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.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Uncle Computer, Tell Me A Story

This is why we can’t have nice things

‘Content is king’, that’s what they say. They don’t say ‘good content is king’ because that would be silly. If good content were king, then the Venn diagram of ‘things that are good’ and ‘things that sell a lot’ would be a circle. It’s not. We wouldn’t bother with different words for excellent and profitable, unless they were different things. In business terms, I’d rather have a shitty product and a great salesman then a great product and a shitty salesman. So what they should say is ‘Content that is good enough, is king.‘

Hiatus going to hiate.

If I like something, then I probably want more of it. This is how the TV channel Dave works, and it works very well. All of Top Gear, all of QI, that’s about it. This is also how piratebay works, because that means I can watch all of a thing in one go instead of being drip-fed it at the rate the advertisers and broadcasters have agreed on without ever even asking me once, the bastards. If, however, it costs a lot of time and money to make that thing that I like, then there’s going to be a disappointingly small amount of it for me to consume. Production is expensive.

The basic maths behind the delivery of digital media is that cost trends towards zero. This means that we end up with the position that media publishers are charging for something that costs nothing - a digital file. Making that file in the first place was of course massively expensive, but copying it? That costs nothing. And yet you, as a consumer, still get charged for it. Distribution is cheap.

The internet’s ability to distribute digital files for close to no cost has already been hugely disruptive and will continue to rework the way that commerce in relation to these files is handled. So what would happen if you could also trend the cost of production towards zero?

I think you’re ok, no matter what anyone says

There are three entities capable of producing content. The first is professionals, the second is amateurs and the third is machines. We are used to professional content, that’s how pretty much everything on TV , the games we buy at retail, newspapers, magazines and books were made. It’s usually quite good, but it’s expensive. A lot of what we see on the internet is amateur content; YouTube videos, blogs, comics, comment threads, all that lovely crowd sourced stuff that hippies get so excited about. It’s cheap, but an awful lot of it is rubbish.

Fly you fools!
Because you’re clever, you’ve realised that I’m saving machine generated content for last because that’s the one I’m excited about. Well done you, you are completely right. See machines that produce content, once you’ve built them, make new content essentially for free. They trend the cost of production towards zero. And that is an astonishing thought.

Computer games have toyed about a bit with procedurally, automatically generated content for about ever. It’s never really worked very well. Puzzle games already sort of do this - you can pretty much play Tetris or Triple Town forever. But they don’t generate stories or objects or landscapes or characters, at least not in the traditional sense.

One day, they will. Computer generated content has to be juuust good enough and it will immediately find a place where quantity is what users want.

If at first you don’t succeed, complete this line yourself

There’s a fantastic snippet from a talk given by Kurt Vonnegut where he plots out some basic stories as graphs, showing how stories can be broken down into arcs where things get worse and arcs where things get better. He invites his audience to put these ideas into a computer. I’m not sure if anyone did.

Here, Dan Harmon, the writer of Community, discusses an algorithmic approach to writing stories, and it’s great. A chap called Dan Benmergui made a lovely little storytelling toy called, well, Storyteller, which lets you move people around and as you do so, the three panel story changes. 

Are you Thor about this?
Stories have a shape, a shape that humans instinctively understand. This has been known for some time. And if that's true - and it seems it is - then it must be possible to get computers to make stories that humans find satisfying. The clues are all there. As yet, the case has not been cracked. If you can teach a computer to tell a story, you have a genuinely disruptive piece of technology. Not only would such a thing be able to trend production costs towards zero, if you have a machine capable of making content, of in some way telling stories itself, then you can make completely new kinds of experience. And that is the most exciting part of all.

If the story is told by a computer, it can be altered on the fly by the computer. These things have happened, so finish the story from here. If that's true, then you have genuinely interactive stories. Like an Uncle adapting his bed-time story to the whims and suggestions of his nieces and nephews, the story can go any way you want, change to suit the desires of the user, turn on a dime and still reach a satisfying conclusion. Is it a story? Is it a game? Who cares?

Ahh, the future. Makes you feel all warm inside, no?