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Friday, September 5, 2014

"I Don't Read 'x' Because of 'y'" Gets It Wrong

Nosy Gamer is a blogger I've followed since he began writing posts about EVE Online back when I was actively playing that game. He's had some seminal pieces, with his analysis of Real Money Trading being especially outstanding. He's rightly earned a reputation for doing his research, getting his facts straight and presenting, what we called at my alma mater, scholarly works.

So it was with a great deal of sadness I read his latest post Gamergate: Tempest in a Teapot. It's not that I disagree with everything he writes. I seldom do, and everyone is entitled their opinion. I know I spout mine around here often enough to be annoying. No, what disappoints me most in his post is the admission he ignores certain opinions because those sources don't conform to his ideal of what game journalism should be. And what's worse, he feels he is completely right to do so.

"Sites like Gamasutra, Polygon, and Kotaku always seemed sketchy to me, so I'm glad to see my judgement vindicated."

I suppose it's his right to do as he wishes. Gods know there are some political sites I will go out of my way to avoid. But that's not because I disagree with them, or even feel their research is lacking. It's because they are filled with hate and vitriol. So long as sites I disagree with avoid personalizing the debate, I read what they have to say. As a fully vested member of human society, I have an obligation to learn all sides to a story - not just the one with which I personally agree. I feel it is a civic duty to understand not only your reasoning, but also the opposition's reasoning.

That goes for any community I belong to, not just the political. There are always two sides to every story (often more,) and justice demands I understand all of them. Only from a position based on that sort of understanding, can I generate self-assurance my opinion is not off the proverbial deep end. I suppose this attitude came to me during my military service. If I was going to fight and kill another human being, I at least needed to understand why they were fighting and trying to kill me.

Some people would say to that last desire, "who cares?" The answer to that question is simple. I care. When I was a young man, I read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. There are many scenes in that book which haunt me to this day, but the one I think about most is the scene in no man's land, in the shell crater, after Paul Bäumer has stabbed the French soldier in a brief but horrific struggle. But that wasn't the most horrific thing that happened in that muddy hole. Bäumer had to watch the man die, slowly, painfully. To this day it's hard for me to remember that scene. In the end, Bäumer decides he must know who the man was, and takes out his wallet. Looking through the contents he learns that his fearsome enemy is no different from he, once full of hopes and dreams - now as dead has the man Bäumer killed. "I have killed the printer, Gérard Duval," means far more than the words "I have killed a man."

It's an object lesson in empathy. Because of it, and other more personal events, I strive not only to learn what other people think, but to also put myself in their position. I don't get Google Alerts because I only want to know what the majority have to say on a topic. I want to know what you, or her, or that guy writing the article think and feel about it. It is irrelevant to me if their opinion is the majority opinion or not. Though we are a society based on the rule of the majority, that in no way obligates us to ignore the minority, or to marginalize their struggles. When people do that, you end up with the Holocaust. Yes, that's an extreme example. Nevertheless, majority promulgated abuses are going on at this very moment in places like Ferguson, Missouri. Do you think they can't be preludes to worse?

It's so easy to perpetrate these tragedies. All we have to do is dismiss other people's "scandals" as unrepresentative and unimportant.

Now, I am not trying to put GamerGate on a pedestal beside the Holocaust, or Ferguson. Don't be absurd. There are orders of magnitude difference. What I am trying to do is draw your attention to a larger issue. It's an issue that's seeped into the fabric of our communities, real life or virtual, and most people are not even aware of the rot it causes to that fabric.

I want to share with you a non-gaming article I read this week. To me it clearly shows the issue we face, and by we I mean readers and writers alike. The article is titled Why I Decided War Reporting Was No Longer Worth the Risk, by Tom A. Peter. Read the whole thing, you will not regret the five minutes it takes. But I want to highlight the conclusion (that means the emphasis is mine BTW) as evidence of what I've been trying to convey.

"Covering wars for a polarized nation has destroyed the civic mission I once found in journalism. Why risk it all to get the facts for people who increasingly seem only to seek out the information they want and brand the stories and facts that don’t conform to their opinions as biased or inaccurate?"

This question has been on my mind since I read it. It concerns me - deeply. It's a rot I've long noticed and in my own, small, personal way have resisted. But it isn't enough to keep it a personal resolution. The solution is not in keeping it to myself, though I've encountered internal resistance coming to that conclusion.

You see, I've tried to convince myself this problem is not as wide-spread as I fear; that it is only a political thing. But then I see evidence it's managed to leech down into somewhat trivial areas, like the gaming community. Your first reaction to that sentence was probably, "So what?" That seems to be a catchy phrase these days. But I'm afraid you're looking at it backwards if that's your initial reaction. You've got it wrong if you think it does not matter people now cultivate their own bias, even in areas that have no real impact on society as a whole. It does matter, because it indicates that such bias cultivation has become second nature. We allow ourselves to do it in all things, even the inconsequential, and that's unsettling.

Are we so insecure in our beliefs that we can't entertain the thought we might be wrong? Is our continued existence so precarious that we dare not stray off the knife's edge certainty we are right and they are wrong? Are we so afraid of spilled tea we won't risk a little tempest? Because I can guarantee you every journalist who wrote a "gamers are dead" article feels they have just as valid a point as you do. You owe it yourself to not dismiss it. No, strike that. You don't owe it to yourself. You owe to all those who will come after you to live in the world created by your actions. Actions promulgated by your cultivated bias.

No. "Gamers are dead" articles do not trumpet the end of human society as we know it. Please revisit the warning above against being absurd. It is however a symptom of a larger malaise. If you are unwilling to exercise due regard for the unimportant things, what makes you think you'll be able to do it for the important ones? If I learned one thing from my 13 years of military service, it's that you train exactly how you're going to fight. Why? Because when the bullets fly, you don't have time to think about it. You must have already cemented the habits that allow you to do your job and survive. And it's not just your life on the line. Every soldier with you depends on you to get it right. It's also their lives you risk, just as you depend on them getting it right too.

So in all things I strive to train as I would fight. When it comes to opinions, I read them all. I don't discriminate based on the originator's previous behavior (well, I strive not to, but I AM only human,) and I do my best to empathize with every person even though I might have strong opinions of my own. I don't want to stab a man in ignorance, literally or virtually, because he matters. I will not deny his humanity though I deny him his life (or livelihood if you disdain metaphorical hyperbole.) Understand this if nothing else: we live in a world of gray, where absolutes are the last bastions of denial, and denial is the last defense of intellectual torpidity.

Nosey, you're better than that. You may not like how some people choose to react to a particular issue, but that does not mean it isn't a serious issue. Or their concerns don't matter. Even if the issue only affects a minority of gamers. Go read This is not a GamerGate post by Jessica Cook at Herding Cats and tell me her FEAR about even mentioning an opinion does not matter. I am certain only a minority of gamers feel the way she does, and everyone last one of them is female, but gods dammit they shouldn't have to. If you're dismissing it all because you are offended by the statement "gamers are dead," then you are doing them a grave injustice. You have the rot my friend. Fight it. And that goes for the rest of you male gamers who have the audacity to turn other's fears and oppression into some conjured insult so you can sleep better at night. And here I thought this wasn't going to be a GamerGate post either. Peace out.



  1. Preface: we are talking about games, this is a devil's advocate response.

    Ok. I get the need to understand big complicated issues. I will read for hours or days about geopolitics, economics, and other issues where opinions have real impact in the aggregate. I rarely have opinions, or lend much weight to other opinions, on those topics that don't have at least one "but..." Included.

    Games journalism is not one of those topics. It is entertainment writing about an entertainment medium. By my count, that is a few steps removed from issues that deserve careful analysis in the same weight as, say, Ferguson. Because of that, i have a hard time calling Nosy to task for dismissing gaming journos, who have a spotty record of integrity at best. That belief is not linked to my beliefs on abuse in gaming. I've written about that as well, and find it disgusting.

    The whole gamergate issue is mostly, in my reading, an elaborate tapestry of trolls and vitriol and internet pride posting sprung off of a small group of people behaving in ways that many would judge morally questionable. What happened between the game developer, her ex, and some journos has pretty much no bearing on the quality of the game or sites is question. But when people advocating moral stances do things that are morally dubious, it acts as an invitation for others to jump into the cesspit of internet anonymity and bad posting. The worst aspect is that it allows the actions in a specific case to become proxies for larger issues that are important: harassment, sexism, etc.

    All gamergate has done is reinforce the idea that people on the internet will behave badly if given the thinnest opportunity to do so.

    Nosy was probably just trying to stay out of that cesspit to some degree. When most of the opinions on a topic are just attempts to get attention, ignoring them may be the best option.

  2. I vote for more blogs referencing World War literature.

  3. Nothing is just "an entertainment medium," c.f.: minstrelsy. But even if you posit that for the sake of argument, you still run into this, from the last blog Mabrick linked to:

    "As for me, at some point a couple of weeks ago I literally became scared of stating an opinion about video games."

    Not only is entertainment necessarily political, the nature of responses are also political. "I disagree" asserts one kind of civil politics; "shut the fuck up, you stupid fat bitch" asserts another. Hacking someone's personal and financial data and publishing it asserts another, and each politics is uglier than the last. As a general rule, I've found that people assert the politics they believe in.

    The root problem is that some people only see advocates for issues other than theirs as "bringing politics into it." But all Anita Sarkeesian is doing is pointing out the politics that are already there, politics which make it hard for her to just sit back and enjoy the games she wants to enjoy. Instead of being disagreed with, she's being threatened and harassed and mocked.

    It's interesting to compare this to the controversy over the inclusion of "Civilization" on the Fallout 3 soundtrack.

  4. The gamergate idiots say "how dare you dismiss our valid, important opinions about gaming journalism!" and "these stupid bitches should shut up about :misogynylol: cause nobody cares" almost in the same sentence. The irony of it all makes me want to break things.

  5. Supposedly, GamerGate was about malfeasance in a segment of the mainstream gaming media. Not about sex. Not about death threats. Not about misogyny. I say supposedly because the tag was set up by 4chan. Elements of the gaming media decided to try to hide their bad behavior behind 4chan's bad behavior. Where 4chan failed to establish corruption in the initial scandal, the game journalists themselves decided to expand the scandal with the "Gamers are dead" message. Why the games journalists wanted to expand the controversy, I don't know.

    Are the game journalists succeeding? I think so. That means that if anyone comes out and criticizes the game journalists involved, they will be viewed as misogynistic, homophobic, neck-bearded white cis male 4chan sockpuppets who get their jollies by sending out internet death threats. Is writing about bad game journalists really worth the pain I'd get wading into that fight? Given how long the problem has existed, the answer is no. This issue is just not important.

    And if the controversy weren't making its way into the mainstream press, I probably wouldn't have responded.

  6. I call bullshit. People don't get called misogynistic or homophobic for just criticizing anybody. You get that label for using slurs that ooze misogyny and homophobia. While using the slurs it's somewhat difficult to try to convince anybody that your motivations are not homophobic or misogynistic.

    Another way to get called misogynistic is naturally to start yelling when Anita makes very calm and reasoned points about the way female characters are used in the ..... Moving on.

    The real problem currently is everybody on any side of issue concentrates on chestbeating, preaching to their own choir while pointing at the god awful things people on the fringes of all the other sides are inevitably saying.

  7. Gaming isn't dead, I haven't looked at gaming journalism since I was 10 and had a sub to Nintendo power however. It has been obvious for a long time that the gaming media isn't independent. But the problem really seems to be the devs that try to make games for the masses. Every mmo since wow came out with the exception of df2 has been theme park crap. Gaming isn't dead but real rpgs ment to be played for years might be.

  8. In an ideal world you are correct. But this is not an ideal world. And GamerGate reminds me of the lesson the computer learned in the 1980s movie War Games; sometimes the only way to win is not to play.

  9. You have to keep in mind that the first victim in a war is the "truth".
    All media is in a way biased. You have cultural differences, ideological differences and so on. A Journalist is no neutrum opinionwise.
    Take the conflict in the Ukraine (since i'm European). You have western media and russian controled media. Maybe you get the most neutral media view from parties (ideological / sphere of influence) not directily involved like Al Jazeera.

    The same goes for everything else that gets media attention.

    To quote Babylon 5: Understanding is a three-edged sword.

  10. "Gods know there are some political sites I will go out of my way to avoid. But that’s not because I disagree with them, or even feel their research is lacking"

    The remainder of your post seems to be about avoiding sites because you disagree with them--but you don't really seem to support the other half of your implication, that one should read even shoddy sites with poor research. Given that this latter description seems to fit the original quote from Noizy better than the former, it appears that you have pulled a bait-and-switch on us--and while the majority of your post which makes up the argument against this former narrow and polarized view is quite well done; it would be even better presented on its own, without the initial subject-change maneuver as above.

    Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your views here, and quite possibly Noizy's as well; but we definitely seem to have a basic disagreement. You say: "When it comes to opinions, I read them all", I would respond: "Had we but world enough, and time..."...but we don't. I have time enough to read your blog; or "Gamasutra, Polygon, and Kotaku", but there simply isn't enough time in the day to read everything, so effectively I'm choosing between them or you. Your most recent post hits this same issue: "There were many other things I could have done with my day yesterday"; and most of the larger, 'mainstream' video game journalism sites simply aren't worth the time.

  11. […] acceptable line by threatening those who have a different worldview than the trolls, and by how turning a blind eye towards it can be just as wrong as doing it. The supposed anonymity of the Internet gives certain […]


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