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 21:32 on 26-09-2014, Arthur B
And if I, as left-wing as they come, cringe and have alarm bells ringing "slippery slope" in my head, you can bet that people on the right will immediately claim it as evidence for some kind of masterplan for 'PC dictatorship' and retrench to become even more ferocious in their battle.

Exactly - and they'd have a point.

The next logical step might be to include some sort of severity rating, maybe A through D or something, but at that point you start increasing the amount of work required to a ridiculous degree.

To be fair, it's the same sort of work that the BBFC and similar bodies are expected to do when ascribing age certificates to films - I regularly see labels on Blu-Rays which go beyond just saying "contains violence" to "contains fantasy violence" or "contains strong violence" or "contains strong gory violence".

Qualifiers like that are probably more intuitive and easily understood than "Sexism-A" or "Sexism-D"; just say something like "Contains sexist incidents" if it's the occasional isolated thing or "Contains strong, overt misogyny" if you're talking something like latter-period Cerebus.
at 20:48 on 26-09-2014, James D
The problem with any kind of label like that is that there's pretty wide spectrum of what could be considered sexism/racism/etc. in fiction, from the ridiculously blatant, cartoony sexism of Gor, which forms essentially the thematic basis for the entire series (as well as the personal life of the author), down to, say, one instance of one character calling someone a cunt. Both are clearly sexist, but the severity is definitely unequal, and it would definitely devalue the usefulness of any kind of labeling system if they were both simply labeled "contains sexism."

The next logical step might be to include some sort of severity rating, maybe A through D or something, but at that point you start increasing the amount of work required to a ridiculous degree.

Really, I agree with Cheriola that what makes the most sense is just for people to check out review sites they trust like FerretBrain and others, and vote with their dollars. If our dollars don't end up having much impact on the industry, well, that's just the society we live in right now, which also means that an oversight board/rating system like we've been talking about is probably a pipe dream for the time being as well.
at 19:21 on 26-09-2014, Cheriola
Of course, instead of blacklisting the stores, you could organise this thing more like a consumer advocacy group. Here in Germany, Stiftung Warentest ("Product-testing Foundation") regularly test all sorts of consumer goods in groups of rivaling brands and publishes the results both in a dedicated print magazine and in various news outlets. They have enough clout that a bad result will reach a lot of consumers and keep them from buying your product, so companies have an incentive to care about making their value/price level realistic and not to promise utter nonsense in the advertisements.

But in a way, the media already have this sort of control in the form of various reviewing sites. If you care about social justice, you'll likely choose your media consumption based on what blogs like Ferretbrain or the Backlot or BorderHouse recommend or pan, or based on recommendations you get from the more social justice oriented corners of Tumblr. And then you just have to put your money where your mouth is and not buy that sexist AAA game just because it has pretty graphics and all your friends are playing it.

The only thing I could imagine - though Michal is right, the logistics would be daunting - would be a kind of voluntary label, either applied by the publishers or by stores who want to appear as progressive. Like the age recommendation on games, or the "contains nudity/violence/strong language" that you sometimes get even with TV shows. But instead it could on the surface be a trigger warning label, with the added benefit of also informing everyome who wouldn't be triggered that something is amiss with this book or comic or whatever, and thus shaming the original creators into doing better next time. I.e. "contains racism", "contains sexism" etc. Like the trigger warnings that fanfic archives sometimes encourage.

It would be almost impossible to get publishers to put on labels like that, of course, since these terms are seen as putting a black mark on things. Which would be the point, after all. But that way, book stores could at least mark their awareness of and refusal to endorse the problematic attitudes in the great classics, for example. And also make clueless new readers aware that there are things in there that aren't considered socially acceptable anymore or that might be upsetting to them.
at 18:28 on 26-09-2014, Cheriola
I agree with Arthur that banning any kind of media or art (or blacklisting the stores) would just play into the bigots' hands. Maybe it's because I live in a country where that kind of thing has happened several times before, but the whole proposal reminded me way too much of the kind of attitude dictatorships have to art and media that don't toe the party line. (i.e. labeling things as "degenerate art", or not letting my highschool art teacher display his paintings in public spaces because he refused to join the Party)
And if I, as left-wing as they come, cringe and have alarm bells ringing "slippery slope" in my head, you can bet that people on the right will immediately claim it as evidence for some kind of masterplan for 'PC dictatorship' and retrench to become even more ferocious in their battle.
I mean, yes, my country does have some censorship (mainly regarding anything that glorifies the Nazis or denies the Holocaust), but that's seen more as a necessary measure to keep control over social movements that might upset constitutional order if they gain too much power. And, as was said before, hate speech laws do require actual incitement to do violence against whole groups of people based on a common trait like ethnicity, not against specific individuals. (Of course, someone who incites violence against specific people could still be convicted of harrassment.)

Personally, I think the anti-progressive backlash is the result of a combination of "traditionally male" social expectations together with some neo-liberal economic behavioural ideals and entitlements that started in the 80s and the consistent othering of non-white, non-cis, non-straight and non-male people in the media, training a subset of the white, cis-het male population from birth to develop a kind of sociopathy (i.e. incapacity for empathy) towards anyone who isn't in their very narrow group. It didn't show up as much before because they were at the top of the social heap and could afford to be somewhat magnanimous. Now that for the first time they are actually asked to truly share power and public attention to their needs, they feel threatened and lash out just as viciously as you would expect a sociopath to do. Unfortunately, I don't think that attitude is cureable. If someone refuses to change his mind when he is asked to consider the pain he is causing others, then there is really no way of ever reaching him. All the feminist education, no matter if delivered by the affected or in-group allies who try to capitalise on the fact that people will find arguments more convincing if they come from people who look like themselves, can only ever touch those who still have the capacity to empathise with people who are lower in the kyriarchical system than they are.
(As an aside, and I wasn't originally planning on showing this around because the poll seems to have had major problems even aside from the usual self-selection biases and so on, but it fits too well into the topic now: This breakdown of the demographics of people who consider themselves MRAs and participate in a dedicated reddit forum is really rather telling.)

All we really can do is try to catch the next generation before their attitudes fossilise. And for that we do need the education. But also relentless peer pressure - not in the form of banning the media, but by writing bad reviews, mocking the creators, and giving people the hairy eyeball for fanboying without any reflection on the nasty parts of the media they enjoy. And of course, by deleting harrassment and excluding obvious trolls from the discussion, or at least giving them harsh blowback.

I don't have the psychological fortitude it takes to take on trolls and belligerent bigots, and I admire anyone who does. But even I and my social anxiety can still do a little bit by giving indepth but semi-anonymous feedback to creators who I think might be pulled to our side, or who are at least claiming to be on our side, whenever they mess up in ways that I feel equiped to explain.

[... In that spirit: James, can we please not use terms for disabilities to make value judgements? You wouldn't say "that's gay" when you mean "that's bad/asinine", would you? I know that words like "dumb", "lame", "crazy" or "idiotic" are in widespread use for this kind of thing, but just because everyone does it doesn't mean it's okay to imply disabled people are inherently of lesser value than healthy ones. There are plenty of other words in the English language to express that something isn't well thought through. Ignorant, inane, asinine, silly, foolish, mindless, brainless, fatuous, vacuous...]

By the way, what's so bad about Dragon Age? I never played the games, but last time I was paying attention, people were very appreciative of the fact that the first game in the series had several homosexual romantic options and that a few characters were canonically bi. Did that series make a complete 180 turn around later on? Or is this more a case of good on one social justice issue, but bad on another?
at 10:36 on 26-09-2014, Arthur B
Oh, one more thing:
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.

I think this betrays an enormous misunderstanding of the GamerGaters' thinking on the part of your friend. A lot of GamerGate rhetoric is based on the very notion that someone wants to take away your games, replacing your Call of Duties and Dragon Ages with casual games and indie experimental bullshit and thereby profiting under the classic Underpants Gnomes plan:

1) Steal underpants man-games.
2) ?????
3) Profit!

This conspiracy theory is, of course, incorrect. Making it correct by setting up ethics boards to brand man-games as hate literature would be something of a rhetorical own goal, and would send the GamerGaters into overdrive. It'd be like tabletop RPG players responding to 1980s accusations of Satanism by going "Well, fine, we really will start incorporating human sacrifices into our games - that'll show ya!": responding to hateful rhetoric by conforming to it is a losing game.
at 05:58 on 26-09-2014, Michal
This could easily be done

Easily? The logistics behind this proposal are already making my head hurt.
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).