SF and Gaming Blog

Thoughts, reviews and opinion on the overlapping worlds of science fiction and gaming.

The Outing of Requires Hate

Although I have been a reader of science fiction for many, many years, my fandom is music. And I’m glad it is.

Until very recently there was a book review blog called “Requires Only The You Hate”. It’s stock-in-trade was vitriolic reviews of science fiction novels, typically denouncing everything as racist and attacking the author rather than the work. The same blogger was also a notorious troll, posting under a number of identities over a period of a decade, and behaving as a serial harasser to a significant number of people, the majority of them women. Had she been operating in Britain she would very likely have been jailed. Her behaviour really was that bad.

Now her identity has been outed as a new writer under the name of Benjanun Sridankaew, whose new persona as a writer is all sweetness and light.

The whole thing is detailed here, if you have the stomach to read it. It’s nasty stuff.

She has now posted a public apology, but in a situation like this an apology can only be the first step on a long road to redemption. You can’t just wash away a past that bad overnight.

Whether or not we will see similar apologies from any of those who have enabled and encouraged her reign of terror over the past decade remains to be seen, and it has to be said that the list of people listed as supporting her over her victims contains one or two of the usual suspects. These are some of the same names that showed up in the Jonathan Ross debacle, including the one responsible for driving Ross’ wife off Twitter.

But the biggest problem is the subculture she operated within. What sort of subculture considers what can only be described as dehumanising hate-speech to be acceptable provided the target group is more “privileged”? Yet this is precisely the set of values that have taken over a significant part of the SFF world in recent years. It’s stated goals are to promote inclusivity and social justice, but without a commitment to human empathy it’s devolved into a frighteningly authoritarian form of identity politics. It’s created a perfect environment in which an abuser can hide; all they have to do cite the correct buzzwords and they’re given a free pass. There are parallels both with the collapse of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, and the abuse scandals that have seriously diminished the standing of the Roman Catholic Church.

When the whole Vox Day/SFWA and Hugo nominations things blew up, I was shocked that even a tiny minority would support someone who’s a known homophobic white supremacist rape apologist. But seeing later dramas unfold I’m beginning to understand why a long-term online friend who I’ve always considered a liberal would claim in the comments on this blog to be rooting for Larry Correia and Vox Day for the Hugo awards.

What happens next will be interesting. When SF’s default ideology was a militaristic frontier libertarianism and most books were written by white men with engineering degrees, too many voices got marginalised, and that was not a good thing. But now you’re left with a feeling it’s gone too far the other way, and the scene has adopted a set of values that meant it was only a matter of time before it all imploded. It’s had its revolution, now it’s reached the stage of the revolution eating its children.

SF would be a lot healthier if authors could put whatever politics they liked into the actual books, but SF as a whole didn’t favour one ideology over another. There will always be cliques and partisan sub-fandoms, that’s just human nature. And sometimes they’ll fight and there will be drama. But the bigger cultural war needs to end in a truce with both sides acknowledging the other’s right to exist.

I am still glad my chosen fandom is music. Music doesn’t have this nonsense nowadays.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Gamergate’s complaints about agenda-driven reviews make me wonder how on earth gamers would have reacted had the video game press been anything like as bad as the “mainstream” British music press has been for decades. Have there been reviews remotely equivalent to Dave McCulloch’s dismissive one-star review of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in Sounds? Are there any gaming journalists as appallingly bad as Julie Burchill?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Critical Schools and Gatekeepers

Some thoughts triggered by a Google+ thread comparing some gamers’ narrow definitions of what counts as a “proper game” with the state of literary criticism in academia.

A healthy artistic scene, whether the medium is music, film, visual arts, literature or games needs many competing schools of criticism, all championing different aesthetics. If any one school gets so dominant that they can make their aesthetic the default and set themselves up as gatekeepers, it’s bad for the health of the medium as a whole. It gets worse if that dominance becomes entrenched.

This has happened in the world of literature, where the “serious novel” needs to conform to such a narrow palette of tropes that it’s become a thing of parody. Rock and pop criticism has run into the same problems many times in the past.

What can or should be done about it is another question.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

#GamerGate – An Issue With Two Sides

This is an insightful piece in TechCrunch about the #GamerGate controversy

Two sides have emerged, which believe in completely different realities. If you are to listen to the extreme of one side, you will hear that gamers are reactionary right-wingers who excuse harassment. If you listen to the extreme of the other side, every critic of GamerGate is a brainwashed activist who thinks liking Hitman Absolution or GTAV makes you worse than Hitler.

Holding up the extremes of both sides is a great way to avoid dialogue. It’s politics – not, as Tadhg Kelly suggests, in the sense of liberals versus conservatives, but in the more fundamental sense of “my side” versus “your side.”

Though I don’t share the author’s libertarian politics, having seen these same culture wars play out across the tabletop RPG hobby and Science Fiction fandom over the past two or three years, it’s very difficult to disagree with anything he says.

This is an issue where I’m unwilling to take sides because I believe both sides are wrong, and both sides have embraced the mistaken idea that these culture wars are a zero-sum game.

Posted in Games | Tagged | Leave a comment

We The People: A game or a Poe?

It is very difficult to tell whether We the People Fight Tyranny Game is intended to be a serious board game, or whether the whole thing is an elaborate parody of the world view of the all-American wingnut.

It purports to be both a “fun game” and an educational tool about American history, liberry and tyranny.

This is a sample of one of the cards in the game, which gives a flavour:

Sockal Justice

That one card really does speak volumes.

The website is filled with boilerplate rightwing screeds, but gives very little away about the gameplay.  But it leaves the impression that the game is a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly, two of the very worst board games in all history.

So combne two games which put people off board games for life, then marinade the whole thing in heavy-handed ideological propaganda.

And you wonder why it looks like an elaborate parody.

Posted in Games | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Dalek Relaxation Tape

What it says….

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

GamerGate vs Music Journalism

Gamergate still seems to show little sign of dying down, and forms part of the much larger cultural wars that have been raging across the tabletop RPG and SFF worlds over the past couple of years. As is usual for the internet, the loudest and most extreme voices are getting all the attention, and all nuance is lost.

I don’t really know much about the current state of video game journalism, so I don’t know quite how accurate the accusations and counter-accusations I’ve been seeing might be. But they do suggest there are parallels with the state of music journalism and criticism.

Good criticism is an important part of any artistic ecosystem. Critics certainly have a role in publicising and promoting great art. It should go without saying that constructive criticism plays a part in making good art better. And, whatever some fanboys might say, criticism does have a role in calling out bad art that’s undeserving of anyone’s time and money. There is much in the music world that is derivative, formulaic and clichéd. There is art that is tasteless and offensive for its own sake. And there is pretentious nonsense that is nowhere near as clever as it likes to think it is.

But as every music fan ought to know, there is as much bad criticism as there is bad music. There are reviews that seem little more than regurgitated press releases. There are unfairly negative reviews that fail to engage with what the artist is trying to do. There are reviews that have an obvious and unsubtle agenda shared by neither artist nor audience. And the cardinal sin of criticism is still reviewing the audience rather than the performance, usually accompanied by a sneer.

Does any of that sound familiar?

But ultimately both bad art and bad reviews have an absolute right to exist, and only become a problem when they start drowning out everything better. This has been a recurring problem in the music world, but has slowly faded away as the internet has eroded the powers of the old gatekeepers. Is it the same in the world of video games?

Posted in Games | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Gamergate

The intensity of the #Gamergate shitstorm has me rolling my eyes in disbelief.

It is difficult to understand how the revelation that one game developer was sleeping with a reviewer represents wholesale corruption in the entire games industry. And it’s near impossible to believe the gaming press could be remotely as corrupt or as destructive as vast swathes of the music press have been for decades. Although it has to be said that one or two of the inflammatory editorials I’ve seen appear to have been written with the deliberate intention of pouring petrol on the flames.

I’m not into video games, but my social media feeds are filling up with it all the same. From the outside the whole thing looks like yet another round in the same culture wars we’ve been seeing across the SFF fandom and the Tabletop RPG worlds over the past couple of years. It’s the same mess of entrenched positions and exclusionary rhetoric where truth is the first casualty, and the internet is yet again amplifying the loudest and most polarising voices.

The way these things constantly blow up over relatively trivial issues is getting very wearing. I’m not surprised that I’m seeing good people quit social media, burned out by the never-ending outrage.

Of course, whenever there’s a shitstorm of this natures, the trolls descent like vultures, but we should be wary of claims tying those trolls to any wider demographic.

It shouldn’t need to be said that there is no justification for anonymous threats aimed at individuals, ever.

If you are one of those who thinks these wars are a fight to the death between “Us” and “Them”, and you consider a sizeable part of the fandom or hobby as “Them”, then you are part of the problem, regardless of which “side” you are rooting for.

Posted in Games | Tagged | Leave a comment

If a Dalek’s immune system is lots of tiny Beholders, are there little Gelatinous Cubes inside every Cyberman?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

James Desborough has got the licence for an RPG John Norman’s Gor, and has started Indiegogo campaign to fund it. No further comment is really necessary…

Posted on by Tim Hall | Comments Off