Alex Lifschitz

I produce video games. I'm on twitter at @alexlifschitz. My opinions are those of Ah-Muzen-Cab, mayan god of bees.

Sep 17

GTA V: Anything Less Than Perfect

As a video game producer, one of my chief responsibilities is to mitigate scope, cutting and approving features from a project as they are deemed either to lead to higher review scores and player satisfaction, or to be benign and ultimately removable without harming the game’s core appeal. It can be the difference between a tightly-focused and financially successful project, and a bloated, unprofitable title with eyes bigger than its stomach. This requires the ability to understand a feature’s value as it relates to the audience’s desires, so as to better represent them during the decision-making process.

The term we have for this is “player advocacy,” and it requires the ability to step outside your personal understanding of media to assess the wants and needs of those not in your own demographic. Empathy goes hand in hand with effective game production, which is why the gender hurricane surrounding Grand Theft Auto V right now gives me pause, both as an advocate for gender representation in games and as a video game professional.

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Sep 8

Sorry, Not Sorry: Penny Arcade and the Deeper Roots of Apology

When you issue a public apology, ideally, it’s because you’ve found yourself waist-deep in moral quicksand and wisely decided that stubbornly thrashing about in the name of abstract concepts like machismo - read, the worst reason for doing anything, ever - is less productive than admitting fault. More than that, though, an apology should be intended as a reassurance to others that you’re not going to keep bungling things in the same spectacular fashion. Without that critical element of self-analysis, you’re not apologizing; you’re just groveling for its own sake. You’re not really acknowledging or addressing the causative elements of the situation at hand. And that helps no one.

The uproar over Mike Krahulik’s onstage comments at PAX Prime this week is not unexpected for anyone familiar with Mike’s storied history of controversial outbursts. But as the years have gone by, I’ve learned to appreciate, with a mix of resigned sorrow and consternation, the ballooning delta by which Penny Arcade misses the point in their otherwise whole-hearted apologies. Mike, like most people tempering their personal narratives, believes himself to be a good person. But at the point where uninformed behavior persists in the face of corrective critique and becomes stubborn, offensive naiveté, your best option is to cut ties.

In this sense, one of the best pieces of life advice I ever received was from my high school driving instructor. Of people who aggressively and erratically endanger others on the road, he advised: “Pull back, don’t be stupid with them. Let them have their accident somewhere else.”

I used to be a huge Penny Arcade fan, and always enjoyed Mike’s art and Jerry’s prose. I still do, when I see it. My brother owns all their books, and I proudly wore their apparel in high school (Jesus, it’s been that long?). But at some point - likely Dickwolf Kerfuffle Prime - I began developing the sinking feeling that things would continue trending steadily downhill; each year, injecting another complicating factor into Penny Arcade’s gendered House of Usher. And each year has borne me out, gifting me with a new, massive bone to pick with gamer culture and Penny Arcade in particular about the state of sex and gender discourse in the culture they have in many ways come to represent.

I’m a straight, white, cisgendered male in the Pacific Northwest. I am never the target of discrimination (minus the occasional anti-semitic slur). I do not suffer any social background radiation that pecks and claws at me as I make my way through life and industry. I’d love to have a celebration of an inclusive games community, including sexual assault survivors, trans people, and others. I also value honesty, open-mindedness, self-analysis, and empathy on a fundamental level. For all those reasons, I have not attended PAX since 2011. And after reading Mike’s misguided apology, I do not plan on returning anytime soon.

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