Edinburgh Fringe 2018: Brief Reviews


Owing to work and travel I haven’t seen many Fringe shows this year, but here’s what I did see:

  • The Half: Well-performed tragicomedy about a comedy double-act (both women) reuniting after a decade. Very much about what it’s like to be a woman in theatre/comedy.
  • Afternoon Concert at St. Michael and All Saints (Free): The Roxburgh Quartet played Dvorak’s “The American” and some Mozart (I think). Not bad; good first violin, but the cellist was weaker.
  • Museum After Hours: A medley of 15 minute samplers from comedians, poets, and circus acts.
    • I enjoyed SHIFT‘s cyr wheel acrobatics – or at least, what little I could see of it due to the dreadful staging (not their fault). Pro tip: unless your circus performers are on stilts, you better have raked seating or an elevated stage.
    •  Jay Lafferty had great delivery but spent her time dunking on obvious/tired subjects (millennials, Brexiters, rich people, health and safety, gluten intolerance).
    • Ben Target‘s physical meta-comedy was met with aggrieved incomprehension from the mostly-aged audience; I thought at least half the jokes were pretty great, which is a good hit rate.
    • Solid acrobatics from Tabarnak. Shame it was all over in just five minutes.
    • My highlight was Toby Thompson‘s lovely and funny poetry, whom we saw on Kate Tempest’s recommendation. I’ll try to catch his full show next week.
  • Once Upon a Daydream: Adventurous family-friendly mix of live action, music, and animation by a Taiwanese company. There are many good bits but the “miserable single woman seeks happiness through love” theme was tiresome.
  • First Snow / Première neige: The most Canadian thing I’ve ever seen. ‬‪Deeply earnest, mulingual, multicultural, multinational, fourth-wall breaking, overly concerned about its place in the world, with good acting, important story, and confused execution. You can tell this is devised theatre.

BREX IT! Meal Kits

Take back control of your hunger! Inspired by various doomsday scenario planning guides that are telling Brits to stock up on beans and bottled water, I created the BREX IT! Meal Kits website in between laughing and crying about the political disaster that’s befallen our country.

Jessica Price Shouldn’t Have Been Fired

That’s the single, blindingly obvious conclusion I came to after reading the way in which Price, a game producer and writer for Guild Wars 2, was fired by her employer ArenaNet for some tweets in which they claimed she “attacked the community”. Peter Fries, a fellow writer, was also fired for defending her. Price had been at the company for around a year, Fries for more than twelve years.

Rather than recapitulating the whole story, I’d suggest reading the short but comprehensive Rock Paper Shotgun piece. If you’re curious, you can find more from The Verge and Eurogamer.

When I first read the articles, I was baffled. The two tweets they all cited were:

I kept looking for the other tweets that included these supposed “attacks” on the community. Surely there had to be something worse than “asshat”? Surely Price must have said something really bad, like “I hate every single one of our shithead players and I hope they never play our game again”?

But no, apparently “asshat” was outrageous enough to give the vapours to parts of the gaming community, whom we all know abhor all use of curse words.

She shouldn’t have been fired.

It Began in Madness, Just as It Ended

Price had written a long series of tweets going into some detail about the difficulties of getting players to identify with their characters in Guild Wars 2’s story. Deroir, a player and YouTuber, replied with a suggestion akin to telling a Formula One mechanic to maybe try putting better gas in the tank. She said “thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude,” which Deroir interpreted as her “getting mad”.

This is not Price getting mad. It’s a brusque brushoff, but not one that’s unwarranted.

Several years ago, I was at a conference party hoping to speak with a senior exec at Pixar. There was already a group of people talking to him, and at one point in the conversation, I jumped in by questioning something he’d said, about the relative release dates of their early movies. Not only was it an inappropriate interjection, but I was wrong (forgive me, I was only 20).

The exec paused. Turned to me. Rolled his eyes. “Excuse me, I think I know when our own films were released, thank you,” he said, and then turned away. He was not mad at me. It was a brushoff, just like the one Price delivered. It wasn’t even rude.

Deroir thinks Price is getting mad at her. Nothing could be further from the truth. Price didn’t give Deroir the attention he felt he deserved, and so he got mad.

As for me, I was stung and my pride was hurt – but not so much that I wanted him to be fired, not even if, hypothetically, he’d later said, “I’m tired of rando asshats trying to tell me when our films were released, as if I hadn’t been working in Pixar for a decade. I’m just not going to talk to them any more”. In fact, a few years later I caught up with him and got a tour of their offices.

A Selection of Ignorant and Bad Faith Questions from the “Gaming Community”

Q: Isn’t this like firing a waitress for being rude towards customers?

No, because:

  • Price’s job isn’t serving the public, and it’s not what she should be judged on primarily.
  • Price wasn’t even on the job when tweeting.
    • “But she has her company name in her Twitter profile!” Oh my god, that changes everything, doesn’t it? Because if she didn’t have her company name in her profile, she shouldn’t be fired?
  • Only in the US do waitresses get instantly fired for being rude to customers. The notion this should be copied by the international gaming industry highlights the disturbingly authoritarian and servile nature of parts of the gaming community.

Q: Price is the one being sexist!

It is admittedly impossible to know whether any single instance of mansplaining is down to sexism or just because someone is naturally a bore, any more than you can really ‘know’ that Sony hates the idea of cross-platform gaming or maybe it’s just somehow mysteriously really difficult to make Fortnite work between PS4s and Nintendo Switches.

But in both cases, we’re observing a pattern of behaviour as a woman, or as a PS4 gamer. After we’ve heard Sony tell us a dozen times why it’s impossible for PS4 owners of game to play with others on the Xbox or PC – even as the rest of the games industry has accomplished this with ease – one can reasonably conclude Sony’s overall corporate strategy is to prevent cross-platform play.

Likewise, even as an individual woman, after you have encountered mansplaining for hundredth or thousandth time – after you have seen your male colleagues not being afflicted to the same degree – you can reasonably conclude: no, it’s not just you, it’s not that you’re unlucky, it’s that the world in general is sexist, just as Price does in this case.

I suppose I have a tiny smidgeon of sympathy for Deroir being the straw that broke Price’s back. Maybe there are others who deserved it more. But hey, we’ll all forget about this in a few week’s time and Deroir will move on to other things, while Price was fired and no doubt lost thousands of dollars.

It’s a very, very tiny smidgeon.

Q: Deroir is an important Arenanet Partner, Price is damaging Arenanet’s business with her tweet!

OK, so it’s as if some artist at Marvel Studios snapped at Robert Downey Jr., a person arguably critical to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, right? Because we’re acting as if an “Arenanet Partner” is an especially unique and prestigious position to attain, rather than being one of more than a hundred bloggers and streamers that anyone can apply to join.

Deroir has around 2000 Twitter followers and 8000 YouTube subscribers – and this is after all of the fuss, which has no doubt inflated his follower count. This puts him solidly in the middle of the Arenanet Partner pack, which I don’t think any employee at the company, other than those in social media, could possibly be expected to memorise. This is not to belittle his importance, it’s to put things into perspective.

Q: Price doesn’t need to be on Twitter – if she can’t take the heat, she should stay out of the kitchen!

Some people online expect game designers, writers, politicians – basically, anyone with more than a modest following – to be unfailingly polite in their interactions with the community, while having zero expectations of reciprocity from community members. In other words, ‘public figures’ are meant to soak up unbelievable amounts of abuse with total grace.

This is wrong. Conferences, conventions, and forums all have codes of conduct. Large public organisations like the NHS and Transport for London make it very clear that while they expect their staff to be polite, they will not tolerate the abuse of their staff. This is in stark contrast to many games companies, who tacitly encourage this abuse by tolerating it and in this case, firing two employees.

If Arenanet are unhappy with how Price spoke on Twitter, they should also be concerned about their employees’ welfare on Twitter – and they obviously aren’t.

Separately, it’s very useful for people in the game industry to be on Twitter. It helps you find new jobs, get invited to conferences, and learn from colleagues. Not everyone has to do it, but you can also achieve positive things, like give advice to people new in the industry. Price’s now-forgotten Twitter thread that kicked all of this off demonstrates her genuine thoughtfulness towards her job, the Guild Wars 2 community, and to the whole industry. It’s clearer and better written than what most game designers can accomplish.

It’s not an attack on the community. It shows her love for the community.

Q: What about Free Speech? People should be able to say what they like and not get fired!

lol jk, literally no-one said this.

Who We’re Responsible To, as People Who Run Games Companies 

I run a games company. It’s much smaller than Arenanet but we still have hundreds of thousands of active players. It’s not an easy job because you have a lot of different people to answer to.

There are the shareholders and owners of the company. You have to make sure their interests are represented and that you don’t flush all their money down the toilet. Then there’s your customers. You have to take care of them, otherwise they might turn to your competition.

And there’s your employees, the people who do the work that makes you money and produces your games. It is a sad reality of late-stage capitalism that many company owners treat employees as interchangeable, because from the perspective of a spreadsheet, they essentially are. But from a human perspective, they most certainly are not.

I would never fire an employee if they had done what Jessica Price did. I might have a word with them, especially if it kept happening. But I’d also make sure they weren’t being constantly attacked on Twitter. I hope that most CEOs would do the same.

The thing is, you shouldn’t have to hope. My employees don’t have to worry about this because they live in the UK. Arenanet is based in Washington, an “at will” employment state where employers can terminate employment without providing a reason, at any time. In the UK, employees have much stronger rights, whether or not they’re in a union.

I support my friends and colleagues in the US who are fighting for better employment law and unions.

I encourage other owners of games companies to remember who they’re responsible for – not just shareholders, not just customers, but their employees.

And once more: Jessica Price shouldn’t have been fired.

Reassessing Persuasive Games


Sadly, I’ve always thought persuasive/serious games were more about generating good PR than actually persuading anyone – at least from the funders’ perspective, who were usually charities and non-profits. I say that as someone who (IMO) made some pretty good “serious games”. The wildly overblown claims from certain corners that “games will save the world” and inflated engagement statistics also didn’t help in the long term.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot for a potential book, and part of the problem is tied up into something I call the “mapping problem”, in which it’s very challenging to design a game to ‘solve’ specific kinds of problems – especially ones that we don’t fully understand – whereas gamification proponents have always claimed a one-size-fits-all solution.

(And for the millionth time, I dearly wish we could go back to blogging. Trying to read longform text via Twitter screenshots is just awful)


“Hey [Google],

Haven’t [given you more control over my emails, memories, and livelihood in a while.]

Why [don’t you assume my voice and entire digital identity to complete the job?]

I’ve [attached all my banking details passwords to make it easier for you].

Love, [everyone]”

Do not let the Twilight Saga ruin Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” for you. The use of this piano piece over the ending of Ocean’s Eleven is bar-none the most beautiful execution of it in its 132-year history. For a movie as fun and bombastic and sharp as it is, there’s no reason why it needs to have an ending as poignant as it does. And yet! AND YET! These guys, that cash, Julia Roberts, the soft glow of the lights around the fountain…try not to shed half a tear at this band of merry thieves going their separate ways. (Soderbergh would go on to use a somewhat similar shot in Magic Mike XXL with fireworks and DJ Khalid’s “All I Do Is Win,” but note that this is the ultimate.)

Fran Hoepfner (former classical music critic at The Awl) looking back at the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy

Health is important, but not if you’re old

Today’s big feature in the UK iPhone App Store is Babylon health. They’ve grown quite a lot in the past few years, raising $60 million in 2017 to expand. One of their major selling points is that you can see a GP (via video consultation) within just two hours. What a wonderful world they’ve created! Except

Babylon said, however, that patients with the following conditions could be excluded from the service:

  • Women who are or may be pregnant
  • Adults with a safeguarding need
  • People living with complex mental health conditions
  • People with complex physical, psychological and social needs
  • People living with dementia
  • Older people with conditions related to frailty
  • People requiring end of life care
  • Parents of children who are on the ‘Child at risk’ protection register
  • People with learning difficulties
  • People with drug dependence

Oh well.