SF and Gaming Blog

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

Requires Hate: Hostile exploits of cultural vulnerabilties

The lid has now well and truly blown off in the Requires Hate affair.

This blog post from Laura Mixon, wife of SFWA president Steven Gould lays out all the gory details, and the comments are very illuminating.

A critical mass of SF professionals are now concluding that the rainbows and kittens “Benjanun Sriduangkaew” persona was a fake construct, her apologies cannot be taken at face value, and the SF community has been dealing with a malevolent manipulative sociopath and serial abuser. More and more of her victims are coming forward.

One thing needs to be made clear. Requires Hate was not a critic. A critic is an important part in the cultural ecosystem who forms part of a feedback loop that serves to make art better. She did not do that; her aim looks as though it to make room for her own writing by destroying the careers of potential rivals. She was allowed to get away with it for so long because she appropriated the language of social justice.

Her abuse didn’t take place in a vacuum. To use a software analogy, her behaviour is a hostile exploit of a critical vulnerability in the subculture. In particular, the rules of etiquette surrounding privilege-checking and tone arguments that have become commonplace in social justice spaces. Yes, they developed for perfectly good reasons to give voice to the marginalised, but they’d calcified and become open to abuse.

Some conservatives had actually been pointing this out for years, but they’d been ignored, largely because they were conservatives.

In recent years the SFF world has been forced to deal with problems of old-fashioned racism and male sexual predators. A lot of measures such as stricter convention harassment policies have been developed as a result. The virulently racist Vox Day was expelled from SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) for breaching their rules once too often. But the next predator doesn’t necessarily look like the last, and Requires Hate came from the opposite direction from the way everyone was looking. Too many people appear to have been blindsided.

Requires Hate has been described as being as bad as Vox Day. But she is actually a whole order of magnitude worse than Vox Day. It’s true that Vox Day is a vile bigot. But at the end of the day he’s just an internet blowhard. I haven’t seen any accusations the VD has directly stalked or engaged in sustained campaigns of harassment against anyone. RH is everything VD is, including the bigotry, but she’s guilty of far, far more than that.

It’s not hard to imagine some people wanting to use this as an opportunity to settle old scores. But I hope that the SFF community as a whole can move on. It cannot become the inclusive community it aspires to be if it continues to tolerate witch-hunts, bullying and the sort of abuse we’ve been seeing. Those who were willing to tolerate RH as long as it looked as though she was in their tent pissing out are part of the problem and I hope that they’ll recognise this and make amends.

The community needs to reject the more extreme forms of identity politics that see entire demographics that historically made up a big part of SF’s core community as an enemy. There must be far greater emphasis on human empathy.

It’s hard not to draw parallels with ongoing trainwreck of GamerGate at this point. It’s all part of the same wider culture war after all, and people who should have known better helped to enable Requires Hate because she pretended to be one of their side. The parallels with both sides of GamerGate are left an an exercise for the reader.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The lesson you learn from following people on both sides of #GamerGate on Twitter is the effect too much time in internet echo chambers has on people. It makes it far too easy to demonise large groups of people who don’t share your exact values, especially if all you see of them is their very worst, retweeted as “outrage porn”. And too many people appear unable to see the harm being done by elements of their own side.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Why #GamerGate must end, and why it needs a truce

Two months on and GamerGate is still going on, with every attempt to shut it down merely fanning the flames. But we are starting to see some rejection of the manicheanism and lack of nuance that’s a big part of the problem.

For example, this rant on Popehat that takes no prisoners. But while most of it is aimed at supporters of GamerGate, pointing out how ridiculous the majority of their claims are, he also takes some well-aimed shots at their opponents. In particular the proponents of knee-jerk outrage-driven call-out culture who are shocked to find their own tactics used against them.

If you cultivate a culture in which people react disproportionately to stupid or offensive jokes, sooner or later someone else is going to be freaking out — sincerely or cynically — over someone “on your side” telling a stupid joke.

If you cultivate a culture in which the internet lands on someone like a ton of bricks for being an asshole, sooner or later some segment of the internet is going to decide that you are the asshole, and pile on you.

It is pointed out that the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend:

Look, if you see #GamerGate as a vehicle to advance cultural conservative messages that you believe in, more power to you. That’s free speech. But if you are genuinely someone who only cares about journalistic integrity, and you promote Breitbart and Yiannopoulos, aren’t you being a useful idiot?

And both sides are guilty of that:

Yiannopoulos is by no means the only example. There’s also the feculent two-faced pack of scribblers at Gawker Media. Gawker Media, through Kotaku and Gawker and Jezebel, is consistently outraged at the misogyny of #GamerGate, and has retreated into pearl-clutching couch-fainting at the attacks it has recently endured on its own work. But Gawker Media loves feminism like a glutton loves his lunch.

Slate’s David Auerbach notes that there are all sorts of people for or against GamerGate, including feminists supporting it as a proxy war in a long-running feud between different generations of feminism. But it’s all reached the point where the human cost is just too high. It has to stop.

Whatever a troll does under the cover of Gamergate—such as doxxing actress Felicia Day or offering free game codes to accounts that send death threats—is guaranteed to get a lot of attention (far more than typical Internet harassment) and to be blamed not on the individual but on Gamergate collectively. For a troll, this is a perfect setup: maximum effect, minimal exposure. I could dox any woman in gaming, and Gamergate would get blamed. So as long as Gamergate drags on, trolls who care less about games than about causing chaos will wreak havoc

But he also makes the point that GamerGate, despite all the attendant toxicity, is going to continue for as long as the gaming media continues to use the highly visible misogyny and harassement to deflect attention away from things the media doesn’t want to talk about. His conclusion is that in order for GamerGate to come to an end, there has to be some sort of truce with those supporters who aren’t reactionary trolls. Parts of the media do need to clean up their acts, and he’s another to point an accusing finger at Gawker Media, who have not exactly been covering themselves in glory.

I’ve mentioned parallels with the culture wars across music a generation ago before. Back in those days entire genres of music had to fight for their right to exist. In a dishonest hit piece so notorious it’s remembered decades later, Rush and their fanbase were slandered as Nazis. We were told that guitar solos were misogynistic because the guitar was a phallic symbol. Well, perhaps not in those exact words, but that was surely the subtext behind Paul Morley’s ridiculous “Anti-Rockist” movement.

But all that was years ago, and it was really the growing pains of a far more diverse music scene that was rapidly fragmenting into multiple overlapping subcultures. Nowadays genres of music whose audiences are overwhelmingly white and male such as metal or progressive rock are allowed to exist without constantly having to defend themselves against charges of racism and sexism for that reason alone. And because the relative merits of different styles of music is largely divorced from identity politics we can have discussions about homophobia in the metal scene without getting derailed by “You should all be listening to dance-pop instead”.

Music’s bitter culture wars took place in a very different media environment, where a limited number of gatekeepers have far more power, and agenda-driven music journalists really did have the ability to make or break careers. It was far more of a zero-sum game in the days before the internet and the diversification of distribution channels.

Only the other hand, perhaps we’re lucky there was no Twitter during the Punk Wars.

Posted in Games, Religion & Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

It seems as though “Gamers are over” is the new “Rock is dead”. We’ve been hearing that rock is dead from people that have never liked rock in the first place, but rock has always refused to go away.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Was Michael Moorcock’s Law and Chaos based on any real-world religious or philosophical system, or did he create it from the whole cloth? It’s remarkable how manycultural conflicts that cut across traditional political and religious lines make more sense when framed as Law vs. Chaos, or between conflicting strains of Law.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

The Culture Wars need to end in a truce

Despite the increasingly heated rhetoric, the culture wars across gaming and SF&F can only end with some sort of truce. A world where one “side” gains total victory over the other and all the things and people they don’t like are disappeared will not result in a healthy creative environment for anyone.

The music world has long since split into multiple overlapping tribes that, however grudgingly, allow each other to exist and don’t intrude in each others’ spaces. 30 years on, the only people who still care about the Punk Wars resemble those Japanese soldiers in the 1970s emerging from the jungle not realising the war was over and the world had moved on. The worlds of games and science fiction media needs to do the same.

This isn’t to say the doxxing, death threats, sexist harassment or abusive stalking we’ve been seeing is in any way acceptable. That needs to be called out, regardless of who is doing or encouraging it.

Posted in SF and Gaming | Tagged | Leave a comment

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