Video Game News

Steam Isn’t Sure Whether It Controls Content or Not

As reported by Sprites + Dice, ever since last summer, when a game entitled Active Shooter was put up for sale on Valve’s Steam video game store, some users have been raising concerns about Steam’s (and thereby Valve’s) business practices. After pressure from users, Valve eventually pulled this title, but following that, they posted a new policy on their official blog announcing that they had decided “that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.” While removing any content restrictions (and therefore responsibility for content) is in some ways a rational response to the need to police content on a large and public platform, concerns have recently been raised again by a game titled Rape Day, which allows players to “verbally harass, rape, and then murder women” in the game. A petition not to release the game on Steam garnered nearly 8,000 signatures. As of March 6, Steam announced on their blog that they would not be selling the game, explaining that despite their previous statement that they would “allow everything,” this game “poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.”

So what does this mean, both for Steam and for other platforms like them (Blizzard, Origin, etc.) that sell games including those they have not themselves produced? What would have happened if there had been a counter-petition to release the game that garnered the same number of signatures, or even more? Is having no policy actually a policy? I suspect we will see more situations similar to this until content-providing platforms learn that saying “Whatever goes” isn’t actually a workable strategy, and find places to draw lines that everyone involved can live with, but the process of getting to that point is going to be a painful one.

Game Devs Share Personal Game Design Rules

Gamasutra points out a useful thread where game developers share their personal game design rules, techniques, and rules of thumb in single tweets.

BAFTA Games Award Nominations            

The BAFTA Games Award nominations were announced on March 14, and God of War is leading the nominations, including in Artistic Achievement, Audio Achievement, three nominations for Performer, and Best Game. Winners will be announced on Thursday, April 4, 2019, at a ceremony in London. Watch online using any of these sources.

Game Developer Conference

The Annual Game Developer Conference (GDC) is in San Francisco on March 18–22, and while this will be nearly finished by the time this news goes live, Gamasutra’s practical advice on how to attend the conference as a small indie studio looks like it will be useful at future events.

Dwarf Fortress on Steam

The ASCII-aesthetic colony simulation Dwarf Fortress will be coming to Steam with new graphics, music, and sound, produced by Montreal-based Kitfox Games. Per Polygon’s coverage, “An ASCII-based mode will still be available in this new version, and development of the original game will continue unabated.”

Publishing News by Jason Sanford

Thoughts on the Recent Nebula Award Controversy

I wrote and rewrote this column multiple times, trying to explain to people what went on several weeks ago with the Nebula Awards and the 20Booksto50K slate/not-a-slate controversy. Heck, I was trying to understand the situation myself. But like building a sandcastle on quicksand, understanding continually shifted as new facts and viewpoints appeared and disappeared.

Was the slate truly a slate or merely a recommended reading list gone bad? Was LMBPN Publishing behind the slate? Was this a case of traditional authors vs. self-published/indie authors? An attack on up-and-coming international writers?

So what exactly happened? Perhaps N. K. Jemisin summed up the controversy best when she said, “Personally, I think this whole business is the result of a culture clash: anything-goes indie writers versus a (indie and tradpub) community that at least thinks of itself as merit-focused. The anything-goes writers really should’ve done some field research before they jumped in and tried to plant a flag on merit-focused ground; this mess is the result.”

Instead of rehashing everything that went down, I’d like to add a little historical perspective.

Most SF/F people know the puppies slated the Hugo Awards a few years ago. But issues around slates have been going on for decades in different forms.

In 1987, the Church of Scientology supposedly helped L. Ron Hubbard’s novel Black Genesis make the Hugo Award final ballot. Fans were outraged. After final voting the novel was ranked below “No Award” (similar to what happened to the slates nominated by the Rabid Puppies).

What happened with the puppies in recent years, and the nomination of Hubbard’s novel in 1987, were flat-out slates. But there are also more subtle issues with the Hugo and Nebula Awards, including the reoccurring problem of logrolling, where groups of authors support their friends with nominations if their friends do the same for them. This issue was particularly bad in the genre back in the 1970s and ’80s.

Changes to the Hugo and Nebula Award rules have helped make logrolling less effective, but there are always rumors it still happens. Thankfully, voters then as now tend to recognize bad stories which make the final ballot for this reason and rarely vote for them.

Another subtle issue with the Nebula Awards is defining what actually counts as campaigning. In 1982 the novelette “The Bone Flute” by Lisa Tuttle won the Nebula Award. Ironically, this win happened after Tuttle withdrew the story from consideration to protest the actions of writer George Guthridge, who also had a novelette on the Nebula final ballot. Guthridge supposedly campaigned for the award by mailing copies of it to SFWA members along with a cover letter written by F&SF editor Ed Ferman.

The thinking back then was that it was unfair to mail copies of a nominated story to all SFWA members because not all authors could afford the cost to mail their own nominated stories. Tuttle withdrew her story from consideration to protest this campaigning, only to later learn her story still won the award.

Back then many people in SFWA and the genre considered mailing a nominated story to be the same as campaigning. Today, that norm has changed, with Nebula and Hugo voters expecting to receive electronic copies of all nominated works.

I think part of the reason for the explosion of anger and angst over this year’s Nebulas is, as Jemisin said, a culture clash. Perhaps it also indicates that the genre’s cultural norms and expectations around what counts as campaigning for the genre’s awards are evolving, similar to what happened decades before with “The Bone Flute.” 

All that said, I’m sympathetic to Annie Bellet’s anger after what happened to her during the Hugo Award slate several years ago. I also appreciate and respect the statement from Jonathan Brazee, who created the 20Booksto50K recommended reading list. I believe Brazee’s heart was in the right place with their list even if it had unintended consequences. I’m glad Annie and Jonathan have worked things out and that others involved in this also appear to be taking things down a notch. But Annie was still swamped with hate mail and attacks, which is unacceptable. And many others like Yudhanjaya Wijeratne have also been hurt by all of this. 

All of this is a reminder that people in science fiction and fantasy care deeply about our genre. Even if we disagree and come from different viewpoints and backgrounds and beliefs, including different avenues and approaches to publishing, our love of SF/F is still there. You see this in the passion people showed over this entire Nebula controversy (including the excellent work the writer(s) behind Camestros Felapton put into investigating this issue).

Maybe I’m a naive optimist, but I believe the genre will come out of this controversy stronger than ever.

Publishing Shorts

Books and Writing News

Open Submissions

Submissions are now open for the next SFWA Science Fiction StoryBundle, titled “A Matter of Time Science Fiction Bundle.” Deadline is March 25, and SFWA membership is not a requirement for submission or inclusion.

When Science Fiction Comes True

The New York Times recently ran an essay about reactions within the sci-fi genre (including the reactions of some authors whose ideas are regarded as prophetic) when truth seems to imitate fiction. One author who expresses a strong opinion within the piece that her work is not prophetic is Margaret Atwood, whose The Handmaid’s Tale, originally published in 1985, is often said now to have presaged many of the social crises facing today’s population. Atwood is currently working on a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, the publication of which The Guardian recently announced will be marked with a live interview at the National Theatre in London, to be broadcast worldwide.

Media Coverage for Authors Still Has a Gender Bias

A recent report details the way male authors receive more media attention for publications even when they are of roughly equivalent experience and publishing success. Profiles and reviews are also more likely to mention a female author’s age, and female authors have the sense that outlets treat their work as a hobby rather than a career, or treat their work as domestic.

In Memoriam                        

Writer and psychiatrist Janet Asimov (born Janet O. Jeppson in 1926) passed away on February 25, 2019. She was a science columnist for the LA Times, and published short fiction in the 1960s under the name J.O. Jeppson. Later, under her married name, she coauthored the YA novel Norby, the Mixed-Up Robot, as well as several other books in the same series,with her husband, Isaac Asimov, who SFWA quotes as saying that “despite the joint byline, Janet Asimov did 90% of the work.”    She continued writing after her husband’s death and also edited a collection of excerpts from his work.

Comics News

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Returns (Again)

Although it’s been twenty years since the TV series ended, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is having a bit of a nostalgia moment just now, with talk about a potential reboot on TV and, now, a new comic from Boom! Studios that offers an updated take on the series. According to Olivia Sava at the AV Club, “The emotional core of the series is still the relationship between Buffy and her friends, but [writer Jordie] Bellaire, working closely with editor Jeanine Schaefer, has redefined characters so that they begin with the extra dimensions they gained later in the series.” For instance, in this new version, Willow starts the series out with a girlfriend, and adding to Buffy’s tension at home, Buffy’s mom has a live-in boyfriend. Other fan-favorite characters like Anya, Drusilla, and Spike are around from the beginning, upping the tension and giving the sense that this is a perfect version of the series where ideas didn’t have to develop as much over time.

TV and Movies News

Captain Marvel Shines

As of March 18, Marvel’s new Captain Marvel movie starring Brie Larson had cleared $760 million at the box office in its first twelve days, eclipsing the entire runs of several past comic book movies like Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, and gaining solid mid-tier monetary returns compared to other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is after an online campaign, as members of some internet groups bombed movie review sites like Rotten Tomatoes with bad reviews in an attempt to bury the movie with bad reviews. The New York Times discusses the changes made by movie review sites like Rotten Tomatoes in response to the prerelease backlash against Captain Marvel, and how this may play out in the future as movie studios embrace more diversity in their productions.

TV Shorts


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Jason Sanford

Jason Sanford is a two-time finalist for the Nebula Award and has published more than a dozen stories in the British SF magazine Interzone, which also devoted a special issue to his fiction. In addition he has published numerous stories in magazines such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other places, along with appearances in multiple "year's best" anthologies and other collections. His fiction has been translated into nearly a dozen languages including Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian, Polish, and Czech. Jason's website is www.jasonsanford.com and he publishes a weekly Genre Grapevine column on his Patreon at www.patreon.com/jasonsanford.

Jen Grogan

Jen Grogan is a writer, editor, web content specialist, and nonprofit administrator based out of Seattle, where she lives with her husband, two loud but adorable cats, and too many books. She’s written for Women Write About Comics and a few other online venues, but has not yet convinced herself to call any of her fiction manuscripts complete. As an editor, she encourages others to do as she says, not as she does. In her free time she enjoys knitting, hiking, calligraphy, leading school tours for the Seattle Art Museum, and traveling to find new places to hike and new museums to visit. You can find her online at jengrogan.com.