Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why I Could Never Get Elected to Anything

"Mr. Rex, do you think President Obama is a Christian?"

"What?"

"Do you think the President is a Christian?"

"Why the hell are you asking me? I'm not the Pope. It doesn't matter what I think of the President's personal religious values.  What the President thinks is his religion is none of my damn business, and even if it mattered in the least as to his particular policies, he'll be out of office in short order anyway so it's a moot point either way. The fact that you would even formulate those words in that order is insulting to me, the President, and your entire profession.  All the stuff that's happening in the world and you're going to sit there and ask me the journalistic equivalent of 'Oh my God, did you see what Tiffany was wearing last night!?' How the fuck did you get this job in the first place?

See this is why people hate you people and everyone in pretty much every political office from dog catcher up to the President.  Instead of having reasoned debates over actual pressing issues to the nation using facts, logic, and reason, everyone spends all their time sniping at each other over stupid bullshit because you idiots in the media are so desperate for a headline you're going to sit there and ask me something as monumentally irrelevant as 'Do you think the President is a Christian?'

The economy blows, we've got chronic unemployment, the health care law has managed to fuck up just about everything it touched, and the rest of the world is being overrun with a mob of psychotic religious fanatics, and that's your question. Fucking idiot."

Later:

Mr. Rex's spokesperson released a statement saying that of course Mr. Rex thinks the President in a Christian and sincerely apologizes for the profanity. He had just come off several days with no sleep from meeting his fellow American citizens and hearing their very real concerns about the state of their nation...


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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Tale of Two Kirks



Star Trek has had a profound effect on my life. I grew up watching the original series in reruns and seeing the movies in theaters. As Star Trek: The Next Generation matured into a great show, so did I mature through my teenage years. The ethical debates we had in college classrooms had nothing on heated arguments I had about Captain Janeway’s decisions in Star Trek: Voyager. Even when I finally developed an interest in politics, I was more concerned about the reboot of Star Trek than I was about Obama’s attempt to reboot America.

Such is the world for people who don’t have time to follow the minute by minute machinations of Washington. It’s why politically savvy people my age spend so much time trying to impress upon conservatives just how important it is they engage in the culture. Not only does it inform our politics, it reflects what we value as a nation. In fact, the difference between the original Star Trek and the rebooted version demonstrates how drastically American culture has changed. For the sake of brevity, let’s just focus on the two versions of Captain James T. Kirk.

America of the 60s was racing to the moon. Not just on a whim, but to defeat the evil empire of the Soviet Union. To get there, America needed smart, strong, courageous people willing to risk their lives in the pursuit of knowledge. As such, “Classic” Kirk was the perfect self-actualized geek. He was well educated, physically fit, cool under pressure, good with people, and loyal to a fault.

Described as a “walking stack of books” at the academy, he would often show off his breadth of knowledge and ability to use it under stress in the show. He could quote the Constitution from memory, talk hostile artificial intelligences to death, and construct a rudimentary cannon out of a bunch of basic elements in the middle of a death match.

Classic Kirk also had a penchant for bending the rules and making out with alien babes, which reflected the building free love movement and anti-government sentiment that would mark the period. Of course the pop culture remembers that as Kirk doing whatever he wanted and boinking every woman he met, but Kirk’s romances ended prematurely because he recognized his duty was always to his ship, its crew, and their mission. So while he was willing to violate his orders to do the right thing, he was never reckless with ship or his crew’s lives, and though his need to “make a difference” kept drawing him back to the captain’s chair, he still lamented that it cost him a chance at settling down with a family.

Speaking of lamentations, America of today is headed nowhere fast, just like New Kirk is when we meet him as an adult. He’s a lecherous loser wasting the potential others see in him chasing tail and getting drunk. While his counterpart had a strong sense of duty and a thirst for adventure, New Kirk’s so jaded he has to be taunted into joining Starfleet at all.

Like the youth of today, New Kirk is frequently described as special and told he has a grand destiny, but he never seems to demonstrate excellence of any sort. Classic Kirk sheepishly admitted he “changed the conditions” of the Kobayashi Maru test, but New Kirk is absolutely insufferable as he blatantly cheats on it.

From the richest Wall Street bankers and the most prominent government officials to the lowly idiot that spills coffee on himself, escaping blame and shifting responsibility is par for the course these days, so New Kirk does too. He’s not punished for cheating. When he’s finally busted down from captain later for numerous poor choices, it’s reversed almost immediately, and his decision to heroically sacrifice himself to literally kick his ship until it works again is undone a few minutes afterwards when he’s revived by magic blood. It should be noted that last bit is a role reversal redo of a famed sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and in that movie the resurrection of the dying party takes another full movie and ultimately results in the destruction of the Enterprise, the loss of Classic Kirk’s admiralty, and the death of Kirk’s son.

In an era where success is demonized as merely a product of blind luck, nepotism, or graft, New Kirk doesn’t ascend to the captain’s chair after years of distinguished service like his predecessor. He is leapfrogged from cadet to first officer because he knows Captain Pike, and then he’s promoted to captain by default after he badgers the acting captain into a mental breakdown.

So, if you really want America to return to reaching for the stars and striving for greatness, you may want to look into figuring out how to make the guy I grew up idolizing the standard for our cultural heroes again.

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

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

#GamerGate: The Last Stand of Individualism

Sometimes the hero is the one you least expect...


Their goals and their demands vary. Their movement requires almost nothing of its members to join, and so their diversity of both personalities and physical traits is astounding. They're also the last people one might expect to get into a culture war. "They" are the supporters of #GamerGate, and they have been confounding people for almost a half a year now.

Even after all that time, it's still a Herculean task to convince people of the significance of #GamerGate, with all "the happenings" as the gamers would call them making it nigh-impossible to wrap it up in a neat little bow for people to understand (though I did take a stab at that.) Those who do take an interest are often stymied by the chaotic nature of a leaderless Internet subculture. David Pakman, for example, spent many of his initial interviews grappling with the notion that a movement with such a low barrier to entry can simultaneously be so certain of the content of its members' characters.

After all, how can any participant state with authority "it's not about harassment; it's about ethics in journalism" when nobody is an authority? The opposition wields that apparent contradiction like a hammer, bashing #GamerGate as incapable of shaking off the stink of its supposed connection to harassment. They argue that anyone truly interested in ethics would undoubtedly abandon that permanently tainted hashtag and move on to something else.

Naturally the self-appointed arbiters of equality and progress neglect to mention that any new endeavor would immediately be considered the fruit of a poisonous tree because they have little interest in either ethics, equality, or progress. In reality, that which currently masquerades as "social justice" and "feminism" is merely just another form of collectivism, the age old desire of human beings to stuff people into arbitrary groups in order to exercise control over everyone. Most of the time that desire is even well intentioned.

Under the banner of helping the previously disenfranchised the social justice army has marched through every aspect of our culture, grinding any meager opposition between manufactured outrage and guilt by association until they simply give up. Even in sports we now have debates over how offensive a team name might be to a particular group that didn't seem to care much before. Given that, one might expect that a newly popular hobby like video games would be an easy target.

Instead the PC police found a resistance for which they were entirely unprepared. Frustrated by gamers' unresponsiveness to their normal proselytizing and thinking they had an opportunity to exploit the Zoe Quinn situation, they dropped all pretense to throw a haymaker with their "Gamers are Dead" campaign. Rather than falling to the ground to beg and plead for forgiveness like every other group before them, #GamerGate simply stood there, wiping a trickle of blood from its lips and grinning like some demon within had awakened. Then the gamers had the unmitigated gall to hit back.

It really shouldn't have come as such as surprise to all of us. Video games are the last bastion for people who seek to rise and fall on the merit of their actions and the content of their character. There's no Patriarchy to blame for failing to complete a quest, and scoreboards have no concern for gender, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. The rules of the game don't change because somebody was offended by the results of a match, and those who break the rules face ridicule and scorn because cheating renders the results meaningless. So it's no wonder so many members of #GamerGate's opposition admit they don't like video games very much, at least not in their current form.

Meanwhile, whether imbued from playing games or having attracted them to the medium, the #GamerGate supporters all have a deep affinity for the individualism video games promote. It's a nearly extinct philosophy that at best gets paid lip service nowadays, but gamers feel it in their bones. The freedom to pursue their own happiness is integral to their worldview, and they accept that their pursuit may come with unpleasant consequences like criticism, derision, and failure. They seek open and honest debate, and they prefer to let the market dictate the fate of ideas and products.

They also realize none of that can happen without a strong ethical foundation, particularly among the press, which is why the ethical breaches they have witnessed have struck such a chord in their community. Prior to the media turning on them, it could be written off with some grumbling as isolated incidents, but when even the freest parts of the Internet suddenly went censorship happy, it became impossible to ignore.

That part gets left out of the media narrative all the time, by the way. The real catalyst for the gamer revolt was not the sex scandal; it was normally open spaces closing their doors to the kind of unfiltered discussion that's a hallmark of gamer culture. Had that not occurred, the gamers would've stopped grumbling in a matter of hours and #GamerGate would've never happened.

Instead the censorship made it quite clear the problem goes beyond merely a few dishonest video game reviews, and the only way to stop this encroachment upon the safe haven gamers built for themselves was for them to go on offense to smash this collectivist nonsense wherever they find it. So now when feminists try to destroy a brilliant scientist because of his choice of apparel, #GamerGate is there to defend him.

And they don't need a ruling council or a party platform to tell them what to do or what they stand for. After all, it's actually not that nobody in #GamerGate is an authority; it's that everyone is. They rest their moral certainty on the notion that the only person for whom they must speak is themselves. Others can choose to follow if they like. Good ideas will rise from the cacophony of voices, bad ones will fall, and anyone can contribute, whether they're an outspoken female porn star or a male firebrand Breitbart reporter.

So here we are, witnessing an unprecedented and wonderful event. All of the people we expected to prevent tyranny from sneaking up on us in the night have fallen to its lure, and in their place stands a ragtag bunch of nobodies who have spent much of their lives being shunned for enjoying the very virtual worlds which have awakened within them the courage and principles necessary to take up arms and slay the dragon in our midst. It's almost like the plot of a video game...


The artwork for this post was created by Sarjex.  Check out her store!
*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net

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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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