SXSW, GamerGate, and bears

I don’t blog much about GamerGate anymore, and for the most part it’s faded from a lot of online discussion, now that anyone with any semblance of empathy or ability to think of women as people has left GamerGate behind. However, GamerGate is still very much active, and all the more frightening now that it has crystallized into an actual hate group. (No, really. I’m not even kidding.)

So it was a bit baffling that SXSW, a huge pop culture convention/festival centered around music, film, and interactive entertainment decided to allow a pro-GamerGate panel on their roster of upcoming events, especially given that there was also to have been a panel about online harassment featuring Randi Harper, Katherine Cross, and Brianna Wu – three of GamerGate’s favorite targets.

Predictably, there were threats made against the festival and its organizers, because of course there were – this is GamerGate we’re talking about. And rather than commit to providing extra security, SXSW canceled both the pro-GamerGate panel and the online harassment panel. Despite that SXSW is a huge festival that makes absurd amounts of money, and they have played host to some pretty damn big names in the past and have done just fine in providing them with extra security.

Even more ludicrous was the fact that the SXSW organizers then proceeded to pat themselves on the back, calling the decision “strong community management”. Which is when I conceived of this great idea for a comic, explaining how absolutely ludicrous that decision is by substituting “GamerGate” for “bears”, and then exaggerating for comedic effect.

Unfortunately, then my three year old decided to share her cold with me, and by the time I had it finished and got around to posting it, SXSW had already acknowledged that their previous decision was a mistake, which kills some of the humor. Still, I’m pretty proud of how it came out:

bears

Oh well. Even if I didn’t act quickly enough to post for maximum internet hilarity, I still got to draw angry bears – which was pretty awesome.

Now something I will point out is that this comic is a bit reductive in painting this purely as GamerGate versus Randi Harper, Brianna Wu, and Katherine Cross – when the panel that they had wanted to host is actually about online harassment more broadly, not just as part of GamerGate. (Katherine Cross in particular has said that she has been trying to leave GamerGate behind and to move on with her work and her activism.) Still, the fact remains that GamerGate remains the genesis of their anti-harassment work, and still constitutes a large share of the abuse that they receive online.

It is encouraging to see SXSW not only acknowledge that their decision was wrong-headed, but also put together a day-long event that already has a pretty awesome roster of speakers. It would have been nicer if this summit had been something that could have happened without a giant debacle of this nature. But hopefully the extra publicity generated by the bungled handling of this matter will end up resulting in additional publicity for a much-needed event.

Friday Freebies: the apology edition

Before I get started, a few notes:

So here’s the deal: we’ve just entered the busy season at my day job. More workload means less time and bandwidth, means less ability to post here. Go Make Me a Sandwich is going to be my first priority when it comes to writing, but I still have to go to my job and be a mom as well as all that other stuff. Not to mention that this is convention season, and I’ll be attending a couple of those. Lastly, I just signed all of the paperwork to start a big, really exciting project that I’m super excited about. I think it’s going to be a really good thing for tabletop! Unfortunately, it’s on a deadline and it’s not something I can really talk about until after it happens. So that will be a factor too.

My goal is to get one paid post up per week, and I will try to get freebie link posts up as well. Realistically that may not happen. I promise things will pick up again once we get into late summer, and I do have some cool stuff in the works. Thanks for bearing with me.

And now on to the linkage!

Leigh Alexander is totally killing it

Over on Offworld, a new BoingBoing affiliate, Leigh Alexander has been totally killing it with a ton of interesting articles. My favorites lately include: A look at the disturbing trend of bootleg Frozen games, a really interesting profile of indie game developer Nina Freeman, and a piece about Holly Gramazio’s absurd game Pornography for Beginners which lampoons the UK’s new anti-pornography laws.

I would say that OffWorld is definitely worth subscribing to.

Noelle Stevenson, similarly killing it

Noelle Stevenson, the creator of Nimona and one of the writers for Lumberjanes, is one of my favorite people on Twitter.

Recently, she did a series of tweets about the lazy trope of introducing a male antihero by having him wake up to a beautiful woman he clearly has just slept with, suggesting possible alternatives which are all brilliant:

 

antihero
CLICK FOR LARGER MORE READABLE VIEW

 

anti-GamerGate awesome meets GamerGate shenanigans

Recently, ABC did a radio story about GamerGate that characterized it as, you know, what it is – an abusive hate group. Predictably, GamerGate responded with complaints about biased coverage and ABC responded with actual, journalistic integrity! Who knew?

Twitter unveiled some new policy updates regarding harassment, which look promising! However, in the same week they also unveiled a “let any old rando direct message you whenever” feature that left most of my Twitter feed asking WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WHO WOULD WANT THIS? (Thank heavens it is opt-in.)

The Verge had some great coverage of an awesome story: Zoe Quinn spoke to Congress in a congressional briefing on online harassment and cyberstalking!  It should be noted that The Verge is an example of how to correctly cover such an event, while Polygon’s coverage gets everything so wrong I can’t even. Brian Crecente does some amazing verbal footwork to completely dance around journalistic responsibility; not once does he mention the fact that GamerGate is an actual literal hate group. Worse, he falls back on false equivalence in attempting to present “both sides” which is both reprehensible and cowardly in the extreme.

One of the things that I have been interested to see is how the internet community has been responding to GamerGate as a new reality by creating new tools and platforms to help targets of abuse deal with that abuse. I’ve linked to Crash Override and the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative before, but now there’s an awesome KickStarter by the creators of iHollaback! to fund the creation of HeartMob:

WHAT: After 18 months of planning, collaborating, and creating working prototypes, Hollaback! is launching HeartMob, a platform that provides real-time support to individuals experiencing online harassment – and gives bystanders concrete actions they can take to step in and save the day.

HOW: HeartMob allows users to easily report their harassment and maintain complete control over their story. Once reported, users will have the option of keeping their report private and cataloguing it in case it escalates, or they can make the report public. If they choose to make it public, they will be able to choose from a menu of options on how they want bystanders to support them, take action, or intervene. They will also be given extensive resources including: safety planning, materials on how to differentiate an empty threat from a real threat, online harassment laws and details on how to report their harassment to authorities (if requested), and referrals to other organizations that can provide counseling and legal services.

Bystanders looking to provide support will receive public requests, along with chosen actions of support. You can “have someone’s back” and know that you’re helping them out in a time of need while directly contributing to safer spaces online. HeartMob staff will review all messages and reports to ensure the platform remains safe and supportive.

They’re currently $2000 shy of their goal with 21 days to go. I hope they meet all kinds of stretch goals because this seems like it will be a really great tool.

[Trigger Warning: Harassment and pedophilia]

Okay, this last one’s a bit convoluted so bear with me.

Last week at Calgary Expo there was a booth funded by Honey Badger Radio – a GG/MRA-affiliated group – which was selling GG merch and sending MRAs to troll panels. Calgary Expo, thank god, took swift action and booted them from the convention.

Enter Anne Wheaton (yes that Anne Wheaton), who blogged about this in light of her attendance at Calgary Expo. Predictably, GamerGate didn’t take kindly to that, and started flooding Anne Wheaton’s mentions with harassing messages. So she announced that for every harassing message she got from a Gator, she would donate $1 up to a cap of $1000 to Feminist Frequency. John Scalzi jumped in and said that he would match, and unsurprisingly they got to $2000 in pretty short order. Go Anne!

…unfortunately, GamerGate – ever eager to prove that even when you think you’ve hit bottom there is always another basement where the internet is concerned – responded by saying they were going to donate a matching amount to NAMBLA. (I hope to god that this wasn’t serious.)

Thursday Freebies

Well, folks. There have been a lot of interesting things happening on my internet, so I thought I’d take a moment to share them with you all.

Things related to #GamerGate or similar douchebaggery

This piece by Mattie Brice about feeling like a sacrifice made in the name of diversity is heartbreaking and important and you need to go read it.

Remember that #GamerGate-funded anti-Anita Sarkeesian documentary that was funding through Patreon? Well it turns out that it’s imploding over a feud between the two creators, and it. Is. Glorious. (Sing it with me! SCHHHAAAAAADENFREEEUUDE!!)

Over on Twitter, the ever-flawless Chris Chinn talked about the psychology behind derailing bullshit like “if you don’t take the time to educate me, how will I learn” and why people who use that logic are abusers, plain and simple. Check out this wonderful storify of it, it’s amazing.

Things that are awesome and worthy of praise

This looks like a really interesting game – a puzzler that is a critical examination of the surveillance state? Too bad it looks like it’s only for iOs.

Okay, this is about comics, not games. But this short comic by Ronald Wimberly is the best explanation of colorism I’ve seen for those not familiar with the term – and is super interesting to boot!

This applies to game-writing too.

So does this.

I almost never promote KickStarters here (mostly because it’s impossible for me to promote everything that I think needs promoting), but Julie Dillon is one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy artists of all time; her work is amazingly diverse and inclusive in addition to being fucking gorgeous. So considering that I spend so much time talking about what awful game art looks like – THIS is what I mean when I talk about what game arout COULD be. This is her second KickStarter, and she’s already well past her initial funding goal, but there are some nifty rewards so it’s worth checking out if you’re hunting for some more art in your life.

Lastly: because it’s worth repeating

Over on Google+, a friend kindly gave me the opportunity to pontificate about the proper use of semicolons (she did ask). Then I thought I would share my answer more widely, because I do love the semicolon. Consider this a PSA:

Semicolons are for joining two complete sentences that are related. If separated, each sentence COULD stand on its own if it had to. But the semicolon is to designate a clear connection.

Frex:

Alice carefully removed the rest of the monitors and unhooked herself from the machine. It was a clumsy operation; her hands shook, and the pods had not been designed for self-removal.

The semi-colon acknowledges that “it was a clumsy operation” and “her hands … self-removal” are complete thoughts that are still dependent on one another. Plus, a period between sentences two and three would make this section feel clunky.

That’s a pretty simplistic explanation, but if you’re interested in more I’d recommend tracking down a copy of Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss; it’s an amazingly accessible book on the use of punctuation that also manages to be entertaining and a quick read.

(See what I did there?)

Now go forth and sin against the semicolon no more!

Tuesday Freebies: things mostly about GamerGate

Hi, folks! I was in a play this past weekend, which meant I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to blogging. Thankfully, the internet has been super interesting in my absence, which means it’s time for more freebies!

Things that are interesting

Courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune, researchers at Brigham Young University are trying to make a game that will encourage more women and minorities to get into STEM fields. I’m a bit skeptical of the idea as it’s presented, but it might be something interesting to follow.

Meanwhile, over on Paste Magazine Ian Williams and Austin Walker have an enlightening conversation about Blaxploitation in the context of upcoming game Funk of Titans. WELL worth a read, since Blaxploitation is usually something I’ve seen discussed in regards to film, not games.

People being stupid on the internet

The Mary Sue storified a bunch of tweets in which they tell the tale of how #GamerGate is literally unable to process the idea that there might be more than one person in the world with the same name.

In an entirely different kind of stupidity, e-sports leagues have long followed the practice of gender segregating their tournaments, a practice when sane and rational people have pointed out makes NO FUCKING SENSE. Nevertheless, it’s a policy that e-sports isn’t likely to ditch any time soon, as illustrated by the staggering level of ignorance displayed by Garena’s recent rules change to their LoL women’s league which mandated that each team of 4 women could have a maximum of 1 LGBT woman, because queer superpowers? Thankfully, this decision has since been reversed, although Garena’s apology was a totally bullshit “sorry you were offended” apology, which doesn’t really surprise me.

Online harassment: it’s a problem, and the cops don’t care

Several excellent pieces addressing the frightening new reality of GamerGate have scrolled through my feeds in the last little while. They are not easy reads, but they are all valuable. (That said, if you’ve been harassed online or fear being harassed, please exercise caution and maybe don’t read these.)

On Gawker, Sam Biddle writes about recent threats against Brianna Wu by a deranged GGer who appears to have attempted to seek Wu out in real life with intent to murder her and her family. Terrifyingly, the cops are aware of these threats, and of this recent incident, but have yet to lay charges against the perpetrator and even suggested to Wu that she simply “turn off her devices”.

On their blog, Ronan Wills tackles the problematic habit of not believing women when they talk about their abuse online. It’s an excellent read, so go read it and save me the trouble of quoting the whole damn thing.

On Pacific Standard, Amanda Hess wrote about her personal experience with harassment and death threats online, most of which mirrors what is being said about the harassment faced by Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, et al. It also talks about the impracticality of “just don’t go online” as a response to such harassment.

Similarly, on Jezebel Anna Merlan writes about her own run-ins with online harassment. She also chronicles her attempts to take these threats to law enforcement. It’s a pretty terrifying look at how behind the times law enforcement is on this issue, and how deeply they really just don’t give a shit.

…but maybe that’s changing?

In the first bit of good news I’ve seen related to GamerGate, it turns out that Brandon Wilson (aka Famed God) has been arrested for two different SWATting attempts, with a possibility of a 5 year jail sentence. I hope to God that he actually gets convicted, and that we see more such arrests soon.

Also, in what is definitely a first for Twitter, CEO Dick Costolo has admitted that they really fucking suck at dealing with abuse of its platform:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day

Granted, their primary motivation for tackling this problem now is that it’s costing them users. But even cynical motivation is still motivation; let’s hope this is more than just lip service.

Lastly, The Mary Sue has a preview of the upcoming GamerGate episode of Law & Order: SVU. And while their heart is obviously in the right place, the actual script looks like it’s going to be something of a trainwreck. (I don’t know what’s more painful, hearing Olivia Benson say “doxxing” or Ice T talk about “the dark net”.)

Wednesday Freebies: the getting back to normal (for now) edition

I’m currently working on a post about Bayonetta 2 that’s hit a snag. (I wanted to include a redraw, but holy shit, folks. This is the hardest redraw I’ve ever tried. Harder even than re-drawing HTK, which was a nightmare.) So I thought I’d share a few things worth reading, since it seems like the internet awful is finally (finally!) creeping back into its usual corners and it might be safe to start reading things about gaming again.

For now, that is. Because let’s not kid ourselves. The internet awful has not gone away. The volume dial has just been turned back down. But the next time another one of these faux scandals occurs – and it will occur, have no doubt – #GamerGate has really raised the bar for just how bad things can get for whichever woman finds herself being targeted by a hatemob next.

So anyway, here are some things worth checking out. And I plan on getting up that Bayonetta post tomorrow.


 

#GGish things that I promise are funny and not awful

This comic about how to complain about video game review scores is perfect, and I can’t think of anything I would add to it.

There are very few things I love more than sarcastic charts, and this sarcastic pie chart by a former BioWare game dev about “the true impact of SJWs on Game Development” is a masterpiece.

Not #GGish things that are rad

Speaking of BioWare, a group of game devs at the BioWare Montreal studio recently helped a woman propose to her girlfriend by making a custom Mass Effect level, and really just go read the story right now it will definitely make you smile. I know I go after BioWare a lot on this blog, but it’s fantastic to see something like this.

And lastly, over Google+, the ever-perfect Avery McDaldno is killing it as usual in this post about creating queer-friendly games and spaces. It’s definitely a must-read for game designers concerned about making inclusive, queer-friendly games.

On #GamerGate and the impossibility of “just making games”

Hey, folks. So you’ll notice that there haven’t been any freebie linkspams for… a while. And that’s pretty much a direct result of #GamerGate, because everything that I would link to could be summarized as TL;DR HUMANS ARE AWFUL. Not to mention that it is not possible to put enough trigger warnings on even the not-terrible coverage of GG issues.

I’ve also been having a hard time finding the bandwidth to write here, despite the abundance of topics that I want to write about. I have friends that I want to interview about their positive work in games, there’s more analysis I want to do of the changing trends in Magic: The Gathering art direction, I’d like to noodle about some thoughts inspired by recent game projects on the intersection between social justice and game design. I mean, I have a fucking Patreon – you’d think it would be easier to find space to write here when I am literally getting paid to blog about the things that I am passionate about.

But friends, it’s been so hard.

We get told “just make games” or “just make art” like it’s supposed to be some kind of panacea. Like “just making games” will enable me to rise above the bullshit and transcend the awful with sheer awesome. And honestly, I would love, LOVE for that to be the solution. Nothing would please me more than being able to post a clever “haters gonna hate” meme and move on with my life.

But how can I “just make games” for a hobby that wants me to stop existing?

How can I “just make games” when “just making games” requires me to engage with a community that I don’t want my daughter to be a part of, and that I will do my best to hide her from when she is old enough to venture into online spaces. (Which, thankfully, is many years away yet.)

How can I “just make games” when hate and terror campaigns created to scare women out of gaming are triggering my anxiety and making it hard for me to just function day-to-day, let alone “just make games”.

For those of you who have never had to deal with anxiety, it’s fucking exhausting. And GG makes it literally impossible to know where the line is between “shut up brain, you’re being stupid again” and reasonable fucking caution.

Is enabling 2-factor authentication on my accounts needless paranoia, or reasonable caution? Who the fuck knows? When a co-worker discovered my blog, was I being an over-reacting paranoid weirdo when I asked him not to link it to a bunch of trolls? Or was I justified? Fuck if I know! When my name pops up on a forum that is well-known as a haven for misogynist tabletop gamers and I am called an “extremist”, am I making mountains out of molehills when that site’s presence in my blog’s referral links for the last month causes a vague, generalized dread whenever I check my site stats? Or is this something that I need to worry about?

I DON’T FUCKING KNOW ANYMORE.

People who say “it’s just on the internet” are not only completely out of touch with the reality of how modern life works, but they’re ignoring the real mental health consequences of these cyber harassment mobs. You don’t have to be directly targeted by them, either. Just the knowledge that they exist is a visceral threat. And when these mobs attack women that you respect, admire, and look up to – there’s a certain sense of inevitability. If I continue to walk down this path, it’s hard not to believe that this is what the future holds for me.

That is terrifying.

And it keeps me from doing the fucking work that needs to get done in order to “just make games”.

I have a KickStarter I need to be promoting more. That I’m proud of! Because it’s fucking awesome! And I have done some promotion work, but I’ve been chasing after “safe” audiences, because it’s not as worry-inducing as chasing potentially-hostile promotion sources for an explicitly social-justice-oriented game product, and hoping that the stats on funding and KickStarter are accurate and that momentum will get me over my funding goal.

I have things I want to blog about for an audience that has proven its interest and its willingness to support me with actual electronic moneyz, and lately I find myself writing out of a sense of obligation rather than real passion or excitement.

The fear, the anxiety, the need to detox and spend time doing and thinking about things that aren’t games – it all gets in the way of “just making games”.

And to those who say that I’m overreacting, that it’s all in my head, that it’s not a big deal, that “no one’s died yet” – that’s bullshit. At least one trans game dev, Kate von Roeder has committed suicide[1], and a mass shooting threat has forced Anita Sarkeesian to cancel a talk when the local law enforcement was unwilling to prevent attendees from bringing concealed weapons.

Let’s not forget that it was only several months ago that the Isla Vista shooter went on a killing spree after months of escalating online rhetoric about how much he despised and wanted to kill women. And it was nearly twenty-five years ago that the Montreal massacre resulted in the deaths of fourteen female engineering students at the hands of a man who blamed feminists for ruining his life.

So yeah, people have died. And more people might die. And that’s what every woman who works in games and is vocal about feminist issues deals with. The knowledge that speaking out comes with consequences, and it is impossible to know how steep those consequences will be.

So where does that leave me? For now, I’m still here. I’m still making games. I’m still blogging. My anxiety means that I’m not able to sustain the level of output that I know I’m capable of when I’m feeling well and am not having active symptoms, but I’m in the process of getting help and am trying not to beat myself up too much. I’m forcing myself to engage in self-care and am doing what I can.

Maybe some day we’ll be at a point where I can “just make games”. But that’s not a future I see arriving any time soon.

[1] I’ve heard reports of a second trans dev committing suicide, but the Google search results are too toxic for me to face today. So I guess it’s a good thing I’m just a blogger and not a real journalist or something.

The real truth of #GamerGate

[Written in the style of Mallory Ortberg, who is awesome]

Your bunkmates are already fast asleep when you fall wearily onto the hard mattress; it’s been a long, tiring day of back-breaking labor in the camps.  Tired as you are, however, your thoughts are unsettled and sleep seems elusive.

Once, years ago, you would have felt anger about the accident of birth that forced you into this state, but now you accept your fate. You are but a man, and the strength of men exists to serve the greater good. Or at least that’s what they tell you, and who are you to question them?

At last you decide that sleep will not come and reach under your mattress, pulling out the small handheld hidden there. Pulling your blanket over your head to hide the glow of the screen, you turn it on, eagerly waiting to resume from where you left off. But the screen barely has time to flash HITMAN 37 before you hear a tremendous crash as the door to your dormitory is kicked off its hinges. “WE’VE FOUND HIM,” someone shouts.

No time to hide the evidence – the blanket is suddenly yanked from your head and you find two large Gaming Police officers standing over you, your terrified expression reflected back at you in their mirrored sunglasses.

The first officer snatches the handheld away from you and pops out the disc. “Code 37 – no female protagonist,” she grunts, snapping the disc in half in her fist.

The second officer flashes her badge – GAME POLICE: FEMINIST CRITIC, and your heart sinks. Being apprehended by the Gaming Police was bad enough, but that they have a Game Critic with them? This is bad, very bad. The Critic grabs you by the collar, half-choking you as she pulls you to your feet. “Playing games after curfew, huh? Well guess what, bub?” She pulls you closer and the light glints coldly off her earrings. “Games are for women.”

You feel the cold metal of handcuffs snap around your wrists. “We’re taking you in,” the first officer says coldly.

You pray that she only means you’ll be going to a reeducation center, but then she holds a retinal scanner up to your face and it immediately sounds an alarm. “Repeat offender,” it squeals.

You look back to your bunkmates, but none of them will meet your gaze. “You know what that means,” the Critic growls. “Time to go.”

You’re stuffed in the back of a small transport that is packed with other terrified men. Nothing is said by anyone as you are driven out of the camps and into the capitol city itself. Any other time, you would have gasped – while living in the camps, you never would have imagined that such grandeur was possible. But you keep silent, not wanting to make things worse for yourself than they already are.

At last you stop and are unloaded in front of what can only be the palace. It is a place you have heard of but never seen, a place designed to strike fear into the hearts of men.

You stand before the Gamer Gate – which stands open before you. Constructed entirely of bone, it gleams coldly white under the floodlights that illuminate the palace exterior. Lining the walkway to the palace steps are the dread female warriors, said to be able to strike any man dead where he stands with a single glance – the Social Justice Warriors. And there in formation behind them are their male honor guard, the White Knights, proudly bearing the black, white, and red banner of the Feminist Gynocracy.

The Critic and the Gamer Police march you, along with their other captives, up the steps of the palace and into a great hall. At one end of the great hall stands a throne of skulls, upon which sits a woman, who proudly wears the womb-shaped badge of a Game Journalist. Stunned, you find her both beautiful and terrible to behold.

You are thrown to the floor in front of the throne. The skulls leer at you mockingly as the Game Journalist considers your fate. “And just who are you?”

“A gamer,” you whisper. You had intended it as a statement of defiance, but your voice sounds small and frightened. You clear your throat and try again. “A gamer! I am. I am a gamer.”

The Game Journalist smiles, a terrible rictus to match the throne on which she sits. “Too bad for you. Gamers are over.” She snaps her fingers, pointing at the captain of her guard. “Execute him! Add his skull to my throne!”

“Wait!” From the shadows behind the throne steps a third woman who wears the robes of a Game Developer. “You may yet be spared, if…” She smiles like the cat that got into the cream. “…you consent to become my lover and say good things about my latest game.”

You draw back, horrified. “Never!”

A murmur passes through the ranks of the assembled Social Justice Warriors. “He does not consent,” The Critic says sternly.

“It is our highest law,” the Game Developer agrees sadly.

The Game Journalist sits back on her throne. “Then flay him alive and add his bones to the Gate.”

You can only scream in horror as the White Knights step forward to take you away.

fin