#Gamergate – Not Everything is Political.

gamergate1One of the aims of #Gamergate is to de-politicise the consumer media, at least with regard to reviews (editorialising belongs in editorials). Gamers want to know about the features and qualities of the games and systems they are buying, they don’t want to read a treatise on the failings of pre-Franco anarchistic Spain in the middle of a feature on Farmville.

Even when game plots are explicitly political, injecting politics into professional reviews is pointless. A libertarian reviewer who can’t set their politics aside when reviewing the original Bioshock is going to be about as useful as a chocolate fireman for discerning what the game is about and whether it’s any good – and so it goes for all shades of the political spectrum and for causes like radical feminism.

There’s two articles which have brought this problem to my attention.

In Game Design is Always Political Owen Grieve spectacularly invalidates his own article with this passage:

To begin: Understand that, in real life, there is no such thing as objective neutrality. Everything that everyone does, at all times and places, occurs within some kind of political context – even if you’re stranded alone on a desert island, the absense of society still contributes towards this context. You can assume you will not be arrested for scrumping the odd coconut, for example. 

I reject this premise and in so doing reject everything that stems from it within the entire article – because if your base premise is wrong, then everything built upon it necessarily collapses. How and why can I reject this PoMo viewpoint? Because science exists and because science depends on objective neutrality. Gravity works the same way whether you acknowledge reality or whether you think it’s because Buddha is pressing down on your head with his finger. If objective neutrality and a fact based outlook wasn’t possible, you wouldn’t be reading this blog, because without it we wouldn’t have mathematics or science or the fruits of those enterprises such as electricity, computing and so on.

Can we apply the principles of objective neutrality and reason to other spheres? Yes, we can. Which isn’t to say there aren’t subjective experiences and values also, but even subjectivity can succumb to objective examination. Indeed, it’s possible to assert that many of the problems we face as a species are down to failures to think objectively and neutrally, so encouraging or excusing that behaviour strikes me as a dangerous game.

One need only look at the clash between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck recently on Bill Maher’s show to see this clash of ideals. Harris has a more objective, neutral outlook and believes that we can use reason to determine the most effective moral good. As such he objectively examines the issues surrounding Islam and sees it as a problem. Affleck, however, is not remotely objective or neutral and responds – not intellectually – but by hurling slander (racist) and making content free emotive arguments.

Gamergate, if you’ll allow me to skirt with hyperbole, is just another battleground in this current culture war which manifests as intellect versus emotion, objectivity versus subjectivity and authoritarianism versus libertarianism (small ‘l’). You’ll note the same problems arising in regard to Gamergate. Gamergate is about ethical, objective journalism and de-politicising games media as well as preserving the right to free expression for game developers and artists.

Gamergate’s opposition doesn’t address these, at all. Instead they make emotive arguments that devs should moderate their creativity for fear of offending people. They pretend that Gamergate is responsible (somehow) for doxxing and threats (while ignoring doxxing and threats made against Gamergate) and where Affleck disingenuously invoked racism as his silencing tactic, those against Gamergate invoke misogyny in much the same way.

In his article ‘A Thing About Gamergate‘, John Walker engages in a lot of hedging and evasion. If there’s no ‘anti-gamergate’, then there’s no Gamergate either, just people with loose sets of similar values. So that invalidates that argument. The claims that Gamergate abuse is somehow the only abuse the counts is disingenuous and it’s amazing how quickly people forget the ‘tone argument’ when they’re on the receiving end of a lot of anger.

Of COURSE people are angry at places like RPS that have been corrupt and which have wilfully misreported Gamergate since the start. Read it yourself if you fancy a good facepalm, I’ll answer some of John’s peculiar questions at the end, since Gamergate has hardly been shy about these I don’t know why he doesn’t know them already.

Here, though, I’m talking about the politics claims and how Gamergate wants reviews, at least, de-politicised.

Here’s his imaginary example of a game and his assertion that you can’t report on it without being political:

There’s a new game out, called Koala Fighters XVII. It’s a game about an elite squadron of fighter pilots, who are taking on the menace of the invading koala hordes. In it, throughout, are cutscenes showing bare-breasted women being kidnapped by the evil koalas, threatened with torture and death, to be rescued by the amazing gang of pilot men. The game is, obviously, brilliantly well made, featuring some of the best koala shooting action ever seen in a game. However, when reviewing this game, gaming site Poltaku comments on how the nudity and sexual stereotypes are disappointing. Meanwhile, Sensible Gaming Reviews, leaving the politics out of games coverage, doesn’t say anything of the sort, not seeing the feature necessary to mention. GameBros4Ever, meanwhile, reviews the game and comments on how brilliantly the breasts are animated, and how great it was to feel like a powerful man in the cockpit of the plane.

All three reviews are inherently political. Choosing to mention this specific feature of the game is a political decision, whether to condemn or celebrate. And crucially, choosing not to mention it is a political decision too. Not thinking it worth mentioning, also, is born of a political position on the matter. Indifference to something of importance to others is, of course, a political position. You cannot “leave the politics out of games coverage”. Politics are inherent. What is instead meant by this demand is, by its nature, “Leave politics I don’t adhere to out of games coverage.”

Of his example reviews, only Poltaku is actually political, and I will explain why.

Poltaku’s commentary on the boobs and nudity is explicitly political and it is bringing politics into an apolitical arena, the recreational experience of playing a game. It isn’t a judgement on the game or its content, it is an extraneous insertion of the idea that nudity and ‘stereotyping’ is somehow bad (this might also be a religious objection, comparisons between the evangelical right and anti-sex ‘feminism’ in games culture is very valid and telling).

In comparison Sensible Gaming Reviews just reports on the game and puts no spin on it, leaving that up to the reader and GameBros, while more subjective and gonzo (in talking about their feelings and experience) talks about the ‘jiggle physics’ which is an objective part of this hypothetical game engine, just as it was for Dead or Alive.

Neither SGR nor GB4E have made any political judgements or recommendations, they’ve both just reported on the game as it is. Only Poltaku has inserted an entirely irrelevant political ideology into its review. While GB4E is subjective, I think the claim that Gamergate wants ‘objective reviews’ is down to poor English skills and what’s really being talked about is the depoliticisation of reviews, or at least saving the politics for editorials rather than messing up reviews with it and allowing ideological bias to prejudice examination of a consumer product.

Are there times when politics does intrude? I would argue yes, there are. I think EA’s treatment of their staff is notably awful, I think Apple and other manufacturer practices are worth covering, but in these cases one can point to actual harm to human beings and while you can make an argument for it being about outsourcing and capitalist business practices at heart it’s really more about basic human empathy.

So, then, to answer John’s queries and wrap up this blog.

What does Gamergate want?

Collective consensus seems to congregate around the following:

1. Ethical Journalism: People have referenced various codes of professional ethics to the websites in question, The Escapist implemented a good, model, set of prospective ethics. What would it actually hurt to implement similar on other sites? Why is that so hard? So objectionable? Don’t fund or fuck people you write about (and vice versa) and declare conflicts of interest. It’s not hard! (Disclosure: I have friends at The Escapist) – see? How hard was that? These standards are just in application to political and financial corruption in Indies, stand up to the AAA bribery and extortion as well and Gamergate will have your back.

2. De-Politicisation: I come primarily from tabletop gaming but I’m also involved in erotica writing and science fiction and fantasy publishing. I may lose your attention if I say ‘radical feminism’ but I’m going to anyway. Radical feminist and ‘social justice’ agendas are devastating the creative fields, especially the nerdy and geeky ones. Free expression and creative independence is seriously threatened by bullies and harassers – often in positions of power – using those positions to gatekeep on an ideological basis. People enjoy all sorts of different things and we don’t think it is the job of games media to tell us – on no basis – that what we like is somehow unacceptable, sexist or whatever else. Personal distaste doesn’t translate to a massive societal issue that must be rooted out and solved. Save it for editorials. Odds are, if we’re interested in Dragon’s Crown – for example – we already know it has fantastic and sexualised art. We don’t need or want a radical feminist spin on unproven concepts like objectification in our reviews thanks, we’re trying to work out whether it’s a good GAME.

3. Defending Free Expression: We want devs, writers, artists etc to be free to create with as few constrictions as possible, whether individually or as an aggregate. Surely, as writers yourselves you can understand that motivation? Free expression is a fundamental human right as recognised by the UN and even if you can’t accept that this IS censorship at least accept that, for creators, this atmosphere of bullying, harassment and spurious accusations of rape apology, misogyny etc has a chilling and limiting effect on free expression – and that’s not good.

Additionally, and separately, I would also suggest:

a) Report honestly on Gamergate, without obvious bias. When Gamergaters are harassed, doxxed and threatened give that the same publicity you do the antis.

b) Stop trying to split the hashtag. Gamergate rejects the harassment, doxxing and threats and a few outliers say nothing about Gamergate just as the few outliers doing the same to Gamergaters says nothing about the antis. What DOES say something about the AGGros is the disparity in the reactions and coverage. Deal with Gamergaters as they are, ignore the trolls.

c) Stop trying to paint Gamergate as misogynistic, right wing, reactionary etc etc. On aggregate Gamergate is left-libertarian, inclusive (NotYourShield) and all the rest. What’s not agreed on across the lines is the way change is gone about and – to reiterate – the corruption and politicisation of games media and the creeping censorship of creators.

There’s a rather good breakdown of these differences HERE.

An Issue With Agendas

grimachu:

Very well said.

Originally posted on Unprofessional Portfolio:

Why do gamers seem to hate journalists with an agenda?

From the point of view of the journalist, their agenda is a positive thing. They are trying to get more female protagonists in games and making games, trying to get more LGBT representation in games, and trying to get more racial diversity in games.

So when readers say that their sendup of Final Fantasy for having no playable female characters and the op-ed about heterosexual white man being life’s “easiest difficulty setting” are bad because they are agenda-driven, they react with confusion and hostility. Its easy to assume the majority of gamers are just misogynist assholes when faced with this reaction, but in my opinion the truth is not so black and white.

Gamers aren’t against progress, they’re just against your approach to progress.

In simplest terms the gamers who oppose “agenda-driven” reporting are supporters of bottom-up progress; which in this case is providing…

View original 1,719 more words

Commentary Comes With a Cost

Wow, this comment really opened my eyes.

One can only hope.

I mean, this is powerful stuff. I mean, we are all atheists towards Thor, right? Some people are just enlightened enough to take it one step further.

I’m sure you mean to be sarcastic, but ‘many a true word spoken in jest’ as the saying goes.

And we all know Darwin has already explained how the entire universe can function without any need for a creator.

Darwinism explains the development and diversification of life. For the rest of that you want physics, not biology. As to the universe, yes, it seems to carry on just fine with no need for – or evidence of – a creator.

Except, well…

This’ll be good.

the Kalaam Cosmological Argument,

The cosmological argument, as regular readers will know, is that every effect needs a cause. It argues that the cause of all it god. Obviously, this runs into issues as if you’re arguing everything needs a cause, then that also applies to god. If you make an exception for god, then it’s no longer a universal rule and you’re just engaging in special pleading. If god doesn’t need a creator, then why can’t the universe do without either? Kalaam doesn’t solve the paradox, it just makes explicit the special pleading for god.

teleological argument,

Is the ‘argument from design’. This was most strongly supported by life, but Darwin demolished that utterly. The universe is a chaotic place that is in a state of temporary, localised equilibrium. If ‘design’ is going to be your argument, you need evidence.

First Cause / Unmoved Mover, the impossibility of infinite causal regress, the necessity of at least one unconditioned reality,

These are the cosmological argument again.

the Argument from Reason,

Just flatly doesn’t make sense on its face. The brain is an evolved organ, correct answers and products of reason have survival utility. It’s false to describe neural activity as ‘random’, an attempt to dismiss it and to argue for an unevidenced ‘specialness’ to the quality of being able to think.

Fine Tuning of Universal Constants,

They’re not. There’s ‘wiggle room’ in the constants and if things were different, they’d be different. This is the ‘puddle argument’, as Douglas Adams put it.

irreducible biological complexity,

There are no examples.

the argument from morality,

Morality is subjective, any relative universality can be explained via evolutionary psychology.

Plantina’s modal ontological argument,

The ontological argument fails yet again, as becomes rapidly apparent if you just change what it’s talking about:

  • My perfect sandwich has maximal deliciousness in a given possible world W if and only if it is entirely delicious in W; and
  • My perfect sandwich has maximal deliciousness if it has maximal deliciousness in every possible world.
  • It is possible that there is a sandwich that has maximal deliciousness, to me. (Premise)
  • Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that entirely delicious sandwich, to me, exists.
  • Therefore, (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an entirely delicious sandwich, to me exists.
  • Therefore, an entirely delicious perfectly good sandwich exists.

For it to be perfect, it would have to be here for me to eat it. It isn’t. It turns out that making spurious arguments about possibilities doesn’t make them true.

the free will defense to the problem of evil.

Leaves god evil via inaction and doesn’t solve the problem.

…Your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life. Otherwise, thanks for this steaming nugget of regurgitated, pseudo-intellectual blather, you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, basement dwelling, faux-analytical, GNU-Reditt obsessed asshat.

And ending on an ad hom.

You’ve got nothing, as usual.

OK #Gamergate – Let’s do Socio-Political Philosophy

marcuse_2_2

In 1965 Herbert Marcuse wrote an essay called ‘Repressive Tolerance’ which had a long-lasting effect on the political atmosphere of the time. It’s not without problems, as Marcuse excuses repression of social forces he doesn’t like – but the basis of much of the essay is as insightful today as it was then. If you want to read the whole thing you can find it HERE but I’ll extract some of the more applicable details.

He summarises his conclusions, thus:

In other words, today tolerance appears again as what it was in its origins, at the beginning of the modern period–a partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice. Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

That is, the modern version of tolerance, emergent when he was writing his essay, is not truly tolerance (serving to liberate and empower) but rather a tool of repression and oppression that silences and censors. Anyone who has run into the ‘social justice warrior’ crowd knows exactly how that goes.

Thus, within a repressive society, even progressive movements threaten to turn into their opposite to the degree to which they accept the rules of the game.

In 1965 the issue was more a worry about governmental censorship and that is still an issue, but we have a bigger issue today with private censorship. That is, certain powerful corporate interests dominate sales points (Amazon) and social media (Facebook and Twitter) amongst others. Some like to excuse censorship from private parties in various ways and even claim it isn’t censorship, using weasel words like ‘Editing’ or ‘Criticism’. These private, transnational virtual spaces often succumb to oppression from minority interests or the presumed sensibilities of the majority, insulated from criticism and excused in their censorship by their private status.

Many so-called progressive movements seem to end up allied with archly conservative movements. When both are morally conservative, whether it be from a traditionalist, religious, moralistic approach or a progressive, ‘social advancement’  moralistic agenda, they seem able to work together to censor and control. A prime example of this is the bizarre alliance between Gail Dines (progressive anti-porn campaigner) and David Cameron’s Conservative led coalition to filter UK internet access by default and to ban ‘extreme’ porn.

The tolerance which enlarged the range and content of freedom was always partisan–intolerant toward the protagonists of the repressive status quo. The issue was only the degree and extent of intolerance. In the firmly established liberal society of England and the United States, freedom of speech and assembly was granted even to the radical enemies of society, provided they did not make the transition from word to deed, from speech to action.

This is, of course, no longer the case. Expression itself is now being repressed on the mere supposed basis of harm without it being proven or shown, or on the basis of offended or made uncomfortable. We are transitioning from suppressing bad actions, to suppressing ‘bad speech’ and even ‘bad thought’.

Further:

In the interplay of theory and practice, true and false solutions become distinguishable–never with the evidence of necessity, never as the positive, only with the certainty of a reasoned and reasonable chance, and with the persuasive force of the negative. For the true positive is the society of the future and therefore beyond definition arid determination, while the existing positive is that which must be surmounted. But the experience and understanding of the existent society may well be capable of identifying what is not conducive to a free and rational society, what impedes and distorts the possibilities of its creation. Freedom is liberation, a specific historical process in theory and practice, and as such it has its right and wrong, its truth and falsehood.

This passage stands in direct contrast to much of activist philosophy in the current age which is much more affected by postmodernism and the idea that subjective feelings are at least as important as facts, if not more important. The very idea that attempts to extract objective information about, from and for situations is under attack. In relation to #gamergate this bizarre ideological standpoint is exemplified in the DiGRA spitballing about avoiding peer review for activist research and in the use of mythologised and repeated false claims about the supposed societal effects of games that have been known to be false for years.

However, censorship of art and literature is regressive under all circumstances. The authentic oeuvre is not and cannot be a prop of oppression, and pseudo-art (which can be such a prop) is not art. Art stands against history, withstands history which has been the history of oppression, for art subjects reality to laws other than the established ones: to the laws of the Form which creates a different reality–negation of the established one even where art depicts the established reality.

That’s an important point, so I’ll repeat it. ‘Censorship of art and literature is regressive under ALL circumstances’. Of course, people will argue about what constitutes art and will make excuses for censorship or claim what they’re doing isn’t censorship, so let’s call it ‘creative acts’ and ‘restriction’ instead. To me the greater point here is that art is – and must be – free to turn things on their head, to challenge all viewpoints and to play with all topics in order to explore and express them.

Tolerance is first and foremost for the sake of the heretics–the historical road toward humanitas appears as heresy: target of persecution by the powers that be. Heresy by itself, however, is no token of truth.

Authentic tolerance is. The pseudo-tolerance we find ourselves victims of, remarkably intolerant of many forms of expression, is itself a pseudo-religious orthodoxy against which art often revolts and performs its heresy. ‘Social Justice’ has become a secular religion no better, and perhaps just as bad as, the more conventional religions of the past and just as religions that claim peace have prosecuted war, so ‘religions’ that preach tolerance have ended up embodying intolerance and hatred, excusing these actions through apologetics that would make William Lane Craig blush with shame.

Within the affluent democracy, the affluent discussion prevails, and within the established framework, it is tolerant to a large extent. All points of view can be heard: the Communist and the Fascist, the Left and the Right, the white and the Negro, the crusaders for armament and for disarmament. Moreover, in endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood. This pure toleration of sense and nonsense is justified by the democratic argument that nobody, neither group nor individual, is in possession of the truth and capable of defining what is right and wrong, good and bad. Therefore, all contesting opinions must be submitted to ‘the people’ for its deliberation and choice. But I have already suggested that the democratic argument implies a necessary condition, namely, that the people must be capable of deliberating and choosing on the basis of knowledge, that they must have access to authentic information, and that, on this. basis, their evaluation must be the result of autonomous thought.

Those familiar with the way the reporting of the news has changed and those who criticise ‘fair and balanced’ coverage of issues that simply aren’t ‘fair and balanced’ (such as climate change) already know these lessons and this passage will look shockingly familiar. In that instance the inclusion of opposing points of view, that in reality are a vanishingly small minority, has created an impression in the public that the matter is one of serious contention – which it absolutely is not.

It is no different in relation to the topics we find ourselves arguing in and around #gamergate and the ideologues who argue there. There’s no evidence that games have any discernible effect on people’s attitudes whether that’s violence or sexism. However we are subjected to an endless stream of propaganda, demonisation of opposition and – for people who reject tone arguments – a great deal of rejection of people’s genuine anger as harming the debate.

Falsehoods with no evidence behind them are given the same weight as more solid, evidenced facts and any democracy, whether a ‘market’ democracy or a political democracy, relies on an informed consumer base or electorate. Now we find not only are games consumers being given stories that perpetuate propaganda, but that there is collusion to create a false narrative and to wilfully misinform – or fail to inform – the consumer base.

This is, perhaps, particularly relevant to #gamergate where games media’s supposed purpose is to inform the consumer base and to act as their advocates, not as the advocates for political causes.

The whole post-fascist period is one of clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger.

Marcuse was writing during the Cold War and in the aftermath of WWII and the fascism that dominated that period. I suspect this is what lead him to make exceptions in his essay and to suggest that political viewpoints he happened to disagree with were exempted. However this passage allows us to reconsider the inconsistent positions that he adopted in the essay.

Can we say, in the technologically advanced and egalitarian west, that our society is in extreme danger? Is it in ‘extreme danger’ from the expression of challenging ideas or sexuality in fiction? Even if one were to be outstandingly generous and to accept the proposition that this fictional free expression presented any danger at all, I don’t think anyone could make a rational case for ‘extreme danger’. In such a case, where is the justification for seeking to restrict expression in games, in literature, in art?

There is none.

There’s much to be praised in Marcuse’s essay, but it’s not without problems. He falls into his own trap in his post-script, suggesting overturning the status quo by deliberately prioritising certain points of view to compensate for their perceived lack of access to the media structure. This is just using the system to create a repressive tolerance of a different ilk, it’s the same status quo, but with a different Generalissimo.

In my view the only metric for true tolerance is truth, and truth can only be found by seeking objectivity.

The right against which Marcuse railed still exists, but in the economic sphere, not the social sphere. Power, these days, in relation to social issues resides in what it called ‘the left’, but which is actually an authoritarian application of a repressive form of tolerance.

Alright #gamergate, let’s do politics

Left Vs Right
Gamergate has gone political, or, at least that’s where people seem to want to take it now. One of the latest attacks on the hashtag is to appeal to people’s tribalism, to make it into a left/right, liberal/conservative conflict. This isn’t helped by the fact that the media response to Gamergate from left/liberal media has been wildly inaccurate and (ironically) hateful and that the only honest reporting and commentary has come from, ostensibly right wing pundits, commentators and actors.

Unfortunately, this narrative and this re-frame of the argument is just another deflection, albeit one that plays well to existing prejudices and fractures in western political debate. It also plays well into, and reinforces previous attempts to make Gamergate about misogyny, sexism, racism, the supposed toxicity of gamer culture (actually troll culture, and I thought ‘gamer’ wasn’t an identity now anyway?)

The truth, however, is that this is absolutely not about left Vs right, but about authoritarian versus libertarian (please note the small ‘l’).

I, for example, am very, very much on the extreme left and an extreme liberal. An anarcho-socialist if you will. You can get a better idea of a political position (though it’s still imperfect) using the questionnaire and charts at politicalcompass.org

Here’s mine, left of Hugo Chavez and south of Gandhi.

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False Dilemma
Framing the argument in a left/right way is an attempt to create a false dilemma, that is, ‘You’re with us or you’re against us’. If you’re for Gamergate, do you realise you’re on the same side as Adam Baldwin and Milo Yiannopoulos who [insert said/did ghastly thing or political viewpoint here]?

This, of course, is a logical fallacy. If Stalin told you that a) grass was a rich burgundy colour and that b) 2+2=4, he’d still be right on the maths problem despite being wrong on the grass issue and despite being a genocidal despot. Agreeing with Stalin on the mathematics issue has nothing whatsoever to do with his enthusiasm for gulags and doesn’t imply that you agree with his policy of support for Lysenkoism.

Nonetheless, it’s sufficient for people to use as a smear and to try to undermine the gratitude many gamers feel towards people who have taken them seriously and addressed their issues honestly. Fortunately, this too doesn’t appear to be working.

Left/Right-Libertarian/Authoritarian
The division here is not, really, left versus right (collectivism versus individualism) but rather authoritarianism versus (small ‘l’) libertarianism.

On the one hand the liberal point of view would (should) be summed up, amusingly enough, in part of the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.”

That is, maximum liberty for the greatest number of people and that so long as nobody is hurt by it, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

On the other hand the authoritarian point of view could be, admittedly uncharitably, summed up as ‘I know what’s best for you and for everyone else and I’m going to make sure that happens’.

Of course it’s more nuanced than that and there’s plenty of room for in depth debate and discussion about what constitutes harm and where the balance lies between collective security and freedom and individual security and freedom, but those are questions that can – mostly – be answered by hard facts. Contextually, however, we’re talking about a medium (interactive video), one that can be avoided using off buttons, purchasing decisions, broad, voluntary rating systems and so forth.

There is little discernible harm that video games can, or could, cause and they are entirely avoidable for those who do not like certain elements, tropes, representations and so forth. While many attempts have been made over the years by people with various gripes over various forms of media to associate them with antisocial behaviour, crime and ‘immorality’, none have actually been able to show any real link between consumption of fictive, recreational media and these social ills.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I’ll reiterate some of those instances with which I am historically or personally familiar.

  • Fredric Wertham and The Seduction of the Innocent (Comics).
  • PMRC hearing (Music).
  • Backmasking/Heavy Metal & Suicide (Music).
  • The Satanic Panic (Heavy Metal, Tabletop RPGs).
  • ‘Murder Simulators’ (Video games).

More recently sex workers and porn workers have been smeared with associations to trafficking and child porn by those engaged in moral panic over pornography and prostitution. Again, no link has been found but moral panics have their own power and legislation such as the UK’s ‘extreme porn ban’ and on-by-default internet filtering have come about as a result.

Wertham’s actions and the moral panic he fed upon brought about the Comics Code which ‘sanitised’ comics and killed diversity in them. The PMRC fell short of many of its desired goals, but did put ‘explicit lyrics’ on many albums, which instantly – of course – made them more desirable. Heavy Metal won its days in court, thanks to Judas Priest. Tabletop gamers formed the (now defunct) CARPGA to battle the smears against them, but Pat Pulling (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) had many police on her side and RPG playing was used to profile suspects in some cases.

The most interesting case, to my mind, is Jack Thompson. Thompson hitched his wagon to, and became the face of, the moral panic about violence in computer games (though this had existed going way back, even to the computer game version of Death Race 2000).

Thompson and the claims about violence in video games having a real world effect were, rightly, laughed out of gaming circles including by the games media, production studios and the players themselves.

Despite the claims of the likes of Anita Sarkeesian being extremely similar, the response from media, academia and some players has been different. It’s useful to ask why that is, without immediately assuming it must be that because, this time, these arguments must have merit.

Cultural Marxism & False Consciousness
Some people in the debate over Gamergate like to toss around the words ‘Cultural Marxism’ at the anti-gamergate crowd and so I think it’s useful to educate people on what this term actually means and to also explain the concept of ‘False Consciousness’.

Cultural Marxism is the idea that, along with economic forms of oppression, there are cultural forms of oppression that intersect to preserve hierarchies and the status quo. Examples might include the traditional family, particular gender roles, racial stereotyping, national character and other forms of cultural identity.

Intersectionality ideas in modern ‘social justice’ movements are probably the modern incarnation of Cultural Marxism though conservatives do seem to like to throw the term around with incautious abandon, simply because it contains the magic word ‘Marx’, and is therefore able to panic people.

False Consciousness is another Marxist term used to describe how people can be mislead, lied to, manipulated and controlled into acting against their own interests. An example of a False Consciousness might be the belief in ‘The American Dream’, that is that one can ‘make it’ out of pluck, skill and sheer determination in American society, an idea that is largely statistically disproven in the current socioeconomic state of America, but which does keep the populace relatively pliant. Hope is powerful stuff, as is religion, for keeping people from getting fractious.

You’ll most likely come across False Consciousness these days in reference to feminism, through ‘internalised misogyny’, the idea that any women who disagrees with the current crop of third wave feminists is brainwashed.

Is there mileage in either of these ideas? Certainly there is. It’s hard to argue, however, that living in a pluralistic society as we are fortunate enough to do in the west, that people aren’t aware of alternatives and haven’t been exposed to them. It becomes very hard to argue that people aren’t operating of their own volition and making decisions – that some happen to think are bad – in good faith and with their own minds.

The attempts to manipulate the gaming media that have emerged of late, along with the DiGRA files, do reveal an agenda – and a secretive one – to manipulate and control the public message, to stifle debate and opposing points of view. This is diametrically opposite to the idea of Cultural Marxism, which would be to dismantle these authoritarian, singular, controlling stereotypes, and is an attempt to create a false consciousness, not to eliminate one.

Well Meaning Disasters
If there’s one thing I want people to take away from this essay on the politics of the situation, it is that people on both sides mean well. The ‘Social Justice Warrior’ side sees inequalities and problems in society and wants to address them. For reasons known only to themselves they have chosen to attack artistic expression – the output of society – rather than the actual causes of inequality and problems. Still, they think that by changing cultural cues and gatekeeping messages, they can influence society for the better.

Gamergate supporters, and those opposing ‘Social Justice Warriors’ more broadly are genuinely concerned with free expression, open and honest reporting, corruption in games media and all the other issues that have come up.

I have taken Gamergate’s side because it is the one that allows for the greatest plurality and diversity in art, and because it is the one that minimises authority. Also because I know my history, hinted at above, and I know how this kind of thing tends to go.

History is littered with well-meaning busybodies, interfering with the activities and entertainments of others because of their moralistic concerns.

Since we’re referring to Marx a lot, let us continue to use Marxist terms. What we have here is a petite-bourgeoisie, a social class of would-be middle/upper class with pretensions to their influence and impact on the world.

Netizens have, very much, become a petite-bourgeouisie class. Bloggers, writers, independent game developers, social commentators, SEO agents etc are their own commodities, branding themselves, selling themselves through patreon, crowdfunding etc yet not really owning their own means of production. I am as guilty of this as anyone, a necessary compromise of my own morality as a semi-freelance writer. In a modern context this is the new army of the self-employed or partially self-employed. Your etsy and ebayers as much as anything else.

Having garnered a little bit of power and influence, do the petite-bourgeoisie use to help others and break down systems of control and obstacles, or do they set up systems of control of their own? Our petite-bourgeoisie, despite having been the victims of roadblocks and difficulties in the past, now seek to set up their own gatekeeping and barriers in judgement on others, just as they were judged.

It’s breathtaking moral hypocrisy.

The well-meaning and interfering petite-bourgeoisie, puffed up on their own sense of entitlement and worth has done this many times before in the past as well. A sniff of legitimacy seems to turn some people into tyrants.

An excellent case-in-point would be the temperance movement. An interfering body of, largely, morally motivated and middle class people concerned by and interfering in a dangerous (or ‘dangerous’) pastime associated with the lower classes. Doing it for ‘their own good’.

Another would be the decline of Blaxsploitation cinema. At the time a large part of the cinematic audience was young, poor, urban, black and male. Films were made to cater to that audience and were wildly popular, often subverting the hierarchy of society at the time and creating popular people’s heroes. Yet this too was seen as dangerous, perpetuating insulting stereotypes and setting back the cause of equality – despite its riotous success with its target audience. Again, the interference largely came from those outside its cultural context, interfering for other people’s good.

An overly concerned, moralistic, would-be-respectable group has been responsible for some real cultural disasters and, in the case of temperance, one of the bloodiest gangland periods in American history.

No coincidence, then, that a genuinely populist art-form, with an audience primarily male and working class, should terrify the same moralising, respectable, petite bourgeoisie that it always has. The main critics of games, and the main body of ‘social justice warrior’ culture as a whole seems to be made up of white, middle class, products of academia. Particularly rather insular, echo-chamber topics such as gender or media studies, where the respect for genuine academic process and the usefulness of evidence seems to be low. Crippling white guilt, for things that distant ancestors did, seems to be a driving force behind this kind of self-loathing as it gets expressed externally and projected onto others, and it seems to excuse the ‘ends justifying the means’, whether it’s circumventing peer review, colluding to control a media message in gaming or hypocritically smearing and hurling abuse.

Culture War
If there is a genuine culture war going on, of which games are simply one battleground, it is one of postmodernism versus rationalism, of subjectivity versus objectivity. Postmodernists, who seem to be dominant in media positions, seem to believe objective understanding is not only impossible, but shouldn’t even be attempted to be striven towards. With regard to Gamergate we saw this most egregiously in prideful boasts that no attempts were being made to even try to be objective.

As an atheist I’ve seen this in the backlash against New Atheism from non-skeptical divisions like the ironically named ‘Skepchick’. As a tabletop gamer I’ve seen this atmosphere poison games discussion there. As a writer of erotica I’ve seen it happen there, with companies and payment services being scared away from supporting ‘adult material’. Overall it seems to be a very broad cultural conflict in which – currently – feelings are being put well ahead of facts.

Games are a funny thing in that they contain both technical and artistic content. One can objectively talk about many features of a game, while other elements – such as style, story etc – are necessarily matters of taste. Objectivity with regard to those elements is difficult, but not impossible (if the review on these sections is balanced). What appears to be being objected to is not so much subjective matters of taste but gatekeeping based on a) whether a particular company or individual has created an ethical issue with the reviewer and b) political grandstanding in a game review.

People want to know if a game is fun, value for money, if the graphics are good, if the sound is good, whether it has replay value. They don’t really give much of a damn whether it conforms to 16th Century ideas about the Divine Right of Kings and nor do they give much of a damn whether it is suitably PC or conforms to third wave feminism.

There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s called editorials.

Part of the problem here is that game sites have explicit (and seemingly identical) political slants, yet do not seem to advertise or be known for that slant. When it comes to television news we know what we’re getting from Fox or MSNBC – a biased, tribalistic viewpoint. As a consumer we can choose to get a one-sided view or we can try and find a more balanced and objective view from another source or from multiple sources.

With games sites we don’t have that kind of up-front knowledge of what we’re in for and while, personally, I loathe the editorialising of ‘The News’ to the point where we now have ‘A News’, such might be useful on games sites so that we know what we are getting.

Conclusion
Gamergate is not a left/right conflict and those claiming to be on the left, while fighting gamergate – a genuinely grassroots, consumer rebellion – are not members of any left I recognise, given the left that I know is broadly anti-authoritarian and pro-egalitarian and given that these people want to set up a gatekeeping, moral ‘elite’ to politically vet material – to turn their petite-bourgeoisie into a nomenklatura (bureaucratic elite). That’s one side of the problem, the other side is the much larger corruption around the large companies, their schmoozing of reviewers and the bribery and threats involved against sites that don’t conform.

With these issues in mind, I propose the following.

  • Review sites should be more explicit and open about their agendas, if they insist on having them.
  • Political and social judgement should be limited to editorials, or at the very least boxed-out addenda to reviews.
  • Gamergate should shift its focus, slowly, to the AAA corruption. That fight should – hopefully – unite media and gamers together in a drive for reviews that are honest.
  • We need to investigate solutions that will pay games journalists and sites sufficiently that they are less vulnerable to and have less need of corruption.
  • A Patreon model that actually untethers from the individual relationship, a voluntary ‘microsubscription’ might be one option.

Positive Discrimination?

cgon621lJust before going to bed (so not the best time) and on Twitter (not the best venue) I got into a discussion with a friend about positive discrimination, specifically in games. I tried to explain why a 50/50 hiring policy wouldn’t be representative of the state of play and wouldn’t be good for business. Twitter made that a bit ham-fisted though and it was apparently received that I was somehow in favour of discrimination.

This, then, is my attempt to expand on the point and as to why positive discrimination is a bad idea and that the problem lies elsewhere. At the end I’ll try to suggest some solutions.

None of the below example is meant to be realistic, just a mental exercise to illustrate the problem.

For the sake of argument, say that business boss, Mr Gamey McGamerson has a fat wad of venture capital and is looking to start up a new computer games company. He wants to hire the best he can and he needs 50 employees for his business. He has an available hiring pool of local talent of 100.

Talent, regardless of gender, for sake of argument, breaks down as:

10% genius, 20% good, 40% average, 20% sub par and 10% shitty. There’s also an unwashed mass of any number of zero talent people of both genders.

We rate these from 5 (genius) to 0 (unwashed mass) which means out of McGamerson’s hiring requirements, he can score a maximum of 250 talent, if he hired all geniuses.

Women in STEM fields runs at about 20% – depending which study you look at, but it’s a nice round number to use. It varies within STEM, since more women take biology for example, but for sake of argument let’s call it 20% (in comp sci it’s specifically less, 17% IIRC but you can look it up).

So, our potential hiring pool contains 80 men and 20 women, from which we can choose.

So, what would be the result of different hiring policies?

Meritocratic Hiring Policy Based on Talent

Workforce: 80% male, 20% female (proportionate to talent pool)
Talent Score: 190/250 (76%)

Gender Discriminatory Hiring Policy (Boys Club)

Workforce: 100% male (skewed in favour of men)
Talent Score: 182/250 (72.8%)

Gender Discriminatory Hiring Policy (Positive Female Discrimination)

Workforce: 50% male, 50% female (over double the actual proportions)
Talent Score: 140/250 (56%)

Obviously, the best option is to hire based on merit, since that garners the highest score, but in this environment, even though women are just as (proportionately) talented as men you’re still better off – as a business – having a sexist hiring policy than you are by engaging in positive discrimination. You lose a little by being a sexist prick, but you lose a lot by engaging in a gender-biased hiring policy.

Quotas are never going to work out and are always going to cause problems. Talent – and interest – in the necessary fields is unevenly distributed by gender, geography and many other factors but all else being equal, if the system was truly meritocratic and non-sexist, we would expect to see an 80/20 male favouring split in game development based purely on talent alone.

In fact, women make up 22%.

If you want a 50/50 split you’re essentially asking businesses to cripple themselves by using worse talent, and there simply aren’t enough women graduates in STEM fields to allow all the businesses to half-fill with women anyway. So this is an impossible proposition at the best of times.

If you want to see equally distributed results you have a lot of problems to tackle and you’re starting from the wrong end.

If you want more women in STEM in general, and computer game development in particular, you need to start from the education end, the meat that gets fed into the grinder. You need to encourage women to take these courses and gain these qualifications.

That has its own set of problems. We need more people in general to take up STEM fields and despite a lot of money and effort being spent to get girls into these fields, there hasn’t been much of a result (nor has a comparable effort been made to get men into female dominated fields, but that’s another issue). Indeed the evidence from places like Norway is that the more equal a society is, the more choice in career and education, the more people tend to gravitate towards their traditional gender roles.

In my opinion the best we can hope for is proportionate success based on equal opportunity. If people make choices we don’t personally like, we’ll have to cope with that.

Internet Harassment: A Different Narrative

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Read plebcomics. They give lulz.

I wasn’t entirely sure which of my blogs was the best fit for this article, but I decided – in the end – that the one devoted to skepticism and atheism would win out, because this is very much about skepticism. I am going to be talking about some particulars of my experiences though and those relate primarily to gaming and gamer/geek culture.

For those who don’t know, I’m a tabletop game designer. I’ve written many books and games and worked for Wizards of the Coast, Steve Jackson Games, Mongoose Publishing and others. I’m currently the creative director of Chronicle City, but for about a decade I’ve been freelancing and self-employed under the banner ‘Postmortem Studios’.

This is just to establish some background. TL;DR I have been an indie game designer for some years, with something of a profile and a degree of exposure and niche fame/notoriety.

I’m also a straight, white, vaguely middle class (in education and mores, rather than money), cisgendered male.

I also suffer from bouts of moderate to severe depression which can reach suicidal levels and I’ve been to the brink of suicide three times in my life.

I say this not to garner any particular degree of sympathy, monetary donations or anything else. I don’t really expect (or want) you to treat me any differently because of my illness, I mention it because it underlines some points I’m about to make and because being open about having a mental illness helps others.

So. I’m a straight, white, cisgendered, male, ‘middle class’, gamer nerd. This means, by the current narrative, that I am an avatar of everything that is wrong in the world and – likely – a bigoted internet troll. That’s the story that we have, that people like me are the problem and that the targets of concerted internet harassment are women, people of colour, LGBT people and so forth.

Well, I’m here to tell you that this isn’t necessarily the case.

For years now I have been subjected to abuse, disinformation, threats, slander and libel in a seemingly unending stream. Initially this was because I wrote an article defending the use of rape (and any other unpleasantness) as a plot or story element. This drew the wrath of the ‘social justice warrior’ crowd and ever since I have been pilloried and any work I have put out has been gone over with a fine toothed comb for anything that can be twisted around into something ‘problematic’.

Harassment against me has included, but not been limited to:

  • Death threats.
  • Rape threats against my wife.
  • Threats to kill my pet cats.
  • Petitions to browbeat any potential employers not to hire me.
  • Hit blogs.
  • Twitter harassment.
  • Harassing comments on my blogs.
  • Facebook harassment.
  • Threatening emails.
  • False accusations of making rape threats.
  • False accusations of rape (!)
  • Harassment and threats made against people who do work with or employ me.
  • Attempts to undermine projects.
  • Whole ‘satirical’ products aimed at a strawman caricature of me.

I’m not going to go into details on this stuff from the past, but I am going to make a case-in-point in a minute. However, there’s a couple of things worth pointing out at this stage. While much of this came from anonymous internet trolls and can – in my opinion – safely be ignored (and I wish more people would realise this) much of it did not. Much of it came from social justice keyboard warriors who felt no need to hide their faces or where they were coming from and continue to operate their accounts today.

This still goes on today.

Currently I’m seeking support for an RPG and (separately) a worldbook based on the controversial fantasy novels of John Norman – The Gorean Cycle.

This is, apparently, ‘asking for it’ and I’m ‘doing it for attention’ (doesn’t that remind you of troll comments about prominent feminism bloggers and youtubers?)

This has resulted in yet another torrent of abuse and hate from people who should know better, and indeed claim to know better when it’s someone who fits their political and social orthodoxy who is rocking the boat, rather than me.

As a case in point and limited to a single thread in a single forum, here’s a catalogue of the hatred directed towards me.

  • Childish
  • Claiming fantasy reflects real views
  • Despicable
  • Dishonest
  • Faking it for attention
  • Horrible
  • Insane
  • Kink shaming (a LOT of kink shaming)
  • Liar
  • Loathsome
  • Misogynist
  • Misrepresentation of media appearances
  • Pathetic
  • Persecution complex (there’s irony for you)
  • Pervert
  • Plagiarism
  • Plagiarist
  • Pro-rape
  • Racist
  • Rape apologist
  • Rapey
  • Scam artist
  • Shitty
  • Silly
  • Sociopathy
  • Stupid
  • Terrible product
  • Thief
  • Toxic
  • Trolling
  • Victim blaming
  • Violent
  • Weasel-worder
  • Whining

And all this on a site that normally enacts a very strict policy regarding personal and group attacks, yet whose moderators only really stepped in once someone pointed out the divide between reality and fantasy and other people’s failure to acknowledge it. Were similar attacks and harassment being directed at someone making a game within their political/social orthodoxy this thread would no longer exist.

And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So yes, this will just contribute to accusations that I’m ‘whining’ or ‘doing it for attention’ or to promote my current project, but it’s much more to do with the ongoing debates and fights in the broader nerd community. I just want to show that the narrative you’re being sold – that women and minorities get the harassment and the hatred and get squeezed out – isn’t the whole story.

Everyone gets harassed on the internet, and it’s not always by meaningless, anonymous trolls.

Everyone.