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GDC "Teaching students to make games under Fascism"

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Offline kat

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GDC 2017 - Teaching Students to Make Games Under Fascism
[image courtesy Twitter]

Video: GDC Vault Education Soapbox (relevant section starts 0:30:00 mins). Transcript below.

The image above is from the Education Soapbox session of the Game Developers Conference annual "GDC Education Summit". The slide, "Teaching Students to Make Games Under Fascism", is part of a broader presentation, "Teaching Students to Make Socially Aware Games", arguing the case that games and game development are 'political' (small "p" although vid. [1(b)]) and in being so can be used to convey politicised messages and ideas, especially those of marginalised or under-represented groups. To address these shortfalls educators are called to task through appeals to a greater social and moral imperative[1], that they are, for all intents and purposes, obligated and duty-bound to teach greater awareness and sensitivity towards these narratives in their students, especially given the current sociopolitical environment, that Trumps America is Fascist.

It's difficult to determine whether this 'fascist' threat narrative and barely disguised anti-Trump rhetoric is sensationalised and hyperbolic for the sake of drawing attention to the authors field of study, or for other reasons. Whatever the case may be its certainly not a reflection of, or a reasonable commentary on, reality as it stands; were Trumps Administration and United States actually fascist, GDC, let along the session and its speakers, would not be quite so public and open with their dissent and advocacy for 'resistance' and 'subversion' of what would then be 'The Parties' policies, no matter how 'just' ("J" and "j") the cause or 'brave' the speaker and others thought themselves to be for "speaking out". History paints a vivid picture on this point[2].

Aside from it being de rigueur, a cause célèbre, for cohorts of such to come together in oppositional solidarité to the new Trump Administration "SUM = [because] + [reasons(n)]", these discussions are not about games or game development, or even the issues on the table, themselves often poorly constructed facades. They are instead nothing more than recruitment drives, initiatives meant to bring new blood into class-based political agitation, a facsimile of '{rich} vs. {poor}', '{black} vs. {white}', now '{arbitrary attribute} vs. {privilege}', an ostensibly unfalsifiable self-justifying dialectic[3].

To this end these political activists and agitators, those cunningly disguised as 'educators' and 'thought-leaders', are teaching students argumentative slight-of-hand tricks that perpetuate and preserve the narrative, not solve the problems they may present, techniques useful in deconstructing the workplace and crippling business through polarising categorization and division under the guise of "civil rights" instead of building cohesion around difference, a far more valuable skill in highly competitive global marketplaces[4], and arguably what students actually pay for when studying, not just game design, and what they aught to be hearing when attending premiere development confabs like GDC.

Bluntly put, what these interlopers are doing is co-opting students futures with emotionally appealing faux injustices, half-baked conspiracy theories of little tangible benefit in the workplace. An outlook that will eventually have them looking back on lives lived with significant and longstanding unpaid dept, of being openly resentful at realising they were nothing more than child-sacrifices to a different demi-god, a fabricated pseudo-religious conflict[5], their bodies thrown on the barbed wire of disingenuous confabulations so the 'Clerics' and 'Architects' could walk their backs freely to the pots of government gold at the end of the rainbow, the sole beneficiaries of "The Struggle" and very institutions they spent so much energy opposing, with nary a thought of the students used to get there.

This isn't "education". Its not "teaching", game development or any one of the associated disciplines. Its not even "critical theory". Its simply a malicious and deliberate hijacking of students enthusiasm for all things gaming and game development at a time when their intellectual defenses are least resistant to abuse, and an "abuse" it is. Its a mendacious and open theft of the young's minds and futures for the agitation of falsehoods, self-perpetuating politicking intentionally structured to be unsolvable and unending.

[1] GDC 2017 - "Teaching Students to Make Socially-Aware Games"
(a) "[sic] Video Games Are Expressions of Culture, Goddamn it, and It Is Ethically Irresponsible of Us as Educators and Human Being, Especially Given the Garbage Fire That Is Politics Today, to Send Our Students out into the World without Teaching Them to Think about the Fact that the Work They Produce Exists in a Broader Social Context - Like, to Seriously Think about That and Actually Care".

[2] Much of the historical literature that survives actual fascist and authoritarian regimes paint poignant portraits of daily life, and none of it is the Hollywood or cinematically glamourised fiction of "vive la résistance", "che G" t-shirt revisionism, its dirty, stinks of piss and vomit, of doing anything to eat and stay alive, of being anonymous so as to go unnoticed, of slinking through shadows, talking in whispers to avoid not just official political enforcers, but the more abundant and arguably more dangerous snitches and citizen spies ready to do a 'turn' over split milk. Being an 'enemy of the state', mildly political or oppositional were never prerequisites to persecution when a person could be beaten for walking on the correct side of the road.

[3] There's a fundamental difference between the historical "{black} vs. {white}" struggle of the 1950's and 60's Civil Rights movement and said same struggle under the newer millennial "{arbitrary attribute} vs. {privilege}" paradigm. For the former a persons 'value' as an individual, and to society at large, was largely determined by their actions and deeds, their "character" as exemplified in Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech. For the latter the opposite is the case, 'character' and 'value' are affectations, subordinate consideration to whatever arbitrary attributes a person may possess or claim, like skin colour. In this way the individuals successes and failures can be blamed on 'self' (former) or 'others' (latter), making the person responsible for their own mistakes (former), or the victim of others (latter).

The NET effect of this difference now is a self-justifying "hierarchy of privilege", the "Progressive Stack" as its more commonly know, 'white' being at the top ("white, CIS-gendered Male" to be precise) with every other 'attribute' ("marginalised" grouping) below. In this inversion lower staves of the stack have greater 'value' because they are considered to be more 'marginalised' in Society, so greater effort should be expended giving voice to those individuals than anyone above them, regardless as to merits of the claim (its not a 'meritocracy').

In other words a 'white' person is 'systemically privileged' because they are 'white' rather than as a consequence of their efforts, 'good' or 'bad'. In this way being 'white' means the individual must always be taking advantage of privilege systems and the underprivileged regardless of outcome or intent. Conversely a 'black' person (anyone that's 'non-white') is always a victim of someone regardless of their efforts to be 'good' or 'bad' because they are not subject to the same systemic privileges advantaging a 'white' person.

This manifestation of "intersectionality" as this is properly called, is an inescapable self-reinforcing victimology that enslaves adherents to a hierarchy of forced outcome instead of selective opportunity, a construction of arbitrary considerations that can be flipped and changed at the turn of a D20. Its a grand illusion that tricks people into bondage to those at the very top, not the 'evil white man', but the Stacks authors, the oft' soft-spoken, self-effacing 'intellectuals' and 'social critics' who perpetuate what is nothing more than an alternative system of control, a different form of the 'systemic oppression' supposedly being fought, the success of which is solely dependent upon continued appeals to individual and societal (in)justice and outrage.

In essence its a system that continues to victimise victims of oppression by recasting the means through which victimhood manifests itself whilst its high-priestesses and priests revel in the rewards of nonfalsifiable, unchallengeable and unaccountable positions of authority (criticism justifies the systems existence, not its veracity or efficacy).

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics "Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations"
(a) Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015
 - Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media Occupations (Major Group)
 - Software Developers, Applications
 - Computer Programmers
 - Multimedia Artists and Animators
 - Political Scientists
(b) Work for play: Careers in video game development
(c) Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
(d) American Political Science Association research and development
(e) Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, Fall 2015
 - Table 9. Graduate students in science, engineering, and health in all institutions, by detailed field: 2010–15

[5] Student loans are often the most significant repayment obligation experienced by the individual other than a home mortgage, and depending on the type, value and severity of the repayment schedule, may cause the debtor significant stress. Poorly managed this can lead to any number of mental-health issues or increasingly risky coping behaviours including the possibility of depression or suicide. In this context being indebted for the sake of a "useless degree" is a significant co-factor to problems in later life rarely, if ever, openly contemplated or considered by 'political activists' as they chase new recruits for their cause instead of arming them with tools for success that should include their being able to repay loans taken against their education.
 - Student suicides in those aged 18 years and above, by sex and usual place of residence indicator, deaths registered in England and Wales between 2001 and 2015
 - CDC factsheet : Suicides (incl. students) facts at a glance 2015
 - Office of National Statistics - suicide rates (UK)
 - National Institute of Mental Health - suicide rates (US)
 - Royal College of Psychiatrists: CR166. The Mental health of students in higher education (pub. 2011)
(a) U.S. Department of Education, Student Loans, Forgiveness
 - National Student Loan Two-year Default Rates
 - Official Cohort Default Rates for Schools
 - - FY 2013 3-Year Official Cohort Default Rates by State/Territory-National Calculated August 6, 2016
(b) DEGREES OF DEBT: Funding and finance for undergraduates in Anglophone countries - a comparative investigation of student debt levels in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.

Offline ratty redemption

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very well said my friend.

and this indoctrination is only a step away from some of those students dressing all in black, covering their faces (ie their individual identities) and rioting in the streets. all in the name of fighting the "evil capitalists" and "nazis". or what ever emotionally charged buzzwords are being used to rally the impressionable students.

i'm fully aware we sound like old men... however, when we were young, gaming was about having fun. and escaping into fantasies. the difference back then, the vast majority of us gamers, or comic book fans, could distinguish between reality and fiction. something that sadly a lot of younger people are loosing the ability, mainly due to the nonsense modern universities are teaching them.

Offline kat

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Young minds are not 'loosing' the ability to discern reality from fiction so much as perhaps being taught not to make that determination. It's a prerequisite of intersectionality that imagery, symbols, their value and meaning be interpreted literally rather than metaphorically or allegorically as might be done in more traditional art and critical theory, otherwise the content and context of what's being deconstructed has the ability to provide an 'out'... if Person A argues 'X' is bad, Person B can argue 'X' means something else entirely because the object of criticism, and its meaning, is not fixed. In other words, for the intersectionality to work, everything has to be fixed as that's the only way both Object (a 'thing') and its Meaning (what it represents) can be controlled through a specific and narrowly defined lexicon and value system. It essentially makes Adherents slaves to the narratives they weave.

Offline ratty redemption

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good points. so while we're designing and constructing virtual game worlds, knowing they are not real. these young people might be believing their own versions of reality?

this could explain why star wars storm trooper costumes are being banned from some star wars themed parties in american universities, because apparently they represent actual nazis.

Offline kat

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[slide "Teaching Students to Make Socially Aware Games"]
Hi I'm Bonnie Ruberg. I am a post-doc at USC and assistant professor at UC Irvine. This talk is called "Teaching Students to make socially aware games" and a heads up it's gonna involve a lot of me talking quickly, involves photos of animals, and it involves feelings, so, lets do this.

[slide (picture bearded white male)]
First a shout-out to my college Jeff Watson of.. we proposed this talk together, and I'm gonna try and do my best to channel my inner Jeff.

[slide (Victorian soapbox adverts boy/girl)]
It used to be that GDC "soapbox" talks were called "rants". "Soapbox sound friendlier and less angry, right. Looks here's some adorable children standing on soapboxes, that one has a kitten.

Screw. That. Kitten. This. Is. A. Rant. I am angry and you should be too.

[slide (pictures of Queen Elizabeth II)]
By the way when you Google image search "angry people", you get women hitting men with frying pans, that's some gender nonsense, here is the Queen of England, apparently people think she looks angry. Good for her.

[slide (movie: fire extinguisher)]
So, why am I angry. The world is in flames. Higher education, the arts, and knowledge itself are all under attack. This country and many around the World are rapidly becoming less safe for people who are different. Women, LGBT people. People of colour. Immigrants. And people of different religions. If that fills you with rage, good. Rage is how the body resists.

[slide "A well-stocked arsenal of anger is a useful tool against those oppressions, both personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being." - Audrey Lorde]
Here's a quote from black feminist activist Audrey Lorde. She was writing in 1981, but this totally applies today. "A well-stocked arsenal of anger is a useful tool against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being.".

[slide (various college(?) game course logos)]
OK so the worlds on fire and we're angry. Lets talk about games education. Games education is in a period of rapid growth right now. We know that. Established programs are getting bigger, new game programs are starting all the time, this is the, key, moment, for laying the groundwork that will shape what games education looks like for decades to come. Here's where the ranting starts.

[slide "Teaching Students to Make Socially-Aware Games"]
So I told you this was called "Teaching students to make socially-aware games", but a more, fitting title might be something like...

[slide "Video Games Are Expressions of Culture, Goddamn it, and It Is Ethically Irresponsible of Us as Educators and Human Beings, Especially Given the Garbage Fire That Is Politics Today, to Send Our Students out into the World without Teaching Them to Think about the Fact that the Work They Produce Exists in a Broader Social Context - Like, to Seriously Think about That and Actually Care"]
Video games are expressions of culture, goddamn it, and it is ethically irresponsible of us as educators and human beings, especially given the garbage fire that is politics today, to send out students out into the World without teaching them to think about the fact that the work they produce exists in a broader social context - like, to seriously think about that and actually care. [mild applause].

[side "Teaching Students to Make Games under Fascism"]
Or, if you want a snappier title, lets just go with "teaching students to make games under fascism".

So. Even with all the wonderful things that we're accomplishing in games education today, I want to tell you that it is not enough. It's not enough to produce great developers with top technical skills. It's not enough to graduate students with polished portfolios who land industry jobs. It's not enough to teach students to make games. They need to know that games have meaning. They need to learn to make games that don't just replicate all the things that are already wrong with video games, like, all those implicit and explicit biases that we see all around us. Whether our students like it or not, the games they make influence and are influence by culture, and they need to know that.

A lot of them have grown up in these online games cultures that perpetuate this, this really profound misconception that, because video games are fun, that means they're just for fun. And they think that games exist in this apolitical vacuum, and that when we think of them as expressions of culture, that's just for so-called "social justice warriors". But we, we in this room, know better than that, we know that the games we make and that our students make, it represents a, something that really matters in the world. Right.

[slide (pictures of students around tables playing with 'kits')]
And in my experience once students enter the classroom, some of them can be shaken of this misconception quickly. Usually these are students who are women, or queer people, or people of colour, or people with disabilities. They're the students who don't have the prililege of pretending, like they don't see the discrimination in games. And they don't see how these larger forces of society and power, can be a force of change. Right, through games. And these are just some of my amazing USC students. Being amazing.

[slide (girl stomping around/old woman looks on)]
But there are other students who respond to this idea that games and games designers has social meaning with indignation. So I recently gave a talk to a class of first years, that included a discussion of colonialist themes in no-mans sky. Two me.. two students stood up. And stormed out. [faint laughter]. The remaining 48 engaged in a lively debate. So I say, let those two walk out. Let them see that no amount of arm-crossing and dramatic groaning can bully us into sanitizing their games education.

[slide (play-dough/Plasticine monsters)]
We have an ethical imperative to shape out students into creators who are, at the very least, aware of how social issues intersect with their games.

[slide (childs drawing of a cats face)]
Now I'm not arguing that our students should be only be making serious games, games for change. By all means have them make cute games. Or strange games. Or even violent games. This by the way is from an exercise we did in class the day after the election. Where we were working on self-care by making these strenge, silly, sticky-notes comics. But even when students make games like that, these silly games or violent games, they need to be asking themselves the right questions. They need to ask themselves questions like, who am I representing in my game. What values does this game communicate.

[slide (pixel art with text "are you a boy or a girl")]
So here's an example. Three different undergraduate teams and three different programs made three different 2D side-scrollers. And they were all in some way about gender. Which sounds great, right. So the first one is about navigating childhood social situations as a non-binary person.

[slide (old beach photo with child drawn character overlays)]
The second one. Is about a about gay men at a sit-in Los Angeles, and they're fighting off the police by kissing.

[slide (corgi dog in bright outfit)]
And the third one, which I'm not going to show you a screenshot of. Is about shooting women in bikinis who happen to have the faces of famous feminist authors. Which one of these games is not like the others. It's this one. Sorry corgis. The students who made this feminists in bikinis game weren't trying to be misogynistic, they were trying to be funny. In fact, on paper, they did a good job. They successfully demonstrated their technical skills, and teamwork. And now on their portfolios, when they show them to potential employers, they have a game that's well developed and tone-deaf as hell.

[slide (angry cat face)]
These students needed someone to step in and say "hey, this is why this is not gonna fly". They needed more courses that explicitly linked games with society. They needed more opportunities to practice analysing games, not because they're going to go off and become scholars per se, but because, they need to be better critical thinkers. They need to understand why they're making, what they're making and what messages it sends.

[slide (**** and **** van Dyke)]
Then, if they still want to be dicks, they can be dicks on purpose. [faint laughter]. This is not a one-time issue, or unlikely edge case, right. Socially unaware games are being made in our games programs every day. So what can we do about it.

First we lead by example. We accept that video games are political. That the way we make video games is political. And that the way that we teach students to make video games is political. That's true regardless of our personal politics, or the personal politics of our students. That is just true.

We speak candidly about the social and ethical and challenges that we face in our creative practices. We participate in the cultures of our department and build constructive dialogue. We become active advocates, and not just well intentioned allies. So I know lots of wonderful games faculty, people I really admire say, I don't bring politics into my classroom. Guess what.

Politics are already in your classroom. Identity and culture and the risk of reinforcing oppression, and the power to do social good. Those are already in your classroom. They're in the transgender student who is too distracted to pay attention to your discussion on level design, because they're frantically searching for information about how they get their gender legally changed before new anti-LGBT legislation sets in, right. They're the Muslim students can't travel with your team, with their team to show off their game, because they're afraid of being harassed by the TSA. Or they're in subtler moments, right. Like, maybe a student whose on the autism spectrum, whose uncomfortable speaking out in large groups. And can't figure out how to make themselves heard in a room full of outspoken, gamers.

[slide (book cover and author picture?)]
So pedagogy is one thing that we can do, its something we can all do, right now, right. We can give readings like "Values are Play in Digital Games". We can assign videos from the advocacy track in the GDC Vault. One of my students favorites is Tod Harper's "Trails and Pitfalls of Fatness in Games". To name just a few examples, right.

[slide (picture Pokemon NO - "Warning: Pokemon GO is a Death Sentence if you're a Black Man". News article headline: "Gaming's favorite villain is mental illness, and this needs to stop"]
There are articles about how playing Pokemon GO can put black men's lives in danger. Or about how using mental illness as a game mechanic can make for good design, but socially irresponsible game making.

[slide (LIM/female assassin's creed character)]
We can have our students play games like LIM, or Assassin's Creed which are games that use design to explore racial or gender passing.

[slide (book cover) "TEACH EARLY TEACH OFTEN"]
We need to do these things like was already said up here that early and often. Teaching students to make socially aware games isn't a challenge that's solvable with just one lecture or just one course. The design and development of games can't be separated from culture, and students need to learn that from the very beginning. I know that revamping a games program, or even a single course is difficult, I'm part of the team at UCI that's revamping the games major as we speak. And I totally recognise that sometimes we have prioritise what's mission critical.

[slide (picture of corgi dog wearing jet pack)]
This is missing critical. Our students need this. Socially aware students make better games. They make this work that they can be proud to share throughout their career because its thoughtful and well informed. The games industry needs this. Our students are the next generation of developers. They're the ones who can bring change to video games and make them more inclusive.

And you know what, we need this. Right, there's never been a more crucial moment to train our students to be politically engaged citizens. They're struggling with their place in the world today, and we are struggling too. This is not the time to pretend like the craft of game making stands separate from those struggles. This is a time to get angry. A time to challenge our students, to empower them and to design hope. Thank you. [applause].

Offline kat

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OP updated to include link to talk now available via GDC Vault. Relevant part starts at 30 minutes in. Video was also transcribed but don't know if it's worth posting a text dump with the video now available - included in post above.