GamerGate doesn’t want games to be art

So I realized something today that probably should’ve been obvious before, but here it is anyway: GamerGate doesn’t want games to be art. (For those of you new to this, here’s a primer on GamerGate.)

I mean, there’s a lot of other stuff going on with GamerGate: gaming is full of misogynistic pissbabies who are angry that women are interested in video games and are attempting to make their shitty clubhouse as awful as possible so we do not want to go into it, and also they hate transgender people a lot. Those are the bigger things going on.

But when you look at the stuff they’ve actually said about games journalism, they really, really don’t want any kind of subjective critique to exist, and when you look at the game developers they’ve targeted, they really, really don’t want challenging or interesting games to exist.

There are a lot of really interesting games that’ve come out, particularly in the last decade, that challenge ideas about what gaming is about, what gaming is for, and what qualifies as a game. Sometimes there are interesting little parts in big game titles that do this, where you get the moral questions in Dragon Age and other games like that, but usually it’s indies that are managing to do this, developers with a handful of supporters, companies with only a small number of employees, doing things that can afford to be experimental in ways that other games just can’t.

It’s not just that they’re failing to go after the big developers and their swag gifts to journalism and those shady areas where journalistic integrity and whether or not critique and reviews can be trusted, it’s that instead of going after journalists at all they’re mostly going after targets making interesting, challenging games that might actually have a chance at changing how people think of video games. They’re not getting the support and protection they should be getting from the big names in gaming, either– in fact, I keep seeing prominent GamerGaters recommended for me on the front page of Steam, which is a major (if not *the* major) game distribution hub.

It’s not just the “art” label that they’re rejecting– if you’ve ever seen the scorn a lot of gamers treat “casuals” with, you’re familiar with the attempts at gatekeeping that try to keep any gaming that’s actually accessible to people who don’t identify with “gamer culture”. I just think it’s interesting that the “big controversy” in gaming in 2015 is, in its attempt to throw women (especially trans women) out of the clubhouse with as violent means as they can get away with, has made its attempts to prove games are art a decade ago look a bit ridiculous– how could a community so dedicated to stifling creativity and critique be seen as a legitimate art form?

this is a silly aside about Dragon Age that you can skip if you do not care about Dragon Age

I have a big post on Dragon Age and social justice coming up, but I have a theory on that game that’s been bugging me and I want to share it with you all in the meantime.

What if the real reason that blood magic tends to lead to demon summoning isn’t because of any evil or moral corruption but just is because of the blood loss? Like, if you just cast some blood spell and you have way less blood in your body and a demon is like “hey, friend, do this thing”, I bet you’d be way more likely to do it, right?

What if the way to prevent mages from losing their shit and summoning a bunch of demons is to make them sit down and eat a fucking granola bar?

They know so little about science that I bet introducing this would be super controversial, and they’d get the kind of shit about how Gardasil is gonna make kids go have sex because it’s slightly safer, except about how giving out granola bars makes people do more blood magic, but the Inquisition could handle that PR battle. Maybe the Templars and Keepers could help pass them out.

the Sadie Method of Homeland Security

When I was growing up, the dog we had, a lovely Lab/Chow mix called Sadie, would bark at the mail carrier every day. This clearly was very effective: every day, she scared the mail carrier away. We referred to this as the Sadie Method of Homeland Security.

There are two possible catastrophes she was preventing:

  1. The mail carrier could break into our house and steal our things and possibly murder all of us.
  2. The mail carrier would just stay on the porch, and the next day another one would come by, and soon there would be so many postal workers on the porch that we would be unable to access the house.

Cheryl Abbate, a philosophy graduate student who was recently targeted by a smear campaign and abuse and harassment, has written a really smart blog entry on the entire thing. There’s been plenty written on this lately, but the overwhelming focus on the GamerGate hate brigade has been taking up so much bandwidth that it feels like ages since we’ve seen that this kind of focusing of hate mobs on specific targets can come from other angles, too, and that these kinds of threats can come from the Fox News angle and on actual pieces of paper, not just from –chan and IRC based Twitter sealions.

Tumblr is great

Every few days, I see something on Tumblr that fills my heart with joy.

People get really caught up in making fun of Tumblr culture, as if a bunch of harmless 13 year olds figuring out their gender identity in ways that wouldn’t even be possible a generation ago is some kind of terrible thing. And don’t get me wrong, there are some problematic things about Tumblr as a system– it’s bad at dealing with abuse in the same way Twitter is and it allows a lot of really hateful blogs (stuff by neo-nazis, etc) to stick around– and the community has many of the flaws that social justice focused communities with an overwhelming amount of young white people have, especially with race.

But it seems like there are constantly great things coming up there, both in social justice contexts and other ones. People racebending and creating diverse fancasts (fan-made ideas of which actors would do well playing fictional characters onscreen, such as Gina Torres as Wonder Woman), high school kids talking about sexism, rape culture and dress codes, a 90,000 word Steve/Bucky alternate universe story taking place in a suburban high school and based loosely on George Eliot’s Middlemarch, warnings about the safety hazards of official 50 Shades of Grey merchandise, etc.

There are entire communities, which I won’t link to here, dedicated to, at best, making fun of “Tumblr culture” and, at worst, organizing harassment and doxxing of its users; it’s not at GamerGate levels right now but it can still be pretty bad. Additionally, there’s an attitude I’ve seen on many websites full of people who should know actually unironically use terms like “Social Justice Warrior”, a derogatory term made up by anti-Social Justice people that we managed to co-opt pretty quickly with “Social Justice Rogue”, “Social Justice Paladin” and other RPG class based jokes (there’s even a Greenlit game on Steam).

I think it’s important to recognize problematic aspects of your favorite things (doing what Tumblr would call “your fave is problematic”), but I think that the garbage people are eager to heap on Tumblr is rarely because of its problematic aspects, and tends to be one of the many ways that people are eager to shit on the hobbies of women and girls. It’s the same narrative that devalues work that’s seen as “feminine”, but applied to the hobby sphere.

if your styleguide is disrespectful, update your style guide

This means you, New York Times.

Here’s the deal: if the point of your article is to talk about different pronouns (even if that isn’t the only point of the article), the best way to do that is by using the damn things. Playing the pronoun game with your subject makes you sound incredibly stilted, and in combination with phrases like “born female”, as opposed to a phrase like “assigned female at birth”, makes you look both ignorant and bigoted.

The refusal to use any pronouns at all looks like one of the many failures that journalism frequently has by attempting to be neutral. It’s related to the “false balance” problem that comes up when reporting issues where one side is clearly lying, or the issues that come up when covering issues like the anti-vaccination movement or climate change where the science is clear, but there are people who choose to disbelieve the science.

These articles are more feature-y, but it’s still that attempt to be neutral that’s creating a trap. Here’s the thing: you can’t be neutral on social justice issues. When one side is “this is who I am, and I would like my self and my identity to be respected” and the other side is just a mess of linguistic prescriptivists, who are wrong, people who don’t want to use respectful language because they do not want change, and bigots, attempting neutrality is just reinforcing a marginalizing status quo.

There is nothing sacred about your style guide. English language pronouns were not passed down to us from God. Fix it.

This post is elaborated from a series of Tweets.

Walkies Simulator

In case any of you missed it, I wrote a Twine game called Walkies Simulator for Ruin Jam, a game jam dedicated to ruining video games. (Here’s the link for if you want to play it in your entire browser window instead of in the interface.)

Here’s what my friends the critics are saying about Walkies Simulator:

  • “gud gam”
  • “it was cool but i couldn’t make any progress because I kept saying “dog” in the first screen”
  • “This game does not adequately simulate taking a cat for a walk. please add that as DLC.”

Demoridroids: A cyberpunk/sci-fi mook concept

The Demoridroids are a concept for an army of mooks/minions; they would be used as a cheap alternative to human guards. They are, in most ways, indistinguishable from other battle robots or droids; the only difference is that they have an added function that attempts to demoralize their human targets.

The Demoridroid project started with the idea of scanning the huge volumes of existing data produced by humans in an attempt to find the most stressful phrases that can be uttered; they found data relating to human reactions to certain phrases and found the ones that caused the most fear and anxiety; they also measured stress-based psychosomatic functions, like nausea. They assumed that the bots would then end up finding the best battle cries, but they actually ended up with a very different phrase list, leading to the creation of a group of droids that went into battle blasting phrases such as:

  • We need to talk.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • So, what do you do?
  • Your rent is due.
  • The results were inconclusive.
  • Your card was declined.

The Demoridroid 1.0 would occasionally combine phrases if they were damaged, leading to dying robots crying out phrases like “We need to five years mother declined,” and though this was not a common bug, some viral videos of the Demoridroid 1.0 caused a dramatic decline in sales of new units and they were discontinued.

The Demoridroid 2.0 had far more advanced software to find information about its targets; it was able to use a scan of their appearance to get demographic data in order to find phrases that will affect people like them specifically, and they could be paired with in-house security systems that scanned any identification chips, RFID tags, and visible products, creating either a working model of the target or accessing public information about them; because of the sheer amount of information available on social networking sites, the Demoridroids were now able to narrow down their demoralizing phrases much more specifically.

This instantly led to many corporations buying the Demoridroids for security, but video of them soon leaked that found that the phrases that they indicated as stressful for many demographics tended to be overwhelmingly racist, sexist and homophobic: the most stressful phrases for members of marginalized groups often were a mix of casual microaggressions, explicit use of slurs, and other forms of harassment. A particular video of a droid yelling “Hey, (sexist slur), turn around, I’m talkin’ to you!” followed by a series of sexually explicit and threatening statements ended up with millions of views and was shown on several national news broadcasts.

This led to a call for the total cessation of the use of Demoridroids, and while some celebrities have attached themselves to this cause and a couple of corporations attempting to keep a “clean public image” have removed them, the anti-Demoridroid factions have so far had little success.

(The Demoridroids concept is free to use non commercially as long as you let me know if you decide to post any variations on them. If you’re a game master and you use them in a game, I’d be interested to see how you stat them, too!)