Zen Of Design

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

Category: Social Media (page 1 of 3)

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

Mark Kern Really Wants GamerGators To Be Able To Yell At Harassment Victims

Today, Mark Kern is fighting a heroic battle to force the people who have faced withering online harassment and abuse to sit there and take that abuse or quit Twitter, rather than having access to tools that allow them to protect themselves.

I realize it’s been a couple of weeks since we talked about Mark Kern, the former Team Lead of World of Warcraft who would later grow to distrust the press because they had the gall to investigate crazy rumors and write articles about his magical crazy expensive bus.  Mark Kern recently reappeared on the landscape 4 months after GamerGate started, and since then he’s been a real peach of a human being:

  1. Blaming the games media for Gamergate when in fact they’ve mostly been ignoring it,
  2. Arguing that getting the media to stop talking about harassment of developers is more important than getting that harassment to stop,
  3. Airing baseless propaganda as something worthy of discussion,
  4. Encouraging an internet flash mob to brigade the social media of the most important conference of his chosen profession,
  5. Wringing his hands because a room full of GDC attendees were an enthusiastic audience to Tim Schafer and his prepared sock.
  6. Complaining that he can’t blog or get press access, while simultaneously turning down offers allowing him to post blogs or do press interviews. 

As you can tell, Mark Kern is at this point a parody of delusion  -if he showed up on a Sitcom, you’d dismiss his unique brand of ignorant obstinance as too unrealistic to be believable. In today’s episode of ‘Mark Kern tilts at windmills then declares he’s oppressed’, he is desperately fighting for the right to be able to yell at people who have actively declared they don’t want to hear what he has to say.

GamerGate has a fun tradition whenever someone gets in their crosshairs, and that is to have everyone on the #gamergate hashtag know about it quickly and efficiently, and have all of those people fill the target’s Twitter feed with so much crap that Twitter ceases to be a useful tool, and where your first reaction is to go hide under the covers of your bed with the lights off.  In many cases, the crap filling your feed is innoculous questions, or feigned offense (‘well, I never!’). These people will insist that harassment ISN’T actually happening, and that they’re just being civil and exercising their free speech.  They ignore the fact that in many other cases from OTHER more enthusiastic and less civil gators, it takes the form of insults, beratement, veiled job threats, death and rape threats, roundabout questions about your family and friends, and even doxing and gorror porn.

There are many names that have been thrown around for the practice – brigading and Sea Lioning – but ‘dogpiling’ is probably the most accurate.  And GamerGate is by no means the only group that dogpiles – those opposing gamergate are far less organized and focused, but still have been known to unleash their targeted wrath at times as well. Still, GamerGate is more effective at dogpiling than most.  A few months ago, the collective community performed #OpSkyNet (GGers don’t take a dump without a snazzy Operation name), where all members of Gamergate made an active attempt to follow each other on Twitter.  I should probably point out to college kids looking for thesis ideas – there is good evidence that this had some extremely wacky social dynamics as a result.

For starters, it turned the hashtag into even more of an echo chamber than it already was, for example, by increasing the % of your feed that was now wholly supportive of GamerGate.  It made it impossible for casual observers to follow the feed at all, due to the massive number of retweets flooding out good content (I weeded out about 90% of the gators in my feed to get it back to readable again). The close-knitness of the community also resulted in vicious dogpiling attacks happening at astonishing  speed.

I got to be the target of a good ol’ dogpiling a couple of times during the last few months.  The most notable was when I proposed that GamerGate could do some good if they’d lay off the harassment and form a consumer organization.  And yet, I know that what I got was mild compared to many women, which I have documented here.   For those needing reminders, here’s Zoe talking about her harassment.  Here’s Anita showing some of the very worst of one week of harassment.  Here’s Sarah Butts describing the systematic attempts to make her online life hell.  Here’s Jenn Frank with video of her twitter feed being hit so hard that she decided to stop writing about games for a while.

GamerGaters defend their right to do this as defending their free speech.  This is an insult to people who actually understand what free speech is and why it’s important – it is more accurate to describe these actions as a calculated and deliberate attempt to sabotage the free speech of their targets.  What they are attempting to do is to yell so loudly and negatively at people who disagree with them that those people choose to shut down their opposition and leave.  It is an attempt to chill the free speech of people, especially in this case those who may have feminist or SJW points of view.  These are the people that Mark Kern and co. are fighting so earnestly for.

Fortunately, #OpSkyNet also had the accidental result of also making Blockbots work much more effectively on #gamergate than they otherwise would have.

The GG Autoblocker is a relatively simple beast.  It simply is a script that scrawls through exposed Twitter data, until it finds accounts that follow any two people from a very short blacklist of people – accounts like @Nero,  @FartToContinue and @RoguestarGamez.  These are accounts who have a history of, whether accidentally or intentionally, unleashing dogpile attacks on people who catch their ire.  Put another way, they have VERY ENTHUSIASTIC followers.  Anyway, if you follow two of those people, you’ll end up on Randi’s block list.  Which for 99.999999% of all twitter users, means absolutely nothing.

Mark Kern is on the block list.  Until yesterday, so was I.  Getting off of the list is actually a relatively straightforward process if you’re not a douche – send a mail to the appeals board.  They’ll look at your posting history and if your posting history isn’t full of harassing or dogpiling behavior, probably let you off the hook.

But here’s the thing – the only way you will be blocked by the autoblocker is if someone has signed up for the block service.  This is a very small number of people – probably in the low thousands.  These people have all actively declared they want less speech.  They are all people who have opted out of gamergate discussions.  They don’t want to hear it.

Mark believes its an abridgement of his right to free speech that he can’t talk to these people.

Many of these people were convinced to install the blocker after getting a taste of the GamerGate dogpiling experience.  Elizabeth Sampat – a vocal opponent and favorite target of Gamergate – at GDC described the experience of turning on the blocker as a godsend.  Once they discovered she’d been laid off, her twitter turned instantly into a toilet of awfulness.  The blocker returned Twitter to a functional communications forum for her – useful, because she’s a writer, and communication is a core part of her job.

For this story, I asked Randi Harper if there were notable spikes in the use of the Autoblocker.  She said there was one huge spike – GDC, when Mark Kern and co. were urging GamerGators to brigade the GDC hash tag – and they did, with all sorts of appalling filth.  This maps well to my experience of being stopped in the halls of GDC by people wondering where they could find that thing I’d blogged about.  Put another way, pretty much everybody who has installed the blocker has, in the past, encountered what GamerGate has to say when it has free speech, and decided they never want to hear from it again.  Free speech had its chance for these people.

Mark Kern wants to sue to shut down tools like these, so that these people will be FORCED to hear the message of him and his allies.  It is the height of myopic arrogance, and it’s appalling.

No one would argue that you should be forced to read mail from the people who want to sell you penis enlargement pills.  No one would argue that you should be forced to read all traffic from all reddits if you read any reddit.  And no one seriously believes that the Do Not Call list – a filtering list run by the freakin’ government, for christs sake – seriously runs afoul of first amendment rights.  Penis enlargement companies and telemarketers have a right to the microphone, however, they do not have the right to enslave every possible listener into their audience to hear their insipid message.

The best way to think about these blockbots is that they are just spam filters, only instead of blocking out penis enlargement creams and offers from Nigerian princes, they block out name-calling, gaslighting, rape and death threats, creepy inquiries about your family, and the occasional spicy bit of gorror porn thrown in there for fun.   Yes, sometimes a good tweet gets lost in the mix.  Guess what – that happens with email spam bots too.

Dogpiling is spam.  People have a right to defend themselves from spam, ESPECIALLY when it seeks to attack or terrorize them.

The denizens of GamerGate – who simply insist that this well-documented dogpiling does not exist – beg to differ.  Grimachu ( author of several… boundary-stretching games) has sent Randi a laughable letter of intent to sue.  Mark Kern also started to talk about getting lawyers and/or the EFF involved.  Which led to this highly amusing conversation on Twitter.

Yes, it turns out that the EFF believes that freedom of speech includes the ability for people to be able to use the internet without fear of being harassed or intimidated.  Which makes sense.  Once you understand the power that is earned from being able to communicate freely without fear on the internet, then fighting harassment and abuse on the Internet quickly becomes one of the defining civil rights movements of our time.  Far more so than ensuring that every troll has a right to bury your feed in a river of sea lioning and toxic hate.

Mark and others fighting to preserve the right to harass unwilling listeners believe they have discovered an end-around – by claiming that people maintaining these lists are effectively libeling those on it as harassers.

It’s not a very good end around.

Lost in all of this debate about what is legal and what isn’t is the fact that Twitter is, still, a private network, and as such, they get to dictate what is acceptable speech and what isn’t acceptable speech.  They have, in the past, been incredibly lax on addressing the issue of harassment — something that the CEO recently acknowledged and declared as a company mission to fix.   They have, on the other hand, welcomed and encouraged tools like BlockTogether that help fix these inefficiencies.

Sadly, we probably have to hope that more celebrities like Ashley Judd and Curt Schilling’s daughter receive more well-publicized abuse, and put pressure on Twitter to get their house in order.  Until Twitter cleans up their own house, we have user created tools like the block bots as the only thing that keeps Twitter from being utterly poisonous except to whichever faction of debaters can aggregate the loudest, angriest, and most shameless group of posters willing to go all out to destroy their opponents.  If nothing changes, the only way that this path can end is with Twitter being a nuclear wasteland of horribleness, as all reasonable people flee to places where they can debate the issues of the day without seeing necro porn (yes, the gorror porn did, in fact scar me for life).  If Twitter just lies back and waits for that to happen, then Twitter will die – and it will deserve to do so.

There are concerns with the block bots.  One key example is that block statistics probably factor into Twitter suspension and banishment decisions, and thus being included in someone’s block bot can put your account into a more frail space without you realizing it.  Also, the block bots aren’t integrated into the service, which means that they’re hard to find for the harassed and hard to understand and get off of for people who feel wrongfully placed on them.  Twitter should be putting in better tools for filtering and blocking in themselves.   Until then, though, people who have been put through the ringer on these blockers have only these simple tools.

Whether or not Mark Kern has more noble goals in mind, it is a lie that these tools somehow inhibit his right to free speech.  Whether or not Mark Kern has more noble goals in mind,  opposition to the block bot really is, at it’s core, demanding that harassment victims sit there and take what’s coming to them.

That may not be what Kern is consciously trying for, but it certainly is what the trolls want.  Combine that with their insistence that victims also not talk about or report their harassment, and the agenda becomes very clear.  The opposition to the block bots is this virulent for one simple reason: they are very effective at what the harassed want them to do: stopping incoming dogpiling and abuse.




Wardell on Diversity

Brad is far more sympathetic to GamerGate’s goals and tactics than I am, so I’m not totally surprised that he calls bullshit on Intel’s diversity announcement (which I discussed previously here).  That being said, there are a couple of fallacious arguments that should be brought up.

During the event, Intel even featured the Feminist Frequency logo which, to me, implies that she’s either compromised her position or surrendered it outright if she’s now in favor of more people getting into game development rather than arguing how bad games are for society.

Welp, that certainly is a massive mischaracterization of both her goals and her tactics.  Anita simply wants to see better and more games.  She’s not always right, but she’s more right than she is wrong.  As a reminder, enough devs thinks that what she’s doing is good and important to the cause of making games that she earned an Ambassador Award from the GDC last year – a forgotten part of the story where her appearance earned a bomb threat from assholes unknown.  GDC isn’t going to do that for someone they think is trying to shrink the industry.

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Pentagon Wars, Foldable Humans and Other Miscellaneous Stuff

It’s been a while since I did a grab bag of stuff, but there was a convergence of minor stuff that merits a mention.

* Remember the GamerGate 8chan child porn story?  People who aren’t horrible human beings will be pleased to know that the journalist who found, documented and reported on the child porn, only to have zealous true believers attempt to get him arrested, will be pleased to know that he’s been questioned and cleared. Also, in the discussion, the officer reported that there was plenty of child porn in plain sight on the site – which is probably a good thing to know before you go traipsing around on 8chan. Well, you could if 8chan wasn’t mysteriously down all day.  After yesterday’s awesome events, it’s overall been a good week for people who find GamerGate distasteful.

* To celebrate, you should totally watch this video that Dan did about Fight Club, and the themes of toxic masculinity that are discussed within.

* Car Wars was reprinted.  Just as fun trivia, did you know that the makers of Auto Assault were flirting with acquiring the Car Wars license for it?

* Polygon points out that this clip of the Pentagon Wars is a pretty good analogy for how large software projects (such as AAA video games) often lose their way in the hell that is conferring with upper management.

* Watching this video of Nicole Kidman telling Jimmy Fallon he had a chance to date her, but blew it, is oddly heartwarming and yet horrifying.  Watching this video of the women of Downton Abbey play Cards Against Humanity is a nice chaser.

The True Impact of SJWs on Game Development


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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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!

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On Being Doxxed and Third Party Shitheads

Yes, I was doxxed -kinda sorta (we’ll get to that). I’m safe.  Wife is rattled but fine.  It was clearly the act of a third party shithead.  Other targets by the same guy in theory included Adam Baldwin (literally, the father of the #gamergate tag) and Patton Oswalt.  Which is pretty weird company to have insomnia and wake to find yourself in, all told.

One of the other supposed targets (Mark Montag, whose portrait suggests he is pro-gamergate, illustrating the ‘third party shitheads’ emphasis I want to make here) had this to say. Continue reading

Listening and Believing: What Vicious Harassment Really Looks Like

Writer’s Note: if more harassed women have stories they want to share – on both sides or outside of Gamergate altogether – and can provide links that are well-sourced and thorough, add them to the comments. I will try to add the best, most thorough stories to this page. Unfortunately, most pro-GG stories I could find are just a couple of tweets, and therefore lack much in the way of context or depth. Ladies, tell your stories, in longform, for the record. It’s important.

This article is about harassment. And it’s not just about attacks on anti-gamergaters.  Some are #gamergaters who were harassed – either by antis or anarchistic assholes.  But many of these are from events that predate #gamergate, in totally different scandals and explosions.  As an aside, I’ll note that the stories coming from the pro-#Gamergate faction are much lighter and sketchier, because they aren’t capturing the experience in any sort of verifiable longform. This is probably a factor of the anti-GG side having a lot of writers on that side of the fence. Still, I encourage the harassed to tell their story in a way that can be archived in a readable format for posterity and verifiability. And I will note that #Gamergate has been saving harassment, large and small, aimed their way in this Tumblr.

But it’s pretty clear to me that most people on both sides are good people who believe harassment is wrong. It’s also pretty clear that a tiny minority of people on both sides, and probably on a third side that is ‘pro-watching-the-world-burn’, are using the outrage of these people in order to camoflauge doing some truly heinous shit, with the express intent of keeping the outrage engine going.

I’ve said from the beginning, as long as there are people harassed, and my friends and colleagues are afraid to speak freely on the topic – pro or con, then I don’t give a shit about the cause of journalistic corruption.  Worrying about what an op-ed writer said a month ago, and whether some shitty independent games award was won legit means NOTHING to me because right now, bullies (on both sides) are trying to silence dissonant voices.  Most frequently, that means women, especially women who don’t ‘pick the right side’.

I’ve been concerned about harassment of women online since even before gamergate – I believe the fact that Sony and Xbox won’t address that what you see on FatUglyOrSlutty is something any online gamer will tell you is all-too-normal — THAT is actually holding the games industry back from expanding our markets (and cynically, our sales and profits as well).  You shouldn’t need thick skin to play a video game.

So I’m so happy that people finally want to talk about harassment.
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Radio Nero and other Quick Hits

Just a few random snippets.

Radio Nero

I will be appearing on Episode 3 of Radio Nero tonight.  The topic of discussion will be on the idea that #gamergate members should form a consumer advocacy group.  You can read about the original proposal here and but be sure to also read the clarifying statement here.

For what it’s worth, I’m withholding final judgment until the interview airs, but Milo was a very gracious and accommodating host in the interview, and he bent over backwards to be fair and let me air my point of view.  Given that I’ve been, let’s just say, pretty harsh, critical and perhaps a tad unfair to him in the past, I will say that he was more than fair to me in response, and has earned a great deal of respect from me in his attempt to forge some sort of outreach.  I do think that outreach is crucial to getting the industry out of this quagmire.

As with everything I write on this blog, all opinions stated in my interview with Milo are mine and my own, and should not be interpreted as speaking for Electronic Arts, BioWare, our partners at LucasArts or Disney, or any other game developers, pro- or anti-gamer gaters, other human beings, or small fuzzy animals.  I am a unique and beautiful snowflake, I don’t claim a side, and these thoughts are my own.

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