La la la I’m not listening (to online sexism).

One of the big stories this week has been around one of the (female) Bioware writers, Jennifer Hepler, being a target of rants on reddit. Naturally, because she’s female and they’re ranty gamers, this took on a sexist note very very quickly. I’m not saying that this per se is better or worse than the random death threats that male writers also get, but it’s definitely an unpleasant thing.

One thing this clarified in my mind is that how my favourite blogs and news sites respond to this type of ‘story’ is going to strongly affect whether I’m going to bother reading them in future. The internet is not about freedom of speech, it’s about being able to curate the views and content you receive. None of the websites that posted those hateful comments chose to moderate them out. They could have done, but they didn’t.

So I’ll stick with sites like:

(Both links are to coverage of this story which is respectful to Ms Hepler while still discussing her views, and gives no space to the haters.)

I realise there is a portion of the gaming fraternity for whom getting online and talking racist, sexist, homophobic smack talk is part of the fun, but they are not my community and I’m not interested in any websites which actively engage with them. I’m also not interested in playing any games with them. LTM (learn to moderate).

54 thoughts on “La la la I’m not listening (to online sexism).

  1. Ugh, this was a nasty story. I think so far 2012 has been full of stories that show how much hatred folks on the Internet can dump on people.

    Some of the gaming sites are particularly hideous, and I stay far away of their comments section. Kotaku is probably one of the worst offenders, full of horrible stories and commenters just as such.

  2. The reasons this actually irritated me is kind of selfish.

    Her comments that sparked all the anger are problematic for game design, at least until the point where story based rpgs don’t have such awful dialogue and story. I mean, I look at stuff like Bastion or Red Dead Redemption, games built entirely around action, and I wonder why RPG’s can’t tell their stories with a similar level of maturity.

    Secondly, one thing I discovered from all the anger is that she is actually responsible for some things in Dragon Age 2 that I found particuarly awful.

    And now I can’t rant about either of those things or her professional ability without being lumped in with these assholes.

    • Why “rant” about them? Why not discuss them in a calm and reasonable way. I’m sure that doing so will allow us to distinguish you from the sexist asshats?

    • Yeah, I’m sympathetic to this because it does make it harder to have a discussion about the issues she raised or work she’s been involved with without getting caught up in the whole history of the nerdstorm. And discussions around how story interacts with gameplay are very key to the evolution of both story-based and action games.

      If games really are so combat-based (which they mostly are), then stories basically end up having to always be about combat, or else combat has to be shoehorned into the story. If you let people tab through the combat (is this in essence very different to having an ultra-easy mode?) then what type of story are you really telling? And why do people buy story based games if they’re just going to tab through the story anyway? So there’s a lot of discussion to be had.

      I don’t agree with you about Anders though :) I think it’s super cool to have companions who do stuff you don’t agree with, hide their true plans from you, or have issues that you aren’t able to solve with a couple of conversations and a quick dungeon crawl.

    • My issue with Anders was he was terrible because he was terribly written. Also, not being a dick to him resulted in me having to have gay sex with him. Which I don’t object to per se. Because I banged everyone in DA:O Just…not with Anders. I liked Awakenings Anders. New Anders had all the personality of wood. Whiny, whiny wood.

      On reflection, the only character I liked in DA2 was the dwarf.

      But on the subject of story, again my issue is that we haven’t really approached the point where stories in games are good enough to be worth standing in isolation and, this is perhaps the important thing, they usually aren’t well intergrated into the game itself.

      Though, I wonder why the story-first folks haven’t really poked at japanese visual novels, games built entirely around story and moral choices and all those shennanigans. About half of them aren’t even porn. Fate/Stay Night, for example, is about a strong a story as any bioware game and is even floating around translated somewhere.

      • On reflection, the only character I liked in DA2 was the dwarf.

        Which is intentional, I think. Varric is DA2′s unreliable storyteller, so, obviously, he’s going to make himself the most likeable character in the tale.

  3. If you don’t moderate a forum, it turns into Lord of the Flies.

    It doesn’t seem to occur to people who complain about “freedom of speech” whenever a forum is moderated that giving trolls free reign effectively silences anyone else who doesn’t have the exceptionally thick skin needed to cope with constant bigotry, bullying and ad-hominen attacks.

  4. The internet is not about freedom of speech, it’s about being able to curate the views and content you receive.

    That’s both true and unfortunate at the same time. We have the ability to tap into the combined knowledge of the human race… and we primarily use it to reinforce our own confirmation biases.

    That’s not to say there’s much redeeming value in Kotaku comments (etc), but it’s kinda sad knowing that inevitably we will all end up in our own little Fox News cocoons, talking past one another.

    • “we primarily use it to reinforce our own confirmation biases”

      The main thing is that this is our choice on how or whether to do this. I know that online I hear a lot of voices I would not otherwise hear. I could choose to only listen to those that confirm my own biases, but that’s my call.

      I don’t find this as negative as you do, I like the idea of being in control enough to tune out people who will only piss me off. For some people that means they end up in their own little Fox News cocoon, but unlike iRL where big media does do a lot of gatekeeping, that’s not a given.

  5. I really want to reply with something bright and insightful, but the words just aren’t coming. So I’ll just say thank you for posting this. We need more voices working to grow a nurturing community we can cherish and not be embarrassed to feel a part of.

  6. Her comments that sparked all the anger are problematic for game design, at least until the point where story based rpgs don’t have such awful dialogue and story

    Surely it’s possible to express constructive criticism of the storyline and dialogue without resorting to ad-hominem personal abuse aimed at the designer?

    • Yes. That’s what makes me uncomfortable about this. Her work does deserve to be criticised (Because fucking Anders, man) but there’s no call for using gendered insults or personal attacks.

      Now any criticism to be made of her work is going to be lumped in with the people making those attacks.

  7. Actually as part of the design team her comments are exactly what she should be doing. It’s an innovative, off-the-wall whacky idea. Is it a design idea that I personally would prefer? No. Should game designers brainstorm with off-the-wall ideas. Absolutely.

    If it weren’t for actions like hers we’d all still be playing Chuck Spears at the Mammoth Hide.

    As for sexism (and there’s also a strong element of homophobia) good stance Spinks and I hope the blogging community can get behind it. Even if there are bloggers who don’t think designers should have wild ideas about game design to see someone victimised because of how she was born is disgusting cyber-bullying.

  8. +1 for this Spinks. As a father of two girls who I’d like to play videogames when they’re older, I’ve stopped reading websites with sexist writers or unmoderated sexist content.

    That includes blogs like “The Noisy Rogue”, but even the Guardian gaming blogs have a pretty nasty unmoderated sexist culture.

    • Agreed, my wife games, my 3 year old daughter likes to launch birds at pigs and make cupcakes and pies on her mommy’s Ipad, and I would very much like to see gamer culture change for the better in regards to not only sexism, but racism and homophobia as well.

      I don’t know if you have seen it, but http://gomakemeasandwich.wordpress.com/ took on a lot of these issues. It’s closed now, because she pretty much decided she had said what she had to say, but it still has a lot of interesting stuff.

  9. Pingback: Psychochild's Blog » The need to be “unproductive”

  10. “I realise there is a portion of the gaming fraternity for whom getting online and talking racist, sexist, homophobic smack talk is part of the fun, but they are not my community” Here here :|

    I will never understand where the fun lies in demeaning, belitting and just being plain nasty to people is but.. maybe I’m part of a minority?

  11. dont talk about it and its gone. sexism is a joke… get over it. we are not living in the 50s anymore. its “you” that makes sexism what it is. grow a pair… sorry… couldnt resist. but this topic is just a joke… realy… who gives a shit what some idiot on the internet writes? dont feel offended and its nothing but bullshit someone writes.

    i am a jew… living in germany… and i dont give a fuck about all those jewjokes… why would i? they are jokes… doesnt matter how harsh they are. if i dont feel offended they are nothing more than stupid jokes. man… i throw them around myself. its what you make out of it. too many people are just too easily offended these days… maybe the internet isnt the right place for those people.

    same with all the gay shittalk… racist bullshit… and whatever… if its on the web… dont give a shit. the internet is a dark dark place full of creeps and anybody should know this these days.

    • “the internet is a dark dark place full of creeps and anybody should know this these days”

      And as net users we have a lot of control over what we see and read, so we don’t have to listen to those people. You don’t get offended by Jew jokes? That’s fine, feel free to go hang with the antisemites. I do get offended by it, so I won’t have them here. My gaff, my rules.

    • “…we are not living in the 50s anymore.”

      That sounds a lot like another more infamous false equivalence that started with “Dear Muslima…”

      Yeah, well…here’s a bit of reality bite for you. Sexism is no joke, it’s still rampart and being silent about doesn’t make it “gone”. And what spinks said.

      By the way, really good write up spinks!

  12. You know it’s funny – but Bioware is known for the OMG stories – going back to BG1.

    I don’t really understand why anyone would be surprised they have… you know… writers on staff. Writers typically are not the biggest gaming people on the planet – yes some play – however going through a list of my favorites – none of them list ‘video gaming’ as even a passing diversion.

    Maybe because escapism for them consists of … writing? For years we (in the hobby) railed for *real* writers to get us a plot that consisted of more than ‘kill the turtle – rescue the princess’ – and then when we have them … wtf.

    There are three games she’s involved with that I am aware of – two of which have *awesome* stories… one of which I didn’t play… not because of her or the story!

    You know who I blame for Dragon Age 2 for being a turd? EA. end of story. I didn’t buy it – I won’t buy it – I don’t care about it – because I won’t support shovelware that was obviously rushed out the door to capitalize on game 1′s success.

    Really anyone that has been a computer gamer for a long time knows that a rushed game sucks. We can also look back on the history of CRPG’s and note that all the good ones took years to bake correctly.

    EA wants ‘franchises’ and yearly releases like Madden. The unfortunate thing is that Madden – being a sports game – doesn’t really need a ton of content and therefore works well in this model. It is… the hot dog and hamburger of the video game world – great – and quick – and always fun to consume.

    CRPG’s are like a soufle…. fragile – prone to flop – and requires a certain amount of time to mature or you get a gooey mess that tastes like crap.

    Why all the hate has been directed at her when her job isn’t to … you know – design games I don’t get. She’s a writer – she could never play a game in her life and still be one of the best *ever* – so who cares.

    Hemmingway isn’t considered a hack because he didn’t play games… or Edgar Allen Poe. I’ll bet that much of the music work done on games doesn’t have ‘gamers’ doing the music either – because… again … not required to be good at the job…

    /rant off.

    • I want people who play games to write for my games for the same reason I want people who watch movies to write movies. I want people who are aware enough of how the form works in order to make writing that works with a game.

      If they don’t, it tends to show. Compare something like Portal’s writing with something like Dragon Age 2′s writing. One was written by people who were both good writers and gamers and the other wasn’t and in one, the writing and story blended seemlessly with the game. In the other, it got in the way of the game.

      • I think right now in the genre there is a lot of confusion about what RPGs should be and the mix of story, gameplay, progression, PvP is very much up for dispute.

        I enjoyed DA2 a lot, for all of its flaws. But I know I have high tolerance for a botched execution if I really bought into what a dev/writer was trying to do. And what they were trying to do with DA2 was ambitious in terms of the storytelling (with use of artefacts like flashforwards and flashbacks, time shifts, NPCs with engaging stories of their own, a 10 year story span, etc) and I hope someone makes something similar work better in future.

        But I do understand why people might have not liked it. And at the other end of the spectrum, Portal won’t be very interesting for people who don’t like puzzle games, even though the story was really well integrated into the plot. I don’t think I ever quite got through stage 17 or whichever it was (I could see what you had to do, just was never able to actually do it). I’m just not good enough to get to the end of that story :P Would it have been awful if I could have skipped the stage I couldn’t do and seen the end?

      • Considering that Dragon Age 2′s writing was done by the same people who wrote:

        Dragon Age1 – which was lauded as having a great story and characters
        and
        Star Wars Old Republic – which is lauded as having great story and interesting choices for many different classes.

        I don’t see your point. One bad game (which *was* rushed by the publisher) doesn’t make the writer a nitwit. Just like one movie doesn’t tank a movie star or director.

  13. Whine whine whine. See these two fingers rubbing together? they are playing the worlds smallest violin.

    The vast majority of you so called tollerant open minded people have your own prejudices just like every other living person on the planet. Haave you ever ranted against a bible thumper who believes the Earth was created 6000 years ago? What about the 1%? Or some social conservative?

    See its only an issue if someone rants or raves agaisnt something you support. Then they are being intollerant. Hold up a mirror or do like I do and believe in freee speech even if it is hateful.

    See here’s a little secret. Just because you ‘ban’ hateful speech will not stop someone from being that way. And if you allow that speech it won’t ‘convert’ someone who didn’t believe that in the first place.

    All of this feel good BS is just that. Stand up and state why the ‘hateful’ speech is wrong. Don’t hide behind the ban button. because I guarantee that something you believe in is hateful to some other person on this planet.

    • “Haave you ever ranted against a bible thumper who believes the Earth was created 6000 years ago? What about the 1%? Or some social conservative?”

      First one… Nope.

      Second one… I am one so … nope.

      Third one… Also one… so… nope.

      Then again I was raised with … manners. I don’t claim to be some pure angle. I do keep my mouth shut when it would otherwise do something stupid on it’s own accord.

      Amazing that after 2012 years we still can’t take that simple lesson – ‘do unto others’ :)

      • Just because I posted a comment how does that force you to listen to me? Every single day i read something that I disagree with in some way. Somtimes I make a reply but often I just ignore it.

        And I’ve 100% positive there are people that do the same with what I post. And that is my point.

      • A Neo Nazi writes an Op Ed and sends it to a local newspaper. The newspaper refuses to print it. The Neo Nazi says “My free speech is being trampled upon”. No, no it is not, he can say whatever he likes, but that doesn’t require that anyone print what he says. The same is true on the internet. You can say whatever you like, if you put it on your own site, no one will stop you, but when you post in someone else’s site, if you get moderated, that isn’t stepping on free speech, that is the site owner deciding they don’t want to listen to you. And that is absolutely their write, and it is the right of their readership to shout you down.

      • Your Neo Nazi is free to write his or her Op Ed, the newspaper is free to refuse to print it, and I’m free to cancel my subscription to the said newspaper because I firmly believe that the Neo Nazis should be permitted to speak their minds, even if I’m going to despise every last bit of what they have to say. It’s a wonderful world we live in :)

        No, what happened to Hepler isn’t right; it’s disgusting, actually – yet I still very much prefer not to see the whole thing swept under a rug. How does moderating (read: deleting) “hateful” posts and pretending these attitudes do not exist help anything?

      • Do you go out of your way in the real world to sit in neo-nazi meetings or hang out where people will have those types of conversations? If not, why would it be so odd that people might not do that online either? You might shun a paper that refused to publish a neo-nazi hate screed, I’d be likely to switch to it immediately because I’d rather read a paper with a compatible editorial policy.

        I don’t see anything wrong with either viewpoint, but I wont’ frequent websites or any other media that publishes hate speech. That’s my choice and I am glad to have it and to exercise it.

        I also think that feeding these hateful opinions the oxygen of pretending that they constitute a news story isn’t helping. Don’t feed the trolls is like rule #1 of the internet.

      • All good questions. Do I actively seek out Nazi meetings? Absolutely not. Do I shun any form of media that occasionally gives voice to people that I strongly disagree with? Also no. There is a difference between an openly sexist blog that exists only to promote that viewpoint and the one that simply reports a news story and lets its comment section speak for itself. That said, I certainly do understand why other people may not feel the same, especially when it comes to hate speech.

        Trolls aside, what bothers me in this particular case is that moderation serves mostly to mask the issue – it doesn’t do much to change the culture that makes this behavior acceptable in the first place.

      • This is where I disagree. The bboards and large news sites that allow hate in comments are part of the culture, and by permitting those comments they are explicitly accepting that culture. There are plenty of gaming cultures, I also think, and it just happens that the haters who shout the loudest shape the culture that everyone else sees. (I know there’s a truism that only 10% of players use forums and they tend to be the most vocal.) If they were quietened then maybe we’d see more of everyone else.

        And by coming out and saying that we find the behaviour unacceptable, we are also changing the culture. Moderation is simply a way of saying “that type of speech is unacceptable in this venue” and I don’t see it as masking anything. I could say I have a policy here of no personal attacks (which I do, although I haven’t written it down anywhere) — is that really masking any issues?

  14. “The vast majority of you so called tollerant open minded people have your own prejudices just like every other living person on the planet.”

    Dude, you are like the 18 millionth person to try the “maybe you’re prejudiced for being prejudice against prejudice HUH!” argument. It was dumb 20 years ago and it’s dumb now. Here is a tip: the people fighting for basic human decency are on the right side.

  15. As I type this comment I’m listening to a Front Row special on Radio Four about video games. The presenter is Naomi Alderman, Orange Prize “New Writer” winner 2006, Sunday Times “New Writer of the Year” 2007 et al.

    She’s the author of two highly-rated and successful literary novels and she also writes video games.

    Just sayin’.

  16. Strange, up to now I was under the impression that deliberate misinterpreting and advanced trolling was the sole domain of Azuriel, but it looks like Goodmongo is providing a healthy competition.

    Like I said before: offending or hurting people is never acceptable! Manners matter!

    Upon entering adulthood, human beings should be able to discuss any topic in a civil and rational manner. If someone feels that they cannot do that, maybe they should leave the discussion to others.

    • Troll no way buddy. Just a firm believer in the 1st amendment. See you like censoring speech as long as it is the speech you don’t want to hear. But what happens when there are different censors in power? Here’s an old saying for you to ponder. “It ain’t no fun when the rabbit’s got the gun”.

      BTW, your response shows and proves my point. Just because I proposed a different answer (full 1st amendment rights) you resort to name calling. You can’t argue facts or positions but instead resort to a childish type of argument by trying to debase the other side with name calling.

    • Fair enough. But really there are a zillion sources of gaming news, easily enough that you can pick the ones with editorial policies you prefer. (Also half the news is non-news anyway.)

  17. I’d been so busy at work most of the week that I hadn’t found out about the firestorm until I began catching up on stuff yesterday.

    My reaction was… well… disappointment.

    The age of Usenet is about over, and a big reason why Usenet is dying was because of the signal/noise ratio. When you can’t have a reasoned discussion without the rabid foaming-at-the-mouth-haters driving the thread, then censorship is enforced. Their censorship, intimidation style.

    As much as I dislike moderation –I cut my Internet teeth on Usenet in the late 80′s/early 90′s– I admit that it has become necessary. In my opinion, moderation is the lesser of the two evils, a demand on the part of a forum’s owner that content and quality of discourse do matter.

    I guess the biggest downer for me is how two-faced the whole thing is. After all, how many of the haters would use the same style in a meeting at work? We don’t all work for the real estate office in Glengarry Glen Ross.

    (Hell, if their employer knew of their online behavior, they’d probably be canned as soon as they walked into work the next day.)

  18. Hm well, I can already ‘skip’ past bits of games that I can’t pass to finish the story. Watching the ending on the internet. Watching someone else play through the whole game, including all the secrets I missed, all the jumps I couldn’t make, all the fights I couldn’t win. Looking at a walkthrough. Getting a friend to tell me what happened, or getting them to do one stage for me (reminds me, I must do a boss fight for a friend soon). Editing your save file or getting one from the internet that is after the level you are stuck on.

    On the other hand, a lot of puzzle games give you a certain number of skips, that you get back once you pass a level that you skipped. Why not other genres? Though the reasons for that in puzzle games are a lot different.

  19. Some people like to point out that ‘hurtful’ or ‘offending’ speech should be banned. But what constitutes offensive or hurtful? If I say I’m against gay marriage that may be hurtful to a gay person. But that isn’t ‘homophobic’. There are sound economic reasons to be against it.

    I can also flip this and say I’m for gay marriage. But wouldn’t that be offensive or hurtful to a deeply religious person? Who gets to pick and choose?

    Name calling just proves that that person has no facts or can’t argue. But we see these and dismiss them very fast. But to bane or delete posts that argue the topic is simple censorship. Today you might have that power. But what about tomorrow? Don’t ever think things won’t change.

    • This is called a straw man argument, because no one said here that speech should be banned. There also are NO sound economic reasons against gay marriage.

      I think you’ve said enough in this thread, and thanks for participating.

    • Aren’t you enlightened libertarian types supposed to be of the opinion that the government has no right to interfere with the discriminatory practices of any private entity? I’m sure your “1st amendment” mantra makes for impressive posturing, but it rings more than a little hollow.

      @ Spinks – Ask him about the global warming conspiracy for added entertainment.

  20. I had a very hard time wrapping my head around what crime the woman committed to warrant such reactions….I am still a little lost that apparently all she ever did was speak her mind about what gameplay she enjoys the most, design features and errr including playstyle variety?

    Bizarre.

    also, once more lots of people in need to learn about their freedom not to discriminate. if I got a dollar each time somebody used the free-speech argument to legislate their own hate on some web board or forum, I’d be a millionaire by now.

    • Well, her original crime was being involved in Dragon Age 2, a much anticipated game that wasn’t very good based partially on questionable design decisions, including a shift to arcade style combat specifically designed to be easier on more casual gamers.

      She then chose to publically defend those design decisions during the backlash, thereby becoming the face of peoples irritation over the direction the game took.

      She also did the ‘I don’t play video games thing’, which in light of the problems with DA2, was perhaps not the best decision.

      Then the internet happened and things kind of carried on from there.

  21. Sorry but there really are economic reasons against gay marriage. Marriage offers various economic bonuses that are costs to society. Historically they were given as an incentive to foster a more stable and financial home to raise children in. Some of these costs include spousal insurance, spousal social security benefits etc. Again they were originally established under the context that the man worked and the wife stayed at home raising the child. If the man died the wife received his benefits for two reasons. The first was as I said to help raise the children. The second was because the wife didn’t establish a working history for herself.

    Now with gay marriage these costs (to the taxpayer) – benefits (to the recipient) are given to the gay spouse. An economic argument can be made that support of gay marriage costs taxpayers money that they would not have had to pay otherwise.

    Now just because I listed them here doesn’t mean I support or am against it. This is just one piece or fact to be debated.
    o the receipiant) are given to the gay spouse. An economic argument can be made that support of gay marriage costs taxpayers money that they would not have had to pay otherwise.

    Now just because I listed them here doesn’t mean I support or am against it. This is just one piece or fact to be debated.

  22. Pingback: I don’t moderate « A High Latency Life

  23. I am not getting caught in a sexism fight again on the blogosphere, feminazis hate me as it is, but I do disagree with you on the moderation of the internet.

  24. Pingback: and back | GamingSF

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