Friday, October 17, 2014

Ethical Approches #Gamergate Could Take But Doesn't

The movement #Gamergate is problematic on several levels. One, it's based on misogyny and rooted in Privilege. Two, some of its points don't hold water. But there are people with good intentions involved in the movement, and this blog post is addressed to them.

If you want to actually address journalistic ethics in the video game industry and do not condone the harassment of women, here are some solutions that #Gamergate could take, not just to win public approval, but because it's right.

1. Do Not Read the Publications You Don't Like

If this was really about journalistic integrity, you, as a consumer, have every right to boycott a product. In this case, it's the magazines. You can even write to their sponsors, like what happened between Intel and Gamasutra.

End of story. That's all you need to do. No need to harass people, no need to Doxx women, no need to write scathing letters to people not involved with the magazines you don't like.

Don't make it about Zoe Quinn, because she's not a journalist. Don't make it about Anita Sarkeesian, because she's not a journalist. Don't make it about Brianna Wu, because she's not a journalist. If you want to be taken seriously about journalism ethics, talk about journalism ethics.

Otherwise, we'll call bullshit on you.

2. Start Your Own Publication

No one is censoring you. If you have ideas or messages or propaganda other publications don't want to cover, create your own.

That's what GoodGamers.Us did.

Do I find their rhetoric problematic? Yes. They claim to be Ad-free but make an exception for Google AdSense (what happens when Google makes games?). They don't pay their contributors.

But that's within their right, and currently, the most reasonable response from #Gamergate I've seen.

3. Codify Your Stance

List down what you stand for, in concrete terms. "Corruption in Games Journalism" might be a competent tagline, but it's useless unless you cite specific points or examples. In what way is there corruption in games journalism? For example:
  • Game reviewers should not review games they paid via Kickstarter.
That's a concrete stance on the issue. Critics from both sides can discuss this issue. I can say, for example, that it is not a Conflict of Interest to review a game you paid for, regardless of whether it was bought via Steam, Kickstarter, or at a store. But via this way, concrete points can be discussed and debated, and people can either agree or disagree on the specifics.

Part of the reason #Gamergate is demonized is because it has an abstract cause, and people can only judge the results, which is the harassment and doxxing of various women in the industry.

Codify your position, and then we can gauge you on how close or far off the reality is from that goal or intent.

4. Accountability in Membership or Leadership

Currently, #Gamergate has no accountability. What they have is a membership of convenience: if someone claims they are pro-#Gamergate, they are part of the membership; if someone claims they are pro-#Gamergate and do something that tarnishes the image of the movement, they are disavowed by some members. This is a membership of convenience, in which no member of the movement can do anything wrong, or when they do, they are immediately expelled, depending on who you are talking to.

What they need is one of two things. One is a census (and I don't mean real names). They have a list of their members. So whenever someone outside of that list does something horrible in the name of #Gamergate, it is transparent that they are not really part of #Gamergate. But if you do not have such a list, you cannot claim that 99% of your movement are good people and only 1% is bad, because you don't have the numbers to back that up. Similarly, you can't say that person is not part of your movement despite them claiming to be part of it, because you have no concrete membership criteria; you have to take the good with the bad.

In Ferguson for example, it's clear who the citizens of Ferguson are, and who aren't. And when someone in Ferguson causes or is subject to conflict, there is accountability in that community; they don't say he or she is not part of Ferguson. That person is their responsibility and they act accordingly.

But because outing is a real threat, a census is not necessarily a practical solution in this case. Instead, a figurehead or leader should represent #Gamergate, someone who can speak for them, and someone who can't be disavowed in case they say or do something wrong. Even groups like Al Qaeda have leaders and spokepersons, to either claim credit or disavow the actions of other people claiming to be part of their membership. But without a leader, claiming that someone is not part of #Gamergate is as valid as a harasser claiming to be part of #Gamergate.

This is perfectly valid. This is why #Gamergate is a movement associated with harassment and threats.

Claiming that "they're not part of #Gamergate" is hollow because the organization has no sense of accountability. In fact, this only creates an atmosphere ripe for harassment, because the harassers are part of a mob, as opposed to individuals, and can thus conduct more harassment because the blame will be shouldered by the community as opposed to the individual.

5. Change the Hashtag

#Gamergate has a lot of baggage that goes with it, including harassment and misogyny. If you really wanted to discuss journalism ethics and make it a safe space, start a new hashtag.

Would it ensure the harassers won't go with you to the new hashtag? No. But they will definitely stay with #Gamergate.

But I can understand why people don't want to change the hashtag. They attach pride and identity to the hashtag. Or perhaps they think others won't follow them to the new hashtag.

But what are you more concerned about? Actual ethics and the protection of men and women in the Internet, or the numbers a hashtag has garnered so far?

6. The Privilege of Walking Away

If you walk away now, nothing will happen. Companies making AAA games will continue to make AAA games. You will still be able to play games. That's Privilege.

You know who can't walk away? The people being harassed, especially the public figures in the limelight.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#Gamergate Has Everything To Do With Gender

There's a lot of sexism in the industry, whether we're talking about fandom, gaming, etc.

What a lot of people don't realize is how sexism is systemic and often unconscious. Just take a look at #Gamergate and its proponents immediately shout that they're against "corruption in games journalism" (which is about as concrete as the "War on Terror") when their entire movement has revolved around perpetuating sexism and harassing women and allies.

A lot of people, understandably so, are tired of having the 101 talk. That's because doing so is exhausting, and they're not here to teach you: they expect people to be intelligent and do their own research.

But proponents of #Gamergate claim that they're not misogynists, when that's precisely the case. Let me break it down for you.

I.  The Initial Focus was on Zoe Quinn

Here is GamerGate's Know Your Meme page. You don't get more pro-#GamerGate than that. It starts out with Zoe Quinn, a female developer. Now here are the accusations:

1. She slept with journalist Nathan Grayson to gain favorable reviews for her game Depression Quest. Let's unpack that assumption.
  • First, this is what Joanna Russ (author of How to Suppress Women's Writing) describes as "The Double Standard of Content". To quote from Russ's book: "Motives for the dismissal differ: habit, laziness, reliance on history or criticism that is already corrupt, ignorance (the most excusable of all, surely), the desire not to disturb the comfort based on that ignorance (much less excusable), the dim (or not-so-dim) perception that one's self-esteem or sex-based interests are at stake, the desire to stay within an all-male, all-white club that is, whatever its drawbacks, familiar and comfortable, and sometimes the clear perception that letting outsiders into the club, economically or otherwise, will distrub the structure of quid pro quo that keeps the club going." Many of this will apply to Depression Quest, but let me put it in Lay Man's terms: Zoe Quinn, a female developer, made a game, and because female developers could not possibly make a good game, she slept with a man to get a good review. That is what #Gamergate is stating, whether implicitly or explicitly.
  • Second, such a review did not exist. But it is easier for a lot of gamers to believe it so.
  • Hypothetically speaking, let's assume that Quinn did, in fact, bribe Grayson to gain a favorable review. Gamers should have focused on Grayson, not Quinn. (They would only do so significantly later, nor did this lessen the harassment on Quinn.) If the Koch brothers bribes George W. Bush to gain a favor from the government, the burden is on Bush, not the Koch brothers. But the focus on Quinn (as the subsequent points show) betrays that this is really about women in the field instead of actual ethics in journalism.

2. That journalists were contributing to Quinn's Patreon account.
  • This is what Russ would consider a "Prohibition", which prevents women from committing art. To quote: "For example, poverty and lack of leisure are powerful deterrents to art: most nineteenth century British factory workers, enduring a fourteen-hour day, were unlikely to spend a lifetime in rigorously perfecting the sonnet." Simply put, these gamers do not want Quinn to earn a living, so she can create more games.
  • Second, Patreon is not GoFundMe. In order to get be supported at Patreon, you need to deliver a product. In that sense, it is irrelevant if journalists are contributing to a developer's Patreon account or not; they are consumers, and free to critique or review those products.
3. Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez had relationships with other game developers so she must be biased.
  • In many ways, this is a double standard. Men in other industries have friendships and relationships with people they write about or whose works they review. It's like claiming that the late film critic Roger Ebert never should have met or befriended the people he wrote about. Moreover, the focus on Hernandez (as opposed to every other male game journalist and their web of friendships and social contacts), betrays this conscious--or unconscious--sexism.
4. Robin Arnot, the chair for Night Games at Indiecade, had an affair with Quinn, which was how she received her award.
  • See #1.
  • That accusation also dismisses the integrity and decision of the rest of the jury.
II. Denial and Victim Blaming When it Comes to Harassment

During #Gamergate, several people were harassed, including the following:
1. The initial responses was to either deny the event, that they staged it, or that they deserved it. This is what's called Blaming the Victim.

2. Notice that one of the people that was harassed was Phil Fish, a male developer. There is a different form of harassment applied to him. Whereas with female developers it is enough to threaten them, show them dick pics, mail death threats, or call their house, because Fish is a male developer, a different method used to scare him: divulging his financial information. The discrepancy in tactics used shows the inequality between men and women in the industry, in the same way that a black man carrying a toy sword can get shot in America, while a drunk white man goes home safe (or another extreme, a white man can shoot another person in the face and have the injured party apologize).

3. Some proponents of #Gamergate have claimed that they get harassed too. One wrong does not eliminate another wrong, nor is that a valid excuse to dismiss the harassment others have received. (The tragedy is that when publications like Polygon writes articles like harassment in video games, the response by #Gamergate is that such articles are corrupted and biased!)

III. Using #NotYourShield as a Shield Against Criticism

#NotYourShield is simple: whenever critics of #Gamergate claim that #Gamergate is misogynistic, they use the "But my female friend said" or "I have a black friend so I can't be racist" card.

It is also a failure of proponents of #Gamergate how dialogue and Feminism works. First, Feminism represents several things, and there is room for debate. That is why there were arguments between the First Wave Feminists and the Second Wave, the Second Wave and the Third Wave, etc. There will be various interpretations of Feminism and it continues to evolve. For example:

Paste Magazine's review of Bayonetta 2.
There is nuance to that discussion and will boil down to the articulation of their respective points. (And the difference is that these critics can disagree without threatening each other with harassment or violence.)

There is this video for example from someone who describes themselves as a Feminist. This doesn't give proponents of #Gamergate a free pass when it comes to accusations of misogyny and sexism though.

IV. The Invisibility of Women and Unconscious Bias

First off, you know someone who talks about ethics in games journalism? Maddy Myers. How come you haven't heard of her? Maybe because she's not one of the Powerful Games Journalists [that are] Men?

Or look at Jenn Frank, whose disclosure that she bought Quinn's work previously and briefly met Sarkeesian was so ridiculous a disclosure that The Guardian's editorial did not deem it fit to publish the disclosure originally. Because it's ridiculous (e.g. there is no conflict of interest). But it is only in the #Gamergate community that such standards are enforced.

A lot of gamers will probably have heard of TotalBiscuit, currently one of the top Steam Curators. Kudos to him for thinking on the ethical conflicts of using his position to recommend a game from a paid sponsor. It's too bad that when it comes to the harassment of women in the industry, his explicit support of #Gamergate is implicitly condoning all the bad things associated with the movement. Those are his priorities.

That's not to say all of this is conscious. Take a look at Escapist Magazine, which ran two articles on game developers and how they perceived #Gamergate:

If I have to spell it out to you, Women are described as Female Game Developers. The men, however, are just Game Developers.
Later, when it's revealed that one of the male developers interviewed harassed Zoe Quinn, a female game developer, here was their response:
But when male journalists start complaining...

You end up with this message:

Because in the gaming industry, when a woman claims that they're being harassed, their word isn't good enough. How many proponents of #Gamergate will deny this happened?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Interview: Cypher on #INeedDiverseGames

Hi. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what is #INeedDiverseGames?

It was a wee hashtag that was born out of frustration with the state of the industry, the lack of diversity I saw. Now it's become a point for people to express why then need diverse games, not just for themselves but for others to enjoy the art of gaming.

How did it start?

This tweet:

Despite what people might think, the hashtag was not in reaction to, or in anyway influenced by GG. They really weren't on my radar until the renewed coverage lately.

What are your goals, whether short-term or long-term?

The short term goal is to get people on board with the idea that diversity in games is a good thing, that it does not hurt anyone to give people more options rather than retreading the same stories, the same plots in games. For people to realize it's about inclusion, not exclusion.

Long term goals is to make sure it doesn't become a flash in the pan, hot topic of the day then fizzle out because something else is going on in the gaming world. Be that making it into a full time project, asking the game dev community for help in keeping it alive and thriving or the masses that clearly want more diversity based on the tweets that have been flying fast and furious.

What's the reaction been so far?

For the most part, incredibly positive. There have been attempts by GG'rs to hijack the hashtag, claim that if you support #INeedDiverseGames, then you support GG. That's so far from the truth, I don't even have words for it.

But on a more positive note, the outpouring of support and great response has been amazing. For a hashtag that was thought up on the fly while I was angry about gaming, it's gotten a great response. Kudos to those folks who have actively taken on those who seem to have a problem with wanting more diversity in gaming.

What have been the challenges?

Mostly, making sure that this doesn't overwhelm me (or the awesome dragonreine who has been instrumental in helping me run the tumblr, twitter, etc.) and to not let it fizzle out. Gaming is important to me, it's been part of my life for twenty years and because of my love of gaming, the challenge we all have is to make diversity more than a buzzword, to make it the norm rather than the exception. To show that there is room at the table for everyone.

What games do you like to play? Which games are doing it right?

I'm more of an action and RPG fan. Final Fantasy VII - XIII, Suikoden, Shenmue, Dragon Age, Dragon Age II and the Mass Effect Series. I also grew up in arcades, I love, love, love a good fighting game. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Samurai Shodown, so many I could name but except for FPS (I get motion sickness from them), I'm pretty much an all types of games gal.

As for games doing it right, Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age Origins & II, Gone Home, Child of Light, Papa & Yo, Remember Me... are all examples of giving you more diverse options, either through customization of your character, or giving you the option to play as a woman, a woman of color, a child, a young adult woman. There's also been a lot of suggestions from followers of the tumblr and via twitter.

How can we help?

Tweet, write up posts, review games and spread the word about titles you find. Not everyone has played every single game, and a lot of times you might have played a game that others may not know about.

If you can back game projects, or signal boost if contributing money is an issue. Tweet with the hashtag, Support indie game devs, support those with ideas if they tell you they want to do X, don't let the first thing that come out of your mouth be don't do it, it won't sell, no one cares. If that's the default response to different ideas, nothing will change.

Also be able to criticize games and gaming culture. Accept that not everything is great and that for the medium to grow, it must be critiqued and analyzed so people can find the flaws, fill them in and smooth them out.

Where can people find more about #INeedDiverseGames?

Here’s a handy link to the About page.

You can also find us at:

Facebook / Twitter / Google +

We’re taking submissions and are open to questions via the askbox or email

Lastly, there’s now a spreadshirt store up, and a full explanation up here.

Cypher has been an avid gamer for twenty years, and is invested in making sure that people see having more diversity in games is not a zero sum game, or about exclusion, in fact she wants more, better games for everyone.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Understanding #Gamergate and Why it's Problematic

For more than a month now, one of the biggest controversies in the video game industry is #Gamergate. Each side will have their own narrative. Here's the one from the pro-#Gamergate side for example:

However, if you parse the details of what #Gamergate stands for, it becomes problematic on several levels.

Both sides agree that #Gamergate started when independent game developer Zoe Quinn (creator of Depression Quest, what some gamers consider a "non-game" because, among other things, it was an interactive fiction game) was accused of sleeping with a journalist to gain favorable reviews on gaming website Kotaku. This is detailed in the website of Zoe Quinn's ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. (Vice has an interview with him.) Never mind the fact that such a review did not exist. Or that Gjoni coached members of 4chan on how Quinn (and the media) would react.

Adam Baldwin (popularly known for playing Jayne in Firefly) was initially the face of #Gamergate, as he was one of the first to use the hashtag.
Several personalities would come to Quinn's defense, including controversial game developer Phil Fish (creator of Fez, the subject of which was tackled in Indie Game: The Movie), as well as several simultaneous articles from various gaming media outlets that "gamers were dead":
So cue the current uproar.

The Background

As a background, this isn't a development that happened overnight. Neither pro-#Gamergate or anti-#Gamergate woke up one day in August and decided to be angry. This was a conversation with the gaming industry that has been happening slowly.

For the past few years, the gaming media has pointed out various injustices in the gaming industry, such as the harassment of women in the industry. This has been the bias of various media outlets as part of, well, making the gaming industry a more welcoming place for people outside of the status quo. Does the video game industry have problems?

Here are some examples:
Currently, some gamers are infuriated with this. For some, it's because they think this has no basis in reality. (Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not happening to others.) Some are thinking that if this continues, someone will take their games away. (The critics aren't asking to take away your games; they're criticism.) And some simply play defensive and can't take any form of criticism when it comes to their favorite media. (They should read "How to be a fan of problematic things".)

So here we are, #Gamergate.

The #Gamergate Propaganda

The problem with harassers in the gaming community is that they have no moral cause (beyond simply being personally offended) before #Gamergate. By framing their agenda in what seems a righteous cause, they draw upon support from various people (some with legitimate grievances towards the gaming industry, some opportunists, and others that are simply ignorant).

But what exactly does #Gamergate profess to stand for? Corruption in video game journalism.

In WhatCulture's "10 Things You Need To Know About The #GamerGate Scandal", here's the things they bring up (those in bold italics are my replies):
  1. It’s Not About Misogyny. Yes, it just so happens that many of the targets happen to be women. Or as some pro-#Gamergate proponents have framed it:
  2. Everybody Receives Death Threats. Which is why #Gamergate condones victim blaming or suggest harassment is a false flag?
  3. It’s Not Just Straight White Males Who Are In Favour. And some women don't identify as Feminists. Or that some People of Color have racists views.
  4. Not All Gamers Send Death Threats And Harass People. Cue #notallmen.
  5. Corruption In Video Game Journalism Is A Real Issue. Yes, it is. Leigh Alexander has a list of genuine ethical concerns. But blaming indie developers is like saying public school teachers should receive less funding to solve the US budget. Or actually going after actual controversial issues like Shadows Over Mordor.
  6. It’s About Separating The Journalist From The Blogger. Or: I don't understand media bias and how how actual journalism works, so I will claim people whose views I don't agree with aren't being objective. And let me insult bloggers while I'm at it.
  7. Men Don’t Want To Keep Gaming A “Boy’s Club”. They have a funny way of showing that.
  8. #DescribeAGamerIn4Words Is A Smear Campaign. And endemic of the perception gaming has to the general community, and why #7 keeps on happening.
  9. It’s About Negating Censorship. Governments censor work. Individuals or companies don't.
  10. It’s About The Videogames. Cue excuses why they don't like games like Depression Quest or Gone Home, so if somebody likes games they don't, it must be corruption.
So you can see some of the inherent problems when discussing #Gamergate, whether its proponents approach it with intentional or unintentional ignorance.

In my interaction with the hashtag, other points brought as evidence of corruption in games journalism include:
  • Conflict of interest in reviewing video games where the author backed it via Kickstarter, Patron, or some similar crowd-funded service. That's not conflict of interest. That's like saying it's a conflict of interest to review a game I bought. You are not a shareholder when you fund a game via crowdfunding; you're a consumer.
  • Game journalists are too close to game developers. First off, game journalists ARE close to game developers. That's how they obtain the news and how stories/leaks happen. Second, when  journalists aren't close to game developers, as is the case in this Brad Wardell interview, you're still angry at them.
  • The game journalists have a secret mailing list. Journalists are allowed to converse with each other, just like professionals in other industries.
There's a list of other grievances at Little Tiny Frogs.

L. Rhodes attempts to converse with proponents of #Gamergate and understand their points. Here are Rhodes's observations:
"At the same time, many of you told me that you wanted to see less social criticism in those reviews. If you really think that through, you’ll see that you can’t have it both ways. There’s a deep contradiction imbedded in the notion that, on the one hand, writers shouldn’t be beholden to developers when they review a game, and that, on the other hand, they should avoid criticisms they feel are relevant. Most game publishers don’t want to be criticized for the social prejudices they may have worked into their games. As such, the simple fact that a writer or editor would be willing to publish a social criticism ought to be treated as evidence that the venue is maintaining some independence from the industry on which it reports. Even when it doesn’t interest you, even when you disagree with what’s been said— even if, as some of you expressed, you feel personally affronted on the game’s behalf—you ought to welcome such criticism as a check on the sort of cozy developer/press relationship you’ve called corrupt."

Who Is Involved or Supports #Gamergate?

As previously stated, there are a lot of personalities involved in #Gamergate. Some believe the propaganda, some have sincere intentions, and some that view this as an operation and propaganda. Here are some who publicly support #Gamergate.
The Results of #Gamergate so far:

The harassment and doxxing of various people (whether pro- or anti-#Gamergate) including (but not limited to:
Various hashtags like:
  • #Notyourshield, where various people (including LGBT and people of color) support #Gamergate and tell video game journalists not to represent them in their criticisms.
  • #Gameethics, which discussed problems in the video game industry--usually from AAA companies--but is constantly accused of derailment by #Gamergate supporters.
  • #INeedDiverseGames, which states reasons for having diverse games, only to be criticized by #Gamergate supporters as derailment. (Edit: From the comments: "I was not thinking about GamerGate when I created the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag. Do not give them credit, or give the impression they were even on my mind when I created it. - Cypher")
A cancelled Indiegogo campaign, Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption. It was not initially disclosed that the campaigner was intending to hire their spouse as the lawyer in question., a no-ads (except Google AdSense) gaming review site that claims to be mostly free of political ideologies and does not pay its staff.

Christina Hoff Sommers, host of Factual Feminist, makes a video that video games are not sexist.

Intel pulling out its ads from game development site Gamasutra and subsequently apologizes (but does not reinstate) on a late Friday afternoon.

Other Comments:

The Escapist has an article featuring several anonymous female game developers sharing their views on #Gamergate.

Leigh Alexander has a list of ethical concerns in video games.

The prevalence of impersonation and conspiracy theories to discredit women in the game industry.