Milo Yiannopoulos is Terrible At Satire

So the hero of the #GamerGate movement, Milo Yiannopoulos, posted a review of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware’s latest RPG. Quickly, people noticed certain things: like the fact the header image is from Mass Effect, not Dragon Age; that almost the entirety of the review is a polemic against “social justice warriors”, rather than the game; and hilariously overwrought language.

Of course, at this point, Yiannopoulos pulled the proverbial rug out from under all our toes: he hadn’t been writing a review, silly, it was satire. Never mind that Milo posted it on Twitter as being “My first proper video game review”, or that plenty of people picked it up and began citing it as if it were true. It was a stroke of genius, a masterful, satirical jab at the gaming journalism status quo. Take that, Gawker and Vox Media!

So, let’s have a look at this satirical swipe at the games industry. Bear in mind, as always, that this comes from a man who previously said games were responsible for Elliot Rodger’s mass shooting.

Dozens of readers have been in touch to ask what I think of perhaps the most controversial triple-A (that’s gamer for “top tier,” or blockbuster) release of the year. For a while, I resisted their entreaties. But ultimately I exist to serve you, dear reader. So here it is: the Breitbart review of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Here’s the first paragraph and already we can see a problem: who is this targeting? Milo provides a translation into “gamer”, which hardly implies the best view of the video game enthusiasts one might assume this review is aimed at. (And it can hardly be aimed at non-video game players; most of the jokes rely on at least a basic understanding of the games industry).

Meanwhile, at the end, he says “I exist to serve you, dear reader.” One hopes this is not part of the satire, seeing as this mindset appears, after four months of research, to be what Yiannopoulos’ supporters in Gamergate believe to the point of parody.

To recap: one paragraph in, and both the target and audience of this “satirical piece” are unclear.

First off, it’s worth explaining some historical context. Most of the worst things in the world come from Canada. Consider Shania Twain. Justin Bieber. Bryan Adams. Rufus Wainwright. Tom Green. Avril Lavigne. Michael Cera. Céline Dion. Nickelback. BioWare, developers of Dragon Age, are also Canadian.

If Yiannopoulos’ intent truly were to satirise video game reviews, what is the purpose of this paragraph? Most video game reviews do not begin with snide digs at North American countries. I can therefore conclude this paragraph serves no purpose other than being a cheap (and tired) joke.

BioWare was, at least a decade ago, strongly positioned to achieve sustained success at the “average games that perform well with customers” end of the market. (To be fair to both of those titles, they have very enthusiastic fan bases.)
But the company in recent years has become… well, a bit of a running joke. Most gamers say the rot set in around 2009 or 2010, when BioWare was acquired by Electronic Arts.

This paragraph seems like it could have come out of a genuine review. What it lacks is a punchline. As someone who has written satire, if it doesn’t serve the joke, get it out of there. For bonus points, Yiannopoulos suggests that Knights of the Old Republic was “average”.

2011's Dragon Age II unexpectedly bombed with consumers, despite, of course, the rave reviews from mainstream game news sites, who need only get a whiff of a paraplegic lesbian in an ill-fated love affair with a black transsexual to award a game full marks.

Now we get into the nitty-gritty. This doesn’t appear to be satirising video game reviews at all, rather, it seems to be a blunt statement about “mainstream game news sites”. It’s rather difficult to argue that something is satire when you are including your views not as comical exaggerations but as matter-of-fact statements.

To explain better, let’s take a look at one particular example from the review:

Mass Effect 2 wasn’t a critical success with ordinary gamers either; they called it “filler” and said it was “uninspiring.” It, too, bored players with politics.

Now, this would count as satire if any of the following were true:

  • Milo suggested that mainstream sites have argued this
  • Mass Effect 2 was unpopular
  • The reason Mass Effect 2 had detractors was over its politics

None of these are the case. Mass Effect 2 was roundly praised by both users and critics; Mass Effect 2's detractors largely concentrated on its vehicle sections and changes from the first game; and, just like the last paragraph, Milo’s argument is not that video game sites have seriously tried to claim that Mass Effect 2 is unpopular; it is instead a blunt statement that video games sites push politics. This is not satire; this is a clear statement of intent for the review.

The unhappy disjuncture between readers and reviewers finds its highest expression in BioWare reviews, and most certainly its monstrous apotheosis in the reviews for Dragon Age: Inquisition, which, despite its numerous and serious flaws, garnered some of the highest scores and most effusive reviews of the year.

Who is being targeted here? The readers? BioWare? The gaming press? This paragraph is a mess.

Thereafter follow two paragraphs which take potshots at two outlets who gave the game positive reviews — “Polygon, Vox Media’s bolt-hole for disenfranchised social justice bloggers with a penchant for Xbox masochism”, and “Kotaku, perhaps the most openly hated video game website on the internet and a fellow traveller on the social justice path”.

This is not satire. This is blatant point-scoring with the “ordinary gamers”, who you claim to speak for yet disassociate from in your first paragraph by implying your target audience doesn’t speak “gamer”. For all your talk of “satirising” the gaming press, this appears to be more a mockery of the very concept of reviews and the people who read them. So is this a review or not?

Let’s continue.

Once you’ve finished picking the sick out of your keyboard (the writing is that bad throughout; I’ve read it so you don’t have to) let us turn to the game itself, and see if we can work out why these reviewers might have thought so highly of the new Dragon Age — BioWare’s marketing budget aside, for who knows what coke-and-hookers arrangements such enormous amounts of money can buy.

Hey look, some actual humour— mocking Kotaku’s flowery prose and the possibility that games reviewers are paid off! Admittedly the latter is not exactly a new joke, but I’m going to give Milo points here for progress.

And decisions made in Dragon Age: Origins, a precursor to DA:I, have been disregarded or retconned, to the frustration of franchise fans.
The sloppiness of the writing extends to most of the characters in DA:I, which never quite make the player really care about anything that’s happening on screen.

I could give Milo the benefit of the doubt here and suggest that he’s mocking a perceived tendency for reviewers to drift off-topic, but the way that he moves instantly from pointing out “fan complaints” to claiming his experience as “the player” seems, given the tone of the rest of this piece, just to be an error rather than anything so subtle.

“It’s as if fanfiction.net and Tumblr had a grotesque love child,” reads one particularly waspish comment in my inbox, from a German fan. Followed by: “Who let Zooey Deschanel into the Middle Ages?” (If you think Mumsnet can be bitchy, you should check out the video game forums after a BioWare release.)

I’m fairly certain the only reviewer who quotes his inbox messages in reviews is Zero Punctuation. If this is mocking anyone, then it’s the “entitled gamers” who sent those messages, and the video game forums Milo calls “bitchy”.

Then there’s the gameplay. It’s third person, after a fashion, and similar to Dragon Age II, but, and this is a regular source of frustration to fans, with such dumbed-down, moronic mechanics as to be not even irritating, but, worse, actively tedious. The scope of player action has been reduced significantly; healing magic, for example, has been entirely removed from the game.

Now, Milo claims he can’t see how anyone took this seriously — which would ring true, Poe’s Law and all, except he went out of his way to write a paragraph like this that would only be of use to someone expecting it to be a review. Not only is this further proof that the “satire” designation was retroactive, but it is also, at best, an extremely shallow critique of the game.

(Two more similar paragraphs follow. Hilariously, he complains about “padding” in one, amidst his diatribe)

And all that’s before we get to the stuttering, glitches and bugs that make this game even more visually unattractive to sit through. (The console versions don’t fare much better, apparently. Not being what they call a console peasant, I’m not equipped, nor prepared, to judge, but feel free to report back in the comment section.)

“Console peasant” is a phrase that would be utterly meaningless to anyone who is not a fairly hardcore gamer, coming as it does from a joke in a Zero Punctuation review about the “glorious PC gaming master race”. Again, the question is who Yiannopoulos is “satirising” here — himself?

It’s possible that some of the errors in DA:I are caused by the horrific DRM that BioWare has slapped on, which is called Denuvo and is loathed by gamers because it works hard drives constantly, shortening the life of both SSDs and conventional disks, while also affecting the performance of disk- and processor-intensive games.

This is factually incorrect. Again, this could be a deliberate dig at game reviewers who do similar; I do not trust Yiannopoulos, someone who is fairly new to the gaming scene, to have planned this to be the case.

Unless… well, unless it’s the lesbians, by which I mean the “alternative lifestyles” BioWare insists on thumping us around the head with.

So now Yiannopoulos turns his attention to satirising BioWare and “social justice types”, taking potshots at hypocritical Tumblr users who do not participate in any genuine activism- oh, no, he just attacks lesbians.

Evidently, Bioware has failed to do even cursory research into lesbian relationships. For a start, both partners are cute. And they actually have sex! You know, instead of sitting opposite one another, separated by an abandoned Scrabble board and the remains of yesterday’s Saga knitting challenge, surrounded by rescue cats. In any case, with lesbian sex scenes as ugly and forced as this, the only scissoring you’ll want to do afterwards is to the game DVD.

For starters, this is just grossly offensive. Secondly, this doesn’t make sense as a satire, because the reviewers Yiannopoulos claims to be satirising would never attack lesbians, because of their “pre-occupation with politics”.

But more importantly, it once again shows the head of Yiannopoulos trying to put his own opinions into the mouth of the satirised. Which doesn’t work. You can’t attribute the point you’re trying to make to your opponent — that’s just stupid on a whole number of levels. Either the review is a satirical fiction, or it’s an actual review and should be taken as such. You can’t have it both ways.

Satire is about exaggerating a point for comic effect. Case in point, pulled off the Onion front page quite deliberately.

Particularly galling for older video game enthusiasts, many of whom are fans of BioWare’s older games

This is the sort of statement one would expect to identify one’s audience, except Yiannopoulos, as should now be clear, has no idea who his audience is — this is a direct contradiction to his earlier statements about Bioware’s previous games.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is what gamers mean when they say they’re worried about intellectually dishonest critics like Anita Sarkeesian muscling in on the games industry and encouraging developers to slap a few dykes or a woman in a wheelchair into games to suck up to left-wing bloggers and keep their Metacritic scores up. (Breitbart News looks forward to its scores being included in official rankings.)

There’s a genuine satirical point about Metacritic included in this paragraph, except it’s contradicted by Milo’s prior screed against Anita Sarkeesian — presumably intended seriously. Again, Milo, you can’t have it both ways — either you’re being satirical or you’re making a valid point.

Note also the homophobic slur. Comedy and satire are about punching up, not down — and there is nothing about Yiannopoulos’ statements that implies this is intended as a parody. (It would only be a parody of himself, in any case).

The ending once again falls into a sort of reverse Poe’s Law:

If BioWare applied themselves as much to ensuring a consistently high-quality visual experience and more sophisticated game mechanics as they do to crowbarring social justice memes like hot lesbian action and smouldering man-on-man bonkfests into their storylines, perhaps the overall effect of their games would be stronger — and hardcore gamers wouldn’t hold them in quite as much contempt. But that’s Canada for you.

[…]

In a nutshell: Saturated with bien-pensant political posturing to satisfy media toadies, Dragon Age: Inquisition has little to recommend it to the serious gamer.

It’s not parody if what you are saying is intended seriously, and, given Yiannopoulos’ previous statements, I see no reason why someone would not take this at face value. Moreover, if it is satirising anyone, it can only be the people who are against “social justice memes” and consider themselves “serious gamers” — and who make up the bulk of Yiannopoulos’ audience.

Yiannopoulos has defended himself by saying that his review was clearly a parody, given that his “scoring system” clearly doesn’t add up, and uses a picture of yellowing underpants (a frequent dig at gamers) to represent the score. Again, this is not a new joke — the former is the stinger to Yahtzee Croshaw’s novel “Mogworld”, for one thing — but another, it is once again not the “audience hating press”, but the gamers themselves who appear to be the target of the joke. (And, once again, Milo has made similar statements in the past)

In summary, Milo Yiannopoulos’ review of Dragon Age: Inquisition was very clearly intended at least partially seriously — otherwise the paragraphs about game mechanics would be gone. Moreover, the digs at the gaming press — while hilariously misguided coming from Yiannopoulos — can at least be framed in a humorous context, much as a review would include digressions.

To call it satire, though? Or parody? That’s a very different thing entirely, because satire or parody require a very clear target, and audience, neither of which is clear in this piece. It appears what has actually happened is that Yiannopoulos has retroactively declared his piece a “satire”, when in reality it is simply a thinly-veiled (and often downright cruel) attack on his own personal bugbears — BioWare, “social justice warriors”, and lesbians.

I hope Milo carries on writing reviews — for the comedy value, if nothing else — but I hope he doesn’t try to claim that they are satire when they’re not. Actual satire exists to be hilarious, cutting, and even profound — not a catch-all term when you’ve been caught out saying something stupid.