commentary and unused notes from my Motherboard article “Did Russia’s Vladimir Putin Just Endorse a Ukrainian Post-Apocalyptic Video Game?”
This post is recommended for readers
- who are already familiar with the Areal/Kickstarter/West Games controversy,
- read my relatively neutral news piece on VICE’s Motherboard about West Games and want commentary and analysis
I couldn’t help but notice that every media outlet that accused West Games of being a scam, or illegitimate, failed to mention the indie company is based out of Kiev. Cringe-worthy, I know. I get that West Game’s ineptitude at what appears to be all online media and activity is overwhelming to us Westerners, but that is no excuse to ignore context and plausibility. Are we really going to pretend that the deteriorating relationship between Russia and the Ukraine, where a few months ago snipers were firing on people in Kiev proper, wouldn’t affect a video game company trying to get shit done? Like maybe this is why they are still in pre-Alpha and don’t have any new concept art from this year?
But hey, I am primarily talking about video game journalism here, so I can’t really be that surprised by lack of context. I was shocked, however, by how big of a critic West Games made in Forbes blogger Erik Kain. (Check out hisseries of negative posts about the company, including his latest which urges “backers to get out now” as the campaign may or may not be “a total scam.”) Clearly he hasn’t finished scratching his “West Games sucks” writing itch. West Games PR is so shockingly bad, they’ve driven this blogger into a spiral of distrustful, angry posts about them and made an enemy out of reddit of all places, reddit, who loves the STALKER series!
Unlike Kain (and reddit), however, I am not enraged. This lack of anger allows me to see clearly what West Games biggest “red flag” is, and that is their PR person is a moron. To quote Hanlon’s razor,
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
More on that stupidity in a bit, but first, I personally don’t think the Kickstarter is a scam. I base this viewpoint on my emails with Kim, and I think they will eventually finish their game as it sounds like they have a plan to do so.
On the use of the Unity presets, Kim wrote “many game developers use unity assets and presets to convey their game, with a more prominent example being Wasteland 2, from Inxile Entertainment.” Using Unity presets to show off a game in pre-alpha is not unheard of or unusual. STALKER didn’t have particularly amazing graphics any way.
Kim estimates Areal will be complete in late 2015 with some Kickstarter backers getting Alpha or Beta access if they choose those rewards. West Games plans to hire more people as “development ramps up” to help finish Areal, as their small team can’t handle the ambitious project alone. Kim wrote quite a few local game developers were interested in working with them, before adding “there are a lot of highly experienced video game developers right now who are out of work in Ukraine, and we’re more than happy to employ them.”
This spring, Polygon found most Ukrainian video game developers had been laid off because of the conflict, were considering leaving the country, or had escape plans ready should the situation worsen. “This might be the end of our country, so of course people are looking elsewhere,” game developer Sergey Galyonkin told Polygon at the time. In an email about the physical dangers in the Ukraine, West Games seemed more patriotic than earnest. They don’t have any escape plans at the moment because right now “it’s safe in Kiev!” but were quick to add “we do plan to move over time” though.
Now, back to how West Games doesn’t know how to Internet. They’ve already admitted they were woefully unprepared to run a Kickstarter campaign, but not being good at running one does not necessarily constitute a crime worthy of Internet harassment. If that was West Games only issue, than okay, I’d feel sorry for them.
The Kickstarter fumbling is not their only PR problem, however. Their entire team seems preoccupied with what is going on online rather than getting shit done. They’ve literally spent the bulk of their time since launch of their Kickstarter campaign in June proving they are who they say they are, instead of actually working on their game.
Unpublished quote on all the trolls, critics and haters:
“It has been incredibly difficult,” wrote Kim in an email. “It has definitely affected us from a monetary standpoint,” he added, and “it’s hindered development, but as you can see with the early gameplay teaser, it hasn’t stopped it.”
An example of a West Games troll that got the entire team worked up in to a tizzy:
If their PR person managed to do their job properly, the rest of the team wouldn’t be caught up in all this online drama, and in an “information war” between Ukraine and Russia. With the death threats, online impersonations, and known Kremlin-backed trolls paid to live on and disrupt Western media sites, West Games’ skepticism of all Western press and unwillingness to engage in most online activity is understandable, but unfortunately online engagement is necessary in order to run a successful Kickstarter.
West Games could turn all this negativity around if they were actually honest about their situation and plans, and a good place to do this would be their Facebook and Twitter, but activity on both those social media platforms is practically nonexistent. Their AMA was a ruined opportunity to regain the public’s trust, as instead of actually engaging the community, West Games cut and pasted from their Kickstarter. Of course redditors freaked out and raged. Granted, the inaccurate online sleuthing on reddit reads more like a witch hunt than citizen journalism, but at least the community’s heart is in the right place. Reddit wants a new STALKER game, for crying out loud! By appearing shady and closed in the AMA, West Games added fuel to the skeptic fire and made more enemies.
Finally, West Games doesn’t know how to engage with press online. They’ve been going after media outlets for being critical of their Kickstarter but even if West Games firmly believes these outlets have been infiltrated by the Russians, they need to stop attacking the press. (Forbes quality deteriorated with the advent of their new blogging section, NOT because “of China,” this is known.) Every time West Games denounces an outlet, it gives the outlet’s post more credibility and legitimacy and makes West Games look even more paranoid than they already are.
Besides dissing outlets, West Games needs to stop demanding journalists do things for them, including changing things after an article has gone up. A personal example: Kim emailed me after my post went up asking me to change what video I linked to in my piece, because the new video they just made looks better, completely missing the point on why I linked to the crappy West Games video in the first place. I linked to the first video and called it “shoddy,” so don’t ask me to then link to a video that is not shoddy when I am pointing out how unprepared your Kickstarter game is.
To conclude, West Games needs to fire their PR person ASAP (their CEO Eugene Kim seems to be doing most of that work anyway) and focus more on actually building their potentially supercool game.
Update: This kickstarter was suspended due to West Games violating their rules and Terms of Service. I’m not surprised, given all the dishonest behavior.
In the past week, there have been two heavily publicized instances of little girls stabbing their loved ones in the name of Slender Man; the first being the two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls charged last week as adults for stabbing their “best friend” last year, the second a 13-year-old in Ohio who tried to stab her mom while wearing a white mask. The media has tripped over themselves trying to explain Slender Man, and inadvertently (or purposefully) demonized Creepypasta, unsupervised Internet usage and online culture. Even those outlets that did not demonize these suspects still failed to properly portray the reach of Slender Man and the stabbings in context of the Slender Man community.
Like all killings the media takes a shine to, a large roster of armchair psychologists have come out of the woodwork to bloviate on Slender Man. Everyone, including those not qualified, especially those not qualified, are theorizing on online culture while completely glossing over the community aspect of a phenomenon like Slender Man. Folks that are qualified to write about online culture, like this lady at the Washington Post, this lady at the Verge and this gentlemen at the Awl (not linking to said trollish article), have also massively fumbled to explain these stabbings in context of the community. (Why the Verge is linking to the awful tone-deaf Awl piece is beyond comprehension, but that’s a post for another matter.)
So here’s the first thing wrong with all this Slender Man stabbing coverage: the absence of Pew Die Pie and adequate mentions of Slender Man in video games
Why is top YouTube celebrity Pew Die Pie important? Well, a large portion of his fan base comprises of girls in the same age range as the little girls stabbing their loved ones. Teens and tweens don’t watch TV as much any more, they watch YouTube and play video games. Pew Die Pie’s main claim to fame is his Slender Man videos and many little girls got into Slender Man because of his charming accent, golden locks and good looks. My now-13-year old brother used to complain all the time about how all the girls in his class are obsessed with Pew Die Pie, and subsequently Slender Man because of Pew Die Pie. My evidence is anecdotal, but that doesn’t make it less true. In the case of the Wisconsin girls, they cite and favor video game lore; they want to go to Slender Man’s mansion, which only exists in the video game. A video game made popular by Pew Die Pie.
The little girls first tried to stab their friend in a public restroom, then in the woods. Both scenes, of Slender Man catching up with you in a public restroom and in the woods, happen in the first episode of Pew Die Pie’s Slender Man video series. Is Pew Die Pie responsible for the stabbings? No, of course not.
In the case of the 13-year-old girl, her mother mentioned her daughter plays Minecraft, and the ultimate bad guy in the game is Enderman, a creepy figure the creator of Minecraft admitted to being inspired by Slender Man. Is Minecraft responsible for the stabbings? Again, no, of course not, but yet again every outlet has failed to mention the Slender Man-inspired monster in Minecraft.
The second thing wrong with all this Slender Man coverage: it glosses over the role of the community WHICH NOW INCLUDES THE PRESS in perpetuating the Slender Man myth.
Think of Slender Man as a community art project, where for years now adults, teens and tweens have been fabricating fake news articles, photographs, and even video games and comics, about Slender Man, this all-powerful, all-knowing spectre-monster with long arms (shaped like claws, or tree branches, or tentacles depending on the artist) that mind controls and kills people. When these two Wisconsin girls say they wanted to honor the Slender Man myth, to make him “real” and prove the “skeptics wrong,” it sounds more like they wanted to participate in the community by creating the most credible news article about Slender Man ever. They didn’t want to make him real by doing another photoshop, that’s already been done. So how do you make the most credible news article about Slender Man? You actually go out and make Slender Man happen in a way the news can cover.
Not only that, but these two little girls then gave their best friend the ultimate Slender Man experience by becoming Slender Man for her. It’s sick and it’s twisted, but if we are charging them as mentally fit adults we can’t say they didn’t know the line between reality and fantasy because mentally fit adults do know the line between reality and fantasy. Unless, you have two girls purposefully blurring the line between fantasy and reality in order to contribute to this online community producing Slender Man lore. Slender Man wipes memories and mind controls, remember, which is convenient for all three girls then, including the one in Ohio who say she doesn’t remember anything after trying to stab her mother.
The Wisconsin girls completely changed the meme and contributed significantly to the Slender Man community/phenomenon with their attempted murder, and by doing so in this way, have completely changed the narrative of Slender Man lore. Slender Man used to just be a fantasy. Now he is a reality. He is a reality because anyone can become a proxy for Slender Man if he or she wishes. This is evident in the stabbing of the 13-year-old girl who tried to stab her mother. Three little girls have now stabbed two people in the name of Slender Man, not in a fan fiction or in a video game, but in very, very real life. Like all things digital these days, these girls got instant feedback for it too. And not just from online.
The Verge almost got this right, when they quoted psychologist Peter Langman:
Online communities may provide stronger reinforcement than other forms of media, Langman says, because other people are providing feedback.
Any media outlet that reports on this story and fails to mention that they as an outlet are now contributing to the Slender Man myth, is laughably ignorant and dangerous. The press does not exist in a vacuum. The press cannot blame CreepyPasta and memes but not blame itself or Pew Die Pie.
In fact, the primary driver of the Slender Man myth is no longer Pew Die Pie, Minecraft, CreepyPasta, reddit, 4chan or Something Awful, but the press itself.
The Trollocaust and Feminazi Twitter Drama Explained in Context
Twitter is this unique social space that brings vastly different (and sometimes insular) Internet cultures together, and when this happens, the culture clash creates crazy Internet drama like yesterday’s “trollocaust,” dubbed so by the trolls, hackers and Anonymous-affiliates who felt they were under attack by “feminazis” hellbent on muffling their freedom of expression. Neither group has any business with the other, but here they are, operating on the same platform and pissing each other off. Maybe it’s time they went their separate ways. They don’t understand each other anyway. One’s harassment is another member’s way of showing love.
On Monday, dark web counter culture folk who follow rules and etiquette birthed from places like 4chan, Something Awful and Usenet found themselves at the mercy of older women who did not grow up with the Internet and viewed their obnoxious 4chan ways as if they were a foreign language. More than 45 accounts of people associated with Anonymous and activists were suspended as a result of this clash. The feminists lost only one, the twitter account for a blocking app used by feminists and atheists. The suspensions began after four women reported harassment, sadly still a common occurrence across most of the Internet, to Twitter.
If a woman (or a man) was being harassed, including with death and rape threats, on 4chan or a place operating under similar rules, the way to get the abuse to stop would be to come up with a witty retort preferably from the weird Internet society handbook of inside jokes and circle-jerkery. This witty retort can also be an offensive remark meant to disgust and upset the abuser, like making light of the Holocaust, questioning the abusers sexual orientation, gender, religion, whatever will upset the abuser to admit defeat. Besting the abuser in argument intellectually works as well, but a weak comeback can and will result in more abuse. One does not make controversial or unpopular statements in a 4chan-like place without the power of their convictions, and the last thing one wants to do is to lose their cool, get mad and contact the moderators or Internet police. Saying you will do so is taken as a sign you want and or need more harassment. New users in these web communities are generally hazed with abuse to ensure they can handle the madness that is the community, and are expected to speak in this coded way if they want to stay a part of the community. This code includes racist, misogynistic, antisemitic, homophobic and over the top offensive language and jokes despite many in the community being black, homosexual, feminist and Jewish.
Twitter is different. Twitter is not 4chan or the deep web, and will never be 4chan and the deep web– Twitter even has rules and tools in place to prevent it from being so, like the block button that eliminates the need for the person being harassed to best the harasser in any sort of argumentative exchange. A woman, especially an older woman, is not on Twitter to get into a face-off of “who is more offensive” or to find out who has a more logically sound argument, nor does she have time for such juvenile games. She uses Twitter for a completely different reason than the young male that frequents 4chan. To her, the slur “feminazi” is offensive, misogynistic and reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh, and a term she does not use ironically or in an attempt to “take it back” like younger feminists on the micro-blogging network. She does not get that she is being tested, because no one gave her the memo. Death threats and words like “trollocaust” are offensive to the woman, nay, most users on Twitter of both genders, because they don’t know they’re supposed to be offended by the term. They did not get this memo either. People on Twitter are not on the platform to condition themselves to bombastic and offensive statements or take a crash course in how to withstand cyber-bullying. Many of them are genuinely incapable of handling offensive language on a screen and when they see it, they will report it whether or not they understand the context. In the rules dictated in the Twitter space, it is not normal to receive death and rape threats, and people who make such threats are reported to the authorities or in this case, the Twitter police. The Twitter police actually do their jobs in Twitterland, and if they find someone violating their rules, they will suspend said user. These are the rules of Twitter, and by Twitter’s own inclusive nature, are very different from 4chan-like etiquette. 4chan’s 10 year old codex is rebellious, alienating, cultish and strange while Twitter’s is more akin to civil and mainstream society by design. Twitter is its own web place and can do what they want.
Which brings us to the “trollocaust:” the 4chan game cannot be played on Twitter because not everyone knows the rules. Even if all users do know these crazy Internet society rules, they may not want want to play by them, and it is unfair to subject them to the game because outside of the 4chan context the game appears quite rude with players mostly bigots. The game only works if everyone knows they are playing, and since not everyone is playing, everyone loses.
So what’s a troll, Anonymous affiliate or follower of deep web etiquette and humor to do? Go elsewhere, maybe even back to 4chan and Something Awful. Anywhere but Twitter, because Twitter doesn’t want you, and you just lost the game. No one likes a loser.
Or, you know, make your accounts private and communicate however you see fit with your peers.
This is a piece I wrote in 2012, but couldn’t get the Daily Dot (and then ReadWrite) to run. I felt it was too important to not publish somewhere.
“I want to both have sex with her AND strangle her to death. But in which order…?”
The responses? A few joking replies chiming in. Not a single person objects or scolds the users. No one even clicks the “dislike” button on menace8012’s comment.
This gross comment is not atypical, but evident of a larger culture on YouTube, where sexist attitudes towards women run unchecked. It’s not just the trolls or haters in the comments section of videos; all YouTubers have been hating on women for gendered reasons since the site’s inception.
Menace8012’s comment, and the community’s response (or lack thereof), may seem extreme to the casual YouTube community safarian, but it also perfectly portrays why so few women have found success on YouTube. Many women on YouTube try to avoid this prevalent sexist culture by cloistering themselves in the beauty section, but that does little to combat the anti-women sentiments running rampant throughout the rest of the site.
YouTubers who silently upvote, or in this case “like,” menace8012’s comment are implying iJustine deserves the threats and derogatory comments she gets, daily, because of the way she looks and dresses. This is standard rape apologist & victim-blaming ideology. Sometimes, when the blonde, blue-eyed iJustine wears a tank top in her videos, that clothing choice sends both genders into a sexist frenzy. Read the rest of this entry »
I convinced VICE to publish a gossip column/industry & conference review as a poem yesterday. So yeah, I am serious about this.
Why poetry? Because when it comes to story-telling, it is the most efficient form. Least input, brain fills in the rest. Imagination hacking, if you will. I love making the reader unpack things, toying with words.
A resurgence of mass public interest in poetry coincides with Twitter’s 140 character limit, I have to mention this. There is a certain beauty in brevity when you consider the infinite space on the web… and data caps. (Vine too, if we want to go multimedia with this)
Poetry even looks like programming!
Given the following as precedent, poetry going mainstream is not far fetched: You have Weird Twitter poets, the alt lit crowd, teens writing poetry on Tumblr (more accepted than when I was doing it on deadjournal as a preppy goth, too). Dan Sinker’s expletive-filled Twitter parody of Rahm Emanuel (however unfunny) still got turned into a book deal. Twitter account Shit Girls Say becomes a live web series. And then you have Patricia Lockwood writing an incredibly well-received poem on a personal experience, titled “Rape Joke” on The Awl. Read the rest of this entry »
My favorite time to take selfies is when I am drunk and alone in the bathroom. I tend to take the majority of them while inebriated, actually, and online evidence proves even middle-aged women do the inebriated selfie in the bathroom too.
Yes, even the Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, when he wasn’t sober, whipped out his cellphone and took selfies. And one of these non-sober self-portraits (speculatively) is on the cover of Rolling Stone right now and making a name for itself as the most controversial selfie on our planet.
Media critics are calling Rolling Stone everything short of evil for using his selfie photo as cover art, never mind that Instagrammed self-portraiture is becoming a legitimate form of art and feminist self-expression. This universality is exactly why the self-portrait of the young and handsome (and murderous, don’t you forget) Tsarnaev as cover art choice is outrageous. How dare we relate to a killer! How dare a magazine make us feel this way! If I were the art director over at the Rolling Stone right now, I would be creaming my pants: this is the type of feedback creative types have wet dreams about.
Tsarnaev’s selfie effectively normalizes him, and as the three-day long controversy has shown, we just cannot deal with that. We would rather depart reality and delude ourselves into thinking national-headline-making killers are ugly and have nothing in common with us than see them engaging in everyday behavior. If we could somehow magically teleport to a place where we all believed Tsarnaev didn’t know how to operate a phone, we would.
In fact, to portray Tsarnaev as ordinary is dangerous, they imply, because in order to feel better about the bombings we need to see the differences, not the similarities, between ourselves and the cruel killer. It sounds absurd, but this is more or less what the critics are saying. The New York Times thinks this kind of madness is a result of the heatwave. Possibly. I think it might be a combination of Tsarnaev’s image making fresh the horror of the bombings, much like that just-healing summer scrape you accidentally pick at only to have it start oozing.
The selfies we share on the web are supposed to be the best reflection of ourselves. This skewed mirror is precisely why the Boston Globe in a Thursday post echoing the collective rage calls the use of the selfie “ill-advised” and “irresponsible.” While many of us cannot fathom Tsarnaev’s terrorist intentions, we can all relate to photographing ourselves and dare-I-say-it, creating a typically blemish-free personal brand online. The self-portrait via cellphone is a “language we all understand,” but …we don’t want to understand a bomber. Please don’t make us understand one.
This now infamous selfie, originally displayed on Tsarnaev’s twitter profile, was the “mask” he chose to portray to the world and glorifying it by featuring it on a rock-and-roll magazine is akin to “collaborat[ing] with Tsarnaev in the creation of his own celebrity,” continued the Boston Globe.
Need I remind everyone, Tsarnaev was already a “celebrity” before his Rolling Stone cover, having graced the front pages of newspapers the world over with some even featuring that same image. Rolling Stone is not responsible for this mass media interest, the spread of the photo, or for Tsarnaev’s fanbase of young girls cooing over the soft locks in his approachable selfies. To suggest Rolling Stone is appealing to Tsarnaev’s misguided female fans by choosing this already-widely circulated photo when this same criticism was not levied against the New York Times, is logic I’d only be able to process if my head was in the sand.
CVS banning the sale of the magazine in its shops (and now Walgreens too), and folks celebrating this decision, is akin to saying “monsters must be clearly portrayed as monsters, or else.” Who wants to live in that black-and-white society, presumably filled with bad art? Not me. (Not to imply Tsarnaev’s selfie as cover photo of a magazine is good art — it is in fact the opposite for a variety of reasons and not just because of the bad captions.)
The disconnect between the villain within and the exterior shell of Tsarnaev as a potential sweetheart through his selfies is precisely why the self-portrait should be used for feature-length pieces about his descent into terrorism. But don’t just take my word for it.
Cover Think points out Rolling Stone’s cover is “doing nothing more than reflecting back to us the vanity of a young man’s narcissism, complete with his Armani Exchange T-shirt.” The Washington Post writes “the photo in question jibes with the impression of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that has emerged from countless interviews with friends and schoolmates” before calling the cover art choice “an accurate and journalistically responsible portrayal of this young man.”
To not use the photo as cover art because it humanizes, then, reveals a willful ignorance on the modern human condition. It is not only “irresponsible,” but bad journalism too. Art that elicits strong emotions is powerful, but banning it only increases its strength.
We can’t will away Tsarnaev’s cellphone, his looks or his seemingly normalness, just like how we can’t will back the lives and limbs his actions stole. And maybe that’s okay, because sometimes we need to see the similarities between ourselves and the villain in order to help us understand the differences. Cellphone selfie and all.
As for the cellphone selfie as legit art form, well, this controversy took care of that.
This is a guide for people who are more interested in the cultural and societal implications of technology from a non-technical background. (I’d recommend attending all the “future of TV/media” talks as a beginners guide to video distribution and social media use.)
Thursday, June 27th:
The US First Robotics Challenge, from 12pm – 4pm.
“US First’s mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”
“The debate around how we should view the concept of intellectual property and copyright in the digital age has continued since the launch of Napster in the ’90′s until today. Why is file-sharing still so limited and how has it affected the world at large?”
Friday, June 28th:
Funny or Die‘s “When Humor is Serious Business,” from 11:00am – 11:30am, featuring Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover. (I have an inkling what Glover will discuss, but being as I have never heard him speak, he might surprise me.)
“Funny or Die is now synonymous with Internet humor…What makes their business model so successful? How do they acquire high quality content with a low budget? What does the future of Funny or Die—and Internet entertainment in general—look like?”
Digital Art; From Easels to Pixels, 12:00pm – 12:30pm
“Art infilitrates everyday life, and every surface, object, or open space is fair game for medium. See how artists are incorporating technology into their work, whether as a means to an end or as the finished product itself. These people are innovating on what it means to be a traditional artist and the burgeoning interest in creating art meant to be consumed in digital form.”
The very ambitiously titled “How the Second City Can Become the First in Fashion,” 5:00pm – 6:00pm
“Take the tech from the West and the high-end fashion from the East and meet somewhere in the middle. Where do you end up? Chicago, of course. Combining the best of both coasts, a slew of Chicago startups are leading the pack in terms of the merging of high-tech and high-fashion.”
Saturday, June 29
In the wake of Hasting’s mysterious death and the conspiracy theories suggesting his car was hacked I feel compelled to attend “Driverless Cars: Speeding to the Future,” 12:30pm – 1:00pm
“While flying cars are still just a figment of our collective imagination, self-driving vehicles—such as the Google Car—are on the imminent horizon. Not only does this technology have the potential to prevent millions of injuries and save countless lives, it also has the power to disrupt the flow of trillions of dollars in industry revenue. Nearly everyone will be affected: suppliers, automakers, service-and-repair shops, insurers, energy companies, hospitals, and car rental companies, to name a few. Undoubtedly, there will be huge implications for all transportation and logistics—the backbone of every company’s supply and distribution chains.”
Entrepreneurship in Eastern Europe, 1:30pm – 2:00pm
“Eastern Europe’s tech scene is small but growing. Find out what Google is doing to facilitate the growth of the tech sector in Poland and beyond, what ideas are brewing in that corner of the world, and how they plan to impact the future.”
“Is the Internet Destroying the Middle Class?,” 2:00pm – 2:30pm