After Getting Angry, What Can We Do About the Hate Groups In Games Culture?


#1

On today's Waypoint Radio, Austin, Patrick and Rob chat about recent news in the world and the world of games, including the Mueller investigation, goings on at ArenaNet, and the Reddit kerfuffle at KotakuInAction. We also talk about the Ancestors: Legacy developers and one amazing typo in the code of Aliens: Colonial Marines.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/pawbzm/kotakuinaction-arenanet-waypoint-radio

#2

So at one point in the discussion Austin asks something to the effect of ‘what can we do better this time around’ so hear are ny unsoliceted thoughts on that as a radom ass hat, and a pretty passive consumer of media.

I passively absorb almost all media I consume, I don’t think I’m unique in this. Critical media analyse skills aren’t really stressed in education or encouraged more broadly in pop culture. Plus I’m tired, I work. A thing that is stressed and encouraged is a sort of libertine notion of the marketplace of ideas. So when this geared up in 2014 I took my head out of the sand long enough to say, ‘huh seems like there’s some sort of dust up going on in gaming, I wonder what both sides have to say.’

What has been critical in shaping how I have come to perceive these issues now has been the foregrounding of the bad faith participation of certain actors in regards to these and other issues.

To that end, as a consumer, I think highlighting bad faith participation, and explaining what is detrimental about it, (Like the discussion that was held on the podcast) is valuable in reaching those who can be reached.


#3

Great discussion all around. Really appreciated Rob’s thought about awful impulses to see people punished when communities feel ignored. Loved Austin’s discussion about reframing situations away from antagonists to ‘who is being offered a chance at happiness in society and who is already being served’. Patrick’s rundown of kia’s history and how these tactics work and get passed on to larger movements also great.

I’m afraid I lack the imagination for a great answer to these massive problems. My only thought is that we should attempt to hasten the process by which all of the current big social media platforms go the way of myspace. Because surely their successors will somehow improve upon the failings that facilitate the worst of what we see.


#4

This does remind me a little of that video Douglas Lain put out on Zer0 Books’ YouTube channel (and the subsequent thread here I forgot to comment on). I always feel like I have to ask myself when I look at the state of video games: is there something inherent about video games that attracts such awful behavior? Or is it just the history behind them? Or is just coincidence?

I don’t think it’s an inherent quality by any means. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t seem like games and their “bedfellows” (comics, “geek” culture, etc) don’t often feel like hornet nests.


#5

I think it’s just where we focus.

*Slaps any GOP event* This bad boy can fit so much bigotry in it!

It’s not like we expect anything else from any other grouping of millions of people - some are going to be far-Right into overt fascism. Lots of hate groups will emerge, even some that claim to tie non-Rightist ideology to a weird willingness to work closely with the Right to implement policy (eg “feminist” orgs that work with evangelicals to push anti-abortion, anti-trans, anti-queer, anti-sex worker policies).

I think that’s what is inherent to groups of “gamers” - people. The relatively privileged people who understand just enough about how things work to weaponise their situation and use just enough cognitive dissonance to pretend that doesn’t make them the bad guys - they’re just “fighting the system” (system may be defined as people who experience far more marginalisation but on different axes to the ones the mob cares about).

When Singal and the rest of the “men of science” (or Linehan) whip up a hate mob to attack trans people, they cover themselves in the claim “but GG hate us” to pretend this isn’t more of the same. The claim that science is just being defended (y’know, just as phrenology and so on have been in the past) and so what if they cheer on (and sometimes even work with - passing on info or targets) Kiwi farms attempts to murder trans people? “Those [fascists] are also adversarial with GG so clearly they’re not the bad guys.” Scratch a transphobe and watch as their politics falls out, “anyone the police claim is a gang member with no evidence should not even be considered a human being”. Explicit dehumanisation.

Awful behaviour is extremely widely distributed. Whenever you get a big group that crosses the spectrum then it will include plenty of people who will form hate groups. Gaming is a huge hobby which has specifically been targeted for radicalisation by far-Right neo-Nazis in recent years. On top of the radicalisation by MRAs for, what, about 20 years of online MRA hate groups spending their “off” hours in online gaming communities? Longer if you tie it back to increasingly gendered advertising (especially that post-crash US advertising) around gaming.

I’m not sure there’s a lot to gain from trying to find something unique about gaming or comics for why this stuff flares up. Because doing so will make us less able to understand hate group formation; we’ll be shocked when anti-trans hate groups spring up in an online knitting circle or book club forum (or the underlying racism in a baking forum turns into more overt hatred). Mumsnet is one of the larger UK anti-trans hate groups and it’s… a forum initially set up for mums to share tips and chat about their young families. They’ll dox you in a second but unless you’re hooked into regional hate groups then you may not even have heard of them.


#6

I agree with everything you’ve said, but I do want to add one external factor that might make gaming and comics more susceptible to hate group formation and radicalization, and that’s price/access.

Mainly, the mainstream of games and comics is substantially more expensive to participate in consistently than other pop culture. Someone who reads four weekly comics (which isn’t really a ton) is going to be spending what, at least 40~50 USD a month on them? And games require both the expensive purchase of a console or computer and then continued expensive purchases of games themselves. So the base of younger people who are able to participate in these communities to the level at which they can be easily targeted and radicalized (that is to say, people who themselves or their parents can afford to invest a lot of disposable income in their pastimes), are going to be at the outset more economically privileged than those who are equally invested into say movies, or books, or knitting, or many other hobbies. So they’ll by and large be less familiar with the marginalization they’re being radicalized in favor of, and more susceptible to the kind of libertarian messaging that these movements hide behind. This is more of an aggregate claim, not so much one I’d want to apply at the level of individual groups (like you allude to), but I think it does point to a reason why this audience might be primed for these kinds of radicalization.


#8

Ye, I’d say that the counter is the broad gaming definition, in which so many people play games and can jump into discussions because: most everyone (especially if we somewhat restrict the global reach we’re looking at and skew towards working age) needs a phone for work and is online. So the tools for gaming and forming communities about games is just as broad as TV. Things like Marvel Unlimited are dollars a month for access to thousands of comics as long as you’re not discussing the last few months of issues and also run on phones (before we even look at webcomics as the zero cost entry to a broad selection of current comic creation). The price ceiling is high and the gatekeeping can happen around that but the floor isn’t actually far away from every other hobby. The demographic studies are mixed in terms of results but it’s easy to find at least some surveys that back up the idea that gaming as an affluent White male hobby is extremely outdated.

So from comparing the narrow “gamer” definition, we may be able to indicate where these radicalisation pockets find an easier time - communities that rejected mobile gaming as “not real gamers” (with the associated economic argument for skewing towards middle income households). Rather than being the actual mainstream, these are the niche pockets which have rejected the most popular gaming platforms and products played and paid for right now.

Edit: on a completely different tangent, I wanted to quickly note that the final story about Aliens: Colonial Marines has created some online discourse (fans laughing at how such a bug could even happen, developers laughing at fans for not expecting this sort of terrible engineering to just be a common result of the poor project management and high complexity of game development - everyone looking great). My PhD was in dependable systems and software engineering (specifically automated fault analysis via test suites) so it’s kinda where I do the academic thing of just crying when devs say that there are no easy answers that would eliminate this class of bugs. Here’s an interesting take from someone widely considered to be one of the top game dev programmers (and 7 years ago, when written, definitely was one of the most well know game engine leads):


#9

I just want to echo the sentiment that telling people that you enjoy their work and you hope they continue doing it has far more reaching impact then I think most people realize. I know personally I have gone back and fixed specific bugs or took the time to walk someone through step by step on how to solve their problem because they started it off with a comment about how they liked what I had made.

I get so many comments on things I’ve made where people are just asking me to make something for them, solve their problem because they couldn’t be bothered to use Google, or is just trying to get a reaction out of me with a rude comment that when someone comes along and actually takes the time to drop a nice comment it makes my day.


#10

I’m with Austin in that I’ve been angrily stewing about this since I heard about it and it’s been hard to process fully as a result. Other than never buying anything ArenaNet related is there anything else people who aren’t influencers could do to show that we think the firings were a disgusting act? I’ve been thinking about complaining to their customer services just so my voice is heard but if the CEO is complicit is there any point in that?


#11

I would make sure NCSOFT, their parent company, knows you are upset about this.


#12

I think a lot of what we have to do as gamers and fans is just stop being shitty fans. This latest round of ArenaNet bullshit started when fans couldn’t take no for an answer when a dev explained to them that what they wanted was impossible. But the way we build our fandoms now we become obsessed owners of things, and so easily that possessive desire turns utterly toxic. It doesn’t help that so much of modern marketing builds the very identities and subcultures that eventually turns against the product in mind. If LucasFilm hadn’t profited billions off of building a Star Wars identity, I don’t think they would have so much shit thrown at them for the Last Jedi.

Like we all just need to be fucking adults when it comes to things we like. I can speak from experience here where my issues with Final Fantasy turned utterly toxic. (And I’m probably still not cured.) It was so easy to see Final Fantasy XIII as a game built for other people, that didn’t recognize my love and my fandom. Then I lashed out in ways that frankly were a bit racist, homophobic, and even sexist. You start to demand that Square Enix make games for people like me, white males, who weren’t represented by this pretty boy stuff. And it just turns to shit. I’m stopped having fun, I stopped contributing much of value, and what good was any of it? I’ll be the first to apologize for being a shithead. Maybe more of us need to apologize too.

I don’t know how you rewrite the entire rules of nerdom, especially for this generation. My first experience with media criticism came from angry white male nerds being pissed at the Star Wars Prequels, you don’t get more possessive and toxic than that. When you build yourself up into a pressure cooker of grievance and anger, it’s probably a lot easier to fall into the traps of white supremacy and whatever the fuck else.

Maybe we all just need a more Buddhist approach to fandom, I don’t know. What you love will never last, enjoy it while you can, and when you’re not having fun anymore, let it go. You don’t own it, you can’t own it, and if you did own it, you’d hate it anyway.


#13

A big part of the problem when it comes to hate groups in general but especially online is that they’ve weaponized the typical mindset and response to issues like this very effectively. For a long time now, there has been a pervasive mentality that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” or some other equally cheerful platitude about the curative property of exposure. Once the awful sees that it isn’t welcome, it will scamper off defeated.

This is wrong on a couple of levels. There might have been a time in the past where this was at least somewhat effective because public shaming might have caused someone to shut their mouth and retreat. Their mind was not changed, but they were silent about it for fear of repercussion. It wasn’t really a solution as much as it was a temporary reprieve from hearing about it.

The other, more recent problem is that finding a group of like minded people to bolster you is now a trifle. Name some obscure hill to die on, and you will find a willing army to join. This has effectively neutered the original strategy in its entirety. People assume that having found a wealth of allies for their terrible cause makes it somehow less terrible. The pressure system in place to keep these viewpoints to oneself can’t compete with the endless reinforcement and feedback loop of a peer group telling you that no, you are the mistreated hero in this story.

Add on top of this the effective leveraging of internet and American idealism and things get worse. A lot of the early internet was built on the original beautiful lie of a connected world where things like gender and race did not matter. You could connect with anyone with ease and what did it matter who the person behind the faceless text was, you could accept them easily and without hesitation. This was a delusion dreamt up by the primarily well off white people who had internet access. It’s hard to imagine something easily being used as a tool of oppression when no one has put the boot down on your throat. For that exact same reason it was both so obvious yet so hard to predict that the white majority would pick up the tactics of actually persecuted minorities and run with it.

How do we make things better? Man, fuck if I know. Every practical solution has consequences and drawbacks, and to my cynical eyes everything else sounds like fantasy. Cracking down hard on online communities, strictly moderating them, enforcing rigid civility standards, these are all well and good for making a specific community a good place. At the same time, what that also does is relocate all of the poison elsewhere to mingle with itself in whatever cistern of anger is more than happy to have them.

Sorry, that wasn’t a particularly helpful or well thought out little rant, sometimes you just need to purge something.


#14

I’m just glad that there was a commitment to balance and centrism maintained by the inclusion of Patrick “I learned a lot from Gamer Gate” Kelpek


#15

I just want to echo Austin’s being bummed about Galak-Z on the Switch. I gave it a try but the F2P mechanics just destroy it for me. Maybe one day they’ll port the original. What a wasted opportunity.


#16

There is never going to be a 100% correct answer because as you said every solution has drawbacks and one drawback of having an open internet (which is something we should have despite the awful misuse of it by certain individuals and groups) is that you can’t completely remove the toxic people.

However, from my point of view the main issue is that as more people came into using the internet less power was shifted from the individual and groups and into corporations that run popular sites. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc they don’t have their users interests at heart like community run forums, dedicated game servers, and IRC chat rooms did. All they care about is the ad revenue. When enough users get vocal that they think it’s going to hurt their bottom line they make a half-hearted attempt to “fix the problem” and nothing really changes.

If we want to see real change we as a society need to make a better attempt at moving off of company controlled social media sites and on to ones where users have control and the people running them do so because they want to see their communities grow and provide a safe place for them.

Take Mastodon as an example. It’s a decentralized Twitter competitor that does a lot of stuff in a smart (and sometimes confusing) way. At some point, I want to create a thread here about it once I have my thoughts on it more organized because I really do think moving towards things like it are a much healthier thing for everyone involved who is sick and tired of Twitter refusing to protect its users.

Then you have forums using Discourse, such as this one, which do the really smart thing of having a trust system. As an example, if you reach trust level 3 and flag a trust level 0 accounts post it’s immediately hidden and if enough level 3’s do that on multiple posts the user is auto silenced and all of their posts get hidden. That is an incredibly empowering feature because it means as long as you have some TL3’s online it makes it very hard for someone to do a forum raid effectively.

I don’t know how else to phrase this but I honestly feel like those of us in tech have a responsibility to try and make the internet a better place by introducing and improving similar solutions. A founding idea of the internet was “Mistrust authority promote decentralization” and we have steered so far away from that in the last 10 years.


#17

Honestly I think a lot of this is on the gaming companies themselves. The news of Ubisoft insta-banning people who use slurs in R6: Siege seems like a step in the right direction, and frankly should be the baseline for any online game/service. IMO a big part of why hate groups coalesce around games is because these companies let them get away with tons of stuff that would never fly in any (offline) public space.

On top of that, I’d like to see devs/publishers do the opposite of ArenaNet and stop enabling the gamer entitlement complex. I doubt we’ll ever completely stop hate campaigns from forming, but it shouldn’t be hard to stop centering these asshats as if they’re the core of the entire gaming audience. Like Jeff Gerstmann said on the Bombcast, it makes ArenaNet look desperate if they’re willing to hold on to any player, no matter how toxic.


#18

I think another big factor in this, is the mentality that comes from Silicon Valley. Specifically this idea that tech is the solution for everything. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. etc. These tech bros convinced themselves, that they are able to solve everything through technology. So they use algorithms and automation, because that’s what brought them their success. Note how this also absolves themselves of any responsibility in their minds.

It’s this unwillingness to work with people who have insights in other fields, because for that they would have to acknowledge their own flaws.


#19

i sent them a letter. not sure if anyone of consequence will read it, but it felt good anyway…


#20

Burn it all down.


#21

The problem is that most of the game industry skews center-right. There is a big kick lately for diversity and the like, but it’s still a straight-white-male haven, with diversity mostly just being s talking point instead of any sort of actual movement.
They just don’t see the issues and if they do they don’t understand it. There is a lot of ignorance around social issues and very little willingness to open their heart and mind to other possibilities.
The thing you gotta realize is that so many people who work in the game industry started as gamers, so they came from the same sort of toxic pool.

Even with the Arenanet thing, I’m just shocked how many of my fellow gamedev workers are saying it was justified. It’s really depressing.