Saturday, January 24, 2015

It's Time For Gamergate to Establish a Presence Offline, Before Things Get Worse

For a while, now, I had intended to make a new video blog talking about the need to get our message to the people o0n the streets.  What held me back was that I've been missing some of my camera gear for a while, so until I can locate it, I can't upload videos.  While that quagmire maintains, though, events recently have forced my hands, and now this is going to be text blog.

The gist of my blog was always going to be this: Look Gamergate; I know we've accomplished a lot online.  Anita's propaganda is now toxic for media to touch.  I'm as proud as the next person that we gave ABC News a massive egg in the face, even if they won't admit to it.  We've made sites cave in to demands for more transparency and less douchebaggery.  Our own competing, Gamergate-friendly sites are moving up the ladder.  We're winning almost all of our battles online.  Unfortunately, battles aren't the same as a war. 

The offline front, which hosts its own battles, is almost entirely dominated by our opponents.  Gamergate isn't a huge topic in meatspace, but when it spills out at all, it spills out spun by Anita Sarkeesian and her ilk, and that's a problem.  Even while we stand tall with our rebuttals and downvotes online, they continue unimpeded from venue to venue, selling their warped take on things to news agencies that are either too unenlightened or too ashamed to go against them.  If this continues, and they sway enough people, pretty soon backlash will spread online.  People who were completely disconnected to gaming will come into it with a highly negative attitude.  People with good intentions will jump into the online trenches that offline manipulators dug for them.  They will come after our jobs, our sponsors, our Kickstarters, our Patreons, anything they can to wreck us.  They will tar our names and our websites as hate groups and people who don't know any better will buy it.

All that is what I have warned people about for quite a while now.  Then, instead of us getting these merely economic blows, one of us got doxxed and threatened, horrifically.  Hardly unprecedented for our side, but it must've been much worse this time because she's withdrawn from the Internet.  Milo Yiannopoulis applauds that at the very least, a news organization is picking up on the events--and a leftist  news organization to boot!  Still, I don't think I had ever heard of Daily KOS; I don't think many people have ever heard of them.  Furthermore, Ollie Garkey recommends Crash Override Network as a go-to party to stop this harassment--CON, as it's already being satirically abbreviated--is run by Zoe Quinn; hardly a neutral party, and accused of harassment herself.  In short, our side of the story still isn't getting out into the real world, the way it needs to be.

Which is why, I repeat, we must act as our own advocates.  We need the sort of ground-up support that comes from people organizing amongst themselves; not the media leading them on.  Back in December, I was already calling for street-level action against the media's one-sided narrative; now I reaffirm that we need it.  Save for truly horrendous criminals, anyone getting doxxed and threatened is bad, but when doxxing is going both ways and media is going only one way, it falls on the concerned to do what the media doesn't before these terrorists tactics make further and further inroads unimpeded.  The good news is that now, in a way I don't think was as possible before, we have a chance of swaying the media.

There's a reason major news organizations buy into Anita's "Listen and Believe" guff, and it's not because they're evil (all of the time); it's that they're by default so distanced from video games and the culture surrounding them that without someone to hold their hands, they're at a loss for cause and effect.  Anyone who knows, A, a lot about video games, B, about Anita Sarkeesian's work, and C, that gamers hate Anita Sarkeesian, can connect the dots and conclude that D, gamers probably hate Anita Sarkeesian not because she's a woman, but because she has blatantly lied about their medium to push a flawed argument.  People unfamiliar with games don't have the background to conclude that, so she gets to make their conclusion for them; however, they'd likely see her abstract arguments as too inconsequential to publicize if not for her getting outright threatened.  They still don't care much about games, and although they are almost certainly aware of the legal issues surrounding dual-relationships, they similarly don't care much about those issues in what they see as the trivial realm of games journalism.  I doubt we can make them care, but what we can do, and in my opinion, should, is make them aware that another woman has been doxxed and threatened, demand to advocate on our and her organization's behalf, and protest if they ignore.  Our opponents fight us online by many means, but offline, they've essentially got only one talking point: That Gamergate supports the harassment of women, and this proves gaming culture is misogynist.  If we can barge in and let people know it's not that simple, then we can nip a very dangerous factor in the bud.

Some will say we shouldn't fall to the level of our enemies in using the misfortunes of women to incite people to action.  To this I say two things: First, rushing to the aid of a harassment victim is not in itself a low-level action, and if we already know the truth and check each other on it, we can't lie about the circumstances the way our opponents have.  Second, you may regret this, but education takes time and incentive.  Who among us can say that when we learned to read, we were not taught via extensive use of illustrations, colorful letters, visual demonstration of what notable things began with what words, etc?  You need hooks before people follow, and it's been proven that women getting harassed hook audiences in.  That's not the only angle we can or should play, but it's the one that's burnt into people's minds offline, and the sooner we take it head-on, the sooner we can move them away from it. 

That isn't just something we owe to our victory, either; we owe it to the more universal goal of peace.  People rightfully outraged at harassment are being led in the wrong path against it.  The media has them thinking it's all coming from a specific organization, that it will stop when the organization is stopped, and that they can actually stop this organization, when in fact barely qualifies as such.  They're being distracted from the real roots of a problem, and the sooner we let them know, the better off we'll all be.  Not that I have all the answers about how truly to stop doxxing and harassment, but it will take a more complex understanding on all of our parts before we can really address it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Time to Address the Haunting Problems With the Sports Game Glut

Fellow gamers, we need to have a talk.  I have a feeling there might be some negative backlash to this post; allegations that in light of my recent affiliations, I'm a hypocrite for taking on an aspect of the game industry that's obviously been sustained by market forces, or maybe just that I'm the epitome of a spoiled white gamer venting at the epitome of a First World problem.  Yet reveling ever more lately in Gamer pride just means that I'm more attentive to the bits of this industry that really do annoy me, and I feel really could use at least some degree of reform.  I'm talking about sports.

So many sports.

Acronym, Acronym, Acronym...
Row upon row of sports.

Okay; disclaimer, I have never had any interest in most sports.  I was in the occasional little league baseball and soccer teams as a kid, but I wasn't very good at them.  I kind of liked basketball, but again, I was bad at it.  I do not watch sports on TV, with the occasional exception of martial arts.  I find most things that end with "ball" to be a reduction of individuals to overexposed labels bouncing back and forth in buildings likewise full of overexposed labels.  Finally, video games based on sports feel as pointless (or maybe point-missing) to me as decaffeinated coffee and non-alcoholic beer.

All that being said, I don't wish to portray my tastes as dogma.  I wholeheartedly support motivating people to get into shape (which is the aforementioned reason why I don't understand sports video games, but whatever), I respect the rights of people to buy and play what they wish to buy and play even if it's not what I wish to buy and play.  Still, holy shit.

When you run out of shelve space.

There's more!

We were so much better off back in my d--Never mind.
On the chance that maybe a picture is not actually worth a thousand words, here's some more words: Not long ago, Macklemore, one of my idols, albeit less for his musical talent and more for his subversive attitude, made it cool to go buy curios secondhand.  From that day on, those of us who went around looking in stores where we were bound to find something unique, which we couldn't find in places more caught up in the ratrace, began to around looking in stores where were bound to find something unique, which we couldn't find in places more caught up in the ratrace, with a sense of pride!  From clothes that were cool until they were uncool, and have now been uncool so long they might be cool again, to discontinued toys that might cost much more online, to books about a broad variety of things, to cassette tapes of things that might not even have become downloadable yet, these places are mints of uniqueness...and then there's used games.

The Genesis of a blight.
Whether sifting through the bargain bin at a mainstream video game store, or a drugstore, or a Big Lots, or the hip ma-and-pop emporium for games of all eras, where I took all of the photos in this article, one is forced to sift through sports title after sports title after samey sports title; their minimalistic boxart, brand-year names, and dreaded common EA logos numbing his or her head with their unapologetic uniformity until the few unique games, sought-after out-of-print classics, and/or irresistibly odd obscurities don't even register.  This has gone beyond "don't-like-don't-play" territory.

Can you spot a non-NFL game there?  I can't.
Beyond it, because thanks to the sports game industry, the stores, shopping convenience, and desired quaint atmosphere of those of us who like video games for what they can do unique unto themselves, are being infested by a swarm of banal conformity that wastes space and time until shelves take on the aesthetic effect of a neighborhood full of communist housing projects.

The problem behind this is not simply that these games are made and sold.  I don't oppose that.  The problem is that these games keep getting made and sold, year by year, $50 by $50, same acronym by same acronym, with minor edits less than those one would find in a (typically free) PC game mod or retro cartridge hack, and somehow, people put up with this.  This is largely the doing of EA games, and any new excuse I get for bringing that trust old punching bag out, is welcome.  Somehow, there is a desire to continue paying for the experience of allegedly accurate teams every year, and apparently there aren't many nostalgic years.  I am aware fans talk about good years for individual teams, like, "Boy; The Chicago Bulls sure kicked ass when Michael Jordon was in them" (I'm assuming they did, anyway, based on how big a celebrity he was), but I don't hear about good years for the sports in themselves, wherein there were so many awesome basketball players and teams that such-and-such a year is worth experiencing again and again.

The result is what my photos document; the people who rush to buy the latest hyped-up hack job also unload last year's models as used games, and they proceed to pile up in the bins, on the shelves, in the cabinets and on the floors; passed both by people who don't like sports games and by people who don't like outdated sports games.  Used game shopping becomes a chore as these people fight through the mud to get to the gold nuggets that may or may not exist amongst it.  So I say to the world...

I'm posting pictures of all of the piles; deal with it.


For all of our sakes, stop eating EA's shit!  Stop letting yourself be swindled out of fifty dollars a year for minor edits to games you already own!  Stop buying that you won't enjoy outdated rosters in otherwise identical games!  Stop funding the continued survival of a corporation that absorbs and ruins esteemed game franchises like SimCity and Command & Conquer!  Stop it all!  You deserve the following for your taste in games: You buy the game, and for that service they release yearly patches you can download; substantially less than $50 a pop.  You can force their hands stop giving them a raw deal, and it'll take willpower, but if you achieve the world devoid of that price-gouging and the new economic muscle it gives you, you won't want to go back.

And we all can finally be rid of used game shops that look like this.
I had to check the photo names to make sure I hadn't posted this one yet.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

An Open Letter to Katherine Cross and Other Critics of PCGamer's Reform

Recently, after a "conflict of interest" came to light regarding a member of the publication, PC Gamer, having a relationship with someone from the industry, there's been a fair share of varied opinions online.  In light of the now-infamous "Zoe Post" and the questions it raised regarding whether impartiality can exist when people with a personal relationship deal professionally with one another, members of Gamergate called for PC Gamer to address this, and they did; providing a background to the two's relationship and declaring their intent to be careful to avoid such issues from now on.  They have been lauded for it; unfortunately, because many of the people who supported the measure belong to a very controversial organization (in the loose sense of the word), there's also concerns as to whether such measures legitimize terrorist tactics; such as some declaring loyalty to Gamergate have employeed.  One such person who's worried about this is Katherine Cross.  To Katherine, I believe your concerns make sense, but I would politely ask you to consider the following.

Before I got involved in the Gamergate scandal, I was willing to look upon the comparisons the movement got to ISIS without much skepticism.  I felt it was almost certainly an exaggeration, but the difference, I figured, was in degree rather than principle.  However, one thing puzzled me to no end; if Gamergate was analogous to ISIS, then why were none of the people against it opting to curtail its growth in a similar fashion?

If you've followed the situation in Syria and Iraq even lightly, you're probably aware that one of the major factors fueling the growth of ISIS was that very unfair and oppressive governments existed in both Iraq and Syria.  Since the US deposition of Saddam Hussein, Iraq had swung from being an intolerant Sunni regime to an intolerant Shiite regime.  Under Nouri Al Maliki, a leader as much a stooge of Iran as the United States, Sunni Muslims were excluded from government posts, the military, and more; essentially guilt-tripped by association with Saddam.  When ISIS went on the march, Maliki, rather than reconsidering this guilt by association with Saddam, seemed fine to amp it up into guilt by association with ISIS, but it seemed that tactic didn't work, as ISIS continued to make headway into areas populated by disenfranchised Sunnis.  Before long, many called him out for it.  The media condemned his policies as self-destructive, and that opinion went all the way up to President Obama, who put Maliki's feet to the fire by declaring the US would send no more aid against ISIS unless he abdicated.  Faced with that sort of pressure from all sides, he did, and Iraq has now begun to work with Sunnis to battle ISIS.  ISIS, in turn, massacred Sunnis it thought might be disloyal.  As tragic as that is, it will backfire on them just as Maliki's oppression did on him, as the era wherein the government of Iraq is the most oppressive thing to Sunni Muslims comes to dramatic end.  Faced with no more bogeyman outside, ISIS has become threatened by conflicts from within.

All that has been seen as self-evident for months to commentators on the situation in Iraq.  Yet in the recent past, when I have tried to convince people who opposed Gamergate that the best way to stop it may be to prove that the authorities are willing to work with the more rational people caught up in its anarchic drive, thus providing them with a legitimate and benign alternative, I faced hatred for daring not to follow the straight and narrow.  This senseless pressure to follow a stern party line, and to guilt people by any association to concerns taken up by those who happen to be within an organization, proved too much for me to take, and I defected to Gamergate.  At the time, I was not aware what I would find; ultimately, what made my decision may have been that Gamergate, unlike those it opposes, has no leader; nobody to tell the mob what is right or wrong; no party line beyond what is broadly accepted.  Every person in it has a bit of power to move it towards being what he (or, some would be surprised to learn, she) wishes it to be.  Turns out, I was far more accepted than I had been in my previous venues, and since then I've become an enthusiastic member.  I'm not going to lie to you about that; even if being truthful undermines your willingness to heed my advice.

However, I don't think there is much to undermine here.  I'm not asking you to support Gamergate, nor do I have any expectation of you altering most of your assumptions about it; given the venue for which you write, you'd probably be correct in assuming we'll never be friends.  Still, I hope I can help you understand that PC Gamer, along with IGN, do not really have anything to lose from what you seem to feel is capitulation.  If terrorist tactics had a hand in convincing PC Gamer to revise their stance on possible cronyism (I'm not very convinced that they did, but if you want to link to any offensive things, go ahead), that's a problem, but it is, much as the issues in Iraq are, a problem not just with any given terrorist but also with their target's failure to do what many non-terrorists consider is only fair.  Once again, I am in Gamergate, but I also work as a writer and editor, and before Gamergate was even a thing, I was already acquainted with the very rational concern about dual-relationships.

The largest job I have undertaken thus far is my editing of a book on psychology; written, as it turns out, by a psychologist whom I have known personally for two decades.  I told him that I had begun work as an editor, and he informed me that he happened to have something he needed editing--but noted the possible implications of hiring someone based on that.  He explained why dual-relationships are controversial, and this may surprise you--it certainly surprised me--but despite the fact that he's an old man, I'm a young man, and we're both straight, sexual relationships were the go-to example for him of what could be considered problematic collusion.  Ultimately, I did get the job, advising him, in essence, "You've come because you know me; let me edit the first chapter, and then you can choose to stay or go based on how well I did."  I did well enough, and am still on the project.  When it's done, I have no problem with him declaring I'm a friend in the published copy.

Naturally, Psychology is a heavily scrutinized subject, where peer-review is prevalent and questions of honesty are tantamount to determining whether an assessment of the human psyche is well-grounded.  I am not going to go in the direction some have these days, in alleging that the gaming press is full of rot and consciously spiteful of its audience, but I do think it's fair to assume that, because it's a relatively new area of journalism with a relatively small audience, for a while it's escaped the standards that have become ingrown elsewhere.  In line with this, I point to my time studying video games in college; as a new field, it was full of badly-edited, often intellectually-questionable texts of the sort that would not have escaped scrutiny in more established fields of study; here is a past post about this, wherein I link and critique one such text.  Yet this shirking of what are typically considered the responsibilities of journalists was never going to last without some manner of ramification.  The audience of video games--and by extension, those who write about them--is growing, and it is growing up; more and more attention is being given to the underlying business and politics of the industry, and this means that familiarity with other enterprises is going to motivate consumers more and more.

Furthermore, here on the Internet, the line between a journalist and a blogger is a thin one.  It is said that quality-control doesn't exist online the way it does elsewhere, and to an extent this is true; almost anyone can say almost anything.  Yet that also means that when people are inundated by terrible work, those rare producers who go above and beyond the usual rabble get recognized and rise to prominence based on the people's desire to follow them.  When it works, it works, but there is always the chance of backsliding when some manner of discontent blooms regarding an online presence, a challenger arises, etc, and the default purveyor can't rise to the challenge.  When I was in High School, everyone talked about Myspace and how much of people's time went into it; now the go-to social network is Facebook.  Back then, Napster was in the news constantly, now iTunes is many people's preferred music download service.  Neither of those organizations' falls from prominence were caused by Gamergate, which didn't exist at the time.  What is different about how business runs in this era of Gamergate, is that skepticism is now turned onto consumers as well as purveyors; both groups are calling each other out for what they see as unsavory motives, and the result is that some journalists have managed to make themselves out as heroes for resisting a tide of distasteful tactics, but when the policies this tide challenges are the sort that would be challenged by far more people if they were aware of them--and they are becoming aware, for the reasons stated last paragraph--this is a finite way to retain or regain support.  It's going to be the businesses that maintain the far more established value of listening to their customers that benefit most.

If some of those consumers happen to be in Gamergate, so be it.  While you may complain about capitulation, in fact there's a thick line between the sorts of demands they can, and cannot, capitulate to that is grounded in things far bigger than the war between Gamergate and games journalism.  That those in Gamergate are able to convince a company to be transparent about dual-relationships, does not mean they could convince a company to, say, fire all of its female employees; the difference is that there is an established precedent advising skepticism of dual-relationships in business and established laws against sexism.  While it's hard to control chaos, the new policies these businesses have in the wake of Gamergate is ultimately win-win.  If Gamergate is, in fact, a "hate mob" not really concerned with ethics in journalism, its members' refusal to cease their attacks even when businesses accomplish that goal, will expose it as such.  If Gamergate is not, in fact, a hate mob and really does care about ethics in journalism, this development will help its members move back into good standing until we all get along again.  If Gamergate is, in fact, a coalition of people from many backgrounds with many goals--which I maintain that it is--this development will help separate the good from the bad.

Of course, "good" and "bad" are to at least some degree subjective.  I will not pretend that there is not a widespread belief among Gamergate members that feminism has gone too far, and that the political left is teetering dangerously away from true liberalism and towards social re-engineering that holds people to different standards based on where their identities fall on the historical oppressor and victim scale.  That is indeed, probably a bigger concern for many of us than ethics in journalism actually are, and I understand it is a controversial belief.  However, most businesses shy away from politics when profit is their bottom line, and so long as they stay neutral in this interchange, so do their consumers.  We don't want the strained relationship that comes from tooting our horns if we can help it.  PC Gamer thus shouldn't be offensive to Gamergate in its new business model, nor should it be offensive to those that disagree with Gamergate politically.  It's only doing what, by long-established standards, companies should do in listening to their consumers, and I'll be honest, Katherine, however you feel about the continued existence of Gamergate, if you pressure a company to make a political stand against those customers, and the company listens, you're just going to ensure that continued existence.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Feminism's Strange Standards of Lego Criticque

There's probably no right chronological event to begin this at, but in light of Gamergate, I'm choosing the one that pertains most poignantly to Third-Wave Feminism and its apparent double standards regarding what (whom) is, and is not allowed to be criticized.  On Youtube, I follow the channel of "BrickQueen", who reviews Lego, Mega Bloks, and other such toys, and on some occasions, other types of toys as well.  Half a year ago, she reviewed the widely-publicized set "Research Institute", considerably negatively.  A Georgette Wally hit her with the following, and she took it like a pro:
It's hard to be happy when I don't know what "unsubribing" is.
Incidentally, I disagree with Matthew there; it's perfectly fine to hate someone for their opinions, or, as the case here, unsubscribe.  People can believe a lot of nasty stuff, after all.  Yet I, and the vast majority of people I know, would not do that based on someone's opinion of a Lego Set
So why the ire in this case?  Let's go back in time further, and I'll provide some background.

Some years ago, Lego released its latest sub-brand intended for girls, Friends, apparently after extensive market research.  The brand still sells, despite falling under a lot of criticism from feminists for its banal, domestic portrayal of girls and their interests.  Far be it from me to say these criticisms are unwarranted.

Hi; I'm Emma!  I'm a blackbelt in karate, whose black belt is really more of a misplaced bow, and unlike most minifigs, I am physically unable to kick!
If they were unwarranted, after all, a petition against the brand wouldn't have received 69,160 signatures or convinced Lego to meet with the feminists to rethink their brand.  Yet the most poignant backlash may have come not from tens of thousands of adults, but one seven-year-old girl, who wrote a letter of complaint, in the authentic style of a seven-year old girl.

Inspired/embarrassed, Lego sped forward with a new approach to feminism--more specifically, the approach to feminism that seems to be popular with adults these days; that holy grail of getting women into STEM.  I can't help but wonder how many of either sex are actually interested in it, because I seriously had never heard that acronym before all the brouhaha.  It was all liberal arts for me, which is probably why I'm sitting here writing about empowering careers instead of in one.  The result was the "Research Institute" set that was introduced at the start of this post, and it garnered a predictable wave of celebration from adults of the feminist bent.  Writes Keith Wagstaff, possessor of perhaps the least-feminist-friendly surname of any feminism-related blogger, "Little girls who love LEGOS will soon be able to study dinosaurs, chemistry and the stars with the new 'Research Institute' collection featuring female scientists."  Thanks, Keith, I never knew little girls weren't able to study dinosaurs, chemistry and the stars before; your feminism waggles at me so hard I hear "schwing".
Featuring a chemist that looks bored.

Then along came Brickqueen, a woman who, shockingly, dared to not like the set.  For speaking her mind, she got unsubscribed by another woman.  Now, to be fair, the vast majority of responses Brickqueen got were good, but according to some of the people defending her, she got a lot of hate comments, which means that some might have been so vile they were deleted.  Even that one remaining from Georgette Walley really stings.

Rather than assuming Georgette Walley is so petty as to disown someone for disagreeing with her on a strictly personal level, I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and conclude she's motivated by the feminist circle-jerk that hyped the set up in the first place.  If so, it might well behoove us to look into what standards feminist critique holds products to, and upon what they're based.  While it's not my intention to seem like a cheerleader for Christina Hoff Sommers, sometimes it truly does seem like modern feminism (and activism as a whole, these days) takes an excessively negative view of capitalism, and moreover, the culture it produces by default.  While I'm not against subjecting commodity culture to skepticism, I don't understand why people feel the alternative deserves support just for being alternative, and considers any attacks on it to be needless bullying.  Just like a random hipster can paint a urinal and call it art because it goes against the grain of what's normally called art, just like an indie "musician" in college with an acoustic guitar can prop himself up as a genuine artist because he's not looking to please any talent scouts or get a contract that turns him into a "cog in the machine", it seems people are fine with tearing apart a product made based upon "market research" that settles into the norm, but have scant patience for the critics of a product driven by ideology against the free market norm.  Should there be a question as to the degree to which ideology drives this, let's look at the actual letter that prompted the set; underlines mine:
 Once again, it's beyond denial that Lego created a very trite, stereotypically girly world in Lego Friends (although I will commend the brand for promoting the rescue of animals, which I do, am proud to do, and more people of both sexes should do) but as this letter indicates, they also created a lot of things that appeal to people elsewhere.  Charlotte Benjamin asked simply that girls get their share of the fun times boys had in Lego sets; whatwith their astronauts, their knights, their secret agents, their pirates, their ninjas, and some things that don't fall into those categories.  Yet instead of doing what she really wanted, when they had the full ability to do-so, they deferred to feminism's ongoing "get women into STEM" talking-point.  Should it have been any wonder an actual woman who loves Lego would criticize that move eventually?

If it's a wonder, then feminism is in worse shape than a lot of people think.   The inclination of activists to see consumer culture as an inherent enemy of empowerment means representing actual demographics, girls included, can take a backseat to struggling to fit into a few people's subjective definitions of what empowerment is.  People buy toys for the fun first; activists will simply have to accept that if their attempts to push an agenda comes at the expense of fun and customers complain, it's foolish and irresponsible to blame the customers for that.  It is important we learn this lesson going forward, before the call of "activism uber alles" consumes any more popular culture.