Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Month: June 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Standing With Tauriq

Tauriq Moosa is one of the few, and in my opinion, one of the better, major video game writers who examines cultural issues about video games from the point of view of a Person of Color.  He’s a native of South Africa, where he is literally an ethics tutor.  This weekend, the totally not racist  elements operating in the shadows of GamerGate decided to run him off of Twitter  (The Mary Sue’s take, Freethought’s take).  This appears to have been an organized, coordinated dogpiling attack. It resulted in people continuing to launch abuse in his direction far beyond the point where a person of color asked people to stop because he felt unsafe.  It frequently contained personal attacks or racist commentary.  It had precious little to do with actual fair representations of his work.

Once he left Twitter (after warning his followers to watch out for being targeted for being on his friends list – a persistent and valid concern for people who have been targeted by the movement in the past), the worst elements of GamerGate took to publicly congratulating themselves while KiA mods worked tirelessly to remove any sense that the organized abuse brigade originated from there to avoid KiA from encountering the same fate as FatPeopleHate two weeks ago.  Most of this grandstanding was taking place in the #IStandWithTauriq, a hashtag they attempted to hijack after it was started by colleagues of Moosa showing their support.  Needless to say, much of this hijacked hashtag was also filled with awful shit that is either illogical, false, racist or just plain being assholes for the sake of being assholes.

The free speech I care about the most is the free speech that leads to better games.


Earlier this week, I pointed out that there are many good reasons for good game developers to oppose gamergate beyond being pussywhipped by our spouses, as Mark Kern would choose to imply.    Here’s why: I stand firmly on the side of free speech.  Games are made better when people can talk freely and openly about games, and can talk freely and openly about how games can be made better.  Not all of these ideas are winners.  I am, as mentioned previously, not always likely as a designer to reach for the ‘SJW’ answer to any given problem.  But I do think that, as Cliffy B said, voices calling for diversity are worth listening to, even if their suggestions are not right for the game you’re working on.

“It’s one of those things where diversity, even at the studio level, it just makes for a more interesting environment,” Bleszinski says. “Apart from that making sense just in general, financially it makes sense…. As a capitalist, even if I didn’t care about diversity — which I do — I want everybody’s money, of all walks of life,” Bleszinski says. “I want an Asian person to see a character who they feel like they can rally behind. And then maybe they want to spend money on that too.”

Tauriq Moosa is one of those voices, and he’s written consistently on the topic.  Sometimes I agree with him, such as his excellent article about race in Rust and Witcher 3.  Sometimes I don’t.  But his writing is always insightful and inspires deep thinking.  It’s exactly the sort of writing you want from your gamer press, if you actually care about the state of the art of the games industry to create new genres and expand their reach, which is somethign that all game developers and true lovers of the art and craft should care about.

There is a misconception that GamerGate is about harassment.  GamerGate is not about harassment any more than its about ethics in games journalism.  What GamerGate is about is silencing the point of view of progressive critics of games (i.e. ‘SJWs’ who care about feminism and diversity in games in particular).  Harassment and bullying , though – these are the tools in the toolbox that some gamerGaters use, as they believe in using any means necessary to meet their goals.  This particular episode contained plenty of publically available gloating about the issue, as well as plenty of awful stuff plainly visible in some of the bigger names of the #GamerGate movement on Twitter.

This particular incident had the whole playbook on display.

1. Be thin-skinned to a ludicrous decree, best done by misrepresenting your opponent’s argument.   GamerGate misrepresented his arguments constantly.  As one example, they claimed that this article accuses the game Witcher 3, or the game makers, as being racist, when in fact it’s a discussion about how game developers fall into patterns and don’t think about the implications of their decisions.  Or as someone he quotes in the article says:

“It’s not that anyone on the Dragon Age team is willfully racist or malicious to players; it’s simply that someone who doesn’t have the lived experience of dealing with racism as a person of color would simply not think about these things.”

This is not ‘how the Witcher 3 is racist’.  It’s a discussion about how dev teams frequently can and do make decisions that limit the reach and power of their games because they lack perspective about race. Incidentally, this is all completely true, and one of the reasons why more diverse teams are good.

Some also jumped down his throat for pointing out that the term ‘PC Master Race’ might be considered offensive to some, and he’s not wrong about that.  My twitter feed was full of people trying to claim that he called them all Nazis.

2. Switch to ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with his argument.  A huge part of the attack was to demean his expertise by highlighting, for example, a tweet where he said that he didn’t know much about graphics card technology or Steam.  It should be noted that their standards in this matter would not be met by, say, Milo Yiannopoulos, Christina Sommers, or Allum Bokhari, cultural critics who are not hardcore gamers, and who in fact didn’t play games at all until they signed up to take advantage of #GamerGate’s neoreactionary culturally conservative leanings.  These guys don’t have even a thimble of the game expertise that Tauriq consistently shows in his writing.

3. Throw in some spicy racism – you know, just for fun!  No, I don’t think most #gamergaters are racist, but there sure are plenty who are willing to put on the clothes of racism just for LOLs.  For what it’s worth, Tauriq is not the first person from Polygon to talk about Witcher 3’s whiteness nor is he the first person from the press to point out that using the term ‘PC Master Race” is somewhat distasteful. For some reason, though, he just seemed to get it worse than the other guys.  I can’t imagine what the difference is.

4. Afterwards, claim it never happened.  My twitter feed is full of people simultaneously boasting that they managed to drive that pussy Moosa off of Twitter, while at the same time claiming defensively that no harassment happened.  He just couldn’t handle criticism!  But if you look through the feed, you’ll find there to be little in the way of valid criticism of his views.  In fact, what you see are blatant distortions of his views, personal attacks, bullying language, and occasional racist bullshit.

And after this all works, they celebrate.


In a nutshell, this is why GamerGate should be condemned.  They are blatantly, BLATANTLY against the freedom of speech of progressive voices in games.  I don’t even agree with these progressive voices all of the time – hell, I’ve caught fire from feminists in the past, and my friends think it’s pretty funny that now I’m considered an SJW champion, since I tend to be pretty non-politically correct.  But I am a huge fan of academia related to games, and I’m a huge fan of sites like Polygon and Rock Paper Shotgun who look at games from a new angle.  These authors may not always be right, but they do tend to make me reconsider my biases, and find ways to grow and evolve my design.

Games criticism and commentary is good for the industry.  Game designers can always feel free to ignore the Tauriqs and Anitas of the world, but the games we make are typically richer from giving it the consideration.  People who try to silence these voices — and then dance in glee when they’ve succeeded — are the enemies of free and open discourse about the art of science of making games, and they are the enemies to progress in the field of game design.



Apple and the Confederate Flag

It’s hard to believe that we’re just 30 years or so, give or take, away from the Confederate Flag being on Prime Time television.



It’s tempting to say that ‘times have changed’, but the interesting thing is that the racist connotations of the flag have not – it’s merely our desire to stomach it which has.  The flag was not the flag of the Confederacy, but was actually the Battle Standard of the Northern Virginia army.  The Ku Klux Klan wielded it (along with the stars and stripes).  It arose again in prominence in the 50-60s – in fact the flag in South Carolina that flies now went up in 1962 as a symbol of resistance to the burgeoning civil rights movement.  The flag is padlocked in place, and takes a 2/3rds vote to even take down to half mast.  This resulted in one of the most incendiary images from the aftermath of last week’s horrific shooting – the American flag at half-mast over the state capital, while the rag of traitors flew defiantly at full mast.

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Yes, Some Devs Oppose GamerGate on Principle

Bizarro-world former developer Mark Kern,  notable terrible boss and purveyor of multimillion dollar non-functional vanity buses, and supposedly recent convert to a religion he’s been preaching for months, recently found that he had some time to kill after hiccups on his last job.  So he did an AMA where he had this to say about why some OTHER developers might oppose GamerGate.

Some devs are anti-GG, either through lack of understanding, or wanting things to cool down. More interestingly, there has been pressure from spouses who may not be gamers, and who only know tumblr…and devs want a happy household.

That’s right.  You developers who generally oppose GamerGate may think that you’re doing it because you oppose the blatant and vicious harassment that some in the movement choose to use that targets people who oppose gamergate (including the very origins of the hashtag and leading into harassment of myself and fellow game developers,  cultural critics, charities and press– and if you don’t believe them, then how about a former Gamergater who fell out of the fold).  Or because they insist on brigading our conference hashtags, oftentimes with porn and other filth.   You may think that you’re doing it because they engage in a culture of intimidation which leaves many of our female coworkers depressed and terrified.  You may think you’re doing it because the current state of things makes it much harder for developers to engage with their fans.

You may think that you’re doing it because it’s no accident that the only media that will give them the time of day are right-wing tinfoil hat rags that make Fox News seem rational and well reasoned, Men’s Rights buffoons, and occasional attention from literal neonazi messageboards (largely because their eCelebs sometimes go there).  You may oppose them because they frequently wade into blatant transphobia.

You might oppose them because you believe that an ethos of free speech doesn’t necessarily mean that the drunkest, most obnoxious asshole at the bar should win every discussion.

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Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Hosting Services Have To Put Up With Your Creepy Shit

Last week, when Reddit clamped down on Redditors rights to harass fat girls to the point of suicide, many of the disenfranchised redditors took up a mantle that they were going to flee to Voat, a creepy alternative to reddit where you can still live in the free speech utopia of upskirt shots, ‘jailbait’ pics of young girls, discussions of white supremacy and revenge porn.  Because free speech!

Anyway, after the exile, KotakuInAction was one of the most vocal communities that was discussing emigrating to Voat.  Because while they are totes not about harassment, there sure seem to be a lot of people who don’t understand the harmlessness and benevolence of their tactics.  All of last week, this amusing post was pinned to the top of the sub.




Voat initially creaked under the load – it’s servers couldn’t handle the massive influx of free speeching edgelords.   They may or may not have been DDOSed in there (which if true, should be condemned).  But the worst was yet to come – when voat’s hosting company discovered what voat was all about, they terminated their contract with Voat.   Many observers note that Voat’s hosting is currently in Germany which is not currently exactly a bastion of free speech – they are still very cautious in particular about Nazi-related white supremacy, for example, and german hosting companies carry greater liability for illegal content than hosting in other countries.

This is shortly after 8chan proudly clinging to existence by refusing to cooperate with investigations about revenge porn occurring on their site – a nice little addition to the site to go with their tolerance of child porn (link contains blurred images but is still seriously skeevy).   Meanwhile, according to KiA, the mods running 8chan are barely keeping the thing standing up because no donation site wants their business.

There’s a lot of talk about how this is an assault on the free speech of gamergators, which was basically leaning on using these sites to keep their edgier operations going.   But this misses the point: free speech means that the government doesn’t interfere with your speech.  Free speech doesn’t mean that reddit has to let you post, paypal has to take your donations, or a hosting company to want your speech to be associated with their proud company name.  That being said, there apparently is a business opportunity for hosting services and billing services to edgelord websites.  I recommend if you go in that business, charging a premium.

Predictably, KiA is melting down about this (+4581).  Still, it would be nice if they would care about free speech for game devs, game critics and game journalists as much as they do about free speech for edgelords, MRAs, white supremacists, child pornographers, revenge porn distributors, twitter dogpilers and the sort of repugnant assholes who try to shame fat girls into suicide.

Fem Freak

Last night, GamerGate was following around Jonathan McIntosh and mocking him for having an expensive backpack – that it turned out wasn’t even his. As if that wasn’t stupid, creepy and stalkerish enough, this morning E3ers woke up to find the area around the convention center papered with anti-Anita posters.

It’s difficult to tell, but the white background ones repeat the words ‘GamerGate’ over and over again. Which is all ironic, given that Gators love to say over and over again that #GamerGate is about Ethics in Games Journalism, which has fuck all to do with either Anita or John.

Perhaps realizing that this little escapade was even more awful and creepy than what normally passes for acceptable discourse (stalking McIntosh, for example), and definitely falls in the category of being harassing little dickbags, KotakuInAction has been desperately trying to spin this as a ‘false flag’ – i.e. done either by Anita and John themselves, or by Third Party Trolls. The truth of the matter is that, once again, some sick, demented lone wolf took an action that they thought was in bounds in an attempt to discredit and silence critics that they disagree with. The lone wolf was probably this guy – a crazy street artist with a decidedly right-wing bent. If it’s him, he’s clearly someone who believes in the various right-wing bullshit he’s trying to peddle, which means he’s probably thinking he’s doing God’s work carrying GamerGate’s message. But that’s just a theory: this Twitter account is the only person who has claimed credit.

But this is all speculation. Whoever it is plastered #GamerGate’s name all over it, and because #GamerGate has earned the mantle of being obnoxious little jerks with a history of engaging or high-fiving in support over similar actions, they get saddled with the blame. And they should. Whether they took the action or not, they created the toxic environment that made someone think they’d be treated like a hero for this.

The FemFreak episode shows the problem with an anonymous ‘chan’ style of protest. People think that no one can speak for an anonymous group. The truth is anyone can. And once enough bad ones do, there is no reason in the world why anyone should give that protest the benefit of the doubt anymore.

Kern Being Kern: Part Gazillion

You may remember Mark Kern from his little temper tantrum from earlier this year – a temper tantrum that may or may not have resulted in him being shown the door from the company he founded. Whether this was due to his spending all of his time shitposting rather than getting work done, or whether there were more egregious problems, who knows. All I know is that this time around, they didn’t involve a $3 Million dollar bus for what was probably the most awesome planned Speed update of all time.

Welp, he’s back and he’s declared that he’s…. no longer neutral!

Yes, previously, he was being neutral as he slammed the press, coddled idiotic conspiracy theories and then cheered on the trolls of GamerGate as they brigaded the #GDC hashtag with insults, ad hominem attacks on game developers and anime porn, among other filth. But now he’s committed to #GamerGate because some people saw that the new Deus Ex is using the term ‘mechanical apartheid’ to describe their story, and some tiny number of that thought that merited a conversation.

For what it’s worth, I think that ‘mechanical apartheid’ is an awesome starting point that’s completely appropriate for the Deus Ex I know and love, and ties directly into the time-honored tradition of using alleghory in sci-fi and geek culture to discuss tricky and controversial subjects in modern society. Where Deus Ex’ narrative was going in their previous release was reminiscent to me of how Marvel Comics used the X-Men as an alleghory for the struggle of the Gay Rights movement. In a note to KiA, the game devs discussed how that was actually their plans. But hey, it’s just the start of a conversation, and if some are offended, we could actually listen to them and see if they have something worthwhile to say, right?

Ha ha, just kidding. Instead people like Mark are just going to freak the fuck out. Once again, the outrage from the Perpetual Outrage Machine that is KiA and GG vastly outstrips the supposed outrage from the other side. Seriously, I have a fair number of supposed SJWs in my twitter feed, and saw nary a kerfuffle in casual observation. Certainly nothing that compared to KiA’s utter shitstorm, or Mark Kern’s continued meltdown into nonsensical blather.

Professional Victims: Part Deux

You may remember when I pointed out the story about the Honey Badgers at the Calgary Expo, who threatened to sue the convention for kicking them out once it was pointed out that they lied about their agenda upon entering and were according to some a disruptive force on the floor?  Yeah, well, shortly afterwards, they set up a fundraiser to sue the Calgary Expo, and promptly raised $30K from gullible gators who actually believed this was a winnable case.  To be honest, I’d thought we’d heard the last from this aberrant little outgrowth of the movement.  I thought wrong.

Today, HBB started talking about how their money was being spent.  One detail (from the AGG subreddit) was particularly amusing.

We retained the legal services of Harry Kopyto. He is a very controversial figure in the area of human rights and discrimination law and a disbarred lawyer. However he has received awards for his work defending human rights–specifically he has fought for the rights of dissenters and underdogs, marxists, gay people, racial minorities and now us.

Um, yeah.  This guy wasn’t just disbarred, they won’t even grant him a paralegal license.  Partially for overbilling his customers more hours than are actually physically in a day.  So congrats, GamerGate footsoldiers!  You flushed your Steam Summer Sale money down the toilet on a lawyer whose ability to actually interact with the Ontario Legal System is strictly limited.

You know, for being completely unethical.

KotakuInAction (the #GamerGate wing of subreddit) is choosing to remain completely oblivious to this fact in their news update.

Three Great Magic the Gathering Stories

My favorite game of all time, bar none, is Magic the Gathering, the collectible card game.  For those who care about the details, I tend to be a card collector, but prefer to stick to the Standard format, which is a more constrained format that roughly limits the player to using cards from the last two years (the format creates a rolling obsolescence that players eagerly look forward to and crave – a neat trick on the part of the game designers because it simply creates a gold-plated monetization model while still keeping the game balanceable.

Anyway, there have been three stories that have been fascinating from the MTG world in the last 6 months.

1) The tale of the guy who won a $5000 magic tournament while shrooming.  Go ahead, see if you can guess which guy in the top 8 photo is currently hallucinating.

I Won a $5,000 Magic: The Gathering Tournament on Shrooms

I stared at the trippy art in my beautiful deck and felt destiny course through me with the might of a million memories. I knew I would win the tournament. I also knew I’d gotten this feeling dozens of times before and I’d invariably lost, at some point, with all the dull brutality of probability….Ah, how sweet it is to win when you’re anyone. But how much sweeter when you’re a massive and incorrigible troll!

2) The guy who coded a neural network to create new magic cards.  Can a computer replace a designer?  These results imply ‘not yet’, but there’s clearly a world to explore here.

Slidshocking Krow
Creature – Dragon
Tromple, Mointainspalk

For anyone familiar with Magic—and I’ve already outed myself here—it will be immediately clear that this is a ridiculous card, in every sense. It’s tremendously overpowered, and its abilities aren’t quite right (the AI meant to emulate Trample and Mountainwalk, two abilities that creatures in the game actually do commonly have). But other than the misspelling, all the other details are technically sound; it could be a card in the game. It doesn’t break any rules.

3) If you’re going to cheat, don’t do it on camera.  I meant to cover this when it happened, but to be honest, there was another, more fully engaging but less interesting scandal in the games industry at the time.  In THIS scandal, experienced player Trevor Humphries was caught manipulating the top of his opponent deck.  It is fairly standard in MTG to have cards that require your opponent to shuffle your deck – for example, if you play a card that requires you to search your deck for a certain card, your opponent gets a free shuffle of your deck to prevent YOU cheating.  However, Humphries figured out how to take that shuffle and in almost every instance, drop a land on top of his opponent’s deck (effectively ensuring that his opponent’s next draw was not hugely impactful to the game state).  I should note that the videos showing this in action are pretty deeply fascinating, once you know what’s going on.

What’s really amusing here was the temper tantrum on the way out, once he recieved a 4 year ban from competitive play.  He seems to have no level of internalization how deeply he’s run afoul of the integrity of the sport.

“ENTIRE COLLECTION FOR SALE, on a FOUR year sabbatical. I guess I’m just as bad as all the nasty criminals of the world. Yeah, the rapists, murderers, felons, etc, I’m so bad I forgot I was the only one who knew how to sin. All you underground dojo KEYBOARD cage fighters won. Yea I messed up, I gave in to temptation. I AM HUMAN. I didn’t threaten your personal life, your woman’s or let’s play the game of (do) we publicly punish Trevor. A FOUR YEAR SENTECE ITS A FREAKING CARD GAME, yea all the media fire you guys really got your justice, F@&#*$ clowns.”


A Bad Week To Be an Utter Asshole Online

This has been a rough week in the real world for me, but today something happened that put a big ol’ smile on my face.  First off, Twitter made it very clear where they stand on blockbots by effectively implementing a feature that does the same thing by allowing users to share blocked user lists.  This, of course, greatly upset our resident miscreants residing on Reddit’s preferred GamerGate hangout because our founding fathers bled and died so that righteous defenders of good gaming could bombard feminists with insults, anime porn and pictures of dismembered corpses.  But hey, turns out that was just the appetizer!

Later, Reddit announced that they were going to close 5 subreddits, all of whom have populations that are sub-5000, with the exception of Fat People Hate, a message board dedicating to finding pictures of fatties and mocking them, with an occasional side order of actually sending a brigade of shit posters to harass said fat people and occasionally try to push them towards suicide.  The announcement made it clear that the subs that were shut down were frequently those who engaged in abusive or harassing behavior.  The choices raised some eyebrows.  For example, CoonTown (it’s an awful link – just don’t click it) is still up – admins would later explain that that’s because CoonTown tends to keep its vile shit localized to its own subreddit, instead of brigading others.

Naturally, KotakuInAction (the #gamergate subreddit) is supernervous, to the degree that they’ve been making contingency plans in case they get banned as well.  Not because GamerGate ACTUALLY harasses people.  That’s completely a misunderstanding fed by media hype.  As an example of said media hype, here’s a story of how a college student was utterly bombarded by harassment at the hands of #gamergaters for daring to talk about them at a game conference.  And here they are brigading the /planetside subreddit because a mod banned a player who made a transphobic slam, and would only let him back in if he wrote a 500 word essay.

Anyway, this was after two more utterly embarrassing episodes for Gaming Assholishness.  First off, they managed to look like utter hypocrites by cheering for Ubisoft excluding Kotaku from coverage because Kotaku has had some hard-hitting coverage of Ubisoft in the last year – including Kotaku calling attention to and refusing to take part in embargoed reviews after Ubisoft’s attempts to snow their customers on the half-baked status of AC:Unity.  

At any rate, KiA and Twitter tonight are schadenfreude delights today

Anne Rice and Brigading

Just in case the recent imbroglio wasn’t weird enough, Anne Rice (perhaps accidentally) aligned herself with #GamerGate by slamming Randi Harper in Twitter, pointing to an article on ‘Stop the Good Reads Bullies’, a site dedicated to shaming people who abuse . This has resulted in a flurry of responses to Anne, including a veiled rebuke from Neil Gaiman. 

It also earned a ringing endorsement from the crazy uncle of neoreactionary cultural conservatism.  In many ways, these are old battles that just oddly crossed paths.  Anne Rice has long had a history of activism against people who abuse author rankings on sites like Good Reads and Amazon by brigading, for example.  Whereas Randi’s objectionable posts were from a pre-GamerGate crusade that her and other feminists had against Vivek Wadhwa, a (male) advocate for female empowerment who apparently had a habit of occasionally stepping in it.

In 2015, Wadhwa was criticized publicly by several women in technology for the way in which he was speaking on behalf of women in technology. One example mentioned was that at an event, he had used the slang word “floozies”[87][88] when referring to technology companies needing to take hiring women more seriously, in the context of his advocacy for tech companies to include higher-ranking women on interview panels for female candidates. Wadhwa responded to the criticism, writing that he had not known what the word “floozy” meant due to his poor grasp of American slang, as an immigrant, that he had apologized at the event as soon as his misstep was pointed out to him, and that he had lost sleep over this.

To be honest, I’m so unfamiliar with the Wadhwa case that I don’t know if I have much of an opinion on the matter, and to be honest, I’ve tried to care a  couple of times, but I just can’t be bothered to give a fuck.  Work’s been a bear, you know?  For all I know, Randi was right here, or she was a bully.  Here’s my point, though.

Harper is the target of Anne Rice’s wrath, which means that Anne Rice’s opinions are now being uncritically and enthusiastically supported and touted by the #gamergate hardcore on Twitter.  The hypocrisy of GamerGate followers in this regard is an impressive new low for them, because Brigading shit is one of their favorite things to do.   Check out, for example, the reviews of Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest.  Or the grossly disparate ranking for the Nightline story about GamerGate.  Or the fact that KiA actually manipulated IMDB’s ranking system just so they could write negative (and frequently dishonest) reviews about noted #gamerGate villain Anita Sarkeesian’s work.  And that’s before you get into them using their numbers to bully and harass individuals with dogpiling, harass organizations and events with coordinated hashtag campaigns,  and attempting to bully the press into their point of view with dishonest boycott campaigns.  These, by the way, are frequently NOT the acts of third party trolls, but are indeed happily orchestrated and bragged about on sites like KotakuInAction.

I’m pretty happy whenever I see prominent voices speak out on online bullying.  If Anne Rice really wants to repudiate horrible, petty online bullies, though, then I welcome her to take on the big game and call out the voices currently attempting to hoist her on their shoulders.  Because if an honest anti-bullying advocate is offended by Harper’s advocacy,  GamerGate’s coordinated campaigns of brigading and bullying over the last 8 months must be utterly stomach churning.


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