This piece is in collaboration with the folks at Extra Credits! Check out their good good YouTube channel and surrounding content. They provided the video and the prompt about Tim Sweeney. Thanks!
The games industry has never had a longer reach than it does now, both in its audience and its active participants. More lives are affected by games. Frequently, especially recently, these impacts are cacophonous. Layoffs at Activision Blizzard and ArenaNet have reignited important conversations about unionization. Shakeups across games media have people looking to their executive staff for more conscious, clear-headed leadership. THQ Nordic’s indefensible decision to show up to 8chan and then act like they weren’t in on the joke highlighted (again) the ugly spaces of the industry.
I don’t want to sweep these struggles under the rug. No way. In fact, I think some of the nicer surprises in games help me on a personal level stay focused on what can happen when things work out. From a surprising environmental ally to highlighting important social change on a staggeringly large stage, I want to highlight three things that are going right in and around games over the past year or so.
Epic’s Tim Sweeney Plays Keep-Away With Land Developers
When approaching Epic Games’ headquarters in Cary, NC, you’ll notice quite a different environment than other game studios in urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Thousands upon thousands of trees surround the roads near Fortnite‘s birthplace. The piney forests of North Carolina were thrust into some danger back in 2008, when land developers took over swaths of land in the western part of the state. When the recession hit, plans were scrapped. That’s when, as The Pilot reported, Epic’s own Tim Sweeney swooped in and bought the 5,000+ acres out from under them.
Tim Sweeney, as it turns out, is one of North Carolina’s most prominent private land holders. As of 2014, Sweeney owned 36,650 acres of mostly mountain land, according to WNC Magazine. While that isn’t exactly the coolest distinction in the world, Sweeney’s commitment from keeping large expanses of his home state away from developers who would threaten the rare plant and animal life there is pretty rad. More recently in late 2017, Sweeney bought another 1,500 acres for $20 million. To locals, Stonehill Pines, is known for its breathtaking long leaf pine and oak trees.
“I just plan to hike it and do some tree thinning and burning for ecosystem restoration until I find a permanent conservatory or state home for it” – Tim Sweeney to The Pine, Jan 5, 2018
What’s notable about Tim Sweeney’s ownership is twofold. One, he explicitly wants to hold it for its beauty and preservation, not to turn a profit. Two, he mentions state ownership as a desirable option, which flies in the face of the common spirit of many private land owners in the country.
Sweeney’s investments don’t excuse the mere existence of billionaires and the otherwise mega-wealthy. Of course they don’t. However, his commitment to conservation goes the extra mile in ways I truly didn’t expect.
Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller Hits the Big Stage
With the help of the AbleGamers Charity and the Xbox Accessibility team, the Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) hit the market in late 2018. As a disabled games enthusiast myself, the existence of the XAC warmed my heart all through the winter. Access to enhanced peripherals on consoles was previously up to third party hardware developers to mixed results.
A first party solution with so many talented and knowledgeable consultants just seemed so far away two years ago. Now it’s in stock at my local Microsoft Store. It’s undeniably cool.
AbleGamers’ Steven Spohn spoke to Geek about what makes the XAC so different from everything that came before it.
“What Xbox really did by putting it through their mass manufacturing machines was be able to bring the price point down. Having it be $100 is just off the chain.” – Steven Spohn to Geek.com, June 5, 2018
The XAC merely existing was such a pleasant surprise last year, but the entire project had its crescendo during Super Bowl LIII with an ad during the big game called “We All Win.” It was enough to take the sting out of Tom Brady winning another Lombardi Trophy. Though the needs of disabled gamers should have been addressed on this scale much earlier, it stands as a monument to what we can accomplish when we work together for something good and necessary.
Mermaids UK Wins the Lottery Twice
Mermaids UK is an organization dedicated to supporting trans and gender nonconforming kids in the United Kingdom. Its mission, among others, is to “reduce suicidality and self-harm in the young people who contact Mermaid & equip their parents to support their children to the same end.” Excellent.
When Mermaids was designated £500,000 by the British National Lottery (BNL) in December 2018, professional windbag Graham Linehan (once responsible for The IT Crowd and now responsible for being a transphobic turd on Twitter) protested so obnoxiously that the BNL put the designation under review.
Streamer HBomberguy (Harry Brewis) decided to marathon Donkey Kong 64 on Twitch to support Mermaids in light of the review. Linehan caught wind of the stream and decided to tweet about it, which (in hindsight) was probably a mistake given his ultimate mission to defund Mermaids.
The marathon turned into several days of fun and shocking celebrity endorsement, including game developer John Romero (“Trans rights”), living legend Cher, and superstar Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
After it was all said and done, HBomberguy and friends raised over $350,000 for Mermaids UK in January 2019. As a lovely postscript, the BNL announced it would, in fact, go through with the £500,000 designation on February 19.