An angry, drug-aggled, and flu-laden response to Raph Koster

There are many ways I would much rather spend this afternoon — chugging Theraflu; alternating between sleeping in the shower, on the deliciously cold floor of my bathroom, or in my bed under a mountain of blankets; or watching my favorite shows on Netflix during fevered inability to sleep — but unfortunately for me I saw this wonderful nugget of wisdom from Raph Koster on Reddit:

A couple of reasons.

1) It’s actively damaging developers’ lives. Harassment has become prevalent all over. Many, particularly women, are talking about quitting games altogether.

2) It’s actively damaging developers’ lives. Social media has basically been destroyed for us, and it’s an important part of both professional networking and customer outreach. We can’t have the sorts of discussions we would like to, because of GamerGate.

3) It’s actively damaging developers’ lives. GG is attacking the institutions that provide us with ongoing education, awards shows, job listings, networking, and so on, that we need for our professional careers.

4) It’s actively damaging developers’ lives. People are getting polarized and as reasonable discourse fades away, stupid arguments erupt and friendships of long standing are damaged.

5) It’s actively damaging developers’ lives. Our ability to even do customer outreach or launch something these days is fraught with peril. For the first time in my memory, developers have active fear of their audience.

6) GG hasn’t been effective at fixing anything we care about, and keeps trying to fix things we don’t think are broken.

So much for that. It’s bad enough I’m missing out on sweet, sweet overtime pay due to being sick, but now here I am on my computer fueled by anger despite being able to sit upright for long, responding to this. Thanks Raph.

[By the way, none of the above is an appeal to empathy. I don’t want it. I write what I do to underscore the severity with which I perceive this comment, and seriousness with which I write this. Judge my comments by their own worth, not because I’m sick.]

See, here’s the thing. Harassment has become prevalent “all over”. Or perhaps I should say “harassment”, since the definition seems to have become awfully context-dependent of late. It seems that, for some, so much as a mention in an otherwise innocuous tweet constitutes harassment while for others, doxxing, death threats, outright and undeniable abusive comments, and publicly and unironically advocating all those is entirely harmless (perhaps even handwaved as “just a joke”, never mind this is claimed by people who adhere to similar beliefs that “just a joke” is a way to enforce and justify social privilege).

As for those “talking about quitting games”…why should they stay in the industry when they’ve found something vastly more lucrative — other than to perpetuate their meal ticket (at the cost of others’ suffering), that is? The fact there are individuals in, or at least peripherally-related to, your industry who personally profit from abuse and toxicity, and therefore have a vested financial interest in its perpetuation and maximization, on its own should be cause to rethink your position, rather than embrace it.

That is to this point, saying nothing of shunning, blacklisting, ubiquitous gossip, apparently-coordinated attacks against individuals in the industry, and sociopolitical viewpoint- rather than quality- or merit-based gatekeeping by their colleagues for holding views perceived as distasteful, regardless of the quality of their work. Nor alleged contest-rigging and collusion that, if true, crosses the boundaries from merely unethical to outright racketeering. Except for the fact this has apparently been occurring for years prior to “Gamergate” even started. If the hive of groupthink, collusion, and corruption that has been uncovered by the last three months is indeed what you “need” for your professional careers, I would strongly urge you to rethink your career choice rather than cry harassment for being rightfully criticized for it.

[On a serious and more personal note, Raph, my personal background and education is in American politics, specifically campaign finance. I’ve done work in politics since I was a small child, on the stump for local candidates with my granddad. I’ve “officially” worked on campaigns, I’ve lobbied at varying times on behalf of industries and non-profit groups. I spent nearly a decade in university researching campaign finance and election law, and I got the fuck out after Citizens United and the 2010 election because politics had become too disgustingly corrupt for me to stomach any longer.

The shit that’s gone on, and been uncovered, in the last three months makes me regret that choice, because at least there is something of a social compact and rules of ethics in politics. It’s not a good one, but at least there is one, which is a hell of a lot better than I can say for vidya.]

Next, “customer outreach”. Well, first, it’s good that you implicitly acknowledge the commodification of games, the treatment of games as consumer product opposed to art in and of its own right, and the importance of consumer relations when dealing with your audience rather than hide behind “games are art” as a shield against criticism on precisely that basis, as many of your colleagues do. Of course, how this relates to social media is that you claim it’s “ruined” for your industry.

How is it ruined, exactly? let’s look to Occam’s razor. Which is more likely; that thousands of gamers, the overwhelming majority of which like myself universally condemn harassment, abuse, and toxicity, regardless of the source, have organized in a campaign to do exactly what it is we condemn by picking apart developers’ social media use; or dozens of your colleagues are, quite frankly, thin-skinned prima donnas with chronic foot-in-mouth disease (who are, coincidentally enough, the very last people I think of when I think “reasonable discourse”)?

I think you know the answer, given you’re on-record in the past as stating the need for PR for developers given their general lack of tact (we’ve had exactly that conversation via social media before). I know I do. having put myself through college by working in an IT job that was described to me in a single sentence by my boss as “keep the customers as far away from [the admins and developers] as humanly possible”.

It’s not on our heads your colleagues are endless and apparently unregulated fountains of incendiary bullshit, with tact and subtlety to make intercontinental ballistic missiles look quaint. We just call the bullshit out when it is invariably spewed. Perhaps you should be urging your colleagues to act as if they grew up in civilized society with a fundamental understanding of how the internet works (and it still blows my mind game developers of all people seem to lack this), employ people with that skillset to speak on their behalf, or at least stay away from platforms on which they can deal themselves and their colleagues lasting damage by running their mouths.

That is, people to speak on their behalf who do so without paying off or exploiting personal relationships with the press for positive attention, or who cut out the middleman by simultaneously being part of the press to do it themselves.

“…The sorts of discussions we would like to have…” Which discussions, exactly? I’d love to hear an answer to this that doesn’t include the very unethical if not illegal activities we know have occurred (or have been alleged to be occurring with strong evidence), nor includes viewpoint-based gatekeeping, that aren’t improved by transparency and engagement with (at least, merit-based selection of) audiences. Frankly, opacity and viewpoint-based gatekeeping are how the toxic atmosphere that enabled Gamergate occurred, and it seems to me honest developers who are serious about their work and relating to consumers would want an end to it.

All of this considered, maybe developers damn well ought to fear their audience. Unabashed disrespect, which as far as I can tell is and has been the case for some time, certainly doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. especially when put on such blatant display as it has the last three months. That the gaming press, people who by all rights and reasonable expectation ought to have some idea how to speak to consumers, is also in on the game is absolutely beyond my ken. No, not fear abuse, harassment, or threats — that particular straw man doesn’t fly with me — but fear rightful criticism (and remember, criticism regardless what some would claim is never in and of its own right, harassment)  for all the aforementioned illicit and unethical behavior, and making complete jackasses of themselves online in the wake of revelation after revelation; and the inevitable backlash in a consumer-driven market, which is that people stop consuming in protest.

Otherwise known as the logical consequences of their own misdeeds. Which is, apparently, something many of these individuals in question have never had to face…and it’s about damn time they did. So, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m considerably less than sympathetic to the plight of the developer in all this, especially as (emphasis mine),

6) GG hasn’t been effective at fixing anything we care about, and keeps trying to fix things we don’t think are broken.

This is the problem. It’s not about you, it’s about your audience, otherwise known as the people who put food on your table, and pertinent to you how they perceive you and your industry. Your audience has grievances with the way business in your industry is conducted, and has spoken quite clearly what those grievances are and why.

If you don’t care what your customers think of you, or what issues are important to your customers…well, good luck with that. As a consumer I’m perfectly happy playing that game and speaking with my wallet, and now that your industry has put viewpoint-based gatekeeping on the table, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.