Wholesome Games is a gaming community, focused around a Twitter account, that brings attention to gorgeous, sweet, friendly games, for no reason other than the sheer joy of it. So of course, after they recently announced a second, higher profile Wholesome Direct showcase for this weekend, June 12, some miserable people did their best to spoil it.
Wholesome Games had been getting on merrily for a couple of years, cheerfully recommending games that are “uplifting, thoughtful, compassionate, cosy,” with no incentive beyond wanting such games to get noticed and played. Last year they organised a Nintendo-style “Wholesome Direct”, a live YouTube showcase of a collection of up-and-coming indie video games that fell into their wheelhouse.
It was a huge success, scoring almost 150,000 views for games that mostly would have gone completely unnoticed by the broader gaming press. So this year, buoyed by experience, they are upping the scale. They have partnered up with Twitch, the Guerrilla Collective, IGN and Gamespot (who they? -Ed), to get the Direct into as many eyeballs as possible.
But with greater attention comes more idiots, and the Little Twitter Account That Could suddenly found itself being bombarded by criticism, snark and outright fury for having the temerity to be… wholesome? Some seemed just angry at their success. They were derided on Twitter for being “big business with major sponsors,” despite Wholesome Games being wholly non-profit. Much sneering ensued as people debated the label, and whether or not it might be applied to games with developers who did not welcome that vibe.
A lot of the invective came from what really had to be a willing misinterpretation of their call for games that represented “thoughtful representation of marginalised groups”. Rather than the good faith understanding most would take from reading this, that Wholesome had the good human decency to strive to represent as many people as possible, a loud faction decided they were patronising the inclusion of marginalised groups as being inherently wholesome.
Wholesome Games co-founder James Tillman was altogether far too gracious in response to such accusations, pointing out that it was of course stating the precise opposite. He replied to one tweet saying, “‘thoughtful representation’ is a guide we included to explain that no matter how ‘cute’ or ‘cosy’ a game is, if it’s e.g. transphobic it doesn’t belong in our community.”
Despite the reasonable, needlessly apologetic response, Wholesome Games still seem to be reeling from the shock of such a vitriolic response to their attempt to focus attention on lovely, upbeat games. They have recently produced an FAQ for June 12th’s event, in which they fall over themselves to justify their own existence, to an audience that never deserved their attention.
In it they highlight the event’s plans to provide an hour of exclusive footage and game reveals, plus developer interviews and announcements, including an astonishing 75 games. They go on to make clear that there’s no simple, fixed definition for “wholesome”, but rather it’s the judgement of their small curation team. The FAQ agrees that “wholesome” could be interpreted as “toxic positivity”, as in the way far-right groups will often use the term “family values”, before absolutely rejecting such values.
They say a lot of other things that make an awful lot of sense, like rejecting the ridiculous defective induction that they might be in any way anti non-wholesome games — as if they might be echoing the astonishing outburst from Apple during the Epic trial, when Apple condemned games on Itch.io as “so offensive we cannot speak about them here.” Wholesome Games also point out that all media, no matter its content or agenda, is political. They also make clear that partnering with big-name gaming sites and streaming platforms is not in any sense the same thing as being “sponsored”. The only money they make is from merch, and all the proceeds from that go to charities like AbleGamers and Galaxy Fund.
We reached out to Wholesome Games to get their perspective. Regarding the Direct, co-founder Matthew Taylor tells us he hopes to “make an entertaining showcase that’s as fast-paced and exciting as the E3s I grew up with, and bring attention to indie developers who otherwise might not get it.” Regarding the negative response, he’s as decent as ever, explaining that they understand why people are “cautious” about the label.
“We’ve come to find that ‘wholesome’ means a lot of different things to different people,” Taylor tells me via Twitter DM. “Those who follow us closely know our values just based on the work we do, but the FAQ we published recently is just another way to get that message across, especially for those who might not know us very well. Hopefully, the FAQ is a quick way for people to learn more about us, straight from the source.”
Please may they now be left alone to get on with helping positive, happy games gain attention? This year’s Wholesome Direct starts at 3 a.m. AEST on June 13, and can be watched via their YouTube channel, on Twitch, on the Guerrilla Collective’s event page on Steam, or via Gamespot.