The Roundup: Abuse In The Games Industry, Sleep No More Meets Niantic, And More

By Matt Gerardi

Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. In this installment, our critics call for real action against sexual abuse and harassment. Plus, a major change of pace for the developers of Dear Esther, the next step for a pioneering interactive theater company, and a terrifying trip through Those Who Remain.

Over the last several weeks, a tidal wave of sexual harassment and abuse allegations has swept through social media, with survivors from across a host of industries coming forward to tell their stories. That includes hundreds of allegations from within the gaming industry and various gaming communities. Whitney Meers wrote about the power dynamics at play in gaming content-creation and how ingrained biases against women and LGBTQ+ creators open up even greater opportunities for abuse. Seeing the role Twitch, as a platform, has had in facilitating various abuses and an unending torrent of harassment, Whitney called on the company to step up its efforts to deplatform abusers and make its ecosystem safe for everyone.

The pandemic has put the influential New York-based interactive theater experience Sleep No More on hiatus for the first time since it began running in 2013, but Punchdrunk, the British theater company behind the production, has forged a new partnership with Niantic to bring its sense of world-building and mystery to a new augmented-reality game. Scott Stein has all the (scant for now) details and some tantalizing quotes about the production company’s AR vision over at CNET.

At The Washington Post, Christopher Byrd reviewed the latest game from The Chinese Room, developer of such eerie, contemplative narratives as Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The studio’s newest is, to put it mildly, a departure: a cartoonish platforming adventure to the center of the Earth and back, presented through Golden Age sci-fi imagery and a Soviet-inspired framing device. But despite the change of genre and tone, The Chinese Room’s penchant for compelling scripts elevates Little Orpheus above the usual mobile gaming fare. “Anchoring these wild adventures is the sharp banter between the incredulous general and the questionably credible Ivan,” Christopher writes.

Over on the Circle site, Isaiah Soto, one of the student writers from our Lower East Side Critics Circle, shared his experience with Those Who Remain, a stylish, creepy thriller. While he had plenty of issues with how it played, Isaiah came to appreciate his time in the game’s haunted town of Dormont, with its big scares and surprising twists. “Those Who Remain is a great game because it changes the way you think about the characters as you solve a wild mystery about someone’s death,” he said.

From Beyond The Circle

There have been so many stories of harassment and abuse coming out over these last few weeks that it’s been impossible to keep up. In terms of pure raw data, Whitney, in her Twitch piece, linked to a brutally long Google spreadsheet tracking allegations from around the world of games. For an overview with less scope but more vital context, Polygon has assembled a summary that touches on some of the bigger stories from around videogames (like the allegations against writer Chris Avellone and those stemming from inside Ubisoft), board games, and comics.

In the world of esports, the fighting game community, which has already been hit hard from the pandemic and its breaking up of in-person tournaments, was forced to reckon with a load of allegations. Joey Cuellar, the co-founder of Evo, was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage boys, leading to his removal from the company, several publishers pulling their games from the Evo 2020 festivities, and, eventually, the wholesale canceling of this year’s virtual event. Dozens of abuse allegations have also rocked the competitive Super Smash Bros. scene, some involving top players and commentators, prompting Nintendo itself to make a statement.

This is just a brief look at the literally hundreds of abuse and harassment stories survivors from around the games industry have shared in recent weeks. This kind of behavior has no place in games or any other facet of our society, and we all need to do our best to dismantle the systemic dynamics that allow it to continue happening with little to no consequences for abusers. Believe survivors. 

Now that some time and the bonds of a restrictive review embargo have passed, we’re starting to see some fascinating writing about The Last of Us Part II begin to emerge. At Bullet Points Monthly, Yussef Cole put together an especially poignant piece about the vein of conservative, individualist ideology that runs through the game and its mirroring of commonly held, commonly racist views about suburbia as a safe haven from the “dangers” of the American city. “Part II, in basing the aesthetic of its safe havens around historically segregated spaces, and setting most of its battlegrounds within cities, samples from this contradiction,” Cole writes. “In offering us a version of the promised freedom and safety of the frontier homestead it necessarily stands upon the violent shoulders of those responsible for the homestead’s establishment.”

If you’re looking for something not quite so dispiriting, the Games for Change festival goes decidedly digital this year – and it’s free for all. Digital means the organization can cast a world-wide net for speakers because they don’t have to travel to NYC for a face-to-face conference. Highlights include a keynote by Media Molecule’s Studio Director Siobhan Reddy, who recently was interviewed on Talking Games With Reggie And Harold about her excellent career in games. Siobahn will speak on the afternoon of July 14 about Democratizing Games Creation with Dreams.

Polygon has produced a tremendous oral-history-style look at the development of the original Street Fighter. This latest entry in Matt Leone’s series of longform oral histories follows his 2014 report on the making of Street Fighter II and kicks off a new mini-series exploring the entirety of the Street Fighter universe through a number of behind-the-scenes stories. For this first piece, Leone speaks with several key figures in the game’s creation and release, as well as members of the media and Street Fighter fandom, about this imperfect progenitor and how a desire to get arcades to buy a big, unique, expensive cabinet paved the way for an entire videogame genre.

Changes And Passings

We all want to wish a speedy recovery to NuckleDu, the awesome esports pro who was recently injured in a car crash. Du Dang decided to retire from esports after his accident and we wish him the best in every way possible. NuckleDu is a Capcom Cup Champion and DreamHack Champion. When Circle president Harold Goldberg interviewed him for The Washington Post, he found NuckleDu to be a total delight, thoughtful and empathetic.

We also are supremely upset to report that Ohlana, the 26-year-old Twitch streamer who showed so much potential, has died by suicide. She is the third streamer to die in the past week. That includes Reckful (Wow) and Blue622 (GTA). If someone you know reaches out to you – with even the smallest sadness – please, please listen. Also:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

New York State Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-942-6906

Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5” to 741-741

That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you next week.

Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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