Monday, 24 June 2013

Panopticons: A How To Guide

Innocent until proven guilty. Turns out it's a threat, not a promise

Hello viewers! And hello to the world’s security services. It’s great to see so many of you here tonight.

The dog is here. Here is the dog.

Panopticons eh? They’re pretty great. A hypothetical prison design by Jeremy Bentham, the term has been co-opted to mean a particular kind of self-imposed behaviour change. The original idea was to construct a prison with a central guard tower and cells arranged in a circle around the tower in such a way that all of them could be observed from that tower. Because even a single guard could be observing any cell, at any time, and the prisoners could never know if they were being observed or not, they would act as if they were being observed at all times.

No-one ever built a Panopticon, but the word is now often used to describe any system of mass-surveillance. I, along with every single human being with internet access, have already compared Facebook to a Panopticon, and the word is getting a second tour of duty with the revelation that at least the US and UK governments are capable of looking at basically anything you do online. Which they have to do because Terrorism.

It’s cool when they do it in a Bond movie

But are PRISM (not prison) et al actually Panopticons? Well, they certainly weren’t. They sort of are now. They could certainly become one, red in tooth and claw. See, for a Panopticon to do its work - its work, remember, being self-imposed behaviour change, acting as if you are being observed when you may or not actually be observed - there are three requirements.

Guys, no wait, guys, listen. No guys, listen.
I have an idea.

The first is that it must be physically possible to construct a system capable of observing the prisoners (not PRISMers). Well we know that one’s sorted now. 

We can build handcuffs.

The second is that the prisoners (not PRISMERS! Reaction to that one holding steady at the front, some laughs over here, but really not much happening towards the back of the room.) must know that they are in a Panopticon. After all, folk are not going to behave as if they think they are being watched, if they don’t think they are being watched. Self-evident, yes, but important here. Why go to all the trouble of observing every piece of online traffic created if you’re not going to tell people about it? Terribly inefficient. 

We are wearing handcuffs.

The third, and most important, is that occasionally, you have to drag one of the prisoners (not PRISMers) out of their cell and give them a bloody good thrashing, right where all the other prisoners (not PRISMers) can see. There must be consequences to failing to observe the rules of the Panopticon. 

This is the key that locks the handcuffs and so far, this hasn’t happened.

With all this in mind, PRISMNOTPRISON is a great start, and the revelations of its existence are certainly a step in the right direction, but for the iron boot to really start upping its stamping-on-a-human-face-forever game, they need to start acting on the information they’re getting. If they just stand around looking, no-one’s really going to descend into a living nightmare from which there is no escape, and we can’t have that.

I’m bored of the PRISMERS thing now.

The irony of this, of course, is Panopticons are about self-imposed behaviour change, they’re only good at controlling pretty low-level infractions. The kind of crimes that a fear of punishment might effect. In other words, mass-surveillance is only *not* about stopping terrorism and child porn.

What do you mean you forgot the chicken nuggets?

With the unveiling of PRISM, the first two parts of the digital Panopticon are now in place. And whatever is said from here on in, no-one is seriously going to believe that this spigot is ever actually going to be turned off. Indeed, more to the point, I doubt many of us don’t now assume that everyone else is doing it too, the US and UK just faced the public first. That’s it now, this is a thing and it won’t go away, ever.

So my advice to the US government is to take the opportunity and start acting on this stuff now. Then we can all just get on with living in constant, unbridled fear for the rest of our lives. A decisive victory in the War on Terror, I think you’ll all agree.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Gambling For Kids: A How To Guide

Children are stupid and make poor decisions

So a little while ago I gave a talk on a panel at the Children’s Media Festival. It was called ‘Taking Candy From a Baby’ and it was about using free-to-play and IAP techniques in apps aimed at children. That nice Stuart Dredge man from The Guardian did writing which mentioned it and there’s even a picture where a tiny dot is me! I did a proud and told my mum and she did one too. 

I’m so humble, I self-deprecate myself.
The thrust of the talk was that free-to-play uses a lot of manipulative techniques to get people to pay for things. It aims to do so in a way that they will willingly rationalise and defend, but it’s not from a kind and lovely place. It’s not a bad and evil place either, it’s just a particular way of doing business and places a lot of emphasis on making creative and commercial concerns work together. It has plenty of upsides - try before you buy, pay what you like and ensure constant support for your favourite titles.

That said, both the game design and behavioural economics powering the exploding world of free-to-play are manipulative things. And while it’s fine to give adults choices and let them choose between those choices - even if you are loading the behavioural dice in your favour - doing the same thing with kids is not so fine. They don’t have the same cognitive development, are wildly less able to make those decisions, and depending on their age, may well have literally no understanding of the value of the money they are spending anyway. Asking children to pester their parents to spend money to cure a sick kitten, as Pet Shop Story does, is as bad and wrong as game design gets.

I, on the other hand, have 32 pairs of shoes

So fremium for kids seems to be a non-starter unless you are a horrible insect-like being made from poison and murderers. Right?

Well here’s a thing. Panini Sticker books are gambling for kids. There’s no doubt that’s a fair representation of them. Collect stickers! Oh god collect them now! But do so by giving us money for random stickers you may or may not need or want! Swap them with your friends by all means, but lets be honest, some stickers will just be rare. So you have to be lucky. And you are not lucky. So buy more!

Could you help? I seem to have a horse stuck in my paw.
Now while parents probably aren’t exactly keen on sticker collecting - my parents certainly weren’t - nor is it regarded with the same suspicion and hostility as IAP. Buying packs of random things at 50p a go in order to cure your OCD is fine. Gambling for children is fine - so long as it has footballers on the front and glue on the back and no-one thinks about it all that much.

And there’s more. Penny falls machines sit close to slot machines in the pleasure gardens and arcades of various seas-side resorts. But it’s fine to give the kids a handful of coins to push into the glittering piles of treasure with the hope and aim of claiming back even more. So they are definitely gambling too, and this time with actual more-money-than-you-started-with as the motivation, but again, they’re also fine and good entertainment and pretty and hey kid, here’s some change, knock yourself out.

And who could possibly object to the humble claw machine? The claw! Because you're alive, you've seen Toy Story and you laughed at that bit because it was funny. Ha ha! The claw! Shame really, because claw machines are completely evil and must be destroyed.

I bet I gamble less than you

Sticker books, penny falls and claw machines all have a great deal in common with the IAP and free-to-play world. And, indeed, are considerably harsher in many ways. The things you buy in a game might well be virtual, but within that world they almost always have hugely more use than a sticker does in the real world. And sticker packs are usually located at exactly the right place to calm an annoying child on a trip to the supermarket - they wear their pester-power intentions proudly. Behave like a not-bastard and Daddy will buy you some stickers when we get to the end. Presuming your children are old enough to grasp the principles of delayed-gratification, you have yourself a whole mess of behavioural economics and no mistake.

These are a few of my favourite things.
And it works. Panini alone print around 6 billion stickers a year. 1 billion packs. 50p a pack. That’s quite a lot of numbers. Quite a lot of money. Quite a lot of money from children learning how thrilling gambling can be.

Why is that ok, but PAY TO STOP THIS CAT THAT YOU LOVE FROM DYING HORRIBLY is not? Being horribly manipulated is unpleasant, of course it is, but it doesn’t actually teach you anywhere near as much in the way of negative behaviours. It isn’t telling you that gambling is fun and that you should do it. It’s not showing you how you can make money into more money using nothing but luck! Except that you are not so lucky. It’s vile, unquestionably vile, but it at least has the decency to ring-fence its evil and malicious behaviours to itself.

copy goes here copy goes here copy g

The fear of the new is undoubtedly a factor. Particular dances, comics, Elvis Presley’s nethers, specific trousers, videogames, taking loads of drugs, a different kind of videogames; all these have caused the older generation to declare that the younger generation were a write-off and should probably be catapulted into the sea. They were wrong in all cases, or at least I am still alive and have seen other alive people recently, so we can’t have gone too far wrong.

An old person, chilling out.
More, and an off-shoot of the above thought process, this is about the real and the virtual and control. Panini stickers are bought in the real world, by a parent, or by a child with cash given to the child by the parent. Penny Falls machines are yet more real. They run on real money and give out real money. Their value is clear and visible and entirely under the control of the parent.

IAP, like the ringtone subscriptions that last made money disappear magically from parental bank accounts, break this connection. If you want to make an IAP you (largely) have to do so electronically. The parent gives their child indirect access to their bank account or credit card. Children don’t usually have access to electronic money, and reasonably so - it’s much harder to understand the implications of a number getting smaller than it isto have to give away those heavy, shiny, strange-smelling coins.

One day we will have a world without coin stink

However, much as it might be nice to think that we can go back to pushing metal discs across a shop counter in exchange for some reformed sugar and a series of brightly coloured objects, money doesn’t work like that anymore. Mobile phones on contract are access to a parental bank account. Still-active passwords in an iOS device are access to a parental bank account. We need to face and take advantage of the virtualisation of money, as do the banking industry and the providers of the entertainment than children crave.

I am not cool with this.
It’s not a problem, it is a challenge. Giving children access to more meaningful budgeting experiences is entirely possible. Letting parents control the funds their children have and let them learn how to spend it is an opportunity to create a more financially savvy generation, and that’s an opportunity we shouldn’t miss out on. It’s a rather better choice than teaching kids about the joys of gambling, don’t you think?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Gamification is Dead. Long Live Gamification.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

Gamification. A dirty word. Pointsification, that’s the term, isn’t it? Some badges, some points, some extrinsic rewards to make you do all those things you don’t want to do. An unproven concept that was instantly leapt upon by the kind of people who actually want to work in marketing. Awful business, from tippity-top to bottomly-bottom.

Everything is better with badges.
The problem with gamification of course, was that the people who were trying to do it didn’t know their games from their elbows. While the number of good brains in the gaming arena goes up every single day, there are still very few people who really get what makes games tick in the first place - and that’s just among people who make games professionally. People who work in marketing generally don’t even understand how marketing works, let alone games, so once they’d attached their feeding tubes to it, gamification was never really going anywhere.

The definition of gamification that has stuck is this; Adding game-like elements to things that are not games. The problem with this definition is that is completely and utterly wrong. If the fearful, band-wagon jumping, fad-machines that saw gamification as the solution to every single problem ever had correctly defined the thing in the first place, perhaps we’d be parading gamification proponents around on pagodas instead of openly jeering at them in the streets. Specifically the streets of Hoxton.

Yes, what is it?

But that’s not to say that gamification doesn’t work. Quite the opposite, in fact. The problem is that it was defined wrongly, not that it doesn’t work. So what is gamification then? That’s easy. Gamification is actually this; adding non-game elements to games. There you go. That’s how you do it. 

Adding non-game elements to games.

Adding non-horse elements to horses.
Our case study will be Mavis Bacon Teaches Typing fighting against Typing of the Dead. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is, quite unexpectedly, a piece of software that teaches typing. It does so through a formal system of lessons and mini-games devised to get the user touch typing as quickly and accurately as possible. It is gamification of the bad kind. It starts with the non-game of ‘learning to type’ and adds in some game-like elements in order to make everything such terribly good fun.

Bollocks. If you want to learn to type, get yourself a copy of Typing of the Dead and you’ll have finished your first novel by the week’s end. It will be rubbish, but you will have written it really quickly. This is because Typing of the Dead is a game, onto which the process of learning to type has been added. It’s based on Sega’s really rather good light-gun arcade smash, House of the Dead. Except instead of shooting at the zombies to kill them, they have words on them and you must type those words in order to re-kill your living-dead adversaries. Unsurprisingly, the threat of being eaten alive by zombies and the promise of defeating evil is a more effective motivator than a nice lady telling you that you’re ok really, no matter what anyone says.

Who’d have thought?

But whyyyyyyyyyy?

The reason this is true is very simple. In the taxonomy of all things media, games are a fundamental particle. You cannot sub-divide games. Something either is a game, or it is not a game. There’s some arguing about what a game is, of course. We could have a long old chat about toys and puzzles and gambling and whatever it is that you see as a chink in this argument.

...and welcome to Jackass.
But the essence remains. Games can be tautologically described as ‘things with game mechanics’. The fact we use the word ‘mechanics’ to describe games in no accident. Games are machines. They are cogs and gears and cranks and rods and connections and dependancies and causes and effects and results. Much like an engine stops working if you take the crank-shaft out, a game will not function if you remove one of its mechanical parts.

The old-world definition of gamification goes even further. It doesn’t remove the crank-shaft and expect the engine to continue to function, it expects that taping the crank-shaft to a house will then let you drive your house around. If you actually want a house you can drive around, you start with a car, then add a house and end up with a motor-home. You don’t start with a house and add a car.

And there it is. If you want to enjoy the same levels of dedication, enjoyment and motivation that games exhibit, then make a game and add your product, service or desired behavioural outcome to it. Of course doing so requires selecting or creating exactly the right game in the first place and inserting exactly the correct parts of your non-game in exactly the right quantities in exactly the right places. So it’s still really, really hard and requires some unusually clever game design. But if you want to do it, that’s how.

Add non-game elements to a game.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Look, Listen and Learn

Christ almighty, would you look at the state of that

Hello you! I’ve done a few talks and podcasts of late and I thought it might be useful and/or interesting and narcissistic to do a round up of them all. So here they are.

Snoop Bloggy Blog

...wherin I talk (argue) about 2-screen with the lovely Barry Pilling, Dan Biddle and Kat Sommers of Off the Wall Post. I make a joke about breasts! 

I was asked to do a brief talk at the Coney (a wonderful playful theatre group) and Somethin’ Else salon. Which is a fancy word for show and tell. I took along a Neo Geo AES cartridge, pulled it out of my bag and made a bunch of shit up. Now you too can enjoy the sound of me making shit up.

A great chat with Paulina Bozek, Will Luton and Dan Pearson on a bunch of quite serious issues, including the perpetual bugbear of gamers being, largely, a bunch of horrible pricks.

OMG YOU CAN SEE MY FACE AND BODY. Seriously now, this one is a goddamn video. I spend 16 minutes being miserable about second screen and telling everyone to calm down and stop being silly. 

Notorious B.L.O.G.

And that’s it. I apologise wholeheartedly for how horribly self-centred this post is, but I’m a terrible person.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Games Good Stories Bad

This post is part of a conversation with Mary Hamilton and Si Lumb. You should read what they have to say, because it is very good indeed.

This is a quick post I’m going to write in THIRTY MINUTES OR LESS (including pictures and captions but not proff-reading) - or your money back!

This week on Twitter, UKIE’s CEO Dr Jo Twist (she’s not that kind of doctor) asked which games had made us cry. The answers were mostly along the lines of ‘none, ever’. A few weirdos proffered up answers like Ico (it does have a brilliant, bitter-sweet ending I suppose) and GTAIV (which has the worst story/game integration of any videogame ever made and I still assume the suggestion was straight trollin’). Then the question opened up to be ‘which games made you feel empathy’ to which the answer was an even more unequivocal ‘none, ever’.

My name is Bender, please insert girder

You can’t have empathy with yourself. Officially, empathy is ‘Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives’. With another. When you’re playing a videogame, it’s you making those choices and decisions, so you can’t have empathy. Even when bad things happen to other characters in the game, the scaffolding of game that the story is impaled upon still makes empathy very hard to come by. 

In passive media, you never have a personal influence on the outcome of anything. You know the story will play out a certain way and you are there just to experience it. The limited range of carefully chosen interactions you have in a game means that you are put in a strange position of having some control over the outcome of events - which prevents you from being a truly passive observer - but often (and quite deliberately) not enough to change the outcome of serious, pre-determined plot points. So when your dog dies or an innocent is jailed or someone is wearing a truly awful blouse, you can’t really feel for them because the mechanism that provides these moments to you is the same mechanism that prevents you from doing anything to prevent them.

I’m sure I’ve done this before

Games can create great stories, don’t get me wrong. But they are largely incapable of telling great stories. Games are about interaction and agency, about choice and self-determination. One of the points made by fancy-pants French sociologist Roger Caillois
when defining what a game is, was that the outcome of a game must be uncertain. The result cannot be known in advance. When you try and tell a story in a game, you must break that rule, you must make the outcome of events pre-determined.

There are some games that recognise that there is usually a zero-sum game being played between the amount of game and the amount of story a videogame can offer at any one time and break that rule in interesting ways. Bastion is the obvious one, featuring, as it does, a voiceover that narrates your progress as you play, allowing you to have your gaming cake and eat your story too. Then there are more out-there games, such as the Grow game series, where playing the game is in itself discovering the story.

But most traditional approaches, where gameplay and story are fundamentally different acts and story guides player action, rather than player action guiding story, still feel like remnants of a misguided cult, dedicated to the act of beating very square pegs into the roundest of holes. If anyone if going to make me cry at a videogame, it will be me...

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Fuel For Thought

I went to #Fuel4 (I think that’s how you spell it) recently. It was an event put on by Channel 4 Online to get a bunch of bright young things from various aspects of media production to share their knowledge and insight. Also, I was there.

Yes, this is a metaphor for my arrogance
There were a raft of speakers, each of whom gave a brief, five-minute talk and gave a quote for the little book that went along with the event. It was a surprisingly good session and I want to spread some of the seething mass of thinking into the wider world.

So here, I shall quote some of the speakers and then explain why I think they are right, or wrong. Mostly wrong, because I am like that.

Hydrogen is a colourless, odourless gas that spends its time contemplating its own existence

“Passive participation in the TV viewing experience is on the verge of extinction” - Niall Austin, Omnimotec

So opens my quote-a-thon, with something completely and utterly wrong. I’m calling that one, right now. Passivity is lovely. We really like passivity. Passivity is going to be hip and cool and trendy for the rest of human history. This is because passivity is the result of human laziness and human laziness is the most powerful force in the civilised world. I can’t be bothered to explain why.
What do you mean, you forgot the Coq Au Vin?

If you’re looking to make something awesome in the TV space, I’d highly recommend that you ignore what Niall has to say there and concentrate on experiences that make passivity more enjoyable, or at the very least, add interactivity by extending the experience out beyond the broadcast window. When people are riding the knife edge of a permanent vegetative state on their sofa after a hard day doing boring shit for an idiot, trying to love their stupid children or fighting with their dog, they don’t want to do anything at all. So bear that in mind.

I’m a little teapot, short and stout

“Entertainment must involve the audience more and allow them to play along from the sofa.” - Tom McQuillin - Microsoft

In a very similar area, we have a chap representing the XBox and Kinect. Sure, entertainment can do this, but it musn’t must. People are quite happy to sit there and have delightful things happen and carry them far, far away. Entertainment isn’t better just because you have to wave your arms around, press buttons or waste precious energy deciding what you think at all.

Many a mickle, makes a muckle

“Gone are the days when people enjoyed passive media alone, without a voice.” - Henrique Olifers - Bossa Studios 

This is a good point. If people want to talk about your show (or any entertainment media) on the internet, then they will. You can’t stop them and they will likely speak their minds, so do not expect them to be kind or forgiving. 


It also means that if you have a story worth sharing, people will almost certainly share it. One thing social media unquestionably does is amplify your content’s voice. What was good will be sung from the rooftops. What was bad will be taken apart, brick by brick. People are often not that picky and will watch any old shit if they can’t be bothered to stop. But they will tell people about it afterward.

And this is without taking into account what will happen when everybody stops talking about social media as a trend and it’s just ‘the way things are’. After-all, while social media is just people talking to each other, except on the internet, the fact they're doing it on the internet does mean we’ll see new types of behaviour emerge. And that means opportunity.

Let’s make games for everyone. Yes, even her. And TV shows exclusively for just that guy there. No, that one.

“Over the past 30 years, television entertainment has undergone a profound shift. Viewers went from spending their time on a handful of broadcast channels to clustering around hundreds of niche-based channels with the rise of cable and satellite viewing. Online video is the next stage of this evolution, with the rise of millions of channels catering to their own specific audience.” - Rachel Ball, YouTube

“The future of games-based entertainment will be one of increasingly mainstream appeal” - Paul Canty, Preloaded

So TV is getting more niche and games are getting more mainstream. That’s a trend, that’s a thing, you will see that happen, it will happen. Of course, while it is happening (and it will happen) there will be all manner of lovely space opening up for people - maybe people like you - to make games for just that guy and shows for everyone on the planet.

Bitches don't know 'bout ma cardigans

Now this is completely unsurprising - TV started out as a broadcast service and so had to at least attempt to appeal to really quite a lot of people. Games on the other hand have always been an on-demand product, so naturally started out serving niches and have slowly pulled back to look at the bigger picture. 

The trend is not news, is not insight, but I suspect the wise will find as many opportunities to buck it as they do to play along.

You may be wondering why I gathered you all here today...

“those TV shows that create events and build a virtual community around those events will thrive” - David Flynn - Endemol UK

“The next evolution of entertainment will happen when the talented folks in TV and film [...] start thinking in terms of ‘content systems’ rather than television programs.” - Paul Bennun, Somethin’ Else

And herein is the story. Communities! TV is broadcast. Lots of people will see a TV show, so the chance that a community will be created, regardless of the intentions of the producer and broadcast. Have a look at Inspector Spacetime for some pretty amazing details of exactly that kind of thing happening.

I'm on the right track baby, I was born this way

The trick, truth be told, isn’t so much in creating the community, but in knowing what the hell to do with them once you have them. This is the point my esteemed (lol) colleague (ha ha) Paul Bennun is making. The more openings your content has, the more ways there are for the community to get involved and actually ‘do’ rather than simply ‘being’.

Hell, even without any such access, given sufficient time and a large and passionate enough community then you get Star Wars The Director’s Cut. Working out ways to make that kind of community action and creativity easier and more enjoyable is a big challenge for modern media.

Making a community is the easy part. It’s having a meaningful relationship with them that’s the tricky bit.

10 points to Gryffindor!

“...have writers, directors, game designers and technologists all in a room together, at the start, trusting one another and devising the format from scratch” - Alex Fleetwood - Hide & Seek

“The next big thing has to be delivering an engaging lie-back and enjoy experience for connected entertainment devices.” - Andrew Walker - Tweetminster

These are my favourite quotes of the lot. These cut to the quick of the matter, to me.

Can I come?

First we need to start thinking in a far more cohesive fashion. This requires, in the immediate future, for the TV part of multi-platform stuff to simultaneously take more of a back-seat without losing any of its strengths as a TV show. That’s a difficult thing to balance and will take a lot of experimentation and inevitable miss-steps, but we need to start dropping the presumed hierarchies we’ve used for so long and start giving each element the space it needs to shine, whatever new and unusual approaches that might require.

Secondly, when it comes to TV and broadcast specifically, the fundamentally lie-back and passive aspect to the experience is the one that defines the medium more than any other. Interactive TV will have its place, and shows that require interaction should absolutely be given their chance to shine. But the core of the TV experience is one where you turn-on, tune-in and drop-off, right? 

That, more than anything, is the real insight of the day. 

Apologies to those who I didn’t mention. I suppose.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Smash TV

Big money! Big prizes! I love it!

That’s what everyone wants to do, isn’t it? Beat TV. Kill TV. Kick TV to bits and throw all the little pieces into a big bin. TV’s been sitting there, in the corner of your personal living room, doing its TV thing since like, forever. How bloody dare it. Did no-one tell TV that there was the internet now? This is the future guy, and we have smartphones and Twitter and Skyrim. You’re not a TV, you’re a device. Get with the program and stop making 300 billion dollars a year without even a ‘like’ button.

"What's that boy? Timmy has diabetes?"
Considering how much the internet wants to duff up the telly, it surprises me how much the problem is viewed as a technical one, rather than a cultural one. That was a lie, it doesn’t surprise me in any way. Tech people see the ‘TV problem’ as a tech problem, of course they do. But they’re wrong. Partially wrong.

TV is a cultural entity. There are a bunch of things about the way it operates that are viewed not as strengths, but as technical issues in need of solving, when if anything, tech could do to learn from TV’s limitations. Linear, broadcast, passive, sit-back experiences that are often more ambient than gripping. Surely we can make TV into a customised entertainment engine, blasting out exactly the right show for YOU right NOW! See what your friends are watching, watch it with them, submerge yourself in the worlds of your favourite shows for the rest of your natural life!

Or we can just press a button and sit down and see what’s on.

Define ‘better’

It’s the shared pain of television's shortcomings that make it what it is. Making TV ‘better’, solving TV’s ‘problems’ won’t do anything to challenge its dominance in these terms. To create something that is both capable and deserving of killing TV, one needs to create something that defines small-talk and office chat by its sheer ubiquity. The race to provide customised, perfectly entertaining streams of content to customers’ unconscious needs is not going to do that. We can’t share experiences we don’t, you know, share.

Did you just zippety bop zoopa bop?
There’s an important difference between TV and video, yet it’s rarely discussed by even the biggest players in this game. Video is a kind of content, TV is a delivery mechanism, but more importantly, it’s a culture. It’s entirely obvious that the delivery mechanism of a product is important to the experience. It’s less obvious that the most convenient option isn’t necessarily the best.

Social proof, the enjoyment and reassurance given by doing what you know others are doing, is a powerful force and one which television gets to enjoy by default. The larger the number of channels available, the weaker this force becomes, as the audience splits into smaller and smaller niches. 

You Tube’s power play with its commissioning of original content and attempt to reposition itself as a serious alternative to TV  is based on a strategy that extends the cable paradigm of more channels with more specialised content. This is probably good for the individual, but I’m not convinced it’s good for society.

Hello, yes, this is Situation
TV has a wonderful ability to remind us how we’re all the same, as much as give us what we personally want. It shapes and informs us a culture. That can surely be a force for bad, as much as a force for good, but I for one would be sad to see that end. Let’s make sure that while we try to make TV better for each of us, we don’t end up making it worse for all of us.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen

War of the Words

So yeah, that was a thing. I don’t usually do follow up posts, but the response to my sexism piece was so extraordinary, I don’t think it’s right to ignore it. So here, a week later, is a brief post to follow up on what happened before I go back to musing about the future of things like an idiot.

Gottle of gear

I got 1000 times more traffic than I usually do. The link has been retweeted well over 100 times. There have been some excellent follow up pieces, one from my good friend Margaret Robertson, discussion on Forbes, Edge, Reddit and numerous blogs and forums. And that’s only what I’m aware of. 

I wasn’t expecting any of those things to happen.

My predictions about the comments proved largely accurate. I received little abuse, and certainly none for it was based on my gender. Largely, people have agreed with me. Some people just claimed there wasn’t a problem, some detractors claimed that actually trying to do something about it was a bad idea, or impossible, and a few said that men suffer from sexism too! These excuses have been fully addressed in the comments.

The Lynx Effect

I received a lot of messages, mostly from women saying thank you. That made me happy to have done something seemingly right and sad that a bunch of intelligent women would feel the need to thank a random guy on the internet for writing an article that took maybe two hours to put together. There is no doubt at all that I believe what I wrote more now than I did when I wrote it. 

If this wasn’t a problem, or if doing something was worse than doing nothing, none of these things would have happened.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Dear Men, Please Listen. Love, Man

To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends

I‘m going to talk about something I am evidently unqualified to talk about. Women. I have met some and they seemed very nice people on the whole. I read, seemingly more and more often with every passing day, about the way that women are treated online, particularly in the game community and their lack of representation in the game industry. It makes me angry. So here, I will write about that.

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you
I will not be accused of being a shrill moaning harpy. I won’t be asked to make anyone a sandwich, nor will I be accused of being a lesbian, asked to suck anyone’s cock or be threatened with rape. Partially, this is because those who have met me understand that I view other humans as lunch with a temporary stay of execution. Let the Wookie win, as they say. Mostly, it’s because I’m a man and so people will read what I have to say rather than switching off their brain and spewing out some astonishingly unimaginative sexist bullshit. 

It strikes me as incredibly bizarre to think that men talking about the mega-sexism in the game industry, pointing at it and screaming and banging their ham-sized fists on the metaphorical game-table and bellowing that “this will not stand!” could have more effect than the same outrage expressed by the women actually suffering it. However, it seems very likely true. So here I will stand and bellow.

I am bellowing

So first up, is this a problem at all? Yes. Yes, this is a problem. The gaming community contains an incredible number of idiots. Go here and read this article about Saint’s Row 3 by Emma Boyes. It’s a good article, well reasoned and the complete opposite of anything aggressive or hectoring or provocative. It defends a game that has been attacked for sexism. It’s a great piece.

Then read the comments and it’s just a roll-call of complete fucking bullshit. Angry, shouty, stupid, illogical, emotional, insecure ranting, brought forth from the depths of the internet’s prick cabinet. If that exact same article had been written by a man, not a single one of those comments would have been written. That’s because they have absolutely nothing to do with anything that’s said in the article and, more importantly, because men don’t get handed this shit. That said, it didn’t stop The Hulk coming under attack for daring to call a sexism a sexism. 

and to hear the lamentation of their women

The even worse part are all the articles I can’t link to because they were never written. There is a gathering number of smart and interesting women who state that they don’t write what they want to write because of the abuse they will get for doing so. Read this to see what I mean. When they do write, they don’t speak their minds because of the abuse they will get for doing so. There are even more smart and interesting women who don’t admit to doing this, but secretly self-censor to keep themselves out of the crosshairs of the legion of poisonous clowns that would otherwise ladle depressing filth upon their good work.

It’s really bad for the game industry to have an atmosphere where women have to self-censor in order to avoid or placate a bunch of duck-brained super-ninnies. How can it be good for games to have the opinions of half the entire world cut-short or cut-out entirely, because the other half are peppered with socially-handicapped dick-weasels, determined to spoil everything for everyone because fuck you, that’s why. I remember when trolling was a art. On this subject, in this arena, it’s a disease, and not a very good one at that.

But but but but but but but but but

‘Ooh, if you can’t take it, get off the internet’ comes the call from over clutched handbag. Well if you can’t speak to a woman without resorting to wholly unimaginative sexist copypasta, how about you get off the internet? He who repeats sexist tropes wins? I think not. Sexism can be funny, same as racism, homophobia and so on. But only when it’s used to actually say something. You look at Stewart Lee or Louis CK and they will take sexist concepts and wield them to carve great ideas, explain great truths. They won’t use them to make women feel bad for no fucking reason, they usually use them to make men feel like shit for being fattening idiots. Just as it should be. But if you get it wrong, then face up to it. Don’t do this.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly.

And if you’re thinking ‘well I’ve never said anything like that’ then I don’t care. What have you done to stop it? When this happens, what will you do? What have you done to help the tiny handful of women in the game industry that you do know get their point across without being swamped in blandly, endlessly iterating threats, insults and bile? It’s really bad for the game industry that women don’t feel able to talk openly, so it’s now your job to help them do that, however you can. That’s your job, that’s what you have to do, because that’s what a decent person who cared at all about either women or games would do.

ur a fag

On a completely different note, this shit doesn’t even make any sense from a commercial perspective. From the perspective of a lizard-like being that cares not for people and only for money, the sexism that rides the industry like a pernicious, whispering, idiotic jockey is still a really bad thing.

Social games are often played by more women than men. PopCap reports about 54% women playing its games. But the number of women employed in the industry is, depending on who you listen to, between 7% and 15%. I suspect the 7% is probably closer to the truth.

The game industry is happy to lobby for tax credits, happy to lobby for better computer science teaching in schools (something that will probably help address the gender gap, admittedly) but seem to be doing close to nothing to get more women involved. 

Every day I'm levelling.
And this isn’t some white knight bullshit. This is just business. The more diverse your team, the more diverse your products, the more attitudes and angles will be considered and the better your product will be. The more money you will make. In a world of freemium, of mass-market gaming, of digging out those few whales that will bring money and fame to your game, you need to have as broad an appeal as possible. More diversity in your company will bring more diversity to your product. So form a more diverse team. And if the people just aren’t there for you to hire, make damn sure you’re pressuring everywhere you can to ensure that these people do exist in the future.

Diversity doesn’t mean women making games for women, by the way. I don’t believe that you have to be your customer. But more diversity just makes everything better, more nuanced, more knowing, more understanding. Better.

Even if you don’t think that fairness and equality are intrinsically valuable things to fight for, it’s still by far a better idea to be as inclusive as possible just to make more money. There is simply no excuse, beyond laziness and fear. Don’t be scared and lazy, it’s not very manly.

It just sort of vandalised itself

And worse still, if we don’t do something about this ourselves, one day the big bad government will get involved and make us do it. Norway already insists on quotas of women at the highest ranks in companies. It might not be the last place to do so. Hate speech will come to include sexist language and censorship will weigh heavy on the internet. If you won’t moderate yourselves, eventually people with guns and courts and locks and keys will come and moderate the shit out of you. 

The city this hero deserves.
So men, this is important and it needs you to do something about it. Of course women need to keep doing what they’re already doing, but we should be helping them and we are not doing enough. This is me trying to do something about it. It may not be quite the right thing, it may be very small, but I’m damn well going to find out.

This is my straw. I hope the camel is suffering.