Assorted Interesting Projects

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Tim Fowers — for whom I worked on Clockwords back in the day, and who has produced several other board and computer games — is doing a deck-building word game called Paperback. It looks like a terrifying collision of Scrabble and Dominion.

Coin Opera 2 is a book of poems about computer games, poems that emulate formal features of computer games. There is even a two-player poem. (I have no idea what that looks like in practice: chorus vs chorus leader? But it’s intriguing.)

Skullduggery is a twist on storytelling RPGs of the kind I sometimes talk about here, only (a) competitive and (b) oriented towards villainy. (Actually, some storytelling RPGs are already oriented towards villainy or at least petty crime, but usually not to quite the same degree…)

Now in its final hours, the Boss Fight Books series takes on classic video games one at a time. I’m especially pleased to see that Anna Anthropy is writing for this series.

Kickstarter politics comments after the jump.

I realize that Kickstarter’s recent apology about how they handled a controversial project has left a lot of people still unsatisfied with them. I am still going back and forth myself about what I think of their handling of the issue, so I sat on some of these announcements for a while.

Ultimately I decided that these projects were kicked off before that particular news broke and that their creators should ideally not be penalized for inadvertent association with those events. Whether I blog about or contribute to Kickstarter projects in the future is something I am still thinking about.

I really don’t want to encourage things like the project in question, but I really do want to see more independently funded projects, and have more ways to fund people who are doing cool things — especially people who are writing amazing games and releasing them but are still not able to pay their rent — and I see both of those as issues with an ethical component. I am concerned about the ability of poorer creators to work and be heard, and about supplementing the commercial entertainment industries with outsider art that speaks to other types of experience. I want more ways to support activities — from writing niche games to advocacy to education and mentoring — that aren’t always paid much (or at all) in the current economy, but that I consider very important. And I want to do all that in a way that doesn’t involve creepy patronage models, or the people with spare cash getting to tell the people without spare cash what to write.

KS is nothing like a complete solution to these problems, I realize, and there are various options even within its domain. indiegogo and gofundme also exist, and in the course of this conversation, someone suggested Gittip to me as a way to fund creators you like without having a specific project in mind, and Flattr as a way to respond to things already-created that you like. Edited to add: also Patreon, somewhat similar to Gittip but payments are tied to artist releases rather than simply on a weekly schedule.

Nonetheless I think the problem is sufficiently complex that it’s good to maximize our available strategies for addressing it, and I hate to see the leader in the crowd-funding field render itself ethically dubious, while I also understand that it must be stressful and confusing to face a rapid decision about pulling the plug on a high-profile, highly funded project when making the wrong call might even open them to legal action.

So I suppose my own takeaway from all this is essentially “we’ll see” — we’ll see whether future behavior bears out the substance of their apology — and for the time being my own call in this case was not to refuse support to creators who had no part in that decision and had no way of knowing this might happen.

7 thoughts on “Assorted Interesting Projects

  1. Was the seduction guide really “violent” toward women? Who will decide, morally, what should be kickstarted and what shouldnt be? What also bugs me about KS is when established corporate companies start up a KS. Dont give your money to rich people. Chaosium is doing a KS for a new edition of the Cthulhu game. Um, aren;t they an established company? Release your own crap and wait for people to buy it. Thanks for the post, Emily!

    • Yeah, it definitely was. Very much so. The video just made it look sleazy and creepy and sad, but its actual content was something much worse. This is an excerpt, rot-13ed not for spoilers but because it’s the kind of thing you don’t want to read by accident:
      “Chyy bhg lbhe pbpx naq chg ure unaq ba vg. Erzrzore, fur vf yrggvat lbh qb guvf orpnhfr lbh unir rfgnoyvfurq lbhefrys nf n YRNQRE. Qba’g nfx sbe crezvffvba, TENO URE UNAQ, naq chg vg evtug ba lbhe qvpx.”

      Who gets to decide, morally, what should be Kickstarted? Kickstarter does! Every publisher has the right to decline to publish something – that’s not an infringement of free speech, that’s business. In this case, any remotely decent publisher would exercise that right, and show this guy the door.

      On a different note, I am totally with you on the issue of big companies who crowdfund their stuff. With independent projects, people pay extra because they feel like they are part of its creation – and they are, because they are helping give life to something that couldn’t really exist any other way. That’s not true for big corporate projects.

  2. I’m not saying it’s all Tim Schafer’s fault, but I liked kickstarter before all of the established, major developers were on it. Whether or not they’re taking funding from the same backers that would’ve funded things like Hadaen Lands or Storybricks…I’m not sure.
    Also just thought I’d add since being a member of kickstartr when it first appeared, I’ve noticed it’s becoming a lot more hostile in terms of the comments supporters have been leaving, expecting their pledge to be an investment, and entitling them to a return on it and more.

  3. I dunno… I’d prefer Kickstarter remain (become?) 100% content-blind. Once Kickstarter starts editorializing beyond the obvious objective litmus tests like “is the proposed activity legal?” it has to walk the tightrope between too much censorship (Salman Rushdie’s project gets taken down) and too little (Kickstarter allowed a project containing a few slurs to be listed, since they approved it they must be endorsing racism!)

    Given the crowed-fueled nature of the site it makes a lot more sense to allow the users to vote with their wallets for the projects they do or don’t want to see funded. (I would, of course, expect Kickstarter to exercise good judgement in choosing their “Staff Picks,” etc.) If a lot of people want and are willing to pay for content promoting misogyny, obviously that’s a huge problem, but not one that is productively solved by lashing out at Kickstarter itself IMO.

    • I don’t know if everybody realizes this, but it’s not just that the book promotes misogyny – it tells the reader, in no uncertain terms, that the way a real man gets a woman to have sex with him is physical force. No publisher should publish that, and no marketplace should let that be displayed for sale. Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding sites) are kinda halfway between a publisher and a marketplace, and so I think the same applies to them.

      It’s absolutely true that Kickstarter will have to walk the tightrope you describe. Anybody who helps sell other people’s stuff has to walk that tightrope. Random House, Walmart, Amazon, eBay, YouTube, everybody. They all have to decide where the boundaries are, and when they are going to refuse to help someone sell something. That’s tough, and it requires good judgement and lots of careful thought. I agree that Kickstarter should not turn away stuff like The Satanic Verses or Huckleberry Finn, I think most people would also agree, and I think the people in charge of Kickstarter are reasonable enough to agree too.

      Of course, it is kind of unpleasant to think of a small group of people banning a book, and reminds us uncomfortably of the Inquisition and 1984 and stuff like that. But Kickstarter is not the government. Kickstarter doesn’t actually have the power to make a book illegal. They just have the option to choose not to put it up for sale on their website. Which is much more reasonable, and not totalitarian at all.

      Maybe it would make sense for Kickstarter to poll their users somehow to make the process more democratic, but as for voting with wallets, that kind of voting does not require a majority. It requires only a very small minority, and there is no way to vote no (only yes or abstain). So it’s hardly a vote.

      I don’t know how to solve the problem that there is demand for that stuff. That’s a tough problem that our society has. But I know how Kickstarter can solve the problem of that stuff being sold on Kickstarter: they just stop selling it. Which is indeed what they did.

      • The way I see it, the ‘tightrope’ is more of an avenue. If the project is likely to cause psychological, emotional or physical harm to anyone, don’t host it.

    • Kickstarter is not content blind and has never been content blind. They have a content review process and every submission goes through it. They’ve been getting sloppier, which is sad.

      I know this because I produced a project (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1422390839/animal-crime) which could have been interpreted as a joke, and before I released the project publicly Kickstarter staff contacted me to make sure that I was intending to produce the game, not just make fun of kickstarters. I was, they were fine with that, we moved on.

      I am glad Kickstarter has content review. I wish that they’d enforce it. I’m also glad other sites (IGG, say) have less content review.

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