Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and more.
I was browsing through old Super Famicom games at the Portland Retro Game Expo when I first caught wind of NeoGAF's swift and unexpected demise.
Word spread quickly among the attendees: Owner Tyler "Evilore" Malka had been accused of sexual assault; the moderation staff—which included USG reviews editor Mike Williams—was resigning en masse, and the boards were down.
When the allegations surfaced, one moderator told me Malka quickly denied them. But as a chorus of legitimate questions surfaced, even the moderation staff wanted more answers. In a private Slack channel for moderators, Malka said a public statement was coming. "Internet drama isn't new to NeoGAF," said one moderator, "but when the allegation is that the site owner sexually harassed someone, and it is allowed to spiral out of control to a point where it's a really bad look, it's hard to justify sticking around without a knowing that there's a clear plan ahead. Not knowing how this would move forward is what sealed the deal for me. It's impossible to moderate the forum in future in good faith when I'm unable to honestly answer valid questions people might have about this matter."
It's impossible to divorce these events from the fall of Harvey Weinstein, the anger over allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump, the accusations at Naughty Dog, and the recent #MeToo campaign (indeed, the allegations that brought down NeoGAF stemmed from that very campaign). It seems that we've finally reached a moment where accusations like these can't simply be swept under the rug. In that, NeoGAF's collapse is a sign of the times.
Also a sign of the times: the way in which its demise has once again laid bare the divisions in the gaming community.
When I commented on how stunning it was to see a long-standing community like NeoGAF fall apart almost overnight, my feed was filled with commenters saying "good riddance." The same thing happened in our news story over the weekend.
The reaction is a reminder of of how divided the gaming community has become over the past three years. When Gamergate erupted in 2014, NeoGAF was among the communities that firmly repudiated the "ethics in game journalism" crowd, aggressively banning accounts and locking pro-GG threads. In taking a stand, NeoGAF became politicized, earning it enmity that has since bubbled back to the surface.
Since then, these communities have been more or less at war. Indeed, when the accusations against Malka began to rise, some mods thought it was a GamerGate trick. From Klepek's article:
Due to this hostile relationship between GamerGate and NeoGAF, some wondered if the new allegations against Malka were fabricated as part of an attempt by GamerGate-friendly individuals to trick users. Several moderators I spoke to said this was the initial reaction internally, as well. It was a regular occurrence to have users "sacrifice" their accounts by posting inflammatory comments, knowing full well they'd be banned.
Anti-GAF groups contend that NeoGAF's discourse was toxic; that the moderation staff was too trigger happy, and that the orthodoxy around certain subjects was too strong (usually ones pertaining to social justice).
Personally, GAF seemed to me to be the same as it ever was before its fall: a hype-oriented community that was useful for gaming news and title-specific megathreads, but put way too much stock in the ups and downs of Metacritic. Like every other online community, it was prone to bouts of hysteria and a certain mob mentality, but its stricter membership requirements tended to keep the discourse reasonably civil.
Its strict moderation was a product of it being one of gaming's oldest communities, as well as Gaming Age's original goal of elevating the discourse around games. It was founded in an era before Youtube and social media, when the Internet consisted of a host of small and exclusive communities that were often heavily moderated. That it managed to remain influential made it something of a throwback, especially amid the growth of Reddit, Youtube, and Twitch.
Its collapse is the epitaph for a different era of gaming, one dominated by traditional games journalism and large message boards like NeoGAF. The new Internet is much more decentralized, with discussions taking place on everything from Facebook to Reddit. Gamers have long since gotten used to saying whatever they want, wherever they want. The old gatekeepers have increasingly fallen to the wayside amid the rise of "influencers."
It's hard to say how the fallout from all of this will settle. Many ex-NeoGAF posters have seemingly moved over to Waypoint forums. Some have been trying to start their own message board. Even OpenCritic has gotten involved. Whatever happens, its apparent that one of gaming's longest standing communities has been scattered to the wind.
Just another sign of the times.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
This is it: the biggest week of Fall 2017. Here are some of the most interesting games coming this week.
- Destiny 2 PC (October 24, PC): If you've been holding out for 4K Destiny 2, then this is your moment. We'll have an in-depth breakdown of the PC release on Wednesday.
- Hidden Agenda (October 24, PS4): A crime thriller from Supermassive Games, creators of Until Dawn. Some interesting mechanics. Caty is really excited about this one.
- Assassin's Creed Origins (October 24, PS4, XBO, PC): Ubisoft's massive reboot aims to get the series back on track after a one-year sabbatical by emulating The Witcher 3. If nothing else, it's probably the best-looking game of this generation, and that'll be enough for a lot of people.
- Super Mario Odyssey (October 27, Switch): The biggest Switch game since Breath of the Wild is already earning rave reviews. I'm mostly just fascinated by that dumb hat.
This week will account for most of this season's biggest games, with only Call of Duty and Star Wars Battlefront 2 still to go. Personally, I'm still hooked on Etrian Odyssey 5, but I might have to put it down soon to sample some of the bigger games. What are you planning on picking up?
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: The Hammer Brothers' theme from Super Mario Bros 3
Super Mario Bros 3 came to Japanese Famicoms on this day in 1988. I was in grade two, and the playground was abuzz about Mario's latest adventure. Man, Japan seemed like such a faraway mystical place back then. At that point in my life, I could've told you everything you never wanted to know about Narnia, but what little I knew about Japan came off an old film reel we once watched in school. Talking Jesus Allegory Lions felt more real to me than Japanese people, and that's kind of sad and weird. I'm glad kids today learn a little more about the world around them than I did. Well, I hope they do.
Now that I'm wearing my age like a Technicolor dream coat, let's talk about Super Mario 3's music. Like the game's graphics and mechanics, Mario 3's soundtrack is a huge leap over the first game's simple (but compelling) tunes. The main stage tune (the one that accompanies you through 1-1) subscribes to a Calypso theme with a steel drum sound unlike anything else on the NES.
But unique percussion is Mario 3's game, so to speak. I love the funky beat backing up the Hammer Brothers' mini-stage music, especially the "knock-knock" sound at 0:18. Talk about great music to fling hammers by.
(Do not fling hammers. Especially indoors.)
Mike's Media Minute
It's kinda of a weird time to talk about Hollywood. The number one film two weeks ago was Happy Death Day. The number one film this past weekend was A Madea Halloween 2. Now, those are fine films with their intended audiences, but I admit that I'm not particularly interested in their prospects. Both were made for low-budgets and both were probably profitable in their opening weekend.
Soon, things will be getting interesting though. Thor: Ragnarok is coming on November 3, Murder on the Orient Express launches with an all-star cast on November 10, Justice League sees if it can get away from the shadow of Batman v Superman on November 17, and Pixar tries something new with Coco on November 22.
We've seen a fairly strong box office toplist this year, even if I believe that box office receipts overall are down. Domestically, our current top 5 is Beauty and the Beast (bet you forgot it came out this year), Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man Homecoming, and IT. Worldwide, Beauty and the Beast stays at #1, but the next four are The Fate of the Furious, Despicable Me 3, Spider-Man Homecoming, and Wolf Warrior 2.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi will likely change that listing, pushing everything down a slot, but it'll be interesting to see where Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok fall. Regardless, the year is almost done!
Caty’s AltGame Corner
One of my favorite speed shooters in recent years was Lovely Planet, a game with a delightful soundtrack and a sugary aesthetic. It was a shooter that didn't look like any other shooter out there, and its unexpected high intensity was something I desired from most other shooters.
High Hell, the new game from the developers behind Heavy Bullets, Enter the Gungeon, and Gang Beasts, finally brings that style to a devilish landscape. It's a brutal type of speed shooter where you're outfitted with a shotgun, blasting criminals away in a low-poly world. It's a vibrant game too—kinda like Lovely Planet, if it fell on the opposite spectrum, swapping pastels for neon.
It's a crowded week for video games, with three major releases dropping this week (and a host of smaller titles too). If you need a break from it all, High Hell is the perfect bite-sized shooter to turn your attention to. It's available on itch.io for $9.99 on PC and Mac.
This Week's News and Notes
- I went to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo over the weekend, mostly because I'm a nerd and I like old games. I was planning on making my adventures the focus of this week's column, but other events took priority.
Anyway! I spent most of Saturday browsing the piles and piles of classic games, hardware, and merch, spending much more money than I intended along the way.
All in all, it was an amazing time; and if you haven't been, I strongly recommend you spend the money and go at least once. Just be warned: you're probably going to come home with a lot of classic games. They're kind of irresistable like that.
- One of the highlights of the PRGE was this find: a $300 box of Mega Man 8 cels presented at Chris Kohler's Retro Gaming Roadshow. Videogame animation cels are a fascinating rarity, and the box included many high-quality images, making it incredibly valuable to collectors. Check out the gallery from our write-up.
- Speaking of retro, Nadia's playthrough of Final Fantasy IX continues. You can follow along here with her regular write-ups.
- In case you missed it, contributor Ed Smith has this tale of the big hopes and shattered dreams of The Magic Circle. Sadly, indie game development is more of a crapshoot than ever, with only a tiny fraction going on to become major successes. This is one of them.
- One indie that has been enormously successful: Stardew Valley. Seemingly everyone has picked up a copy for their Nintendo Switch, which is kind of perfect platform for a farming sim like this. It's charming and beautiful, and certainly worth a play if you missed it the first time.
- I'm told Stranger Things is almost back, which is great given that I've finally wrapped Bojack Horseman and Rick & Morty. On the other hand, this just means that I'm going to be stuck trying to avoid spoilers while everyone else blitzes it in a single day. Watching TV is hard now.
- And finally, are you ready for some microtransactions?
As always, we'll be here all week with news, reviews, guides, and commentary. Thank you for supporting USgamer, and good luck navigating the oncoming deluge of amazing games. You're going to need it.