On Sunday, Microsoft unveiled its powerful new console, the Xbox One X, which will inherit the Xbox mantle later this year. But, it’s not the new machine’s price or its absurd name that’s generating controversy a day later. Instead, it’s one independently-produced video game, The Last Night, that’s causing a stir. And it’s not for any graphic content, which often sparks lots of outrage (see: Doom, Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto), but the opinions of its creator Tim Soret and the philosophical message he’s imbuing that’s got the internet bringing up old wounds.
As revealed during Microsoft’s conference at E3 2017, The Last Night is an eye-catching platformer that blends cinematic 3D visuals with flat, Atari-age 2D avatars in bleak-but-colorful environments. Based on its trailer, which is just a minute and twenty seconds long, it’s clear Soret and his team Odd Tales were influenced by dystopian sci-fi like Akira, Blade Runner, the original Ghost in the Shell, and novels like Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. With its rainy streets, orange-and-teal palettes, and neon signage fogged by pollution, The Last Night spins familiar imagery with a retro twist, creating something visually fresh.
But, Soret’s public opinions against feminism, which date back to the 2014 Gamergate controversy, are overshadowing all this. On Twitter, folks following the controversy and sudden backlash deemed The Last Night the fastest example of a Milkshake Duck the net has ever seen. (“Milkshake Duck” is a helpful new bit of internet slang for a viral star whose adoration fades when their offensive past is brought to light.)
Back in July 2014, Soret took to Twitter (@timsoret) to respond to Romain Gauthier, a composer who was speaking in favor of feminism, saying: “How can someone sane even say they’re ‘anti-feminism’? This can only stem from misunderstanding feminism in the first place. Or idiocy.”
Soret responded: “I don’t agree. I’m against feminism, because it’s getting more & more skewed. I am for egalitarism. I don’t care boy, girl, alien.” When Soret was challenged that feminism is, in fact, egalitarism, he fired back: “Feminism now forces you to think from the women point of view (which was necessary), whereas egalitarianism is really universal.”
Feminism (or at least a warped understanding of the term) was a hot-button issue during that summer thanks to the Gamergate movement. Proponents of Gamergate said it was a campaign for “ethics in games journalism.” What, exactly, that meant was somewhat vague, but if we’re being charitable it was a call for less subjectivity in opinion journalism (yeah) and suspicion of the working relationships between publishers and the press. How Gamergate truly manifested itself, though, was in ugly harassment campaigns against women in games creation or criticism — such as critic Anita Sarkeesian or developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu — and a slide into a broader culture war.
Towards the end of 2014, Gamergate grew to encompass the divide between progressivism and right-wing regressive and/or conservative politics in games. It’s not hard to see Gamergate, then, as the overture to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as many vocal supporters of Gamergate found an audience that pushed them into — or at least tangentially related to — the Trump administration.
As for Soret and The Last Night, it’s the creator’s views coupled with the misguided cyberpunk setting in his new game that’s garnering criticism. While cyberpunk as a genre is often a critique of capitalism, in The Last Night, it’s against people. In The Last Night, players take control of a disillusioned character named Charlie who seeks to rebel against Socialist ideals such as universal income and leisure time afforded by automation. (The game’s Steam page contained a summary directly referring to universal income, but it has since been edited out.)
That’s not all, however. A few years ago, Soret (again, on Twitter) described his new game as a warning against “extreme progressivism,” portraying a dark world where “modern feminism won, instead of egalitarianism.”
“Our game The Last Night will take place in a cyberpunk world where modern feminism won, instead of egalitarianism,” wrote Soret in his now-deleted tweets — archived by the internet — with the hashtags #gamergate and #notyourshield. “I find it interesting to show the danger of extreme progressivism, in the background of the game, the characters, and the story. Finally, we’ll have another take on the cyberpunk oppression instead of Big Brother/1984/HAL/big companies. What if the surveillance, bullying, marginalization won’t come from governments but from the Internet?”
But that was a few years ago. Have things for Soret changed? After the E3 reveal, as the controversy began to stir online, Soret went directly to Twitter to address them, saying things have changed for him and for The Last Night. “I completely stand for equality & inclusiveness,” Soret wrote, “In no way is The Last Night a game against feminism or any form of equality. A lot of things changed for me these last years. The fictional setting of the game does challenge techno-social progress as a whole but certainly not trying to promote regressive ideas.”
On Monday morning at the PC Gamer conference, the day after the Microsoft debut, Soret apologized on stage for his old tweets. “I am embarrassed by some tweets I made in the past. I want to apologize for those,” he said onstage. “They do not in any way represent who I am today or what The Last Night will be about.”
Needless to say, The Last Night is a lot to take in at once. Although a gorgeous video game that turns familiar sci-fi visuals into something new, it’s hard to reckon with what its creator said then, what its creator says now, and what his creation will reflect after years of self-reflection. One thing is for sure though: It’s making Milkshake Duck an actual meme.
The Last Night will be released in 2017 Windows PC and the Xbox One.