Saturday, November 15, 2014

Housekeeping!

I know I've never been particularly consistent with my postings, but considering I was posting regularly and suddenly stopped I felt I owed everyone a note as to what changed all of a sudden.  I've actually been hired by BuzzPo.com to write about a lot of the same entertainment related stuff that I post here, and so most of my work for the past month or so has gone up there.  All of my posts are under my C.T. Rex pseudonym, so please go ahead and search that out for more on #GamerGate and everything else.

You've also probably seen I cross-post quite frequently over at Their Finest Hour, but there is one post I put up there that I didn't put up here since Allan really deserved the traffic, and that's my #GamerGate breakdown post called Here's GamerGate In 5 Easy Bites.  If you don't know much about #GamerGate or you want to help someone else understand it, feel free to check it out: http://theirfinesthour.net/2014/10/heres-gamergate-in-5-easy-bites/

I'll still be posting here on my blog from time to time, but they'll be my more personal essays and things not really applicable to BuzzPo, so keep an eye out for new stuff.

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Boycotts Aren't Harassment

Didn’t expect to write anything on #GamerGate again quite so soon, but ever since Intel pulled their ads from Gamasutra, I keep seeing people pushing this notion that the boycotts constitute some form of harassment of the sites against which they are targeted, or at the very least they’re an extreme reaction where a more temperate measure should be applied.

First of all, that word “harassment” has been tossed around far too loosely when it comes to #GamerGate, and it’s one of the main reasons we are where we are today. Dissent, disagreement, and desire for change in media does not constitute harassment, and while harassment can occur in and around a boycott, neither does a boycott, even one that involves targeting advertisers. In fact the boycott is one of the greatest tools consumers have to affect change without having to resort to harassment or worse, violence.

Now like any other tool, it can be abused, which is what that more nuanced argument about “extreme reactions” is trying to get at. For example, we saw it used against the Mozilla CEO for having supported the passage of a particular marriage law years prior and outside his role at the company. There we had consumers trying to punish a particular individual for a particular political belief that didn’t have any bearing on his duties at the company or affect how the company would or did operate. To be clear, people were well within their rights to boycott, and that boycott was not harassment, but specifically targeting an individual over political beliefs that don’t affect a company is not the best use of that tool as it will punish many innocent people in an attempt to bring about a political change that could be best accomplished through other means.

On Erik Kain’s latest stream, Greg Tito from The Escapist expressed that kind of sentiment by lamenting the potential financial impact on people working at a website because of #GamerGate supporters being upset at one post by one writer. It’s true that some perfectly innocent people will be harmed as a result of the boycotts, but in order to determine whether that unfortunate consequence is necessary and where the blame for it lies, we must examine how we got to this situation in the first place, which was not due to one post by one writer.

It was actually many posts by many writers across many sites. It was many editors at many sites allowing those posts to go up. It was many moderators at many sites quashing discussion and kicking people off of forums and out of comment sections.

Moreover, the content of those many posts at those many sites was not simply some benign difference of opinion over a video game or a political philosophy, but a direct attack on the very consumers who now boycott them. The many posts also came in a suspiciously short time frame, which suggested the collusion that was later evidenced by the GameJournoPros list.

And perhaps most importantly, the many people at the many sites have refused all other avenues for the redress of consumers' grievances. They didn’t allow consumers to express their anger directly via comments and forums. They didn’t issue apologies, counters to the opinions of their writers, or public reprimands of those writers. Many of the sites’ employees even took to Twitter to poke the bear. They did not fire or otherwise reprimand those that did so, nor did they address the original conflicts of interest that started the discussions in the first place. By closing comments and refusing to address the issue, the many people at the many sites effectively eliminated all other options for consumers other than to boycott, and so boycott they have.

It’s rather ironic to hear Tito express the sentiment he did, since The Escapist proved quite clearly how the websites could have diffused the situation for themselves by taking actions that most gamers have lauded as appropriate. They allowed discussion on their forums, and on two separate occasions that I can recall addressed the issue loudly and clearly, and they made changes to their policies as a result. And I suspect if it came down to it, they would’ve terminated a writer rather than allow harm to come to their whole site.

Thus with #GamerGate, people are not punishing a whole company for the thoughts of one individual. They are trying to affect an industry-wide change with the only option left available to them as a direct result of the actions of the very websites they are boycotting. Not only are they not abusing the tool, they are using it for precisely the purposes it is best suited.

And it’s working.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

What now, #GamerGate?


Well it’s been over a month now since the rise of #GamerGate, and if you’ve still not heard of it, I recommend scrolling back through my previous work to read this post, this post, and this one to get you started. Or for those TL;DR folks, #GamerGate is a consumer revolt by gamers who have gotten fed up with the corruption in the video game industry and the utter lack of journalistic ethics in a gaming media that seems hell bent on pushing a progressive sociopolitical narrative into gaming.

I sat down to write this post in the midst of the natural lull one might expect in an Internet-driven conflict lasting this long. People had begun to wonder if this whole thing were coming to an end, with both sides staking claim to victory. Gamers noted the decline in readership of prominent sites, the rise of alternatives like TechRaptor and 8chan, and the tag itself reaching the milestone of 1 million uses suggested the certain demise of the opposition; journowarriors pointed to the lull and general lack of interest on the part of bigger media sites as evidence the tempest in a teapot would soon peter out.  The question on everyone's mind seemed to be "what's next?"

Then Intel went ahead and blew everything up all over again. Responding to requests by gamers, Intel pulled its ads from Gamasutra, one of many websites that contributed to the barrage of “Gamers are dead” articles that really put this whole thing into full swing. That in turn has provoked the same kind of vitriol and journalistic malpractice as those original articles, and so the smoldering embers burn anew.

Fortunately that demonstrates handily how the cycle of lull and victory is the path #GamerGate will take going forward, so long as gamers choose to continue to fight. It’s a war of attrition that can only end once one side has been metaphorically wiped out. With each victory, the losing side will go quiet for a time to regroup and reposition, but another battle will wait just around the corner.

As long as the journowarriors have their sites and their positions, they’ll keep pushing their particular agenda. Calls for #GamerGate to drop the tag “tainted by its misogynistic origins”, appoint leaders, and focus on specific goals will continue as well. On their face, those do seem like perfectly logical and reasonable suggestions. After all, leaders and goals help to focus efforts and reduce the possibility of some random troll trying to speak for the community at large just by slapping the tag on their tweet.

In reality, it’s just a bit of pernicious concern trolling. A leader can be smeared, threatened, bullied, and otherwise taken off the field of battle to leave an army in disarray, and known goalposts can be more easily defended or moved if necessary. As some gamers have noticed, that kind of targeting is precisely the kind of thing called for by the social justice bible of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.

A disparate swarm of people each with their own particular targets, however, can dig their stingers in again and again until their enemy runs screaming from the field. No one sting will be a decisive death blow though, and therefore if gamers wish to have a more honest, open media bereft of the moral proselytizing of our social betters, they will just have to keep up their pressure from all directions despite the lulls. Whether it’s writing sponsors like Intel, digging into DiGRA as Sargon of Akkad has been, or even the simple act of using the #gamergate and #notyourshield tags in a tweet, each attack is one more bit of damage to the narrative.

That #GamerGate has evolved from a mere hashtag to a full on community of new friends should certainly help with the long road ahead, especially given the opposition already was a tight-knit clique of backscratchers. Thus if any one top priority should exist among #GamerGate supporters, it should be to continue to make connections and further cement the existing ones.

That includes the “right-wing” voices whose attention has been piqued by this conflict and about which many gamers have expressed some concerns. They fear the further encroachment of politics in gaming and/or that the Right simply doesn’t have gamers’ best interests at heart. Personally I think people like Milo Yiannopoulos over at Breitbart have done great work dispelling that fear, but to still apprehensive gamers I would merely restate that every ally attacking the enemy is useful, either as distraction, fodder, or genuine damage dealer.

Whether we fight for political reasons or not, what lies ahead is a long and brutal campaign on perhaps the last front in the larger culture war. There will be endless waves of enemies bent on our collective enslavement to their particular ideology. We're gamers; let’s see how high of a score we can rack up.

Round 2. Fight!

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why #GamerGate Matters

Punching Glass Joe has come a long way. (Image via IGN)

A common refrain in response to discussions of #GamerGate goes something like this: “ISIS is overrunning Iraq, Russia has invaded Ukraine, there’s rioting in Ferguson, the economy still sucks, there are scandals all over the place, and you want to talk about a bunch of man-children who are angry that girls are getting to play with their toys? Who cares!?”

Firstly, human beings are fully capable of expressing interest in more than one topic at a time, and so too can the media report on more than one news event in a day. Discussing #GamerGate does not invalidate the seriousness of any of those other issues, nor does it indicate that someone lacks understanding of those other events. Frankly, there’s little that can be done about them by the average Joe anyway, so it is not as if turning our attention for a moment to discuss something over which we have slightly more direct control will result in catastrophe.

Secondly, those “toys” are a $100 billion industry that cuts across all age groups and spans most of the globe. In fact, 59% of all Americans play video games of some sort, and the average gamer has been doing so for 14 years. So what once might have been a novelty for children now functions as a central component of the cultural identity for anyone in the Western world under the age of 35. It’s also an industry on the leading edge of our technological development, so it’s highly likely that the media of the future will follow in the footsteps of today’s gaming media as this younger generation that grew up with its particular form of content delivery comes to power.

Moreover, video games have evolved as an art form to one whose stories and cinematics can rival the best Hollywood has to offer and where gamers even get paid to practice and compete in tournaments like their brethren in professional athletics. As the industry grows, so too will its influence on the culture at large, and that culture will in turn govern the politics and policies that come into play with things like ISIS, the economy, and health care. Thus what happens in this industry can very easily have a wide and lasting impact, certainly at least as much as a riot in Missouri.

Finally, that framing of #GamerGate is precisely the kind of journalistic malpractice that created the firestorm in the first place. Gamers do not think girls are taking away their toys nor are they angry about women increasingly entering the industry, but they are tired of watching people who claim to be journalists pushing their particular social agenda, smearing people with the actions of the few trolls that exist in every community, and getting into bed with the subjects they cover.

Yes, the spark that ignited this firestorm involved the personal sexual activities of a female developer, but even then gamers were hardly concerned with her sexual proclivities, only the resultant conflict of interest her choice of partners had created. Rather than investigating if the accusations of malfeasance leveled against her and her partners had any merit, the games media sought to suppress any discussion of the issue at all. Were it not for that attempted censorship, the simmering pool of discontentment that had been building for so long within the community likely would not have been set ablaze. Then, rather than squelching that fire by admitting their mistakes and addressing gamers’ concerns, the gaming media effectively soaked themselves in gasoline and took a run through the flames by turning on their readers and maligning them as hateful misogynists.

As a result, we have people of all genders, races, and political persuasions banding together to demand objectivity and transparency in journalism, while pushing efforts that promote actual equality rather than the faux equality of outcomes and quotas. And despite the vehement attacks upon them, they have already succeeded in forcing several major outlets to re-examine their policies and in funding the efforts of a group the social justice crowd attempted to destroy.

Why would we not want to celebrate that and hold it up as an example to all the other media that has long since abandoned the pursuit of objectivity to the pressures of greed and political correctness? In what way does it help us with any of those other ostensibly more important issues to look at this established beachhead against corruption in journalism and the misery that political correctness brings to simply shrug and say “meh, nerds”?

We may not have the capability to change the President’s mind on deployment of troops or ensure justice is carried out either in Washington or Ferguson, but gamers have shown us we can affect an industry poised to substantially influence the culture of the future. Right now we can help nudge it in the direction of objective journalism and free expression such that when we log on to view the regular news version of the Kotakus and IGNs that will likely be the future of the rest of our media, we might be able to rest assured they’re not hyping a shooting for ratings or skunking scandals as some racist witch hunt. Let’s not waste that opportunity.

*this post cross-posted at http://theirfinesthour.net/

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Cataclysmic Clash: Gamers vs. Journalists

Glass Joe was never a match for Little Mac
(Image: Charles Williams (CC))
A ton of things have happened since my last post on what is now known as Gamer Gate. Some hours after it went live several gaming websites, who won’t be named and won’t be linked because they don’t deserve the traffic, posted articles all containing the same theme: “Gamers” are dead, they don’t have to be our audience, and this controversy is little more than the death rattle of a white male misogynistic culture. One of these articles even went so far as to decry “fun” being the primary criteria by which we determine how good a game is.

The blowback from gamers accelerated to form two hashtags, #GamerGate and #NotYourShield, as people of various colors, genders, and sexualities came out to prove gamers were not dead and that they were, in fact, a diverse audience that didn’t appreciate being spoken for by their opponents. Despite learning that Quinn had done more than simply lie and cheat on her boyfriend (she had wrecked the efforts of another group to promote women in the industry), gamers sought to push on from that initial spark of controversy to talk about the real underlying problems in the industry and its media. Their opponents continued to insist that was a lie and all these diverse voices were either fake or brainwashed. Finally, gamers found another outlet for their voices, as Adam Baldwin and Internet Aristocrat showed up on my friend Ed Morrissey's show along with several thousand viewers and chatters to hash out the issue, and now we all take a breath and wait for the next turn in the road.

Meanwhile, gamers continue to demand that they be treated as individuals and allowed to criticize others as individuals. They laugh at the notion that the “gamer” identity is dead seeing as they're all still playing games and the term never reflected some particular demographic in the first place. They proclaim unabashedly that it’s unjust and unfair for them to be tarred by the actions of the various assholes of the Internet because their inability to Care Bear Stare these trolls into good people does not signify approval of said trolls. Similarly, just because they happen to disagree with an interpretation of a particular trope (or even agree but enjoy the game despite it) that does not mean they should be declared dead to everyone and tossed out of the community. They likewise note individuality comes with the price of being responsible for one’s actions, and therefore it is not only ok but also just to criticize those persons who act in an unethical manner and expect them to rectify their behavior.

This has been fascinating to watch since for once the forces of political correctness and collectivism seem to have met their match in a group of people that simply refuses to bend to their will. Gamers will not be shamed into accepting the victimhood of the Quinns and Sarkeesians of the world, nor will they be lectured to by the journalists that happily parrot that narrative or be silenced by the forum moderators who seek to censor any opposition. Since every other aspect of Western Civilization has buckled and cowed before the various –isms that sprang forth over the last half century or so, one must wonder what it is, exactly, about this particular community that allows it to fight back with such ferocity.

No doubt one possibility is that video games have always been a great equalizer. Bosses, puzzles, finish lines, match results, and scoreboards do not care what gender, race, or sexual orientation the player is, so there’s little room for blaming oppression for failure. In multiplayer games, it’s unlikely that one player can even tell what gender, race, sexual orientation, social status, etc. another player is. Most of the time another player exists as merely stream of text and/or a digital avatar that in no way reflects their real life image such that hated rivals can end up forming bonds without even knowing it.

Thus when games do afford players the opportunity to form groups, such as squads in FPSes or guilds in MMOs, their primary concerns are a person’s skill level, their willingness to improve that skill, and their general attitude rather than their superficial characteristics or political ideology. After all, the most politically correct person in the world is of no help to the team if they can’t shoot straight, and they’ll be incredibly distracting if they won’t shut up about how a particular character model is degrading to women. They definitely won’t improve the team’s odds if every time they screw up they blame some troll for harassing them rather than reflect upon what they did wrong and try to do better next time.

Hannah Wallen argues that the resistance stems from the fact that most gamers gave up on the social ladder long ago, and so threats to cast them down it and incentives to raise them up it mean nothing to them, thereby making them immune to the favorite shaming tactics of social justice warriors. Certainly this situation resembles the high school cliques of cheerleaders and athletes staring down their noses at the gross nerds who are so weak and pathetic they have to play games on the Internet, so she may not be too far off.

Ultimately, I wonder if it’s not something much simpler. Perhaps it’s just that gamers remember what it was like before their hobby became cool, and they’ll be damned if they’ll be driven out by the very people who used to deride them for enjoying it.

*this post cross-posted at http://theirfinesthour.net


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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Zoe Quinn Scandal: Nepotism and Censorship in Gaming

A firestorm has erupted in the video game community this past week, and before I get started on talking about that, let me offer this blanket warning that all the links and videos in this post may contain strong language and thus are probably NSFW.

The controversy centers on independent game developer Zoe Quinn, and it began with her submission of her game, Depression Quest, to the Steam Greenlight program that allows the Steam community to select games for distribution on that service. Since Depression Quest is a simple text-based game designed to get players to understand depression, it was widely panned by that community.

However, Quinn gained enormous sympathy from the video game industry, particularly among gaming journalists, following an incident with the image forum Wizardchan. After some uncouth posts criticizing her and her game appeared on their site, Quinn took to social media to accuse the self-described virgin adult male community at Wizardchan of harassing her both online and via telephone. Despite their assertions they had nothing to do with the attacks on Quinn, the Wizardchan guys were lambasted for being sexists and misogynists by her supporters and the gaming press, and there were accusations on both sides of people’s personal information being leaked and websites being hacked.

Ultimately, the game was green-lit over the objections of the larger gaming community, and in light of the Wizardchan incident, many suspected it was due to the influence of industry members sympathetic to Quinn’s arguments that the attacks and the criticism were just another attempt to keep a woman down.

Fast forward to a few days ago when Quinn’s ex-boyfriend put up an extremely long blogpost that lists his grievances with her and the reasons for their relationship failing. His post includes multiple screen grabs of their private conversations that demonstrate her being a serial liar who cheated on him with at least five other men, one of whom is her married boss and another of whom works for the prominent gaming journalism site Kotaku.

Now for some time gamers have been complaining about the nepotism and corruption within the industry, with gaming journalists and game developers frequently being caught in bed with each other. Since the “in bed” in this case was quite literal, all manner of Youtube videos and forum posts on the issue began to appear analyzing the post by Quinn’s ex and the positive coverage Quinn has received by sites like Kotaku.

The response to these commentaries has been a vehement attempt to censor any discussion of this issue, with moderators at gaming sites and sites like reddit.com pulling down any posts that had to do with this incident. Quinn herself directly targeted one Youtube channel called MundaneMatt with a bogus copyright claim in attempt to get his video on the subject killed. That resulted in many more angry videos, such as this excellent analysis of the entire sequence of events by a guy called InternetAristocrat.

And of course, Quinn and her allies have tried to frame the entire controversy as a bunch of angry white males out to slut shame a woman for sleeping around because gamers are misogynists etc.

This conflict has played itself out over and over again over the past few years as the social justice people have gone full court press on the video game industry, complaining that they cater to young white males and don’t highlight or hire women, gays, or minorities with enough frequency. When gamers push back on these notions, they are met with outright censorship and accusations of misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and racism just like we see with conservatives and the War on Women.

If conservatives and libertarians were smart, they’d get into the gaming arena and help gamers who don't yet realize they're conservatives fight off the forces of so-called "social justice" that have invaded that arena of entertainment. Otherwise it will soon join the educational system, the news media, movies, and television shows as just another conduit for progressives to shove their ideology down people's throats.

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net and http://realraw.us

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Not Quite Expendable Yet

Sometimes more is better.

I miss the days of the classic action movie, where one or two manly men fought their way through a small army of goofy henchmen and sub bosses to an ultimate showdown with a charismatic villain, all the while dropping one liners dripping with gloriously awful puns. The explosions were real and if somebody so much as bumped the camera, much less shook it, they’d be lucky to keep their job.  Yep, those were the days.  So when Sylvester Stallone sought to rekindle that spirit with the action hero team-ups we always wanted and never got, you can bet I was on board with this Expendables thing.

Thus far, the Expendables movies have been fun little romps, though not without their flaws.  The first one started beautifully but unfortunately transitioned into a more modern style of filmmaking that obscured a great finale with darkness, shakycam, fast cutting, and lame CG effects.  The second one did a better job on that front, but it also had a much less coherent plot. Then again, the Chuck Norris cameo alone made that film worth the price of admission, so now we've got The Expendables 3 with even more 80s and 90s action stars filing into the ranks.

Like the first two, this one is quite a mixed bag. The action choreography is great once again, but it’s also heavily obscured by the camera work and editing. Some of the sequences look almost like they have unfinished effects in them, and as many people have noted in their complaints about the movie, it’s only PG-13 which somewhat undercuts the whole gratuitous violence thing for which these kinds of films are known.

Of course, these movies operate primarily on the nostalgia of seeing old stars back in action, and on that front it delivers quite well with a bunch of classic faces that oddly enough includes Kesley Grammer.  Fortunately though Grammer is not an action star, he’s always dependable in almost any capacity. In this case, he’s the recruiter friend of Stallone’s Barney Ross tasked with finding some new blood that’s more expendable than usual.

Given Jason Statham is the closest thing we have to a modern day Stallone/Schwarzenegger and he’s already a member of the team, it’s a foregone conclusion the newbies are a group we've all barely heard of and thus have a hard time taking seriously when compared to the star power of their elder compatriots. That has raised some hackles since most everyone came to this movie to see our favorite sexagenarian action heroes blowing stuff up and aping their old one-liners, not a bunch of 20-somethings who have yet to make a mark on the world. On the off chance you might recognize their names, that group is made up of Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, and Ronda Rousey.

Personally, I thought they handled the sequence with the “kids” rather well.  The setup for it is certainly abrupt, but the recruitment and the subsequent mission not only were enjoyable, but a good way to keep from overusing the in-jokes from all the classic actors.  And frankly, at some point these old guys will, in fact, be “too old for this shit” as evidenced by the fact that the climactic showdown between Stallone and Mel Gibson is shot a mile away from both men so that you might not notice their stunt doubles.  (You’ll notice.)  So at some point somebody has to take over, and why not see if you can’t create a new crop of action stars that are not comic book characters?

The young guns portion also introduces Antonio Banderas’ character, who you will either find terribly hilarious or totally insufferable.  I fell into the former category, which made the very pointed reference in his back story to the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi all the more poignant.  It’s perhaps the only real world call out that doesn't rely on some form of self-deprecation.

Of the remaining new old faces, Wesley Snipes’ character is pretty funny too, but he fades into the background early on. Harrison Ford pops in and out randomly, and he’s clearly just there to replace Bruce Willis, who bailed over a financial dispute, so there’s very little in the way of references to his movies. As I alluded to earlier, Mel Gibson handles the head villain duties and although there isn’t much to his character, he sells it incredibly well anyway which makes his return to the big screen quite welcome.

The Governator returns for a bit more screen time this go round, now that he’s back making movies again, but poor Jet Li could've stayed home and nobody would've noticed.  Sadly, Jason Statham gets horribly short-changed by being the middle child caught between the classics and the newbs.

An early leak of the full movie online combined with some bad word of mouth crushed this film at the box office, so who knows if The Expendables 4 will make it to the screen, but I still think this idea has some gas in the tank so long as Sly can decide what kind of movie he really wants to make.  Watering it down to PG-13 and turning the old guys into obligatory cameos just won’t cut it, but an over the top classic action movie where the students become the masters? That could be worth seeing.

*This post cross-posted at http://theirfinesthour.net/


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