Archive for Industry Musings

A Promising Light for GamerGate

When #GamerGate kicked in, I strongly advocated for the people who actually cared about ethics in games journalism to use the energy to create a consumer organization (Initial proposal here, answers to criticisms here).  The central, and perhaps most important part of the idea, was the website, something I called “GamesOmbudsman.com”, which would focus on basically reporting on games industry press – basically watching the watchmen. What I envisioned was something similar to Politifact, but centered on the games industry.

So it’s not a surprise that I am intrigued and cautiously optimistic about the website GamerGateFacts.  GGF’s mission statement is in their sidebar.

GGF does not have an agenda against journalists, feminism, leftist politics or even the gaming press as a whole.

The only agenda GGF espouses is one that stands against lies, corruption, censorship and cronyism and any who choose to defend or further them.

And, well, these guys are trying, and are not that far off the mark.  I do have some criticisms for them (see below), but what I see here is a very promising skeleton of an idea that could serve the game community well for years in the future.  Here’s what I like (i.e. this is good, don’t change it).

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No, Virginia, Gamergate isn’t Going To Destroy Christmas

I like Oliver Campbell.  As far as #GamerGaters go, he’s a moderate, reasonable guy, and he comes at the topic of ethics in games journalism with relative experience and logic for a consumer movement that frequently has no idea what ethical journalism looks like.  That being said, every now and then, he says something extremely silly.

Killing Christmas is kind of a favorite fever dream  for the far end of GamerGate, with some treating it as some sort of End Boss like event (GamerGaters like game analogies, unsurprisingly).  A similar sentiment was echoed by the short-lived Operation Krampus, a cause they abandoned  around the time that they realized they’d declared so many media outlets boycotted that Krampus would effectively mean that Game Publishers could only give review copies to Return of Kings.

Anyway, this is just me talking here, but I find Oliver’s future pretty far-fetched.  Why?

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The Things We Lost In The Catastrofuck

Sometime last week, someone asked me in a comment here why I’ve been devoting so much time and energy to #Gamergate here on a blog that should be talking about game design.  Shortly before that, Felicia Day provided me with an answer, in a clear, eloquent story describing how the scandal is affecting her.  I’m clearly biased personally, because I have had a huge crush on Felicia forever to the degree that I would probably spontaneously turn into a 13-year-old fangirl if I ever met her, but its a beautiful, nuanced piece that describes her attempts to get past the paranoia that recent events have brought into her life.

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This Week Was All About Ethics in Games Journalism

Actually, none of it really was, because it never really actually is.  But it does highlight that ActuallyEthics is my new favorite Tumblr.

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This developer tells GamerGate that “You are Not My Shield.”

So yeah — I have no respect for this stuff. Speaking for myself — please do not ever get in the way of any criticism, no matter how stupid, that a developer of a game may want to hear. Do not be our shield or our earmuffs: fuck that. Some developers may disagree with me. They may say “no, I don’t want to hear that stuff, it enrages me and makes it harder for me to make my games!” You know what? I have a big old side-eye for those devs. Plug your ears, if you can’t handle it, if hearing a criticism is going to blow your shaky creative vision out of the water. Stay offline. We get death threats for adjusting sniper rifle firing time; the threat is not worth hearing, but “I hate this nerf” is, and how much more so is “the way women look in your game makes me uncomfortable” if someone feels that?

David Gaider asks a super relevant question (and makes me ask why neither he nor his coworker were on my twitter feed previously, while simultaneously being very proud to be a fellow BioWarean):

“But she’s cherry-picking her evidence!” “Her views are biased!” “Everything about those videos is garbage, and she needs to be stopped!” Okay. Let’s pretend for a moment that, for those of you who feel this way, you’re absolutely right. My question is this:

Why the fuck do you even care?

Is there such a profound shortage of shitty opinions on YouTube or elsewhere on the Internet that the appearance of this one constitutes a crime in the making? Have you asked yourself why it’s this particular opinion that drives you up the goddamned wall? What do you tell yourself, if and when you stop for that moment of introspection?

Andrew Sullivan (one of my favorite political writers) tries to write about Gamergate, and doesn’t nail all of the facts (not unexpected given how twisted and complicated the situation is).  But what is interesting to me is that he managed to write the whole piece without talking about journalistic ethics at all.  To him, it’s about the gamer culture defending themselves from far-left criticism, and whether ‘bullying’ is going both ways.  Interesting questions, but not as interesting as the fact that, after researching the issue, he could criticize the issue without mentioning ‘ethics’, ‘integrity’ or ‘games journalism’ speaks very loudly to how little there is there in terms of what the cause is supposedly about.

Second, there’s a missing piece of logic, so far as I have managed to discern, in the gamergate campaign. The argument seems to be that some feminists are attempting to police or control a hyper-male culture of violence, speed, competition and boobage. And in so far as that might be the case, my sympathies do indeed lie with the gamers. The creeping misandry in a lot of current debates – see “Affirmative Consent” and “Check Your Privilege” – and the easy prejudices that define white and male and young as suspect identities (because sexism!) rightly offend many men (and women).

There’s an atmosphere in which it has somehow become problematic to have a classic white, straight male identity, and a lot that goes with it. I’m not really a part of that general culture – indifferent to boobage, as I am, and bored by violence. But I don’t see why it cannot have a place in the world. I believe in the flourishing of all sorts of cultures and subcultures and have long been repulsed by the nannies and busybodies who want to police them – whether from the social right or the feminist left.

Lastly, certainly prompted by my criticism a couple of nights ago, IGN finally took a stand against the ‘recent unpleasantness’.  It was literally so careful and safe that some Gamergaters think that IGN took their side.  But given I picked on them a couple days ago, I thought it warranted a followup.

In grappling with this story, we’ve reached beyond the content team at IGN, discussing it with other departments, those employed in other areas of the industry, some of whom have been personally affected by the events of the last few weeks. Not surprisingly, the issue has proven just as contentious outside of our walls as within. Some in the industry have praised our reluctance to devote editorial space to this issue; others at the opposite side have called us cowards and worse.

The Gamer Press Woke Up, Decried Gamergate, Then Went Back To Sleep

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article shaming the press for basically ignoring GamerGate.  I was not alone, with Frank Cifaldi being one notable example who made literally dozens of tweets like the one below.

Erik Kain, a Forbes journalist who has written more sympathetically to the #gamergate cause, has also made that note from the other side.

Shortly afterwards, the Anita shooting threat and Brianna Wu being forced to flee her home resulted in the real press finally picking up on the story, and not surprisingly with those two events driving the coverage, my predictions were correct in that #GamerGate has been covered as primarily a vehicle for harassment.  #Gamergaters complaining that they aren’t covering their trumped up bullshit against Nathan Grayson don’t seem to get that those kinds of penny-ante inside baseball stories DON’T make national news, but potential school shootings sure as hell do. And THAT’S why stories have finally shown up in the MSM press, including CNN, MSNBC multiple times, New York Times, Rolling StoneCBS, and NPR among others.

I’m guessing that once the New York Times is reporting on their field of expertise while they’ve been actively ignoring it, the gaming press started to actually feel a sense of shame, because at that point they were pretty clearly derelict in their duty.  Brianna Wu calling them out from the Washington Post may have also been a factor.  Because it wasn’t until then that we started to see the flood of sites actually acknowledge and, in most cases, condemn #gamergate.

GiantBomb (10/17/2014)

[W]hen “GamerGate” rose up to cover over a campaign of harassment with a veneer of concern for the ethics of games journalism, it more or less set off every single disgust alarm I have. Though I’m sure some good people have been roped into this mess under this guise, the ethical concern portion of all this is largely a farce, a fallacy.

Polygon (10/17/2014)

Of course, this whole thing didn’t begin with “ethics.” When demands from the proto-GamerGate crowd to cover the Quinn “controversy” got louder, we discussed the topic internally. We debated its newsworthiness — it turns out we don’t always agree — but it was the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics that ultimately helped me make the decision to decline coverage of what was now being called a conspiracy. “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect,” the code reads under the heading of “Minimize Harm.”

Gamespot (10/17/2014) - Attempts to play it safe by not mentioning #gamergate by name.

Although we consider any debate dealing with game journalism ethics to be vitally important, we do not condone any actions that are meant to harass, bully, or intimidate others. We also refuse to give oxygen to a disturbing minority who seek to use this debate as an excuse for their own appalling actions.

Kotaku (10/20/2014) – After they had just given oxygen to the short-lived counterprotest, they later published We’re all Tired of Gamergate.

Here’s where we seem to stand: Much of the press and the gaming world is repulsed by Gamergate, a movement that is—be it the case that it was the actions of extremists or not—inextricably associated with harassment and that, as much as its roots may be claimed to be about games journalism still suffers the core rot of having taken seed as a blog post written by a person trying to assassinate the character of his ex-girlfriend.

Game Informer (10/20/2014) – Notably, this magazine is effectively the house organ for Gamestop, the video game retail chain.  Note, this article is a surprisingly thorough history of the original sins of #gamergate, the harassment of Anita and Zoe, and seems to be pretty accurate, a good read if you want a reminder why you should be pissed off about the cataclysm that is #gamergate.

Media outlets outside of gaming are looking into this mess in the video game community and they see GamerGate as a hate group. It is hard for me to disagree with that conclusion. Many of the same people who harassed Anita Sarkeesian during her Kickstarter campaign two years ago, many of the same tactics of intimidation, victim blaming, and conspiracy theories, have come out of the woodwork to support GamerGate. Why wouldn’t they? It legitimizes and normalizes their hatred of these women. “GamerGate does not condone harassment,” has become a common quote when allegations of abuse crop up. I find that hard to believe. The goals of those who harass and send death threats and the goals of GamerGate are the same. Those harassers are comfortable in GamerGate; there is no reason for them to feel unwelcome. People on the GamerGate forums celebrated when Anita Sarkeesian cancelled her talk at USU because of the school shooting threat. Defending this movement after two months of this behavior is giving tacit support to an environment that encourages harassment of women in the video game industry.

Joystiq (10/20/2014)

The only story I’ve seen fished out with the GamerGate hashtag is legitimate harassment. I have seen absolutely vile, irredeemable messages delivered to women who have dared to make games, critique games and, you know, BE ON THE INTERNET in the vicinity of games. And by stating this, I am not inviting you to tell me, now, whether or not you agree with the views of industry critics like Anita Sarkeesian – that’s irrelevant.

If you feel defensive or angry right now, it’s because you’re being mentioned in the same breath as: those who send death threats to developers; those who launch volleys of sexist remarks at women reviewing games; those who threaten school shootings in order to shut down a woman’s speech (about video games!) at a university. I don’t believe Joystiq readers stand for that, but I also see requests for our team to get “back” to writing about video games whenever we touch on gender disparity or LGBTQ issues. Well, we can’t do that while people are getting attacked in the same room. We can’t talk about games or ethics or “just games” while this is going on.

Somewhere in here, the ESA offered the most milquetoast of all condemnations possible.  I suspect that next week, they’ll report that the sky is, in fact, blue.  Usually.

“Threats of violence and harassment are wrong,” said a spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association in a statement. “They have to stop. There is no place in the video game community—or our society—for personal attacks and threats.”

This leaves some notable exceptions acting as cowards in stating a position.  IGN (the number one gaming site in the world), The Escapist (which is trying to pivot to cater to disaffected gamergaters).  PCGamer has no editorial I can find, but are limiting their comments to just twitter (and getting boycott threats for it), thus managing to be spineless and alienate gamergaters at the same time.

As for the rest of them, most of them for whatever reason haven’t posted about the issue since, which means that MSNBC has run more coverage than any of them.  It’s nice that they took the time to take a stand for what’s right.  Maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll feel inclined to do it again in a month or two.

And for what it’s worth, none of them were as good as Clickhole’s.

Is Gamergate a vast, complex, and diverse community?

Yes! It is not composed, as the mainstream media would lead you to believe, solely of white male trolls. It also has female trolls. It has African-American trolls and Asian trolls, gay trolls and straight trolls. In fact, Gamergate is all about the inclusion of anyone—regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation—whose views on video games and how we should think about them conform exactly to those of the movement at large.

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It is important to remember that the members of Gamergate, only some of whom threaten to rape and murder women, are simply fighting for ethics in gaming journalism.

In Which I Acknowledge and Apologize

About a month ago, I wrote a post about Milo that, by happenstance, discussed a lawsuit in Brad Wardell’s past.  At the time, it didn’t catch fire.  Simply put, no one cared.  I think it had 11 comments as of last Thursday, and I’d forgotten about it entirely.

On Friday, Brad spoke up and condemned the article.  I happened to be on top of a Mayan temple at the time (no shit), but when I got back to my laptop and saw the twitterstorm, I immediately edited the article to include links to his side of the story, as well as my quick takes on the issue.  I then reached out to him on Twitter, and we talked a couple of times that night – at length.  The talks were actually surprisingly pleasant and open.

In the course of this conversation (and some further digging on my part), Brad made a convincing case that I probably erred in trusting Kotaku’s reporting uncritically in this instance.  Part of this was him showing me documentation from the case.  Translation: he took me up on my offer.  I’m opting not to link these here at Brad’s request – at any rate, he has his own forum for doing so if he so chooses, and if anyone asks to see these, I’m just going to say I’ve seen ‘em, and direct you to ask him if you’re a reporter.

I’ve also done some external investigation, in an attempt to be sure I’m … well, at least closer to right. Three quick examples:

  1. Brad sent me documentation showing me that Kotaku gave him mere hours – at the end of a workday – to respond to the story before publishing it – a story that had clearly been in the works for weeks.  The notice had little or no mention of the fact that the story would be based on leaked court proceedings, meaning that Brad had neither the time to address it, nor the ability to rebut the specific extremely damaging claims being aimed towards him.  (As such, Brad did not comment on that article at all, which looked all the more damning).
  2. Brad sent me documentation showing that the case of Stardock vs. the Complainant for lost marketing materials was in active Arbitration as early as a full year before the judged moved the other case to trial, which actively challenges Kotaku’s narrative (which I parroted) that this lawsuit was retaliatory and designed solely to make the sexual harassment lawsuit just go away.
  3. Brad was quite compelling in pointing out that most of the list of grievances (i.e. touching hair, purity test, etc) was effectively laughed out of court, based on the testimony of many witnesses to these events, including that of one of the complainant’s best friends.  This comes from not just Brad, but commentary I’ve found here and there from those who should know the facts.  This is a point he also brought up in his Escapist Gamergate Interview, which appeared after my article did.

This isn’t all, but you get the gist.

So as per my addendum in the original post, I’ll condemn Kotaku for what I believe was probably shitty journalism.   And while I’m at it, I’ll acknowledge and apologize, particularly to Brad, for not being critical enough of that journalism.  And while I still am no fan of GamerGate, I can certainly appreciate his relatively well-founded criticism of the press in his address to it as a result.

As a gesture of good faith, I offered to interview a third-party observer of what happened so that we could get a more objective view of the events that unfolded.  Brad initially agreed, but our third party declined.  If circumstances change, I will be happy to host that here. Beyond that, I won’t be coming back to this issue.

All told, I think that this is a big, messy story, and further investigation and discussion is probably best left in the hands of pro journalists (he’d probably add ‘non-gaming’ to that) who have the experience and access to handle sensitive situations like this one.  I do think there’s still an interesting story here – one which has not yet been objectively told – and it’s one of how bad information can be frozen like amber, dredged up in google, and resurrected a million times, inescapably, in the future.  But I’m not the right one to write that story.

Three quick GG reads

Chris Kluwe, who continues to be one of my favorite people in the universe, has a very vitriol-laced take on the situation:

Thus, when I see an article titled “Gamers are dead,” referring to the death of the popular trope of a pasty young man in a dimly lit room, it fills me with joy, because it means WE FUCKING WON. So many people are playing games now that they are popular culture. They are not going away. All sorts of cool things, that I like, are now things that a whole bunch of other people like! There’s enough space now for people to make games that are strange and disturbing and maybe highlight a different perspective of the world, because gaming is no longer a niche activity, it’s something that everybody does. There is room for art in video games. That’s awesome!

Jesse Singal wrote this utterly awesome take of being a legitimate journalist trying to engage in gamergate, which touches on many of the themes I’ve mentioned here.  A must-read.

I believe Smilomaniac. I also believe the various Reddit and 8chan posts and the folks in the Hangout; I think Gamergate is primarily about anger at progressive people who care about feminism and transgender rights and mental health and whatever else is getting involved in gaming, and by what gamergaters see as overly solicitous coverage of said individuals and their games.

And here’s the thing: That’s fine! It’s an opinion I happen to disagree with, but it’s a coherent, concrete viewpoint. Say what you will about the tenets of anti-progressivism, dude, but at least it’s an ethos.

Let me address Gamergate advocates directly for a moment: Right now, journalists trying to be fair-minded about your movement simply can’t win. Again, if I’m arguing with someone from the NRA or the NAACP or some other established group, I can point to actual quotes from the group’s leadership. With you guys, any bad thing that happens is, by definition, not the work of A True Gamergater. It’s one of the oldest logical fallacies in the book.

Tadhg Kelly thinks Gamergate is dying.  I disagree, but he does have some salient points as he tries to draw out what lessons one might learn:

The hashtag is still going, as are the fervent speculations and plans for operations on 8chan and Reddit, but the movement that is #Gamergate is exposed for what it always was: A core of angry men hidden within a softer (and far more naive) crowd that liked to think of itself as diverse. The shield dropped when someone went too far, someone threatened a school shooting. Someone else threatened another woman in games out of her home. And the response from the key gaters boiled down to an extended “I absolutely don’t condone that sort of thing even if they are asking for it“.

Polygon’s Bayonetta 2 Review is Fine

So, in between the Brianna Wu media tour and the emergence of #StopGamerGate2014, #GamerGate for the first time in weeks actually attempted to bring up something that was almost something something kinda like Journalistic Ethics.  As you may know, #Gamergate declares that journalistic ethics and integrity is what this is all really about (although that’s built on a total sham, is ignorant of actual problems and allergic to actual journalistic ethics).  But hey, maybe they got it better this time!

bayonetta2

Oh dear.

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What GamerGate Can Learn From the NFL and Ray Rice

GamerGate should be in PR crisis mode.  It’s not.  It can’t be.  And it doesn’t know how.

Gamergate is, right now, a hashtag that is ABOUT harassment.  That’s not what it’s better angels want.  There’s a large contingent of people that are in there that are deeply committed to improving the games industry press, and care about that.  They think that’s what they’ve signed up for.  I don’t agree with their principles, their priorities or their view of how the industry actually works, but the better angels clearly want to clean up what they see as a fucked up enterprise.

But all of that is buried now, under a daily drumbeat of harassment, harassment, HARASSMENT.  What are the news stories for the last few days?  Let’s look at my current twitter feed and KiA, reddit’s central source for the latest Gamergate goings on.  Briana Wu being harassed.  Briana Wu going on MSNBC and getting her twitter hacked.  Briana Wu is an awful person (multiple times) USU cancelling Anita’s speaking gig because of a shooter threat. Boogie is being harassed. Zoe Quinn freaking out about being on MSNBC facing her harasser.  Just endless news on harassment of anti-gg AND gg personalities, defenses against harassment, denials against harassment, and spiteful, hateful bile thrown at people who accuse them of harassment.

Oh, and #Gamergate is finally hitting the mainstream press.  MSNBC: harassment.  CNN: harassment.  HuffPost: harassment.  Mentions of ethics are an afterthought.  The harassment infighting is so fierce that when an actual Ethics issue pops up, it doesn’t get nearly the attention as, say, a blow-by-blow detail of what happened in Zoe Quinn’s restraining order hearing.

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Why I Only Told the Womens’ Stories

Last week, I put up a very long article about the stories of harassment I could find.  I’ve made some minor corrections based on additional details I’ve gotten.  I have an open invitation for more women to send me their stories, and will correct any bad information I’ve gotten.  As I’ve mentioned before, the stories from the gamergate side are much sketchier and less detailed than the ones on the other side, largely because the other side has endeavored to document their harassment in long form.

One question I’ve gotten over and over again has been ‘what about the men?’

Surely some people, including JonTron, have gotten harassment, and in many cases, it’s gone over the line.  And I’ve been accused of sexism for leaving out their stories, and implying that women are weaker.

I’m not saying women are weaker.  I’m saying that the harassment women get is much, much more frequent and much more vile.  This is something that I will personally vouch for from working in MMOs for almost 20 years and seeing harassment logs that could curl paint.  If you don’t believe me, then read this article here: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.  Then read this here: There’s No Comparing Male and Female Harassment Online (which addresses this rebuttal to Hess’ article).  Or this article: Scholar thinks online harassment of women is a civil rights issue.  Particular notes:

  • Much of the harassment women (or other minorities) get is ABOUT them being different, and has specific discriminatory goals.
  • A much higher percentage of the harassment women gets involves descriptions of sexual violence.
  • 89% of domestic violence cases now include cyberharassment as a component (texts, emails, etc).
  • 70% of cyberstalk victims are female, and 80% of cyberstalking defendants are male.
  • 90% of revenge porn cases had female victims.
  • 70% of women in multiplayer games have played as male characters online to avoid abuse.

Here’s a fun scientific study:

In 2006, researchers from the University of Maryland set up a bunch of fake online accounts and then dispatched them into chat rooms. Accounts with feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7.

So in a neutral environment, women are 25 times more likely to receive harassment! The differences in levels of harassment are stark enough to see plainly.  As the following reader comment on a GiantBomb article pointed out sarcastically

This has NOTHING to do with GamerGate! It’s merely a coincidence that 3 women have fled their homes, a handful of female game journalists have left their careers, and female game devs have had to speak out but only under the cover of anonymity all while gamergate happened! A BIG COINCIDENCE!

#Gamergate DOES have a bodycount, but it’s a bodycount that has hit MANY more women than men – despite the fact that women are, as a whole, vastly underrepresented in the industry!

Online harassment is such a big issue now that the limitations as to how threatening you are allowed to be is going on the docket of the supreme court.  (As a side note, here’s a fun article about how the defense is hilariously going to have to explain hip-hop lyrics to the supreme court).  And most of the time, online harassment that rises to the level of hate speech and crime is aimed at minorities.

So if someone else wants to write an article about how certain men in the movement have been harassed, be my guest.  All harassment is bad, and is a problem that needs an addressing.  But compared to what the women have endured, it’s a fart in a hurricane.