#Gamergate – Journal update and League for Gamers

2780068426_9fa8e8d844_oThere simply hasn’t been enough interest in a new journal to make the effort worthwhile. While there have been a few enthusiasts and a couple of entrants there isn’t sufficient interest to make the effort worthwhile.

This is, needless to say, disappointing. I believe there is a genuine need for some genuinely academic and scientific insight into games and frankly, that’s for selfish reasons. I want my game designs to be informed by facts and useful information and strategies.

Here though, I’ll have to admit defeat.

As such I suggest people redirect their efforts to League for Gamers, which is in the process of setting up an academic body and which I am involved in as an interested party (President, not that it means much at this stage and I intend to flee the position as soon as things are up and running).

L4G has a higher profile and more opportunity to make something happen from a better starting point. Still, things are going to be an uphill struggle for any attempt to get this done for some of the following reasons.

  • Gamers have lost all faith in academia. The ‘losers‘ ‘study’ may have been one of many death blows. It’ll take a huge amount of effort to win that trust back. As bad, if not worse, than the situation with gaming media.
  • There is genuine research going on in the existing structure, it’s just drowned out by bullshit. Many genuine academics and scientists don’t understand or see the need for an alternative or – more admirably – don’t want to cede ground.
  • Devs don’t seem to care much either. Happy doing their own thing and product testing from the looks of it. It’s a shame as it means public money tends to support spurious research in this area (loser study) while private research and effort largely ends up staying internal.
  • I haven’t had the ability to get enough exposure to the right kinds of people to get things off the ground. L4G should be able to.

TL;DR – Forget this effort, sign up to League for Gamers and talk to the other academically inclined people therein.

#Gamergate – For Great Ethics Versus Against SocJus – FIGHT!

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The guy with the horse penis is the broader context.

With so many enemies now crushed and defeated beneath Gamergate’s armoured boots, with increased ethics all around and with the separate but related victory of Chairman Pao being removed by the glorious counter-revolutionary wing of the Reddit Revolt, GG seems to have turned in on itself a bit and a divide that has been felt before (with the exit of Internet Aristocrat and others) has reared its head up again.

Are we fighting for ethics in game journalism – and ONLY ethics in game journalism, or are we fighting against the authoritarian censors of the Social Justice mob? What is appropriate to post on the tag and what isn’t?

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way quickly first.

  1. You can’t control the hashtag. People can and will post whatever the fuck they want on it. You can’t control other people’s output, only your own. If someone spams a lot of stuff you’re not interested in, mute them or something. Jesus. This isn’t difficult.
  2. Proposing a new hashtag is going to go down like a cup of cold sick. There’s strength in unity and some shitposting, spam and off-topic or semi off-topic material isn’t the end of the world. By all means, go make a new tag if you like (#mediagate was tried, I believe) but it’s unlikely to garner the same traction and impetus that #Gamergate has.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the ethics part.

The fact is, games media has been corrupt since forever with in-house magazines, bribery, extortion, threats (mostly coming from distributors and publishers rather than studios, to be fair) and because this was the status quo people kind of navigated around it while quietly seething. This was financial corruption, where threats and money are used to protect and further the bottom line.

This was all ‘background radiation’ to Gamergate, what made it achieve critical mass was a different kind of corruption. Political corruption and agenda pushing, initially exposed via Literally Who’s sexual shenanigans but much, much bigger than that. Political corruption is when threats, coercion, ideological naivety, bribery and shaming are used to push an agenda and socially engineer.

What, I think, made this blow up so hard was that the indie scene (like many other indie scenes in music, tabletop games and elsewhere) had become synonymous with activism, not independence. The kinds of people making these activist, high-concept games were looking down on popular games and their audiences (as exemplified recently with the meltdown of hate and arrogance from  Tale of Tales when their housework simulator failed to excite audiences). When people looking down on and criticising you for your moral failings turn out to have feet of clay, people get understandably upset at the hypocrisy.

One of the greatest tragedies of all this, for me, is that it was a massive missed opportunity for games media to sort its life out. Here was a massive consumer uprising which could have been leveraged against those companies offering bribes, threatening to remove early access, bullying for higher scores AND to assert press neutrality against egregious ideological corruption. Backing, using or surfing Gamergate could have allowed the press to assert themselves – with popular backing – against distributors, publisher and PR flacks and could have been used to regain trust.

But no.

And that exposes the first part of the problem in trying to separate these issues into two separate things. The big reason the games media didn’t do the right thing here is because whole wings of it ARE SocJus and that is seemingly the entirety of their identity and raison d’etre. When you ask for them to act ethically you’re asking for them to act against their core beliefs and personal identity. As we’ve seen, many think the ends justify the means and many think opposing their means, means that Gamergate is against their ends (Gamergate is not anti-diversity, anti-women etc, it is broadly very liberal on these things as a whole. It just values creative freedom higher and prefer organic, consenting change).

This entanglement of the ethical issues and the SocJus issues shows why the two are inseparable.

Another reason to include the fight against SocJus within Gamergate is that it builds alliances. There’s people in other communities who have, or are, facing the same kinds of issues that Gamergate has, from Sad Puppies in fiction, to ConsultantGate in tabletop gaming (and everything around it). There’s issues of this sort all over the place and things are starting to turn. Just as with Gamergate itself, internally, we’re stronger together.

Another aspect to this is that a lot of these other enterprises feed into games.

If writers are suffering in this way, generally, then writing for games will suffer by extension.

If artists are suffering in this way, generally, then art assets for games will suffer by extension.

If the internet becomes more controlled and legislated, then games are harder to sell and may fall afoul of the same legislation.

If shops are pressured into censorship then the same applies – and this is doubly true of online sales platforms and payment processors.

Let’s try an analogy.

Say your local political situation is horribly corrupt. The local council is full of shills for companies and they’ve all been bought off.

Voting them out won’t really solve the issue, money can buy whoever else is elected.

Changing the rules could work, but it’s almost impossible to change the rules in a system that is already corrupt.

Say you do manage to change the rules. Congratulations, you now have ‘ethics in local government’, but there’s still financial corruption everywhere else. Contractors that the government uses, the unions, companies are still offering bribes at every level, interest groups are still lobbying – sometimes via underhanded means, and on a national level the parties are still compromised – and they select the candidates.

Only fixing ‘local government finance sourcing’ does practically fuck all to repair the broader issue.

To point to another, analagous example, unwinding the Satanic Panic of the 80s  (we’re now in an Ism Panic) came about because everyone came to reject it. The groups being attacked and smeared, the media, the science. There was a broad group – if not a full-on alliance – of people all saying ‘this is bollocks’, and they were able to prove it.

Trying to separate these two strands is impossible, because just as the threats to gaming used to come from a broader cultural movement of the religious right, now it comes from the authoritarian left. If you want ethical journalism and free expression, you have to take an holistic approach to understanding it.

If you don’t want to, then don’t, but you’re not going to be able to stop anyone else anyway – so the whole discussion is fucking pointless.

#RPG Wil Wheaton as the Ambassador of Gaming?

standbyme2This blog poses a good question about Wil Wheaton’s new show ‘Titansgrave’, which is trying to do for RPGs what Tabletop did for boardgames.

Personally, I’ve found Tabletop interesting, but it hasn’t really switched me on to any games or helped me understand any of the games that it has covered as a learning aid.

RPGs do need ambassadors. Games as a whole and RPGs in particular have almost always been targets of scorn and panic and so they definitely need people sticking up for them. Is Wheaton the guy to do it though?

I’m afraid I’d have to say no, and I’m going to go into why.

1. He Breaks his own Commandment.

Admittedly I’m horrendously biased on this score, but the short version is that Wheaton is a dick, while professing ‘Don’t be a dick’. I’ve suffered this directly from him in relation to him inciting dogpiling and abuse (he publicised that I made a very brief mistake of exchanging in a whole four tweets with a Twitter bot, idiotic, but no huge deal) and I’m sure I’m not alone on that score.

2. He Came Down on the Wrong Side of Gamergate.

You can’t be a consumer or hobby advocate if you’re anti-consumer or if you’re attacking the hobby you’re supposed to be advocating for. Wheaton is supposedly not an idiot, yet didn’t do the bare minimum of research to successfully identify Gamergate as a (big, and remarkably successful) consumer revolt and instead went with the flow against it, buying into the false narrative of harassment and abuse.

Imagine if Rob Halford had testified in court that heavy metal was genuinely Satanic and that Judas Priest had intended to incite suicide, or that John Denver and Dee Snyder had testified before the PMRC against free expression. If those references are too old for you, imagine if Gabe Newell has sided with Jack Thompson.

Maybe via these, slightly hyperbolic examples, you can grasp some idea of the scale of betrayal we’re talking about here.

This single act has smashed his reputation to tatters amongst the broader gaming community and annihilated his credibility outside the ‘SocJus’ circles, eg, amongst your ‘common gamer’ (just ask #NotYourShield or #Gamergate).

Gamers as a whole, let alone RPG gamers, have long memories when it comes to moral panics against them. Wheaton is participating in a moral panic and this alone, quite apart from anything else, would disqualify him as an advocate for RPGs.

3. He Bottled it on ‘Spiritgate’.

Brought to book by ‘Goony Beard Men’ and ‘Rainbow Haired She-Twinks’ (Airport’s Law) over using the turn of phrase ‘Spirit Animal‘, he apologised.

He apologised for something which required no apology, to people who will never be satisfied by any apology, and didn’t learn the hard but important lesson about outrage culture that he should have. The same thing happened more recently to Joss Whedon who, again, failed to learn the necessary lesson.

TL;DR

The new show probably won’t do any harm, but also probably won’t appeal beyond the existing RPG audience. Wheaton, however, is a terrible ambassador for RPGs. Perhaps a year or more ago I’d have thought differently and while I have a personal bias against the man as a hypocrite and bully I think the reasoning is valid there and on the other points.

You can’t be a hobby or community advocate and, at the same time, lie about and defame members of that community and hobby. It simply doesn’t work.

Somebody call Vin Diesel.

‘Nuff said.

 

Popular Ludology: Clarifying the Peer Review System

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I seem to have not expressed the peer review process we’ll be using well enough as some people seem to not understand. This must be my fault so I’ll clarify with reference to the previous post, and I’ll tighten up the language more later on for reference.

When you submit a paper it will be examined by the editorial staff and those who have previously submitted and had their papers accepted. It will be accepted or rejected on the basis of a simple majority (with 50% being a pass). Either way you should be informed.

This is not part of the review process. You could call this a simple ‘smell test’. Does this paper look/sound/smell like bullshit? Do the person’s credentials check out? The vote should only be necessary if there’s any strong objections to a particular process. This is not really any different to a single paragraph dissertation, written in crayon on toilet paper being rejected. Just more formalised.

If your paper is accepted you will be invited to the Popular Ludology email group. You do not have to accept and participation is not mandatory, but it will allow you to participate further as the journal and effort – hopefully – expand.

This group will form a democratic/meritocratic basis for organisational/journal level change in the future. That is its primary aim, to provide a pool of qualified people to vote on procedure etc.

A month will be given for papers to be accepted.

And please do submit. While the ‘theme’ for issue zero is defining and classifying games, any submissions on any game related topic are welcome. I’ve seen and read some interesting things from less conventional scholars and developers over the last ten months and would love to see some of their work more formally published.

At the end of that period the accepted papers will be collated and published in an ‘alpha draft’.

This is the point at which the actual review process starts.

This alpha draft will be made available publicly to anyone and everyone for open review, criticism and objection.

This is the peer review part.

We’re going with an open peer review for several reasons.

  1. It encourages participation.
  2. It encourages non-academic participation.
  3. It reflects a commitment to openness.
  4. There are many existing criticisms of the blind review process (not least that in the digital age it’s hard to keep).
  5. It’s potentially much, much more rigorous.
  6. It allows the authors to directly participate in the process and with their critics.

You should monitor this feedback and, as you feel may be necessary, make changes, clarifications and extensions to your paper over the following month.

Hopefully writers of papers will examine the feedback that they get and make amendments and improvements accordingly.

The final version of the journal (with any amendments, additions, retractions etc from review) will then be published. Papers may only be forcibly withdrawn against your will if 75% or more of the editorial and previously published authors agree in a vote.

This is where, I think, the confusion arises. This is intended more to be a meta-review process. Examining the criticism and seeing whether it is valid and then acting as a qualified group to remove papers that do not hold up, if the author cannot or will not do so themselves.

Voting procedures will be made public in the journal itself.

It should also be noted that we are aiming for a more rigorous scrutiny than currently exists within organisations like DiGRA, and which appears to have let through many papers and presentations that do not seem to hold up to basic standards. It’s also well established, but denied, that there is a great deal of hostility towards the concept of peer review in some of these groups and that what passes for peer review in the humanities is not at all what most people consider that term or procedure to mean.

I’m sure there’ll be lumps and bumps along the way and that idealism will have to give way to pragmatism at various points, but there’s no harm in aiming high from the start.

A great number of objections received so far seem to be based around the idea that this will be rejected by the existing academic structure or that it needs to be changed to be more in line with existing journals and organisations. Given that a central premise behind the setting up of this journal and in seeing a need for it is that there are severe problems with game studies and game studies groups and structures it would seem to be counter-productive to replicate those same issues for unneeded approval, while trying to fix their problems.

The aim here is not to replicate the efforts of DiGRA etc, but to do something different and useful and while I’m sure material good enough for academia will be produced, their approval is not especially wanted. As a pragmatic and practical resource, developer and designer approval and interest is much, much more important.

Popular Ludology No.0 – Call for Submissions

158744-16558-doktor-sleeplessTL;DR

Popular Ludology is now accepting submissions of papers for an issue ‘zero’ to test the waters and ensure that there’s sufficient interest to continue with the effort. Provided you have direct experience of game design and publication in a commercial sense (even Indie) or have academic/scientific qualifications you can submit a  paper (see below).

The theme for the first issue is: “Defining & classifying games,” though you do not have to submit on that theme, it would be preferred.

More information is below.

Submit to grim AT postmort DOT demon DOT co DOT uk with [PopLud] in the title.

Submissions for issue zero are open until JULY 31st 2015

Popular Ludology

POPULAR: [ATTRIBUTIVE] (Of cultural activities or products) intended for or suited to the taste, understanding, or means of the general public rather than specialists or intellectuals.

LUDOLOGY: The study of games and gaming, especially video games.

Popular Ludology is an attempt to set up a new Ludology/Game Studies journal with a focus on positive, practical measures to understand and improve games, as games. Existing Ludology/Game Studies groups and journals tend to fixate on literary and critical theory and, as such, provide little or nothing of use from a game design or scientific perspective.

We want Popular Ludology to be an accessible, readable, useful, genuinely academic, scientific and practical resource for game developers and engaged game fans to understand and improve the medium as an effective tool for enjoyment and storytelling.

Submissions

You should fit into one of two categories to submit a paper.

  • Category 1: You have practical experience of game design and publication and have successfully, commercially, published at least one game.
  • Category 2: You are an academic or scientist with a degree or higher educational attainment.

Popular Ludology is not limited to video games. If you have research or practical experience relating to tabletop RPGs, board games, card games or other such recreational games of similar ilk (excluding gambling) you are welcome, indeed encouraged, to submit.

You should be able to provide evidence of your qualifications or publication history. If you wish to submit anonymously you must satisfy the editor of your bona-fides.

Papers may be of any length but try to keep the total file-size reasonably low (<5mb).

Popular Ludology strives for openness and readability. Try – so much as is possible – to avoid jargon and keep to an accessible reading level (Grade 12, High School).

Papers should include a short 1-2 paragraph summary at the beginning.

Papers should be submitted in RTF format if at all possible, otherwise DOC (but not DOCX) is also acceptable. This requirement is to ensure more transferable formatting.

Papers should be submitted in point-size 10 font, with titles of sections and subsections in bold descending in point-size (20/14/12/10) as necessary to show sections and subsections.

Tables, images and other such visual data should be submitted as attachments separately to the document,rather than embedded in the document.

Papers should fit into one of two categories.

  • Category 1: The relation of direct practical experience (these are the papers to be accepted from game designers). These will not be held to such a high standard but their worth is in the transfer of experience. Claims and ideas presented in these are to be considered for future examination.
  • Category 2: Academic and scientific studies or the relating of such information to the audience. Include proper citations, avoid speculation and bias. Avoid foregone conclusions. Stick to the facts and the relation of those facts or relay how you discovered facts. Minimise opinion. Original research is greatly encouraged.

The Process

When you submit a paper it will be examined by the editorial staff and those who have previously submitted and had their papers accepted. It will be accepted or rejected on the basis of a simple majority (with 50% being a pass). Either way you should be informed.

If your paper is accepted you will be invited to the Popular Ludology email group. You do not have to accept and participation is not mandatory, but it will allow you to participate further as the journal and effort – hopefully – expand.

A month will be given for papers to be accepted.

At the end of that period the accepted papers will be collated and published in an ‘alpha draft’.

This alpha draft will be made available publicly to anyone and everyone for open review, criticism and objection.

You should monitor this feedback and, as you feel may be necessary, make changes, clarifications and extensions to your paper over the following month.

The final version of the journal (with any amendments, additions, retractions etc from review) will then be published. Papers may only be forcibly withdrawn against your will if 75% or more of the editorial and previously published authors agree in a vote.

Voting procedures will be made public in the journal itself.

Organisation

Popular Ludology’s founding principles can be summed up thusly:

  • Hard science, hard data.
  • Usefulness.
  • Openness.
  • Experience.

The existing procedures have already come under some fire, and the use of Ludology as a term has been both questioned and supported. In order to get the project going I feel it necessary to be somewhat dictatorial, but I should also explain why I have made the decisions that I have.

Firstly, yes, this publication is motivated by Gamergate and in response to groups such as DiGRA. Throughout the year-or-so that Gamergate has been ongoing I and many other gaming fans, publishers, developers academics and scientists have been shocked and appalled to discover the poor state of academia and the existing structures when it comes to studying games. Many of us have lamented, nearly from the start, that a better alternative is needed. One wing of that effort looks like it will focus around League for Gamers becoming more supportive of academic and scientific efforts and it is my hope that PopLud will become another wing of that. However, I hope it will become more than simply a response to the problems we see and the aim is to create a genuinely useful resource, which is more than simply a reaction. People who do publish in or for what we consider to be ‘bad’ journals and organisations are welcome to submit, their papers will be considered on merit.

Secondly, the decision was made to allow papers from non-academics for several reasons. I have no academic qualifications myself, nor have many of the critics of the existing structures, but our criticisms and reviews have highlighted many serious problems and deserve to be taken seriously. This has underlined existing issues with ‘echo chambers’ in these sorts of fields of study (and the fields from which participation sometimes comes) and has, in my opinion, demonstrated a need to break that circle. Designers have useful, experience which people can relate to. They may not be able to tell you precisely why something has worked, but they can show it has worked and relate things like marketing data and studies from their experience which is useful both to researchers and other designers.

The decision to go with an open process relates to this. We want the journal to be accessible and useful and to avoid the aforementioned echo chamber. It is worth entering a note of caution however, in that this open process superficially resembles that of the ADA journal and the ‘fembot collective’, and has singularly failed to solve those issues in that case. Given that ADA has an explicit bias in its research goals and philosophy and we do not, hopefully this approach can work in this instance. Researchers need to understand their audience and their subject, something which the span of Gamergate has shown, in abundance, that they currently do not.

The decision to stick with ‘Ludology’ was not one which I personally supported. In my opinion the terms ‘Ludology’ and ‘Game Studies’ have become tainted. They do not, primarily, seem to be about games at all, rather a great deal of effort seems to be put into lit/crit theory, gender studies and opinion pieces about representation, race etc with little or no statistical or scientific backing. The consensus amongst interested parties appears to be that the terms ‘Ludology’ and ‘Game Studies’ are worth fighting for and that the more genuine and useful research attached to the name the better. So I bow to that consensus.

The Future

If this enterprise is successful, I intend to bow out of the editorship by Issue 3 and to hand off to a new, elected editor from applicants, voted for by those who have participated. Editorship terms should, in my opinion, run for a year or so or be removed by a 75% vote of no confidence. New editors should be approved by a 50% or more vote (from those participating). Again, all in my opinion but these are things that remain to be thrashed out.

If you have any questions, queries or worries please address them to the comments, or to the email address provided earlier.

#Gamergate – Conventions, Calumny and Badgers

calgary_expo_on_gamergate_by_kukuruyoart-d8q1lhpAt the Calgary Expo this weekend – a big nerd convention in Canada – Alison Tieman and the Honey Badger Brigade (a Men’s Human Rights and nerd culture group) were thrown out. The reasons given have been rather varied and sometimes contradictory but tend to cluster around a few accusations.

Before getting into that, here’s a little groundwork.

I am commenting on the basis that:

1). One need not agree with someone on everything in order to agree that they have the right to express their opinions.
2). Free expression is a fundamental human right.
3). Truth matters.
4). Private or public, groups, organisations and events should be held accountable for the things that they do when they are unfair or unethical.

I am also commenting on the basis that:

Conventions are part of the lifeblood of the nerd communities. A chance to get together, share concerns and ideas and to argue on important (YMMV) viewpoints from which D&D edition is best to the representation of female characters or those of racial minorities.

That genuine diversity includes a variety of different opinions and that discussion, dissent and argumentation is ultimately the crucible in which good ideas are tested and emerge, improved.

The Accusations

1. The Honey Badger Brigade Disrupted a Panel

You can see (hear) for yourself here that they did not. They politely – even asking if they could speak – dissented from the majority opinion that was present. That’s it. This cannot be a meaningful definition of harassment or disruption.

2. The Honey Badger Brigade Lied and Misrepresented on their Application

As well as being a Honey Badger, Alison is also the creator/owner of her own comic series and artwork. Her comic is Xenospora and I recommend checking it out as it is interesting work.

The purpose of the stall was primarily to sell and promote Alison’s work, but also as a home base for the Honey Badgers who were also helping and supporting her presence there, as well as being present to participate in panels and to hold the banner for Gamergate and Men’s Human Rights.

There is nothing wrong in any of this.

The Badgers have also been up front, obvious and hardly ‘stealthy’ about their intentions or fundraising either and there’s little doubt that someone will have contacted the expo before they even attended to ‘warn’ that they were going to be there, yet they were allowed to book and their money was taken – now effectively stolen.

You can review the openness of the Honey Badger’s efforts at their site, it’s al archived. Here’s the link.

Their passes were even issued under the Honey Badger Brigade name, so there was no duplicity or secrecy involved here.

At the 34 minute mark in the video in this link (not below) there’s details from the show programme and other material that show they weren’t sneaking.

Screenshot from 2015-04-19 12:30:58

3. They were harassing people.

Not having attended I can’t say whether this is true or not, but the accusations seem linked to the panel non-incident and so this can be considered to be covered under 1. 20+ reports of harassment seems unrealistic and to be brigading.

4. They were selling rape-joke merchandise.

This does’t appear to be true, I don’t think even the meta-rape-joke of Mr Tentacles was present. It appears to be an oblique reference to a particularly uncharitable interpretation of the Vivian James colours of green and purple. You have to be in the know and of a particular mindset to see this as being a rape joke in any way. More information on that can be found HERE.

Comment

When you describe your convention as a safe, diverse and equal space but then censor a group whose main reason to be there is to fight censorship and to present more diverse and little-aired opinions, you expose yourself to ridicule and considerable bad publicity. At the very least I would hope a mistake is admitted, Alison’s lifetime ban from all expo events is removed and that the Badgers get their fees back.

Even if you opose their politics and opinions, I think that any genuine, honest person can see that an injustice has occurred here, though it does serve to underline increasingly widespread problems with convention policies.

If you doubt the sincerity of Alison and the others, tell me that again after watching this.

There is a lot of disinformation going around about what happened and if you see more rumours, excuses or relevant info, please inform me in the comments or via Twitter (@grimachu) and I will attempt to cover it with accurate and sourced information, as above.

#Gamergate The Card Game Demo Video

Here’s a quick demo of how you play Gamergate The Card Game – as people were asking.

These are the home-printed cards.
You can get the download HERE.
The hardcopy HERE.

#Gamergate Card Game Designer Statement

cbldf-banner

We really need something like these guys, or the CARPGA of yore.

 

Aid & Comfort

  • If you want to support me there’s a variety of ways you can do so.
  • In regard to this issue you can email OneBookShelf and express your concerns (do so politely).
  • You can buy my stuff (Hardcopy of GG card game included) from RPGNOW, Lulu or  – there’s free stuff there too. Feel free to leave a review.
  • TheGamecrafter has hardcopies of Gamergate The Card Game and others by me.
  • As is now traditional, for a victim of harassment and hatred I am obligated to mention my Patreon.
  • If you want the PDF copy of the Gamergate Card Game, you can still get it here.
  • If you want to know what I actually think about anything, rather than relying on what people tell you I think, you’re welcome to ASK and you’ll get an honest answer.
  • The big thing I really want people to support at the moment is my memorial art scholarship for fantasy and SF art students. If you can donate art to be sold to support the scholarship or can give money, please do! Also, if you’re a budding fantasy or SF artist in College/University or high school, please enter!

I’ve heard some, unconfirmed, reports of harassment/doxxing of OBS employees. While this is almost certainly, yet again, the actions of 3rd party trolls stirring up trouble on the off-chance anyone IS harassing them on my behalf, please don’t. Thank you.

***

Statement

My fellow gamers,

As you are probably now aware, OneBookShelf (which runs RPGNOW and the Drivethru* series of sites for digital and PoD delivery) have elected to ban my title ‘Gamergate the Card Game’ from their store. Their letter is attached below this statement, for ease of access for those who want to peruse it.

This is a disappointing turn of events. OBS has previously been an open house, with little or no interference in the operations of those who use their digital distribution. To see them take a censorious stance in this way simply shows how serious these problems and pressures have become for creative people in this – and many other industries.

The question one has to ask then, given the ban, is why this product? Why out of many products that various people or groups might consider questionable was this one banned? It contains no violence, no sex, while it alludes to people nobody is mentioned directly. It is not graphic. It does not encourage hate speech, discrimination or anything else of that ilk. So why?

There are titles depicting sex, prosecuting personal attacks against people, treating modern and ongoing wars as fodder for game scenarios. There are erotica books, there are adult comics. There are, or have been, titles that include many ‘horrible’ things – and quite right too. They should be there, they should be hosted, and they should be available to those who want them.

So why this one and why set a terrible precedent of censorship on a previously free and open platform? Despite their statement I don’t believe we have had a good answer.

While I am a free speech radical I don’t expect everyone to necessarily agree with my position that anything legal should be allowed. Still, the comparison with Ferguson, made more than once in this situation, is ridiculous hyperbole and demeaning to the institutional problems around policing in the US.

Gamergate is nothing like that issue.

Gamergate is, indeed, a current and emotionally fraught issue. This is all the more reason to have a bit of a laugh about the whole thing, in my humble opinion. Humour is cathartic and the situation would benefit from everyone taking themselves a little less seriously, which is why I took aim at both sides and exaggerated things to the point of ludicrousness in the game. Current affairs are always good fodder for satire, just ask The Daily Show or The Colbert Report (just don’t mention #CancelColbert).

  • Gamergate is not related to violence. Why anyone would say that, other than because they are woefully misinformed, I cannot say.
  • Gamergate does not have its basis is misogyny or bigotry, a great many women and minorities have spoken up in support of it and the issues it raises via #NotYourShield. Again, this would appear to be misinformation.

These smears are popular narratives about this consumer revolt, but that doesn’t make them true. Silencing alternative viewpoints, and thereby furthering these hateful smears and attempts to discredit a much needed consumer revolt is part of the problem.

While I have had to step back from the Gamergate community, I found it welcoming, caring, supportive and enthusiastic while I was involved. It gave me a great deal of hope for the future of free expression in geek media.

The truly concerning part here, for me, is the pressure coming from other publishers and from ‘brigading’ by activists. As much as it might be claimed this was not considered it should never have happened and it will have had an effect. As a creator myself it would never even occur to me to try and control the content someone else put into distribution, unless they were violating intellectual property, stealing art, breaking the law (and perhaps not then) or reselling someone else’s product; nor would I ever consider wielding threats (now confirmed by the OBS statement) to try and force someone’s hand.

Creative people cheering on, even demanding, censorship is simply mind boggling.

 “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall, of Voltaire.

I welcome OBS’ stated commitment to free speech and I hope they live up to it, from now on.

***

There are a couple of related points I should like to address.

***

I have had to disconnect from Gamergate, not because I wanted to but because the pressures on me; personal, professional and health-wise had been becoming too great. I still believe in its causes of ethical journalism, freedom from censorship and freedom from overt politicisation of reviews (especially given the current power of Metacritic over video games).

I would encourage anyone and everyone to do their own research, perhaps starting at gamergate.me and to make up their own minds once they have all the facts.

***

There is always a lot of talk about ‘free expression’ and ‘censorship’ when things like this happen, especially around the interface between the free expression of the creator and the freedom of businesses to decline to provide services to those creators – or customers.

This is a minefield but it’s one we are increasingly going to have to deal with and to debate in a mature and productive fashion.

The narrow definition of censorship as some little man in a government building with a rubber-stamp loaded with red ink is simply not applicable any more. The main arms of communication in our wired-up world are privately owned and operated and there are dangerous ‘choke points’ that seriously threaten free expression (Amazon, PayPal, Banks, CC processors, in niche markets even companies like OBS).

Censorship doesn’t only come from government. The ACLU defines it thus:

“Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.”

The increasing pressure on both government and private groups to censor, typically prosecuted by small by committed groups of activists, is a threat to the liberties of every consumer and producer and it seems like we need to bolster the right to free expression, perhaps in law in a similar way to how we act as a guarantor to the rights of minority groups.

Net Neutrality is part of this, activist censorship another, government another and we now face serious threats to internet anonymity in the name of fighting trolls and abusers but at serious risk of placing people with good and genuine reasons for staying anonymous in peril.

Thank you for your attention.

***

Lastly, I don’t think people appreciate the level of threat that robots represent. I’m doing my part, are you?

 

OBS Statement

Dear Publishers,

We elected to ban a title from our marketplaces. Of the tens of thousands of titles that we carry, and after operating for 13 years, we have never before banned a title (other than for legal reasons). I hope those numbers make it clear this is not an action we have undertaken lightly, nor is it one we will undertake frequently, if ever again. Nonetheless, as this is the first time we’ve decided to ban a title, I thought a letter of explanation was in order.

The title in question is a card game whose theme is the Gamergate issue. The game attempted to present the issue in a satirical manner.

Normally, satirical works would be welcome on our marketplaces. However, we feel that there are situations where satire is inappropriate. For example, we do not think that a game released today that satirizes police killings of minorities in the USA would be appropriate. Regardless of how one feels about an issue like that, we feel that it is too current, too emotionally charged on both sides, and too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire.

Similarly, no matter how one feels about Gamergate, it is likewise too current, too emotionally frought, and too related to violence to be an appropriate subject for satire. Additionally, we considered that the violent element of the Gamergate issue has a basis in misogyny. For these reasons, we felt that this card game title was not welcome for sale on our site.

Note too that this is a card game, not a roleplaying game. Some may feel that if we were to ban an RPG from our marketplaces, that action would levy a significant economic penalty on that title since we have a long reach in the overall RPG market. This is not true of card games, where OneBookShelf is currently a tiny corner of the card game market. Our not carrying a card game should have minimal impact on that card game’s economic viability.

While we also considered the customer complaints on both sides of this issue (we are a business, after all, and we cannot ignore customer complaints and survive), these were not a major factor in our decision. Not surprisingly, given the gaming fanbase, many of the complaints we received were intelligently written and provided us with additional, thoughtful perspectives on the issue. Unfortunately, most customers were not in a position to review the content of the title itself and were therefore forced to be “judging a book by its cover” only.

Some publishers also complained about this title, and a few publishers let us know they would not be interested in continuing to work with us if we carried it on our store. We will not allow any publisher to dictate content policy onto any other publisher, explicitly or implicitly. If any publisher ever decides to discontinue business with us because our content policy errs to the side of being too open, rather than restrictive, then we will respect their decision to leave our marketplaces and wish them well. To be clear, no publishers’ comments had any bearing on our decision to discontinue selling this title.

Having now banned a title for the first time, we asked ourselves if we needed to establish any explicit policy for banning of future titles for reasons other than legality or production quality. Given that this is the first time such a thing has happened in 13 years, and given the difficulty of defining policies of this nature, we elected not to invest the time in creating a policy that would probably end up a poor guideline anyway. Our time is better spent getting back to retailing your titles to fans.

We carry a lot of titles on our marketplaces that some or all of the members of the OneBookShelf staff find morally distasteful (and we’re generally a pretty open-minded lot), but we find anything that smacks of censorship even more distasteful. We will continue to have a content policy that is more open than will give many of our publishers and customers comfort.

Regards

Steve Wieck

CEO

#Gamergate the Card Game Update

propaganda-IIProfessional

I still have no word on exactly what is going on with the withdrawal of the game from sale at DriveThruRPG. They’re not strangers to controversial products (one of them a personal attack on me) and hosting, or selling, them and the parent company ‘OneBookShelf’ was founded by former White Wolf people who had plenty of encounters with censors and the ‘moral majority’ in their time. It seems, then, to be an odd position for them to be in.

Complaints about various products have been made before, not just mine, but it has been left to the market and the review system to deal with it. The question must then be asked ‘what’s different this time?’

There’s a few of answers to that, some of which I have alluded to in previous commentary.

Firstly there’s the fact that the whole debate has become much more heated. Not taking a side is now taken as being in opposition to whatever the righteous cause of the moment is and that carries more cost than it used to.

Secondly the lunatics are now running the asylum, much more so in tabletop gaming than in even computer gaming. For all the complaining done about humour that ‘punches down’, the supposedly dis-empowered are now very much the ones wielding power.

Lastly, this time we have a company abusing their position and market share to bully and prosecute their agenda.

Solis

Hanrahan

Both these gentlemen work for Evil Hat and the obvious implicit threat is that they would remove their products, impacting the reputation and profitability of OneBookShelf far more than I could. This is not only unethical, but possibly illegal under competition/antitrust law. Fred Hicks, also of the company, has issued a rather mealy mouthed retraction, misusing (ironically) many words but let’s take him at his word. If Evil Hat is not threatening such action then there is now no justification for removing the product and hopefully we’ll see it back up soon (early next week). I call this a retraction because I do not think it is a remotely unjustifiable deduction from those tweets and other information to see that this was strongarming, even if Hicks himself was not involved.

The game has been submitted to other sites but because its the weekend I am unlikely to hear anything any time soon about those either, as both sites have product review processes before they approve something for sale. We’ll see what happens there.

I am, admittedly, a free-speech radical. I think even things deemed ‘hate speech’ should be allowed as, in my opinion, this merely exposes bad ideas to scrutiny and ridicule. To me at least, silencing is never a good idea no matter what we’re talking about. Pragmatically though I meet people half way and am willing to understand when we’re talking about genuine hate speech, exhortations to violence and so on.

It remains hard, however, to see what any possible objection to the Gamergate card game could be. It’s a – somewhat vicious – satire on the whole situation but it is not in any way illegal, obscene or otherwise something that should trigger anyone’s ire. The sole reason for anyone’s objection seems to be that it is connected to Gamergate and that because people have misconceptions about that movement.

Some have, apparently, decided to characterise it as a hate group and have – on that basis – decided to believe their own press and to act as though it is the KKK or something (a comparison that has been made with all earnestness). This is ridiculous, it’s genuinely a consumer revolt against corruption in games media, censorship and politicisation.

The irony of company strongarming to censor a product relating to a consumer revolt on these issues is obvious.

The implications for any small or micro-publisher of these events are worrying too. Why should anyone else, let alone another company that is your rival, get to decide what is and is not acceptable? If this card game now, how can we be secure that other ‘controversial’ material will not suffer the same fate in the future?

Support and purchase links at the bottom of this post.

Philosophical

Like it or not we are in the midst of a culture war. The hard won liberalisation of media and personal action and accountability won over the last sixty odd years – at great cost – are under severe attack. What’s bewildering is that these freedoms are under attack from people who consider themselves to be liberal and progressive.

There is nothing progressive about censorship.

There is nothing progressive about interfering in people’s consensual sexual freedom.

There is nothing progressive about inciting and sustaining moral panic and emotional thinking over reason to prosecute personal agendas.

America is – somewhat – insulated from governmental censorship by its first amendment, but other countries are not so lucky and American activists find other ways to silence things they don’t like.

In the UK for example we have rarely seen such a huge roll-back of sexual and personal liberty. The most recent ban on the production of certain pornography, for example, is just part of a much more general thrust of censorious culture. For all that these bans have been decried as anti-woman (they include a ban on depicting a squirting female orgasm for example) much of the new attitude stems from modern feminism, in particular anti-porn campaigner Gail Dines and groups like No More Page 3 or Bin the Lad’s Mags.

That these groups’ efforts are in perfect alignment with the moralising conservatism of the ruling Tory party seems to give them little or no pause, as does the thought that they are now working side-by-side with people they used to fight, people who wanted to ban ‘homosexual propaganda’.

This is why I have regarded these conflicts as so important, why I have involved myself so deeply. Liberty and freedom are important to me, especially freedom of expression. The ability to make art, to present ideas, is a fundamental human right as enshrined in places as wide and varied as the US constitution and the UN and EU charters.

Strangely, standing up for free expression, rationalism, skepticism and other values very dear to me I have been repeatedly accused of being conservative, reactionary, homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, misogynistic and heaven knows what else, all of which couldn’t be further from the truth.

This is, perhaps, what makes this… neo-puritanical  movement so dangerous. They are willing to betray their own – claimed – left and liberal values, on little to no basis, to silence not only their genuine opposition but also those who disagree with HOW they go about their goals rather than what those goals actually are.

This isn’t a left/right cultural or political conflict, it’s an authoritarian versus libertarian one and one where liberal – in its other meaning – redefinition of terms is used to justify the most terrible actions and to cover up their hypocrisy. ‘It’s OK when we do it’.

My ideals give us a world in which all people are free to express their ideas, whether I agree with them or not. Their ideals give us a grey world of homogeneous, ‘safe’ ideas that exclude a diversity of thought, ideals and even fiction. I still think a stand needs to be taken against this, long enough and articulate enough that the baseless accusations of misogyny, racism etc – so long used as gags to silence opposition on other bases – lose their sting.

One of the biggest problems that I think we have now is private censorship. A topic I’ve talked about a great deal and one which the kinds of people mentioned above seem to excuse – so long as it aligns with their view.

Censorship is not limited to governmental action and free expression is an ideal and a principle, not just a matter of the law.

We live in an era now in which a very few companies have a de facto monopoly over aspects of our lives. If you’re an author and Amazon won’t carry you, you’re in serious trouble. If you need to take online payments and Paypal won’t do it, again, you’re in serious trouble.

These things can and do happen. Amazon will hide erotica and self-published material or make it so you have to be very specific in your searches to find something. Credit card companies will gouge anyone selling adult products or materials under the pretence of risk. Paypal has tried to do similar in the past, refusing services.

When a company is in such a position – and in the tiny niche of gaming OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG and RPGNOW) holds the same place – they have a degree of responsibility to safeguard the rights of creators and consumers.

Is that far fetched?

I don’t know that it is. The state already intervenes to defend the rights of minorities. A company cannot refuse service to someone because of their sexuality for example, or their race – and quite right too. Given that precedent is it not reasonable to ask that companies in such a dominant position are required to safeguard basic and fundamental human rights, within reason and so long as it does not create undue problems for them to do so?

Why should Paypal, for example, be able to refuse financial services to legal businesses performing legal work? Why should Amazon be free to censor and delist ebooks, whose cost is negligable to them to host?

Why should Youtube not allow the sharing of consensual, legal adult material? Provided it exist behind suitable filtering and protection.

Good questions to ask in my opinion and ones that will be more and more important in the future.

Personal

Despite still believing very much in the Gamergate battle and the longer culture war that I’ve been a part of for about four years, the sheer cost (personal, professional and in terms of health) is just getting to be too much.

I am heartily sick of being accused of every horrible thing under the sun, especially when they go against my core beliefs and my sense of self. I fight so hard because it is hard for me to leave something unjust unchallenged. If I do something I suffer at the hands of bastards and the inevitable flak fighting draws, if I don’t fight I am betraying my core nature and allowing something horrible to go unchallenged.

If it’s a choice between doing something good and feeling horrible and not doing anything and feeling horrible, the grim calculus (pun intended) should seem obvious.

However, that calculus is changing in part for health reasons, in part because of rather unfair pressure from some dear friends, in part for financial and other reasons. This still pains my idealistic heart and seems like poor reasons not to continue making sacrifices and doing the right thing but I’m fairly backed into a corner right now, and I’m not Captain America.

How would you feel if you were passionate about freedom, for everyone? If you believed strongly in progressive and inclusive ideas – but also artistic freedom? If day after day you saw other creative people seeming to buy into a censorious and controlling agenda because it was easier for them than to rock the boat?

How would you feel if people were determined to trash your reputation by calling you homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, conservative, things the complete opposite of what you are? How would you feel if people began to believe those lies about you? How would you feel if you were constantly questioning yourself already?

The answer is, not good, and after a while it doesn’t matter that you’re right or that these people are wrong, it’s what people believe – and that so rarely marries up to what’s true, which is frustrating as hell for a rationalist and skeptic, believe me.

So, against my will, I’m going to have to withdraw from the fight, not that I want to and not that it will be at all easy. I’m well aware that’s admitting defeat and that’s like swallowing a shot glass of broken glass shards to me. I’ve been let down a great deal in life by many people I have taken as moral exemplars and to fall short in a similar fashion is devastating. I was always determined not to make the same mistakes – an impossible standard for any human being.

Growing up nerdy, geeky, cerebral, introspective is tough. There are few male-identity tags available to anyone in my generation and its worse for the generations following. Some of the few male-identity aspects available to us are duty, honour, sacrifice and endurance and these aren’t always the best paths to what’s good for you as an individual. They open you up to exploitation, attack and self neglect.

Aid & Comfort

If you want to support me there’s a variety of ways you can do so.

In regard to this issue you can email OneBookShelf and express your concerns (do so politely).

You can buy my stuff from RPGNOW, Lulu or TheGamecrafter – there’s free stuff there too. Feel free to leave a review.

As is now traditional, as a victim of harassment and hatred I am obligated to mention my Patreon.

If you want the PDF copy of the Gamergate Card Game, you can still, for now, get it here.

If you want to know what I actually think about anything, rather than relying on what people tell you I think, you’re welcome to ASK and you’ll get an honest answer.

The big thing I really want people to support at the moment is my memorial art scholarship for fantasy and SF art students. If you can donate art to be sold to support the scholarship or can give money, please do!

#Gamergate the Card Game (play example).

SJW1To start with, both players draw their hand of cards. This is all too typical of card games I know, but sometimes the old mechanics are the best ones, whether it’s progressing through a level by shooting people in the face or drawing cards.

In my test game for this write up, the Social Justice Warrior team didn’t draw any Ethics Breaches in their first hand – strange, as they never seem short of some new miscreant behaviour in real life. Anyway, with no Ethics Breaches to hand their first set of cards are discarded and they draw again.

This time they do draw an Ethics Breach and so the game can start.

The SJW team always goes first. Since there’s no Ethics Breaches in play and they have one, they have to play it out for their normal action. However, you can also play any number of Action cards, whenever it makes sense to do so and the SJW player has a doozy of a card toSJW31play.

First they play their Ethics Breach – The Chloe Post (Not actually anything to do with Gamergate, still, people insist). Then they play Pox Prime (From schlonghounds to diversity lounges, how the mighty have fallen), a big convention that distracts all the misogynerds, giving the Social Justice Warriors a second turn straight away. Gamergate aren’t going to get a turn yet, since they’re all too busy frotting cosplayers and failing to wash, so the Social Justice Warrior player has an opportunity to bolster their defences.

The SJW player starts their second turn by redrawing their hand back up to five cards.

Now they need to bolster the defences of their Ethics Breach. The best Defender they have to hand is a Corrupt Moderator (Can’t have a discussion if I don’t allow you to discuss, therefore I win!) so they play that. Raising the scores of the Ethics Breach to:

SJW13   Corruption 5
Outrage 7
Bullshit 6

Now Gamergate finally gets a turn.

Gamergate needs to beat all three scores to win this Ethics Breach, nothing less than total victory will do, but right now the priority is beating any single score to buy themselves a little time. About the only card they have that will do this at the moment is Cicero Everybodypeeps (In his honour they renamed it the gayro) who has a really high anti-corruption score. So they play him out. The floppy haired journalistic Spartan begins his fabulous journalistic investigation.

The scoring turn follows.

The SJWs are currently scoring:
GG1   Corruption 5
Outrage 7
Bullshit 6

Gamergate are currently scoring:
Corruption 7
Outrage 1
Bullshit 1

The Breach can’t rotate backwards more than being upright (this is how you track who is winning), so it doesn’t move for the Corruption issue, but the SJWs are beating Gamergate on Outrage and Bullshit so The Chloe Post rotates 180 degrees to be upside down. Halfway to being gotten away with!

SJW5The SJWs start their new turn by drawing their hand back up to five.

They have drawn ‘Dox‘, a powerful card that can knock an enemy card completely out of the game, with no penalty (It’s OK when they do it). However, the best tactic here is to bolster defences as well as unleashing an attack.

First they play Literally Woo on the Ethics Breach (Driven from their home, by courtesy car, to a TV studio). This raises the scores to:

Corruption 6
Outrage 9
Bullshit 7.

That’s not an end to it though. They also play Dox on Cicero Everybodypeeps, taking him outSJW18of the game completely. Syringes full of mystery fluid and being buried in mountains of toilet paper will do that.

Gamergate starts this turn in deep shit. They have no Attackers on the Ethics Breach and it’ll be scored next turn if they can’t stop it. The enemy will get away with it and no amount of ‘pesky kids’ will stop that happening.

None of the cards they have can even equal a score to delay things. The best move is a desperate card draw, hoping its a good action.

It isn’t.

With no Attackers to contend with and with a Corrupt Moderator and Literally Woo pushing the agenda, The Chloe Post rotates all the way back around to its starting position. They got away with it and it’s scored for the SJW side!

The game of Lolcats and three-button mouse continues with the forces of evil in the lead.

Here’s a couple more preview cards.

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