Tag Archives: racism

Robert Yang on Flappy Bird

This week in online harassment: over the weekend, Flappy Bird developer Dong Nguyen pulled his game from the Apple App Store and Google Play due to harassment from players and games press. If you haven’t heard of it, Flappy Bird is a mobile game in which the player taps the screen to make a bird flap its wings; the goal is to pass through as many narrow gates as possible. Supposedly, one of the reasons gamers were angry about the game is that the graphics–particularly the green pipes that form the gates–were “ripped” from Super Mario. Closer examination reveals that they aren’t actually ripped from the game, but even if they were, that really doesn’t necessitate death threats and harassment.

Game designer Robert Yang has a post up at his blog explaining why this happened:

[T]he internet hate toward Nguyen was, or is, partly racist / first-world biased.

Conceptually, the game resembles an undergraduate game dev student’s class project, though the execution is actually very tightly tuned and well-made. I suspect that if Nguyen were a white American, this would’ve been the story of a scrappy indie who managed to best Zynga with his loving homage to Nintendo’s apparent patent on green pixel pipes and the classic “helicopter cave” game genre.

Instead, Dong Nguyen committed the crime of being from Vietnam, where Electronic Arts or Valve or Nintendo do not have a development office.

Definitely read the whole thing. (The article does not contain examples of the abuse, for those concerned about clicking through.)

An alternate history of Flappy Bird: “we must cultivate our garden” — Robert Yang

Dream Game: The Underground

The following is a guest post from Sun Tzu:

Tzu is a mixed race gamer who has been involved in the gaming scene since Doom. He enjoys writing about social justice, feminism, a wide variety of game genres, and writing about himself in the third person. Any personal inquiries or comments can be sent to Tzuofthesun@gmail.com.

       Edutainment. Let’s all take a moment to look at that monstrosity of a word and let the horror of what it entails wash over us. It’s a Portmanteau that for many brings derisive laughter, dismissive sighs, or painful groans. I don’t know about you, but I’m having flashbacks of low quality elementary school programs that were employed by my parents to try to bridge the gap between my interest in gaming and lack of interest in school. However, despite my prior experiences, I believe that games can educate and enhance both intellect and social consciousness. All that is required is the right narrative to go along with the game itself. To that end, I believe that a game based around the underground railroad in the deep south would present an interesting opportunity for education about racial privilege and oppression.

       Let us start at the foundation: genre. While strong narratives are not bound to a particular genre of games, a Turn Based Strategy game (TBS) is what I had in mind for my theoretical game-let’s call it The Underground. A squad based TBS would allow for a diverse cast that the player could both interact with in game and watch within the context of the narrative (dialogue, cut scenes, etc.). The gameplay itself would be objective based, like many other squad based TBS’s, and task the player with freeing slaves, intercepting hunters, escorting VIPs, etc. Also typical of squad based games, the characters the player employs would be specialists in their own fields and bring a unique set of skills to the table. While all of this may seem rather unimportant when it comes to how race can be presented and explored, the truth is quite the contrary. Imagine this scenario: you, the player, are tasked with rescuing an important abolitionist from the clutches of a wealthy plantation owner. He/she is being held in the antagonist’s grand mansion during a lavish dinner party. What do you do? Send in your combat specialist, a recently freed slave with a sharp eye and a steady hand? No, there are too many guards for a loud operation. So, you look to your stealth character-a black woman who has lived like a hermit in the back country ever since her escape. Unfortunately, the mansion is well lit and the guests are packed in like sardines. The situation might seem insurmountable between the tight security and many prying civilian eyes-that is, until you look at one of the white characters in your squad. Dress him/her up, and they can easily blend in with the crowd. Situations such as those present racial oppression as it is: being white instantly unlocks a whole slew of options unavailable to people of color. In the context of a strategy game such as this, race becomes a constant tactical consideration. Some of your characters can walk around in broad daylight with their weapons at their sides, while others have to hide or disguise themselves just to walk down the street.

       This gameplay integration of a social message (such as: racism is bad) gets the point across better than a pop quiz (I’m looking at you, Jumpstart) and leaves breathing room in the narrative for plot where heavy handed messages might have resided. The big question remains, however, whether this could be an effective way to provoke serious thought and project a positive message. Let’s look at this from two extreme angles: great success and total bomb. The way I see it, a narrative like this could either be pathetically repetitive (Slavery was bad? No way!) or produce a stage for nuanced black and white characters.

       The easy way out would be to paint all abolitionists and black freedom fighters as saints, and while positively portrayed black characters are mildly progressive, they don’t break much ground. As action figures dukeing it out on a historical playset, they are hard to write realistically and flat-two factors that can lower sympathy and interest from players. A better approach would be to make the characters dramatic and conflicted. An example for a black character could be entertaining the notion of escaping to Canada and abandoning the struggle, while a white ally might not have the mental fortitude to take in the horrors of war and slavery on such a personal level. While this is all Literature 101, it is of particular concern for this topic and these characters, because black people in many creative mediums are often relegated to either despicable villains or immaculate saints and white allies placed on a pedestal of moral superiority because of their charitable spirit. In reality, however, people be people. A white person aligned with a minority cause make a very insensitive remark without even knowing it or hold racist misconceptions simply because they are “common knowledge” and people of color aren’t all bastions of righteous rebellion who have infinite understanding of the mechanisms of their own oppression. People, no matter how well intended, make mistakes and can be misguided. Putting these realistic traits into the narrative of The Underground lends gravitas to the story, the setting, and keeps the player interested in the characters as more than just chess pieces at their command. Without such investment in the characters and narrative, racism and slavery lose their social significance. The long lasting and deviously pervasive psychological damage that both systems inflict upon black and white people can only be expressed through characters that feel real and relatable.

       Games that market their socially progressive values overtly have been met with lukewarm reception and, honestly, it’s not a big surprise. Would you rather play a game about a badass space marine escaping a military facility infested with aliens/demons (a la Doom) or a game about a socially conscious bureaucrat trying to penny pinch and micro manage a sluggish, ignorant world out of a climate change disaster (a la middle management)? Those types of games, while well intended, miss the entire point of being a game-that is, to be fun and interactive. And in losing the strength of their genre, their arguments and information fall before hands just itching to ALT F4.

      However, through engaging gameplay and (hopefully) well written characters, racism can be dissected, examined, and presented to the player in every minute of the game without resorting to giant walls of text that would be more at home in a sociological study. That is why, in the ideal game of my dreams, racism isn’t just seen in boring quotes on the loading screen, but experienced through gameplay and humanized through dialogue in a sublime wedding of what I would like to say and what I would like to play.

Oh Far Cry 3, We Weren’t Meant To Be

*Pretty much spoiler free, but trigger warning for racism and rape*

A black man with glasses (notably the only black man in the game from what I’ve read) who is shown healing the main character Jason.

In a blatant disregard for my backlog of unfinished and untouched games, I bought Far Cry 3 this week.  I don’t even know why — I am not a big FPS fan, I’m quite poorly skilled with a gun in my hands, and I haven’t played any of the other games in the series.  Something about it just lured me in.  I’d say it was the animals, but that would make me a sick individual considering how many of them I have skinned for precious crafting materials.

I’m a few hours in, maybe 4-5 hours if I’m lucky.  I picked the easy difficulty level, knowing my complete inability to line up crosshairs on a target and manage to click my mouse button at the right time.  The intro scene is a bit intense, with some harsh language and some brutal moments that made me a little bit uncomfortable.  After that, my character Jason (who was supposedly vacationing on this island with his friends before being kidnapped and suddenly gaining superior manslaughter and hunting skills) is thrown out into this world in which he must save all of the native people with his “white man know-how” and manage to survive.  So far, this has meant doing challenges to convince the native ‘savages’ that I’m somehow magical and superior to everyone else and therefore the savior they’ve been waiting for.  There have been several writeups out there already about the problematic racism in Far Cry 3, such as this one on Rock Paper Shotgun.

I said, rather flippantly, that the people of this island are the race they are, because it’s the island they’re native to. It is what it is, essentially. And that’s the case – that’s really not the issue here. It had to be set somewhere. The issue is the horribly worn tropes it so lazily kicks around when it gets there. As it is, you have the simple-folk-natives, and the immigrant white men with their mixture of South African and Australian accents. And one black guy. White people ask you to get involved in enormously elaborate machinations, ancient mysteries, and local politics. Locals ask you to help them kill endangered species, find their missing daughters, and point out when their husbands are gay. Essentially, the locals behave as if they’re helpless without you, but when you wield their tattoo-based magical powers then true greatness appears. And it’s here that the problems really kick in.

There’s a term for it. It’s “Noble Savage“. And it also falls under the remit of the “Magical Negro“. The trope is that the non-white character possesses mystical insight, magical abilities, or simply a wisdom derived from such a ‘simple life’, that can enlighten the white man. And it’s pretty icky. The premise relies on the belief that the individual’s race is in some way debilitating, something their noble/mystical abilities are able to ‘overcome’.

There’s also mention of some implied rape, which I haven’t gotten to in the game yet but I believe is the rape of a man by another man.  I’m really not far enough into the game to give this a ton of critical thought, but this game screams out red flags to me.

Gameplay wise, is it fun?  I think there are hints of a really enjoyable experience in there.  It’s surprisingly fun to track down the different animals, though pretty disgusting and graphic when you skin them.  I enjoy sneaking up on the tapirs and the pigs and just watching them enjoy their time in their natural element.  There are some other moments that made me yell out with triumph, such as some interesting ‘challenges’ and missions and sliding down a zipline while shooting a gun at everything below.  And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy speeding around in Jeeps and other vehicles, slamming into and running over just about everything in sight.  I know they used “Skyrim in the jungle” as a marketing ploy, but it doesn’t feel that far off.  There are some serious hints of that open world exploration that are very reminiscent of my Christmas 2011 in which leaving the house for food required too much time away from Skyrim.  Generally speaking, any game that lets me mindlessly run around the world, uncovering the fog-of-war on the map while looting ALL THE THINGS is going to be elicit some positive feelings.  The game is also quite pretty on my PC, so I can’t fault it there.

But there are some serious annoyances with the game, mostly surrounding the save system and its innate ability to make me die and lose all my progress.  I don’t know about you, but when a game rolls back to 20 minutes prior and makes me redo everything I just did, I get mad and close out the game.  That’s happened to me 4 times now and each time I’ve sworn off the game entirely.  Granted, I do die more than the average player.  I have an uncanny knack for running away from a bad guy, into a tiger, then into an alligator, then into a komodo dragon, then into a dog that eats my arm off.  I’m just not sure the game is worth that frustration when I’m already pretty pissed off at the racist narrative and have some rape content awaiting me if I play much further.  Considering a Skyrim DLC just came out — if I want to play an open-worldy game I think I’d rather it be in an Elder Scrolls world with my bow & arrow than rumbling in the jungle as a white savior in Far Cry 3.

Is anyone else playing this game?  If so, what are your thoughts?

Let’s Discuss: Apologies

Originally posted on Vorpal Bunny Ranch.

Oh no! Suddenly your social media feeds and inbox are full of irate people peppering you with accusations of being insensitive, a bigot, all because you used a sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/etc. word, image, or phrase. What do you do?! Fret not, I will go through a list of actions you should take and avoid.

DO: Apologize
“I am sorry for <insert thing I did/said/insinuated here>.”

DO NOT: Shift
“I apologize if I hurt or offended you.”

Why?
It may come as a surprise, but people are not always collectively unintelligent. Indicating you are apologizing for offending shifts the blame on the people to whom you are offering the apology: “I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those knee-jerky, want-to-be-offended kids! Ooooo!” Instead, apologize for what you did, which can help the conversation move forward.

Note, the longer this process takes, or the more steps you toss in along the way to an actual apology, the more difficult it will be for some to take the apology seriously.

DO: Understand and listen
The world is a big place. You do not know everything. You will make mistakes. When someone is angry, try and listen to the words they are saying.

DO NOT: Think you understand
Making assumptions about what people are saying, rather than actually listening, can cause problems. If you receive a variety of complaints, take a moment to look into the common underlying themes, try searching the internet for resources, and learn what it is that went wrong.

Why?
Very few of us are perfect. When I was a freshman in college, I said some pretty heinous things to a black friend of mine regarding Egypt and its ancestry. I was just parroting back what I’d learned in school, and only a year or so later did I educate myself enough to learn of the historical significance of discounting Egypt as part of a rich narrative of black accomplishments — a tactic often used to belittle African Americans as ‘obviously’ inferior, as they had no culture that was noteworthy.

I felt like a tool. My friend was incredibly patient, and when I apologized, and explained why, he was glad that I had learned from the experience and that I had taken the initiative to educate myself (largely because he realized sometimes we have to come to something ourselves, and he didn’t want to argue over this — it was not his responsibility).

DO: Show consistent actions
It’s difficult, but once you’ve made one mistake, people will look out for others. If you take what you hopefully learned and make sure to educate anyone else on your team about this, slip-ups may still happen, but you can easily and quickly rectify course on the matter in the future.

DO NOT: Apologize and go do it again and again and again
Drat! We totally just did the same thing again a month later. Oh no, now we’ve happened to do this wrong! It’s a cascade!

Why?
Just because you apologized, someone does not have to accept it. By showing consistent actions, you can help repair any harm done. The focus is not necessarily to make sure everyone likes you, it should be to do no harm. That person who won’t accept the apology may never come back, but you can make sure you do not replicate that instance.

Also, whether unfairly or not, the internet is a place that can dredge up past mistakes. If you’ve been suffering foot-in-mouth disease multiple times over a short period of time, it will be that much easier to bring up past mistakes and transgressions. Remember that bit about learning? Please go look over that again.

Again, we all make mistakes. The question is whether you genuinely apologize and see what you did as wrong, or if you dig in your heels and alienate potential customers, friends, users, or whatever your case may be. While the impetus for this is the numerous game companies I’ve seen this apply to, I believe it is much more general than that.

Pay Up – You are What You’re Worth

I’ve come to enjoy the scene of fog rolling down the hills. Where I’m from, fog is ephemeral; it rises from the dewy grass in the morning and floats off by noon. Walking to the market here feels like I’m on a movie set and zombies will shamble out at any moment. There’s a bounce in my step because shopping for food is one of my favorite things to do. I got swept up in the food-conscious mania that glorified organic products and watched The Food Network instead of X-Tube. So predictably, I made a face when passing by the McDonalds, watching the students and families cramming fries into their faces. But then it hit me as I noticed the change in races populating the fast food restaurant to Trader Joe’s: I was being racist again.

For the better part of two years, I’ve been actively battling internalized racism. I thought I was fine because it wasn’t like I was Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks or anything. But what I started to realize was that he ranted in the back of my mind about things I thought were legitimately true, and it revealed to me I had biases for monied culture. Wealth and class are highly organized by racism, as anything resembling white culture has to do with a disposable income. I came to understand many of my actions tried to avoid seeming hispanic or black, because I didn’t want to be associated with the poor.

My best friend inadvertently pointed it out to me when we lived together. I had recently grew zealous in the ‘advocate with your money’ ideology and picked up the Human Rights Campaign’s buying guide, which shows you how bigger companies stack up against each other with their stances on equal rights issues. For groceries, I remember Whole Foods being at the top, which was fine for me. Looking at the guide, my friend asked, “Mattie, you work at Starbucks and go to school. How can you afford all of this?” The truth was I couldn’t. It seemed more important to me to embody my ideologies, and through that, it meant I was represented by the amount of money I spent. It wasn’t long until I had to stop shopping at the places on the top of HRC’s buying guide, and I felt like a bad person. I turned around and left Trader Joe’s today because I only had double digits in my bank account until student loans came in. The cost of a meal at one place was the same price as the cheapest pound of meat at the other. I went back to McDonalds, ordered a cheeseburger, and cried.

Continue reading

A small humanoid carries a massive pack that is bigger than he is.

Warcraft goes from Pygmies to Sherpa

The original version of this post appeared at Decoding Dragons.

This is a difficult post. Not because it’s personal for me, but I feel like someone should say something. The casual cultural appropriation that Blizzard continues to practise is tiring, dated, and makes me very uneasy about Mists of Pandaria. I am western european and I am white. I don’t feel comfortable pointing this out, as it is not my culture that Mists of Pandaria is appropriating in a disneyfied orientalist fashion.

Think back to the pygmies

In Cataclysm we saw the introduction of the Pygmy model. A brown-skinned race depicted as savage – supposedly based on heavy metal characters, but in actuality echoing the colonialist stereotype of the peoples of North Africa. The very name taken from real cultures in Africa. During the course of questing through Uldum, players would kill and cage the pygmies, hit them with mallots etc. WoW Insider did a great post-mortem of Cataclysm, and I’m going to quote from them here

The things that disgusted me about Uldum don’t end there, either. Uldum is what, to me, solidified the pygmy race is a racist caricature. I didn’t mind them in the goblin starting area. They were a little weird, but they fit exactly what Blizzard described them as; they’re modeled after classic rock roadies. Their tribe is even called the Oomlot Tribe, which if you haven’t figured it out, is a nod to the umlaut. They fit that in the goblin starting zone. In Uldum, that goes out the window. Blizzard took this thing that was already racially charged and, instead of taking the high road and doing something cool with them, stayed right down there with everybody’s worst expectations and made them a really insensitive thing.

Now considering that the orcs, trolls, goblins and tauren are codified as people of colour (as opposed to the very westernised cultures of the humans and dwarves particularly) Blizzard’s track record on sensitivity to racial issues and cultural appropriation is already bad. I’ve seen posts on various forums from Native Americans lamenting and wincing at the broad strokes used to define the Tauren. Sadly I’ve not seen any Chinese (or asian) reactions to Mists of Pandaria, only ‘my friend is ____’ type comments from westerners.

That said – it is Warcraft and I’m not surprised or rending my clothes over the continued lack of subtlety on the grand scale of things. Pandaria fits in with Thunderbluff. There are many talented artists, animators and writers working at Blizzard and they continue to do grand work within the schemes laid out for them by the needs of the game, the theme and the overarching story. Much of the artwork for Mists is breathtaking, and I do think they’ll tell some interesting stories.

From Pygmies to Sherpa

Well, now. Sherpa. One of the latest updates at WoWhead has included a character model codenamed ‘sherpa’. Take a look at him on wowhead, or just click the image below for a bigger one.

 

 

A small humanoid carries a massive pack that is bigger than he is. Image via WoWhead

Well. First of all there are the Sherpa People, of the Kingdom of Nepal. The stereotypes surrounding this group of people in general are relatively benign – they have some renown for physical superiority. The term ‘sherpa’ is also often applied to local mountain/climbing guides of other ethnicities. The image of the western holiday-maker or explorer surrounded by locals carrying their belongings is the image that the above model invokes. As the model uses the pygmy model, this makes me distinctly uncomfortable and I’m not at all of the mind that this was in any way appropriate for Blizzard to include. Please note that I’m not certain if ‘Sherpa’ is simply a code name or the actual model name, we’ll have to wait until later to find out.

They have made an efford to make the model less humanoid via the skin texture and fingers, but I’m really not convinced that it’s enough. They could easily have done something different to fill this NPC niche. It makes me wonder if we’ll see more development of the in-game pygmy race in lore, or if they will forever remain a one-off joke, based on colonialist views of people that are ‘other’ to the western experience. Including non-western cultures in a nuanced, imaginative and sensitive fashion is a good thing, but I don’t think Blizzard have managed that here.

This isn’t about racial slurs

I’m not saying that ‘pygmy’ or ‘sherpa’ are offensive terms in and of themselves. They are perfectly legitimate, correct terms for two peoples. Blizzard hasn’t been offensive by using those terms, but in the way they are applied and the characters depicted. With regards to the Sherpa ‘model’, perhaps this is just temporary name and the NPC will appear with a more appropriate name. I hope so, but the ‘sherpa’ model is not ranked with humanoids which suggests that, like the pygmies, they’ll be seen as sub-human and subservient, echoing those colonialist attitudes that took the Oomlot tribe of the Lost Isles from heavy metal to racially charged by placing the npcs in an environment that invokes the stereotypes. I have no idea if any of the Sherpa people play Warcraft, or even care about stereotypes in a video game, but it’s indicative of a larger problem within world building.

Benign but ignorant

It’s all packaged up as entertainment, but it’s a bit like reducing the British to tea, crumpets, the Queen and Sherlock Holmes. Except it isn’t at all. This is mostly western entertainment, devised for westerners. Occidentalism, that is the negative stereotypes of westerners, doesn’t really have the same power in games developed by westerners for westerners. I really think Blizzard needs to sit down and think about it’s continued use of cultural shorthand in world building and culture creation.  Non-western (and non-white coded) cultures and NPCs don’t have to be the sole province of anthropromorphic races or secondary NPCs, or even enemies. They don’t have to be coded as exotic, or other.

“Not Okay”: MovieBob on Sexism and Harassment in Nerd Culture

In another great video, MovieBob at The Escapist has a pretty great breakdown about bigotry and harassment in nerd and video game culture. He debunks a few common excuses for harassment, and points out that, while gamers fear actual censorship from politicians, excusing bigotry just gives folks like Jack Thompson ammunition. You can watch the video below or at this link, and I’ve provided a transcript below the video. Enjoy.

The Big Picture with MovieBob

“Not Okay”

As much as possible, I try to have a good time doing this show, even though I know for a fact I’m potentially cheating myself out of viewers, and thus also possibly traffic and ratings, by doing so. I know, for example, that the most popular and widely-circulated episodes of The Big Picture tend to be the ones where I take on some controversial position [image: PETA logo] or take one myself. But honestly I have a much happier time at “work” doing shows about weird movies or obscure old cartoons, or whatever. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. I run into something that hits me really, really hard, and I can’t ignore the opportunity to weigh in on it. Particularly when I don’t see my would-be position well-represented or when it brings up a bigger issue that I’ve been ruminating on already. Such is the case for today, which is a long-form way of me saying this probably isn’t going to be much of a fun or funny episode of this show, and for that I’m regretful. Life, unfortunately, is not all fun and games.

So today I want to talk about sexism in nerd culture, particularly in gaming culture, a topic which I am certain will bring about only the most reasonable, thoughtful, and mature responses [images: mobs with pitchforks and torches]. Eh, right?

So, Capcom, a company which at this point must have a small heart attack every time a word ending in -ist is mentioned anywhere near it [image: Sheva from RE5 in her bodypaint and leopard bikini outfit], has been streaming the competitive gaming reality show called Cross Assault as part of the promotion for the new Street Fighter x Tekken game. During a recent online televised match, a team coach named Aris Bahktanians began aggressively berating the female contestant he was supposed to be coaching with what can only be described as escalating sexual harassment. I’m not going to run the video or the audio here because it’s, well, vile [words on screen: Ultimately, the young woman in question chose to forfeit her participation in the event; the situation having become too uncomfortable. If that does not sadden and/or INFURIATE you, check your batteries.], and because I’m sure you can find it around if you want to see what the fuss is about.

Since this is a. The Internet, and b. The Internet is increasingly and thankfully no longer operating under the exclusive control and/or to the exclusive betterment of entitled, socially insulated, angst-driven, resentful young men, when the video of the harassment went viral, Bahktanians found himself the subject of criticism, which, you’ll be shocked to learn, he did not respond to in a manner most would consider graceful. Although, for the record, he did issue an apology, ultimately [screen provides URL for the apology: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/g65iqn]. When a twitch.tv community manager asked him in a conversation about the event whether it was reasonable for the expanding audience and participation pool of competitive fighting games to ask that the general atmosphere of the community not include sexual harassment [on screen: "Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?" - Jared Rea, twitch.tv], he had this to say: “You can’t. You can’t because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community–it’s StarCraft.” Wow.

I think what I like best about that asinine statement is that he had to get the fanboy dig in at a supposed rival part of competitive gaming, using “StarCraft” as a kind of in-community curse word the way American talk radio guys [image: Glenn Beck] use “European.” Stay classy, bro.

I don’t think I need to add anything else to this particular incident; that it speaks to the continued infection of too much of modern gaming by a strain of paranoid male entitlement and a vicious, anxiety-fueled hatred of women, should be obvious on its face. But I am kind of fascinated by the thesis of the guy’s central argument, ie. that his behavior should be acceptable because he considers it to be part of the fighting game community’s identity. Mostly because it’s the same thesis that tends to be used to justify damn near every incident of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc, that pops up in the world of internet geek culture, a culture that paradoxically defines itself my a shared experience of social marginalization, but can often be observed practicing just as much insular conformity within its own borders.

How often have we heard that sexism, misogyny, or casual racism in this or that community is just part of how things are there? And how any insinuation that this supposed default status might be a bad thing is violently shrugged off? Particularly, my favorite variation on this theme, “Aw, come on man, this is like the last place where it’s okay for guys to talk like this.” As though some kind of sacred tradition is being preserved by not calling bullies out on their bullying. Hey, uh, genius? Lean your ears up real close. [Through a megaphone:] THERE SHOULDN’T BE ANY PLACE WHERE IT’S OKAY. BECAUSE IT’S NOT OKAY.

It’s not okay to harass women. It’s not okay to “slut shame.” It’s not okay to hurl racist or homophobic slurs as a form of verbal violence. It’s not okay to use rape as a casual synonym for defeat. And it’s really not okay that I have to explain that to anybody.

I do not accept the premise that sexual harassment, misogyny, and bigotry or hatred of any kind is somehow integral to the fighting game community or any other community in video games or anywhere else. But if such a community does exist, yeah, it’s wrong and should be called out as such and disinfected via sunlight.

Of course, this inevitably will draw responses about free speech and the First Amendment from people who do not understand either of those things. Free speech as a legal concept only guarantees you the right to speak. It doesn’t guarantee you the right to be heard, it doesn’t guarantee you the right to be agreed with, it certainly doesn’t guarantee you the right for your speech to not be challenged by someone else’s speech, and most importantly of all, it doesn’t mean you can’t suffer consequences if and when your free speech is used to cause harm to someone. Which is exactly what sexual harassment, racial slurs, and verbal bigotry are. That’s not censorship. That’s fairness.

The only thing that makes me angrier than the continued presence of this stuff in the nerd culture in general and gaming culture specifically is the resistance to having a serious conversation about it. Obviously most gamers are good people, and the bad apples represent a vocal but small minority. But whenever stuff like this comes up, it feels like gaming as a whole would rather just disappear into the memory hole than seriously confront it. “Why are we even talking about this?” being the near-constant refrain. And I understand why that is. Gamers are under constant scrutiny by an unfriendly media [image: screenshot of Geoff Keighley's appearance on Fox News talking about Mass Effect] and cynical political operators [image: Joe Lieberman] ready to pounce on any misbehavior. But you know what? We’re winning that fight. And one of the ways we keep winning is to prove that we deserve the serious, grown-up status slowly being confirmed upon our medium by not letting this crap fester in our ranks. Leland Yee, Joe Lieberman, and Jack Thompson don’t win when we admit that there are problems within the gaming community. They win when we fail to address those problems.

I’m Bob, and that’s the big picture.

Forum user LiquidGrape made this adorable image of Stanley Woo closing a thread with his (in)famous catch phrase. It's worth noting that the thread in question being shut down by our lovely Volus is, amusingly, one entitled "OMFG gays ruin the ******* game!!!"

End Of Line: BioWare Clamps Down on Personal Attacks Against its Staff

Forum user LiquidGrape made this adorable image of Stanley Woo closing a thread with his (in)famous catch phrase. It's worth noting that the thread in question being shut down by our lovely Volus is, amusingly, one entitled "OMG ***ing gays ruin teh game!!!"


During the height of the Jennifer Hepler incident, many readers of ours were quick to talk about a culture endemic among “white cis het men” who dominate certain bastions of geek culture. In the midst of attacks with sexist and homophobic overtones, it seemed strange to others that race would be “dragged into” this. The recent attacks on another BioWare staffer, Stanley Woo, reveal why that remains a salient vector of analysis, and why considering white dominance in gaming spaces is as important as considering male dominance.

An alert reader (thank you very kindly!) brought to our attention a recent spate of trolling on BioWare’s forums antagonising Stanley Woo, a QA worker and community moderator who was especially forthright in banning posts that personally attacked Jennifer Hepler. The group of people responsible for organising the hate mail, angry tweets and forum posts attacking Hepler also took to antagonising Woo. The tipster wrote in:

[They were] using stereotypes of Asians to mock him, with phrases like “Ding dong bannu” and “End of rine” becoming common.  A day or two after the Jennifer Hepler attacks occurred, there was a raid on the Bioware forums where posters made accounts specifically to mock him which displayed many of these things, to the point that Bioware had to temporarily shut down new poster registration to stop it.  For example, replacing Ls with Rs, posting as “Stanley Gook” or some variation which bypassed the censor, speaking of “grorious reader” (“glorious leader”, a phrase that I believe originated in North Korea as applied to Kim Jong-il).

(Our tipster provided the following screenshot as a sample.)

I have often said that prejudice is a continuum, we rarely have the luxury of seeing it confined to a single, neatly bounded issue or group of people. If you scratch an Islamophobe, you’ll find a misogynist, to name an example I’ve seen far too many times in my own work. Similarly, many of the people who attacked Jennifer Hepler are doubtless equally antagonistic to anyone who would defend people of colour against racist trolling/attacks. The toxicity we see here is not something that allows itself to be confined to one axis of injustice. If you are willing to dehumanise a woman because she’s a woman, you’ll do it to others as well. People of colour, people of size, people with disabilities, LGBT folks, and intersections of all the above. What, exactly, is stopping them? If they’re the kind of people who think calling someone a fat bitch who should die in a fire is funny, where is the moral or ethical boundary that will stop them from making anti-Asian attacks, exactly?

Each individual person is different, but the broad trends are there and they do seem to indicate that the same people who engage in misogyny are often the same ones who engage in homophobia are often the same ones who engage in racism. It is a linked series of problems in these communities. That’s why, I suspect, Bioware has come down hard on this type of behaviour without explicitly naming it. On March 2nd they changed their community policies:

UPDATED (MAR. 2, 2012) Important update to site rules & code of conduct :

Effective immediately there is a zero tolerance policy on any form of abuse towards staff, moderators or other Community members.

Anyone posting a personal attack on staff, moderators or other Community members will, at the sole discretion of staff or moderators, be banned from the BioWare Social Network without notice and is no longer welcomed.

We continue to value all of our customers and fans. However participation in the BSN and engaging with staff and like-minded community members is – to be abundantly clear – a privilege, and not a right. Members may continue to discuss and critique our games and products in a civil manner, but any form of discussion targeted at an individual will not be tolerated. New and existing members who cannot adhere to the code of conduct, or maintain a civil demeanor at all times, are encouraged instead to contact customer support for any game related issues they may have.

We have made additional important changes to the Site Rules and Code of Conduct, and recommend that all our users review them by clicking on the link at the top of this notice. By continuing to use this site you are accepting the Site Rules and agree to follow these rules.

Attacks on a person because of their race and/or gender are not just bar-room joshing and gentle ribbing. On some level, we all know that. The attacks on Hepler were so vicious that they prompted a public defence of her by BioWare itself, and the attacks on Woo were trending in the same direction. Each constitutes a basic violation of a social contract that ought to exist between us all. Neither assault was discourse, it was the absence of discourse; a nihilistic vacuum filled only with hatred and the utmost irreverence. Such behaviour is no longer about discussing video games: it becomes a strike against the very bonds of community that are supposed to ensure the basic mutual respect on which civilisation is premised.

This may sound overly-heady and even overwrought, but it is a very serious moral question that we all have to consider when we’re considering questions of community—and that includes the geek/gaming communities of which we are all a part. It’s why Border House has a moderation policy, and why I have long said that major news websites should do a much better job of enforcing theirs. But it’s also tied to other recent incidents that have garnered wide attention, such as Rush Limbaugh’s unprecedented and highly misogynist attack on law student and activist Sandra Fluke. Such statements are not “just words”—no one truly believes in “just words,” not even the most vituperative internet commenter. If words were “just words,” such people wouldn’t be using them. What would be the point, save expectorating syllables into the ether?

They choose the words they know will create unsafe conditions, will actually wound a person, will communicate a central and guiding idea: “you are not human.”

This is not discourse, nor is it debate. It is the irreverent mockery thereof, unto death.

BioWare did not mention prejudice specifically in its policy change (though it is mentioned in the actual Code of Conduct), but I suspect that it came down so swiftly because they saw something very ugly in this recent spate of attacks, words which go way, way beyond the almost adorable “lol u noob” sort of joshing. They saw something that was actually coarsening the working conditions of their employees, that in the case of Jennifer Hepler had actually intruded into her own home. Stewards of online communities do need to start appreciating the reality that not all speech is equal; the very power of words gives them the power to silence, erase, and even destroy. It is antithetical to community itself to allow such things to continue, and to allow the internet’s many bigots free reign without consequence– allowing them to partake without asking for basic decency in return.

Liberal moral philosopher Susan Neiman could just as easily have been speaking of this group of people when she said the following:

Their world is never graced by a shadow of reverence. There’s so much trash—sometimes masquerading as a satire of trash—that it’s hard to say what’s worse: The blunting violence that’s called action? The lackadaisical transformation of sex to commodity? The shows that invite people to degrade themselves for a few dollars or minutes of fame? All of them chip away at human dignity; all of them went further than Nietzsche’s grimmest dreams. He wrote that a noble soul has reverence for itself. You needn’t go that far to believe that a noble soul must have reverence for something.

And we can make a good start of it by having reverence for each other. Bioware’s new policy is a positive step in that direction, and I hope that more policies of this sort will help to make the gaming community a true community for all of us.

Today in WTF: Minecraft horrible racial slur (TW: racism)

The title screen for Minecraft is shown, with "you are a N**GER" on the top button. (not censored though)

 

File this away in today’s things I wish I didn’t have to write about.  Apparently, changing your language settings in Minecraft to Afrikaans, the language spoken in South Africa and Namibia, causes the top button to tell the player “you are a N**GER”.  The reason for this is crowdsourced translation, in which players help out the community by submitting translations for the game in different languages.

Mojang’s Jens “Jeb” Bergensten tweeted the following today:

A tweet from Mojang's Jens "Jeb" Bergensten says: Sorry about that =( I thought I had banned that user. Please check the translation here: bit.ly/xmSj09

 

There are certain things that are particularly vulnerable to hurting people when done through crowdsourcing.  Translation is definitely one of them, being that a player who is thrilled to find out a game supports their language is unlikely to suspect being called a terrible slur upon loading up the game.  I’m happy that Mojang have banned this user, and I’m not really wanting to tell an indie developer how to spend their limited funding, but I would suggest not crowdsourcing something as important as localization.

Native Americans in Videogames: Stereotypes, Racism, and Misogyny

Tommy Tawodi from the game, Prey. A Native American man with shoulder-length black hair, brown leather biker jacket and white button down shirt shown from the waist up. He is looking sternly at the camera and holding a large, futuristic, science fiction style gun up in readiness.

Tommy Tawodi from the game, Prey

Project COE has an extensive post discussing the portrayal of Native Americans in videogames, stereotypes, and racism by taking a closer look at memorable Native American characters in videogames:

We tend to glance over these highly stereotypical portrayals as fun and harmless, but can these simplified, misleading images of Native Americans have a negative impact on consumers?

That said, it’s interesting to consider the Native American’s place in video games over the past thirty years as they are certainly under-represented, occasionally portrayed in a negative light, and almost always plagued by long-established stereotypes that separate them from the dominant majority, just as they are in film and literature. So, here is a look at some of the most memorable characters and controversies that have punctuated the existence of the “Indian” in video games, accompanied by a discourse on how these trends can affect attempts at contemporary acculturation and hurt the image of Native American people.

Read the entire post over at Project COE (trigger warning: detailed discussion of the rape game-mechanic in Custer’s Revenge; embedded video of Custer’s Revenge game play) and share your thoughts about the article in the comments section below.