Posted in Media

Under the iceberg: Media and the axioms of Communication

BuzzFeed has published some leaked reports that alleged some pretty embarrassing stuff about US president elect Donald Trump. In their own words, the report includes “unverified, and potentially unverifiable” allegations, published “so that Americans can make up their own minds”.

This has spurred debate: in publishing these reports, is BuzzFeed behaving unethically? Well, of course! BuzzFeed is being extremely unethical, and they know precisely what they’re doing. That shouldn’t be a point of debate—and in fact, at this point, it isn’t, since BuzzFeed’s behavior has been criticized everywhere, even by Trump critics, and there’s even talk of this report originating from /pol/ trolls.

I do believe that this is a pretty interesting starting point for a discussion of a very interesting subject: Communication theory, and how journalists abuse its principles to peddle lies.

*   *   *

An axiom of Communication, most famously expressed by the Pragmatics of Human Communication, is that not just a portion but the majority of meaning in any Communication is implied.

Anytime we’re communicating something—even when we think we aren’t, since another axiom says it’s impossible not to communicate—an obscene number of factors is influencing the message that gets received, whether we want it or not.

Factors including, but not limited to:

  • Identity of the speaker or the listener. When I go take pictures of cosplayers, I might compliment male cosplayers on their physique—but not females, since they’d likely perceive it as romantic soliciting.
  • Phrasing. “Could you pour me some water” or “My glass is empty” have the same meaning, but the second implies a certain contempt for the listener.
  • Tone, non-verbal communication. It’s the reason we take so long to write about something that we would easily convey in person.
  • Medium we’re using. I could go on.

One of these factors is the amount of space the Communication is taking up. At the limit, the fact that the Communication exists at all communicates something about it. The mere fact that a certain detail exists in a narration is enough to perceive it as important.

When applying this to journalistic stories, the fact that a journalist has decided to report on a subject is actually saying that the subject is worth covering. In the BuzzFeed case, it doesn’t matter how often the article (or its defense by EiC Ben Smith) mentions the claims are unverified and, because the mere fact that these claims are being published is implying that they’re worth publishing.

Back in my Ethics in Journalism class at the University, our professor brought up this example: an Italian tv show wanted to make an episode about skinheads, and tried to organize a debate between a skinhead and holocaust survivor writer Primo Levi, who refused to participate. Levi did very well not to: had he appeared in a debate with a neo-nazi, the implied meaning would’ve been that neo-nazis are credible enough to debate someone of Levi’s renown on an even ground!

*   *   *

Another very interesting thing about implications in Communication concerns omissions. This is another point of the BuzzFeed article that, in my opinion, makes it very clear that their article was not a mistake, but they were being dishonest and knew exactly what they were doing.

In the article at a certain point BuzzFeed points out some mistakes in the claims: they’re mispelling a name, they’re describing a settlement as reserved to the government when it’s just inhabited by wealthy people. This is basically like Betty’s audition in Mullholland Drive—although the words are saying one thing, the body language is saying the opposite.

BuzzFeed might seem more honest for pointing out some mistakes, but paradoxically it’s the opposite, because by drawing attention to these small mistakes they’re implying that these are the worst mistakes in the report, and therefore that the rest of the report is reasonably accurate.

It’s like linguist Grice’s famous recommendation letter, where he writes that someone speaks excellent English and attended tutorials regularly—it’s implied that these are the person’s best qualities, thus that this person is unskilled. Much more low-brow, it also reminds me of a classic Italian joke, an exchange that more or less goes “Is she beautiful?” “She’s polite”.

*   *   *

As stated above, there’s really not much of a point in debating BuzzFeed’s already-discredited article. The observations above are more general and interesting for other articles that use similar manipulation tools.

What could be a more interesting is reflecting on what BuzzFeed was trying to do in throwing this terrible article out. The more I go on, the less estimate I have for journalists, and the more simple stupidity looks plausible: a myopic clickbaiting outlet throws out an outrage-inducing story for quick hits, they are surprised to discover people are having none of it, they are doubly surprised when six months from now Trump starts dismantling civil liberties and journalists calling him out are dismissed and ridiculed because they’ve disintegrated their credibility after falling for hoax after hoax.

Still, comfy as this idea is, this kind of articles does actually have a target: people who already almost believe it. BuzzFeed seems to think that there’s people despising Trump to the point that they will take this seriously, and that they make such a sizable crowd that the site will have a net gain in eyeballs despite the hit they just took to their credibility.

A move like this wouldn’t make sense otherwise, unless the outlet is so desperate that they’re running out of options.

Image via Wunee—Morguefile.com

Posted in GamerGate, Media

A digest of the Crash Override Network logs

(parts of this article were basically written by my friend and DeepFreeze contributor @ExposedPerfidy—we can consider him this article’s co-author)

I explained what Crash Override Network is and why it is relevant in the first part. What is left, here, is to explain what happened to make it worth writing about now: the leaked CON logs.

This article was meant to be at least comparatively exhaustive, but it has had a tremendously long gestation due to the sheer length of the logs, which are very dense with compromising material. Relevant information will keep getting added to this post, which will be liberally modified. A list of major edits can be seen at the bottom.

What are these logs?

These logs, found here, are the archives of a Skype group hosted by CON heads Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz. The archives run from December 22, 2014 and January 5, 2015—they are around 50,000 lines long, close to a million words. The purpose of the group was the creation of an anti-harassment group, which would come to be Crash Override Network, as mentioned twice in the logs.

The people in the proto-CON chat also participated in the creation of CON’s charter and documentation. It seems these people are CON’s anonymous staff of “survivors” allegedly helping harassment victims.

The leaks were shortly followed by the leaks of CON’s official documentation, and the group’s Trello shared notes.

The logs’ authenticity has been confirmed by former members Ian Cheong, Randi Harper and Peter Coffin. I’ve been in contact with the anonymous group that parsed the logs, and I’ve seen myself some more information that corroborates the logs’ veracity.

Articles discussing these logs appeared on The Washington Examiner, Heatstreet (twice) and multiple times on One Angry Gamer—apparently, following an efficient media package released by the leakers. Despite the overwhelming amount of coverage that CON had previously received, outlets which had already covered CON chose to answer the leaks with a deafening silence. CON has retained its role as a Twitter trusted partner, and discussion of the leaks is being heavily policed on Wikipedia, where some editors are actively battling to avoid any mention of the leaks on CON’s page.

Who is in these logs?

All of the people in this log are, or have been, very critical towards users of the #GamerGate hashtag, with several being more famous for this criticism than for anything they’re actually doing. The chat contains the overwhelming majority of people considered “Anti-GamerGate” figureheads.

It’s up to speculation which of these people, if any, are still active in Crash Override Network at this point. People active in the logs include CON’s founders:

  • Zoe Quinn, the CEO of Crash Override Network and a media darling with excellent publicity—writing as drinternetphd in the logs.
  • Alex Lifschitz, Quinn’s partner and CFO of CON.

Journalists and other people with large platforms:

  • Then editor-in-chief of GameRanx and freelance journalist Ian Miles Cheong. Cheong has very publicly detached himself from CON’s clique long before the leaks, and has apologized for his behavior in the logs, even writing about them.
  • Freelance journalist Katherine Cross—then-secretary of Feminist Frequency and likely CON’s contact with their sponsor.
  • Youtuber Peter Coffin.
  • Former Jeopardy champion and freelance journalist Arthur Chu. Not seen active in the chat.
  • Freelance journalist Dan Olsen.
  • Freelance journalist Vereender Jubbal.
  • Former Football punter Chris Kluwe.

Other comparatively e-famous people:

  • Randi Harper, most famous for creating the GGAutoblocker. Founder of CON partner organization Online Abuse Prevention Initiative.
  • Dina Abou Karam, at the time the controversial community manager for Comcept.
  • Twitter activist and owner of now-defunct site FFShrine Sarah Nyberg.
  • “Internet harassment” specialist Israel Galvez, who appeared on tv as a victim of harassment.
  • Programmer Faruk Ateş (@KuraFire)—formerly at Apple, author of Modernizr.
  • Small-time indie developer David Gallant.
  • Small-time tabletop game author @SecretGamerGirl

Rest of people are not notable, except for their Anti-GamerGate Twitter activity:

  • @SjwIlluminati (Tesseract, not to be confused with Remy)
  • @AthenaHollow
  • @UntimelyGamer (nicholas.boterf)
  • @Zennistrad (Lars Flyger)
  • @UnseenPerfidy (Robert Marmolejo)
  • @SFTheWolf (SF)
  • @StephanAtWar, later @Tesseraconteur (Remy)
  • @KnifeHorse (live:riotarms)
  • @Nibelsnarfabarf (Charloppe)
  • @AnnieKNK (Annie Kelly)
  • “Ross”, twitter unidentified.

Some other people are mentioned but not seen active. Among them, relevant are @a_man_in_black, seen very active in the Trello, and @kav_p who’s mentioned as being a member.

Just the names in the logs are troubling for CON

  • The existence of “Anti-GamerGate” as an organized movement has been always denied and mocked by people accusing of belonging to it. The CON leaks prove that basically all major Anti-GamerGate figurehead were working together at CON.
  • @StephanAtWar/@Tesseraconteur has been extremely critical of CON, stating that they chose clients with the aim of gaining publicity and power, and that they shared clients’ personal information and even that they managed to get a journalist banned from Twitter. While these are just unverified assertions, they suddenly carry a lot more weight, since it’s now known that this person was posting in these leaks as “Remy”, and, as a founding CON member, they would have access to insider information.
  • A victim’s rather unflattering account of an harassment victim who asked for CON’s help—showing CON is late in replying, only offers very generic and at points questionable advice, starts ignoring and blaming the harassment victim when she disagrees with them—becomes even more damaging, because two out of three of the people this victim accuses of being her harassers were, unbeknownst to her and revealed only by the recent leaks, members of CON (Harper and Nyberg), and the third (@a_man_in_black on Twitter) is mentioned in the logs and is very active on the Trello.

Several CON members were known harassers

Aside from Quinn—who, as noted in the first part, has been involved in harassment and accused of being involved in scams multiple times, but who, as the founder, was already known to be part of CON:

  • Robert Marmolejo has been accused of sexually harassing over twenty women, soliciting them for nudes with the threat of suicide. Accusation has been confirmed by fellow CON members and Marmolejo himself (who publicly apologized). The logs prove he was active in CON—actually, a founding member.
  • Israel Galvez has been engaging in a documented doxing attempt. CON, contacted about this event, had denied Galvez worked with them—this might not be a lie, as CON’s statement might reflect his current position, but it’s undeniable he was a founding member.
  • Randi Harper has been engaging in frequent and blatant harassment over social media, including doxing a debt collector. She has at least once admitted to doxing.
  • Sarah Nyberg has been making money from piracy, has been involved in doxing and cyberattacks and, worst of all, is an admitted pedophile who shared pictures of an 8 years old relative. Not only was Nyberg proven to be a member, but the “Pedophile defense force”, who protected them once their issues were discovered was mostly made of fellow CON members.
  • Chris Kluwe has raised a scandal when he admitted he had covered up the rape of an underage girl.
  • While it’s less of an harassment issue and more of an embarasment, Peter Coffin is very famous in “lolcow” circles for manufacturing a false girlfriend and using her to harass a female blogger.

CON members call each other harassers

Aside from Remy and Cheong (whose divorce from social justice ideas was very publicized and brought to a significant change in his writing), many people in the logs quarreled with the rest of CON at some point after the logs—most of these spats involved Harper.

Aside from being a founding member of CON, Harper founded and manages their partner organization OAPI. Depending on if her accounts are to be believed, we have to conclude that either CON has been founded and staffed by toxic individuals who are harassers themselves, or that Harper’s a bully and a liar who falsely accuses others of harassment while banking over $3500 per month via Patreon as an harassment expert. Neither option, or the in-between, are particularly flattering for CON.

Harassment in the logs

Endorsement of harassment

Labeling innocent people harassers

Several times on the Trello leak (such as the “Twitter assholes” sections) contain references to people who were clearly not engaging in any form of harassment, and are seemingly there just for CON to keep shaming material on them.

 Lack of anti-harassment

While the logs aren’t completely empty of anti-harassment activity—there are calls to report harassment, and on at least one occasion even harassment of a perceived opponent—there’s overwhelmingly little of it. What little is actually there is mostly calls to protect members of the group from perceived slights, such as in the Jubbal examples above.

Aside from the bits mentioned in the above passages, highlights include:

Game industry

  • Dina Abou Karam had been in the middle of a huge controversy when she was hired as the community manager of Comcept—with the backers of their then-upcoming game Mighty N°9 accusing Dina of having been hired due to nepotism, of not caring about the game, and of wanting to manipulate its development with her political agenda. In what was going to be the first in a series of controversies eventually leading to Mighty N°9’s bad reputation and poor reception, Dina started deleting dissenting opinions from the game’s forums, and Concept, while denying backers’ requests for refunds. The leaks show Abou Karam bragging about influencing the game’s developement exactly as it was claimed she wouldn’t, although it’s unclear if this is plausible.
  • The Trello has notes about Quinn talking to crowdfunding site Patreon in order to have them cut financial support to Quinn’s perceived enemies, and notes seem to indicate CON considered this effort successful. Patreon’s founder Sam Yam had publicly claimed just two days after these notes he had “no horse in the race” and he had never even talked to Quinn. This may mean Quinn hadn’t talked to Yam specifically.
  • CON attempted to keep tabs on the harassment faced by their sponsor Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency—a controversial figure whose notoriety (and very high earnings) springs more from her claims of being a victim of constant harassment that from her extremely criticized videos. Despite their extremely relaxed standards in qualifying anything as harassment, they found no evidence of any of it involving Sarkeesian, whose advertised harassment had already been put in question.
  • Quinn states in the logs that she sabotaged the Polaris Game Jam in 2014. This is even more damaging, as at the time Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson released an article about the this Jam’s failure while he was having an affair with Quinn (or, at best, a little before the affair started, and most of the article ended up being about Quinn, depicting her as an hero and publicizing a possible game jam of her own. Quinn soon announced said Game Jam: “Rebel Jam” immediately started taking donations (to Quinn’s personal PayPal account), but, over two years later, still has no detail, dates, location, and is often accused of being a scam.

Hypocrisy

Connections

While several of the connections flaunted by CON members might be exaggerated or false, the many journalists that covered Quinn without disclosing personal or financial relationships with her are very well documented outside of the CON leaks, and are listed in the previous part.

 Final, personal thoughts

More than the individual episodes described above, what struck me about these logs was the very disturbing general tone. Considering its relatively small size, the group generates a lot of writing, and extremely little of it consists of light chats, general discussions, jokes… the chat never “turns off”, and almost all of it is just an unending ten minutes of hate towards users of the #GamerGate hashtag.

The group describes anyone who disagrees with them, as an harasser, abuser, racist—no matter how far-fetched these accusations. This leads to such a dehumanization of CON’s adversaries that reading a longer chunk of the logs’ continuous hate-spewing has been a fairly disturbing personal experience even for me.

The CON leaks contain such a tremendous amount of harassment, threats and other compromising material that even an article of this length can’t be considered exhaustive. The chat logs cover just fifteen days, and if the group has continued cooperating in the same way before and after, the content of these logs could be just the tip of a very terrible iceberg.

When I launched my website about gaming journalism, DeepFreeze.it, it was met with great praise, but it also received a lot of negative attention—and, aside from journalists that were listed on the site, a lot of faces were from CON (including a couple not included in the link). DeepFreeze’s feedback board was invaded by trolls—and the board’s moderator speculates CON founder Nyberg was one of them (Nyberg was frequently tweeting screens from the board). It’s impossible to say if CON was involved or not, but it’s certainly a reasonable speculation, especially with sudden start and end of these attacks suggesting a coordinated effort. I’m sure a lot of episodes in the last couple years might show similar patterns, raise some eyebrows.

*   *   *

The bottom line for me, as usual, is not CON itself. Aside from possibly Cheong, who has a fairly large journalistic presence (and has very thoroughly apologized for his behavior in the chat anyway), they’re nobodies as far as I’m concerned.

Problem is, as noted in the other article, they’re nobodies with a platform. My concern, as usual, is with journalists.

If you take a nude model whose only claim to fame are a couple of zero-effort text adventures, and start writing about her every time she breathes because it’s something that helps your agenda (or perhaps because you’re friends), and prop this nobody to the point that she is receiving $ 4.000,00 per month from well-meaning people for doing nothing, and has talked to the Congress and the UN as anti-harassment expert while leading a group of harassers… then you should quit journalism, lest you turn the word “journalist” into the insult I usually take it as when people compare me to one.

There’s been little debate about the CON leaks. Surprisingly little spinning, most involved parties (including Quinn and Lifschitz) have been, as far as I know, mostly silent. As noted above, the overwhelming majority of journalists that discussed CON before were silent this time, sometimes explicitly so. They did it because the evidence is so direct and so condemning that not even a flippin’ magician could manage to spin it without outing these journos as the frauds (or useful idiots) they’ve been.

So many journalists have propped up these harassers, these liars, these lazy people. I’m sure some stragglers will be stupid enough to cover these people again, despite the leaks. Well, journalists, if you keep not doing your job and being in service of the truth, then someone else will have to step in.

Because journalists are our eyes. And these eyes need to show the truth.

Edits history

  • 16/10/2016: Added Patreon section to Game Industry. Added Milo section to Lack of anti-harassment, and relevant disclosure below. Clarified Quinn’s “KB” list.
  • 10/10/2016: Added Sarkeesian section to Game Industry section, added Assange section to Lack of anti-harassmentMinor corrections.
  • 2/10/2016: Added Lack of anti-harassment and Final, personal thoughts sections. Exteneded Harassment in the logs section with Liana Kerzner section, split part of it off in the Endorsement of harsassment section. Several minor corrections.

Ethical disclosures:
I backed the Mighty N°9 crowdfunding campaign, at the basic $20 tier.
I met Milo Yiannopoulos once, at the GGinParis public meetup, where we had a brief conversation.
On my part, I consider myself on reasonably friendly terms with PressFartToContinue and Jennifer Medina.

Posted in GamerGate, Media

The conflicts of interest of the journalists covering Zoe Quinn

In August 2014, Quinn’s ex made a long post about her in a Cringe-worthy breakup stories thread. This post included Quinn’s admission that she had an affair with Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson—a journalist who had written about  her.

This was the spark that caused a still-ongoing explosion, an avalanche of events spanning two years—events that a neutral party will have even more trouble following, since no souce universally recognized as neutral is available to get informed on them.

Let’s stick to just the conflicts of interest, and let’s stick to the facts. How many journalists covering Quinn did so without disclosing a conflict of interest? By my estimate, at least fifteen.

We knew about six conflicts of interest

I run a website called DeepFreeze.it. It’s a (clumsy) effort to file and index issues compromising the credibility of game journalists and outlets—relying, as much as possible, on verifiable factual data. One of its efforts is cataloging apparent conflicts of interest: journalists found, from public information, to have financial ties to subjects of coverage, to have an apparently friendly relationship… that sort of thing.

The site started off already populated with lots of entries, which I had simply taken from external sources and filed. A bit after DeepFreeze was launched, I had six conflicts of interest from journalists covering Zoe Quinn without disclosing a friendship or other tie.

  •  Of course, one was Nathan Grayson. This was acknowledged by Grayson’s Editor-in-Chief—in the infamous “Kotaku investigated Kotaku and found Kotaku innocent” post that claimed this was a nonissue because Grayson’s article about Quinn was not a review (?), and, anyway their affair had started about a week after the article. Even if that were true (circumstantial evidence seems to indicate it started a little earlier), it’s a moot point, since their relationship was very likely already strong enough to be a considered a CoI at the time of the article, and either way Quinn and Grayson were already on friendly enough terms to go out for drinks together two years before.
  • Another Kotaku journalist, Patricia Hernandez, Quinn’s ex-roommate. Fresh on the heels of the tremendous backlash faced for their response to the Grayson situation, Kotaku handled this one exemplary, publicly acknowledging the issue and disclosing on all articles. When publicly discussing their accusations of CoIs, it’s very common for Kotaku to bring this one up, to make themselves look better.
  • Leigh Alexander, now at the Guardian, seems to be on friendly terms with Quinn. Alexander doesn’t seem to consider covering her friends to be an issue, and has a boatload of entries on DeepFreeze.it—to the point that there’s a running joke about DeepFreeze being actually her blog.
  • Ben Kuchera, of Polygon, covering Quinn without disclosing he was financially backing her on Patreon. Polygon swiftly disclosed this one, and changed their policies to forbid its journalists from using Patreon.
  • Jenn Frank, who also was backing Quinn on Patreon and provided her with one thousand dollars to pay for an hotel room, on the Guardian. Guardian added a misleading disclosure, which only mentioned the Patreon.
  • Jonathan Holmes, former Editor-in-Chief of Destructoid. Has acknowledged the entry, discussed it fairly openly—stated the assumption that he’s on friendly terms with Quinn is an exaggeration.

All these entries were simply picked and filed without any intervention on my part except to check their authenticity. Despite what a lot of people think, I don’t really do a lot of research—I’ve fleshed out a few, but only found three or four issues on my own, and they were all accidental while I was looking for something else. That is, until last week or so.

It was easy to find nine more

The fact that DeepFreeze can actually exist is, in my opinion, only because the corruption situation in game journalism is extraordinary. I also believe that there is so much dirt that a lot of it is out there in the open, easy to find, but no one is actually bothering to look.

These past few days, there’s been a lot of talk about Quinn’s Crash Override Network. Leaks have shown that CON, an alleged “anti-harassment resource” which at the time of its launch received an overwhelming amount of very favorable press, was behaving fairly embarrassingly behind closed doors—and I decided to write about it here to give people some context. That brought me to research Quinn, stumble on a few of her old crowdfunding campaigns—saw a name I recognized, then another. Actually decided to stop a bit and give things a proper sweep.

Finalizing these social media “digs” requires a lot of effort, and I certainly spent a lot of time doing legwork, but there was no major investigative effort. At the end, I had nine entries.

  • First of all, Ian Miles Cheong and Katherine Cross were in the previously-mentioned leaks, so they were working together with Quinn while covering her.
  • I got a tip about Andrew Todd and Amanda Hudgins. Fleshed it out, turned out it was solid.
  • Aside from Cheong, the people I recognized on the crowdfunding were Cameron Kunzelman and Brendan Keogh, who I had already filed on DeepFreeze and turned out to also have a very solid personal relationship. I checked a name that looked familiar and he turned out to be Danny O’Dwyer, who made videos from GameSpot until last week or so.
  • Quinn’s fundraiser mentioned it was submitted to two sites. Other site listed Polygon’s Philip Kollar. Apparently, his friendly relationship and backing of Quinn (on Patreon, aside from the crowdfunding I found) was already well-known, but he hadn’t covered Quinn until later.
  • The one slightest bit of initiative I took was that, while researching Kunzelman, I saw he and Quinn had hanged out with Maddy Myers, who had also covered Quinn and met her multiple times, so I fleshed that out too.

I contacted all journalists involved, except Todd, Cross and Keogh, who I can’t contact on social media since they block me with a tool called GGAutoblocker—which automatically blocks people who follow certain accounts. Only Cheong and Hudgins responded, the first adding disclosures (good job!) and the second offering comments that I linked in the DeepFreeze entry.

This was just scratching the surface

Unless a journalist were to straight up say “yes, I covered this guy just because he was my friend!”, it’s impossible to prove an actual conflict of interest. What can be found by investigating social media and public financial backing are apparent conflicts of interest.

DeepFreeze’s built around evidence, and around the reader’s agency. Every page of the site says “Readers are encouraged to take entries critically, and form their opinion independently”.

Maybe some of these readers could look at these issues, and say that they’re not such a big deal. Maybe they’ll think Kollar hasn’t covered Quinn that much, or that O’Dwyer’s financial tie for a few dollars isn’t such a big deal. That’s ok, it’s the site working as intended. Still, it works both ways. Think how many conflicts of interest could have no public footprint, making them impossible to discover, or how many of those discovered could be deeper than it appears from public evidence.

I detailed above how these investigations were done to show how easy, how out in the open these issues were. I have a gargantuan pile of leads I have never had the time or the manpower to investigate—several on Quinn, as well. And, let’s keep in mind: I don’t do mainstream media, just videogame journalists.

My impression is that, for every apparent conflict of interest found, at least two go missed. And this time, we have fifteen.

Journalists and I

In August 2014, when Quinn’s ex made that post, Grayson’s conflict of interest was discovered, I was visiting 4chan’s /v/ board. My friends on /v/ had always had fun bashing game journalists, and they were having a blast with this.

Then Quinn claimed she had been hacked and was being harassed, and the journalists that had shrugged off Grayson’s conflict of interest were very quick to pick on that: that harassment became the news. Then the news, somehow, became that the people who were criticizing the blatantly corrupt gaming press were to blame for Quinn’s harassment. Then the news became that all gamers were essentially monsters, misogynists… a soon to be dead relic of the past.

I was part of the “girotondini” movement. We marched against war and against the corruption in the Italian government, against prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. The press did all it could to depict us as few, meaningless, or even as rioters. and a documentary shows that Berlusconi had applied an unprecedented amount of pressure on journalists to achieve that. Journalists were under order to call us “disobedients”, and never “pacifists”.

I got ticked. I stopped watching, started acting. Eventually, I made DeepFreeze.

Harvest season

DeepFreeze updates at a glacier’s pace. A lot of the problems it has come from the fact that I barely have time to correct them. Busy with family issues, busy with real life problems, busy with work on our farm.

Grape harvest is in a couple of weeks. I’ll be busy with that, and I’m busy now. Thankfully, our fields didn’t get mildew, but a lot of our drying warehouse’s customers did, and I need to look around for someone else. Vineyard needs trimming, and I realized I forgot one of the lanes when I was giving the first pass. That lane didn’t even look so much like a jungle, more like an eldrich location with grapes—got two cuts in my hand while working on that.

Still, you know what? At to point, not even at my clumsiest, a journalist was ever forced to come to me, take my scissors and do my job for me, because I was so bad at it. This has never happened.

A journalist’s conflict of interest should be news. If not, fifteen on the same subject should definitely be. Out of the conflicts of interest filed on DeepFreeze—I lost count, I think we’re between 150 and 200—there must be one or two that warrant coverage?

And yet, most journalists—thank god there are exceptions—won’t tell you a thing. The only way you’ll hear about it, is on the barely-alive blog of an Italian farmer. Something ain’t right with that.

Posted in Tabletop

Murdering Buffy—a dungeon master’s prospective

 

My sister was a Buffy: the Vampire Slayer fanatic back in the day. I’m not a huge fan of TV shows, but this was one I kind of liked, had a few very good episodes. Something that pissed me off, though? Those vampires and demons were fucking imbeciles.

The best tactic Buffy’s enemies have is walking towards her, and engaging in fisticuffs. When it has been proven, time and again, that she can best a vampire at leisure without breaking a sweat. I would argue—that’s her only advantage on vampires.

Were a vampire in Buffy’s universe, even one of the rank-and-file grunts, to exhibit a decent level of intelligence, she’d have the challenge of her life.

* * *

Ok vampires, hear me out.

First of all, you don’t need to breathe, do you? Good. Does she? Yes. Well, then, this is done. Drag her to a lake or something like that, fight her underwater. Drag her to an enclosed space, release a canister of Zyklon-B, or of one of those invisible, smell-less poison gases if you’re feeling like a dick. Heck, fill your lair with poisonous gas—who the hell cares, were you expecting guests? Let’s see her get in.

You’re a demon? Well, even better—are you immune to something? Fire? Do you see in the dark, when she doesn’t? Can you do anything to put yourself at an advantage?

Let’s talk weapons, too. Buffy basically doesn’t use guns, but you don’t have that kind of moral principles, do you? The one time a guy (a human, and a wimpy one at that) actually bothered to bring a gun, he sent Buffy in a coma and killed one of her groupies. Why the fuck are you walking to her fists up? Why don’t you get a fucking Uzi? Why don’t you bury a few mines in your lair?

Speaking of tactics: let’s talk innocents. You don’t give a fuck if a few people’s worth of collateral damage get offed, do you? Kidnap a few children, tell her you’ll filet them if she doesn’t turn herself in / let you drink blood in piece / do something suicidal. Combine with the previous tactics, maybe—lure her in your poison lair, or in a nice gun ambush.

Why didn’t you think of all these things?

* * *

Because it’s their role in the story: most of the times, vampire fights are filler in the show, so these guys just show up to be cannon fodder. It’s ok, if that’s what you’re aiming for.

But if you’re aiming for these confrontations to be memorable, the challenging ones are the ones which make for a better story. When you read about those tactics, weren’t you trying to figure out how the heroes could’ve worked around them? Wouldn’t it be exciting to see how they could overcome them?

This is doubly true for dungeon masters. There’s no excitement in defeating a kobold, but Tucker’s kobolds are legendary.

Small creatures like halflings or goblins can walk over a pit trap designed to fall under the weight of a human. Ambushing archers have no reason to ever not be behind cover, hell they might even be shooting from a slit in a wall. Fiends can teleport and summon, and should do both in order, without hesitation, when things go south.

In the fifth edition, one or two hidden first-level wizards can be a colossal pain in the rear even for high-level parties. Have them wait for the opportunity to cast Chill touch (forbids healing) or Ray of frost (slows movement). Heck, if you feel like a dick have them cast Sleep on wounded targets.

Use environments. Put a chasm in there, and have the enemy try to push players into it with Thunderwave, an Eldrich Blast (with the Repelling blast incantation) or just combat manouvers. Have the dwarves or kobolds drag your party in a low-ceiling environment where they have trouble moving.

If you want to fill some time because you don’t know how to continue the adventure, cannon fodder is fine. But these kind of encounters are the ones my players talk about, the ones they remember.


(Image from Geek and Sundry)

Posted in GamerGate, Media

Contextualizing the Crash Override Network logs

Following the release of fifteen days of chat logs of Crash Override Network, I believe some context for those could be helpful. The logs themselves have been covered in a followup.

It should be noted that the information here, long as this post is, might not be exhaustive. This post has been updated a few times since it was published, and a list of edits is at the bottom.

What is Crash Override Network?

  • CON self-describes as a “crisis helpline, advocacy group and resource center for people who are experiencing online abuse”.
  • CON has been founded and is headed by media darling Zoe Quinn and her partner Alex Lifschitz. Its staff “a network of experts and survivors”, whose identities are kept anonymous.
  • CON is fiscally sponsored by Feminist Frequency, with donations made on CON’s website going directly through Feminist Frequency.
  • According to CON’s website, they’re actively searching for partners but are not hiring individuals—people wishing to help CON are instead encouraged to complete surveys, publicize CON, or donate.

What makes CON relevant?

  • CON is a Twitter trusted resource for dealing with offensive content. It was promoted by Twitter’s @safety account.
  • CON was listed as an harassment-preventing resource by the IGDA very quickly.
  • CON launch has received an overwhelming amount of media coverage, including large outlets like BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Verge, Ars Technica.
  • CON has been accused of being ineffectual, and even a fraud. Individual members of CON’s staff have demonstrably been engaging in abuse themselves.
  • Quinn is very relevant on her own, given that she has received a colossal amount of media coverage (landing all the way to mainstream media stations), mostly covering her claims to be a victim of harassment. She has talked about her harassment in a US congressional hearing and even at the United Nations, and seemingly was at a point in talks with Sony for a now-cancelled movie deal based on her upcoming book.
  • Chat logs detailing the foundation of CON have been recently leaked. These logs feature Quinn, Lifschitz and a series of figures apparently part of CON’s staff, and show these people engaging in very questionable practices for an anti-abuse group.

What accusations has CON received, before the leaks?

Has CON head Zoe Quinn been engaging in harassment?

The media depiction of Quinn shows her as a victim of harassment—with several journalists having been caught promoting Quinn while having personal or financial ties to her, as noted below—but she has quite often been accused of abusive behavior, even in cases where media depicted her as the victim.

Has Quinn been involved in scams?

Have journalists written about Quinn without disclosing a relationship with her?

Yes, at least fifteen times. I had to cover that in a separate article.

In short, six cases of journalists who have been covering Quinn while in an apparent conflict of interest had been known for years. While making research for these posts, I found nine more instances, even with a fairly superficial investigation.

History of relevant edits

  • 1/10/16: Added link to the second part, modified section about Todd, added info about Quinn’s UN and Congress speeches and alleged movie deal. Removed section about CON members being known harassers, which was moved to the other article.
  • 14/9/16: Added Have journalists written about Quinn without disclosing a relationship with her? section and information on Andrew Todd.
  • 27/8/16: Added Has Quinn been involved in scams? section.
  • 28/8/16: Added bullet points about Candace Owen, Brad Wardell on Quinn’s harassment session.
Posted in Media

Are modern journalists afraid of Werther?

Back in 1774, one of the masterpieces of German literature, Gothe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, was met with great success. At the end of this epistolary novella, the titular character commits suicide.

Allegedly, following Werther‘s diffusion, two thousand young men committed suicide. It has come to be called the Werther effect—from the 1974 paper by David Philips, who observed spikes in suicide rates following an heavily publicized suicide, such as Dr.Ward or Marylin Monroe.

Well, if publicized suicides cause imitation, wouldn’t it make sense that it would be better not to publicize them? As a matter of fact, wouldn’t it make sense not to publicize a lot of things? For instance, not to publicize crimes committed by Syrian refugees in Germany, in order not to stimulate imitation of them? Or, worse, retaliation?

Well, the Werther effect only describes suicides, but it’s not a novel concept. At very least I can remember Micheal Moore saying something to that effect in Bowling for Columbine. Moore’s his oscar-winning documentary blames gun violence in the US on the “fear” felt by Americans, which in turn is spurred by biased news deliberately exaggerating the amount of violent crime and especially crime committed by blacks.

I can’t help but think of Moore when I think of news stories about refugees getting heavily censored on Reddit or when a journalist chooses to frame a suicidal attack by a Syrian refugee as “Syrian Refugee Killed in Blast in Germany, 12 Wounded”.

Does that actually help? Well, I’d argue it does more harm than good. The Straisand effect  is very much in action here, and “journalist deliberately muddles truth” tends to become newsworthy itself on social media, possibly giving more resonance to the events.

Well, at least we can see good intentions in this kind of system? I’d argue against that, too. Moore’s argument, the way I see it, is about sensationalism. I have a hard time reading his argument as a request to be selective in reporting, rather he seems to be encouraging less sensationalism. Not that journalist listened.

If there is a Werther effect, to avoid its negative effects we would be better off just writing the truth, avoiding clickbait. Perhaps trying to give some space to positive news.

There must be some of those. Right?