"Videogames have been one of the most exclusive communities i've ever encountered," she said to me via email, "some dudes, like Raph Koster, insist that when he says dys4ia 'isn't a game,' that's not a value judgement. That's bullshit. the attempt to label games like dys4ia as 'non-games,' as 'interactive experiences,' is just an attempt by the status quo to keep the discussion of games centered around the kind of games it's comfortable with—cus if there's one thing existing videogame culture is good at, it's making a certain kind of dude very, very comfortable."
I've noticed a recent uptick in this "certain kind of dude" argument. On the one hand it's about the acceptance and treatment of women, minorities and other groups within the game industry - and rightly so. On the other it's about the perception of patriarchy. It's saying that a "certain kind of dude" oppresses creative people with his view of an industry organised around keeping him happy, and he uses the definition of "game" as an exercise of power.
This assertion is far more contentious because it conflates three different discussions. The first is political and asserts that passivity or apathy are actually forms of complicity. The second is to do with market preference, asking why is it that the white-dude market buys certain kinds of game endlessly while ignoring greater diversity. This point lays the blame at the feet of the industry, whereas the industry maintains that market dynamics are evolutionary and so the industry chases the market rather than dictating to it.
The third discussion is about critique. To many formalists (myself included) many new kinds of interactive art are either not games, or not very good when thought of as games. Many are gamelikes, gamified systems, limited, persuasive, personal interactive stories. Some are virtual worlds. Some are more conceptually interesting than playable. Many are reliant on knowing the author's intent.
In creating a "game" not meant to be played or won, its creator is saying something. To then call that work something other than "game" can seem like an attack directed at its creator. Particularly for the group that could loosely be termed "zinesters", "game" has become a highly charged art-politik battleground that has to be won. Increasingly zinesters have taken to folding formalism into the patriarchy, complicity and "certain kind of dude" debates to paint all with the same broad brush.
Not only is that yet another attempt to win the debate over games through equivocation, it has the effect of dissuading some otherwise-interesting voices from engaging. Some, like Raph, continue to try such as with this open letter in which he discusses the debate and its personal side (an indie developer he respects crossed the street to avoid him at GDC) only to find himself yelled-at once more on Twitter. The question for zinesters is this: Is yellers and name-callers essentially all you are?
Because if so, zines will inevitably flame out.