Flagging justice

Background info on Newsome here.

Background on #McKinney here:

(Side note: I noted some awful whorephobia happening about “women on poles” as attempted humour, in response to the iconic image of Newsome. Don’t do that. Adult performers are no less deserving of respect; further, there’s nothing stopping an adult performer doing their job as well as fighting for justice.)

Writer gets in touch with people who sent rape and death threats online

via Tabatha Leggett: “After writing a light-hearted post about how I didn’t get The Simpsons, I received death and rape threats. Tracking down the people who abused me turned out to be unexpectedly emotional.”

When the foundation is so poisonous, even comments that aren’t swearing or threatening can be part of what makes it all scary.

‘One London-based journalist who sparked a particularly hurtful conversation about my post on Twitter emailed me: “I have several female friends who have gone through what you’ve experienced, and something I didn’t really appreciate at first was the distorting mass of the crowd. Huge numbers of people coming at you – even if each individual might be being relatively innocuously so! – is scary, and now I know I was a part of one of those crowds I have to say sorry.”’

This is what people often don’t understand about being targeted en masse: Imagine 50 people, all speaking to you at the same time, demanding you answer their questions, that you respond to their hot take on the issue at hand, all while one or two others are literally screaming for you to be killed. Context is everything: shouting “get over yourself” or calling someone derogatory terms like “pussy” “weak”, etc., doubling down on making a harmless stranger feel targeted. It’s so common and so horrible. It’s incredible that people think this is acceptable behaviour and feel nothing even when targets ask you to stop.

Some gamers don’t want criticism, they want PR

Over at Gamespot, Kevin VanOrd – one of gaming’s best writers – “broke consensus” by giving Arkham Knight 7/10. Many other places are giving it much higher scores, including a perfect 10 at Polygon. They did a video talking to Kevin about why he did so (even though you can read the review itself to find out why.)

I noticed this comment and it kind of perfectly encapsulates what is so wrong with so many gamers’ responses to criticism.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 12.23.58 PM

 

Yes: A person who admits to not playing Arkham Knight thinks it should get a higher score, based on a trailer. Because, I guess, trailers are never created to show off the best parts of the game, running perfectly smoothly, with the right set pieces, by a huge corporation’s marketing team. It’s not like it’s their job to sell you on a product of theirs based on decades of experience in marketing.

It’s strange because clearly this person could just ignore this review or Kevin’s perspective in their purchasing decision. (You’ll notice that this person asserts Kevin knows nothing about games, an accusation I know all too well as of late.) As someone who adores Arkham Knight, I can see where Kevin is coming from. That was his experience and it actually resonates with a great many other people.

The key to writing a good review should be that even those who disagree can still pick up on those aspects they’d love: For example, Kevin noted how often you use the Batmobile. He found that tiresome. However, I love the Batmobile and I loved the parts where I had to use it. So his response to the same scenarios are exactly the opposite of mine: there’s no arguing there, it’s simple fact that our tastes just differ.

It’s strange that someone who clearly has been swept up in the PR to purchase the game feels the need to defend it against someone who’s played it (and is clearly an experienced critic). Kevin isn’t stopping you; he didn’t say it was bad; he gave it a 7 not an 8 or 9 like most other places. That people who haven’t played it are taking issue with the score should tell you so much about how so many gamers respond to criticism in general. It’s tiring dealing with such responses. But we haven’t reached that point where such responses are the exception rather than the constant: Too many gamers want everything and everyone to be mouthpieces for PR, rather than individual, critical perspectives on our favourite medium.

Girl Scouts return huge donation after donor requests it not benefit transgender girls

I don’t really know what the Girls Scouts are, but this was incredible to read.

A $50,000 donation is cause for celebration at the Queen Anne offices of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. [The council’s CEO, Megan Ferland] came back to the office earlier this spring and announced that she’d just landed a $100,000 donation… Not only did it represent nearly a quarter of the council’s annual fundraising goal, it would pay to send 500 girls to camp. “We were thrilled,” Ferland says.

Except there was a catch. In late May, as news of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition was blowing up your Facebook news feed, she received a letter from the donor with a brief request: Please guarantee that our gift will not be used to support transgender girls. If you can’t, please return the money.

I don’t know how one reads that favourably. But that was Ferland’s response.

In a short letter, she informed the donor that she would, in fact, be returning the money. Her reasoning was simple. “Girl Scouts is for every girl,” she says. “And every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout if she wants to.”

Every girl. No matter what you or others decide they are.

You can read the whole story here, including the support they’re getting and, importantly, the support they need – it’s incredible reading that organisations reaffirming transgender people as belonging can do wonders to help the trans folk, since it helps combat stigma that leads to the awful situation so many live in.

Indeed, if you want an outline of what that looks like (at least in America), Last Week Tonight had an excellent segment.

Oliver and his crew are suuuuuuuch an SJWs.

Please

Lots of folks are trying to show me support. I really appreciate it, but what I would appreciate more is if you took your energy in fighting battles with people who don’t care about me to raise the voices of minority folk. Maybe use this time to try get more people employed who aren’t straight white men.

Instead of the collective being one that shouts down marginalised folk, let the default collective be one that raises us up and doesn’t let us be drowned out by bizarrely angry and dismissive others. The status quo is broken and solidarity for marginalised voices should be a constant for progress, for looking and moving forward; solidarity shouldn’t only exist for when things dissolve. Things are already broken and supporting one another is how we continue.

Who cares what they’re saying about me? You know who I am. There’s nothing for you to defend, but there’s plenty for you to promote. I’m not going to tell you who that is, you should know. I’m thankful for the volume of support, but please use this energy to get us jobs, get us recognised, get us safe and able to feed ourselves in industries we love but are told we’re not allowed in.

I might return to social media. I might not. I want to be there for my friends. Again: I’d rather not make this about me. Please, help everyone so that no one ever has to go through what I did.

PS: Please stop talking about me in any relation to Gamergate. Talk about abusers, harassers, unwelcoming environments, and so on. Most of us have experienced this long before any hashtag movements.

PPS: People asking for evidence don’t care about evidence. The fact I left a key source of income and employment, where I was able to get pitches, writing gigs, etc., you would think would be sufficient – but, again, they’re not interested in evidence. Please: Don’t debate them, help promote us.

UPDATE: Comment section has reached attention of people I don’t want to talk to (ever/right now), so I’m putting automoderation on. Sorry, but I’m not in a position to handle court-approved evidence submission, people saying I know nothing, etc. I don’t understand why people are this upset, this focused on me, but I really, really want to move on.

UPDATE 2: Please don’t fight in the comment sections. Please don’t demand evidence, I’m not here to  do your bidding. If you are not a friend or follower, this really is quite irrelevant to you. I really do just want to be left alone and want us to focus on creating safe spaces, not partaking in boring anger of people who hate me for reasons I will never understand. If you’re “neutral” about this, I don’t want to hear from you either, thanks. This isn’t a court proceeding. Find a better subject: It’s not me.

Games are not exempt from social discussions

In a March update to 2013 indie survival horror game, Rust, the devs explained a new change: the assignment of skin tone.

Writing on the game’s official blog, they said:

Everyone now has a pseudo unique skin tone and face. Just like in real life, you are who you are – you can’t change your skin colour or your face. It’s actually tied to your steamid.

Right now your avatar is randomised via three things. Skin colour, head mesh and head material. We only have 2 face textures and 2 face materials, which means there’s 4 possible combinations. We will be adding more of these later on (at which point your face will probably change).

There’s a lot of skin colours in the world, and it’s really easy to appear racially insensitive when doing this. This is compounded by the fact that everyone is really used to seeing this guy as a white guy, so when you see him as a black guy it feels like he’s just “blacked up“. So we’re spending a lot of time trying to lessen that effect.

Race is a complicated issue in a world where people are still judged, targeted and marginalised – even in first world countries – because of their skin colour. Many people would like to believe we are beyond it, but unfortunately, we are not. And this is precisely what scholar Megan Condis tackles at Al Jazeera:

The reactions to Rust’s unprecedented experiment were swift. Many gamers were aggrieved by the skin tone automatically assigned them. Others felt drafted into racial discourses that they preferred to ignore, and lamented the entrance of social justice activism into what they saw as a blissfully post-racial online world. But the backlash only underscored a disturbing reality: By insisting that race doesn’t or shouldn’t exist online, such attitudes ensure an online status quo in which people of color remain marginalized and invisible. (Emphasis added.)

This continuation of marginalisation arises from gamers’ insistence race doesn’t belong in a review; in sites focusing more on what characters’ smoke than why there are no people of colour.

It’s everywhere and people who loudly proclaim to be totally not racist perpetuate this toxicity through erasing our concerns.

While there were blatant racist responses to Rust’s decisions, there were also those who believed it an “enforcement” of issues. What’s striking, however, is that so many people forget how often people of colour are forced to play white people; how often gay people play as straight people; and so on. The straight white male lead and focus is ubiquitous in gaming – and a lot of media. This ubiquity leads to those identity aspects becoming invisible. As Condis puts it:

Why is it that the supposed lack of choice with regards to the player’s avatar only became a concern after people of color were added to the game? The reactions reflect a failure on the part of some gamers to recognize that whiteness is a race at all. These players appear to think of whiteness as a neutral type of embodiment, the universal category of humanity against which all those who do “have” a race (anyone who is not white) are compared.

Many people often respond to us people of colour’s concerns about race with frustration and anger; it’s particularly awful when, consistently, white people ask me to stop talking about race. I’d really love it if, instead of telling me to keep quiet about race, white folk interrogated this anger – not at systems of oppression, but at their own boredom, their own frustration at us, and how it adds to an environment we keep saying is unwelcoming to us.

Consider that when we write “Gaming culture is unfriendly to those who are not straight white cis men”, we have straight white men swear and harass us to… disprove this? It’s as if the articles about how minority groups face oppression get comments that prove the necessity of those articles.

The industry and culture is hostile and part of that hostility is privileged people who claim to be not racist or sexist telling the rest of us to chill out, quiet down, stop overreacting. We have given so many examples, shown so many ways – it’s not a question of evidence, it’s now a question of why privileged people don’t want to accept that evidence. It’s their refusal to self-reflect on their anger at us, rather than the systems and culture we point to that hurt everyone.

I, and other people of colour, can’t do that acceptance for them, neither can any other minority person who is frequently the target of hateful but privileged angry people. As Condis highlights in her piece, ubiquity of particular types of people has led to invisibility – and, because we don’t fit into that ubiquitous mould, that so-called “target demographic”, we become targets, not members, of yet another space.

This isn’t just gaming. It’s every day life. We shouldn’t want invisibility, we should want safety.

No one is forcing you to participate in these discussions. If you really don’t care, fine: don’t read, don’t participate. It’s a pity though that so many would rather pretend race doesn’t exist and isn’t an issue than try make games more inclusive, diverse and accepting. Games themselves talk about race – why won’t gamers?

Men shouldn’t require the law to make them better people

It shouldn’t take a woman going to the police to make us better men. It shouldn’t have to be a matter of legality to have us undo creepy behaviour. Relying on the law to govern our morals doesn’t make us moral beings, it makes us slaves to legality. We shouldn’t require a threat of jail or fine to reflect on our behaviour as men. As moral entities we can engage with others, rethink our actions, consider their impact on those perhaps more vulnerable, more targeted, less privileged than us.

A failure to do so probably won’t result in jail time – and that, apparently, is sufficient reason for so many men to never rethink their actions, their beliefs, their words. That must change if we want to make a better world, but it has to start with us men realising we will fuck up and, maybe, we don’t know everything.

Consider the men in a recent case. A woman decided she wouldn’t tolerate strange men street harassing her, every day, while getting to work. After trying various responses, Poppy Smart took the matter to the police.

She told the BBC:

“Every day I’d walk past and they’d wolf whistle. They’d even come out of the building site to wolf whistle as I’d continue down the road.

“One of the guys got up in my face and all he said was ‘morning love’, but it was in a very aggressive way and the other one sneered.

“They blocked the pavement and I had to walk around them.”

She discusses her own attempts to try, literally and figuratively, get around harassment.

“I started wearing sunglasses so I didn’t have to look at them. I started putting headphones on so I didn’t have to hear them.”

“Eventually it got to the day where I had enough.”

Poppy called the police and reported it.

So what do the men who did this have to say? Well

A builder questioned by police for wolf-whistling at a young woman has hit back – claiming he was paying her a “compliment”.

Ian Merrett, 28, said wolf-whistling was “part and parcel” of working on a building site and even bragged about using cat-calls to seduce a string of other women.

Oh, well, I guess that’s OK then: this man – who, like me, is a 28 year old straight dude – says it’s a compliment to yell lecherous things at woman; to physically block a woman half his size, while she’s made it clear she’s not interested. I’d like to see where, in his work contract, it says “you will wolf-whistle at strange women” since it’s “part and parcel” of working on a building site.

But, you see, he’s had success seducing women! Because there’s no other, non-creepy, way to meet women!

He said:

“I’ve seen the news coverage and it’s not right. I’m a builder and my mates are builders. We are all hard working people and our reputation has been damaged.”

Your hard work doesn’t negate that you are a creep, it just means you’re capable of multitasking.

Or maybe not.

If you really are hard at work, why are you wolf-whistling at strange women? If I was your employer, I’d be concerned I’d hired people who weren’t doing what I was paying them for.

Your “reputation” matters less than women’s safety here: You can go somewhere else, but women have to try commute knowing, daily, there are men who feel entitled to harass them under the guise of compliments. Grow up, apologise, be better men.

“Wolf-whistling is part and parcel of working on a site, it’s complimenting a girl.”

Again, I’d like to see your work contract stating this. All you’re really saying is “boys will be boys”, that’s “just how it is”. The problem isn’t that we don’t know that: The problem is precisely this mindset. The problem is that harassment currently is part of working in a public area and targeting strangers. We’re saying change that: It’s creepy, gross and bad. We know it exists, we know why: We’re saying stop, please.

And just because you intend it to be compliments doesn’t mean that’s how they’ll be interpreted. Intention isn’t magic. Women are literally telling us all the time they do not like this; it doesn’t matter what you think you’re giving when recipients keep saying “Stop”.

“I didn’t even see her face, and I wouldn’t recognise her if I fell over her in the street, so I don’t know how that could possibly be sexual harassment.”

I keep forgetting that because you don’t see someone’s face, it’s impossible to make that person feel uncomfortable, unsafe, harassed and targeted.

“It’s not worth getting into trouble over some silly little girl. I don’t know why she complained, she must be thinking things above her station.”

She’s a woman. So it’s not worth you getting into trouble, but it is worth her sense of security? And you still don’t know why she complained? If you don’t know why a person would take something to the police, maybe… try figure out why they did? Maybe consider the impact your actions have on others?

It’s not like it could’ve been an easy decision for Smart to go the police, knowing people would hate and harass her further (which is, of course, happening).

If “above her station” means the ability to walk down the street not harassed then I guess she was. But that’s not “above” her station, it is her station as a person; that’s a privilege many of us, as straight cis dudes have and it shouldn’t be only us. When people ask for this same privilege of non-harassment , and we berate them for thinking they’re “better” than they are, that only highlights how toxic our culture is.

Men who defend harassment as “boys will be boys” have a very low opinion of men; men who state this aren’t affirming they can’t change how things are, but that they don’t want to. We created this toxic culture, we can be part of changing it. But it won’t happen while men double-down and refuse to listen to women and claim street harassment is compliments. Men: We can do better and we must do better.

Debunking common responses to diversity

Those of us who speak often about diversity – particularly in gaming, but it’s an issue for all mediums – are often faced with similar responses. I want to reply to some.

Throat clearing

Let’s first be clear about what diversity support is: The call to have more games include people of colour, trans folk, etc., is about wanting more, not less.

We want not mere inclusion of, say, black characters, but ones who aren’t all gangsters (as in Watch Dogs); transgender folk who aren’t solely included as targets of transphobic jokes (as in Grand Theft Auto V); women who aren’t caricatures or replaceable with inanimate objects (too many to list).

Diversity is about the recognition that other people partake of a medium, are worth representing within those mediums as people, and who have certain issues particular to that group that are worth exploring in a respectable way.

The question about what to do with this recognition is where difficulty lies. But the responses to such a cause help no one.

Common, wrong responses

“Not every game has to cater to a minority!”

No one is saying every game has to. The call for more games to include and deal with issues that affect various kinds of people is not a call for every game to meet some magical quota. I don’t even know what such a measure looks like. I also don’t really know what “catering to a minority” means.

Diversity campaigning means “cater to all/more people – not just some”. Saying diversity is “every game must cater to a minority” is the exact opposite of the overarching goal of “more”.

We’re highlighting too many games already cater to one demographic (straight white men); in other words, games already cater to one group. We’re saying try make stories about more than one group of people; lots of cultures, nationalities, abilities, etc., exist. We’re all interested in games.

“Let artists create what they want!”

If you wish to make your game star another white man, that is entirely your choice. But it’s still a choice and we will and can criticise you for it. Just as you are totally free to make your lead character another boring white dude, we use that same freedom to criticise you.

Whatever your reason – publishers force you, “the market” decides, etc. – it’s still a choice to focus on the stories of white men. It’s still a choice to disregard other voices or cultures or people. There is no law you’re adhering to.

Make whatever you want: that’s freedom.

The ability to criticise art and artistic choice: that’s the same freedom.

We either both have it or neither of us do.

“It’s bad for business.”

I’m not sure how you ignore examples where a diverse cast led to the biggest profits a franchise had. We’ll ignore women leads sell better – again and again. Since when is it smart business practice to ignore substantial potential audience base?

Do you really want to be fostering an audience that is outwardly repulsed by the idea you treat women respectably? That maybe people of colour don’t have to be terrorists or gangsters? Is that the type of audience you want supporting your work? If not, then you can include other kinds of people and know that the alleged original audience of straight white dudes will continue to support you, because you’re good, talented, creative.

The men who loved Half-Life, which starred a power fantasy version of many of them, didn’t abandon Valve when Portal starred a woman. How belittling of yourself, your audience and the rest of us, when you view your audience based on the most bigoted.

But here’s a black/women/etc. character! Why are you complaining?

Highlighting the existence of a minority individual doesn’t disprove the problem of majority. No one is claiming such stories or characters do not existence – we’re saying it’s too common, too predictable for stories to focus on the plight of straight white men.

For example, if Idris Elba was cast as James Bond, that doesn’t disprove or undermine that James Bond was/is always a white man. It highlights Elba is an exception and that very fact he’s an exception is the problem.

When you point out a game that focuses on a well-written black character – say Lee, from Telltale’s The Walking Dead (who is, unfortunately, a criminal) – you don’t disprove Arkham Asylum, City, Knight, Watch Dogs, Dying Light, Assassin’s Creed (AC) 2, AC: Black Flag & AC: Unity, Witcher 1, 2, 3, Far Cry 1, 3, Lords of the Fallen, Max Payne, Alan Wake, etc. etc. etc. etc. all star and focus on the stories of straight white men.

We already know about the few games that do people of colour well. We’re saying they shouldn’t be an exception, not they don’t exist.

Just be good: who cares if they’re black or white, man or woman?

It’s easy to not care about race or gender or sexuality when yours is the one that’s catered to by default. I am told constantly by white men that race isn’t an issue (which, makes me wonder: if it’s not an issue, why are they fighting me about it?); men constantly tell women to “calm down”, because, hey, Lara Croft exists. And so on.

The way this is framed is that it doesn’t matter if a character is a woman or person of colour or gay, just as long as they’re well written. This gives the impression that straight white men are inherently well-written and you need to make some kind of case for your person of colour lead.

The actual point is this: You need to make all characters, regardless of race, gender, good (or interesting or, at least, not boring/Aiden Pearce). We can all agree on that. But when you use that assertion when people are calling for diversity, you’re diverting the issue. We’re not talking about quality of characters, we’re talking about inclusion. If race doesn’t matter to you, then stop getting involved when people of colour mention inclusion. Why would we want a badly written person of colour in a game? That could be worse than their non-existence.

Your point is either pointless (of course they must be well written!) or diverting (focusing on characters’ quality rather than their inclusion).

Conclusion

Diversity matters to many of us: if it doesn’t matter to you, please rather just ignore our conversations. You don’t really prove you lack of caring when you try divert complex discussions about diversity. You also don’t help when you make the same talking points we’ve been dealing with for ages. Help yourself or help us, but please don’t be boring and distracting.