My response to the Indie Cube comments

October 24, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 28 Comments

I’m a little bit saddened by some of the negative comments I’ve read on Twitter about the Indie Custom Cube. I think the most disappointing and disturbing part is how easily things were taken grossly out of context, thus leading to weighted terms like “racism” and “sexism” being so wrongly applied to the set’s design. I’m even more disturbed by how certain people saw said words, and without doing any research about the context, designers, or how MTG even works, immediately attacked the developers (including myself).

I would like to address a few of the more illogical and unwarranted comments specifically, but I will start by saying this: It disappoints me greatly that anyone would blindly group me into such categories without doing their research first, given how much I’ve done to take a stance against such things, and how much racism and sexism I’ve experienced in my lifetime being both Asian and female. To assume that I would participate in something with such labels deeply saddens me. I will go through and debunk each one, and hopefully it will become quickly apparent how nonsensical and taken out of context these arguments are. I think the fact that I was involved with this should clue you into the fact that the Indie Cube was not some sort of “elite boys club meant to degrade women.” >_<

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Women in the ICC deck are given an extra qualifier: they are “female” developers, “female” artists, and “female companions” (in the case of the “Supportive Spouse”). The same cannot be said of men, who are identified by nationality or personality.
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This is taken completely out of context. Using the term “female” had ZERO sexist connotations. Mechanically speaking, if you are familiar with Magic the Gathering, then you know there are “creature types” that get referenced for the purpose of gameplay (for example, other cards will boost the power and toughness of a particular creature type when they come into play). Since it is a reality that there are very few female game developers, we made it a “creature type” so that cards could better interact with it. Speaking in terms of flavor, we also did this to give a nod to accomplished female developers.

Why do I not think this is sexist? For starters, when news sites like Gamasutra write articles about the “Top 20 Women in Games” but don’t write corresponding articles about the “Top 20 Men in Games”… or when Anna Anthropy gives a talk at GDC complaining about how we need more “female” or “transgender” game developers (thus grouping them separately from the “white male norm”), are these people coming from a place of sexism? Are they coming from a place of hatred and discrimination against women? Absolutely not. They are making a distinction in order to raise awareness. Sometimes highlighting successful females is inspiring to other females who hope to work in traditionally gender imbalanced fields. When I see people like Melissa DeTora hitting Top 8 in the MTG Pro-Tour, I feel inspired. When I was one of maybe two females in my computer sciences courses in college, I was inspired whenever I met or read about accomplished female programmers.

So when the Indie cube features cards like Erin Robinson (a “female developer” who gives +1/+1 and “Inspired” to other female developers), not only is this interesting from a design standpoint because you can attempt to build a deck around cards like this… But it’s also (in my opinion) anything BUT sexist from a flavor perspective. Just as when Gamasutra writes an article specifically commending successful women (and not men) in the game industry, and when Anna Anthropy groups “female” and “transgender” developers as separate from the norm… cards like Erin’s are there to highlight and empower females, not the other way around.

And as a side note: “Supportive Spouse” is only female because this card was Danielle McMillen’s cameo (Ed McMillen’s wife). The card features her photograph, and the card’s mechanics were all built around her. Nothing about what we did in any way implies that a supportive spouse can’t be male.

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Soulja Boy is included as an “unstable” black card.
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Wow, I’m especially disappointed by how grossly taken out of context this is. A lot of very bizarre assumptions are being made here, that in my opinion are quite racist in their own right.

I’ll start by explaining colors in Magic. There are 5 colors: white, blue, black, red, and green. Each color is associated with particular things. They all have positive and negative attributes, and none of them have anything to do with race. For example, green creatures are traditionally large and powerful, black spells can outright kill creatures, blue spells get to draw cards, white is given the ability to destroy enchantments, etc. So, if a card has the very powerful ability to outright kill a creature, it usually falls into the black spell category.

The Soulja Boy card is a reference to a scene in Indie Game the Movie. Soulja Boy uploaded a video of himself and some friends playing Braid; they enjoyed the game, but commented on how there wasn’t any underlying meaning. The movie focused on how Jonathan Blow was very bothered by the fact that many people did not understand the “deeper meaning” behind Braid. The movie was edited so that after Johnathan talked about being disappointed, it cut to another scene of Soulja Boy playing the game and saying, “no point to the game, you just run around jumpin’ on s—.” So basically, the Soulja Boy card was designed to kill the Planeswalker Jonathan Blow. In order to make the card playable (since having a card that kills just a single other card in the set isn’t very good), we added the ability to kill a creature when it came into play. Thus, since it killed a creature, it needed to be a black spell (see above explanation about Magic colors).

This has NOTHING TO DO WITH SOULJA BOY’S RACE.

The “Unstable” mechanic was created with PROGRAMMING in mind. It was commentary about an old game making program called “Klik ‘n’ Play” which was very unstable. While we were playing the set and balancing the cards, we realized there weren’t enough “unstable” cards, so went through and added the mechnanic to cards that didn’t already have a mechanic. The fact that Soulja Boy’s card gained this mechanic had nothing to do with his real life personality or his race, and drawing such a connection is beyond ludicrous.

In fact, the idea that you’re making some sort of weird assumption that just because the card has the word “unstable” on it, that it’s because the character in the art is black… That seems INCREDIBLY RACIST when you take into account the fact the “unstable” mechanic was featured more frequently on cards featuring white males and programming-related topics (and this was not the only black character in the set; all other characters were on non-black cards). Selectively choosing this card only shows how hollow the entire argument is.

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While certain figures are praised as heroic figures (including ICC’s creative team, Gabe Newell, Cactus, Notch, and Jonathan Blow), many others are represented with open scorn. General archetypes include the “Flakey Artist”, the “Oversensitive Indie ‘Musician’”, and the “Butthurt Indie Developer”, while specific jabs are taken at real people like Kellee Santiago (“Female Developer?”) and Anna Anthropy (“Put a guilt counter on target non-black non-Female creature. Creatures with guilty counters on them can’t attack.”)
——————————————————–
I’ll start with the “Flakey” cards. If you actually look at the set, you’ll see that there are a great variety of artists, musicians, programmers and designers (obviously). Only one of each has the “Flakey” label. I’m not exactly sure what is even bothering you about this… Are you saying that it’s bad to point out that there are flakey people in every industry? Because the Flakey cards span industry disciplines: musicians, programmers, artists, designers… there was no discrimination there (and nothing made it seem as though unreliable people don’t exist outside of the game industry, obviously unreliable people exist everywhere). Additionally, I see nothing wrong with pointing out that there are people who don’t meet deadlines. It’s a huge issue when working with contractors. Other than that, I fail to see anything to be offended by. Nothing implied that any one group was more flakey than any other; and nothing implied that the aforementioned groups were overwhelmingly flakey (again: one card per discipline). In fact, nothing implied anything except that the word “flakey” is used to describe people (in any discipline) who don’t meet deadlines. Where were you even going with this?

As for things like Anna Anthropy’s card: I did not create this card, however I understand that Ed and Anna were friends, and Ed had reason to believe she would not have been offended by the wording. She’s made jokes to Ed at other peoples’ expense that were far worse and more blatant than anything that was written on this card, so rather than attacking everyone involved with the cube, perhaps you should take into consideration why Ed felt comfortable enough to joke around with Anna given their relationship. I know Ed and his wife personally, and they are both very nice and caring people. I don’t doubt for a second that he meant no harm, and that there was probably a reason he felt she would have reacted differently due to their past.

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There are several dismissive jokes about mental illness, including cards for “Depression” and “Nervous Breakdown”.
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Why do you assume that using these things as gameplay mechanics somehow makes them dismissive jokes? To a game developer or programmer, game mechanics are often the best tool for representing complex emotional concepts. Depression is very common for people who isolate themselves for years at a time in order to push out a game; it’s often lonely and isolated (I know that I have personally have experienced this). While creating the cube, many of us spoke about this topic while working on these cards. It was a great way to encourge discourse after the drafts were finished.

Don’t assume that just because the word “depression” is referenced in a game that it’s for the purpose of dismissing something as a joke. You don’t know what the developers were thinking when the cards were created, and it’s not like the art was a picture of someone laughing at another person’s suffering. Additionally, the term “nervous breakdown” is not always used in reference to a mental disorder; sometimes it’s just used as a blanket statement to describe someone caving under pressure (the scene from the television show “The Office” where the character Andy punches a hole in the wall is not a dismissive joke about people with mental disorders; nor is the Adventure Time episode about the comically rigid character Lemongrab).

Please think before you make inflammatory comments and throw words like “racism” and “sexism” at people. Do your research first, open up a discussion, there are more mature ways to handle things than to create even MORE miscommunication by blindly throwing rocks.

28 Comments »

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  1. This people condemning this obviously have no idea what Magic the Gathering is or anything to do with it. I wouldnt let them get to you, just point them towards the card game and say “You are actually the one being racist/sexist, these are normal mechanics of the game its based off of.”

    I facepalmed so god damn hard when I realized the things they were saying about this.

  2. This whole post forgot to mention one very important thing: the internet is serious business.

  3. Ah, people misinterpreting nearly everything just because it doesn’t suit them. Sounds like normal Internet to me.

    Don’t listen to them. You have valid points, they’re only making assumptions, and most of them won’t be able to justify their statements at all. Keep up your work, and ignore these people.

  4. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POSTING THIS

  5. Great response, shigi. It annoys me to no end when people shout “racism” and “sexism” without doing their homework first. It seems like the people posting negative Twitter comments don’t even know how to read.

    I saw one comment where someone completely bypassed everything you said about the Soulja Boy card and cut straight to “we’re the racists lol” (as if you didn’t just give a really good explanation that completely debunked what they were saying).

  6. Internet feminism is a blind juggernaut trampling anyone that sounds even slightly un-pc. In the modern world no one is being fired for being black but they are being fired for having the “wrong” opinion or making a joke that could be interpreted the “wrong” way.

  7. Most of the bad comments on Twitter about racism and sexism are from white men who have probably never felt racism or sexism in their whole lives, haha (like that david gallant guy). White folk like to get all up in arms about racism when they don’t know what it’s like.

    Well shigi-chan, I’m a black nerd who loves me some Magic and what you wrote about Soulja Boy makes total sense. Why do they see unstable and think it means we’re unstable? They are the ones who are racist LOL!

    Keep goin’ girl, don’t let them get you down.

    • @Ben Rogers – Don’t you think it’s a bit unfair to simply dismiss someone’s criticism because of what you imagine their race to be? How do you know none of the critics haven’t experienced racism themselves?

      Confronting poorly conveyed, wrong headed claims of racism with racially tinged comments of your own is not a very productive way to improve the discussion.

      • Sorry but it is usually fat white guys feeling ‘offended’ for other people as a platform to push their own beliefs.

      • Well, every single comment I saw on Twitter was from a white male. It’s funny to see a bunch of white dudes telling little Japanese female shigi that she’s racist and sexist. Please tell me someone else sees how ridiculous this is.

    • @Ben Rogers – I think it’s unfair of you to assume the comments are from white people or that if they are they aren’t valid because they are from white people.

      If the arguments are, as many of them seem to be, inflammatory and unfounded then you should debate them as such not using similarly racially tinged language.

  8. These sort of trolls prowl the internet and throw out baited comments on public forums in the hopes to catch good reasonable people so they can vent their aggression on someone. People are all too happy nowadays to throw out the “Racist” and/or “sexist” label, thus degrading the labels actual impact and weight.

    I already linked “The Lion and the Ass”, so let me link “The Miller, His Son, and The Ass” as another good story that fits this situation http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19994/19994-h/19994-h.htm#Page_102. No matter what is done, there will always be someone there to tell you how you are insulting them by “insert obscure reason here”.

    You are fantastic and I believe people that simply look at any of these trolls’ profiles will know they are not to be listened to.

  9. As a long-time Magic player, my main thought in looking through the cube was “Jesus Christ, these cards are all broken.” The templating and rules text is very well done, but one of the things that Mark Rosewater and all the Developers/Designers on the MTG.com site reiterate is that the most problematic things to put on cards are 1) fast mana, and 2) cheap card advantage.

    Dark Chocolate Ritual? Absurdly powerful, picture it in any sort of storm deck. It’s better than Manamorphose! And Sunflower is similarly explosive, giving 4 extra mana on just the second turn.

    Also, way too many Legendaries, though that’s understandable given that it’s not a set built to actually play, but rather to pay homage to a specific set of people and concepts.

    Besides which, keep in mind that any criticism of the product is not a criticism of the creator, and saying that your work has problematic themes or certain -ist overtones doesn’t mean that you yourself are; just that it’s easy for such things to sneak in without being intended.

    That said, I don’t know if you get to claim “We didn’t mean black as in skin color, that’s just what the mechanics are!” when the Anna Anthropy card does, in fact, make that joke. Unless there’s an underlying mechanical reason why a W/U creature would be unable to target B creatures.

    Furthermore, using Female as a creature type but not male, while I understand the mechanical use of such, does imply that the basic state of gamers is non-female (It’s like how Wizards didn’t have a Human creature type until 8th Edition, because Human was assumed to be the default).

    Again, not attacking you for these at all, just pointing out where some possibly-unintended themes may have come up so that you can avoid them in the future.

    “The work really does contain those politics, whether or not they were intended.”
    -flavor text from Anna Anthropy

    • It’s a CUBE. Think about what a CUBE is.

    • I think people are confused about what racism means. Mentioning someones race does not equal racism. Whether or not Ed and Anna were on good enough terms to joke around is one thing. But saying the cube is racist because it mentions “black”? Or because IGtM references how one of Soulja Boy’s comments hurt Jon Blow’s feelings? Not racist in my opinion.

      I’m half black and half Indonesian and I can honestly say, this didn’t come off as racist at all. I was more offended by the fact that people would see the word “unstable” on a black person’s card and assume it was saying the black person was unstable. What the hell?

      I also think it’s a giant hypocrisy that anyone would have a problem with labeling a game dev as female, but be okay with how Anna Anthropy calls herself a trans les game dev. She’s doing the same exact thing. I think pointing out how rare females are in the game industry is a good thing. Call to action, man.

  10. I love you, I was reading the post you are examining earlier and I had the exact same reaction… that person’s entire blog is filled with this kind of thing, and she believes herself to be better than everyone else, and is pretty sexist against males. It’s unbelievable people like this exist, but I just… I was so happy when I saw this post. It’s exactly what I was thinking.

  11. Okay I’m gonna throw this out because it was only barely glazed over in the article:

    Anna Anthropy always refers to herself as a “transgender” or “transexual female/lesbian” game developer.

    This cube attaches the world “female” to game developers.

    They are doing the same thing!!! Anna would argue it’s for the purpose of raising awareness for trans game devs. Considering this cube had a female working on it, perhaps she was trying to do the same thing? Oh wait, that’s EXACTLY what she said in the article.

    Supershigi, you are 100% right here.

  12. I sorry you got this kind of reaction on what looked like a really fun series of parody cards. If you ever feel comfortable putting it back up I am totally behind you on that.

  13. Hi, Laura, and thanks very much for writing this. I still wasn’t quite on the same page, though, and when I started typing to you, there were only two comments here. Now that I’m done typing my piece, there are 18 comments (and maybe even more in queue!). I ended up pasting my comment elsewhere, it went on so long. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to, but it’s at http://bit.ly/16xjClv . Now that I’ve typed it out I have no idea if it’s helpful at all. In any case, I’m glad you’re getting a lot of encouragement and support here. Keep on.

    • I’m glad that your response was at least polite, though I think your blog had some misinterpretations of what shigi was saying. I don’t think shigi said Anna should be happy to be labelled as a woman. I think she said that it was strange that Anna would complain about using the term “female developer” when she is guilty of using “(insert gender adjective) developer” all the time (at all her talks, in her interviews, etc.). Anna frequently calls herself a trans female developer… I think both cases are fine, because both create awareness.

      Which is what the whole “female” argument is about. I hate to say this, but statistically speaking, male game developers ARE the norm, which is exactly why it’s good to create awareness. Sure there are a ton of female gamers now, but in the game industry, developers, programmers, and audio folks are still mostly men. Sure there are a ton of women in HR, legal, and production/management… but painfully few in more technical areas. This is a fact. This is why I think it’s important to call that out. Not just because these girls are anomolies, but because it creates awareness (basically, for the same EXACT reason Anna does it). And to say someone like shigi (an Asian female who has dealt with a lot of sexism and racism in her lifetime) has less right to do that than Anna does is disgustingly hypocritical and unfair.

      I’ve witnessed Anna say many mean-spirited things in her day, that sadly go against the spirit of inclusivity.

      And any connection you draw between a female character being nothing more than support is not coming from the creators. The fact that Erin’s card is so strong on it’s own is good evidence that she is not merely a support role. The +1/+1 effect is only there to symbolize how seeing more of your own kind in a successful position is motivating and inspiring to other minoritiy groups. Supportive Spouse, I believe, has nothing to do with the other cards because it’s a specific tribute to Ed McMillen’s wife. The “inspire” mechanic is on multiple cards in the set (both male and female).

      And while shigi doesn’t fall into this category at all, I think her comment about programmers and developers often using mechanics to convey complex emotional things stems from that personality type. Whereas someone like me would use writing or music maybe to convey something like that, there is an “art” to game design and programming as well, and I don’t think it’s fair to say one style is crass just because it’s not understood by others. Clearly these people have gone through these sorts of things before, clearly shigi especially is considerate of these things (she is like a counselor, one of the most empathetic people I know). And if they had discussions about it afterwards because of that card, then it’s bringing about dialogue which is helpful, not hurtful to the cause.

      –Wen

    • I think the point is that males are the norm. If you look at Game Dev magazine, or any other industry statistics you can see that while there are a decent amount of females in HR or project management, there are sadly very few in programming and technical fields (as compared with men). I’m not talking about gamers, I’m talking about game developers. And it’s not because they don’t get coverage. Believe me, if we get a tip for a female making a game, it’s usually something all of us want to cover since it is interesting to readers. There just aren’t that many out there.

      If Anna Anthropy is allowed to call herself a “trans female game developer” then people like Laura Shigihara and Erin Robinson are just as allowed to call themselves “female developers.” Both are a form of empowerment, and both create awareness for an underrepresented field.

    • Lots of female gamers, yes. But precious few female game developers, programmers, audio engineers, etc. I think making this distinction is no different than what Anna Anthropy does on a regular basis (she always says she’s a trans female dev).

  14. I’m just sad that it got taken down. I could see how a few of the people complaining might have a point about cards like Anna Anthropy, as I did not know that some of the people making the cards were friends with her, but even that article liked a lot of the cards. I really want to see the rest of them now.

  15. I think people have too much time to complain about gaming cards. When they see racism live in action at the local bus station all they do is look at it happening without doing anything to prevent it and maybe even film it. But when Soulja boy gets called black everyone freaks out and acts like its the worst thing happened in history.
    All these sexists topics are also just to get attention and clicks. If everyone would ignore them they’d stop after a while but everyone jumps on the ragetrain and tries to fight them and gives them attention, which is their goal after all.

  16. […] the game quickly caused anger, the official site was taken down, and at least one of the developers addressed the complaints. This seems to me more like an issue of naïveté than […]

  17. From Brazil here.
    Hi! I run a little blog about gaming, but no ads here. Between college and two jobs sometimes I really let something get past me and, unfortunately, I coudn’t see The Indie Cube. By the time I read about your Magic set in Kotaku, it had been removed from the internet. I saw about five cards and really had a good time laughing.
    As a retired Magic player and a former programmer (and I’m only 27 years old), I would adore to play with your set but it’s too late… Now there’s only data mining, hope and luck to find Indie Cube, print it and have some fun with old friends.
    I am really sorry for the overreaction that comes over your idea.

  18. Is there any way to collect the cards? I was on my way to print them (because this really talks to me and my colleagues as game devs and any stupid butthurt jerk should think twice before criticizing it so purposelessly), and couldn’t get my hands on the whole set..
    Is it possible to contact the developpers to get the originals?

  19. …It’s interesting to see the reaction to this creative endeavor. That without knowing the complex creative history or the original intent of these cards – that at face value, this is what those cards could be seen as.

    It sort of draws into question the greater issue of what purpose “equality” truly means to the offending parties.


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