Blog Archives

Responsible Use of Social Media

As reported by PCGamer, the International Game Developer Association (IGDA) is using the ArenaNet firing of Jessica Price as an opportunity to question game companies about their social media policies. Specifically, they have a list of a few dozen questions that game devs should be asking their employers. These are good questions to ask. My suspicion though, is that – much like anyone employed anywhere in the last 20+ years – these policies are already on the books.

So, experiment time. Next time you are at work, please look up your own company’s Responsible Use of Social Media policy. It might be listed under Professionalism/Code of Ethics, and/or Professional Code of Conduct instead. A lot of the time these documents are internal-use only, but here is a refreshingly plain-language example from Adidas (PDF). Relevant bullet-points:

  • Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the adidas Group’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory (like religion or politics). If you are in a virtual world please behave accordingly. We all appreciate respect.
  • Think about consequences. Imagine you are sitting in a sales meeting and your client brings out a printout of a colleague’s post that states that the product you were about to sell “completely sucks”. Talk about a tough pitch. So, please remember: Using your public voice either internally or externally to trash or embarrass your employer, your customers, your co-workers or even yourself is not okay – and not very smart.

Here’s a page from 2009 talking about the the LA Times’ policy. Relevant:

SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES
Social media networks – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others – provide useful reporting and promotional tools for Los Angeles Times journalists. The Times’ Ethics Guidelines will largely cover issues that arise when using social media, but this brief document should provide additional guidance on specific questions.

Basic Principles

• Integrity is our most important commodity: Avoid writing or posting anything that would embarrass The Times or compromise your ability to do your job.

• Assume that your professional life and your personal life will merge online regardless of your care in separating them.

• Even if you use privacy tools (determining who can view your page or profile, for instance), assume that everything you write, exchange or receive on a social media site is public.

• Just as political bumper stickers and lawn signs are to be avoided in the offline world, so too are partisan expressions online.

Now, Jessica Price has been quoted many a time as saying that she brought up her social activism during the hiring process at ArenaNet, and that they supported and encouraged her to continue. I will believe that on face value, as I can certainly imagine ArenaNet doing so.

Here’s the one, crucially important detail: Price was not fired for expressing feminist views or activism. She was fired for the much more mundane reason of insulting her employer’s customers.

Polygon has another article up lamenting Price’s firing as “reinforcing gaming culture’s worst impulses.” Considering it was Price who called a completely harmless, inoffensive streamer a “rando asshat” for daring to question her expertise – on top of specifically stating she does not have to pretend to like anyone – you’d be excused if you originally thought the article was defending Deroir.

Actually, you wouldn’t be excused, because the article is such poorly written garbage that any editor should be embarrassed for having it published:

[…] ArenaNet’s president, Mike O’Brien, issued a statement on Guild Wars 2’s forums stating that “two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players.”

O’Brien’s statement is actively dangerous; it takes at face value bad-faith arguments made by aggrieved people online who may or may not be players. “Their attacks on the community were unacceptable,” O’Brien wrote of Fries and Price. “As a result, they’re no longer with the company.”

It’s not an accurate statement, and the precedent it sets is a bad one for gaming. Fans and developers bristling at each other on social media is a common fact of gaming, but what makes this situation so unique is O’Brien’s inability to act like an adult.

Ah, so it was O’Brien’s inability to act like an adult that is the real problem here? Next paragraph:

It might be a controversial thing to say right now, but Deroir’s original tweet wasn’t overtly offensive. Players who think they know more than they actually do about development are common, and the belief isn’t always rooted in sexism. But Deroir’s lack of empathy for what happened throughout this controversy is notable, as is his claim that he’s a feminist. For that to be more than a word in a tweet, he should have understood how his tweet came off, and where Price’s anger came from.

The root of Price’s anger is completely immaterial to anything. Again, check your own company’s Responsible Use of Social Media policy. Is there any provision in there for “long history of systemic oppression?” I doubt it. That’s not because there isn’t a long history of systemic oppression, mansplaining, or microaggressions. It’s because they don’t matter in context. An explanation of a behavior is not an excuse for it. Price berated a customer, and she was fired for doing so.

The fundamental error from the Polygon article though, is this buried sentence:

Price’s response makes perfect sense in that context, and is the sort of social media venting that is hardly seen as scandalous in 2018.

People lose their jobs for less all the goddamn time, especially in 2018.

I’m bringing this all up again because I legitimately believe nearly every other company would have done the same thing as ArenaNet in this scenario. In fact, I reached out to Polygon to get a copy of their own policies on the matter. If they respond, I will either update this post or write another one. In the meantime, you can look at their Community Guidelines, which includes:

Personal attacks: Don’t attack or insult another user. It’s not helpful and it doesn’t make Polygon a friendly place. This includes referring to other people as trolls, fanboys, sheep, white knights, etc. If you’re thinking of using a specific term such as a racial or derogatory insult, think again about why that’s a bad idea, and don’t do it

Maybe Polygon would be fine with one of their editors talking about “hurt manfeels” and “rando asshats” when responding to their readers, industry sources, or business partners. Perhaps they would have let it slide, or gave Price the opportunity to apologize or retract her statements (assuming she would).

I guess we will just have to wait and see, because this sort of thing is more a matter of when, not if.

Employees always represent the company they work for, 100% of the time. Right now, most of us skate through life just fine either because of anonymity or because companies lack the resources to constantly monitor our social media activity until and unless it shows up in the papers. Polygon can blame “toxic fandom” and GamerGate for increasing awareness of Jessica Price’s tweets, but none of that actually accounts for why the story caught fire in the first place: Price’s words being legitimately outrageous overreaction. That’s why the calls of concern over a scary future in which GamerGate can get anyone fired are so ridiculous. She wasn’t fired because of social justice or feminism, she was fired for publicly berating customers.

When your brand is dependent upon transactional relationships with dedicated fans, belittling one who has his own in-game NPC is probably not the best of ideas.

The Price is Wrong

It’s been a few days since the drama, but I wanted to reserve a piece of internet real estate to talk about the Jessica Price fiasco. It’s fine if you don’t know who that is, or what the drama is about. All you really need to know is the following sequence of events:

  1. Jessica Price talks about the challenges with narrative storytelling in MMOs.
  2. Popular streamer and GW2 content creator, Deroir, suggests that solutions can be found doing things a different way.
  3. Jessica Price responds with the following:

Today in being a female game dev:

“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”

like, the next rando asshat who attempts to explain the concept of branching dialogue to me–as if, you know, having worked in game narrative for a fucking DECADE, I have never heard of it–is getting instablocked. PSA.

Since we’ve got a lot of hurt manfeels today, lemme make something clear: this is my feed. I’m not on the clock here. I’m not your emotional courtesan just because I’m a dev. Don’t expect me to pretend to like you here.

The attempts of fans to exert ownership over our personal lives and times are something I am hardcore about stopping. You don’t own me, and I don’t owe you.

Within the day, she was fired.

The reason I wanted to lay this all out is because the reality-distortion fields are being engaged and the entire debacle is being framed as a new Feminism vs GamerGate front. And that’s incredibly dumb, and sad, and arguably dangerous. Jessica Price was fired because she was behaving as a noxious asshole in an official capacity. Full stop. We don’t even have to examine whether it was “mansplaining” to interact with Jessica’s social media post, because there isn’t a scenario in which her response is ever appropriate.

And instead of talking about that, we’re talking about this:

Price is worried about the precedent the firings set. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” she said. “Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”

That’s a Kotaku link, but the framing of the debate is also being set by Polygon (emphasis mine):

Jessica Price, who was fired by ArenaNet last week for arguing with fans of the company’s Guild Wars 2 MMO, said she feels betrayed by how the company “folded like a cheap card table” when confronted by toxic fandom. In an interview with Polygon, she talked about the meeting in which she was fired, and castigated ArenaNet managers for their “highly unprofessional” reaction to a social media controversy.

That kinda makes it sound like Price was heroically standing up to the school bully, and unfortunately got caught in the Zero Tolerance policy for fighting back.

Instead of, you know, reading literally this:

Really interesting thread to read! 👌 However, allow me to disagree *slightly*. I dont believe the issue lies in the MMORPG genre itself (as your wording seemingly suggest). I believe the issue lies in the contraints of the Living Story’s narrative design; (1 of 3)

When you want the outcome to be the same across the board for all players’ experiences, then yes, by design you are extremely limited in how you can contruct the personality of the PC. (2 of 3)

But, if instead players were given the option to meaningfully express *their* character through branching dialogue options (which also aren’t just on the checklist for an achievement that forces you through all dialogue options), (3 of 4 cause I count seemingly…)

then perhaps players would be more invested in the roleplaying aspect of that particular MMORPG. Nonetheless, I appreciate the insightful thread! (End)

And responding with:

Jessica Price:

thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude 9_9

Deroir:

You getting mad at my obvious attempt at creating dialogue and discussion with you, instead of just replying that I am wrong or otherwise correct me in my false assumptions, is really just disheartening for me. You do you though. I’m sorry if it offended. I’ll leave you to it.

Jessica Price:

Today in being a female game dev:

“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”

And yet this is somehow Reddit’s fault, as if the notoriety of the thread detailing Price’s behavior was spontaneously generated (or artificially manufactured), and not the natural result of her shockingly aggressive behavior. Suppose there were bots involved, perhaps unleashed by GamerGaters who are somehow huge GW2 fans and capable of mobilizing within hours. The most they could do is increase the thread’s visibility, after which it seems easy to imagine becoming self-perpetuating.

I don’t like anything about this entire scenario – it feels like a permanent loss to chaos and entropy. This unforced error gives those in GamerGate a free win, when their general philosophy is abhorrent nonsense. And here I am, also defending corporations and their ownership over the social media profiles of their employees, even when “off the clock.” Like when Price writes “make sure you smile while they hit you,” I want to ask if she has ever worked a goddamn day in customer service or retail in her entire life. Yeah, that’s the job. I’ve worked at places for years in which hanging up on a customer was a fireable offense the first time you did so.

I don’t know what the takeaway on all this is. I am not a culture warrior, but I do believe in social justice. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, but I can’t muster any sympathy for Price. Maybe I’m not as good as I imagine myself to be. But if that person has to read what was actually said and come to the “Reddit got me fired” conclusion? Then I don’t want to be that guy. Price deserved the boot.

Battlefield V

All my… what?

I am facepalming over here a little bit, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect.

First, that trailer is just bad. Not in the “they got a British female amputee in my authentic WW2 sim!!1!” way, but in the very standard “this is an incoherent mishmash of themes” way. There’s a part halfway through when you see a squad of soldiers running away, and I was trying to figure out if they were on my (the viewer’s) team or not. And what the hell was with that “fire twice, then immediately reload” crap? Some people have complained about the Michael Bay-ness of the whole thing, but Battlefield has always had that element. If you don’t believe me, here is 21 minutes worth of Battlefield trailers.

Second, though… ugh, WW2? Why? What’s the point?

To be clear, I have zero issues with DICE introducing female soldiers, amputee soldiers, or any combination thereof. I have no issues with Braveheart-esque dudes in kilts, or people running around with katanas. BFV won’t be selling map packs anymore, so having a wide variety of wacky cosmetics is the trade-off we can expect. I don’t even have any issues with this laundry list of GamerGate-style criticisms. It’s completely fine, for example, that the developers wanted a more “authentic” experience with BF1 and have since changed their mind with BFV.

The one criticism in that thread that rings true, though?

Why didnt they just said right away its WW2 Dieselpunk Alt History something. Alot of people wanna have this anyway but claiming it just as an WW2 game was a fail.

I want that dieselpunk game now. And it makes me question why that wasn’t the direction they wanted to take BFV. I don’t feel that Battlefield should be beholden to “historical authenticity” at the expense of gameplay, but… why WW2 then? Why these specific fronts, with these specific armies, and aiming to tell the “untold stories” of WW2? Like seriously, I’m pretty sure the History Channel has told every damn WW2 story possible, else they would not have had to resort to broadcasting Ancient Aliens and Pawn Stars.

What also annoys me is how this trailer and the controversy it generates obscures all the cool shit they are implementing into the game. I have never been more excited to play a Medic/Support in a Battlefield game than I am right now. Towing around gun emplacements is whatever, digging foxholes in specified locations is kinda cool, and the hyper-focus on squad tactics fantastic. I can also see how all of it could be annoying nonsense, especially when the Medic starts dragging your body around and teabags you because you happened to have picked a female soldier.

Not looking forward to that.

In any case, my one hope for Battlefield V, regardless of anything else, is that it returns to the cool stories of BF2/3/4. The series is at it’s best when it generates videos like this one, with a dude ejecting out of a burning plane, sniping the enemy pilot, and then scrambling aboard the now-pilotless plane and continuing on. Battlefield 1 was a very pretty game, but it was also oppressive as shit in a very authentic WWI kind of way. I’m not looking for more of the that.

#GamerGate

If you are confused as to what this #GamerGate thing is… you are not alone. Because it really isn’t one thing any more, but a series of things that have all sort of been mixed together. For a summary of ongoing events, I recommend this Forbes article. In the meantime, I wanted to touch on the three main elements in reverse order.

Gaming Journalism

I pretty much agree with the recent Slate article titled “Gaming Journalism is Over.”

The attacks on the press have ranged from well-reasoned to offensive to paranoid, but the gaming journalists unwisely decided to respond to the growing, nebulous anger by declaring that “gamers” were dead. Such articles appeared concurrently in Gamasutra (“ ‘Gamers’ are over” and “A guide to ending ‘gamers’ ”), Destructoid (“There are gamers at the gate, but they may already be dead”), Kotaku (“We might be witnessing the ‘death of an identity’ ”) and Rock, Paper, Shotgun (“Gamers are over”), as well as Ars Technica (“The death of the ‘gamers’ ”), Vice (“Killing the gamer identity”) and BuzzFeed (“Gaming is leaving ‘gamers’ behind”). These articles share some traits in common besides their theses: They are unconvincing, lacking in hard evidence, and big on wishful thinking. A good number of them link to an obscure blog post by academic Dan Golding, “The End of Gamers,” which argues, again without evidence, that “the gamer identity has been broken” and that the current unrest “is an attempt to retain hegemony.” Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson linked to a similarly obtuse piece of academic argot (“ ‘Gamer’ is selfish … conservative … tribalistic”), which in Grayson’s words “breaks down the difference between ‘gamer’ as a manufactured identity versus loving games on multiple levels.” I’ve written essays comparing games to the work of artist Kurt Schwitters and poet Kenneth Rexroth, and even I can’t muster this level of vacuous self-importance on the subject.

Returning to the real world, the biggest problem with all these claims is that they are demonstrably untrue. A quick glance at financials shows that “gamers” are not going anywhere. If “gamers” really are dying, no one told the marketing departments for these publications, which continue to trumpet their “gamer” demographic to advertisers. What is going on instead is projection. As long as these journalists held a monopoly on gaming coverage, they could maintain a dismal relationship with their audience in spite of the fact that “most games coverage is almost indistinguishable from PR,” in the words of disaffected game columnist Robert Florence, who himself wrote about corruption in gaming journalism before quitting Eurogamer. But all that’s changing with the rise of long-form amateur gaming journalism and game commentating on YouTube and Twitch.tv, the latter of which was just bought by Amazon for $1 billion as the gaming press was declaring the end of gamers.

I am not entirely sure whether there is anything to add to that.

Well, I guess I will say that this “reckoning” (assuming anything at all actually changes) was a long time in coming. After all, how long have we existed with a review rubric in which numbers 1-6 did not exist on the 10-point scale? Professional gaming journalism simply doesn’t occur without the “charity” of the game developers’ review copies, or access for interviews, or any number of similar perks that understandably evaporate into the ether the moment an honest reviewer costs the company tens of thousands of sales. I was given a free Press™ pass for Darkfall: Unholy Alliance, but do I anticipate another such email from Aventurine? No, I do not. Unless perhaps I’m such small fries that their PR person doesn’t bother purging the rolls. (Assuming they still have a job.)

But even these small perks are becoming increasingly irrelevant in an age of paid Alphas and Steam Early Releases. With the notable exception of Hearthstone, I pretty much have had the same access to the games I have written about as anyone who reads the posts. Obviously, “real” game journalists get all-expenses paid trips to conventions and hands-on impressions with AAA games that might be coming out, but the margin between gatekeeper and gamer is narrowing. You don’t need to trust an established game journalist as to whether the latest release is worth $60 anymore, assuming you could trust them in the first place – just play the alpha/beta/early release yourself.

Indeed, at this point the most valuable person in gaming is whomever is out there telling you that a given game exists at all.

Who Are Gamers?

If I were being a purist, I would argue that Bhagpuss’ inadvertent definition is best:

And that’s probably at the root of why I don’t identify as a Gamer. It’s not an age thing. It’s a prestige thing. After university, where having the high score on Galaxians was something to be envied, I rarely encountered any social situation where identifying as a Gamer wouldn’t have been socially damaging.

In other words, you are a Gamer if you say you are a Gamer, accepting all the consequences of the admission.

I will admit a certain level of envy for the gamers just now entering high school, as they will likely not experience near the abuse that my generation (and older) endured when gaming was the reserved domain of nerds and outcasts. No doubt it was the same for comic book readers and others. There is indeed a sense of belonging that occurs amongst a persecuted group, and yes, identity. However, any sense of diminishment by widespread gaming acceptance is purely psychological. And, frankly, backwards.

Your identity as a Gamer should be tied to your unashamed passion for games. Full stop. Anything extra is a separate, superfluous identity you tacked on after the fact. “I liked this thing when it was hard to do so.” Great… so you are a Gamer and a Pariah. Do you want a cookie?

Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, etc

Nope.

Last Word

There really is no conclusion to this post, other than a rather mild surprise as to how much has melted down in the past three weeks or so. Seven gaming publications basically simultaneously asserting their readers no longer exist (or are horrible)? Who the shit has the time to browse internet articles about games but Gamers? Hell, I didn’t even play a game today due to reading gaming forums and writing this post.

Nevertheless, gaming journalism is one area in which I believe a total breakdown in “the establishment” will have a good outcome in the long-run. I mean, right now we have highly politicized real-world news monopolies (Fox vs CNN vs MSNBC) that only serve to insulate and divide people from alternate viewpoints. That’s bad. But the same thing really can’t exist in the gaming world because we ultimately play the games. If the game is shit, it’s shit, no matter who told you it was roses. And now you have 10,000 alternative voices that will admittedly likely coalesce into a few power-brokers, but again, reality will be the final arbiter.