#Atheism Chomsky Vs Harris. FIGHT!

tumblr_mimvxk36GF1rf67slo1_1280Forget boxing, this was a far more interesting conflict but it’s one that has left me rather confused. As a ‘fan’ of both Harris and Chomsky I found the exchange – linked HERE – to be one that utterly humiliated Chomsky in that he failed to deal with Harris’ arguments (primarily) and in that he was a rude prick through the whole thing (irrelevant really, but perhaps that arrogance was reflected in the paucity of his arguments. Yet, a lot of people, not least of all the Salon/Alternet people seem to think this was bad for Harris.

I just can’t see it and it has been frustrating attempting to understand how anyone could think Chomsky won because they seem to simply make the same failing arguments as Chomsky in an attempt to do so. This is suggestive that there’s some deep philosophical difference between the two camps rendering each unable to see why the other side thinks theirs won. Rather than keep trying to work out why they thought Chomsky came out on top (a seemingly fruitless endeavour) I though I’d try a different tack and explain how and why I thought Harris came out on top. Strictly speaking though, I don’t think Harris had that much to do with it. Chomsky spent the exchanges smacking himself around more than anything.

Again, I had respect for both parties going into this (this will be the sixth time reading this article trying to understand the Chomsky camp). As a left-lib Chomsky is required reading and as a ‘new’ atheist Harris is required reading. I’ll go through this by paraphrasing the published emails in a more simple, colloquial manner to illustrate how I was interpreting what I read.

1. Harris to Chomsky

Hi Mr Chomsky. I’m curious why you don’t want to have a debate with me. Even though we probably disagree on a lot that would be interesting. I’m also curious why you’ve said these things about me which I don’t think are true. People have said I’m wrong about you on some things as well. So it might be good to clear those up.

Conciliatory tone, open to discussion despite differences. This suggests a sincere and honest desire to debate things that interest both men’s ‘camps’ and to clear up any mutual misconceptions. He’s polite, open, deferential even.

2. Chomsky to Harris

You said some things about me which are wrong, but I don’t think it’s useful to discuss these in public. If we do this let’s do it formally.

The full-on grump that comes later isn’t in this yet, but he’s clearly hostile right from the get go. Especially bullish about what may well just be misunderstandings.

3. Harris to Chomsky

Thanks for the reply. OK, but let’s also do this as if we’re going to publish it. I still think it would be useful to discuss misconceptions publicly as a service to readers to show that discussing opposing views is productive. Show me where I misunderstood you so that if I change my view I can show people how. I’d also like to talk about all these other difficult topics (all tricky ethics issues). Here’s what I wrote about you. Can you show me what I got wrong? *Insert length book quote*.

Still conciliatory, negotiating terms, makes his case for why open discussion is useful – and the man has a point, too much discussion is shut down without consideration whether in public or in academia. Provides the necessary material to the other party without complaint – or prompting, and even talks it down as old work and a piece of its time. He downplays its significance and admits its limitations. Humble. The thrust of the argument in the piece is that intentions are a component of moral and ethical decision making and secondarily that Chomsky (amongst others) only seems to compare raw body count when comparing atrocities and not the intentions or, so much, the broader context. The specifics really aren’t that important though it relates to a broader culture clash between PoMo moral relativism and pragmatic rationalism. Oddly, Chomsky is often considered a critic of postmodernism, yet seems to align with some of its conclusions (confusion, dubious equivalence, no right answers etc).

4. Chomsky to Harris

I’m going to have to shift to a more descriptive tone here to convey the issues.

Chomsky replies with specific reference to a particular segment of the quoted text, missing the broader philosophical and ethical question altogether. He specifically talks about the comparison of the Al-Sifi chemical plant bombing to 9/11 but dismisses the pondering of the ethical role of intent as unknowable – but with specific reference to this incident. Even within the quoted material he fails to explain why he considers these specific incidents equivalent, despite suggesting that Al-Sifi might actually be worse. Despite protesting otherwise he goes on to quote himself dismissing the intent (and status!) of the chemical plant to only consider ‘deaths’. Thereby contradicting his assertion a mere two paragraphs beforehand. He also strongly suggests – without any supporting reasoning – that the explanation is that Africans are regarded as ‘things’.

In short. Chomsky doesn’t recognise the underlying argument and derails by getting into specifics on the quoted instances. Even then he contradicts himself, two or three times, and exposes bald assertions about the intentions of others considering them a worsening factor, while simultaneously dismissing intent. It’s a muddled, assumptive, paradoxical mess that doesn’t remotely address what Harris is asking for clarity and correction on. It’s also quite rude. At least he asks what Harris thinks he has wrong about him, though he asks in an aggressive tone.

5. Harris to Chomsky

Harris notes that Chomsky is no longer addressing the point he’s trying to raise (“running into the weeds”) and tries to drag him back to the topic. He notes that he hasn’t read some of Chomsky’s work that relates, but notes – as I have above – that Chomsky isn’t addressing the point about intent – a more generous and conciliatory read than I put onto it. He further reinforces that this is the question being asked by creating a thought experiment about a well-intentioned version of Al-Qaeda. The question is then reasserted. Plainly and clearly. Intentions matter in regard to questions of morality and ethics, do you agree or not?

It’s worth noting here that much of Harris’ current work is bent towards the question of whether we can apply reason to moral questions. His TED talk on the moral landscape is relatively short, but explains this better than I can in this blog. He believes that it can, I agree, perhaps this fundamental view is the problem between the two camps.

Perhaps I can craft a better analogy than Harris to make the point here.

Suppose a group, in ignorance of modern science, sincerely and fervently believes that docking the little toe from a baby protects them from demons. Are they acting ethically? In their context and beliefs and not knowing any better, probably yes, and it might be somewhat unfair to judge them.

Suppose that same community, a century later, is still doing this despite demons being proven not to exist and the harm or risk of cutting off baby toes has been well proven. Now they know the facts but persist, because of tradition? Are they acting ethically? Probably not.

Also can we not say that one ethical structure can be better than another? Is it more moral and ethical to accept LGBT people as normal and part of society, or to throw them from buildings to their death because a magic book tells us to? This is a stark example, but a real one. Can we reasonably say one is better than the other? I believe so, so does Harris.

6. Chomsky to Harris

Chomsky ignores the restatement and simplification of the point being argued, despite the relative clarity Harris gave it. He says that he has examined intentions, but it appears that he did so in order to dismiss them, since that is – again – how he uses it here. He further grows more accusatory and further tries to derail by getting Harris to address questions that aren’t really part of the discussion and, again, being distracted by specifics and attempting to derail into specifics. All without addressing the re-clarified first question. It’s not great form to introduce new arenas of argument before the first ones are dealt with. Frankly, it’s a ‘Gish Gallop’ of sorts. Again, paradoxically, while dismissing intent he makes bald, unsupported assertions about the motivations and viewpoints of those involved in his chosen negative examples. Indeed, he goes further in starting to make accusations about Harris’ morality when it hasn’t been raised and the topic is being discussed at a remove from the personal. He also confuses understanding for apologia, an elementary mistake and one a thinker of his calibre should not be making.

Short version, he again ignores the question and heads off to argue with/against things that haven’t been said and to get lost in specifics. Petulance and anger may explain the lack of rationality here. Even the best people can lose their temper but there’s no explicable reason here to get angry.

7. Harris to Chomsky

Harris is starting to get testy now, but remains remarkably calm considering. He identifies that Chomsky is not addressing the point and may be actively trying to shut down or avoid the point. Harris also – correctly – identifies that those on Chomsky’s ‘side’ would probably like to see this exchange as they – like him – would think he was winning and/or wiping the floor with Harris. Again Harris tries to drag Chomsky back to the topic and restates the question a third time, even more clearly. He also, more gently than I would, draws out some of the paradoxes, confusions and biases in Chomsky’s sidelines, a remarkably generous thing to do given they don’t really relate. Most of this is irrelevant.

I share Harris’ exasperation at this point.

8. Chomsky to Harris

Chomsky heads off into the weeds again, still failing to address the actual point. Again makes ‘telepathic’ assertions about motivations and feelings and again tries to deflect and derail and go off into specifics. Tellingly he finally does explain why he’s not answering the question: “There’s no answer” – in his opinion. Something he could have done many stages ago, but refused to. Not that this really constitutes an answer at all. More like an admission. However he does, again, contradict himself by simultaneously asserting that they don’t matter. Impressive to contradict yourself when one half of the paradox is you refusing to make an assertion at all.

Frankly, he’s just being a dick and repeating the same mistakes at this point.

9. Harris to Chomsky

Harris again attempts to be polite and to de-escalate by offering Chomsky the out that some of the miscommunication is down to the limitations of email. He apparently gives up on getting a straight – or any – answer and in essence throws up his hands and tries to address one of Chomsky’s specifics, the Al-Shifa bombing. Apparently hoping that he can sneak the actual point back in by talking about Clinton’s intentions and information in that incident. After all, why would you bomb a simple chemical plant in retaliation for an embassy bombing?

10. Chomsky to Harris

Ironically. Chomsky refuses to deal with his own misconceptions of Harris, despite beating Harris over the head about the same thing the other way around, even though Harris has been trying to get an answer so he can be sure for the whole set of exchanges. He seems to think the specific case of Al-Shifa is important, when it is not. It should be lost into the general point but again, Chomsky seems determined to hide amongst specifics. Again he seems to claim to read minds and intentions and again contradicts himself by considering these simultaneously important and unknowable at the same time.

11. Harris to Chomsky

Harris rightly notes that despite his every effort to be accommodating it’s not being reciprocated. He suggests getting some other eyes on the discussion as neutral moderators who might help to make it more productive. He gives Chomsky direct video reference to Chomsky’s commentary on him (and apparently Hitchens) so that it might possibly be replied to. He again appeals for calm and again tries to draw Chomsky back to the original point so that if he’s wrong he can correct himself (or if he’s right, not). In another line of attack and attempt to get a proper answer he valiantly deals with Chomsky’s deflection again, trying to turn it into an example of what he’s trying to determine.

12. Chomsky to Harris

Appears to largely ignore the previous message, preferring to use the time to attack Harris again. He reiterates the same mistakes and problems he’s made before and continues to refuse to provide an answer or reasoning that can deal with Harris supposed misconception of his standing on the issue. Chomsky has come into this wanting Harris to admit that his views on Chomsky’s positions are false, but has failed to give Harris any reason to think they are false (quite the opposite!). It’s just a parade of everything he got wrong before, and his petulance.

At this point it just degenerates into ‘this isn’t worth having’.

Conclusion

Harris comes across as, mostly, being rational, objective, distanced, honest and sincere in genuinely trying to have a fruitful discussion. HE repeatedly tries to get Chomsky to provide the information and answers he needs to know whether his interpretation in his (10 year old book) was wrong or not. Eventually, with more patience than most people can muster, he gives up.

Chomsky comes across as a petulant, crotchety old man whose anger has gotten the better of him, yet it’s anger with no reason to exist. He remains angry and dismissive, never really addresses the points Harris is trying to raise, constantly tries to deflect, contradicts himself frequently and is left looking like an irrational arsehole.

Honestly, I went in expecting to see Harris ‘pwned’, after all he didn’t do that well against Batfleck (given the format). Here though he acquits himself admirably over Chomsky, the elder statesman, and makes him look like a lunatic. How anyone can interpret this as Chomsky winning or showing Harris up is beyond my ability to fathom.

#Gamergate – Buying a Kluwe on Pakman

I may re-do this as a video Monday, so if there’s anything you want me to expand on or clarifywhen I do that, feel free to ask in the comments or on Twitter. I’ll cover Sargon’s interview later.

Kluwe was a hell of a lot more reasonable with the ability to talk than he is on Twitter. Perhaps the written word isn’t his forte. It’s hard to square the Kluwe in this interview with the unrepentant arsehole and cybersquatter on Twitter. Still, it gives me hope that a debate with Mercedes might actually be a productive exchange, rather than merely him being rhetorically kicked around like the ball he used to play with.

However, this doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerously naive, ignorant of a great number of things, hasn’t mischaracterised his opposition or isn’t riddled with hypocrisy and a desperate lack of self-awareness.

These things are curable.

That both Kluwe and Sargon have raised issues with interviews and titling is important – I think – and raises concerns about the way Pakman titles and presents his interviews, though not necessarily the conduct in them.

I do think Pakman’s first round of interviews were fairly neutral and both Wu and Chu did go off the rails in their reactions to his questioning. I mean that’s not a slant, that is what – unquestionably – happened. Given the enormous slant against Gamergate in most coverage in the past, and going into the future, it’s not surprising that a more neutral approach would read as somehow being pro Gamergate.

It seems somewhat disingenuous to blame Hotwheels for things on his site, not to mention foolish given some of the things hanging over Kluwe as well. It’s also irrelevant to the Gamergate matter and betrays a lack of understanding of how imageboards work. The same is true of the accusations regarding raid boards etc. It is an accurate point that he personally condemned, rather than officially condemned, but that’s perfectly in line with the philosophy behind 8chan and imageboard culture as a whole. Something that an expert on internet culture should know.

The complaint about the Chu interview title has a bit more substance, but like Wu he did, unquestionably, go off the rails under even the slightest resistance or probing. Rather than back things up, offer evidence or talk the reaction is an emotional outburst.

Obviously I am biased against the people in these interviews and also for the people interviewed in the more recent round of interviews (well, the subject, if not necessarily the people). However, that both pro and anti have issues with how things have been presented does suggest this is a broader problem that Pakman needs to be more aware of. I’ll go into this more in examining the Sargon interview, but as a quick point of comparison the Vox Day interview was titled as being about Gamergate, but dwelt on and mentioned his bizarre and extremist viewpoints (not especially accurately either, it must be said however much I disagree with him) and gave the impression that these were also the views of Gamergate itself.

They’re not. To present them in such a way is profoundly dishonest. It would be like presenting the ‘kill off 90% of men’ idea as being part of AGGro.

Regarding ‘sides’. How can there be two sides on the topic of corruption? Censorship perhaps, people have different places that they draw the line and so there’s room for sides, debate and discussion, but when it comes to corruption how is it even that there are two sides? There aren’t. There are substantial and supported accusations, and there’s denial and excuses.

The people who oppose Gamergate are definitely a side and they are a hell of a lot more politically and philosophically homogeneous than Gamergate – despite recent splits and infighting. It is, perhaps paradoxically, much easier to speak of anti-Gamergate collectively than it is pro-gamergate, at least in my experience.

One thing Kluwe said that I take massive exception to is the idea that he – and his side – are ‘intimately familiar with online culture’.

Someone intimately familiar with online culture would understand Brennan’s stance regarding 8chan, would know not to take trolling seriously and have some idea how to separate it from serious and sincere action and would know that internet tough-guys should not be taken seriously. If AGGro are ‘experts in this field’ they should not be making these kinds of rookie mistakes in dealing with internet culture. This means, I’m sorry to say, that they’re either lying about this expert status or wilfully being dishonest in their dealings. Indeed I had pegged this difference and problem in communication to Gamergate being genuine experts on online culture and AGGro being naive and inexperienced with it, prior to this interview.

So far as I am aware, and remain aware, no doxxing or SWATting has actually been linked to GG – though definitions of what these are differ. There’s no question however that doxxing and SWATting has been aimed at Gamergate and some of that has come directly from AGGro. Much of what has been aimed at both sides certainly comes from opportunistic third-party trolls but really, none of this is part of the Gamergate conversation. It’s a separate but important conversation, but nothing to do with Gamergate.

Kluwe complains about the government getting involved, but then you have to ask why is the government getting involved? Who is involving them? The answer there is that it is down to people like Quinn and Wu and the AGGro side, not Gamergate. Indeed Gamergate is remarkably unworried by the potential involvement of law enforcement and government in the short term, because – frankly – we know we’ve done nothing wrong and that we’ll (continue to) be exonerated, as happened with the threats against Sarkeesian. We also don’t think AGGro will come out so well. Personally I suspect – for example – that the threat called in against the DC Gamergate meet did originate from a sincere AGGro, probably in some way related to Chu’s histrionic attempts to get the event cancelled, if not Chu himself.

Kluwe’s worries about government involvement and ignorance are ones I share, so this is one point at least we can agree on. If AGGro didn’t keep trying to involve government however and actually dealt with Gamergate’s real issues rather than trying to make it about gender and harassment, this wouldn’t be an issue. It’s not Gamergate – or even trolls – threatening the free internet, it’s the opposition.

I’m afraid at this point, after 8 months, I find the claim that there is no objection to dealing with corruption in games journalism to be hollow. The steadfast refusal to debate and discuss these issues or to even admit they exist makes a lie of that claim. Off this point, Kluwe hitches standard talking points and attempts to push Gamergate to either disband or to become a less effective group.

To very briefly address these points:
‘Go after the devs’
If journalists stop succumbing to corruption, publishers and distrubutors (who are responsible more than devs) will stop trying to threaten or bribe them.

‘Don’t harass people’
Semantics are involved here, but Gamergate does not harass people. Dishonestly conflating Gamergate with trolls etc is a dishonest tactic by AGGro to try and derail the conversation about problems with ethics and censorship. The refusal to deal honestly with the issues Gamergate raises only contribute to a more and more fervid atmosphere. Frustration will mean people seek alternative lines of recourse for their grievances.

‘Change the hashtag’
No. There is nothing wrong with the hashtag and despite it being smeared so much it has had considerable success. Persistence and defiance in the face of those accusations has contributed to that success. Other hashtags have sprung up and the accusations have followed them. There’s simply no point doing so and it would be a form of admission of guilt. It’s not going to happen. Instead AGGro should just start to deal honestly with Gamergate as it really is, rather than the strawman they’ve created. GG is now having physical meet ups – that people keep trying to disrupt or force to cancel, or even phone in threats to.

Complaining about allowing Gamergate a platform would be part of the kind of problem that would be worth raising. Denial of any platform to present Gamergate’s authentic complaints has been part of the problem so it’s responsible to provide a means by which our side can be presented and, thereby, dealt with honestly. That Kluwe appears to want to make it impossible for that to happen – and thus for discussion and resolution to happen – is also telling.

Any honest and open examination of the facts of the matter utterly debunks the idea that Gamergate is a hate movement. Who does it hate? Can a hatred of corruption and censorship really be considered a hate group in the same manner that a racial hate group can? No, that’s absurd. It’s like calling the justice system as a whole a hate group. Ludicrous.

Kluwe has been dealing with Gamergate long enough that he should know that no, it was not founded on anything to do with Zoe Quinn, past the fact that the Zoe Post revealed undeclared conflicts of interest and wider journalistic and indie corruption when those specific revelations were a) not dealt with and b) obfuscated under the excuse that it was harassment. I refuse to believe Kluwe is genuinely that ignorant, which only leaves malice or wilful dishonesty as possibilities here. Corruption and censorship is a problem no matter who is responsible, expecting women to be treated differently when they engage in such behaviour would be genuinely sexist. For a ‘misogynistic’ group, Gamergate contains a much more female members, and diverse members, than it is given credit for.

Kluwe was wrong. The movement has broadly succeeded in its original goals. However, those goals have expanded as more problems and issues have been uncovered. So there are new goals and a bigger, broader community with a wider remit.

There’s this weird obsession that AGGro has with forcing Gamergate to organise along conventional lines. This would be a mistake. It would render the movement fragile and maladaptive to its purpose. It would make it easier for AGGro to pin bad actions on and even though they would be no more true than they are now, they would find it easier to stick. This strikes me as the real reason they want GG to organise on conventional lines, it would be easier to disarm, dismiss and smear. As to ‘noone to blame but yourselves’, untrue, the people to blame are those wilfully taking trolls seriously and constantly smearing Gamergate. Nobody else is responsible but them.

Kluwe talks about how ‘Gamergate attracts people like Vox Day’ but really you have to consider what it is that is the common thread. Whatever Day’s other, bizarre beliefs about things the common thread he shares with Gamergate is his concern over censorship and the monopolar politicisation of what might broadly be called ‘nerd media’. For him it is the Hugo Awards and Science Fiction, for Gamergate it’s video games. We also share a common enemy in the form of authoritarian social justice warriors. However obnoxious any of us find Vox Day’s beliefs, he has a right to them, to express them and for his work to be considered as work, rather than as him.

Stormfront has nothing to do with Gamergate. Kluwe is being dishonest about this as well. As I recall Stormfront’s involvement with Gamergate constitutes precisely one thread on one of their message boards that was largely met with indifference and derision.

With Breitbart and the rest, again, the common thread is the concern over censorship, monopole politics and the common enemy of the authoritarian social justice warrior extremism.

Now, the involvement of the right does also concern me, but in a slightly different way. I am a left anarchist but I see the abject and total failure of the left media to honestly report on Gamergate pushing what is mostly a left/liberal movement to the right. The depths of the problems with media have become apparent and many people feel betrayed and that is what could push them to the right which has been the only place they’ve really had a fair shake. If the left is genuinely worried about this, they need to give Gamergate a fair shake and stop abusing and lying about it or they’ll continue to drive people to the right. Once again, the only viable solution to Gamergate is to discuss and address its issues honestly.

Of course people and groups see opportunities here as people get disenfranchised. That’s nobody’s fault but AGGro and trying to link things like Vox Day’s non-gamergate related views to Gamergate is part of that issue.

The course of events leading to Gamergate that Kluwe lays out is, of course, factually inaccurate but that has been gone over more than enough so I won’t bother retreading it here. I’ll put it simply though. If I considered GG to be a hate group, I wouldn’t throw myself behind it. I find the accusation absurd.

Describing people like Wu or Chu as experts in this field is… silly, given the way in which they have acted. If that were true it would also be true of the Gamergate people, thereby putting you back to square one. What Kluwe appears to mean is a variation on ‘listen and believe’ which should not be part of any reporter, scientist or legal professional’s vocabularly, or indeed any rational person’s vocabulary. We see what goes wrong with that attitude when we look at the Rolling Stone issue – for example.

Kluwe seems, paradoxically, to be demanding people ignore their own experience and to automatically believe the experiences of others – that simply doesn’t work.

On a side note, I think 90% of solution to these internet social issues is educating people, rather than bringing in laws or forces. Expecting ‘the internet’ to be a safe space as a whole is ridiculous. The idea of self-policing might have been one I would have gone along with in the past, but AGGro has shown this can’t work. Block Bots create more problems than they solve. Monstering groups, unfairly, stifles necessary discussion and creates more issues – again – than it solves. There’s no sufficient due-process, no respect for facts, smearing and emotion-lead nonsense and lies rule the day. As things stand, online vigilantism can’t be trusted to resolve these situations.

Kluwe says Gamergate etc doesn’t understand the consequences of what they’re doing, yet Gamergate is part of the broader cultural counter-movement that is striving to guarantee online free expression while AGGro are the ones threatening it via their false narratives.

I’m frankly not interested at all in E-Sports, so I’ll leave it there.

Kluwe is wrong, misguided, misinformed or wilfully dishonest on a lot of issues but in ‘person’ he sounds like someone who – when confronted – might actually be able to be reasonable. Again, I hope the debate with Mercedes does happen as it may be a step towards some sort of resolution or progress by forcing people like Kluwe to acknowledge Gamergate’s points and sincerity.

Gamergate has nothing to fear from investigation by law enforcement and nothing to fear from an honest examination of the facts that relate to the scandal as a whole. Facts have a Gamergate bias.

Pax.

Beyond Gamergate – Boycotts & Harm: Fiscal & Creative

Again, not an academic, see previous posts.

The next question in the series that I was asked was:

Demonstrate that you were boycotted. Demonstrate that you suffered economic harm from a boycott against yourself. Demonstrate that said boycott changed your creative behaviour, and how.

This will necessarily get personal and some of you may find some of this article difficult since it will relate to mental health issues and further knock-on issues surrounding those. Furthermore this is a personal question, dressed up as an academic question and since it directly affects me I cannot really be considered a reliable source. To establish this completely firmly I would have to disclose a great deal of personal, financial information and records which I’m not disposed to do and in some cases am contractually withheld from doing.

I shall do my best though.

Establishing direct financial impact of boycotts and disinfo campaigns is, frankly, beyond my mathematical skill. The business I am in (primarily self publishing) does not have a steady stream of sales in which one can establish upward or downward ticks. Rather sales follow the Long-Tail Model. For those who are too lazy to click, this means you get an initial spike in sales and then these rapidly drop off, but go on for a long time.

So an income chart for my personal imprint, Postmortem Studios, would more closely resemble a heartbeat than a normal sales chart. This is even further complicated by the fact that with each new release you draw attention to your back catalogue and so end up with extra sales of old products. You also have to consider that some products do better than others.

Also controversy, in my personal experience, tends to spike short term sales, but may be to a longterm detriment in overall sales down the line.

TL;DR – The maths is too complicated for me.

Income does relate to productivity, the more you produce the more you sell. Perhaps I could look at output in terms of pages or something similar, but then you have books of different sizes and how do you compare card games to books? Plus there’s the complication of freelancing.

Controversy and boycott attempts are documented, though finding archives of the petitions is proving a little tricky you can find corroborating evidence here (citations 8 & 9). More recently companies and individuals went so far as to threaten to boycott sales points, most specifically RPGNOW. More information and a collection of references can be found HERE.

Lowered productivity definitely does have financial impact though and the personal toll of all this has been pretty huge. I am now only able to work four half-days a week with any real reliability. Keeping in mind that this is a crude measure and limiting to OBS personal releases I can show that prior to In Defence of Rape in June 2012 (issues had arisen before, but this was when it got intense and boycotting etc began) I was maintaining an output of approximately…

21.76 pages of saleable material per month in the 35 months after

And after an output of approximately…

87.3 pages of saleable material per month in the 35 months before

This is an incredibly unreliable measure. It excludes art books but includes books where I sell material by others, with my role being editing/layout/production. It includes some of the work for Chronicle City but not all as some hasn’t made sale and I currently have a LOT of written material in limbo. If those were included I think we’d see a relationship of work values closer to half than 1/4.

So it’s really impossible, to reiterate, to assess the impact of boycotts and reputational damage economically without some assistance to wrangle the mathematics. On a personal basis the impact has been considerable. It has required me to adopt pen-names, it has led to the loss (or lack of consideration) of freelance work, which isn’t reflected in these figures. It has also cost me two suicide attempts and something in the region of £5,000 and rising in medical bills for ongoing therapy and drug treatment. In a country with a national health service, this is a lot.

I think the surveys and the attempts to strongarm Onebookshelf show that the boycotts and reputational damage are serious, even without the the hard economic data. The harm to my health also has a financial cost attached in terms of treatment costs and capacity for useful work.

The second part of the question is how has this affected my work?

There is no way to demonstrate this that isn’t anecdotal, so all I can offer is a statement.

I write about the things that interest and concern me. In my corpus of work, if you’re familiar with it, you will find a common thread of interest in sexuality in games, low fantasy, magical realism in the form of plausible societal structures, dystopian fiction, the interplay/blur between the real and imaginary and – less pretentiously – games as fun, separate from such analysis. Because I am largely free to follow my enthusiasms I tend to work according to where my inspiration and waning energy is. This is why you have The Little Grey Book, this is why you have Privilege Check and this is why you have Gamergate: The Card Game – because these things are interesting and because I like to challenge censorship.

So in some part I am ‘running on spite’, defiant in the face of attempts to censor and control and even more fascinated the more I encounter resistance, trying to understand offence culture, provoke it, understand and expose it through satire. In other ways I do find myself self-censoring because I have to weigh-up whether I have the mental energy and resilience to wade through another fight and another round of character assassination and misrepresentation.

I would have liked to have given Kagai! a more explicitly sexual and ero-guro element but a combination of budgetary and depression based factors got in the way of doing so. For a long time I wanted to produce more specialist versions of Hentacle/Cthentacle to expand the joke but while both were originally well received in the mode intended they have since been used as a stick to beat me with, so the yaoi and furry versions will never see the light of day because at this point the smaller niche markets for such material can no longer secure sufficient sales and the threat of being censored from the main sales outlets would leave me out of pocket. Not to mention the tragic and untimely death of the original artist. I have also long wanted to do a better, more serious version of the adult material supplements I once wrote for Mongoose, but again given the effort people put into misinterpreting and accusing it simply doesn’t feel worth the hassle even though I consider it a worthwhile project.

Letting myself self-censor in such a way, simply to avoid the threats and misrepresentations of fuckwits also feels like a personal failing and contributes to the aforementioned depression. I feel like I should be able to plough on regardless.

If anyone can suggest how I can extract useful information from my sales data to determine the effect of boycotting and extortion I might be able to turn up more useful, harder data but as things stand this is all I can offer at present. The problem with many boycotts – such as the ones against me – is that they derive from wilful misrepresentation and libel that bears little or no relation to the facts of the matter, but which – nonetheless – fire up people’s emotions.

Pax

#Gamergate – Does Crowdsourcing Enable Fraud?

Again, not an academic, just a skeptic and rationalist. The next question I was asked was:

Show that Kickstarter enables and encourages fraud by game developers/abuse of the gaming press by game developers and/or those sympathetic to them in said press.

This is really a matter for the legal system, not an academic or scientific discussion per se. All I can really offer here is my opinion on the matter, but that’s a good opportunity to educate people a little on the issues surrounding crowdfunding and why they should – perhaps – be a little more wary. Consider this item usable as a future citation when building a case for or against crowdfunding.

I have run several successful crowdfunding campaigns. Including:

Crowdfunding is NOT PREORDERING. You have absolutely no guarantee that you will get anything at all when you back a project. You are making a MICROINVESTMENT not dissimilar to something like Kiva. You may get nothing at all, you may get the product or material being developed, you may get your investment back, you may not, you may get a bonanza of stretch-goal content.

DO NOT INVEST UNLESS YOU’RE PREPARED TO GET NOTHING AT ALL!

Now, obviously, no evidence required, it would be very possible to defraud people via these services and with varying degrees of evidence and court/investigative involvement this appears to have happened.

Buyer beware.

Keep in mind also that with the best will in the world, things can go wrong. Shipping costs can go up (often with fuel prices) partner businesses can go under (printers, component makers and so on), people can fall ill (happened to me), artists can get injured, divorces, house fires and so on. Many crowdfunders are very inexperienced in business and get carried away – especially with stretch goals (this happened to me and I’ve been making games for 15+ years). Costs can be underestimated. There’s a lot that can go wrong and if that scuppers the project you might lose out – but it’s not fraud.

Of course, what this question is really about is whether Anita Sarkeesian is a fraud.

In my opinion, yes.

Why?

She raised many times the amount required to meet her goal, yet has not delivered on even the basic promise yet, years later.

She lied about who and what she was.

She has stolen art

and video.

Lied about the veracity of threats.

And has a history of connections to dodgy businesses one step shy of pyramid schemes.

And there’s more.

This is sufficient for me – hell the ‘I’m not a gamer’ is enough for me, to consider her a fraud. Even without the rest.

She presents ideas that would be worthy of discussion (keyword: discussion), but she is the wrong person to do it and has probably tainted the conversation for at least a decade.

#Gamergate – Influencing Sales. Are Reviews Relevant?

Once again, I’m not an academic. I see my role as criticising and exposing problems in pseudo-academia as it relates to research in the area of games, much the same way I see my role in debunking creationist arguments or exposing their flaws.

I’m bringing together the next two questions I was asked as they interrelate.

Show that the gaming media has a significant impact on game sales, to the point that corruption would impact game sales.

Show that the Let’s Play coverage style isn’t as or more influential than other forms of gaming media coverage (or to phrase it differently, show that GG’s decision to not include Let’s Players in the definition of game media reviews makes sense).

This hasn’t particularly been my assertion. My concern, rather, is over the effect media coverage has on devs, thought leaders, academia (and vice versa) and the role of hate mobs (genuine ones, rather than Gamergate) in creating self censorship. So I find myself in the odd position of being asked to prove something I don’t particularly consider relevant.

Still, there is a huge corpus of information out there about how sales are affected by reviews though much of the current research is concerned with how much customer reviews affect sales rather than how much professional reviews do.  To pick out just two (you can find plenty of others yourself and they broadly suggest the same thing) Dimensional Research‘s survey (2013) suggests 90% of customers are influenced by online reviews while The Cone Agency did a survey in 2011 that suggests around 80%. These are generally for all products and not hugely useful save to establish a sort of background expectation.

With gamers considered by many marketers to be more technologically and social media savvy it’s important to consider them in their own light and according to a recent ESA survey professional online reviews only account for about a 3% influence over gamers purchasing habits.

That’s not to be sniffed out, despite sounding small, when you look at the other parts of the survey showing that advertising (a huge budget drain) only accounts for 1% – according to the survey. By contrast, word of mouth is at 11% and the biggest factor (22%) is having an interesting story/premise.

It is, incidentally, interesting to compare this with the Waggener Edstrom survey of 2009 (it’s behind a paywall but pertinent information is here). In 2009 reviews were rated at 15%, which shows a considerable drop since then.

So I would actually disagree with the contention that reviews are an especially significant driver of sales. Somewhat, but nothing compared to word-of-mouth.

Where do Let’s Play’s feature in this? It’s hard to say since they’re really a form of word of mouth. Certainly the industry is taking greater notice of YouTube personalities and Let’s Play’s as a way to shift product as evidenced by the Shadows of Mordor scandal.

So, into opinion-land then. Let’s Plays are good for sales as they are essentially word of mouth and they allow the average punter to see the game being played and thus have a nearly direct experience of the gameplay. However, that doesn’t mean people can’t be paid to shill the games harder and there are other pathways by which this avenue could be corrupted. I won’t go into detail here for fear of giving people ideas, but hands-on play at conventions/via demos already has issues and there’s no reason this couldn’t extend to Let’s Play.

So what influence does the games media have then? Some via sales, but also some via the conversation and condemnation or praise. Much of this is hard to directly demonstrate without a decent study (I’d like to see one on the real influence of Let’s Play’s too) but bad review scores, even if they don’t affect sales, can and will affect bonuses and the greenlighting of sequels etc. As shown by the New Vegas/metacritic issues. The original tweet confirming this is missing, but there’s an archived image here and it is mentioned and reproduced in many news articles on the issue.

Perhaps devs should respond to this by paying less attention to their fears of reviews, and pay more attention to their customers. As things stand content is being changed or removed due to fear of negative press. One well known example being linked here, and another being Lucky Chloe (this one being more of an example of mob-censorship).

#Gamergate – Is Games Media Corrupt?

More conversations with the ‘opposition’, leading to conversations about the flaws in pseudo-academia raised in the previous blog. Now, I’m not a scientist or an academic. I’m a writer, game designer and, perhaps more applicably, a skeptic and rationalist. As such I don’t expect to be able to meet genuine academic standards, but I do expect self-proclaimed academics to conduct themselves in an honest and rigorous fashion. I see it as my ‘job’ to find errors and suggest ways to fix them. Still, I agreed to go along with requests to address some topics with evidence.

Show that corruption in the gaming media exists.

I do not think

(Kotaku, hostile site on the question of journalistic corruption so an article from there that admits that is a more effective evidential source. The writer – a games journalist – admits aspects of corruption as a primary source and links to further evidence of corruption in the form of Gerstmann-Gate, Doritogate and more with direct references to supporting evidence from places like Neogaf, Eurogamer, promotional tweets on Twitter, legal threats from Lauren Wainright and more. It also links to discussion blogs about problems in game journalism – secondary sources. There’s more, but this all rather demonstrates that anyone rejecting the source hasn’t looked at it).

at this point

(MTV Multiplayer, a site that has avoided the controversy so far but provides a reasonable summary – again with links – as a secondary source on Gerstmann-gate, also referenced and supported above. While it contains denials it also contains links to further data and evidence and as such provides a decent overview and curated list of further evidence).

that this is

(Erik Kain is neutral on Gamergate and one games reporter who has come through the scandals with reputation relatively intact from all sides. Again, Gerstmann-Gate is referenced, further reinforcing the previous sources on this issue. Again it acts as a usefully curated storehouse of evidence of this particular sub-scandal, Shadows of Mordor, including Totalbiscuit’s comments and those of Jim Stirling who also provides access to contract details. Kain is also a primary source on corruption himself, discussing a case of a review requiring approval prior to publication, which he refused. Boogie is another direct, primary source on this issue listed and presented in this article. Another reason to pick this source is that while admitting corruption again, as above, it is broadly hostile to GG and saying it should have taken this seriously. A hostile source – singly or collectively – that admits the case of its opponent has greater value. EG a first century Jew talking about Jesus and his miracles as a hostile witness carries more value than a first century Christian, precisely because it would be a hostile source).

in doubt.

(This ten minute video is a primary source, Alex Lifschitz. He is very much a hostile source and this is one of the presentations he made surrounding the whole issue. Side note, I found it interesting he used Magritte in the opposite way I do. About 4:50 is where he admits press junkets and corrupt attempts to pay off journalists.He then goes on to encourage his audience of journos and writers to overtly become corrupt on a political basis, rather than a ‘payola’ basis. To force a particular narrative – something that has already been going on for some time).

(Sources chosen, largely, to demonstrate that when they’re not the ones being corrupt the press is happy to tackle the issue or to openly admit corruption and to call for more, albeit on a different basis). I have also personally witnessed corruption in the form of threats to withdraw access to early-access and review copies if a review score was not changed (upward). Unfortunately I cannot go into detail on this issue, at least not publicly.

As a side note it is worth mentioning that out-and-out corruption is not the only issue. Loathe as I am to reference Zoe Quinn she makes a useful example, known to most people as a point of reference. If Ms Quinn got her positive coverage in exchange for sex (something virtually impossible to discern beyond reasonable doubt) that is corruption. What isn’t in doubt is that she did get positive coverage from people she had romantic/sexual/financial ties to. That is not corruption, but undeclared conflicts of interest are a breach of ethical standards. One which, fortunately, as a bare minimum, Gamergate seems to have gotten sites to enforce.

As a final commentary/opinion I would like to state that in my eyes I think Gamergate has been a hugely wasted opportunity for games sites. Here was a popular uprising against corruption which could have been used to free the sites in question from the AAA level corruption as well as the ideological corruption. Rather than leverage audience outrage to everyone’s advantage, they instead decided to turn on their audience and, well, here we all are.

Pax

***

The challenger’s reply in the comments provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the original problem that the challenge addresses. Namely that of bias in pseudo-academia. I’ll replicate it here beneath the article to cover and support that point, and as a future citation of flaws and unwillingness to accept evidence that contradicts pre-existing bias in pseudo-academia.

Now, your first paragraph is saying you don’t expect to meet academic standards, but since the challenge you agreed to provide proof for was that academics don’t adequately research things YOU know are true, and must therefore be able to prove, I’mma hold to you to them.

And this remains the case, and this reply adds further evidence to support that conclusion.

There are the sum total of the links you provided, w/ the text you used in quotes. Ignoring how profoundly you broke all the citing rules (bc, as you said, you are not educated in doing them), here is why exactly NONE are valid as direct proof of any claim you made.

Irrelevant. What’s relevant is whether they support what’s being claimed and, as such, provide evidence towards it. Placing song-and-dance over substance would appear to be another issue that would require addressing. It’s also a pointless distraction and an attempt to make a fallacious argument from authority. Argue the evidence.

“I do not think”(The Contemptible Games Journalist) – Secondary source. Does cite evidence for some stmts, but it isn’t a DIRECT first-person source. Arguably an op-ed. Not directly on-point.

It contains links and references to the story, allowing the reader to follow up (as do all the other sources). Of course, you have to bother to do the research. Something which seems… weirdly… to be anathema to people self-styling as academics. I’ve gone into further detail underneath the source above.

“At this point” (Gamespot’s Top Reviewer Fired) – Old, secondary source, I have yet to see confirmation of this being true, and you provided none. (Certaintly indication of corruption, I may personally BELIEVE it is true, but it isn’t PROVEN, so it could be part of cites for an indication the trend exists, not definitive proof.

Again, references links and support exist within the article and it’s child’s play to find more. See above.

“That this is”(Shadows of Mordor) – Relevance? Secondary source. You cited an op-ed article that cited a video of a guy saying he saw a contract that was given to someone else that proved companies are trying and failing to corrupt a Let’s Play-er, who is, by GG definition, not a reviewer.

See above.

“In Doubt” (The Treachery of Games) – Alex Lifschitz – Relevance? Failure to support point in correlation to citation. Seems to just be an op-ed you dislike, but at least it is a direct source.

Primary source damned out of his own mouth and calling for more corruption. You won’t really find much better witness evidence than that. Witnesses have their own issues and aren’t especially reliable, but nonetheless, it does support the contention that gaming is corrupt.

“Zoe Quinn got her positive coverage”: This is a cite to a wiki and therefore wholly invalid for academic purposes or as proof.

Same species of logic fail by arguing the source rather than the information, which is also referenced and linked from the wiki for more direct sources. An academic should know that dismissing information simply because it is referenced from a Wiki is not a logically defensible act but this kind of snobbery appears to also be part of the problem in pseudo-academia.

“Gamergate Seems to have gotten sites to enforce”: This is a secondary source, not on point, op-ed, among the organizations being accused of inaccuracy, and it quotes a broad spectrum of ppl w/o providing links to all of their stmts, or any form of citation for verification.

That’s actually me stating an opinion. The source contains a disclosure, thereby demonstrating that sites and writers – even those who have long been opposed to Gamergate – are now acceding to these basic demands.

“Turn on their audience” – This is a cite to a wiki and therefore wholly invalid for academic purposes or as proof.

Poisoning the well again, same logical fallacy as above. Argue the evidence, not the source.

You provided zero adequate citations, and therefore demonstrated no facts of any kind.

These are all citations and references to evidence which combined (and not even comprehensive) leave no reasonable doubt whatsoever that there is corruption in games journalism. Only an unreasonable person with massive pre-existing bias could ignore such. As such this reply now forms direct evidence of problems in academia surrounding logic, bias and refusal to accept evidence that contradicts that bias.

On a personal note, I had hoped I would be able to bridge this gap with this person and as such be able to start to address some of the broader problems. I feel like an idiot now for extending that trust.

***

The person in question gave their version of how they would go about it, which is functionally identical. Just like my initial post it contains primary sources, secondary sources and collations/opinion pieces with links and citations of their own. In effect – other than length, there is no significant difference in methodology or content. See here.

If held to her own standard…

State press is a secondary source, which apparently is enough to dismiss it if she’s held to the same standard she applies to others. This is also true of Gamefront, igameresponsibly, Boston Magazine, Kotaku and so on.

Links are given to Totalbiscuit and Jim Stirling, whose evidence is also present in my links. Presumably it can be dismissed similarly here because ‘reasons’.

Some additional sources that I, personally, would accept are also present, but they’re primary sources of the same ilk of Lifschitz damning himself and his industry out of his own mouth, which is somehow not valid.

The Zoe Post is referenced, which seems peculiar as I don’t consider it slam-dunk evidence of corruption, but rather other ethical breaches such as conflicts of interest. It was the spark that would lead to the uncovering of corruption, but what it provides is evidence towards a different concern – ethics and professionalism.

Of the sources presented I see nothing that is functionally any different to anything I provided, which goes to illustrate the double standard that games ‘academia’ – such as DiGRA – operates under, failing to apply the same rules and consider their own material to the same standard that they do critics of them. There are more sources and more detail is gone into than in my original post, but corruption is so egregious in games media, as proven by both articles, that this is just unnecessary.