Archive for Behind the Scenes

How GamerGate’s Right Wing Nutjob Heroes Are Betraying a Hidden Ideological Purge

#GamerGate diehards insist that the current discussion has nothing at all to do with politics and that they are, in fact, trying to keep politics and ideology out of gaming.  Which is stupid – Bioshock, the Sims, Call of Duty and Civilization are all games that have a lot of message and ideology – but yeah, you could ignore all that and stick to that broken point of view.  And a lot of #gamergate fanatics have – in a display of hypocrisy which has now become everyday in this hashtag, #GamerGate has anointed as their champions two right-wing nutjobs desperate to insert their own ideology into the discussion in an apparent successful attempt to be instant patron saints of the Movement.  Hilariously, both have admitted to not really playing any games, something that was considered high treason when it was inferred to be true about Anita, despite the fact that her stuff appears to be mostly very well researched and, uh, for the most part, to have problems but contain some pretty good points. Apparently this isn’t a problem if you’re willing to just take #GamerGate’s side although kudos to whoever suggested that Hatoful Boyfriend should be Milo’s first game).

Meet Milo, a writer for Breitbart, who is one of the rare people in the history of all humankind who I hated immediately instinctively and then disliked and had less respect for even more the more I researched him. He is an associate editor in a web magazine that even the conservative blogosphere considers to be a pimple on the ass of conservative thought.  Seriously, most of what the site is like what would happened if you combined the National Enquirer, a yapping Chihuahua, and your drunken racist uncle at Thanksgiving wearing a tinfoil hat.  Here they are talking about Birthism while vehemently denying that they do so, for example.  Here they are giving credence to Benghazi, a ‘scandal’ that even the House GOP is now admitting is bullshit.  Here they are losing their shit because of stock legal language at the bottom of a photo op.  And normally, their coverage of pop culture is wrapped up in bashing violence and defending Christianity from the evils of Hollywood. Yes, a site that specialized in ‘woe is me, why is there not enough clean, wholesome, Christian entertainment’ has suddenly decided to defend the tits and violence bonanza that is gaming.

As for Milo, this crusader against ideology started this whole thing off with an article titled, “Lying, Greedy, Promiscuous Feminist Crusaders are Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart.” Apparently, his editor had a rare crisis of conscience, which must be like discovering your first orgasm if you work for Breitbart, because it was actually shortened to be less offensive to what you see (you can see the original name in the hyperlink). He followed this up with the hysterically all-capitalized “AN OPEN LETTER TO THE VIDEO GAMING COMMUNITY FROM A SELF-CONFESSED RIGHT-WING BASTARD” – because hey, you know, he’s not about ideology at all.  This crusader for diversity calls transgenderism a disease. This defender of equality thinks that men are just BETTER at technology than women, because fuck you that’s why. All of this is because the so-called #GamerGate scandal was JUST NOT OBVIOUSLY HYPOCRITICAL ENOUGH yet.

As you can tell, Milo brings a veneer of maturity and respect to the sobering #gamergate core issues of journalistic integrity and respect towards women.  As a side note, his private twitter handle is @caligula, because of course it is.

The other pundit is Christina Hoff Sommers, a writer for the American Enterprise Institute, a site that consistently favors right wing solutions to problems.  It’s currently got the Koch Brothers and Newt Gingrich in it, and likes to promote causes like austerity, dissing the minimum wage, and declaring that Obamacare will be a disaster.  Which is to say, the AEI makes a living about being very, very right-wing.  Needless to say, I also think they are very, very wrong on these topics, but that’s beside the point – they are DECIDEDLY ideological.  Somehow suggesting that that organization is going to make some sort of statement that opposes ideology in a medium in anything is seriously smoking something, and not being polite enough to share with the rest of the group.

Christina, for her part, has made a career about depicting men in society as being an oppressed victim class, a load of garbage that apparently sounds less stupid when its spouted by a woman instead of a Men’s Rights Activist.  She’s Fox’s go-to guest when they need someone to say that fear of rape on college campuses is NO BIG DEAL (reality check: while sexual assault has dropped mightily in the last 20 years, the US still leads much of the civilized world).  Here she is complaining about the feminist conspiracy of making kids play freeze tag instead of normal tag.  Here she is complaining that boys are forced to read works of literature instead of Tom Clancy and comic books in English Literature classes.  Here’s her saying that a lot of feminists are ugly women who preach feminism to get back at men and beautiful women, along with a lot of other egregiously bad data.  You get the idea.

So what cunning observations have these two paragons of thought brought to the debate?  They do not disappoint with their uniquely self-promoting brand of stupidity.

Sommers throws out some stats and figures, and then somehow leaps to the assertion that Games aren’t Sexist, it’s just that women don’t like games.  This is roughly akin to saying that the KKK isn’t racist, it’s just black people don’t want to join, or the Nazis weren’t anti-semetic, it’s just the Jews weren’t jiggy with the way they did things.  Which is to say, it’s a nonsense logical leap, entirely circular in nature, and one that would get you a big red ‘F’ if you handed in a paper with this argument in your Intro to Logic or Philosophy class.  Which makes the fact that Sommers bio describes her as a former philosophy teacher even more hilarious.  Who knows, maybe she didn’t leave that profession by choice. There’s a lot more horrible logic in here, but I’ll just let you watch this lovingly crafted video rather than rebut it point by point. Short form: this is a very non-serious answer from an ideologue hoping simply to advance her own profile amidst the chaos of #gamergate. (EDIT: link about this paragraph with more analysis, discussion of my choice of phraseology is here. No, I didn’t call gamers Nazis)

As for Milo, his crack investigative reporting has uncovered the fact that Journalists sometimes are on mailing lists, and sometimes discuss issues in a non-public setting.  As someone in my friendslist pointed out, If you’re surprised that professional mailing lists exist, then you either aren’t good at your job, or nobody likes you. As Kyle Orland explains on Ars Technica, these lists can and do frequently help journalists maintain connections, find sources, discuss ethics, and a host of other topics.  I believe him because these things are true for devs as well.  But more so for journalists who cannot get stories without talking to people, and that includes other journalists.

I suppose its possible that Milo might surprise me by digging up actual proof of a scandal here – I can tell you that few developers would be surprised at revelations of actual shenanigans by and around the press.  But one would expect Milo to actually put his best foot forward, and instead he sprawls spectacularly on his face.  Take yesterday’s dump: his proof of widespread collusion resulting in journalists engaging in ‘damaging groupthink’ is a bunch of journalists in strong disagreement as to whether or not to send a harassed girl a comforting note.  Even the guy who suggested the idea admitted it might be problematic.  Several people said they liked it, until a couple people pointed out there was an ethical problem with it.  Presumably, then the idea died.

Crack detective work there, Milo.

This is EXACTLY the sort of thing that a private, industry-only mailing list or discussion group is good for, and in this case, resulted in the right move happening.  Milo would know this if he knew anything about the games industry.  Or the tech industry.  Or, you know, journalism.

Incidentally, it’s not really collusion if a professional organization just DOES something.  I’m a member of the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) as well as BioWare.  The IGDA has many individuals in many, MANY companies.  If the IGDA were to debate in email with its members whether or not it should, for example, send Milo’s mother a nice bouquet of flowers to comfort her on the money she flushed down the toilet on her kid’s wasted journalism degree, that’s not BioWare, Blizzard, EA and Valve making a statement, it’s the IGDA making a statement.

Getting journalists on the same ideological page is nothing new either – the GOP famously sends their daily talking points to Rush Limbaugh and all his ilk, for example,and all Fox hosts get a memo discussing not just what to say but also how to say it.  Perhaps someday Milo will get off of the video game beat and actually get to see one of these fact sheets, but if this is the quality of his reporting, I wouldn’t hold my breath. 

His day one dump was marginally more interesting, because that’s where we saw a whole bunch of journalism professionals pointing out that the Zoe Quinn situation was a shitty breakup between private individuals that had no merits as a legitimate news story, and that as shitty as games journalism is, credible games sites should hold themselves up to a higher standard than TMZ or, say, Breitbart.  Given that all attempts to establish wrongdoing by Zoe Quinn or Nate has proven to be baseless or unprovable, it suggests the journalists were more than correct to remember the lessons they were taught in their Journalism 101 classes.  It’s not a conspiracy when 10 people look at the sky, and decide that it’s blue.

Also, just as a side note, #GamerGate spends a LOT of time trying to stress that this IS NOT ABOUT ZOE QUINN. BECAUSE SHE’S NOT REALLY A WORTHY STORY. And so, Milo’s great examples of collusion – are all about Zoe Quinn. Way to feed the narrative that the stated motives of #GamerGate are completely at odds with the ravenous tabloidesque tendencies of the internet mob.

What #Gamergate claims they favor is a more diverse and more inclusive games industry, where more voices can be heard.  The way that its actually been reflected is as an ideological purge.  Look at the list of approved websites, blessed by the #gamergate powers that be.  There are PLENTY of websites that appear to meet ideological muster, that being one that happily slutshames a developer in fear of losing their audience.  The idea that, somehow, Polygon and Kotaku control the whole message of the games industry is a joke. No, only a small subset of the games media is actually under attack right now, and that’s the part that is too principled to put a developer’s sex life on the front page..  It just so HAPPENS that these sites also tends\ to be the sites most interested in talking about social issues, behind-the-scenes developer issues, and giving coverage to indie games instead of Gears of God of Destiny Soul Caliber War XBII. What’s approved are media that focus on shoving the publisher’s canned talking points about the game so far up your ass you can’t walk straight.  That’s not a minority view, it’s 90% of games journalism.  And most of it is closer to being bought and paid advertisement than anything resembling ‘journalism’. 

I do not favor any movement that tries to silence a valid voice in the art and business of making video games, and you shouldn’t either. ESPECIALLY, if it’s aimed at targeting a particular point of view.

Look, I’m not going to defend everything that game journalists do. Of particular note, I remember fondly when Kotaku actually did games stuff rather than fill half their website with weird Japanese shit. And there are some very, very sketchy practices in the games industry between press and developers. 

Big league games like Destiny and GTAV cost more than 9 figures, and a third of that at LEAST is usually earmarked to marketing. Is anyone following that money? Some years ago, a Gamespot journalist was fired right after giving a bad review to a AAA game. Games from big studios seem to rarely get reviews below 70%, but indie devs who can’t afford to advertise routinely do. Some companies have been caught giving payola to Youtube streamers (). Companies routinely fly press around the country and wine and dine the journalists that will review them. Here’s a story about a company who hired a reviewer to do a mock review, solely so he couldn’t legally write the bad review they thought he’d give them.

But we’re now entering our second month of this, and we’re still not talking about any of these things.  Instead, despite the fact that everyone on #GamerGate that it’s REALLY NOT ABOUT WHATSHERNAME, we are, thanks to Milo and his ideologically skewed muckraking, once again talking about Zoe Quinn. And we’re describing as a grand conspiracy a handful of like-minded guys disagreeing with each other on a platform more archaic than an Facebook discussion group. Gaming may deserve better than its journalism. But it sure as hell deserves better than its supposed cure.

Note: I use a whitelist policy on comments: your first comment must be approved by me and then, in general, you can post freely. Note, I will use the banhammer if you get out of hand later. I am fairly liberal with what I allow, but I still insist debate remain civil, and I am unapologetic for that. If you want to see my standards, see what goes on in other threads.

Reclaiming ‘Gamer’ and Defending Our Tribe

In the movie Office Space (a film that should be required viewing for anyone who work in games), the unfortunately-named Michael Bolton is asked why he doesn’t go by ‘Mike’ if he resents sharing the name with the famous grammy-award winning singer. His response was simple and eloquent. “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.”

This comes to mind after reading last week’s flood of people attempting to disavow themselves from the ‘gamer’ identity or declare it dead.  Screw that.  Most gamers don’t suck.  Most gamers are pretty awesome.  A tiny handful of gamers suck.  Why should we be the ones who change?

I am a gamer. I am a proud gamer. I have been for years of my life. So much so that I’ve dedicated my life to making games, writing about games, and speaking about making better games. And I love gamers. I love going to SWTOR Cantina events, to Magic Gamedays, to ArmadilloCon, BoardGameGeek.con, to E3, and to PAX, and seeing all sorts of gamers of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds come together because we love games. And good games are social. So you see people talking, teaching and sharing with each other, because it makes the games better, and it makes the communities that play them better.

99% of gamers are good people.

Why should I be ashamed to call myself a gamer? I’m proud of this identity. Why should I let it be hijacked by a bunch of mouthbreathing assholes? It’s time for all gamers who care about games, game developers and the community of the hobby we love to vote these fuckwads off the island. Let them come up with their own identity. “Gamer” is ours.

Now then, I’m not saying that everyone in this tribe of gamers has to agree on everything. Hell, I certainly don’t agree with every cause that falls under the Social Justice Warrior umbrella. I think that Anita Sarkeesian is completely spot-on in her latest video about the utter creepiness of having the only feminine presence in your video games be dismembered, naked, spread-eagled corpses, but I’ve certainly disagreed with her in the past.  Should someone like her be allowed to speak her mind?  Of course she should.  What are we, infants?

Part of the victory lap that comes from recognition of games as a legitimate art form is recognizing that art criticism comes with the territory.  This is not a sign of the industry’s doom.  It is, rather, a sign of its relevancy and its growing everpresence in modern society.  There’s also a real question as to how much criticism even matters: Pauline Kael had a loud and influential voice, and Women’s Media Criticism departments have existed on campuses for decades, and yet movies and television today have more nudity, profanity and gratuitious violence than ever in history.  Similarly, as I discussed in length last week, there’s pretty much no chance that the proven cash cows of the industry are going to up and disappear.  In fact, as a designer I can tell you the hard part is getting the money guys at large companies to try untested game designs, or to try reaching for unrealized markets.  Which is why our market is dominated by Madden iterations and Call of Duty clones, and why you have to go to Steam Greenlight to find truly interesting, innovative stuff that the independents dish out.

I’m also completely fine with gamers opening a debate about the integrity and impartiality of the gaming press.  It’s absolutely hilarious that any right thinking person thinks that pretty much any amount of press that any independent developer can get is going to amount to a hill of beans.  Here are some real things to get worked up:  preferential reviews for large publishers,  Youtube payola, Apple store rating manipulations,  and Steam Sales push prices down too low for some indie developers to stay viable.  All these things merit a hell of a lot of discussion than an indie dev who may have done anything to earn coverage that she didn’t get, for a game she doesn’t charge money for.  You want to debate any of these things under the charge of improving the ethics of game development and game journalism, be my guest.  But here’s the thing.

As long as women gamers and game developers are living under a cloud of virtual terrorism, I don’t give a shit about your cause.

As long as women in and around gaming, including I note some on my friends’ list, are getting doxed, getting slandered, getting their private lives and sexuality discussed at length, getting revenge porn and nudes (real or faked) published about them, having their suicide openly rooted for, and getting harassed in private mail and public tweets so vile that they feel the need to hide out at a friends house and call the authorities, your pet topic is so low in priority that I can’t be bothered to care.

As long as the IGDA feels the need to work with the FBI in order to give game developers resources so that they can feel safe from people who claim to love games, I really don’t give a shit about any of the cute little ‘scandals’ that have been manufactured solely to give cover to the continued harassment of a handful of outspoken voices in this industry.  There’s really not much else that merits talking about.

Now, this is not just about female developers.  I feel this way anytime a developer, be they the most ardent feminist or the bro-est of bros, somehow undergoes this level of tremendous harassment.  However, its certainly more often the case with women, despite the fact that women still are not represented at very high numbers throughout the industry.  The message from the fuckwads is clear: women who speak out of line on the topic of geek culture are uppity bitches who must be put in their place.

This is not acceptable to me.  It should not be acceptable to anyone in the Tribe.

Some of the brightest minds in the industry have mentioned in my Facebook feed that, while they have plenty of opinions on the current goings-on, they are terrified of actually saying these opinions in any sort of public forum, for fear of harassment of themselves, their friends and their family.  One of these people has been a community manager for fifteen years, and is therefore no stranger to wearing a bulls-eye and facing an angry crowd.  All of these people are women.  I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

At this point, you may be saying ‘not all gamers are assholes like this’.  And you’re exactly right.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m willing to bet that the problem gamers amount to  less than 1% of the gaming population.  

This is not much consolation to a woman who has just been told that she’s a fucking cunt who deserves to be raped and her child killed.

So you’re not one of the ones being a total fuckwad?  Fantastic.  I mean that.  In most cases, this will be the case.  But the GamerGate cause is literally being driven by fuckwads with an agenda, where that agenda is to continue trashing one female developer rather than talk about their own purported topic, and to trash any discussion of progressive issues (i.e. ‘SJW issues’) at all.

Right-wing morons over at Breitbart claim the agenda is not actually about journalism,  (perhaps accidentally), but instead say that it’s pretty much about an ‘army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners’ who have taken over the games industry (you know, the one they have barely any representation in today) and are now demanding the games industry embrace feminist principles.

Sorry, but the only ‘feminist principles that are being demanded are things like ‘a woman’s sex life is really none of your god damn business’ and ‘a woman should not have to call the fucking FBI and hide out at a neighbor’s house because of her opinion on video games’, with a side dose of ‘Hey, can you please stop using the word ‘cunt’ like a punctuation mark’?

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There are few parts of what’s been happening that are more disquieting than the campaign of denial being waged against Zoe, Anita, and others in this maelstrom.  Put bluntly, it is entirely all too similar to what happens to victims of sexual and domestic violence in the real world – clearly, these womenfolk are hysterically overblowing things or lying on their way to being professional victims!   Because who doesn’t have anything better to do on a weekend than spend your evening chatting with the FBI?

Here’s the thing – if even half of what these people say is true, then its well into the realm of surreally despicable, and something that anyone who favors even a modicum of civility in our discourse about games should revile.   And I know that half of what they say is true.  Because these ‘bad gamers’ are posting that half on twitter, on 4chan, on Youtube and on Reddit.  They create video games where you can beat up Sarkeesian. The ex who swears he never meant for the wrath of the Internet to come down on Quinn still has his pathetic worm of a blog post up.  And it’s not just these two.  Do a google search for Leigh Alexander.  Or Jenn Frank and Mattie Brice, two talented writers who fled the industry.  Or go back in time to when BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler fled amidst death threats.

Devs are paying attention to this issue closely.  And we’re mad, because our friends and co-workers don’t feel safe.  Many of the people we love and respect are talking about leaving rather than continue to endure living under this microscope.  As such, most devs paying attention haven’t been voicing much — or any — opinions on the game journalism ethics issues that are supposedly threatening our industry.

Talented artisans quitting – THAT threatens our industry.

For any of the women I mentioned above, it takes only about five minutes to come up with invective so vile that, if you could imagine the woman in question was your sister, your wife, your girlfriend, or your daughter, you’d be considering homocide.

And if it was aimed at you, you’d probably be thinking about hiding under your bed.

Overzealous fans is something that I have dealt with way too much in my gaming career. It only takes a couple of ‘chance meetings’ with fans in the company parking lot who dropped in from a couple states away to passionately make their case about their nerfed class to scare the bejeezus out of you.  These were the exceptions, mind you.  And they are rare.  Most of the time, my thoughts center on the good people i meet at Cons and meetups.  The dedicated fans who love gaming and love what I do.  The kids with cancer who, through the magic of MMOs, were able to live a semblance of a normal social life during their last days.

But if you’re not part of the 1% of gamers that are part of the problem, don’t be fooled into thinking that they don’t exist.  Don’t be fooled into thinking all of this is just imagined.  It’s not.

And don’t think it’s really about game ethics and journalism.  The misogynistic assholes behind GamerGate are making precious little effort to hide the fact that this is all a smokescreen, so they can continue to harass and terrify those they deem as uppity bitches.

And as long as they’re doing so, sorry, I find talking about other things to be a distraction.

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I am a gamer because I love games.  I love games – all manner of games.  Board games.  Tabletop games.  Console and computer games.  I spend hours at work coding them and then come home and either code some more on side projects, or spend pretty much all my free time exploring them.  I love the big budget games – your Assassin’s Creed, your World of Warcraft, your Tomb Raider – and I love the little ones, like Minimetro and Papers Please.

I’m part of a Tribe.  A tribe of people like me who see gaming as something inherently good and awesome.  I missed PAX this year, which I sorely regret, but by all accounts, there the Tribe was awesome.  Here is an account I lifted from my Facebook feed.

Actual gamers as seen at PAX were the most inclusive, tolerant, accepting bunch I can remember in two decades of nerdery. I don’t mean Carefully Not Staring Acceptance, I mean acceptance. Most demos set up so a wheelchair user could play, too. People using gender neutral bathrooms like it wasn’t a big deal. No staring at the transgender men and women that I noticed. More women than I ever remember seeing before. Dramatically more gamers of color than ever before. No assumptions that the women were unwilling attendees by the side of men. No assumptions that the men were basement-dwelling virgins. No assumptions that the female booth workers were marketing instead of developers.

I am a gamer, and this is my Tribe.  It’s experienced remarkable social progress in recent years. And what’s fantastic about the games industry is that different artisans continue to create new, novel and interesting games that stretch my brain and make me think in ways that I didn’t before.  I love games for this, and I love my tribe, because the REAL gaming scene gets that.  It’s all about the games.  It’s all about the community that loves games.  It’s a community that is coming to the (sometimes painfully) slow realization that anyone, no matter their gender, race, sexual predilections and political leanings,  are welcome in the tribe so long as they love games and respect those that do.

Believe it or not, we’re winning the culture war.

Some are apparently threatened by this – by the idea that some people (mostly, those who simultaneously have vaginas and opinions) may come into their club and RUIN EVERYTHING with the worldrending message that maybe, just maybe, people should be able to play games, sometimes old games and sometimes new and wondrous games, with a modicum of civility.  They are throwing a tantrum rather than have to share their toys.

Because of these assholes, my tribe should stop calling themselves gamers?  Fuck that.  Those other guys are the ones that suck.

We Now Return To Your Regular Scheduled Random Posting…

As both of you may have noticed, this here blog took a little hiatus.  I assure you that there are two or three very, very good reasons why this blog disappeared for a little while.

  1. I was pushing to release Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and I was finding it increasingly difficult to post stuff that might not be construed as a promise to our ever eager fan-base.  
  2. I was writing a column for Game Developer Magazine, and to be honest was having enough trouble finding content for THEM every other month, without also feeding the beast here.
  3. I am a lazy, lazy man.

Things have changed somewhat.  I’m now lead designer of SWTOR, which of course is best described as a dream come true.  As such, I’ll probably continue to stray from writing too much about MMO topics that might be confused with SWTOR discussions.  Such discussions should still happen on our own boards, when they do happen.  That being said, the Game Developer Magazine gig appears to have ended with the collapse of the magazine itself.

I am, however, still a very lazy man.

I have been looking at my backups of the old Zen of Design blog, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that my backups include everything EXCEPT the old content, so all or some of that may be lost forever.  I will endeavor to see if I can dig up some of that old stuff, but at this time I make no promises.

But yeah, anyway, I’m back.