Jayne on Firefly shouldn’t be stupid enough to believe what he’s saying). Within 5 sentences he’s railing against “social justice warriors,” a term that may have well been coined by Rush Limbaugh. And halfway through he posits that gamergate is part of a larger movement against a government/communist conspiracy to brainwash school children, and the only people who are catching onto the conspiracy are libertarians, of course. These pathetic rantings could literally be coming from a Tea Partier, but instead they’re coming from the titular gamergate creator.

I’m not the first person to pick up on the clear connection between libertarian/right-wing thinking and the gamergate movement. Laura Hudson, writing for Wired, put it perfectly: “…the anti-feminist movement in games has a great deal in common with the religious right; in both instances, their fixations on ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ come down not to a desire for a pluralist culture with a wide array of perspectives and values, but one where anything less than the absolute dominance of their own perspectives and values is perceived as ‘oppression.'”

Like the inevitable reaction to the Tea Party, everyone in the sane parts of society recognize gamergate (and the Tea Party) as a manifestation of the violent reaction among the privileged (mainly white men) towards those gaining more representation in the media and in the halls of power. And just like the Tea Party, the gamergate community’s total lack of self-awareness is on full display. They dismiss, excuse away or deny the violence engendered by and in the name of gamergate. They ignore the overwhelming evidence that the allegations against Zoe Quinn and Gawker are completely false, instead relying on conspiracy theories to justify their continued support for the movement. And like the Tea Party, if they’re not combated they could spell the end of all the progress made in gamer culture. Remember when the Tea Party controlled Congress almost caused the collapse of the world economy by coming within hours of allowing the US Government to default on its debt? Bigotry is a powerful motivator, and we can except something similar from the gamergate community. Without a concentrated effort from the rest of the gaming community gamergaters will stop at nothing until every feminist, “social justice warrior” and person they don’t like are thoroughly chased from the world of gaming. Death threats, bomb threats, rape threats, they’ve already employed these tactics regularly and will continue to due so until the opposition from the rest of the gaming community stops them. Obviously every gamergate proponent isn’t lobbying rape threats at Zoe Quinn, but every gamergate proponent I’ve talked to clearly thinks condemning Zoe Quinn’s sex life is more important than condemning the death threats against her. This is deplorable, and shows the moral and ethical depravity of this movement. This needs to stop. Gamergate is founded on a lie and perpetuated by hate. The misogyny it engenders is indicative of its true motives: to chase women out of gaming. And right now they’re succeeding. This needs to stop.