I wanted to say I'm sorry I got so angry over the Neptunia talk recently, and I'm sorry that I deserted the boards for a good while after it.
Let me talk a bit about my position, which some of you already understand, but which I want to make explicit anyway. I'm going to do this in a wall of text rather than in a real-time chat message to you, Rampant, because I feel I can better articulate myself that way. Plus other people can read and hopefully get something out of it, too.
Let me open by saying that the Squad is extremely important to me. You people have been friends, comrades and fellow game enthusiasts for longer than pretty much any other group of friends I have in the world -- with the sole exception of my school friend Woody, whom I was pleased to reunite with for the first time in years at my wedding recently. Your opinions are important to me -- more to the point, they affect
me. And this, I feel, is the crux of the matter and why I got so upset.
The reason I like Japanese games so much today is entirely because of the Squad
. We played Katawa Shoujo as a group, podcasted about it, got something from it, and it touched
me deeply, more than any other work of art has ever touched me. I wanted more of that experience, so I started exploring other visual novels -- Kana, School Days, Kira Kira, Aselia the Eternal. Then I branched out into modern JRPGs; I'd previously eschewed them due to poor reviews, even though I was known among my friends at school as The Guy Who Would Buy Any PS1 RPG That Got Released.
The first "moe" RPG I played was Hyperdimension Neptunia. (You could probably make an argument for it being Recettear, but that's a bit of a different situation; let's say the first modern console moe-themed RPG I played was Hyperdimension Neptunia.) Objectively speaking, Hyperdimension Neptunia is not a brilliant game. It runs at a sub-30fps frame rate, its dungeons are repetitive, it's grindy, the combat is needlessly complicated and it has one of the dumbest item systems of any game I've ever played.
But I loved
it. Why? Because it spoke to me. It understood that I was someone who enjoyed anime and games, and it cracked jokes along with me rather than at me. It introduced me to characters that I enjoyed spending time with and could relate to. It had a wafer-thin plot, but that didn't matter; it was the video game equivalent of a slice-of-life anime: it was a situation where it was just plain fun to hang out with these characters, regardless of what they were doing. I was in love, in short, so I immediately jumped on mk2 and Victory when they came out, even going so far as to pay through the nose for a copy of mk2, which had an inexplicably limited release run in Europe meaning I had to import my copy from Italy.
Somewhere during this period, Shingro introduced me to Ar Tonelico. This was his
series that he'd fight to the death for, his
series that he would rabbit on about for months to anyone who would listen. I listened. I finished Neptunia mk2. I booted up the first Ar Tonelico game. And suddenly I was right there with him. I understood why he loved these games so much.
They were different to Neptunia. They still had the "I like hanging out with these characters" angle, but the Dive system represented one of the most intimate ways of exploring interpersonal relationships I think I've ever encountered -- and that includes visual novels that depict explicit but realistic sexual relationships. Once again, I found a lot I could relate to; I found characters with similar issues, hangups, neuroses and worries to my own. I understood them. I felt affection for them. As works of art, the Ar Tonelico series affected me deeply -- to such a degree that when Andie and I got married, we signed the register to EXEC_with.METHOD_METAFALICA/. and walked out of the church to EXEC_COSMOFLIPS/. I had literally dreamed
about doing that, and it actually happening made me amazingly happy, even though on the day itself I barely noticed anything that was going on.
To cut a long story short so I don't go through every single game I've played and loved over the course of the last few years, these games are important to me. They carry personal meaning to me. I appreciate them and love them -- and, moreover, I appreciate and love that they've introduced me to a community of people (aside from the Squad) who enjoy the same things I do. And, as I suspected they might, many of those people (who, I'll add -- and I wish I didn't have to, but I am anyway -- are male and female, black and white, cis and trans, straight and gay, English-speaking and ESL...) understand the things that worry me, make me anxious, stress me out and make me happy. We all like these games for a reason; they're important to all of us.
And this is why we collectively get upset and angry when someone takes a big steaming shit on them. I'm speaking for myself here, but I know the other people who feel the same have a similar attitude. I don't want or need people to approve
of these games. I don't want or need people to like
these games. What I do, however, need, is for people to respect
the fact that I
like these games, that my friends like these games, and that we really don't appreciate being branded as "creepy" or "perverted" or "deviant" any time the subject comes up. What we'd also love is if the people who branded these games "creepy", "perverted" or "deviant" would actually investigate these games for themselves rather than making blanket statements based on absolutely no knowledge of them whatsoever.
Let me give you a few examples.
When I worked at USgamer, Bob Mackey refused to review Atelier Rorona on the grounds that he didn't know anything about it, did a Google Image Search and found it "creepy". Atelier Rorona is like the fucking nicest
game on the planet, and if you find it "creepy", then I feel you are probably the one with a problem somewhere.
Likewise when I was at USgamer, a freelancer named Dustin Quillen reviewed Hatsune Miku Project Diva F on PlayStation 3, branded it as being "for degenerates" and "creepy" and pissed off a significant proportion of the community the site had built at that point. That review directly led to my starting my JPgamer column on the site, a regular feature from which I made a number of friends and contacts with whom I'm still in touch today -- Chris Caskie, whom I'd consider to be one of my best friends now, is one of them.
Then there's people like Phil Kollar, whom people have the inexplicable belief to be a "JRPG expert", but who refuse to even try to engage with modern JRPGs. I recall when I was playing Neptunia mk2 and commented how fun the combat was, he basically told me that I was wrong. Great criticism there, chief. (Shortly after, he became one of those insufferable I Must Disapprove Of Everything And Publicly Shame Deviants people, so I've had him blocked pretty much ever since.)
Like I say, I don't need the approval of these people. I don't need the approval of people here. But what I do
need is for those who don't like something to not
shit on things that other people do like. And calling something "creepy" or equivalent is
shitting on it, because by implication you're saying that people who like it are "creepy". And that really fucking sucks. It brings back horrible, painful memories of being a nerdy kid and being into computer games, and getting beaten up for it -- only now it's people who should be on "my side" giving me shit for the things I like. I'm sure at least a few of you here can probably understand how much that fucking sucks -- and yes, firstworldproblems and all that, but still problems.
Which brings me to modern outrage culture and how it's the worst thing to happen to online discourse ever
. I'm not going to go on a rant about freedom of speech, because I'm well aware that things you say carry consequences and whatever. But I really fucking hate how attempting to talk about certain things now feels like walking on eggshells. To be perfectly honest, I am selfish about social issues. I don't give a shit about things that don't affect me and have precisely no interest whatsoever in promoting feminism, trans issues, gay marriage or whatever. (I don't disagree with any of those things, for the record; I just don't care enough to want to campaign about them, largely because since I don't fall into any of those categories, there's not a whole lot of point me getting involved.) BUT! I live my life treating others as I would like to be treated: with respect when I'm dealing with people face to face, and with the unspoken understanding that what you do in private is entirely your business, and so long as you're not hurting anyone or nurturing any genuinely harmful opinions -- and no, liking the glorious curves on Tsunako's character designs is not a harmful opinion -- everything is good.
Which is why I object to ideologies being rammed down my throat. I have no problem with people believing what they want to believe about whatever cause they're passionate about -- again, so long as it's not actively hurting anyone -- but when these beliefs start interfering with discussions and friendship groups, that's when I get upset and frustrated. And this isn't even a recent thing; I can recall as far back as I think 2010 or so when Jeff Grubb was dogpiled on Twitter for reporting on David Jaffe making some off-colour comments without
branding him as literally Hitler. I was really worried for his safety, and had quite an enlightening chat with him while he went off the grid for a few hours. He was upset and scared, particularly as high-profile people like Justin McElroy and Leigh Alexander were attacking him and making damn sure everyone
knew that they were doing so. Speaking as someone who has been doxxed, slandered and harassed
for no other reason than I had the word "Brony" in my Twitter profile (because no, it's not just women who deal with this sort of shit) I understand entirely why he was so scared, and I understand entirely why a lot of people are so hesitant to talk about things that they really care about if they can be considered in any
Beige brought up the matter of not having to approve of things that people are passionate about, like skinheads being passionate about racism or whatever. Of course that's true, but that's not really the same thing at all. A skinhead's attitude towards non-white people is harmful and leads to people getting hurt. A fan of Japanese games liking tits isn't hurting anyone. These games are so obviously fantasy
that anyone who does
let their real world opinions be affected by them clearly already has some mental issues in the first place. Consequently, while I'd happily bury my head in Vert's tits were she a real person, I don't go up to real women in the street and start motorboating them, nor do I judge real women based solely on their appearance. (I don't judge Vert on her appearance either, for that matter; while she's hot, the thing that I find more attractive about her is her "older sister" nature.) There's the difference then; it's fine to slag off skinheads for being racist cunts because we can pretty much all agree that What They Are Doing Is Bad. But when you start calling people who like anime girls and JRPGs "creepy", that just comes across as petty, a case of "I don't like this so I must put down the opinions of anyone who does".
This doesn't happen only with Japanese games, of course; people are just as guilty of branding Call of Duty players as dudebros, or MMO players as foul-smelling social pariahs, or MOBA players as universally racist, homophobic bigots, or fans of arty games as liking "things that aren't games". It's all
shit, and none of it should happen. I just happen to be speaking from my own personal interests here. It just seems like Japanese games are a common whipping boy for this sort of thing. I wouldn't dream of berating Alex C for his love of strategy games, even though I don't get on with them myself. I wouldn't dream of berating Red for his enjoyment of ArmA, even though I know I wouldn't enjoy that game. I wouldn't dream of thinking any less of people who like walking simulators, or arty 2D platformers, or abstract puzzle games, or even Candy Crush Fucking Saga if that's what you're into.
Key point, though: all those things can be criticised without making the people who do like them feel like shit, and to do that you need to examine them from all angles. You can criticise Candy Crush's exploitative free-to-play mechanics while appreciating that its lightweight, easy-to-understand gameplay appeals to people who have never picked up a controller. You can criticise an arty 2D platformer for clumsy storytelling while appreciating its interesting puzzle design. You can criticise a first-person shooter for being yet another brown military affair while respecting its satisfying gunplay and primal thrills.
And you can criticise a Japanese game for any flaws you'd care to mention. But do so from a position of being informed. Don't just dismiss something because it has sexy bits in it; contemplate why
those sexy bits are there. (Neptunia, as we've previously discussed, uses them to satirise fanservicey anime, and explicitly lampshades this on a regular basis; something like Time and Eternity, meanwhile, uses its ecchi scenes as a means of reflecting the protagonist's sexual frustration and making the player empathise with him; Demon Gaze uses them in the context of its demons to show their power and aggression through sexuality, as well as to show the developing intimacy between the player protagonist and Fran; Senran Kagura uses them, among other things, to show that Being Curvy Is Okay, that Being Gay is Cool and that learning to understand people -- even those who are seemingly from diametrically opposed ideologies or attitudes -- can lead to the strangest, most wonderful friendships and romances.) Delve into it more deeply. Consider it from other people's perspectives. And don't call people who do like it "creepy"!
If this wasn't enough for you, here's some further reading from my friend Matt Sainsbury over at Digitally Downloaded, with whom I'm soon launching a new games criticism magazine: http://www.digitallydownloaded.net/2015 ... anese.html
(Matt, incidentally, self-identifies as an "SJW" and loathes GamerGate with a passion; these things shouldn't matter, but I feel it's important to mention these things so you can read and appreciate his excellent piece in context.)
I'll close by saying once again that I'm sorry that I got angry and upset and went away for a while. But I am sensitive and defensive about these things, and while it sucks to have the mainstream press shitting all over my hobby on a regular basis, it sucks even more
to feel like your friends are doing the same thing, even if they perhaps aren't quite as much as you originally think they might have been.
As the dearly departed Iwata-san would say, Please Understand.