In Defense of Tim Schafer
Posted on Saturday, March 7 2015 @ 12:00:06 PST
I feel bad for Tim Schafer.
At 47 years old, he still looks awkward on camera. Last night kind of proved that fully through his stumbling, somewhat awkward hosting job at the Game Developer Conference Awards. Although there is one silver lining, the fact that he can be funny with his wry sense of humor.
Except for one joke, a joke that set off many people.
For those who don’t know, Schafer, the head of the game studio Double Fine, took to the stage of the GDC awards with a notorious sock puppet, an unfunny caricature that was devised to poke fun at the #GamerGate movement. The puppet told three jokes, one of which had nothing to do with anything at all, and two regarding #GamerGate. What set many folks off on a diatribe, however, was the joke regarding the #NotYourShield movement, a Twitter campaign which has included minorities who have spoken out against the detractors of #GamerGate.
Obviously with good reason. Rumors abound regarding the origins of #NotYourShield include outrageous claims of racist 4chan members using the tag to astroturf, to being a front made by “cis white males” as some have put it. Of course, these have been debunked, but that is not really the point of this. The point is, Schafer took aim at #NotYourShield for a moment after it threw a zinger at it, and for some that dehumanized those involved in the movement, at an inappropriate venue as well.
Sadly, this is where we stop talking about Schafer, and talk about the real problem regarding this catastrophe; the folks who were mad at him.
Oh don’t get me wrong, the anger is completely justified in a sense. It was not a funny joke, felt forced and contrived to the situation, as if Schafer was trying to belittle the entire movement. There is an argument to be made regarding what Schafer said as being the same rhetorical outcry that is typical of the anti-GamerGate stance, and the hypocrisy of that position at times.
What is not ok, however, is the disparaging storm that happened afterwards by thousands on Twitter. Much like the callous behavior that was reviled by many, folks flocked to social media to belittle, bemoan, and threaten Schafer for his joke. Folks poured gasoline on a sparked inferno, reigniting the problems with #GamerGate once more, it’s own self-image.
It’s a shame too, since many in the campaign make excellent points regarding actual ethical practices in games journalism. Sadly, many do not preach it, becoming slaves to passion just like the very people they are against. Almost like an ouroboros, time and again #GamerGate eats it’s own tail, forcing a cycle of the same bad behavior that folks like Brianna Wu, Arthur Chu, Johnathan Mcintosh and their own followers employ.
In a strange sense, it reminds of the Dickwolf controversy regarding Penny Arcade co-founder Mike Krahulik. A joke about rape, despite the fact that Penny Arcade is known to crack jokes about murder, pedophilia, and bestiality in their long-running web comic, was reviled by a large portion of the audience and gaming press, to the point where the press looked bad for continuing to dog pile on Krahulik for a bad joke, and even worse still, continuing to push the joke for the next two years.
Now though, the shoe is on the other foot. Folks like Elisabeth Sampat and Rachel Edidin took the joke too far, and using their own personal agendas, continued to attack Krahulik and his company for their own gains. It is easy to belittle Sampat and Edidin for this, but at the same time, it’s happening again.
Instead of Sampat and Edidin, we have Sargon of Akkad and Milo Yiannopoulos. We have video entertainers critiquing and cajoling against a bad joke and poor judgment on Schafer’s, and in essence, anyone opposed to their ideals, on #GamerGate. Much like Dickwolf, any jokes on #GamerGate are apparently off limits, because people are upset about it for undermining their beliefs and cause.
It is almost ironic when AlphaOmegaSin states what his ultimate “no-no” is by “[mixing] business with politics,” yet does the same thing in his own video rant, spending 11 minutes to verbally abuse Schafer and essentially arguing his association with the other side is a reason to do so. He may be right about politics in this case, but #GamerGate is not above reproof of any kind either, including humor and ridicule. We can express our disdain for Schafer and his joke because it was a polarizing joke, but to explode into a tirade because of it simply makes you no better than those who overreacted to Dickwolf.
For me, that represents what is wrong with #GamerGate in a nutshell; the same, polar-political spectrum that Sarkeesian and Wu inhabit, diametrically opposed to each other like a magnet, only to never fully come to terms because of their magnetic fields. The same vile rhetoric espoused does #GamerGate no favors, and it certainly doesn't move the conversation along to where it needs to go. It simply continues the rhetoric employed by the anti-GamerGate crowd and gives their side more credibility to their claims into an "us vs. them" mentality. #GamerGate becomes a controversy, not a cause, shackled by the hangups of political divisiveness over proper discourse.
This is not to say that everyone has reached the critical mass of anger against Schafer. Hundreds, employing the #NotYourShield tag have responded amicably against the joke in a loose protest. Flying signs and photos against his claims, showing to Schafer and countless others that #NotYourShield is more than a "sock puppet" movement. In the end though, the damage is still done, and this protest will either be used by the more militant arm of #GamerGate or ignored by the anti-GamerGate crowd to further dividing lines.
It is a shame too. Many moderate voices, both involved with the campaign or completely neutral, are constantly shouted down or belittled by both sides for their stance. Jon “JonTron” Jaffari, Allistair Pinsoff, or Liana Kerzner for example, have been criticized for their even-keeled stances regarding the entirety of the campaign. These are also the people willing to speak out as well, countless others are also chided for this stance to the point of silence, ignoring the diatribes that follow from both sides of the argument. Even Oliver Campbell has become increasingly divisive as of late, galvanizing those often silent voices as to where #GamerGate may be going.
Schafer does not speak for everyone, just as Campbell doesn't either. The problem in the end is this game of social politics is not doing anyone favors. The back and forth over a joke, as unfunny and unwarranted it may be, just shows the lack of progress actually made since August. Neither side can bear criticism, constructive or otherwise it seems, and this incident with Schafer more or less contributes to that perception of the campaign itself. It is continuously dividing the lines and mock organizations, abusing the power bestowed upon them as opinion leaders in the process.
Aristotle once said that the mark of an educated mind is to entertain a thought without accepting it. Perhaps it’s time for the folks involved in #GamerGate, be it pro or anti, take that to heart in this case, and, for a moment, accept that Schafer said something. In that moment, they should just ignore it for what it is, a bad joke instead of a declaration of war.
Please Note: The opinions expressed by myself are my own. If you have comments or questions please don't hesitate to leave them in the comment section below.
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Editorial: Reflecting on Gender Equality and Pushing Forward
Posted on Thursday, October 30 2014 @ 13:22:38 PST
This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
This is another article from Blistered Thumbs I wrote, back from the dead after being buried in the way-back machine. I posted this back in April of 2013, and many of the issues present seem to be prevalent right now in some cases, namely the decrees of sexism and misogony. Considering current events in the sociopolitical realm of gaming, I feel it is right to re-post it here. Do I feel this is still the right course of action? Not necessarily. I do, however, feel this is a step in the right direction.
Please note, there are some minor edits to clean up some grammar issues and to make points more abundantly clear.
Lately, there has been a major call to change the current state of gender equality in the gaming industry. Countless op-eds, videos, conferences, and developers have talked about it. But after cutting through the forest of opinions, rallying cries, protests, and walkouts, one question is left in the dust, like a single reed bending in the wind: What is the gaming industry going to do about gender equality?
A harsh, but fair question, all things considered. Overnight change is not a reasonable expectation, but over the past decade we have seen a new generation of game players and game creators take center stage for what feels like the first time. This is no longer the boys-only club that many detest, at least if you look at the playing demographics.
The Entertainment Software Association showcases this change through their own statistics. In 2012, it was reported that 47% of video game players are females, with women over the age of eighteen the fastest growing demographic at nearly 30%. In comparison, the typical audience cited for the gaming industry, the male teenage demographic, is now a mere 18% of the game playing population. It is important to note that these demographics are defined by the types of games being played, namely the “casual market” over the AAA genres, but such a distinction is irrelevant in the end, considering the rapidly changing definitions of these labels.
Strangely, it is the industry itself that is lacking the most. Women who make video games are still uncommon; 11% of game designers and 3% of programmers are female within the industry, disturbingly low when compared to other fields of graphic design that boast over 60% female employment. Women also have uneven salaries, as female programmers receive about $10,000 less, according to a 2011 salary survey, while designers net $12,000 less.
It also doesn’t help that the statistics regarding mistreatment are harrowing. Horror stories by female developers, programmers, and coders are so widespread and public its impossible not to notice. Take, for example, Megan Marie, who chronicles several abusive questions asked by a man at PAX East last week, which made her reply angrily on her personal blog, saying that she will not longer stay silent.
Marie is not alone in such sentiments. At GDC this year, Brenda Brathwaite Romero took the stage during a panel that discussed women’s issues within the industry. Her talk, rather ominously, highlighted her distaste for the Electronic Entertainment Expo and the prevalence of booth babes at the trade show. As paraphrased by Christian Walters of Gaygamer.net, “She especially had a bone to pick with E3, comparing it to walking through a construction site, and that the booth babes, catcalls, and bad behavior would have qualified as sexual harassment in a regular work environment. She noted that she was not anti-booth babe, as she is very sex-positive and sees no use in criticizing the women, but rather against the sexist culture that the presence of booth babes creates at otherwise professional events.”
Yet, coming away from the descriptions of the panel, I can’t help but ask once again, what are we doing about it? Not to discredit the charges behind what Romero discussed, but attacking one blatantly sexist aspect of the industry does little to the cause at large. Make no mistake, Romero is not wrong in these charges at all–in fact, the discussion being on the table is progressive enough to be important regarding gaming’s culture. However, just talking about the problem doesn’t bring about solutions.
This is also exacerbated through Romero’s own actions, such as the announcement of her resignation from the IGDA several hours later due to the Dancer scandal at their party. Her resignation was seen by many as a courageous act of standing up and not tolerating such disrespect. At the same time, removing herself from the organization instead of working with them to stop such a mistake from repeating can also be interpreted as hasty and unprofessional. Such an action can just as quickly alienate herself from bringing forth actual change.
I get the same feelings when I see anyone discussing social activism and change, yet doing little to push it forward. Pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, the creator of Feminist Frequency on YouTube, dedicated the first video of her KickStarter-funded series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games to the “Damsel in Distress.” Despite the promise of fresh insight, the video was nothing but regurgitated common knowledge, shelled by the veneer of education. What’s worse, most of the assertions by Sarkeesian are at best an armchair analysis mixed with confirmation-biased opinions, almost depicting males as being completely misogynist, which cheapens her own arguments and, in effect, marginalizes her cause.
About a week ago, I reported on the comments of Jean-Alex Morris of Dontnod Entertainment regarding the difficulties of marketing a female protagonist for their new game, Remember Me. In the article I stated that “to actually start facilitating a change, perhaps the best course of action is to take a chance and, with the right amount of push, see what happens.”
I feel now, however, we should talk about that “push” instead of brushing it off completely. It is clear that changing the culture of disparity needs to be done from within. After all, there is enough anecdotal and statistical evidence to back that up. Yet, many in the gaming media seem too paralyzed to do anything about it, other than focusing on the negative. This, I feel, is the Achilles’ heel that the words and actions of people like Sarkeesian and Romero have: Their focus is not future-driven with ideas on education of acceptance, but rather an aggressive campaign of grandstanding.
For my money, the best course of action is to educate within the industry to create a balance within the developers’ circle. Those numbers earlier in the article need to rise for programmers and coders, and the only way to do this is to actually put forth educational tools and security for any woman interested in joining the gaming world. The best way to do this is to start with girls with aspirations to program and code.
Another talk at GDC, one that was less publicized, had Double Fine’s Anna Kipnis, Funomena designer Robin Hunicke, and Professor Colleen Macklin of Parson’s School of Design, among others, discussing this very issue on education. Hunicke and Macklin stressed the importance of garnering interest for girls at earlier ages, and discuss how a career in gaming could be good. It is the classic job fair sales pitch that may spark something in females as it does in males, and that it is up to game designers to go out there and promote their work as a viable career.
Perhaps the most important comments came from Kipnis, however, when she discussed how she created Peter Molyneux’s GameJam by complete accident, and learned from the GameJam to not fear being harassed because of her gender. According to an article by Brendan Sinclair, “As a result, she suggested that perhaps the answer is to behave as if there isn’t a problem with the way women are perceived in games, and in so doing, people may find the reality of the situation is better than they feared.”
Now it should be noted that Kipnis, Hunicke, Macklin, and the rest of their panel discussed these ideas as suggestions for the industry to do, much like Romero and her talk about E3 booth babes. But the difference is the message is much more positive and even-handed, a way to work within the industry to elicit acceptable change, instead of demanding tolerance by pointing out the obvious. If Romero and other prominent designers took this advice and spoke to children about the positives of the industry and how working within it can create a less misogynistic climate, the 11% we see would increase, no questions there. Then the horror stories spoken by Marie and countless other female game designers would slowly erode away into the small, vocal minority, a minority with which no one will want to associate.
These are not just fly by night ideals that are unproven. The tech industry began a campaign from within itself to promote girls and women to participate in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and did so through promotions with higher education and organizations like the Girl Scouts. Now their numbers are climbing, with women in the workforce at 25% in the technology industry.
Such ideas are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. An example of more proactive critiquing can be learned from activist Mattie Brice, who shared the stage with Romero at GDC this year. Brice, a student and blogger, discussed how she is often held to a double standard because of her gender and her opinions. Yet this didn’t shy her from creating her own game, Mainichi, in RPG Maker VX last November. According to her blog, Mainichi “is an experiment in sharing a personal experience through game mechanics. It helps communicate daily occurrences that happen in my life as a mixed transgender woman. It also explores the difficulty in expressing these feelings in words. As well, it stands as a commentary of how we currently use game design for broad strokes of universal experiences instead of the hyper-personal, and often exclude minority voices.”
In creating her own independent game, Brice is able to put gamers, male and female, into her shoes to show a snapshot of her own struggles in her day to day life. It is much more potent medicine, since it forces the hand of others who may objectify or marginalize Brice to feel the same ostracizing situations for a change. It also is subversive to the ideas that a male, white only lead is necessary to be a thought-provoking, popular protagonist. In casting herself in that role, Brice is able to bring her activism forward by challenging others to see her point of view through interactivity.
Brice is not the only person to develop a game in that image. Developer Mike Hoye famously flipped the gender of Link in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker for his young daughter, stating that "I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers." A similar story involves Mike Mika who reversed the roles of Pauline and Mario in the arcade classic Donkey Kong for his three year-old daughter. Both examples are a type of subversion against the status quo, being a statement against the common thinking of gender equality, while simultaneously giving the younger generation someone to idolize, at least in the privacy of their own homes.
As I said, I admit that these are not even my own ideas, but they are examples of women attempting to promote change within the industry. Unlike the platitudes espoused by Sarkeesian or a questionable decision by Romero, women like Brice, Macklin, Kipnis, and Hunicke are doing something about gender equality, and are doing it without malice towards their industry of choice. Men like Hoye and Mika are showing that the culture surrounding gender inequality doesn’t have to exist for their children. This forward-thinking should be made more public by both the gaming media and the gaming industry to really foster the change of attitude for which most of us clamor.
So, for the random game designers out there who happen to read this, I challenge you to do just that. Talk to kids about game design. Promote gender equality in the workforce. Stop objectifying females and marginalizing their cause,and don't demonize males as chauvinists. Don’t be afraid to make games about women. That is how we jumpstart true acceptance, instead of just maintaining a mirage of tolerance.
That is how we can push forward.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted on October 29, has not been edited. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan
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Investigation: EA Floods Social Media Accounts with Bots, Fake Praise
Posted on Thursday, October 2 2014 @ 10:10:44 PST
Disclaimer: I posted this piece back in March of 2013, as an investigative piece on the now defunct website Blistered Thumbs. While the information may be old, the reason for the repost is due to the fact that I don't want the story to be lost in the ether of the internet. I am re-editing the first paragraph of the article because of pointed out facts in the original piece were incorrect, and the paragraph before the main image of the piece, because the image is difficult to post normally here. I will supply a link however.
During the SimCity debacle of the last few weeks, there was one story that seemed to be swept under the rug by the gaming press at large. The story pertains to the use of social media, which publishers have been utilizing more frequently to advertise their products. This increased usage of sites like Facebook and Twitter is no doubt part of the plan to connect with more of their audience, but where is the line between leveraging a service and abusing it? Electronic Arts, for example, has been recently caught flooding Facebook with numerous bot accounts in praise of SimCity.
This is far from the only recent incident, however.
If you’ll recall, EA recently held their Full Spectrum event to talk with industry insiders about promoting sexual orientation tolerance and diversity in video games and the workplace. There is no doubt in my mind that EA means well in this message, and is actively pushing for a change of attitude in the industry. In fact, their previous actions regarding sexual orientation, both internally and externally, have shown a commitment to such change, even if it serves as a positive public relations stance at the same time.
But the sad truth is that social media has pushed the Full Spectrum conference, and their goals, into the realm of a callous publicity stunts. I am of course talking about the social media campaign of transplanting bots to promote the message of change. Several screencaps showcased the same, canned messages, word for word in most cases, being typed by people from "around the world" in support of the Full Spectrum conference. What makes it worse is that the collection of replies, which have since been taken down, are often incomplete or contain error messages, which highlights the usage of dummy bot accounts further.
All of these messages, including the broken links, were done by an advertising group designed to promote the conference for EA. The mistake shown above is that someone did not diversify their message or stagger the release of these empty words of praise for the cause, instead releasing them all at the same time on the forum these messages were collected in. It would be easy to hand wave this as breaking the rules for the right cause, but even in the case of promoting the Full Spectrum event and diversity in gaming, EA simultaneously cheapens their message by implanting fear and doubt into the consumer base.
Of course, I suspect that is the last thing EA wanted to do, but such is the case for abusing social media this way. Many game companies already farm out such actions to expert firms to do the busy work for them. One such group is known as Ayzenberg, an advertising agency that is pushing social media interaction. The Ayzenberg Group has an impressive client list, one containing EA, Activision, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Konami, and other game publishers, as well as a broad spectrum of non-gaming corporations.
With such an impressive client list, the Ayzenberg Group is no doubt an example of being a leader in the social media push. The Ayzenberg website features Electronic Arts as one of their case studies, stating the following:
“Electronic Arts recognized the growing importance that social plays in the success of their brands and came to Ayzenberg’s social team with a challenge: Help them grow and manage a social community for one of their biggest games ever, Battlefield 3. Today, as part of a successful program, we initiate an average of 15,000 points of conversation daily across several titles. This continual interaction drives real brand engagement, and that in turn leads to increased sharing, referral, and ultimately sales.
Our community experts, who understand both personal communications and the subject matter (in this case, video games), worked tirelessly with EA to establish a voice that could be carried across the entire team consistently. This commonality ensures that issues and concerns are addressed in a cohesive manner, always based on approved messaging yet without sounding robotic or manufactured. This practice also encourages community engagement and game adoption throughout the pre-release, beta, launch and post launch phases.”
The program currently leverages Ayzenberg’s 50+ person social media staff, a team of community operatives (agents with their hands on keyboards), social strategists, and analytics and statistical experts. This team has worked to not only engage, manage and grow the community, but also to provide in-depth statistical analysis of the data collected for daily, weekly and ad hoc reporting. This adds value and action to the brand, in terms of delivering ongoing content, game updates and messaging that resonates with the community and stakeholders such as the publisher and the development team.
Across many of EA’s titles, we’re now engaging and growing a fan base of 40 million people."
To be clear, I am not accusing the Ayzenberg Group of abusing social media. There is no evidence that they are the firm behind the bots for EA, and it would be libelous to make such an accusation. However, it does beg the simple question of why publishers employ firms to disingenuously engage fans, when such practices inevitably lead to fake accounts and astroturfing. Perhaps more importantly, it raises the question of how widespread the practice really is.
Last year, Facebook estimated that roughly 8.7% of over 955 million monthly active users are dummy accounts. That is a staggering 83 million Facebook users that don’t exist. What’s worse, around 14 million of those 83 million accounts are used for spamming on Facebook. Interestingly enough, despite Facebook attempting to crack down on such accounts since 2012, the practice still continues, even perpetuated, by established, corporate accounts such as EA.
Facebook is not the only social media outlet attempting to combat false accounts. Google+ has been vocally opposed to multiple accounts per user, and was under fire for limited accounts to the users real name. This has not stopped the social media push though. In October of 2012, an SEO firm that was attempting to fake information on Google+ local was caught falsifying reviews by well respected SEO veterans, simply by creating fake accounts for over 60 people. The accounts were shut down immediately, however, with Google purging the fake reviews from their system.
Both The Ayzenberg Group and Google+ were contacted for a comment, but did not reply back to our inquiries.
Regardless, this throws even more suspicion on the shaky bond of trust between publishers and consumers. Social media can be a valuable tool, but when wielded without discipline it becomes self-destructive–even when the message is good–so why trust anything said on Facebook or Twitter now? There is also the question of just how widespread this all is, since it is likely that EA is just the company that got caught, because they have been scrutinized heavily due to the SimCity backlash. I do hope that those companies participating in the social media space start to do so more honestly, for their sake's.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted on October 1, has not been edited. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan
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On #GamerGate and Journalism
Posted on Monday, September 8 2014 @ 07:31:05 PST
Man, this has been a messed up month has it?
All across twitter, you tube, reddit, and pretty much every other social media form under the sun has been going nuts over the #GamerGate scandal. We have seen lines drawn in the sand, people ... read more...
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Why EA Access is the Best Value Out There
Posted on Monday, August 4 2014 @ 17:36:24 PST
Here we go again. Electronic Arts, why do you constantly make it so easy to poke fun at you for dumb business moves. I mean, this whole EA Access thing looks…
Hmm… you know what, it is actually a pretty good deal.... read more...
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Where Did Makoto Go?
Posted on Monday, July 7 2014 @ 16:07:54 PST
Like any character from an RPG, Makoto has his own quirks to stand out in his game, Enchanted Arms. For Makoto, he is a support character who uses the element of Light for most of his spell casting, along wit... read more...
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The E3 Conundrum
Posted on Saturday, June 14 2014 @ 17:41:49 PST
Man, E3 sucks lately doesn’t it?
Perhaps it is just my jaded outlook on the gaming industry as of late, but for the last few years, the Electronic Entertainment Expo has become a chore to sit through. Gone ar... read more...
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The Managed Expectations of the VGX
Posted on Tuesday, December 3 2013 @ 13:44:43 PST
Is it just me, or do the game of the year nominees for Spike's VGX awards feel underwhelming? I mean, four of these games are critically acclaimed masterpieces, yet it feels like there is no fundamental difference between most of the nominees thi... read more...
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Sandy Hook Slaying Turned into Gun-Control Video Game
Posted on Friday, November 22 2013 @ 15:26:43 PST
[b]*Note: this article was first posted on Blistered Thumbs and can be found in the link below.[/b] http://www.blisteredthumbs.net/2013/11/sandy-hook-slaying-turned-into-gun-control-video-game/
Can video games be political statements?<... read more...
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Mike Krahulick, Dickwolf Bully?
Posted on Friday, September 13 2013 @ 12:43:34 PST
Is Mike Krahulick a dickwolf bully?
For those not in the know, or are like me and barely cared when this occurred because you find Penny Arcade to be unfunny, back in 2010 Penny Arcade got into some hot water over a strip titl... read more...
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