My Response to CBC’s Coverage of the U.N. “Cyber Violence” Report

This morning, popular CBC Radio 1 news program The Current weighed in on the recent controversial U.N. “Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls” report. This was not a surprise to me. Unfortunately, as with most stories that involve feminist issues, The Current and its host are not known for providing what I would consider balanced coverage and tend to wear their bias on their sleeves, though they claim to be impartial. This episode was no exception.

They had multiple guests on, spouting the usual talking points on how unsafe the Internet is for women, largely because of the actions of men, hyping up the importance of this report, ignoring its many flaws and glossing over the lacking credibility of the people presenting at the conference such as Zoë Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. In a laughable attempt to be even in their coverage, they concluded by talking to Ken White from Popehat. He’s been very critical of the report from a free speech perspective and was allowed to state his opinion but host Anna Maria Tremonti kept trying to lead him into agreement with the more extreme positions of the prior guests, either cutting him off or ignoring his answers when he wouldn’t do so. Thankfully, White is far too smart for that. It was clear she had no intention of being fair or even handed with him and had an agenda going in. Listen to the segment if you don’t believe me, it’s obvious. For a show and a personality that considers themselves journalistic, this certainly didn’t seem it to me.

Lots of other people have weighed in with opinions on this U.N. report and many of them did a better job than I ever could so I was going to leave it at that. However, seeing a popular news program on a public broadcaster present it in such a biased way as to rival cable news compels me to respond, both as someone concerned about the report and as a continued defender of the CBC.

Is there a huge and growing problem with harassment online? Absolutely. Are the social networks not doing enough about it? Absolutely. Does it negatively affect women? Absolutely. Does it affect only women and girls? No, it affects everybody! Online harassment is a global problem that affects everyone of every gender, race and creed. To only focus on one element of it attacks a huge problem at only one narrow focal point. Harassment is universally bad and it shouldn’t be some popularity contest where it’s worse for one person because of their gender. I’ve received online death threats before. I also had my house called when I was a teenager and was told someone was coming to kill me and my family and the cops blew it off. Those events were terrifying and made me an emotional wreck for weeks. Do they matter less because I wasn’t a woman? According to some, they did, including The Current apparently. No one should get harassed, it doesn’t matter who you are and focusing only on one element is an exclusionary tactic by a movement that claims to be all about inclusion.

One of the main points Ken White tried to make that Tremonti blew off was the laughable quality of both the report itself and especially it’s citations. It’s so bad, it’s something that wouldn’t pass muster in high school, yet this was being presented at the United Nations and preached as gospel by the media, many of whom didn’t even read it before posting stories to generate clicks through controversy. The Current had multiple days to realise these problems, yet they either didn’t or ignored them in favour of their agenda and when Ken White tried to point this out, it was dismissed as “Well there’s still a problem here.” Yes, among them is that this report cites things that either don’t exist, aren’t available for review or in some cases, are outright lies written by crazy people. It’s unfortunate that such things are inconvenient to the narrative you are trying to push but they nonetheless exist and deserve proper discussion. That’s the whole point of journalism.

Even ignoring all that, I find the most offensive element of the report to be this whole concept of “cyber violence”, a term that’s been fabricated in order to create a media boogeyman. Let me be blunt: There is no such thing as cyber violence. As someone who was bullied throughout elementary school and was jumped and badly assaulted as a teenager, I know what violence is. Violence is getting physically harmed, not having mean things said to you. I spent most of my childhood living with an emotionally abusive parent and I also know the pain of what being insulted to your face entails. It’s a lot different than text insults over Twitter. To equate that to physical violence is insulting to those who have been victims of the latter. Being berated online and even receiving death threats are no laughing matter to be sure but neither compares to being physically attacked and let’s be clear, neither Quinn nor Sarkeesian have ever received one ounce of physical violence for all the threats they’ve gotten. That’s why this “cyber violence” term had to be invented, because these people never actually experienced any real violence.

Quinn and Sarkeesian have been victims of true, horrific harassment–though often overstated and cherry-picked–and while I’m on record as not being a fan of either person or their work, I will never say they deserved any of it. No one deserves harassment, period. That said, these are people who are calling for a new standard of legal online censorship to be implemented because of people saying such things to them as “you suck” and “you’re a liar.” Those are literally things Sarkeesian cited as examples of “cyber violence.” These are people that believe criticism of their work is equivalent to receiving death and rape threats. That’s both wrong and frankly, narcissistic. When you put stuff out for public consumption, you are opening yourself up to feedback of all kinds and the more popular your work gets, the more extreme some of the responses will be. Ask any popular YouTube personality–male or female–about this. That doesn’t make the extreme responses acceptable but it’s not something that’s going to change. You either need to accept and manage it or stop releasing controversial content. You are not entitled to universal praise of your work. It doesn’t matter how right you think you are, others are allowed to think you aren’t and say so. If you can’t handle that, don’t post antagonising things out in public.

The fact is, these are people who have plenty of factual holes to poke in their credibility as individuals, as creators of frequently cited works and self-appointed representatives of women. They continue to claim to be living in fear while they purposefully antagonise their opposition and use their followers as weapons against those who disagree with them. Quinn is a self-admitted former Internet troll herself and was instrumental in driving harassment towards another feminist gaming organisation, one that in spite of that, has managed to release more gaming related content than she has in the last year. This is to say nothing of her documented emotional abuse of a former partner, the kind of abuse I saw drive a friend to a suicide attempt in my youth.

They are both profiting heavily from their status as victims while consistently failing to deliver products they promised their patrons in a timely manner or at all in some cases. They have not deserved any of the harassment they have gotten but they are also not paragons of virtue who who be doing only good for the world if it wasn’t for those damn Internet trolls. None of the demonstrable facts about these people are hard to find, yet the media consistently ignores them because it’s easier to put them on pedestals as only victims to push a narrative that from my observation, is one that less exists and more that people like Tremonti just wish existed.

In attempting to support the notion that the very concepts of the Internet should be fundamentally altered in order to protect the feelings of a few over the freedom of everyone, The Current completely glossed over the glaring faults in the U.N. report, the people backing it and blew off legitimate criticisms and concerns because it was inconvenient to their agenda. They also ignored the large number of women and minorities who don’t follow in lock step with the narrative of oppression that the likes of Quinn and Sarkeesian try to push and think that the proposed solutions are overreaching. Again, both sides deserve to be heard but as is so often the case, the plight of certain genders or group only seem to be considered relevant in specific, defined, convenient contexts.

Online harassment is a big problem for everyone and one that’s unfortunately going to continue to be. Removing anonymity from the Internet or making web sites liable for the things their users post is like dropping a nuclear bomb on one country, thinking that will eliminate ISIS. It will do nothing to stop the bad actors, it will only make things worse for the vast majority of good ones. You can’t make core elements of human behaviour and psyche to change by forcefully altering methods of communication. As prohibition and the war on drugs have clearly shown, trying to force people to not do something always has the opposite effect. A cultural shift is needed and I believe it’s starting but they take time and trying to force them to happen faster only inhibits progress. The fact is, culture and human nature don’t care about your feelings or your perception of the world and it takes an epic level of narcissism to think that you have a right to speak on behalf of everyone for how they should change and at what pace.

What The Current presented this morning is not what journalism is supposed to be and a supposedly seasoned journalist like Anna Maria Tremonti should know better than this. I have gone out of my way to defend the CBC and the importance of public broadcasting from governments that are trying wear it away. However, it gets harder and harder to do when I see cable-news like distortion of issues like this or when a prominent director at the network cowardly refuses to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and admonishes others for doing it. If you’re going to talk about an issue, do it fairly. If you can’t keep your own biases and agenda to the side, then at least stop presenting yourselves as able to.

The CBC is supposed to be better than this and the taxpayers who fund it deserve better than this.

Posted in Coverage, Culture, Culture, Culture, Humanity, Internet, News, Politics, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being A Good IT Person (v2)

I wrote the original version of this post over a year ago but decided to update it with some other things I’ve thought of since.

I’ve been working in IT for many years now. That time and the many positions I’ve held in it has given me a lot of time to think about the best ways to approach my job and it’s also given me a lot of opportunities to see how peers approach it. IT is far from the hardest career path in the world but it’s no walk in the park and it’s harder and more important than many think it is.

It still amazes me that even though the IT field has existed on a large scale for quite a while now, so many people still get some of the most basic elements of it so very wrong. Stuff that really shouldn’t be hard to understand seems to evade so many in this field. I thought it would be a good exercise to put down some knowledge I’ve taken from my now extensive experience that I think is critical for people to know who want to excel in IT and be both well regarded and satisfied. Many who do this job are often bitter and miserable and while we sometimes have cause to be, I don’t think it has to be that way and I think that a lot of it comes down to the individuals themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing IT people in the world, many of whom are better at this than I am and I’m not saying that the advice I put forth here should taken as bible truth by everyone. I do however, think there are fundamentals here that can be universally applied by all members of this field and they’re not adhered to often enough. These won’t solve all your problems as someone in IT but I think if you derive your own personal creed from some of these basics, you may find yourself satisfied and dare I say, enjoying a career that many consider brutal and unfulfilling. IT can absolutely be a cool and enjoyable career but like many others, it’s often what you make it and that takes effort.

So what has almost 15 years in the IT trenches taught me?

1. You Are In the Customer Service Industry
IT is not a standalone career path and like most others, it has roots in something else. Make no mistake, whether you’re a help desk rep or a person maintaining infrastructure, you work in customer service. You may not be working a telco’s call centre or the returns counter in retail but your goal is first and foremost to serve your users (i.e. your customers) by providing them as reliable, easy and friendly a technology work environment as you can. Without your users, you have no purpose. Customer service is a wide reaching term and many incorrectly associate it with low-grade, mundane jobs. That’s just not the case.

You may be the one guy in charge of IT for an entire company or you may be a person within a larger team with a narrow scope of responsibility that never involves interacting with a user. It doesn’t matter, your goals and scope are always customer service. You may be different than the guy working the returns counter but at a core level, you both work in the same field. This should be the driving factor behind everything you do. IT people who either don’t believe this or don’t adhere to it are often the ones regarded as having a bad attitude. If your #1 goal of coming into work is not to provide the best customer service you can, you’re just doing it wrong and you make the rest of us look bad.

2. Your Users Are Not the Enemy
This is really a more general career rule but I see a lot of IT people not following it. Do you get annoyed when you go somewhere to get service and it seems like the person is having a bad day and taking it out on you? You’re there to conduct a transaction and the person treats you like you’re a burden and making their day worse. Sucks, right?

That’s exactly how you come across when you act dickish to one of your users. No matter what has happened in your day, you should never take it out on your users unless they give you a reason to. The user likely isn’t the reason the server crashed or you were denied an important budget item and they almost certainly aren’t the reason you had a fight with your spouse. Treating users like enemies rather than allies is the biggest single reason many IT departments and user bases don’t get along and often see each other as headaches and enemies. You both work for the same company and even though you have different jobs, you’re supposed to be unified in your goal of making the company succeed so that you also succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, some users are dicks and I’m a firm believer in getting what you give. Forcing a smile when someone’s being unreasonable is a good way to encourage that treatment to continue. Be firm and assertive when you need to be but only then and don’t assume someone is a dick until they show themselves to be one. You’d be surprised how many people who come across as mean when you first encounter them are just having a bad day and how much a smile and a “How can I help?” will flip their attitude right around.

Without your users, you don’t have a job and without you, they can’t do their’s properly. It’s a symbiotic relationship, not an adversarial or parasitic one. Treat your users as enemies and they’ll do the same. Hostility begets hostility. Don’t let them walk over you but don’t give them reasons to hate you.

3. There Are No Stupid Questions
You’re super good at this stuff. You should be if you’re doing it for a living. Thing is, your users likely aren’t and many IT people often forget that. If they were as good with technology as you are, they wouldn’t have a need for you now would they? So don’t be a smarmy prat when someone asks a question that seems elementary to you.

I know computers and tech like the back of my hand. Thing is, I don’t know anything about fixing cars but I would be pretty annoyed if a mechanic acted like I should already know why my check engine light is on. So why should I roll my eyes and act like I’m talking to a 5 year old when someone asks me why their bookmarks bar in their browser is missing because they accidentally clicked the wrong thing?

You may be an expert in your field but chances are, you’re an ignoramus of 95% of other fields. Don’t treat people who didn’t choose to go into IT as though they’re stupid or intellectually below you. While you certainly need a good head on your shoulders to do this stuff, let’s not kid ourselves, we aren’t rocket scientists or brain surgeons. We’re important to those people and certainly not lesser than them but let’s not pretend we’re on the same plane of knowledge.

4. Speak Bloody English
The number of IT people I’ve met who talk to their users with the same technical language they speak to each other with and then wonder why their users’ eyes gloss is staggering. Again, if the users understood everything you did, they wouldn’t have a need for you. When explaining a problem or a solution you’re implementing, you need to recognise that you’re not talking to a technical expert.

I didn’t have a hard time learning how to do this but from what I’ve gathered, it’s actually a difficult skill for many, almost akin to learning how to translate between two languages. That may be but knowing how to break tech jargon down into plain language is one of the most valuable skills you can have in IT. It’s something to work on and always be striving to improve. Personally, I’ve found that using a lot of analogies and comparisons to more common things in the real world makes something a lot easier. For example, I’ve often used the analogy of a scratched CD and how that causes skipping to explain bad sectors on a hard drive. I know, I should probably update the analogy to use something more modern than CDs but you get the idea.

Learning this skill is invaluable to defusing tense situations and also to just make your users feel that you’re trying to help them understand their problem. People hate being ignorant of why things aren’t working and even a little bit of knowledge can make them feel a lot better. You don’t need to explain the nitty gritty of everything but even a top level explanation can make a situation much easier for everyone. Get good at doing this.

5. Fight For Your Interests
Far too many companies in the world see IT as a burden and a black box. Executives often don’t understand what we do and that makes them suspicious of us. Our departments only cost money, they don’t make it–at least not directly–and the executives see only money going in and because of their ignorance of our work, we’re often first on the chopping block. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in my career it IT managers and departments that don’t put up enough of a fight to get what they want and need.

IT is important. It’s hyper critical in fact. A company can survive without almost any other department for at least a short time but no IT people means that if something breaks, they’re effectively crippled. We may not directly generate profits but make no mistake, a successful company without IT is no longer successful and we are instrumental in ensuring efficiency. It doesn’t matter if times are tough where you work, you need to be good at explaining why IT needs what it asks for and you need to be willing to take the gloves off, get in the trenches and fight for those resources with everyone else. What you do is important and you need to act like it.

Corporate executives may not be IT gurus but you can explain what you need and why it’s beneficial to the company in a way they’ll understand. Learn how to talk business to them instead of tech. It not only makes it easier to communicate your needs, it shows them you’re willing to put in the effort to explain things in a way they’ll understand. You don’t need an MBA to make a business case.

If you’re denied stuff you need now, it will only make things much worse later on and you have to be willing to speak up and make that known. Cowering back and letting some clueless executive tell you what can wait is a failure on your part. It’s not easy taking a stand, even less so in companies dominated by type-A salespeople but ultimately, it’s what you have to do to provide the best customer service which as stated above, is the industry you’re in.

5. You Gotta’ Love It
I’ve worked with a lot of people in my time who got into IT when it was the hot, upcoming career path because they saw it as an easy way to make good money. They took a bunch of training, got the paper certifications they needed, punch in, punch out and make their money. That’s a lousy way go about any career.

If you don’t enjoy what you do, how can you do it well over the long term? If this is just a paycheque and not something that interests you, gets you fired up and that you don’t ever think about when you’re outside the office, how are you ever going to do the best job you can? You have to be engaged with what you’re doing. If you’re just going through the motions, you’re not giving the work the attention it deserves.

Don’t get me wrong, I get that sometimes you just need a job and the argument that “You should do what you love and if you don’t love it, you should do something else.” is a simplistic, reductive and frankly insulting way to look at the job market. We’ve never lived in a world where everyone can do what they ideally want and make a living at the same time. There are things I would probably love doing more than IT but in reality, they’re not likely to happen or at least, not to bring me the stability I need. That doesn’t mean I don’t love what I do though because I absolutely do.

I love technology and I love discovering how to best use it to improve the lives of others. If you’re working in IT and can’t wait to get home every day so you can focus on anything else, you should probably find and pursue something that interests you more because just going through the motions ultimately serves no one well. You may need a job but if you hate it that much, spend some time getting good at what you actually do love and maybe that can become your job and make you that much happier.

6. Always Be Learning
This is something I’ve sadly neglected way too much in my career because I got comfortable, lazy and frankly, arrogant at how much the experience I had actually meant. Like almost any other field, there are always new things to be learning about it and you will never be in a state where there’s nothing left to be enlightened with. Really, this should be obvious in the field of technology where things are always advancing at light speed. Yet many people–myself included–think they know all they need to and just sit still.

Even if it doesn’t look like your job needs more knowledge than you have, keep acquiring it anyway. Read articles, do online courses, run experiments, request training opportunities. Do as much learning as you can whenever you can. It may help make your current job better or it could open new and exciting doors for you going forward. Becoming complacent in the technology field is the worst thing you can do and stagnation is ultimately a death sentence for your long term advancement.

I learned this the hard way and now I’m struggling to regain lost ground. Don’t ever let this happen to you.

7, Be Inventive
One of the greatest things about modern technology is how it can be bent and shaped to serve our needs in ways we or perhaps, even its creators never thought of. Some things are more rigid than others but you’d be surprised how if you just colour outside the lines a bit, you can pull off some downright miraculous stuff that can save time, money or just make something more useful to you and your users.

Never be afraid to experiment or to push the envelope of something you have at your disposal. Just because the manual doesn’t talk about doing a thing doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, it just means the people who wrote the manual didn’t think of it. The IT people who advance farthest are often the ones who innovate and break things in beneficial ways, coming up with means to solve problems that deviate from the norm. It shows a depth of problem solving and critical thinking skills on your part and the one thing I’ve learned is that the more you hone that skill, the more unforeseen opportunities will just appear in front of you because you know to look for what isn’t readily apparent.

8. Never Be Stubbornly Loyal
Brands have ups and downs in the quality of their products. Vendors have ups and downs in service and pricing. What was great last year could suck this year. I’ve seen so many IT departments that refuse to change who they use in spite of this because they’re comfortable with the familiar and they’re worried about the repercussions that could come from change.

I’ve worked in places where a brand of laptop has gone to crap but they keep buying them anyway because they can’t be bothered to research something else or are scared it’ll be worse. The same thing has happened with software, particularly security tools. I’ve had to fight to change a supplier whose service has gone downhill because some executive is friendly with our sales rep and doesn’t want to offend them. Companies often rely and prey on this response and you can’t give into it.

This is business and you’re supposed to demand the best you can get for the least amount of money possible. If a brand or supplier is no longer providing that, it’s time to move on. If you give in to feelings of guilt and harm your organisation in the process, you’re thinking is backwards. If something isn’t living up to expectations, drop it and find something that will. Sticking with companies that do a lousy job is why they don’t change. Your business is a privilege and the core concept of competition is that everyone’s supposed to fight for that. If they know they can profit off the path of least resistance, they will. Don’t let them.

So there we have it, some of my tips that I’ve gleaned from my years in IT about how to be better at it. Really, a lot of those rules can be applied to any number of different careers but they have all served me well in my time and I think if more IT people followed them, this is one that would be better thought of. I’m sure there are many more things out there too and if you work in IT and have your own rules and creed, I’d love to hear about them!

IT can be a great and rewarding career but it’s too often thought of as something you do for a few years until you can advance out of it or until you figure out what you really want to do with your life. It doesn’t have to be this way and it’s something you can do for a long time and love doing on top of that if you just look at it a certain way and spread that enthusiasm to those you surround yourself with and serve. Sure, I’ve thought about changing direction before and I may still some day but right now, I’m still looking for an IT job to replace the one I lost. Not just because I’m damn good at it but because I want to keep doing this. This can be something you love doing, just look inwards and find what calls you to it. If nothing does, that’s OK too but you should think about what can make you happier in that case.

We can be heroes but it’s ultimately down to us. Make yourself a hero!

Posted in Business, Personal, Technology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Until Dawn

Heavy Rain meets Telltale meets Cabin In the Woods

NOTE: This review is free of spoilers.

I am not a fan of horror games. Like, at all. Really, I’m not a fan of anything horror related. I’ve just never seen the fun in being scared. Yet when I started to see coverage of PS4 exclusive Until Dawn, I became inexplicably intrigued. It looked less like something made to terrorise you constantly and more like something you’d have seen if the mechanics of a recent Quantic Dream game met a shlocky B-grade horror film. That’s pretty much what it is and I think that’s cool but to enjoy it, you’ll have to enjoy the mechanics of the former and either enjoy or at least tolerate the latter.

Until Dawn apparently started life as a first-person Move controller exclusive for the PS3 but eventually got reworked as a third-person PS4 game with more traditional controls. Developer Supermassive Games had also made nothing remotely like this before so it’s an ambitious effort. It has actual screenwriters involved, features a fully performance captured cast of several well known young actors and runs on the Killzone: Shadow Fall engine so it’s definitely a big AAA title.

The comparisons to something like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls are very apt as there’s a lot of quick time events, tank controls the rest of the time and many choices that claim to have significant impact on how the story progresses. I like David Cage’s stuff but to say his games feel auteur-ish is being polite. Until Dawn has no such pretensions. It’s dumb horror and it knows and owns it.

The basics are that a bunch of teenagers–who vary wildly in personality to the point where I’m not sure why they’d be friends–go to a fancy chalet in the woods owned by one of their rich parents for a weekend of drinkin’ and bonin’, the kind of thing I never got invited to in high school. Not that I’m bitter or anything. A bad thing happened the first time they did this but they’re back again to try to rekindle their friendships and move on. A whole bunch of new bad stuff happens, you’re not really sure why and when you finally get an idea, a big twist happens in the middle that upends things before they go downright crazy in the second half. It’s not remotely realistic but these kind of horror stories never are. You’ll shift between all the different characters in the story through many different environments and have to accomplish different things, sometimes alone, sometimes with a computer controlled partner. It’s possible for every character to die and you’re supposed to try to save as many as possible. I managed to save half of them and while it’s possible to save everyone, it’s apparently very hard to do.

The story is pretty good if you’re into this kind of thing. If you aren’t, you’ll probably hate it. The characters constantly make the worst decisions possible, the early game especially is full of teenage drama that makes you want to smack them, some of them are frankly assholes and even though straight-A students are among the group, they all act like total idiots a lot of the time. Again, this is normal for this kind of horror but it’s not for everyone. If you like movies such as Cabin In the Woods, you’ll probably dig this. That said, while movies like that are called horror, I don’t really think they are. There’s plenty of strong language, gore and tension but I never found it particularly scary. Jump scares abound but they remind me of Dead Space in that they’re very telegraphed and you’ll know when many will occur before they do. This fits well with my taste in horror but if you’re into real terror, you probably won’t get it in Until Dawn.

Unfortunately, there are also more than a few plot holes that feel like the result of content that had to be cut. There are two sub plots involving reindeer and a wolf that get built up and then just trail off. There’s a helpful character you meet in the second half and while he knows a bunch of plot related history, you’re never told why he’s actually there. In the first half, there are interludes involving a therapist that are some of the most unnerving in the game but again, they just stop at one point without explanation. It’s very odd that so much effort was clearly put into these elements just to have them end so abruptly.

The game play is another aspect you’re either going to enjoy or despise, just like David Cage games. Some people call these types of titles modern adventure games but I think modern interactive movies is more fitting. When you have full control of your character, you walk around with tank controls, examining your environment to find where you need to go and searching for various collectibles along the way, all of which can provide clues that nicely fill out the pretty messed up back story. There are trophies attached to the collectibles but it’s nice that they gave them all a purpose besides padding. I got most of them on my first run and if you’re thorough, most aren’t hard to find. The majority of the action sequences are various forms of quick time events and when a cut scene is running, you have to keep your hands at the ready as a prompt could appear at any moment. You don’t have to hit them all but miss too many and it could be the end of your character or even another one you aren’t controlling. You’ll also have the option of choosing between different dialogue options and attitudes during conversations. Each character has a large set of stats and relationships with other characters that will fluctuate depending on your choices. Some of the things your characters can do at key moments will be determined by these and if they’re extreme enough, you may not even get a choice.

Each character has many stats.

It’s clear that Until Dawn was designed to be played through multiple times to see all the different permutations but just like Heavy Rain, the identity of the main villain is always the same. It would have been awesome to see this change depending on how you played, essentially allowing you to create your own story. It doesn’t and at least for me, playing a story driven game again when I know how it’s ultimately going to end anyway just isn’t that interesting. I’d rather just look up the other endings on YouTube. I also discovered that while many of the choices do have noticeable impact later on, Until Dawn has the same problem Telltale games do where some choices that seem to be important actually have no impact on the outcome, they just make you think they do. Not every choice has to be massive but it always feels a bit deceptive to me to make the player think they’re doing something important when really, it doesn’t matter at all.

Technically speaking, Until Dawn is mixed. The environments are gorgeous and most of the characters and animations are incredible to the point of uncanniness, though some animations were clearly rigged manually. The score is fittingly tense and the overall sound design is top notch. It also uses the DualShock 4’s speaker in some interesting ways. Load times are virtually non-existent but it’s not at all well optimised. The frame rate is locked at 30 and during some sequences, it can dip into single digits. I know it started development on another console but for a PS4 exclusive, it should really run better than this. There’s no online play whatsoever, though you can enable an option that will compare your in-game choices against a global database, like many Telltale games do. It’s off by default and I left it off but if I do another run, I’ll definitely use it.

Until Dawn is a game where you’ve got to be into both its subject matter and the way it plays. If you aren’t into one or both, you won’t enjoy it. It’s very much about the characters, story and atmosphere but still has more game play and meaningful choices than games like Gone Home or the recent Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. A AAA title that is aimed at specific audiences this way is very rare these days and I really appreciate that some developers like Supermassive and Quantic Dream are still trying to make them. It’s got some flaws but it’s a solid effort from a team that’s never done anything like it before. I enjoyed my 10 or so hours with it and if you’re into what it offers, I think you will too. I hope Supermassive gets another chance to make something like this from scratch as they’re clearly onto something. They just need to work on the polish and making sure all the loose ends are tied up. Good effort guys, keep trying. If you’re not sure this is the kind of experience you want though, you may not be into this for full price.

Posted in Coverage, Reviews, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Geek BravAudio

Since I clearly wasn’t producing enough content already, I decided why not do even more? I think I may have a problem.

I recently acquired a free SoundCloud Pro Unlimited account through my YouTube network. I’ve been mulling over what to do with it and have decided to start off by adding a new feature to my Geek Bravado blog entries: Audio readings! You’ll now be able to listen to me read all of my future blog entries as well as my most current one, and select past entries I may choose to record. People are busy and I’m not exactly known for my short form posts. I freely admit that I prefer to listen to longer pieces when I can and I figured this is a great way to add more options for my readers and also to get more vocal practice. I recently retuned my recording setup so it should sound nice and radio-like, as much as my voice can.

My aim is to post the audio versions at the same time as the written ones but depending on time and circumstances, that may not always be possible. I intend to give every entry an audio version, they may just occasionally come a bit later.

The audio versions will always be embedded at the top of the posts but you can also follow my SoundCloud channel through their web site or their Android and iOS mobile apps. If you prefer to use your own podcast app, you can also subscribe to an RSS feed and get new content that way.

For now, this is just going to be for audio readings of Geek Bravado posts but I’ve been pondering some other audio content I could put on SoundCloud. As always, I’ll announce when and if that happens. I’m always looking for feedback so please let me know what you think of the audio posts by leaving comments either here or on SoundCloud. Right now, it’s just me reading with nothing in the background. I prefer to listen to stuff that way but I can add music or other things if more people want that.

Thanks for your continued support and as always, if you like what you see and hear on this blog, SoundCloud or YouTube, please tell someone you think might enjoy it as well. Enjoy!

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Year Into Gaming’s Biggest Nightmare

The Last Year

Last October, I posted an angry and generally not well-written rant on GamerGate and said it would be the last time I talked about it. So much for that. I am honestly astounded that this controversy is still going strong with no end in sight. A year in Internet terms equates to the heat death of the universe several times over. On the more or less anniversary of this sordid mess and as the movement starts to shift from a self-described focus on journalistic ethics and more into some kind of “gamer’s watchdog”, I wanted to comment on what the last year has yielded and where things might go from here.

I’ve been mulling this post for weeks. There’s so much that’s happened in the last year and I’m done caring what extremists I piss off by stating what I think but I needed to make sure I covered all bases. Then I re-read what I wrote last year and realised that by and large, most of what I said there still applies. If you haven’t seen that, you probably should before continuing on. Not that I still don’t have a lot to say here or that it won’t overlap somewhat. People who read this blog should know that brevity is not really among my skills.

Much as I tried to ignore the movement after my last post, its influence continued to shove itself in my face. I saw the press continue to insult their audience day after day, upping their level of arrogance and vitriol to the point of absurdity to get more clicks through controversy. I saw a lot of people I once called friends descending into bitter wars of childishness, ad hominem and shaming. I unfollowed or muted over 50 people on Twitter and to this day, I still ponder whether using that mismanged disaster of a service is worth it at all. I walked away from Gamers With Jobs, a community I practically considered part of my DNA for nearly a decade because a group of zealots were exerting control over every conversation, insulting and dogpiling those who disagreed with their particular world view even a little bit, while those in charge did nothing about it. I eventually realised it wasn’t the place I loved any more and I was being made more sad than happy by being there. I don’t regret leaving but it still pains me to think about. The GamerGate controversy’s role in all of this can’t be understated and that still makes me bitter. This whole situation has become an epic culture war. It seems everyone wants it to end but no one’s willing to do anything or concede a micron to make it happen, especially those who are profiting from it. It’s truly been one of the gaming industry’s biggest nightmares and no one side is free of blame.

The Movement

The one thing from that old post I no longer agree with is the need to abandon the GamerGate moniker. That’s not because I don’t think it’s a stupid name that many associate with the B-grade celebrity and generally despicable person who created it. It’s because changing it won’t matter. Those who oppose the movement would simply wait until the first troll comment appeared under the new name, point at it and go “See, it’s just more GamerGate!” The opposition are determined to paint the whole of it as one specific thing and they’ll do that regardless of what it calls itself.

I don’t and have never identified as part of GamerGate. I do however, share many of their concerns regarding press corruption and many who would call themselves journalists and creative professionals acting like anything but. The difference is that I’ve seen this happening for years now. I’ve been concerned about lack of ethics in the gaming press–indeed, the press at large–for way longer than most in GamerGate have ever thought about it. I’m old school when it comes to distrusting the press and with good reason. It wasn’t hard to see either.

So why don’t I consider myself one of the growing GamerGate legion? Firstly, I think for myself and don’t need to join a group for validation, especially one that proudly proclaims its leaderless status while also encouraging group think. Secondly, the group still holds too many bad people up on pedestals and they largely do so blindly. RogueStar and Internet Aristocrat were considered heroes by the movement at the beginning, despite being obviously scummy people who were running their own agendas. It was plain as day but it took months for most of the movement realise it and shun them, their stain already having soaked in. They rallied behind that moronic The Sarkeesian Effect “documentary”, something anyone with half a brain could have seen as the train wreck it was from minute one. Again, it took them far too long to wake up and stop supporting it. The movement still worships people like Milo Yiannopoulos, an ultra right-wing tabloid personality who is no more a journalist than your average writer from Gawker. He despised video games and gamers right up until it could benefit him and boy, has it. He’s an opportunistic leech, yet GamerGate still clings to him. I don’t want any association with those kinds of people. Lastly, like it or not, there’s a lot of hate and harassment that’s taken place in the movement’s name. It’s infested by chan culture and personally, I think chan culture is a blight. Many from the movement are quick to condemn this but far too many don’t and many more just scream “You can’t prove it was us!” at every accusation, while not applying the same benefit of the doubt to the other side. That’s a problem for me. I don’t care what side you’re on, engaging in harassment makes you an extremist and you should be excised from any civil discourse if you do.

Let me be clear about this however: GamerGate is not a hate group. I’ve been observing all sides of it for a year, I feel I’m more qualified than many to say that. I’ve seen far more organised hate, harassment and disinformation coming from opposition hubs like the GamerGhazi subreddit than I ever have from “official” GamerGate places. I do think the movement keeps too close ties to some whose views that could be considered hateful but hatred is not why the movement began and at its core, is not what it’s about. You’re simply ignoring reality–or more likely trusting untrustworthy sources–if you think otherwise. It was created to fight journalistic corruption–albeit with an unfortunate catalyst–yet everyone writing about it and communicating with the mainstream media are the same people the movement was fighting against. You seriously expect fair and balanced coverage on journalistic ethics from people accused–and often proven–of ethical breaches? Frankly, the response from the gaming press in the last year has all but confirmed what I’d already suspected for a long time. I am much more disappointed in how many people swallowed their cherry-picked bullshit hook, line and sinker without even bothering to verify it first. There are still some that insist the “Gamers Are Dead” articles were actually some kind of celebration of gaming culture. Those people clearly either never read the articles or if they did, they need glasses. I’m glad to see that in the last little while, more and more people from the games industry are actually seeing the truth, not the propaganda being fed to them by much of the press.

Now that I just spent several paragraphs talking about why I don’t consider myself a GamerGater, this will probably shock you: I read the KotakuInAction subreddit, considered by many to be GamerGate’s main staging ground. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I skim it. Why would I possibly do that you ask? Truth be told, I don’t care for it. However, it’s one of the only places online where open discussions about the elements of the movement I do agree with are allowed to take place. Most other sites have banned and censored discussion of anything that can even be remotely considered relevant to GamerGate (including most of Reddit) and finding some place where multiple viewpoints are permitted is distressingly rare. Like most subreddits, KiA has plenty of problems. Dissenting opinions are often downvoted, group think is rampant and far too much of the top posts these days focus on “Look at what this SJW said on Twitter!” instead of actual important issues. Simply put, it’s just like the rest of Reddit which is why I generally don’t like that site. You have to dig to see all the viewpoints there but I do so because where else am I going to see them? I would happily go somewhere else if I could expect a fair discussion but I haven’t found that place yet. If you know of such a place, please feel free to leave it in the comments but know that I’ve probably already checked it. Say what you will about KiA but if you come in there with a dissenting opinion, you may be called out but you’ll also get discussion. At GamerGhazi, you’ll just get banned and that’s if you’re lucky.

The Media

But one small example of the problem.

Giving undisclosed positive coverage to friends. Elevating and cultivating appeal of specific developers. Financially backing developers whose games they cover. Ignoring more important games to focus on tiny art titles with ultra niche appeal. Reviewing games not on whether or not they’re actually good games but only on whether they send the “right” social message. Questioning the motives of developers because their titles don’t adhere to Americentric, imperialist cultural values. Straight up saying that some games they dislike shouldn’t exist. Censoring comments and discussion when people don’t just smile and nod. Viciously attacking, shaming and bullying anyone who disagrees, whether from the audience or the industry, lumping them in with trolls. Using social media and their followers as weapons, mass blocking dissenters while continuing to attack them when they can’t respond. Creating a culture of fear in the industry, where people who actually make games are scared to talk about them. Seeing themselves as above those they are supposed to work for and acting as agents of those whose work they are supposed to critique. Spreading lies, misinformation and slander about others in the industry who don’t follow their group think.

Crazy list isn’t it? Pretty much everything in it is a violation of the most basic journalistic best practices. The worst part is that all of them were and are continuing to be done on a daily basis by a large group of people who would call themselves professional journalists. Since I first wrote about it last year, the frequency has only intensified. Despite GamerGate pointing it out when it happens, little has changed for the better and the bigger sites and personalities have largely doubled down on collusion, cronyism and clickbait. It is simply undeniable and confirmed with only the most basic of research. With few exceptions, none have taken this as an opportunity for self-reflection on whether this approach is best for the audience or the industry they are supposed to serve, they have just pushed ahead, using the demonstrably false “hate group” excuse as justification for why they couldn’t possibly be wrong. It’s unprofessional and unethical at best, deplorable and shameful at worst.

These people decry GamerGate and how it’s destroying the industry while at the same time, feeding trolls and profiting off it. They turned it into a mainstream media catch-all term that’s frequently shoehorned into otherwise unrelated stories that a writer wants to connect–in even the flimsiest way–to harassment of women or minorities. It’s often referred to as “GameDropping” and I see it everywhere now.

You want to know how GamerGate could have been killed within days? If the press didn’t constantly write about it! Make no mistake, this movement started because of the press, it grew because of them and every time they write about it, they give it a boost. Every time there’s a mass shooting, the media takes stick for glorifying the shooter, something which has been demonstrated to inspire others. GamerGate has never killed anyone but it’s the same principle: You do not kill any movement by feeding it eyeballs. They gave it all the attention it could ever want and then wonder why it’s still going strong a year later. You can’t have it both ways, claiming the movement had no validity while also writing articles on a near daily basis about it, driving ad revenue all the while. If it’s not relevant, then it’s not worth talking about.

This is all symptomatic of the online outrage culture epidemic we are now in, a culture the press fuels. Screaming about how much something offended you–even if it did no actual harm–has become a passion and indeed, a lucrative profession, often among people who don’t even consume the content they complain about. No longer is it the norm that you just stop consuming that which you don’t like. Now your disgust has to be shouted from the rooftops, the creators shamed and the content has to be changed to suit your sensitivities because you are special and your comfort is more important than creative freedom. It’s the entitlement complex that has come as a result of a generation that is not allowed to lose or be told they’re wrong because society forfend them from having their feelings hurt.

I say freedom is more important than feelings, always.

The press should be critical, as should everyone. There’s certainly nothing wrong with pointing out something you dislike for whatever reason that may be. I do it all the time. Where the line is crossed is when creators are attacked for making something someone doesn’t like and demands are made for them to make things differently or censor themselves to avoid offending the perpetually offended. My anxiety is triggered by seeing animals harmed but I’ve never called for movies or games containing that to be altered or removed. I just won’t consume that content again and I use Does the Dog Die to try to avoid it in the future. There is plenty of other content I don’t like, some of which I even find offensive but I defy you to find a single time I’ve said a piece of content shouldn’t exist or should be altered in order to suit me or a group I have appointed myself to represent. It’s a slippery slope because everything offends someone and when you start catering to the unreasonable demands of a few, the rest suddenly realise they wield unearned power as well.

The current crop of “enthusiast” press is perpetuating this culture and it can and will have dire consequences for the future of a medium that’s only scratched the surface of its creative potential. Worse still is that they feel this should only go one way and criticism of their criticism is now often met with some form of “How dare you!”, frequently followed by baseless character attacks, followed by self-pity and crying about how hard everyone makes their jobs. They might even “quit Twitter” to drum up sympathy, before returning shortly thereafter, possibly even with an appended appeal for crowdfunding. This isn’t an isolated thing, I see it all the time and it’s become commonplace. So many in the press don’t seem to understand that if you don’t want feedback of all kinds, don’t put stuff out for public consumption, especially when it’s purposefully antagonising.

All of this shows a group that’s failing its audience. The “Gamers Are Dead” articles are what turned GamerGate from a small campaign into the phenomena it is now and the people who wrote those articles in near unison have no one but themselves to blame. They could have called out the rotten elements without condemning an entire identity, one I proudly share. They didn’t and that’s their fault and their arrogance. Gamers are why the “enthusiast” press exists at all. If they start treating us as the enemy, they are a snake that’s eating its own tail. The niche clique of friends they defend and promote at the expense of everything else isn’t enough to sustain them, yet they are Hell bent on doing it anyway. I am a gamer, I have been for longer than many of you have been alive and fuck you for calling me dead.

Does gaming have problems with inclusivity, representation and equality? It definitely does. I’ve never denied that. I am for equality of all people, always, without exception. Is progress being made on these fronts? Most certainly. Not as fast as some would like but large cultural shifts take time. That’s the way it is and yelling about it impotently only slows it down. The way they’re approaching these problems now is the worst way to handle it. By lumping in everyone who disagrees or even asks questions with the worst elements of the opposition or worse yet, trolls with no loyalty at all, far more harm than good is being done to any otherwise noble cause.

The arrogance of those most prominent in the games press will be their undoing. It already has been for some and make no mistake, it’s coming for the rest of them and they need to be kept honest. Written games coverage is fighting for its life against YouTube and streaming personalities who are eating their lunch. I don’t want to see it go away and I think there needs to be a balance of both. Constantly shitting on what audience you have left is not how you’ll stay relevant. A niche group of developers and friends won’t sustain an industry. The press needs to remember who it is working for.

The Figureheads

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to talk about GamerGate and the lax standards of the games press without talking about those individuals they put on pedestals and use as examples for why gamers are so evil. I wish I could just ignore them but they are too intertwined with this controversy to not talk about. Fair warning, these people may be popular but I don’t care for any of them. This is based largely on the things they’ve said and done directly when representing themselves in the industry. It’s all demonstrably true and digging into rumours and speculation isn’t necessary. This isn’t “victim blaming”, it’s fact and facts are impartial. I think they are awful to put up as examples of people who just want to do good but that the horrible gamers are keeping down. I talked above how GamerGate has hitched its wagon to some pretty awful people and this is the equivalent for the “other side.”

Zoë Quinn is the one many would was the catalyst for this whole thing and despite the movement having long since moved on from her, she and the press continue to ensure she’s in the limelight. I’m not going to talk about “The Zoë Post” as I largely think it doesn’t matter and it was the worst possible way for the discussion of press ethics to have started. I will just say that I’ve seen what happens to people on the end of the kind of things that post documents her doing and it did not endear her to me.

Her claim to fame prior to GamerGate was Depression Quest, a Twine game that I not only thought was of poor quality but as a lifelong sufferer of depression and anxiety, I think did a terrible job of representing the realities of the disorder. I fear for anyone who tries to use it to self-diagnose. After the famous meltdown of the Polaris Game_Jam show, she said she was going to hold her own event called Rebel Jam and started taking donations for it. Game jams are often organised over a weekend but more than 18 months later, not a word has been heard about this. Meanwhile, she started a feud with The Fine Young Capitalists, who despite being vilified in the press based purely on her false accusations, have just released their first game. She is supposedly developing a new game of her own called Camp’s Not Dead which no one has heard about in over a year. She and her boyfriend got tons of press about Crash Override Network, a organisation built to help sufferers of online harassment, though they never actually said how. It was supposed to launch over a week ago at time of writing and even had a countdown timer, which has since looped around. There’s been no news, no updates on their official Twitter and not a single story has been written asking why, though the organisation has been dogged by accusations of ignoring requests from people who don’t have large followings. Quinn claims to be under constant harassment and living in fear, yet she’s frequently seen antagonising GamerGate directly on social media, the last thing anyone with a brain would tell you to do to a movement you are supposedly terrorised by. She is pulling in nearly $4,000 a month through Patreon, all for the promises of things that never come to fruition and no press outlet questions it.

I don’t see how a reasonable person can look at this and not as least be suspicious. The fact that she has been harassed online is deplorable but isn’t a justification to gloss over everything she has received attention for starting and never finishing. Lots of people have been harassed online and still regularly have things to show for themselves.

Brianna Wu falls into a similar camp. Her only major known work is an iOS game that I would charitably describe as awful, full of many of the character tropes she regularly rails against. She ran a Kickstarter to port it to PC and Mac that more than doubled its goal, yet it’s a full year past its delivery date with no word in sight. She was caught trolling her own Steam Greenlight comments, forgetting she was logged in under her main account when she did it. Few knew or cared who she was until GamerGate, when she purposefully inserted herself into the controversy in a very public, incendiary way and then used the obvious response she got as proof of how evil gamers were and how big of a misogyny problem both the games and indeed, tech industries have. Just like Quinn, she has continued to antagonise the movement at every turn, while claiming to be living in fear. This keeps her in the limelight and turned her failed game into a success. She has no relevance or credibility beyond simply existing and using GamerGate as a promotional tool while doing little else. She pulls in hefty Patreon money as well, despite owning a commercial games studio that has a product for sale. As least Quinn has promised her products will be free, if she ever releases another one.

Last but not least, there’s Anita Sarkeesian. If you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you about about her and what she espouses. I have questioned her credibility from day one with good reason, something I have taken a lot of heat for but as time has gone on, I’ve only been proven right. She is on record saying that she does not care for video games, though she continues to tell the press she’s loved them her whole life. She is years late on delivering her promised video series to her Kickstarter backers, despite Feminist Frequency being a recognised non-profit and pulling in huge money and while still finding time to do tons of paid speaking gigs. She has used stolen assets in her monetised productions. Her work is full of errors and bad researchwhen she’s just not lying outright. She only goes after popular games that will get her attention and when she can’t find a reason to say they’re making people sexist, she pulls out the long debunked Jack Thompson-esque argument that games cause violence. She has consistently refused to engage any critics in real debate and always relies on scripted talking points. She has no academic credentials, experience or peer reviewed work. Her only qualifications for anything she does is her own say-so. This is a terrible representative for the legitimate cause of furthering representation and equality in the video game industry, yet she is held up as a paragon and never questioned. Indeed, as I have found out, questioning her at all is tantamount to heresy to a great many people.

Like the two people above, she has received plenty of harassment and while that’s never acceptable, she has also used it with precision to generate sympathy for herself, her agenda and plenty of financial support. There’s a good, legitimate fight to be made and I’m not saying it wouldn’t be one, regardless of who took it up. This is however, a person with at best, flawed credibility and she is not just “fighting the good fight.”

These are only the three most prominent examples out of many more that are available. As I said, these are all demonstrable facts that they have shown in their public presences. I don’t judge them on how they think but on what they’ve done. It is not wrong or bigoted to examine the motives of popular people, especially when they’ve shown to have so many suspicious elements. They purposefully put themselves out in the public, make inflammatory statements not backed up by facts, get near constant attention and support from the press and yet they all produce very little of substance. Criticism is not harassment and if the press will continue to tout how important they are, I will continue to point out what I believe are legitimate flaws in their methods and theories. All they have to do is answer people’s questions and perhaps many of these could be put to rest. They keep refusing to do so and that should make people wonder why not.

These are the people “anti-GamerGate” holds up as examples of why “gamers are dead” and why the industry needs to change. Personally, I see no reason why any of them should be taken seriously. That people with more educated viewpoints, actual credentials and who actually produce things are left waving their hands on the sidelines while these people are put on pedestals is as sad and disheartening as it is frustrating.

The Future

Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds for this whole mess. GamerGate is a year old and still trucking along, defying all laws of physics for Internet controversies. Both sides are entrenched deeper than ever and no one is willing to budge an inch. They’re both willing to burn the industry to the ground before admitting the opposition might have so much as a single point worth discussing. Nothing is going to get accomplished this way. As a movement, GamerGate has made it clear that it’s not going away until some change is enacted but what change would truly satisfy them now? The distrust has grown to such a ludicrous size that save firing just about every gaming journalist in the industry, I’m not sure they could ever be satiated. That’s not going to happen and even if it did, that’s not a solution.

I know what would satisfy me. Disclosing friendships, not covering games you have financial interest in, realising that the entire world doesn’t think like the American cultural left (said by someone who is very socially liberal), that disagreement is not harassment and questioning someone’s position is not an act of hate. Most of all, not feeding trolls and not seeing those who simply disagree with you as enemies to be attacked. Ignore the trolls and they will go away, not overnight but it will happen. Embrace criticism and accept negative feedback. No one is entitled to have their work universally praised and if that’s what you want, you shouldn’t be putting it out for public consumption. Remember why you’re writing about games in the first place, because you’re supposed to love them. If you don’t, step aside for someone who does.

None of this is a lot to ask of professionals, yet so many have failed to do this for years now. GamerGate may have had less than ideal beginnings but the distrust and anger towards the press has been brewing for years and it’s largely their own doing. Gamers are your customers and when you declare your customers dead, who is left to provide you a living?

I am so sick of hearing about GamerGate and want it to not exist any more but I want it to be because solutions and peace have been found. If it just blinked out of existence and nothing else changed, we’d be no better off. Both sides have valid points and major flaws and they all need to be acknowledged and there has to be compromise. No one’s wholly right and we need to get over that assumption.

What I do know is that I’m done hiding what I really think because I’m scared of who is going to get angry with me. I’m not wrong for saying there are valid points in the mess of GamerGate. I’m not a misogynist for questioning Quinn, Wu, Sarkeesian and others based on factual information. I’m not a bad person for pointing out clickbait and lies from the press that’s inconvenient to some people’s agenda. I’m not evil for calling out bullshit outrage when I see it. I’m not harming the game industry by saying I enjoy games that some deemed “problematic” or that I disliked games others loved. If that’s a problem for anyone, they can fucking deal with it and those who can’t won’t be missed. I’ve let both sides of GamerGate make me fear speaking my mind and I think people being afraid to do that is the greatest tragedy of this whole nightmare. I refuse to bow to that any more. I’ve already lost some friends because of that and maybe I’ll lose more. Such is the price of having principals and sticking to them around those who demand compliance.

I know this post was huge even by my standards but I needed to say all this. Maybe nothing will come from it, maybe I’ll have to deal with some hate for a few days. Whatever happens will happen and I’ll manage. Video games are not only my main hobby and a huge part of my life, they’re one of the only things that truly quells my depression and anxiety without chemicals. To see the industry and community I love ripping itself apart from the inside has broken my heart many times over in the last year and it’s horrible to know that for all the blog posts I write and videos I make, there’s nothing I can truly do about it. One day, this will end, I just hope we all end up coming out of it for the better.

Go play some games. More of us need to do that these days.

Posted in Business, Coverage, Culture, Culture, Internet, Predictions, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Double Standards of the Windows 10 Privacy Outrage

Have you used a modern smartphone platform like iOS, Android or Windows Phone today? Did you use a free e-mail service like Gmail? Have you checked in and posted your latest life whatevers on Facebook, Twitter or some other social network or liked someone else’s post? Maybe you moved some files around with Dropbox? Did you purchase something from a reasonably sized retail chain of some kind? How about with a loyalty card? A credit card? Congratulations, you’ve given away far more personal information than you will by using Windows 10. You also didn’t have a choice in most of those cases and those companies are likely going to use it to profit off your back.

The latest tech press outrage–because there always has to be one these days–is how the newly released–and rather excellent I might add–Windows 10 is a privacy black hole that’s leaking personal information about you left and right and that Microsoft is spying on you and you shouldn’t upgrade if you care about security and blah blah blah. Much of this is coming from the same sites and authors that waved away any responsibility on Apple’s part for the nude photos leak last year (hint: the hack happened as a direct result of their lacking security). The double standards and hypocrisy at play here is plain as day but of course, it’s Microsoft and the tech press is full of Apple fanboys so that makes it OK I guess. I’m happy to call out Microsoft when they do wrong–believe me, they have many times–but this situation is just another example of clickbait outrage culture run amok.

Does Windows 10 phone home some data? Yes. Should Microsoft have been much clearer about that up front and made it opt-in? Yes. Can you easily opt-out of it if you want to? Yes and it’s even easier now. Is that data personally identifying? One part potentially is but that’s it. Most of the rest of it is designed to see how most people are using Windows to (GASP!), help make it better! Given how much people irrationally hated Windows 8, you’d think that would be welcome.

So let’s break down what information is collected and how it’s used with the help of this article:

  1. Microsoft creates a unique advertising ID for each user on a device running Windows 10. This can be turned off in the Privacy Settings. – This is the part that can be identifying. Essentially, this is a unique ID that is used to track what ads you’re looking at/clicking on and if the setting is enabled, different apps can use the ID so that you get the same ad preferences everywhere. Turning it off doesn’t stop ads from appearing in apps, it just prevents different apps from knowing what ads you’ve seen. It also only applies to Windows Store apps. I turned this off but literally every web site with ads uses the same technology and unless you constantly clear browser cookies, it’s always there and you can’t opt-out of it. You may not like it but as I’ve ranted about before, if you don’t want to pay for stuff and still want it to get made, this is the way it is.
  2. What you say or type may be processed by Microsoft, for instance by the operating system’s Cortana service or by providing spelling correction. – Just like Siri, just like Google Now. When you make a vocal request to these services, the request has to be sent back to a server for processing as your device doesn’t have the terabytes of storage and massive CPU power necessary to process the requests locally. They also maintain a database of common spelling errors and corrections so that people don’t have to constantly manually correct their mistakes. Even if Microsoft is tying this information to you specifically, it’s in the interests of improving your experience. It’s the exact same thing Apple and Google do by default that no one seems to mind.
  3. Windows supports a location service that allows apps and services, such as Find My Device, to request your location in the world. This can be turned off in the Privacy settings. – Again, just like any smartphone platform. When an app requests your location if your device has GPS, it will briefly turn it on, fetch the location and give it to the app. Any app you use that does things like find the location of a place or gives recommendations based on where you are, does this. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to use it but most people do because hey, it’s convenient.
  4. Microsoft syncs some Windows settings automatically when you sign in to a Microsoft account. This is done to provide users with a personalized experience across devices. Data that gets synced includes installed apps and their settings, web browser history and favorites, passwords and wireless network names, and addresses of shared printers. – Another thing every other platform does for convenience and that was also done since Windows 8. What’s got people upset here is Wi-Fi Sense. Essentially, this is a convenience feature that allows you to share your wi-fi network and password information with selected contacts so that for example, when a friend comes over to your place, they don’t have to ask for your password, their device just knows it and connects. You have to explicitly share your wi-fi network to do this and it only goes to contacts that you pick. This has the outrage brigade screaming that Microsoft is storing your wi-fi passwords and this could easily let people steal your wi-fi and oh yeah, they’re probably handing them over to the NSA too! As usual, it’s all BS. The passwords are being stored on their server but like any sane setup of this nature, it’s encrypted and hashed so they can’t be read or redistributed in any usable form, even if the store got hacked. As for the NSA, well, they’re already able to track pretty much whatever you do online, they don’t need your wi-fi password. Also, both Wi-Fi Sense and even having an online Windows account are not required and you can actually easily skip tying into your Microsoft account during the Windows 10 setup process.
  5. Telemetry data is collected by Microsoft. This includes installed software, configuration data and network and connection data. While some of it can be turned off in the Settings, not all can. This data is not personalised and it’s used in aggregate. The vast majority of modern software, operating systems and even video games collect telemetry information. It gives them a broad view of what customers are doing with their product, what features are being used, not used and the paths people are taking to get to them. It also usually tracks crashes and instability. These things are done largely to aid in fixing bugs and improving the user experience. One of the buzz terms used in technology these days is “rapid iteration”, the idea of making quick, small improvements to a product over time rather than huge, often bewildering changes once in a while. How do you think that gets accomplished? It’s not through divine intervention and it’s not because people are e-mailing feedback to the developers. It’s because of metrics and usage data, the exact same kind being collected here and which is done almost universally in the software industry now. I value my privacy but I actually turn these features on when I can because it doesn’t give away anything personal or confidential and it makes the software better for those that user it the most.

As you can see, much of the stuff people are up in arms about has already been widely used elsewhere for years and it’s all pretty harmless. Truth be told, Microsoft’s pretty late to the party with a lot of this stuff compared to companies like Apple and Google.

That said, they were definitely underhanded with how they implemented it and clearly did so hoping no one would notice. Oh Microsoft, how you underestimate people. As harmless and in many cases, helpful as I think this stuff is, it should all have been turned off by default and made opt-in, not opt-out and buried behind multiple screens in the setup process with confusing explanations. If they wanted to present all the options to people with clear explanations and let them choose to turn them on, I don’t think anyone would have cared. Enabling them all by default and forcing you to dig for them is what gave ammo to the outrage. Now, do other companies do any better? Not especially and in many cases, you can’t turn this stuff off at all. However, Microsoft should have known they’d become a target for this move–let’s face it, they’ve had some major issues with client-side security in the past–and should have taken the high ground their competitors often don’t. They didn’t and it’s not unreasonable to call them out for that.

Also, turning every installed Windows 10 device into a peer-to-peer seed for Windows Updates is scumminess of the highest caliber. They have practically unlimited bandwidth and have been serving terabytes of updates a day at least for almost two decades. That feature shouldn’t even be there, let alone enabled by default.

All of the data Windows 10 (optionally) collects is largely harmless and anonymous. Do you know what services like Gmail, Facebook, Wal-Mart or credit card companies do with your data? Whether public or private, that data is collected, stored and often sold or monetised in a very identifying manor without your knowledge and you’re not allowed to say they can’t do it. The entire business model of companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter is taking your personal data, packaging it up and selling it to companies you don’t know for purposes you don’t know and keeping the money for themselves because they’re providing you a “free” service–one that’s still full of ads of course. To see people slamming Windows 10 for “stealing your data” who also narrate their entire lives on social media and do all their private correspondence through free e-mail services is astounding to me, not so much for its hypocrisy as its cluelessness.

Let’s also not forget that for the vast majority of people who will use Windows 10 also won’t have to pay for it. They got an entire operating system upgrade that usually costs $100-$150 for free and can still opt-out of what little data collection is present. Now, we can argue how much Microsoft needed to do that in light of the Windows 8 debacle and continuing erosion of their market share but nonetheless, the benefit to customers is still there. You give them a little bit of anonymous data, you get an entire super polished operating system with nothing else nefarious about it for nada if you basically own a PC that was purchased in the last 6 years. That’s a way better deal than a lot of “free” web services offer.

The fact is that despite what the clickbait iPress is telling you, Windows 10 is not a privacy nightmare. A few minutes of research can figure this out but we all know that’s too much to ask of “journalists” these days. I think Microsoft did themselves no favours by turning all this stuff on by default and hiding it away. Personally, I think they’d be very smart to patch the Windows 10 installation to reverse that, at least for people who actually buy it off the self instead of getting it as a free upgrade. Nonetheless, this is a very tame privacy concern, in a world where collecting and selling your personal information behind your back has become the new normal. Valuing your privacy against large, profit-hungry public companies makes perfect sense. Indeed, more people should be doing that. But if you’re upset about what Windows 10 is doing and then take to Twitter, Facebook or ad-supported comment sections to voice your anger, you’ve already done your privacy greater harm and should probably be examining how you use the Internet in general.

Seriously, if you qualify to upgrade to Windows 10, go get it because it’s awesome. Just be a little bit informed beforehand and you’ll be fine.

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Remembering Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata: A Gamer First

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.” – Satoru Iwata, 2005

The gaming world was shocked this evening to learn that renowned President & CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata had passed away due to complications from a bile duct tumour. He had missed E3 last year because he was having surgery, presumably for this problem and was not in full attendance this year either but no one was aware of how severe the issue apparently was. Iwata was only 55 years of age, too damn young for anyone to leave this world.

It’s a weird thing to actually feel hurt and to mourn for a corporate executive. I’ve never met Iwata and likely never would have. He was a unique person though, one who stood out not only in the video game industry but in gaming culture itself. He had humble beginnings as a programmer, creating his first game on of all things, the Commodore PET, called Car Race ][. After that, he became a programmer at long standing Japanese developer HAL Laboratory, who despite their independence, has worked almost exclusively with Nintendo since the 1980s. He eventually rose through the ranks to become President of HAL, joining Nintendo in 2000 and becoming its head honcho two years later, succeeding the 53 year reign of Hiroshi Yamauchi, a legend himself who originally turned Nintendo into the household name it is now. Iwata was the first person to lead Nintendo who wasn’t related to the Yamauchi family in some way, one of a great many noteworthy points of his tenure at the company.

Under Iwata’s leadership, Nintendo transitioned from a difficult era to one of the most prosperous in their history. He joined during the era of the GameCube, a competent system that I loved but which was trailing in a distant third place behind the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. He knew that Nintendo couldn’t succeed in the long term just trying to be the third player in the same console race so he decided to be bold. The company took a hard left turn and made the Nintendo DS and the Wii, two systems that radically defined core tenants of how games were interacted with and designed. They would go on to be two of the most successful video game platforms in history, selling 154 million and 101.5 million worldwide respectively and millions upon millions of games to go with them. The Wii in particular, brought video games to an entirely new audience of people that the rest of the industry once thought unreachable. Say what you will about how smartphones have expanded the gaming audience, the Wii did it before they were even a factor.

This catapulted Nintendo into the financial stratosphere, at one point making them the second most valuable Japanese company, only behind Toyota. In recent years, they’ve struggled. The 3DS is successful but not nearly to the degree the original DS was and despite being a great system, the Wii U is all but a complete failure. Nonetheless, Nintendo made so much money under Iwata’s leadership that they could run losses in the many millions until something like 2050 before running out of cash. That’s not even taking into account any credit, that’s just raw money in the bank. There are only a small handful of companies in the world with that kind of liquidity and much of that came under his time.

Nintendo’s always been a weird company that has marched to the beat of their own drum. They are often loved for that and indeed, they have produced some of the most unique and polished gaming experiences anywhere because they are willing to think in ways others can’t or won’t. This unique thinking is not without its drawbacks though. They are only now starting to figure out how to do online connectivity well and are still light years behind the competition. They still see YouTubers and streamers as their enemies, despite embracing both platforms with expert precision for their own purposes. Their support of third-party developers and publishers has always been poor and with the failure of the Wii U, it’s all but non-existent now. They don’t often respond to feedback from either the gaming public, the press or investors and this is often interpreted as arrogance. Indeed, the “enthusiast” press tends to take shots at Nintendo whenever they can, in no small part because they are so hard to work with. These are all things Iwata had the power to change, if not at least influence and he did not seem to do so. One can argue how much this is just rooted in conservative Japanese business culture that often changes at a glacial pace and how much it really hurt Nintendo in the end but they were still concerns.

Despite all this, gamers loved Iwata and with good reason. Most CEOs in the gaming industry are sleazy corporate sales types, the same kind we see and usually dislike everywhere. They’re all about the business and just see games as a means to money and gamers as commodities. Many of them aren’t even gamers themselves and really don’t even understand the audience they serve. One can be forgiven for thinking that many leaders in the games industry see customers as enemies rather than allies. You can look at any number of things various publishers and platform holders have done over the last few years as proof of that.

You couldn’t say that about Iwata though. He spent his entire career making games, playing games and watching the medium evolve from it’s core inception to the monolithic, universally appreciated art form it is today. He understood that the medium needs innovation and that quality takes time. He understood that technological horsepower isn’t always what makes the best experiences and that game play triumphs over all else. He did interview series with his own developers. When Nintendo was losing money, his mea culpa was to cut his salary in half. When investors were demanding he lay people off, he refused, saying that it was only a short-term fix that would ultimately hurt morale and creativity. These things are absolutely unheard of in modern corporate culture, they just don’t happen. They did at Nintendo because of him.

When the company was at its peak during the Wii and DS years, he had every reason to let success go to his head and become arrogant like so many other corporate titans. Instead, he was always meek and humble, politely asking people to “please enjoy” the games he would present at events. At E3 2013, he was in this photo with Shigeru Miyamoto and Reggie Fils-Aime. There was no corporate benefit to three executives being goofy in a photo together, they just did it because it was fun and they work in an industry that’s supposed to be about fun. When do you see that from a big company any more? This was the kind of leader he was. One that knew how to run a multi-billion dollar corporation but who also intimately understood his customers and how to make them happy. He knew because he thought like us–because he was one of us.

Of all the people from the games industry I would have loved to meet and thank for the impact they have had on the gaming hobby that’s such a big part of my life, Iwata and Miyamoto would be near the top. If I could have met him, I would have shaken his hand, thanked him for all the great memories his company and games have provided me, the dark times they’ve helped me through, the great times I’ve shared with friends playing them and that not only the games industry but the business world as a whole need more leaders like him. He was truly one in a million. He was irreplaceable and left gigantic, Donkey Kong sized shoes to fill. I’m sure Nintendo will soldier on and continue to blaze the path others don’t dare to but it is indeed the end of an era. Even if you don’t like Nintendo games, Satoru Iwata has helped shape the games industry in ways you may not see and we all owe him a great debt of gratitude.

Thank you for all you have done for the medium we love Iwata-san. You will be missed.

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