Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 22:57 on 25-09-2014, James D
Also, I really dislike the idea of blacklisting stores just for selling certain books - after all, while Conan certainly has some racist/misogynist stuff going in, it's also massively important to the history of fantasy. Same with Lovecraft's work, and even Orson Scott Card's (wrt sci-fi). Of course it's important to acknowledge any kind of questionable themes, and depending on how strong they are some people may not want their money supporting the author, but just blackballing anyone that carries their works doesn't seem helpful. And is it even feasible? How could a non-megachain bookstore ever hope to read and evaluate every single one of the books it carries? What about used bookstores?
at 18:41 on 25-09-2014, Arthur B
I am inclined to say that you are correct in your doubts - this is the sort of solution that is very simple, but only because it doesn't engage with any of the complexities. In particular:

- The very idea that change must come from without denies the existence of a progressive wing of nerd culture and makes like all those women and people of colour and QUILTBAG sorts and others working to effect change within the nerdosphere are just spinning their wheels uselessly. GamerGate wouldn't be the shitstorm that it is (and Racefail wouldn't have been the shitstorm it was, and so on) if there weren't people within geekdom arguing on the other side, because consensus does not yield controversy.

- Comparing The Turner Diaries to Conan is simplistic because whatever his faults, Howard was not actually a propagandist; yes, he expressed some noxious racial theories, but the Conan stories are not a platform for promoting a political party or manifesto in the same way that The Turner Diaries are. Hate crime and hate speech laws are finely balanced beasts and in general they tend to point at overt calls to action more than anything else, because if you don't draw that line what you end up doing is banning ideas, and the authority to ban ideas is something I'm not really comfortable with any institution having.

- Comparing The Turner Diaries to Ender's Game is extra-simplistic with crushed chocolate-coated simplistic on top. Although Card is a notorious homophobe, my understanding is (I admit I haven't read the book myself) that this isn't really expressed in Ender's Game - he only got on this bandwagon in later works and statements. If you are going to put booksellers on the "support homophobia" list because they sold a copy of Ender's Game, that's purely down to your dislike of the person who wrote it, not the actual content - at which point your content review committees are a joke.

- Why limit this to nerd culture? Western culture in general is built on homophobic, transphobic, sexist and racist foundations, and when you poke at them the reaction you get is just as virulent as GamerGate, if not more so. It's worth noting that, as despicably specific as some of the death threats that Sarkeesian and Quinn have been subjected to are, at the same time nobody's actually known to have been physically harmed over the GamerGate issue (indeed, nobody has, to my knowledge, actually made any effort to actually follow through on their threats); other reactionary movements have done and continue to go well beyond verbal abuse.

I'm not saying this to minimise how monstrous the harassment and intimidation and hate speech surrounding GamerGate is, and I'm not even saying that just because there are bigger problems out there that that necessarily means that we shouldn't take a good look at giving the nerd stables a clean-out. What I am saying is that nerd culture is not uniquely bad; it's a poorly-socialised and somewhat eccentric outgrowth of Western culture which inherits a lot of its bad habits from the wider culture. And if the work isn't done in the wider culture as well, then it's going to be difficult to turn nerd culture into some sort of progressive beacon, let alone clean out the trash which is currently cluttering it.

So if you're going to take these measures, you're going to have to apply them to everything, not just nerd culture - it is transparently unfair and obviously counterproductive if an author can get around the hate speech review boards by shifting their work's genre to literary fiction, for instance.

- Where's the statute of limitations? All sorts of old works look awful these days because of the culture they were written in. Are book shops going to end up on a list because they sell vintage literature? What about works which have gone into the public domain?

- What about the online sphere? Censoring brick and mortar bookshops is terribly 1980s. Given how trivial it would be for people to set up some sort of Steam-for-shitlords to distribute "uncensored" versions of works, would the content review boards even be effective at stopping distasteful material from getting into distribution?
at 14:45 on 25-09-2014, Bjoern
A friend of mine had a lot of discussions at university regarding #gamergate and the recent trend of reactionary backlash against non-white, non-traditional-male, non-cis people in pop culture. They came up with a set of ideas and I wanted to run them through you and see what you think. Personally, I'm not sold on all of this but what I've seen in recent months on the web makes me feel like my friend and his fellow students might be on to something.

Basically, their conclusion is that the events of the last month (since Zoe Quinn's ex published that revenge porn shaming blog) have finally torn the mask off of nerd culture as a predominantly racist, sexist, homophobic institution that - as soon as somebody who is not a white, heterosexual cis male wants to participate retaliates in ways that go way beyond civilised discourse, with triggering people being the most "harmless" reaction, but going as far as threatening to kill and r-pe women, openly posting racist and anti-gay slurs, driving several female writers from their homes (doxxing), terrorising people, threatening to blow up a convention, threatening people who identify as "feminist" or "progressive" with hacking their phones and releasing pictures, etc.

Those students came to the conclusion that the fact that only a small part of people seems to see this as deeply troublesome shows that a generation of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. in nerd culture has created a culture that values the right to 'enjoy' fictionalized violence against women and minorities higher than the right of actual people not to be triggered or even the right of actual people to not be triggered or live a life that is neither threatened nor in any other way to be ruined.

So, if this is the disgusting result of a culture of discrimination (r-pe culture only being part of it and this going further), the only proper way is to finally change culture. And since this change will not come from within as long as companies cater to the #gamergate section of the internet, change must come from without.

In effect, the idea of "We don't want to ban anything", is seen as part of the problem. Because as long as those people need not fear that their toys are taken away from them, they will continue to shame, harrass and threaten those who work for change.

To achieve change powerful allies would be needed. Websites like Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, Boing Boing, Comics Alliance, SFSignal, etc. would have to openly take a side and help to usher in a new culture. For example by working together on a centralised website that helps to identify game stores, book stores, comic book stores, etc. that are safe places for all visitors. At the same time, those bookstores (for example) which refuse to accept that it's not 1940 anymore would have to be publicly called out. So, if your store thinks it has to carry Ender's Game, it's your right. But you go on the "homophobic stores" list. You think that 50 years after MLK's Dream speech you still have to carry Conan or Lovecraft's stories? Please do, but know that you will be publicly called out for being a store supporting racist ideals. You carry R. Scott Bakker? On the list of stores supporting misogynist ideas you go.

At the same time their idea was to finally apply laws more widely then they are being applied so far. Most European countries have laws against harrassment, laws against discrimination and laws against hate speech. These exist, but they are usually only applied to the most obvious texts. "The Turner Diaries" are banned in most countries since they call for and incite violence. Yet, the last few weeks have shown that games like Grand Theft Auto, Dragon Age, well... most games mentioned by Anita Sarkeesian obviously also foster the readiness to use violence (physical or otherwise) against minorities. So, why aren't these laws applied to, for example, novels by Dan Simmons.

This could easily be done: You create a voluntary and diverse body of experts in any field (Anita would come to mind as part of the gaming group, people like acrackedmoon could contribute to the literary group) and this body is given preview copies of games, books, comics, films, etc. They report back with findings on any problematic context and the publishers have a chance to rectify their texts. If they refuse to do so, the body files a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights, framing this as "hate speech" and lets the courts take care of this. (A Indiegogo campaign could fund the first few lawsuits.) After doing this a few times, companies would probably listen to that body rather than constantly risking protracted lawsuits.

Now, as I said. I'm not entirely certain of this, some of their ideas seem to me like, well, somewhat radical (and not entirely realistic) ideas born in an echo chamber in an ivory tower. But on the other hand, I start to agree that the events of the last few weeks might have been the straw breaking the camel's back and the ultimate proof that just hoping that nerd culture itself will take care of the problematic tendencies running through it is simply unrealistic and an external force needs to step in to protect people.

Complicated matters.
What do you think?
at 23:05 on 24-09-2014, James D
"It's human nature" is a dumb thing to say anyway. All sorts of irrational and harmful behavior could be considered "human nature," and that shouldn't serve as any kind of excuse.
at 22:24 on 24-09-2014, Cheriola
Relatedly, and also interesting:

Misogyny Isn’t Human Nature, Despite the Internet’s Bitter Baboons
A Slate article I just stumbled over that talks about online harassment in wider circles than just GamerGate, and why even the proponents of evo-psych and primate anthropology argue that this kind of trolling behaviour is not "human nature".

It doesn't reference this short article about how scientists found a high correlation between trolling and the psychological traits of sadistism, manipulativeness and psychopathy, but it really should.
at 21:47 on 24-09-2014, Cheriola
I have nothing to add to the seperatism conversation, though thanks for the inside information.

I just came by today to show the following new article in The Escapist to anyone it might interest. (I haven't actually read it myself, because its long and the topic isn't really on my radar enough to have any kind of opinion. But I thought some of you would want to read it.)

Female Game Developers Share Their Views on #GamerGate
at 16:14 on 22-09-2014, Jill Heather
I am as far from a separatist as you can be, but the independence movement in Quebec does not map easily onto right and left wing. It is xenophobic (in a weird sort of way; it's not necessarily anti-immigrant), but it is very socially liberal wrt women's rights, government funding of education and health care, high taxation. (It's very, very weird about secularism, managing to call most Christian symbols "historical" and thus not religious [including a crucifix in the national assembly] while everything else is religious and thus should be hidden.) By the movement, I tend to mean the PQ as a whole; there are individual separatists with all sorts of individual beliefs, obviously.

It's pretty much on the backburner now, and the 10% win of no over yes in Scotland helped in not reigniting the flames.
at 03:23 on 20-09-2014, James D
I could see the the Native people of Canada wanting to secede, though. At least the Inuit peoples (sorry if that's the wrong term), given that their original territory must still be little settled by people of European origin. But I guess they don't have the political power of ever making that an option, do they?

Well, Canada did basically give them their own territory. It's pretty heavily subsidized by the federal government, so I doubt they'd want to secede even if they could.
at 02:10 on 20-09-2014, Cheriola
Heh. Well, I suppose it's a big difference if your part of the country was originally conquered, or just was a colony that was started by a different culture than the rest of your nation.

I mean, people here still like to point out that they're East German, not simply German, because it does make a lot of cultural (class, history, religion, dialect, social values, etc.) and economic difference, and because foreigners usually think of Bavarian culture when they hear the word "German". But that, or even the lingering resentment over the way our local economy was privatised-to-death after the reunion/annexation, doesn't mean we'd rather be a seperate country again. Voluntary origins of the union make all the difference in the end, I suppose.

I could see the the Native people of Canada wanting to secede, though. At least the Inuit peoples (sorry if that's the wrong term), given that their original territory must still be little settled by people of European origin. But I guess they don't have the political power of ever making that an option, do they?
at 01:40 on 20-09-2014, James D
I don't live too far from Montreal, and my friends there all laugh at the idea of Quebec seceding. As Michal hinted, it's pretty much a right-wing nutjob thing.
at 23:54 on 19-09-2014, Michal
Isn't one state of Canada doing this sort of secession vote about once a generation?

That would be Quebec. Though the movement has waned of late; the last time the Parti Quebecois started making signals towards sovereignty they were rapidly voted from office. All that despite the success of their xenophobic policies against headscarves and Orthodox Jewish attire.
at 20:23 on 19-09-2014, Cheriola
Congratulations to Alison Bechdel - even if I have very little idea what that felloship means in terms of prestige and money granted, it does certainly sound impressive.

I see that Scotland remains squirming under the English boot.

Yes, but it was a lot closer than I had expected, considering the economic threatening noises made against independence that I'd seen in the news. Only 55% voted against, apparently, with a very high voter turnout. (At least for what I'm used to. Last time Berlin did this kind of direct popular vote - on whether to put the water supply back under public control - the whole thing failed not because the voters were against it, but because too few people had bothered to vote at all, so the result didn't count as representative.)
Maybe the next time. Isn't one state of Canada doing this sort of secession vote about once a generation?
at 17:05 on 19-09-2014, Alula
Alison Bechdel has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (aka genius grant). That's pretty awesome.

I took a class with her a couple of years ago, and she's genuinely awesome in person, too, which is always a nice bonus. (The class required me to write my own graphic memoir (a short one, obviously) and when I told her I was worried about being unable to make characters look consistent across panels, she told me not to worry at all because my drawings had a "primitive charm." In a nice way. She also told me she genuinely laughed at an in-class comic I drew about Googling myself, since I happen to share my name with a a c-list serial killer. Good times.)
at 16:08 on 19-09-2014, Michal
I see that Scotland remains squirming under the English boot.
at 01:23 on 19-09-2014, Sonia Mitchell
Alison Bechdel has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (aka genius grant). That's pretty awesome.
at 14:17 on 18-09-2014, Alice
Thanks for the board game recs, James, Arthur, Jules! Ibmiller, I have a copy of Settlers of Catan (which I enjoy a lot), so I'll definitely keep an eye out for that expansion pack.
at 19:23 on 16-09-2014, Cheriola
Ah, okay, thanks. I thought it was held last weekend, sorry.
at 19:08 on 16-09-2014, Jamie Johnston
Cheriola, I don't know anything about Germany's federal states but what you're describing in terms of policy areas sounds similar. Scotland has a fair bit of control over culture, education, health, and things like that. At the moment I think there's little or no revenue-raising power, so the total amount of money available is determined by London, although I have a feeling there's already been legislation to enable Scotland to raise some of its own taxes from 2016 onwards.

There's no federal upper house: the Scottish government has no formal role in deciding on UK-wide legislation (although the UK Parliament does include members representing Scottish constituencies).
at 19:08 on 16-09-2014, Sonia Mitchell
Sorry, bad brain moment. I thought it was Wednesday today.
at 19:00 on 16-09-2014, Jamie Johnston
Or, rather, on Thursday, with results on Friday morning.

An overnight count with results in the morning is pretty standard for UK elections. Sometimes the full results aren't known until the following afternoon, but I imagine Scotland will be quicker than a whole-UK vote.
at 18:55 on 16-09-2014, Sonia Mitchell
The referendum hasn't been held yet.
It's on Friday, with results expected Saturday morning.
at 18:48 on 16-09-2014, Cheriola
Re: Scotland
I had heard that several large UK companies were threatening to leave Scotland should the independence thing go through. Also, Scotland would keep most of the UK's North Sea oil reserves, right? I can't imagine London ever letting that escape their grasp. So I wasn't holding my breath.
But I still want to know: How did it go? Wikipedia says that the results aren't in yet. Which seems odd to me - my federal Land of Brandenburg just had elections on Sunday, and they were done calculating seat allotments by Monday morning.

(And can I just briefly mention that I'm almost glad about that weird new "Alternative for Germany" party now? At least they've cost the old neoliberal/libertarian party almost all of their seats. (They also lost all their seats in two other state elections that just happened, meaning they aren't involved in any state government anymore, and just in 6 states they still have a few seats in the opposition. Oh how the mighty have fallen.) And the not-quite-nazi-enough-to-outlaw party even lost some of their 'protest votes' to the AfD, so that's a bit less of an embarrassment now. And weirdly, they also seem to have got half of their voters from formerly extremely socialist-voting people, so that should balance out their right-wing conservatism. Or at least keep them occupied with internal arguments.)

Granted, Brandenburg has far fewer inhabitants than Scotland, but still... What's taking so long? (And why did Scotish people have to specially register to vote? Why not use the same mechanisms as during elections?) Is there some controversy going on with the vote count or something?

By the way, how independent are Scotland and Wales, compared to German federal states? I mean, here the states can decide some stuff pretty autonomously, like subsidies for cultural things or most of school politics. And a council made up from people sent by the state governments acts kind of like the "Upper House" in that they get to veto laws that the federal parliament decides upon, in most cases. Is Scotland more independent? Or do they have reason to chafe at the leash for more than historical reasons?
at 18:39 on 16-09-2014, Jules V.O.
I'd recommend Eldritch Horror over Arkham Horror. It's kind of a second edition of that game, and has been greatly streamlined while retaining most of what makes AH engaging. Much more user-friendly.

I would also recommend (if you can find a copy) The Island of Dr. Necreaux, which is quite simple, a lot of fun, and very portable. You get a pulp-style action character composed of three cards from the character deck (e.g. Lucky/Pyrokinetic/Rocketeer or Stone Cold Killer/Gadgeteer/Rogue) with each card having its own abilities, and then you have a limited number of turns to make your way through the encounter deck to rescue the scientists and find a way off the island before it explodes.
at 18:43 on 15-09-2014, Ibmiller
Settlers of Catan's expansion Cities and Knights has a cooperative element, though it's still ultimately individually competative.