Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not OK: Hateful Man-Babies Target Zoe Quinn. Again.

Image via shutterstock
 Zoe Quinn, the indie lead developer behind the emotionally moving interaction fiction game Depression Quest recently released for free on Steam, as well as Narrative Designer for FRAMED, is being targeted by an unruly mob of misogynist anti-feminists (both overtly and under the guise of being concerned with journalistic integrity) again.

She was first targeted last year when her attempt to get Depression Quest approved via Steam's Greenlight program was cancelled after she was the target of a harassment campaign from a message board. The harassment bled from online into her offline world when her private phone number was published, leading to harassing and obscene phone calls. 

She resubmitted Depression Quest to the Steam Greenlight program a second time, and this time, despite the harassment from reddit, twitter, 4chan, and down-voting campaigns on Steam itself, Depression Quest was approved and released on Steam last week.

Now the same brigade of angry dudebro gamers are claiming Quinn is corrupt, or corrupting Kotaku, or setting back women developers? Quinn tweeted about her parents' phone number getting obscene phone calls. The sub-reddit r/Gaming has a post from its moderator calling out the egregious, harassing behavior of its members-- only to receive nearly 2,000 down-votes.Why? Thanks to a multi-part blog series by an angry ex-boyfriend that did nothing but air out relationship problems in public. Suddenly, men that would not bat an eye over sexual behavior were it done by a fellow dude are calling for an end to her career.

Quinn herself addressed the matter as much as it deserved in a blog entry on Monday:
I am not going to link to, or address anything having to do with the validity of the specific claims made by an angry ex-boyfriend with an ax to grind and a desire to use 4chan as his own personal army. This is not a “she-said” to his “he-said”. The idea that I am required to debunk a manifesto of my sexual past written by an openly malicious ex-boyfriend in order to continue participating in this industry is horrifying, and I won’t do it. It’s a personal matter that never should have been made public, and I don’t want to delve into personal shit, mine or anyone else’s, while saying that people’s love and sex lives are no one’s business. I’m not going to talk about it. I will never talk about it. It is not your goddamned business. 
What I *am* going to say is that the proliferation of nude pictures of me, death threats, vandalization, doxxing of my trans friends for having the audacity to converse with me publicly, harassment of friends and family and my friends’ family in addition to TOTALLY UNRELATED PEOPLE, sending my home address around, rape threats, memes about me being a whore, pressures to kill myself, slurs of every variety, fucking debates over what my genitals smell like, vultures trying to make money off of youtube videos about it, all of these things are inexcusable and will continue to happen to women until this culture changes. I’m certainly not the first. I wish I could be the last. 
Because I've had a small degree of success in a specific subculture, every aspect of my life is suddenly a matter of public concern. Suddenly it’s acceptable to share pictures of my breasts on social media to threaten and punish me. Suddenly I don’t have any right to privacy or basic dignity. Suddenly I don’t get to live out normal parts of life, like going through a bad and ugly breakup in private. I have forfeited this by being a blip in a small community, while those who delight in assailing me hide behind their keyboards and a culture that permits it, beyond reproach. 
My life and my body are not public property. No one’s life and body are public property.
And that's what it boils down to-- a bunch of sexist shook gamers acting like gatekeepers and hypocritically talking about ethics and integrity while trying to bring up a women's private life as a detriment to her career. Talking about fighting corruption while harassing her via reddit and twitter. Talking out of one side of their mouth about the truth while talking gossip and character assassination with the other.

This is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to happen to Zoe Quinn. It's unacceptable to happen to any women in the games industry. This happening to even one woman is one too many, and while Zoe Quinn isn't going anywhere, a number of bright, talented women writers in the gaming scene have been targeted, harassed and hounded-- Anita Sarkeesian, Samantha Allen, Courtney Stanton, Maddy Meyers, and Brianna Wu are the most recent that come to mind. Samantha Allen actually stopped writing about games because of the daily level of constant harassment. 

I covered a bit on the difference between the harassment men and women get in the games industry in "Mythbusting Ideas About Women In Games" that excerpted from Brianna Wu's article as well as linking to an example provided by Sarkeesian, but I want to quote from the end of my post "The Status Is Not Quo: Being A Geeky Woman Online & What Med Need To Do":

Women's hurt and fear for safety and the emotional toll for being harassed online have real, chilling impact on discourse.

This is unacceptable. And the burden of speaking out shouldn't continually fall to the women being harassed. So what can we do? Guys, we have to loudly speak out against this behavior. We have to support women in our creative and media spaces. We need to let other men know that this behavior is not okay, and we need to make it socially unacceptable. We need to listen to women's experiences-- really listen, and not just wait for our chance to say "not all men". We need to realize that online harassment isn't something that just happens-- it's a choice that is made, it is a crime that is done.

As Andy Kouri says in "Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment":

It is wholly and rightfully and crucially up to men in this society and especially in this subculture to speak out and watch out. To end the cycle of bullying, harassment and violence. To recognize the grotesque irony of degrading women over matters of heroic fictions whose lessons about fairness and decency we've supposedly been studying since we were just little boys, and to start putting those ideas into practice as grown-ass men.

It's not just a few bad apples, guys. It's a lot of bad apples. These are guys that think they represent gamers, that they say what other men are thinking. And we have to push back on this. If you care about safety, if you care about equality, you must push back on this. Staying silent in an attempt to be neutral isn't really being neutral. It just makes dissenting voices less common, and makes the misogynists think that they have your support.

Mayor Orders Police Raid On Parody Twitter User

Photo illustration courtesy of ArsTechnica
Jim Ardis, the mayor of Perioa, Illinois was so upset at a parody twitter account making fun of and insulting him that he had the city legal team try and find a misdemeanor as a pretense to involve city police to shut the account down. It ended with 4 officers showing up to a house, dragging everyone in it down to the station for questioning (including one woman who was in the shower at the time) as well cops rifling a mobile phone, a laptop, and asked for access to the full contents of someone's Gmail account. Ars Technica's Nate Anderson has the story in "How a mayor’s quest to unmask a foul-mouthed Twitter user blew up in his face":

On March 11, 2014, Urich was working early. "Someone is using the Mayor's likeness in a twitter account," he wrote to Peoria's Chief Information Officer Sam Rivera at 6:06am. "It's not him. @Peoriamayor. Can you work to get it shut down today?"
...Urgency was the watchword; Settingsgaard almost immediately assigned the matter to Detective James Feehan of the Computer Crimes Unit, and Feehan just as quickly got to work. By 11:00am that morning, he wrote back to his chief that nothing in the @peoriamayor account added up to a criminal act—though "there are tweets posted by the individual which amount to defamation," he said. Should Ardis want to pursue that angle, he could do so through a civil lawsuit, but the police would have no involvement. At 11:21am, Settingsgaard passed the bad news back to Ardis. No crime had been committed, and indeed, even the possible defamation angle raised by Feehan might be problematic. "I'm not an expert in the civil arena but my recollection is that public officials have very limited protection from defamation," he concluded. Case, apparently, closed.
Except it wasn't. The mayor, Jim Ardis, leaned on his staffers to see if there was any way to turn the parody twitter account from a civil case into a criminal one. They found a possible loophole in a newly-enacted misdemeanor statute, which was enough justification for the mayor to involve the police by pressing charges. Police subpoenaed Twitter, and used the information from that to subpoena Comcast. From there, they were able to isolate the physical address the the parody account (which had since been suspended by twitter) posted from, and from there... there was a police raid!
What had begun as a few tweets to a handful of people had now escalated to the point that the Peoria police were ready to send men with guns over to a local home with orders to search every drawer and dresser for clues to the owner of a Twitter account that had already been suspended... It was also a hunt for drugs. One of the images tweeted out by @peoriamayor had included an image showing "a hand holding a razor blade which was separating a white powdery substance." This was enough for the police to believe that "cocaine, heroin, [or] drug paraphernalia" might be found at the home. 
At 12:34pm on April 15, a judge signed the warrant. Five hours later, a Peoria detective and three additional officers were at the University Street house, knocking on the door. In a thorough search, the police turned up three desktop computers, one laptop, four iPhones, an iPad, two SD cards, an iPod, and two Xboxes belonging to several different people who lived at the house. They also found a "broken black ashtray with green seedy substance," "two multicolored glass pipes," a "large gold gift bag with five sandwich bags containing a green leafy substance," and "two glass pipes [and] two metal pipes with small blue Bic lighter." 
... Jacob Elliott, the 36-year-old whose name was on the home's Comcast account, hadn't created @peoriamayor, but got his home turned inside out by the police anyway. He ultimately copped to ownership of the "green leafy substance," which was of course marijuana. “I couldn’t believe this much force was being used for a fake Twitter account—it blew my mind,” he told the Journal Star after the raid. “It was extremely frightening. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life... As soon as I opened the door, a female officer shoved her hand into my pocket and screamed, ‘What’s in your pocket?’" A second officer then handed him a copy of the warrant. No one was charged with "false personation" related to the Twitter account. Elliott was charged with felony marijuana possession and spent two days in jail before getting the chance to make bail; when he got out, he was suspended from his job.

The whole sordid episode was hard to believe but had absolutely happened, leading to questions first from a local crime reporter, then from the Associated Press raising questions of abuse of power, criminalization of free speech, and wasting taxpayer's money as well as police's time. The mayor was raked over the coals by both council members and citizens at a town meeting.

Then came another bombshell: There might not even have been a misdemeanor committed in the first place.

The Ars Technica article is a great example of using a FOIA request in the service of some really good investigative journalism, and I urge you to read the rest of the article to find out the rest of the story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Pug Files: The Truth Is Out There

The Pug Files- fawn fur by macncheesecabra

The Pug Files- black fur by macncheesecabra
If you like pugs, whimsy, The X-Files, cute art or novelty clothes, then this post's got you covered. Redbubble artist macncheesecabra (previously featured on this blog as the world's only example of Double Dragon Neon's Fuzzface fan art) has released a new line of stickers, prints or shirts featuring two great things that go great together: aliens and pugs.

You can get the fawn colored variant here or the dark fur variant here.

Studio Says Steam & Bundles Killed Indie Gaming

Image courtesy of puppygames
UK indie games studio puppygames, most famous for its tower defense games, its retro-inspired arcade games and declaring that the games demo was dead, has fallen on some hard times recently, as they posted on their official blog last week:
We tried for several solid months to rescue our direct sales but it seems nothing but nothing that we can do will change the fact that at any given moment, Steam comprises 97% of our income. And that’s just when there isn't a crazy Steam sale on. So we wasted months on that and achieved precisely nothing. This is especially depressing when we consider that those months could have gone into furthering the progress of Battledroid... we only had about four months’ cash left in the bank (as of the start of May), and by my best estimates, we needed to spend about another 12 months on Battledroid before it could actually take in any money (which itself is a dauntingly difficult prospect for a game we were planning to release for free).
While the frustration and disappointment are understandable, puppygames unleashed a salvo yesterday entitled "BECAUSE YOU’RE WORTHLESS: THE DARK SIDE OF INDIE PR" where they place the blame for sinking profit on Steam & bundled sales:
...the value of an independent game plummeted from about $20 to approximately $1, with very few exceptions. Steam is great! You can sell loads of games! But only if they’re less than $10. Technically Valve don’t actually dictate the prices we charge... market expectation of games now that means you can only sell them for a dollar. That’s how much we sell our games for. One dollar. They’re meant to be $10, but nobody buys them at $10. They buy them when a 90% discount coupon lands in their Steam inventory. We survive only by the grace of 90% coupon drops, which are of course entirely under Valve’s control. It doesn't matter how much marketing we do now, because Valve control our drip feed.

So where does that leave customers in this value equation? Not worth very much to them, according to the entry:
Now you’re worth $1 to us. If you buy every one of our games, you’re worth $5. After Valve and the tax man and the bank take their cuts, you’re not even worth half a cup of coffee. So, while we’re obsequiously polite and helpful when you do contact us for support, even if it’s just the same old “please install some actual video drivers” response, you really should be aware that you are a dead loss. Even if you buy everything we ever make again. Even if all your friends buy everything we ever make again. You just cost us money. Not just fictitious, huge-piles-of-filthy-lucre indie-game-developer who made-it-big money. All our money. 
We barely scratch a living, like most indie game developers. You quite literally cost us lunch because the shop sold you a computer with broken software on it. So you’ll understand now why customers aren't worth anything much any more. You’ll realise why we’re actually happy to see you go if you feel like insulting us. You might add two and two together and realise that for four, we’re not going to cry ourselves to sleep over the loss...
I don't know if I really agree with much of what they have to say, though. Some games don't sell well because they're not fun to play or put together well. For example, the tower defense genre has hundreds of games, many of them completely free to play. So when you take a game like puppygames' Revenge of the Titans, it's already up against a lot of competition. For example, I thought the character design was really well done, but the actual game wasn't fun. The progression from level to level was really stop and start, and the skill progression tree was hard to use and harder to understand for me. 

The post also has some really odd classism ("When he [Phil Fish] walks into the restaurant where you pitifully scrub the floor like a servile wretch in order to pay for DLC in DOTA 2, you'll call him sir.") and a lot of sour grapes, like Homer Simpson complaining that "They won't let me into their crappy club for jerks!" What do you think, readers? Are they right on the money, or have they missed the mark?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why Should You Support The Code?


Here's what one industry professional has to say about my writing and work:

Shawn Struck is as close to the soul of Internet geek culture as it gets, having been there almost since the beginning. He was blogging before they were called blogs. He was writing articles on gamer culture before anyone thought of it as gamer culture. He was arranging covers of Final Fantasy music before OCRemix, interviewing Nobuo Uematsu before GameSpot, running forums before "community moderator" ever became a paid position, and doing human interest pieces on gamer parenting for a readership that was, at the time, mostly teenagers--and he's never let up since. For over fifteen years, he's been both a keen observer of nerd culture and one of its great bastions of conscience, cutting through oceans of slick PR and fanboy bickering to deliver genuinely insightful commentary on the issues actually matter to fans: the creative future of popular media, the changing ways in which we enjoy them, the communities we build around them, and the rights of those who are marginalized within those communities. As a game developer, when I want to look beyond the mechanics of a game and into how and by whom it will be played, or delve into the most recent debate or controversy dividing the community, I know exactly who to ask: long before the big gaming news sites can bang out a blog post, Shawn is already there.-- Kevin Chen, Game Developer

I update The Code by myself, three times a day, five days a week. I focus not just on geek culture, but aim to make geek culture more inclusive, to shine a spotlight on problems that marginalized groups face and signal boost their efforts.

I would love to offer more to The Code and its readers: novelty food reviews, on location coverage and interviews, updating 3 times a day 7 days a week and even doing all that while releasing a bi-monthly podcast and offer regular contests and giveaways! 

I am also an non-traditional independent student entering college at 34 as a sophomore to get my Bachelors (and was accepted to Rutgers-Newark stating this fall), a writer and designer with 13 years of experience, and currently my only income are the cents from the occasional Google AdWords click. If you feel what I do is worthwhile and want to help out, there are two ways you can help directly support the work I do at The Code:
  • Become a patron to my Patreon campaign for as little as $1 a month. No matter what amount you become a patron at, you get a reward-- everything from monthly special thanks to choosing a topic you want me to write about to a free surprise package to having me as your own personal designer!
  • You can also drop a one-time amount of whatever you want into my virtual tip jar by clicking below:

Problem Attic: Cure for the Common Code

The Title Screen
Title screen image courtesy of Liz Ryerson
(Note: This article was supposed to appear last Friday, but due to technical difficulties with the Blogger backend, did not. It appears today. Thanks for your understanding.)

Brendan Vance, a game developer most famous for his stated mission to advance video games as an artistic medium through analyzing its theoretical underpinnings recently posted about the parts of a game design contributing to the whole, Marshall McLuhan, dissatisfaction with AA gaming, then video games in general... and the game that brought him back: Problem Attic by Liz Ryerson, in an essay titled "Form and Its Usurpers":
I develop video games for a living, but I spent last year really hating video games. I questioned how it was I could consume 60 hours of ‘content’ for Assassin’s Creed 3 yet feel utterly unsatisfied by my act of consumption. I questioned what it was I had consumed, other than my own time. I questioned what it was I sought from the game in the first place. I questioned the nature of the ‘content’ it claimed to offer me; privately I began to suspect it might not even exist. The games I was making and playing seemed more and more to me like empty forms: Puzzle boxes within puzzle boxes, each layer promising ‘content’ underneath it yet in the end yielding an empty centre. I became too tired and bored to care about games anymore. I could no longer see the point in it. I felt as if some enormous detritus had gathered upon my career and favourite hobby; that I could no longer reach through this detritus to claim the enjoyment I had once found underneath. 
I awoke from my yearlong stupor the night I encountered a game called Problem Attic by a person named Liz Ryerson. It was like nothing I’d seen before. Rather than a puzzle box, it was more of a sculpture.
The game Problem Attic itself is a bizarre 2-D platformer about that takes place in a prison, and addresses the idea of both prisons as a physical space and a psychological block. It has a deliberately lo-fi presentation done in a purpose glitch style, and as jarring as it can be visually, I think it feeds into the atmosphere of the game really well. One of the problems with the presentation though, is that it seems to get hung up on the "hellscape" atmosphere and tricking the player and confuses being overtly hostile in the story with being overtly hostile to the player (there is a part of the game where it quite literally tells you to go fuck yourself).

At any rate, Vance's essay covers a multitude of thoughts on being and identity and loss. It's also fairly long. You might want to pack a lunch or something.


Pokemon Shaming

Image courtesy of mrpresidentlincoln.tumblr.com
 It started 2 years ago on tumblr, when one user launched the "dog shaming" blog-- in this case, a photo of a dachshund next to a chewed up pair of underwear, a sign shaming them for chewing it up, and the dog looking guilty. It caught on like wildfire, spawning other pet-shaming inspired blogs and trends-- cat shaming, lizard shaming, pet shaming, et al. It's hilarious, of course, because animals can't really feel shame, and everyone can relate to both loving their pets and feeling frustration at some of the things they do.

Keeping that in mind, it's a wonder that the latest pet shaming trend didn't appear sooner: Pokemon Shaming! About two months ago, Tumblr user and fan artist davidmakesart posted a multi-image set on his tumblr where he took the idea of pet shaming, and applied it to several of the Pokemon's signature moves:

image courtesy of davidmakesart.tumblr.com
And from there, the phenomenon has continued to grow. While you can simply peruse the "pokemon shaming" tag on tumblr, I wanted to compile and share a few of my personal favorites.

ambersdraws.tumblr.com

inktail.tumblr.com
inksword.tumblr.com

mineapple.tumblr.com
lizapproved.tumblr.com

People Literally Threw $ At Goat Simulator Devs

Image courtesy of Coffee Stain Studios
No, really. Leigh Alexander's article for Gamasutra "The hilarious success story of Goat Simulator" tells the tale:
Goat Simulator saw its first showing at GDC in San Francisco on two computers, causing a foot traffic pileup. "Two people came up to me and literally threw money at us. They threw, like, $17. That was the first money we made from Goat Simulator." The game began trending worldwide on Twtter, camera crews came to the office. When release day appeared, people logged onto Steam one minute past midnight in their time zone and panicked when they didn't see the game. Ibrisagic was bombarded on Twitter with requests for what time the game would appear.
Her article also details how a silly kicked-around idea's success took everyone in the studio by surprise:
Ibrisagic posted the very first gameplay trailer, went to bed, and woke up to 80,000 views. By the time he made his five-minute walk to the office, there were 100,000. "It just became bigger and bigger and bigger, and at the end, I remember GameSpot made a video about why Goat Simulator needs to happen, that games can be stupid sometimes. People wrote really long emails to us to explain why this was important to the industry. We began to feel that maybe we could release this thing..." They had to define not only their own vision, but what players expected -- Ibrisagic recalls hearing from fans who could not wait to be chased by animal control as if by police in Grand Theft Auto, or who wrote about how cool it was going to be to control a tank as a goat.
If you're interested in getting a copy of the game yourself, you don't have to throw money at the devs, you can purchase it direct from the studio.

Guest Post: Coping With Disabilities Through Pony Panel Recap


"Our Little Inspirations" back cover artwork by Stoneth
The Code has been promoting and documenting a Brony dad with a visual disability's effort to bring a panel called "Coping With Disabilities Through Pony" to Bronycon 2014, with the aim of showing other fans how the can advocate for and empathize with people with disabilities in the fandom. The panel host and organizer, Matthew Palumbo, wrote in with a report on the panel, so I'm giving him a guest post slot to share the panel report with you all.
The day of the panel was amazing! We all met at 1:00 PM in front of the Hall of the Moon to prep our opening presentation along with Rachel Merryfield's demonstration of Braillemon. 
As we discussed how things would go, I was asked about my Snowdrop plushie by a young lady behind me. I let her see Snowdrop and she began to share how she found Snowdrop very inspirational in feeling understood despite her disability. She then asked me if I was attending the panel. Of course, I stated that I was the lead panelist and how the rest of the team was right in front of her. She was amazed. But what really touched her was how I pointed out how Meredith Sims, the voice and writer of Snowdrop, was right in front of her. The young lady couldn't believe it. So I asked Meredith to come over. The lady was ecstatic to share with Ms. Sims how her work with Silly Filly Studios positively impacted her life. Meredith was nearly speechless. 
Set up was far easier than expected, so the team took time to answer some questions before the panel started. The turnout was ever growing and eventually reached about 90% of the room's capacity. This was truly impressive. 
The introductory videos went over very well with the audience applauding after various segments were shown. I then discussed the meaning behind the videos before turning it over to my son, Ethan, who discussed briefly how a dad was a dad. Disabled or not a parent is there for you and loves you.  
Benjamin Platt spoke on how he became a fan and what it was like to have a brother with Autism and a sister with Down's. He pointed out  how they inspired him by showing how they coped with their respective conditions while also finding their own ways to take part in this great big world of ours. This overall showed that one cannot and should not judge a person by simply a first impression. Doing so makes you miss out on how different people have their own ways of being an active part of all our world has to offer. 
Rachel Merryfield's presentation was next. It was also perhaps the most impactful. The reason for this is that prior to the panel starting a fourteen year old member of the audience announced to us all how he had Autism and felt like he may not have a purpose since nobody seemed to want to listen or understand him. Rachel has Autism but did not intend to note it during her discussion of accessible software. The boy's bravery brought Rachel to not only share how she, too, was Autistic but also prove that individuals with special needs do have a purpose. She went on to discuss how there are people who do genuinely see you for more than your condition who do want to genuinely be your friends while working alongside you in those things you delight in doing. It was an extremely emotional moment that hit home with not only members of the audience but the whole team as well. 
Meredith Sims of Silly Filly Studios was last to speak. She discussed the development of Snowdrop while touching on why she chose to make Snowdrop blind. This being how she knew individuals with no sight were known for having a strong sense of touch. Knowing it took a delicate touch to make a snowflake, Meredith decided Snowdrop being blind would help deliver a more powerful message for the animation.
Ms. Sims also shared how the teacher was based after experiences she had witnessed in her own life while Snowdrop's non stereotypical presentation was inspired by meeting many individuals with special needs in her church's youth group. 
What hit home the most for Meredith was when she asked the audience how many had watched Snowdrop. Nearly everyone in attendance raised their hand! This seemed a most humbling moment for Meredith who, despite having read all the comments on the YouTube video, hadn't truly realized how deeply Snowdrop had positively influenced so many who had special needs. 
After the panel everyone was approached by members of the audience to discuss how delighted they were in how and what was presented. Even Matthew's son, Ethan, was talked to and asked to sign an autograph! 
We look forward to sharing more in the coming days. Thanks to everyone who helped make this panel and its Beyond the Panel aspects a true success!
When I asked Matthew about the "Beyond the Panel" mention, he said it referred to how he had collected 41 stories of inspiration from 5 countries around the world and made it available as an accessible Word document, a PDF, and a physical book. He will also be releasing an audiobook version this week as well and exploring a Braille version. Meredith Sims has also committed to releasing a version of Snowdrop with descriptive narration for the visually impaired.

You can visit the panel website at http://copingwithpony.weebly.com and contact Matt at hapotales@gmail.com.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Battlefield, Ferguson, Police & The Media

Image courtesy of Electronic Arts & Visceral Games
Battlefield Hardline is the latest title announced in the Battlefield series by publisher Electronic Arts. The game purports to be about "the war on crime" against the backdrop of the "battle between cops and criminals". But in a country where the police have been growing more and more militarized-- both in attitude and in equipment-- are games like this part of the problem? How does a game like Battlefield Hardline contribute to how mainstream media and the general public see cops? How does entertainment like this contribute to how we see people classified as criminals? And in the wake of Furguson, where the everyday reality of police violence and intimidation against black people in America was thrown into stark relief for the rest of the nation, what do games like this have to say about anything?

USGamer.net's Mike Williams tackles all of this as a person of color in an excellent article on this very issue, "Life Imitates Art: Battlefield Hardline and How the Media Handles Police". As he puts it:
The protests in Ferguson are happening because that is the only recourse those citizens believe they have. They believe there is no justice. They believe that Mike Brown's murder will go unpunished... They believe that there is overwhelming societal and institutional favor with the officers who did the killing. The assumption is that they are correct, that lethal force was used because the victim had done something wrong. 
Which brings us to Battlefield: Hardline... [which] plays on the growing militarization of the military, showing scenes of all-out war between heavily-armed police and criminals. It's a war game in a different skin, something that should probably disturb us more than it does. In light of the imagery coming out of Ferguson, it's not out of the question that some players may be disturbed by what Hardline represents.
The idea of the police as power fantasy, of being brave enough to bend or break the law in the service of justice is a powerful and pervasive one, played across hundreds of movies, TV shows, and yes, in video games. As Williams points out, no one is a bad person for liking media that includes this, but it still affects how people view the truth:
Our entertainment normalizes certain things, things that frequently aren't true. It says that law enforcement is always correct, which isn't true because they only human. (In 2011, 9 out of 10 stops by law enforcement in New York didn't lead to any arrest.) Our entertainment reinforces beliefs founded in racial or sexual biases; that's why so many hammer on representation in games, comics, movies, and television. That's why it's important to watch how a game tells its story or what's being presented. That's why we should question our entertainment instead of just digesting it whole without any thought.
The entire article is a great read as Williams clearly and compelling lays out his case for why we should question games like Battlefield Hardline in specific, our entertainment in general, and where one's race and lived experience place your viewpoint. The comments section is also thought provoking, so I urge you to read the whole thing.