September 3rd was Labor Day, a holiday meant to celebrate the rights and protections American unions have fought for since the 19th century i.e the five-day workweek, eight hour work day, child labor laws, etc. But there’s one industry where many of these rights, which a lot of us take for granted, aren’t a given: the gaming industry. Luckily, people are working to fix that.
To learn more, I sat down with Emma Kinema, a game developer and organizer for Game Workers Unite, an organization at the forefront of the fight for a more equitable games industry.
Dan Arndt: Can you give me a little rundown of Game Workers Unite? Who you are, what you do?
Emma Kinema: We are a grassroots democratic organization of people dedicated to advocating for workers’ rights and the crafting of a unionized game industry. We represent all workers in game development. We seek to increase the visibility of our cause through community building, sharing resources, and direct action. We seek to bring hope to and empower those suffering in this industry. We are actively forming local chapters of our organization so that our members can organize directly in their own communities.
Dan: What was the genesis of Game Workers Unite? Why did it form?
EK: GWU started out of the angry discussions of some game workers online about bad conditions in the industry and labor abuses. We decided to organize a little direct action around a both-sidesing panel on unionization in the game industry and we got such a massive response to the idea that we started planning to host meetups as well as create and distribute literature. Since then we’ve been gaining more members, organizing local chapters around the world, and pushing the needle on labor conditions in the game industry in a pro-worker direction.
Dan: What are some of the biggest problems facing labor in the gaming industry?
EK: There are countless issues, but rampant crunch due to bad management, lack of studio stability, large-scale contract employment, unpaid overtime, lack of comprehensive healthcare, poor crediting practices, and more count among them.
Dan: Can you explain what “crunch” is?
EK: The New York Times has defined crunch as “a sudden spike in work hours, as many as 20 days, that can last for days or weeks on end.” Some companies have pushed crunch upwards of several months. People have described experiencing stomach pains, memory loss, extreme anxiety, loss of family time, divorce, severe burnout, and more. Effectively, workers are trading their relationships and health so their employers can get
more money. Crunch is not sustainable, nor should it be planned. If we accept crunch as”part of the process,” then we accept our jobs will never get better.
Dan: Why do you think there’s such resistance to unionization efforts, both from within the industry and by fans? No industry probably wants to be pro-union but the games industry seems particularly resistant.
EK: Leadership in the game industry is typically quite libertarian and conservative, so they tend to be anti-union by default. Then, on top of that, greedy studio executives regularly choose to cut corners, skimp on pay, and don’t offer benefits so they can make an extra small return on their investments. Unions stand in direct opposition to those ways of viewing the working relationship between employer and employee, and instead demand fair and equitable treatment of workers and the ability to live a healthy and dignified life. That said, union workers tend to have a higher personal investment in their work and their company, as well as work at a higher level of product quality. Some employers understand this, however, and do embrace unionization.
Dan: Among gamers, actually working in the industry is still considered a “dream job.” Does this affect their ability to speak out?
EK: Many developers still view working in the game industry as a “dream job.” And in some ways that’s fair. Most of us come from a long time and deep passion for playing games, so to work on them is really exciting. However, we must be careful of words like “passion,” because it’s often an excuse to overwork someone, and to deny them healthy working conditions and fair pay.
DA: How can companies working in labor-friendly countries like Canada, France, or Poland get away with these practices?
EK: We would push back against the idea that those countries are “labor-friendly,” and we do so acknowledging your question’s premise. Game workers in nearly every country experience unjust labor conditions, and there is simply no existing structure holding studios accountable for their actions. We are a strange, small industry that is a hybrid of tech and entertainment. It’s easy for us to get lost in the cracks of existing labor forces. The only solution is for game workers to band together and collectively demand their seat at the table and access to their fair share of the profits. Only we can protect ourselves from exploitation.
Dan: How do you feel about all of the press so-called “anti-consumer” practices in gaming (loot boxes, EA’s decisions), and why are the conditions of devs routinely ignored?
EK: Game Workers Unite is not just against poor labor practices, we are against bad business practices as well. We agree with a lot of concerned players about exploitative business practices like loot boxes. We think workers have lots of common ground with players, after all, we are both being screwed by studios. The conditions of workers in the game industry are routinely ignored because traditionally games media and press are rather disconnected and ignorant of the realities of making games for a living. Thankfully that is changing, and the past few years have seen a real effort by games media to highlight labor conditions and what it takes to make games.
Dan: How do you feel about CDPR developing a game, Cyberpunk 2077, that uses the heavily anti-capitalist genre of cyberpunk even as they allegedly continue to exploit their workers?
EK: The cyberpunk genre has lately been lauded as an anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-ableist, and queer genre, but that hasn’t always been the case. The genre is a hugely mixed bag, but thankfully many wonderful authors, filmmakers, artists, and game developers are working to rehabilitate the genre. So I’d say Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t a huge departure from the roots of the cyberpunk genre, although it does seem to be astoundingly tone deaf and ignorant of any modern work in the genre, especially around issues of race, gender, and ability.
Dan: What is GWU’s ideal model for the game development workplace?
EK: The ideal model is worker-owned co-op studios. Anything short of that is going to inherently be a compromise with management and shareholders who care primarily about profit, even over the quality of the game or health of their workers. That said, we are strongly pursuing a future where rigorous and robust unions can hold the interests of capital at bay in the interests of workers.
“Only We Can Protect Ourselves From Exploitation”
Dan: Are streamers or e-sports players people who should reach out?
EK: Yes! We stand in solidarity with streamers and e-sports players, both of whom are regularly exploited by companies and whose livelihoods are beholden to large tech platforms. We welcome them into Game Workers Unite.
Dan: What do you say to critics who think that unionization, or organization in general, hurts more than it helps?
EK: Many of us have grown up hearing constant myths and untruths about unions, and I would encourage folks to reach out to actual unionized workers and listen to what they have to say. They are typically paid 30% more than non-unionized workers and have a higher level of investment in their work and companies. People tend to think of unions as some third party group who comes into a workplace, makes a lot of bold statements, gets between workers and their product, and ruins things, but that is untrue. A union is simply you and your coworkers, standing up together, and demanding your seat at the table and fair working conditions.
Dan: Do you have advice for anyone who may want to organize but are afraid of retaliation?
EK: Frankly, it’s smart to be a little scared to pursue labor organizing. Bosses and managers can be ruthless and try to retaliate and intimidate workers who stand up for their co-workers and themselves. That said, in many countries (the US included), it is a federal crime to fire or retaliate against any worker or group of workers who discuss labor conditions or unionization. That said, please do organize carefully. Start by talking to your most trusted friends and coworkers, and go from there on a one-on-one trusted basis. If you don’t think you can do it alone, get a friend. Two people back-to-back can cut through a crowd. And all workers are welcome to reach out to us, we have a large community of workers from around the world, waiting to help you.
Dan: What are ways that people can get involved, whether they’re industry professionals or fans?
EK: Following us online, sharing our literature, and simply talking about our efforts to unionize that game industry with your friends and coworkers is a huge step. The hardest part about organizing to improve workers’ lives is educating folks and raising the collective level of understanding on these issues. For folks who want to get more hands-on: visit our website and apply to join Game Workers Unite International and/or your local chapter. If you don’t see a local chapter in your area, join the international group and we’ll help you start one!
Images via GWU, Pixel Pushers Union 512, Oddworld Inhabitants, and Blizzard
Overwatch in a nutshell
How do I talk about a game that should have been dead about a year ago, but is still going strong? If you didn’t get that, the game I am talking about is Overwatch. A game that is strictly online, which means no story mode to find out the lore behind this game. If you want to learn about the lore, then join the line buddy. Players have to wait months til another origin short comes out about their favorite hero, which makes sense if you want to keep an online game alive. Recently a new “hero” has been announced called Ashe, and we got a bunch of clues about who she is from a McCree short.
Even though Overwatch came out in 2016, they are still releasing new heroes. According to a video by Your Overwatch, there are 5 new heroes coming out within the next couple of months. Once a new hero comes out, there is a good week or so before they are available to play. That means you have little time to master this new hero before they are out in comp. If you didn’t notice the error in my previous sentence then I will repeat it: a hero that is made to counter certain heroes. Do I believe this statement? Of course not, because Overwatch is about skill and luck at the same time. You need enough skill to be able to counter your counters with any hero, but you also need luck in order to group with a team that also has enough skill to carry its own weight.
The lowest ELO I have gone down to is bronze in Overwatch competitive and that is the lowest you can go. I had the worst luck in getting grouped with players that didn’t use mics. Now using mics doesn’t automatically guarantee a win, but it increases the chances. It is better to try and formulate a plan to win against your enemy, than to try and blindly attempt to understand your teammates actions. So, if you do decide to play competitive mode, then please try to talk to your teammates.
So, when do you believe that people will stop playing Overwatch? In my opinion, I believe the game is already dying, but you have players like me that come back to the game after months of quitting, just to see if it became a little less toxic. I quit because I was tired of the toxic players that kept throwing games and leaving so that you were missing a teammate. Something that Overwatch needs to work on the most is leavers. If you never played this game, then you wouldn’t see the problem with someone leaving, because you would get a new teammate right away. No, that would be common sense and common sense doesn’t work in Overwatch.
If they leave in the first 30 seconds to a minute, then the game is cancelled and no one loses anything, but any later than that then you have to hope that the player comes back. Leavers don’t make sense, because they still receive a loss from leaving, but there is the rare exception where someone just disconnects. If they do, then they have a chance to come back and help out the team. That is the only way you get the blank spot in your team filled.
The game will die when they finish releasing heroes and when we get the origin and shorts for every hero in the game. Then again, they are releasing new heroes every few months, so that day won’t be anytime soon. Blizzard makes money from the ever-growing Overwatch league and from the new players that joined because of sales and new heroes. I only bought the game because some friends wanted to play with me. The sad thing is, that I haven’t played with them since I bought the game because we have different play styles. I am a support main and I can’t play with someone that charges into a battle and doesn’t expect to protect the healer that is keeping them alive.
Should you buy?
So, what is my take on this game? I actually hate it more than anything else, and I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to others. It is a fun game to play with friends, but once you start playing with randoms, that is when the stress happens. I am not in a high ELO and I will take a quick break until next placements just so I can get my third gold weapon. The main reason we play comp is to say we have a high standing and to also say that we have a gold weapon for this hero, so praise us.
So, buy a mic, don’t get too stressed and remember unless you are on PC—you aren’t going to find yourself in the Overwatch league.
Hopefully you enjoyed this review. Comment to let me know what game you want me to review next, and I’ll see if I can play it!
Image courtesy of Blizzard
Let’s Unpack This: Star Realms: Frontier Unboxing
Also, say hello to our new video wing of the Fandomentals over on YouTube, Fanfinity!
In this video, I’m taking a look at White Wizard’s newest addition to their Star Realms series of deckbuilding games, out now at your local game shop.
Image courtesy of White Wizard
Tabletop Terror: The Fandomentals Guide To Halloween Gaming
The spooky times are upon us folks. In just a couple days the spirits of the night will take hold, and the world will descend yet again into the darkness and horror that is All Hallow’s Eve. And for most of us, that means Halloween Parties. Maybe you’re hosting one, or maybe you’re just attending one. It’s always good to have board games ready for a party, to bring people together and have some fun that doesn’t require cramming around a screen. But how do you please everyone at your party? If one guest only likes fun and campy spooks, while another is in to Halloween for the guts and gore, you may find yourself struggling to select games to bring to the dinner table this year. But fear not! Games writers Cat and Dan have teamed up to bring you a curated list of games, each selected especially for some of the most troublesome ghoulies who might haunt your Halloween fête.
Best Game To Play With Your High Goth Friend
They’re the first to arrive and the last to leave. This is their time of year, and they have gone all out. White face paint, black clothes, a frilly shirt. This is standard for them year round, but there’s something different about them come Halloween. There’s a spring in their step, a twirl to their parasol, and a twinkle in their eyeliner. They will accept only the darkest and most dramatic activities this Halloween.
Our Recommendation: Fury of Dracula
Fury of Dracula has been a classic staple of horror gaming since it debuted in 1987. The 2006 reboot, and its 2015 revision, have done nothing but increase its popularity. Based on, what else, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the game places players right into the gothic world of Victorian Europe. One player takes on the role of the infamous Count, and the other becomes one of his hunters: Jonathan Harker, Lord Godalming, Dr. John Seward, and Mina Harker.
The game is largely one of deduction, with the hunters using clues and signs to follow Count Dracula as a he carves a bloody swath through the continent. You gather items, defeat the minions of Dracula, and contend with the Count himself as he misleads, obfuscates, and lies as only he can to throw you off the scent. The game ends when Drac or the hunters bite it, he completes his dark mastery of Europe, spreads his vampiric curse, and survives. Winning requires smarts, cunning, and a flare for the dramatic even Dracula could appreciate. In the novel, Dracula was killed and the world freed from his dark presence. Will the same happen to you?
Best Game To Play With Your “Psychic” Friend
They “knew” you were going to have a party, after you made the Facebook event, and they “knew” you needed more napkins, even though you had plenty and would have preferred they bring more snacks. They keep you updated on your horoscope, carry a tarot deck in a belt holster, and will almost certainly get very drunk and predict someone’s doom tonight. You should make sure the game you pick ensures that the doomed person won’t be you.
Our Recommendation: Mysterium
Our choice of Mysterium should be no surprise to board game fans, as the game of guessing and ghosts is already considered a classic by many despite its youth. One player in this game plays as the ghost of a murdered servant and the rest are mediums summoned to their master’s house to find out who did the deed. Think of it as a cooperative Clue, with someone playing as Mr. Boddy. The ghost, who is otherwise silent, hands out clues to the mediums to help them guess who the killer was and where and how they did it. If they can figure it out, and agree on their choice, in time, then the ghost will be set free to enjoy his eternal rest. If they can’t? They’re doomed to roam the halls forevermore.
Best Game To Play With The Scooby-Doo Fan
They may not be as into the guts and gore as other people, and they may have a thing for the campier side of horror, but this guest is one of the most enthusiastic year in and year out. They make great sandwiches, kick butt at charades, and rock a mean ascot. As well, they’ve probably got the best costume at the party (though your goth friend will fight them over it). They’ll want a game that isn’t too spooky, one that captures all the fun and silliness they love about the holiday.
Our Recommendation: Betrayal At House On The Hill
You can’t beat Betrayal for sheer classic Halloween flavor. Taking the roles of stock horror film characters like “The Professor” or “The Little Girl,” players enter a creepy old mansion that you don’t know the layout of until you begin to explore it. All sorts of strange things can happen as the house grows, from ballrooms in the basement to a balcony-adjacent kitchen. Players gather items, deal with mystical events, or are visited by dark omens that presage the dark presence in this house. When enough omens are drawn, or the players are highly unlucky, the game shifts and becomes a new challenge as they race to defeat a new and powerful enemy.
This “Haunt” changes based on where the Haunt was triggered and by what omen, and you will almost never get the same one twice. They range from a mass shrinking to an outbreak of werewolves to a full on demonic summoning, and often require a player to turn traitor and kill, transform, or delay their former friends as they try to escape. It’s a great game with infinite replay-ability and is just cartoony enough to keep it from truly scaring anybody. The 2016 Widow’s Walk expansion adds to the potential with all sorts of new monsters, haunts, and rooms for you to explore.
Best Game To Play With Your Gamemaster
They’re still miffed they had to move your session this week for the party, but they’ll get over it when they find the snack table (a DM’s one weakness). You’ll have to deal with them turning their nose up at games that allow for “structured” play, or stories that are “already written.” How do you please the lover of RPG’s when you only have one night to play?
Our Recommendation: Vampire The Masquerade 5e
It’s difficult to pull off pen-and-paper in a one time setting, but we at the Fandomentals are firm believers in the power of one-shots to capture all the fun of a good tabletop session without the long term commitment. And one of the best games for that, on Halloween or in general, is White Wolf’s newest edition of their classic Vampire the Masquerade. As Cat covered in her review, the new edition goes along way to update the game and improve its accessibility for a new generation. At its core a heavily story and character-driven game, Vampire doesn’t require quite as much minute number crunching other games do. It also fits quite well with Halloween, allowing you to craft a dramatic tale of horror and tragedy around one of the most classic monsters of all time. The only real question is, which clan are you going to be?
Vampire the Masquerade: 5th Ed. is available at most local game shops, from World of Darkness, and on Amazon, where the physical book retails for $42.95. And keep an eye out, as the Camarilla and Chicago by Night books will be releasing soon to supplement your vampiric experience.
Best Game To Play With The Bookworm
They showed up dressed as someone from the 19th century, and are offended when nobody gets it. It’s not their fault nobody’s read the marginalia of Poe. They can tell you which books every horror movie is ripping off of, and they hold a grudging respect for Stephen King (even if, they say, he hasn’t been good since he wrote IT). They want a game that scratches their love of literature, while keeping things as bone chillingly spooky as their favorite dark novels.
Our Recommendation: Masque of The Red Death
One of our favorite games coming out of GenCon this year, Masque is a truly unique experience in the board game world. The game is a mix of strategy, deduction, and planning as you attend the famous ball given by Prince Prospero at the locked Abbey. Just as in the story, which is helpfully printed in the rules, players must gain favor with the Duke even as the plague known as the Red Death ravages the countryside. Fritter your time away with idle gossip and petty insults while secretly plotting your own survival. When the ebony clock strikes midnight, your only hope for survival is your ability to remember. It’s got beautiful art from Gris Grimley that makes even the box look like a Halloween decoration, and the gloomily colorful board and Ebony Clock standee make a bold statement at any party. Hopefully yours ends up better than Prospero’s did…
Best Game To Play With The Horror Film Snob
They’ve already gotten into three arguments with the Bookworm over the IT adaptations, and they brought a stack of beat up VHS’s in lieu of the bean dip you asked for. You don’t even OWN a VHS player. Nobody has heard of any of the movie’s they’ve brought, and you’re scared that one of them may end up being a snuff film. Any film you suggest is derided as pedestrian, cliched, and, worst of all, not scary. So how do you make them happy at the tabletop?
Our Recommendation: YOU Are The Maniac!
He’ll already be itching to play this based on the box, a beautifully designed thing built to look and feel exactly like the old VHS’s so many classic slasher flicks came in. It even has the wear and tear that signifies that yes, this is an original. But inside is not B-grade scares and badly done makeup. Instead, YOU Are The Maniac contains a well paced strategy card game that allows players to step into the shoes of their favorite slasher villains. Played across three “films,” you compete to rack up the highest kill count among all the slashers in the game. Chasing down victims, acting out scenes with the Maniac deck, handling the various plot twists, and killing the Final Girl at the end of the movie; it’s all in a days work for the killers in this game. It’s fun and darkly hilarious, working well as a fast-paced party game you could even play while watching one of the movies that inspired it!
YOU Are The Maniac! is published by Counter Culture Cards and can be purchased on their website for $24.95
Best Game To Play With The History Geek
They know the complete history of Halloween and will happily spend all night telling you exactly why and how candy corn came to be. They’ve been to Salem dozens of times, and complains that the rituals in Hocus Pocus aren’t historical accurate. They obsessively find old newspaper clippings from one hundred years ago to send you. They want a game that’s fun, scary, and has well sourced historical backing, dang it!
Our Recommendation: Salem 1692
Salem:1692 is a fantastic replacement or addition to your rotation of deduction games that you’ve been playing for years. Unlike standbys like One Night Ultimate Werewolf or Are You A Werewolf, Salem grounds itself in the real Salem Witch Trials while maintaining all the suspicion and plotting we love. As Dan said in his review, Salem is a well researched and fun game that is visually stunning to boot, and you can read more about it in the previously linked review. Your history snob friend will never expect you to pull the next game straight out of the bookshelf!
Best Game To Play With That Guy Who Takes RISK Way Too Seriously
There’s a good chance this person is also your Gamemaster, and they’re certainly in your group, but they aren’t in it for the roleplay. No, this guest wants to prove that they are so much smarter than anyone else at the table. They have probably seen Patton too many times, and an entire wall of their apartment is covered in maps. But there isn’t really anything scary about Risk or Stratego (except for their length), so how do you make the tabletop general happy?
Our Recommendation: Eschaton
While the dark fantasy setting of Eschaton doesn’t at first seem to have the trappings of Halloween, the eldritch plot and beautifully grotesque art make it fit right in with its more seasonal friends. Taking on the role of a cult leader in a world on the brink of Apocalypse, players must battle for territory and the favor of the Dark One as they recruit men and monsters into their unholy ranks. Only one cult can walk at the side of the Dark One when the Eschaton comes, will it be you?
Best Game To Play With Your Hungry Friend
This guest will not leave the snack table, and always fills a plate when the party moves away from it for any reason. They’ll probably suggest a Taco Bell run sometime around midnight. Yet they always seem hungry, famished even. Are they looking at your skull? Why do they keep trying to steal your hat? Why are they moaning like that? Wait, where’d the bookworm go? Do you smell blood?
Our Recommendation: Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game
There are A LOT of zombie games out there, and it was really hard to narrow it down. But there’s only one game that captures the full experience of the living dead, and that’s Flying Frog’s Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game. I mean c’mon, it’s in the title! Now celebrating ten years in the gaming world, Last Night on Earth is as much an ode to Romero and his ilk as YOU Are The Maniac is to Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter.
Playing as zombie movie cliches like high school kids, scientists, teachers, and more, most players must navigate the dangers of a zombie apocalypse. One or two players, however, get to play as the brain-hungry zombies. Each playable scenario is different, whether you’re rescuing a fallen friend, trying to escape, or just trying to “not die,” it’s easily re-playable. And with ten years under its belt, its had a lot of time to come out with expansions and supplements (22 as of this writing), including a spin-off Timber Peak and a spin on the cliche alien movie with Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game. Load the shotgun, keep your cool, and always remember to double-tap.
Best Game To Play With The Pescetarian
This guest really likes fish. They haven’t just cut meat out of their diet, they’ve cut nearly everything that else isn’t aquatic from their diet as well. You can’t get over the strange and salty smell that comes off of them, though, or how cold and clammy their hands always are. Sometimes you catch them mumbling to themselves in a strange language they keep insisting is just Polish. They’re quiet and a little odd, but they make great sashimi, so it’d be a shame not to have a game that caters to their unique self.
Our Recommendation: Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu
A spin-off of the popular Pandemic series of worldwide disease simulator games, Reign of Cthulu replaces the science and medicine with chaos and madness. Players take on the role of a 1920’s investigator working to stop the return of the Old Ones from their cosmic prison. They must defeat monsters, gather items, and seal the portals before the most ancient of evils can bring doom to the world. It’s a mix of strategy and teamwork as you and your fellow investigators move through classic towns like Innsmouth and Dunwich in search of an end to the evil. But beware, there are things man was not meant to see, and one’s mind does have a tendency to get lost in the darkness.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu is published by Z-Man games and can be bought from their website for $49.99, as well as most retailers.
There you have it! Ten games we guarantee to spook and surprise, entertain, and ennervate in equal measure. Now all that’s left for you to do is finish your costume…but wait…is someone early? Better get the door, that growling sounds awfully impatient.
What games do you like to play for Halloween? Did we leave any off that we shouldn’t have? Sound off below!