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A Note on Trump, Waypoint, and Why We Play

Editor-in-Chief Austin Walker offers his thoughts on how the US Presidential election impacts on the goals of Waypoint.

You can listen to an audio version of this article by pressing play below.

There are lots of ways to read the results of last night's election.

For some, it represents a failure of the center-left to engage with very real issues of poverty. For others, it reflects a failure to fully energize a skeptical democratic voting base. There are takes about third party candidates and the irresponsible media relationship with Trump, about the future of the Supreme Court and climate change. All of these are conversations worth having, wherever you fall on them.

Most striking to me, though, is the simple fact that nearly 60 million Americans chose to support a campaign that leveraged racist, xenophobic, anti-LGBTQ, and sexist rhetoric. It's a campaign centered on a man who has bragged about committing sexual assault (and faced accusations from multiple women for doing just that); a man who is under FTC investigation for massive fraud; a man who has earned millions of dollars for himself at the expense of others (including both his own employees and American taxpayers). 

In failing to repudiate such a campaign, this result offers validation to both the emerging "alt-right" and resurgent hate groups, and for many Americans, this has forced a confrontation with part of their nation that was easy to ignore. For those of us on the margins—people of color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, religious minorities, and others—the hopes of those who hate us the most have been realized, and our fears validated. It has urged on a part of America that has been for a long time a vulture, circling, shadow-proud, attacking when we are weakest.  

This is devastating and deflating and makes it so easy to fall into despair. In the late night throes of desperation, it is easy to question why I've devoted so much of my life to playing and writing about games when we face results like this—especially given the intersection that our little corner of the world has had with these groups and issues over the past few years.

All illustrations by Stephan Maurice Graham.

It would be so easy to turn fully inwards, to give ourselves to the worst thoughts. But this apocalyptic urge—the notion that there is nothing to be done except to wait for the hammer—is not harsh realism, it is a fearful, resigned escapism. It is in its own way soothing to look away now, to gather those who we love and say "Well, this is it, then." And given the very real threats that this election has underscored, I won't look down on anyone throwing themselves headfirst into grief today. There should be time for self-care, and sometimes self-care can be about (temporary) disengagement.

But if you yet teeter, unsure whether to despair or look forward, let me try to make the case for the latter.

The coming days will be a challenge. They will also be an opportunity. 

I believe, firmly, that the way to encourage inclusivity, compassion, and equality is by shining a light on the ways that the world is already diverse and on the people who struggle in order to make it better. Whether you're reading this as a game maker, a journalist, or a player and fan, we can all contribute in that cause. 

Those of us here at Waypoint cover games in this way not only because we love and understand them, but also because we believe that games are both a reflection of and a participator in human culture. Playing is as old as people are, and games offer us ways to laugh, think, collaborate, escape, and even to give ourselves to despondency and failure, when appropriate.

Sometimes, the wide range of these experiences is lost in the ongoing cycle of news and product hype. The games industry (like many parts of the wider world) can feel heartless or machinic, both inhuman and inhumane.  But games are not only the industry, they are the people who make them and who play them, too.

This is why we launched Waypoint (just over a week ago!) with a mission statement that implicitly positioned us as hopeful. It's why we publish stories not only about Wizards of the Coast HQ, but also about about American prisoners finding ways to engage their imaginations with roleplaying games. It's why we speak to devs not only about their endless creativity, but also about the industry's deep problems with crunch culture. It's why we have a column on mental health, and a regular feature on the many non-commercial games that come from alternative and independent creative spaces.

It's also why we launched with 72 hour livestream designed to (again implicitly) represent our vision of the gaming world: We booked the show to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. We played games like Overcooked with raucous joy and games like Harvester with critical attention; we played with some of the greatest players in the world… and also with people who haven't picked up a controller in decades. Our goal was for the stream, when taken as a whole, to say: "Hey, look at how wide, how beautiful, how alive the world of games is, and how limited our collective attention has been to its margins thus far."

But these were, as I said, implicit statements. Today that is not enough. So let me be direct: Our aim at Waypoint is to cover games with criticality and humanity. It is to give as much attention to the people, passion, and politics of gaming as we have been giving to the products. It is to explore how and why we play, not only because trying to answer those questions will lead us to tell great stories, but because we fundamentally believe that this will offer insight into the wider "state of play," into the culture that games emerge from and that people play in.

When we pitched the mission and strategy of our site to our publishers and to the executives here at VICE, this was the case we made: Today, in 2016, more people than ever understand games. There is now a widely shared lexicon that lets us tell new, unique stories to a wider audience than ever, including people who do not call themselves "gamers."

This, I think, has been a pretty good pitch. But let me make another: It is also our goal to build a new lexicon inside of the gaming community. One that isn't about reaching wider audiences with new stories, but one that will help us address our own failures, systemic and personal. I want you to help us do that, and to hold us to it, too.

We want to learn (together) how to move with compassion and with interest. We want to find and share our own methods of inquiry, so that we can find ways to understand how others differ from us, why they think, act, and play differently—instead of only dismissing them as outsiders. 

This will not only help us build common ground to form new, important coalitions, but will also teach us how to address the actual, meaningful differences that have lead us into dramatic and upsetting conflict.

We're not going anywhere, and as I said nearly a year and a half ago: I hope you'll enjoy diving into all the complicated stuff with us in the future. All we can do is promise to be rigorous, honest, and critical. I hope that you'll continue doing the same.