Monday, September 1, 2014

Admin Note: Slowing Down

Hey all. Since july, I've stuck to more or less to an update schedule of 5 days a week, and at least 2 posts a day. I'm going to have to scale that back a bit for the forseeable future. The Code is a one-man operation, and I'll be starting a semester as a new student at Rutgers-Newark to working on getting my Bachelor's-- with all the workload that entails.

In addition, I just secured a job as a part-time administrative assistant for a touring musican which is also going to take a lot of time. Something's gotta give, and so academic and paid work have to come first.

Fear not, I'll still be updating... just not as often.

I hope you'll stick around to see what I have to share and say.

Thanks!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Writer Reveals The Truth About Zoe Quinn & Women In Tech


It's been a hell of a week for a few prominent women in video games. Just two days ago, Anita Sarkeesian got explicit, credible threats to her family, address and loved ones that she actually had to call police and move herself and her family out of their home for a night.

I've written pretty extensively about the campaign of harassment that's surrounded Zoe Quinn in two posts: "Not Okay: Hateful Man-Babies Target Zoe Quinn. Again." and "If You Call This Justice, I Don't Want Your Support". Since publishing those two posts, I've gotten comments, tweets and emails (the majority of which are unsigned) saying I was spreading a campaign of lies, that it was incumbent upon me to tell "the truth" about Quinn.

Yesterday, Elizabeth Sampat wrote a post called "The Truth About Zoe Quinn". Here's what she had to say:
The truth about Zoe Quinn is that no one in the world deserves the shit that she has gotten. The truth is that these witch hunts over journalistic ethics and transparency and whatever bullshit dog whistle that 4chan and its ilk are using for their issues with a woman’s sexual agency are driving women out of the industry.
...The truth is sometimes I have survivor’s guilt, and sometimes I have panic attacks about being the only one left fighting, and sometimes despite all of my tough words and the fact I literally cannot imagine doing anything else with my life, the truth is that I can’t stop thinking about maybe leaving the industry. I don’t want to; the thought is like an involuntary tic, tugging at my consciousness. Maybe it’s a survival instinct. I keep using the word “survive” but I can’t help but wonder: is this surviving? What parts of me are surviving? Can any woman escape this whole? 
...The truth is, a lot of the women who are being driven away have never met or interacted with Anita or Zoe. A lot of the women in our industry exist in a constant state of fear.  
Women who make games and would never dream of connecting their face or real name with a Twitter account, just in case.  
Women who would never go indie. Women who are terrified of starting a crowdfunding campaign but who can’t get their dreams funded any other way, and so their dreams just die.  
Are you okay with this?  
Is this the industry that you want?
It certainly isn't one I want. However, a lot of men don't realize they're complicit in creating this atmosphere, either by inaction of playing devils advocate. In the comments section almost every games news site I've seen there will be comments that start out with the obvious “What happened was horrible! I can't believe people would stoop so low" and then follow up with a huge "BUUUUUUUT look, her videos are so controversial and maybe if she hadn't been nicer or less emotional or were virtuos or didn't game people a reason to mad it would happen blippety bloo it's just my opinion blorpety blah not all men and not all gamers blah blah devilsadvocatecakes." It's maddening.


Tainted Love: How Game Companies Exploit Employees' Passion

Image courtesy of Jason Lee
It's a familiar homily to those looking at a satisfying career: "Do what you love, and work won't seem like work." It sounds all well and good, doesn't it? Imagine, a job that not only give you a paycheck to fill your wallet, but satisfaction to fill your soul. Creative industries abound where workers are not just happy to be there, they are passionate about the work they do, or want to find a place where they feel like they belong.

Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind the 300-pound gorilla of MMOs, World of Warcraft, looks to tap into that very feeling, that yearning for a sense of belonging. And in the company's latest recruitment video, they leap right past the Army's "It not just a job, it's an adventure" and goes straight into "We a family of people, just like you". Take a look:




In just six minutes, the video has tons of variation on passion, family, fulfillment and even love.he message is hammered home that this is not a job, it’s a new family. One part in particular that caught my ear was a  few employees emphasizing that all of the departments in Blizzard, even the purely creative ones, are considered part of the company's success. There is one part of the video that also confused me. One talking head says that the first thing you see when you start a Blizzard game is "... 'Designed by Blizzard'. And it's very true."

Um... I sure hope so. I mean, it seems obvious that a Blizzard game made in-house by Blizzard is designed by Blizzard. This statement seems like it was written by one of the Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As Ian Williams and Austin Walker outline in their anaylasis "Working For the Love of the Game: The Problem With Blizzard's Recruitment Video", peel back a layer and you see it reflects nearly everything wrong with video game companies as employers:

It is telling of the ideological and material conditions of the games industry that the simple act of giving a full group of workers credit on their production seems like an accomplishment. The irony, of course, is that those employees, beaming with pride, aren't themselves named or credited in the recruitment video.

But the video makes no mention of the concrete benefits that working at Blizzard provides. There’s no mention of benefits or wages; nothing about crunch time, that specter haunting the industry; nothing about the sort of material, tangible things that make a difference in how one is employed, rather than how one feels during employment. There are perfectly acceptable, subtle ways to talk about these things without veering into the gauche. Employees could talk about their own financial security, or about being able to plan for the future while simultaneously being fulfilled with their work today... But your recruitment will be based in love, not on wages. The mentions come rapid fire, culminating in the grand pronouncement from one employee: Blizzard employees are “just a bunch of geeks,” just like you. 

This is a window into how the industry as a whole views employment... this is [also] an industry with a layoff rate twice the national rate across all industries and a culture of crunch where 68% of respondents work more than 50 hours a week for months at a time in order to get a product out the door. It’s a bad tradeoff: In exchange for being quiet about wages, hours, benefits and the like, you’ll get to hang out with like-minded people you’ll love to be with. The Blizzard video is the distillation of this pitch in a very blunt form....Blizzard’s video is just one more artifact of a culture that preempts demands for fair remuneration with a prodding reminder that, after all, if you love what you do, then the pay shouldn’t matter. This is the same story told by Twitch executives who say that its streamers “aren’t interested” in being paid. It’s the same story that crops up any time someone wonders if modder labor is exploitative. It’s the same story that is so often leveraged to blur the line between fandom and promotional labor. It’s a story told so well and so often that it doubles in on itself: Exploited fans become exploited modders. Exploited modders become exploited developers. 

You might wonder, though, in a pitch that aims to capture a creative's sense of fulfillment, or a fan's love of playing games, what's wrong with focusing so much on passion?

All this talk of passion sets a very real paradigm, limiting the acceptable actions of those in poor labor conditions. Why is the industry so insistent that game development is “more than just a job?” Because if it’s just a job, just a 9 to 5 workday in a cubicle pounding out code or testing content, then the crunch time is something you can object to. In fact, you would (or should) be expected to object to a 60 hour week. If, instead, protesting crunch time means letting down a grand artistic vision (one which Blizzard reminds the viewer all employees contribute to) or, even worse, letting down your new family, that’s a very different proposition. None of us wants to let down our family and friends, but we can probably get away with letting down management. That social pressure is what keeps crunch time and other bad practices in place as a normal part of the industry. 

The mythology of crunch and a culture of layoffs have naturalized them, erasing their histories. Instead of being able to identify key shifts in industry labor practices, we’re told that we’ve always been at war with the 60 hour work week. There’s a sheepish air when people at leading companies bring up issues such as crunch, as if it’s unavoidable, like a downpour or an unbidden burp. This is nonsense. Crunch is certainly a disaster, but it is not an act of God. There is nothing that says that crunch and layoffs are unavoidable. The laws we write about how we work are products of men and women, not natural forces imposed upon us by an unseen hand.

And that's the heart of the issue, isn't it? The video seems directed at super fans but it really just hides the reality of  grueling work conditions and preys upon people's need to belong and sense of pride. Honestly, for all of the rah-rah about being a part of Blizzard, it all sort of comes off a little defensive.

Luckily, Paste Magazine bucks the comments section trend by both being not awful and having relevant and insightful commentary. Here what one former video game worker of 20 years had to say:

After over 20 years in the industry I finally had to pull back. They'd squeezed every last drop of passion out of me. Games haven't really been "design driven" for a long time anyway, and with F2P gaming gaining dominance the impact of the bottom line is only growing stronger Yes, they're beautiful, but all the innovation is happening in the back end. As for all the extracurricular stuff, that won't mean much when they hand you your walking papers, and you suddenly realize that for all the hours of your life they took may help you get your next job, but is meaningless for the job after that. Meals, games, entertainment are all about one thing... keeping you on campus for as many hours as possible.

So just because things have been this way, and are this way now doesn't mean they have to stay this way. But what will it take for that to happen?


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Responsible Fans & Thinking Critically

Image from Battle ROyale courtesy of J-Flim Pow-wow

In light of the recent discussions on entertainment's approach to the militarization of the police in the wake of Ferguson, Anita Sarkeesian getting a death threat today that involved law enforcement and having to leave her house, I wanted to revisit (friend of the blog's) Jenn Frank and her essay entitled "On Consuming Media Responsibly". In it, she delves deep into how one can still enjoy both an entire genre and specific works that also have problematic parts:
In the right context I’m not even slightly offended by gross-out stuff, tits-and-ass, or sexualized violence. I tend to accept these things as classic horror staples, staples that—especially in the case of the best North American slasher ever made, Black Christmas (1974)—can be used to chilling, humorous, and otherwise surprising effect... it’s less important what a movie says and more important that you, the viewer, understand why you’re enjoying it. I believe in judicious self-awareness; a director like Nicolas Winding Refn knows exactly why he makes the directorial choices he makes, and he works those kinks right out onscreen. Or, if you aren’t enjoying a piece of work—if ultraviolence isn’t your thing, or if you’re suffering a visceral reaction—it’s every bit as important that you identify what about the piece is making you uncomfortable.

This also applies to video games as well, as she points out:

But for better or worse, video games and their themes consistently alienate broad swathes of game players—and often for the very reasons other demographics of player enjoy them. As critics, players, and creators, it becomes important to identify and acknowledge both what is happening and why...
Feminist Frequency videos aren’t fearful or phobic; instead, they extend hope that video games and other media live up to their promise. But that hasn’t stopped some video game fans and men’s rights advocacy collectives from repeatedly decrying (and possibly even sabotaging) Sarkeesian’s work. Tellingly, Sarkeesian’s game videos themselves go into little depth at all. Their arguments are radically nonconfrontational, and also limited by time constraints. They’re basically “supercuts” themselves, demonstrating a medium’s laziest trait—this is the humor and value in any good supercut, really—so there is barely anything about Sarkeesian’s takeaway message to cause real affront to anybody. The disproportionately angry reaction to the Feminist Frequency videos, however, is due cause for alarm. If people, especially female people, can literally say nothing in criticism of lazy game narratives, what hope do we have? Nobody should become absolute arbiter of what we consume; that’s a private responsibility for adults or parents. We ourselves are our own gatekeepers.
Seriously, just liking something with problems in it doesn't make you a bad person. Similarly, someone pointing out why something is harmful or problematic isn't an attack on you. If we are to be responsible fans, let alone responsible people, it's important to think about what we like and why. We don't all have to agree, but there's a galaxy-wide gulf between disagreeing with someone's interpretation and declaring that they want to destroy something you love-- and by extension, you.

Read This 25th Anniversary Retrospective on TGFX-16

image courtesy of boomhammer.com
In another video game milestone that is sure to make some of my readers feel very old indeed, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of NEC's video game console, the TurboGrafx-16. While the name may be a little chuckle-worthy, the history of the console and the impact it had on video games are both fascinating and important. Leigh Aexander has a great retrospective entitled "TurboGrafx-16: A Quarter Century of Gaming Excellence". She blends a look back at the console with personal reflections, including one element that really hits home for me, too-- playing video games with Dad. An excerpt:
The thing was absolute magic to me: Black as a beetle, sleek as an animal, elegantly compact. Even when I knew about other consoles, I preferred this one: It was the Hu-Cards, you see. TG-16 games came on small, flat rectangular cards just a little bit thicker than a credit card. Usually they were a bright, solid color with the game’s logo on it. They dwelled in slick, lucid plastic sleeves. Their business end was black licked in gold connectors. You slipped one into your machine like you were at a chip-and-pin machine.
...It was the only phase of my life during which my Dad and I played videogames together. At the end of the very first jungle level, the boss music would begin with a dissonant, almost locomotive hooting, insistently, and two prehistoric bears would shamble ominously onto a screen from which there was suddenly no retreating. Dad called up the hint line about the bears. Although I learned to get good at Legendary Axe eventually over the years—and I persisted at it for years, even after the TG-16 had attained total obsolescence—I could not quite get as far as Dad got, to some temple-land of pit traps where monkeys would leap onto your back, chipping away at your life.
The whole essay is a great read, and there's some great reminiscing in the comments section too.


Check Out This Awesome Supercut of Video Games In Film

An oldie but I good I found while trawling youtube the other day, Slacktory has compiled a slick, entertaining 20 minute super-cut of memroable depictions of video games in movies:



Here's a list of the movies that appear: WarGames, Nightmares ("The Bishop Of Battle"), Shaun Of The Dead, The Beach, Tron, Joysticks, Night Of The Comet, Hollywood Hot Tub, The Avengers, Rancho Deluxe, The King Of Kong, Boyz N The Hood, Grosse Pointe Blank, Parenthood, Brainscan ,Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, The Wizard, Wreck-It Ralph, The Last Starfighter, The Thing, The Hurt Locker, Adventureland, Cloak & Dagger, Airplane!, Snakes On A Plane, Toy Story, The Wrestler, Bloodsport, Jackie Chan's Street Fighter (City Hunter), Surf Ninjas, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, High School U.S.A., Midnight Madness, Back To The Future 2, Ghostbusters 2, 40 Year Old Virgin, Mallrats, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Lost In Translation, The Karate Kid (2010), The FP, Superbad, Reign Over Me, The Wackness ,Swingers, Robocop 2, Wasabi, Juice, Inside Man, Crank 2, Dawn Of The Dead (1978), Superman III, D.A.R.Y.L., Encino Man, Jaws, Monster House, The Princess Bride, Rookie Of The Year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Stay Alive, Soylent Green, Eddie Macon's Run, Jekyll & Hyde... Together Again, and Scanners 2.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Open Letter To Aaron Diaz: Stop Hiding


Web comic artist Mary Cagle, known on tumblr by the handle cube-watermelon,  recently posted the comic above, poking fun at the phenomenon of many male comic artists that self-identity as some form of progressive or feminist ally where they will draw cheesecake type pinups or costumes and scenarios that appeal to them specifically, but then try to dress them up (no pun intended) as not just pleasing to look at, but that the art is somehow "empowering" or transgression.

She concludes her post with the bon mot, "Sometimes I think it's okay to just admit you like looking at certain types of bodies naked, and that's okay."

While Cagle most likely wasn't surprised at getting some push-back from some people on tumblr, she was definitely surprised by one response: Aaron Diaz, the writer and artist of transhumanist science fiction web comic Desden Codak. He sent Cagle a note on tumblr:

Hey, how about not being a passive-aggressive shit next time, eh?
To which Cagle published the response:
I would think that you, who spend so much time pointing out the flaws and problematic areas in other people’s work, would be able to take one silly comic directed at your work and others like it. Normally I wouldn’t respond to this kind of thing publicly, but I’ll make an exception since you called me a shit.
Diaz has done many examples of comic and media criticism, notable among them being his redesigns of iconic DC Comics super heroes and concept art he made of Zelda as the lead character in a video game inspired, he said, by Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games. And while Cagle parody comic wasn't specifically aimed at Diaz, it most certainly was inspired by a tumblr post (since deleted, see cached copy here) by him where he said "Inspired by some amputee photo shoots, I decided to try my hand at some cyborg-themed pinup sketches with Kim, a sort of celebration of the female form and taking agency over one’s body." Which is pretty ridiculous in the face of it, more so when you see the pin ups and his justification for drawing them (and that's leaving aide his kind of creepy "being disabled is totally an opportunity for the transhumanism movement). That fact that he deleted it shows that he recognizes that he messed up somewhere along the line, but instead of addressing it, he just vague-tweeted about it for a while.

In response to Diaz's actions, Magnolia Porter, a fellow web comic artist and friendly acquaintance of Diaz, published an open letter to Aaron Diaz:
There’s a place for everything, and an artist has the right to create whatever they want to create, for whatever ends they choose. What I have a problem with is that your comic is not presented as a science fiction comic with a dash of sexy thrills, but rather as a feminist narrative in support of powerful independent women. You've made it clear on many occasions that you don’t consider your work to be objectifying or sexist. I have a problem with cheesecake-style art being presented as something feminist, empowering, enlightened- something made “for women”, when it’s clearly made for men.You’re allowed to make art with male gaze. But please call a spade a spade... 
I don’t think I've seen a single page of Dresden Codak that doesn't feature a woman posed in a male-gazey way, with loving focus on her ass or cleavage, or wearing a sexual costume, or in some situation that puts her in a compromising position (like the most recent page in which Kimiko's clothing is burned off of her body, which has happened at least twice in the series’ run.) I have a very hard time believing that these details are accidental. 
...Aaron, you can do whatever you want with your own comic. However, if you really do care about female characters in media, or care to know why so many people seem to be angry with you about it, I would do one of two things. If you don’t want your comic to present its female characters in a borderline-erotic light, then stop doing that. If you don’t mind that, then by all means continue, but please just admit that you like drawing t&a and that it’s not particularly empowering, or feminist, or a celebration of personal agency. As a woman, I resent being told that men’s eye candy is actually meant to uplift me and that I should celebrate it.
Honestly, I don't have any sympathy for Aaron Diaz, nor do I have any sympathy for his position nor his reactions. He got called out for his messed up behavior and has fired back with sadly-all-too-typical defensiveness.

I've seen it happen so often, it's become distressingly familiar. A woman points out that a character or story or the way something is presented is sexist. Men insist that woman is seeing things that aren't there or otherwise reading too much into things because it doesn't come across as sexists to them. This is something I've done before, myself. As men, we are often taught that our perspectives are the default. We end up taking our perspectives and assuming that's how it is for everyone.

Commenter divined by radio at metafilter said it pretty well, I think:
So men who adamantly refuse to believe that their own gender privilege may have resulted in a variably-applied resistance to accepting a woman's objection or approach as valid -- to believe a woman when she speaks, to allow that what she is saying is true, even if they have not experienced precisely what she has experienced -- are displaying, at best, a touch of willful ignorance. They are privileging their own feelings and desires over women's truths, lives, stories, and experiences. And the end result doesn't tend to be very flattering.




Admin Note: We're Back

Sorry for the radio silence over the past few days. The technical issues that prevented any posts from going up have been fixed. I'll try and post an extra post or so a day to catch up. Thanks for your understanding!

Friday, August 22, 2014

If You Call This Justice, I Don't Want Your Support

Image courtesy of shutterstock.com
After my post on the unacceptable torrent of abuse that has been heaped upon Zoe Quinn by misogynist nerd man-babies so desperate to deny that the little clubhouse of video games is changing that they are perfectly happy to take a vituperative screed from her ex-boyfriend and run with it to harass, hack, speculate, insult and demean her by claiming that the private sexual life matters because she's a women making a game they don't like, , someone anonymous left a comment saying that I should link to "unbiased sources". The sources the comment linked was one tumblr post labeling her everything from a "shit-tier developer" to literally calling her a whore that faked every single bit of her abuse, harassment and public hacking at the center of an industry-wide conspiracy (that comment's gone, now, btw).

Prominent youtube "personality" joined the pile-on, with Youtuber JonTron linking approvingly to a pornographic slander comic, and then later approvingly linking to a fan comparing the outcry against his actions to black people being lynched.

Other games industry writers from Stephen Totilio and Patrick Klepek to Leigh Alexander and Jenn Frank took to her defense. One of her most prominent game developer defenders of Zoe Quinn was Phil Fish (who had recently returned publicly to twitter to comment on the human rights abuses in Ferguson). This week, both his twitter account and business website Polytron were hacked, and personal details were released-- everything from back accounts to home address history, along with a data dump of 1.5 GB of developer only assets and financial records for FEZ and his business. After he regained control of his accounts, he announced he was selling off the FEZ IP, the Polytron assets and leaving video game development for good.

Liz Ryerson has a cutting analysis of these angry, scared self-appointed gatekeepers:
Zoe has become the scapegoat for every bit of internalized misogyny and misdirected rage these people felt. she appears to them an amorphous assemblage of everything that is viewed as wrong with women - manipulativeness, sluttiness, being an 'attention-whore'. the idea of trusting the word of a frighteningly narcissistic ex who's out to ruin her reputation is fine with them, because it meshes with their worldview... 

...often it's a conservative, reactionary anger that comes out of disillusionment and fear, and gets constantly externalized onto marginalized people, especially women and queer people. they struggle to understand and adjust to a rapidly shifting cultural landscape, in and out of games, that's moving away from traditionally catering to them and their empathy-deficient values into something more culturally sensitive and aware. and so they find simple explanations for these complex phenomena that fit within their bigoted worldview - boogeymans of evil, manipulative and misleading women like Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarskeesian. they view themselves as anti-authority and anti-power, even as their actions are tremendously conservative and tremendously serving of the interests of power.

The outrage over alleged private infidelity that never even resulted in an actual review lays bare the lie that this is about hand-wringing over worries of "journalistic ethics" and shows instead that those joining in on the pile-on really just see women as a threat to the world of video games and other geeky hobbies, and are ready to rage and holler and attempt to intimidate any woman they decide is somehow a threat at the flimsiest provocation. If you really cared about favorable review currying for games, you'd maybe throw some of this vitriol at the industry practice of only releasing game information to friendly outlets, perhaps.

It shouldn't be up to women to fight these battles alone. As I mentioned in my post about what men need to do about the harassment of women online, we need to make it absolutely clear that this behavior is unacceptable and that anyone that feels otherwise is unwelcome.

So let me make this crystal clear: If you support the harassment of Zoe Quinn or her supporters, if you think you are doing the right thing by shaming her about her private relationships or sexual history, if you think that anyone harassed in the way she has been "had it coming" or that by doing any sort of gate-keeping to women in your hobby you are fighting the good fight-- I don't EVER want your support.

Don't visit my blog. Don't support my patreon. Don't donate to me. Don't read my work or play my games. Don't listen to my podcast. You are not welcome here on The Code, and I don't want you as a fan.

I call on major gaming sites to issue clear condemnations of this behavior in general and defense of Zoe Quinn in particular. When fans or site visitors heap abuse on women that criticize actions or inaction of those in the industry, it because these harassers and misogynists view this as okay thing to do. And if your site policy doesn't explicitly forbid these attitudes and actions from your audience, the toxic elements of your audience view this sort of pile on as implicitly okay. Look at the harassment of Courtney Stanton and Maddy Meyers by webcomic fans, the harassment of Samanta Allen by Giant Bomb fans, the pile-ons from 4chan and reddit and totalbiscuit and jontron fans and elsewhere of Zoe Quinn.

It is unacceptable and unforgivable. You are not noble truth seekers. You're just flinging shit.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Admin Note: No Posts Today

There are some personal matter that I have to attend to today that will have me away from a computer ptetty much all day. I'll catch up later, I promise!

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