November 7, 2014

[Tutorial] HTML5 Web App - AngularJS

Note: This tutorial was written a couple years ago now, and is likely obsolete in a lot of ways. In fact, I don't think I ever completed this one. Still, it may be helpful, so give it a look-see if it's relevant to you.

November 5, 2014

[Tutorial] HTML5 Mobile App Setup Tutorial

Note: This tutorial was written a couple years ago now, and is likely obsolete in a lot of ways. Still, it may be helpful, so give it a look-see if it's relevant to you.

September 1, 2014

Of GamerGate, Draft Posts, and Moving Forward...

When I started this blog, I had two things in mind. 1) I wanted to cover topics relating to skepticism and video games, and intertwine them as often as possible. 2) I had no idea how the hell I would accomplish such a thing. Looking back, however, I think I did it, whatever "it" was meant to be. I was able to exercise my skeptic muscles, and present a personal yet overly objective analysis of various topics. I'm proud of my work, but recent events have led me to take things down a different path.

Continue on if you must, but it's mostly ranting, with less objectivity than previous posts, and completely self-serving. There's a tl;dr at the bottom if you're into that sort of thing. I'll give you a brief rundown of what I've learned about all that's involved with GamerGate, but if you want more, you'll have to go Google it yourself. To say the waters are muddied is to say the Ganges might have a bit of fecal matter in it.

January 1, 2014

Why it Pays (or Doesn't) to Think Critically

Okay, this is a different sort of blog post I think, as it doesn't have any real research. It's more of a personal anecdote, but I feel it'll serve as a prime example as to why critical thinking is important.

August 12, 2013

Slipping Down the Slope: A Guide to Common Logical Fallacies

Recently I had an exchange with Sam Killermann, founder and head of Gamers Against Bigotry, where we debated our positions on a hot-button social issue that was on the activist website. I won't get into specifics, but our cordial and respectful back-and-forth led to a common-ground understanding of not only where we stood (which was together on the same soapbox), but also a request from Sam for me to write an article for GAB. Reasoned and respectful debate leading to a positive outcome? Who woulda thought! I'm very grateful to Sam for this opportunity, as I fully stand with the message GAB is trying to send to the gaming community at large. Here is the article I eventually submitted.

July 31, 2013

Free to Rage

When gaming first entered the home, the goal of console manufacturers was to deliver the experience you get at an arcade without having to dump hundreds of quarters into the game. Arcade games were built as a monetization platform, designed to be difficult so as to maximize the number of quarters fed into them. Home consoles changed that by being able to provide fun and challenging games you can play with your friends for a one-time payment.

Sadly, folks, we've come full circle on a steep, downward spiral. The latest money-making trend goes by different names: free-to-play or F2P, freemium, pay-to-win. There are different forms of it that I'll cover, and many share common traits. But the primary goal is to leech as much money out of the player as possible.

June 12, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Recently, an awful thing happened. Rare, at Microsoft's 2013 E3 press conference, debuted a new Killer Instinct game, and it will be Free-To-Play with only one free character, and all others will have to be bought.

But that's not what everyone is focused on. During the live demonstration of the game, Torrence, a male producer from Rare, and Ashton, a female XBox community manager, came on stage to duke it out in the new game. Torrence took the reins of a new arcade stick, while Ashton used a regular controller. As they fought, they began awkwardly bantering.

Above is a recording of the first half of the match. Watch and listen closely. It's a clear marketing attempt to show off the superiority of using the fight stick peripheral over a regular controller. Anyone with experience with fighting games can tell you that fighting sticks are generally superior; having your fingers on all of the buttons at once gives you a slight speed and reflex advantage, and the manufacturing that goes into a fighting stick is tailored to maximizing fighting game potential (as well as reproducing the arcade experience).

But again, that's not what everyone is focused on. One thing Torrence said during the fight is "just let it happen, it'll be over soon". This has been widely viewed as a rape joke, and the Internet has exploded with fury, as it should when someone jokes about rape to an audience of millions of people of all genders and backgrounds.

Gamers Against Bigotry has posted a few articles about the presentation, most notably 'Why "just let it happen, it'll be over soon" is a rape joke, and extremely problematic'. The author, Sam Killermann, makes several arguments as to why and how the joke alluded to rape, offering rebuttals to some common counter-arguments.

However, not everyone agrees that it was a rape joke. There are people being absolutely dismissive of it, and there are trolls aplenty, but there are also valid arguments that question if the joke was alluding to rape or not. Many point out that it sounds like the usual trash talk you hear in fighting games, and that they doubted if rape was in Torrence's mind when he said the joke. It's not an overt rape joke, like I sadly often hear in gaming, such as "oh, you're totally getting raped right now". That would obviously be disgusting, and I would reach for my own torch and pitchfork.

Unfortunately, it seems no one wants to debate if it was a rape joke or not. Since this was first brought to my attention through Gamers Against Bigotry, I've mostly been following the er, discussion on their website and Facebook page. One person argued that context matters, and that if you put "give up, you can't win" in the mouth of a rapist, that will also sound vile. Indeed, I had commented to a similar effect, saying:

Yeah, I didn't hear a rape joke. I heard a "you're getting your ass handed to you" joke. I also think context matters, and there was nothing there besides that one was a man and one was a woman to suggest something rapey about it. I think things are getting to the point where people are looking for stuff like that, and Microsoft, et. al's appearance as a yeah-brah male dominated culture lends itself easily to that, whether or not there is anything to it.

The last sentence I'll come back to.

A lot of people who responded to these sorts of comments said the joke was comparable to one person directly or indirectly calling someone else an "n-word", whether or not the target was black, whether or not the person who said it has black friends. But that's a poor analogy; there's a clear distinction between a word like that which is used specifically as a weapon of hatred, and the far more ambiguous phrase let slip by Torrence.

Many who replied said that people who were defending the joke weren't ever going to get why it's a rape joke, because they've never been raped, so it's completely incomprehensible to them. This is a form of special pleading based on in-group knowledge, that only results in poisoning the well. While no one should ever be part of the in-group of rape victims, and it's tragic that such a group exists, there really are people who want to understand why this is definitely a rape joke and not possibly a rape joke.


Unfortunately, these requests are met with something along the lines of the following:

...the phrase being "commonly associated" with rape scenes is exactly why it IS a rape joke, because it's a joke that alludes to rape.

In fact, that comment was made by the Gamers Against Bigotry Facebook account. That's false equivocation and circular logic, for starters. As I said before, and as others have commented, the joke sounds like something any one person is likely to say in a violent conflict with another individual. Rape is a violent act, not a sexual one, and its focus is dominance; similarly, a fighting game (or MMA cage match for a real-world example) is about someone dominating an opponent. While rape is as much about domination in a psychological and emotional sense as much as physical, there is enough similarity for crossover of phrases to occur. Language is fluid, and many phrases are used in different situations with different intent. NPR has a fascinating article on how gun culture has influenced day to day conversation in much the same way.

Here's another:

...arguing semantics and hypothetical situations is a deflection. It was said to a woman, by a man, and it was a phrase rooted in dominance over one person by another. End of story.

The message from GAB is that it's a rape joke because it is because they say it is. For a group that wants to be "a source of external reinforcement for positive behavior", I think they're going about it wrong. There are certain things that are not debatable; rape is wrong, and horrible, and disgusting, and that is not up for debate. Whether or not what was said by Torrence counts as a rape joke, however, is debatable.

GAB should be fostering a discussion here, and view it as an opportunity to educate, not intimidate others until they're in line with GAB's point of view. GAB needs to understand the difference between a passionate activist, which seeks to sway opinion through clear arguments supported by objectivity, reason, and evidence, and a white knight, which seeks only to silence dissenting opinions through intimidation. GAB's behavior seems contrary to their claimed willingness to "have honest dialogues about it".

Here are some other things involved in this controversy that you likely won't see discussed, or see at all.

1. The teleprompter

Following the outrage about the comment made during the event, Microsoft released a statement.

"The comments in question during the Killer Instinct demo were not scripted," a Microsoft spokesperson told Kotaku. "The demo was meant to include friendly gameplay banter and there was there was no ill intent."

Someone who commented on the Gamers Against Bigotry article about the controversy had this to say:

That said, I can corroborate that it was unscripted. I was sitting near the teleprompter screen, and all it said was 'trash talk' as a prompt when the fight began. Nothing else until after that first match was over.

So there was nothing overtly malicious being enforced or intended here. The joke was a personal slip of the tongue, and in poor taste. Is it emblematic of a deeper problem rooted in gamer culture, and society at large? That is something worth debating.

2. The transcript

I will now do my best to document what was said during the video posted above, and relate what is happening in the game during the statements made.

Marc Whitten: Please welcome Torrence, who's been matched playing against Ashton in a Killer Instinct battle. This is going to get interesting. For those of you who don't know, Torrence is a producer for Killer Instinct and has brought out the new Tournament Edition Mad Catz fight stick which will be available at the launch of Killer Instinct. Good luck, Ashton. 
Torrence: C'mon Ashton, bring it! 
Torrence's character, Jago, is furiously kicking Ashton's character, Sabrewulf. Sabrewulf is kicked into the air. When he lands, he gets a few swipes in at Jago. 
Ashton: Whoever thought it was a good idea that I play against the producer is going to get it. 
Jago delivers a couple of strong kicks to Sabrewulf's face. Sabrewulf tries a low attack, but Jago leaps into the air and slams down into Sabrewulf. 
Torrence: C'mon, you've gotta practice before you get on stage in fornt of millions of people. 
Jago winds up behind Sabrewulf, spins around, and delivers an 8-hit combo to Sabrewulf. 
Ashton: I can't even block correctly, and you're too fast! 
The combo continues. 
Torrence: There we go. Just let it happen, it'll be over soon. 
The combo maxes out at 18, "Awesome" appears above the counter, but Sabrewulf manages to break free and swipe at Jago's ankles. 
Ashton: You have a fight stick! 
Jago begins repeatedly shooting some kind of fireball into Sabrewulf's face. 
Torrence: Wow, you like those! 
Ashton: I- no, I don't like this. 
Sabrewulf misses another low attack, and Jago leaps over him, spinning around and starts building another combo. 
Ashton: No- 
Torrence: Oh- 
Ashton: No- 
Torrence: Here we go, here we go. Wait- wait for it... oh... one more... 
Jago maxes out the combo again at 18 with an aerial attack, and Sabrewulf slams into the ground, defeated. 
Marc Whitten: Nice. 
Torrence: There. (I think, hard to hear.) 
Jago's "win" animation plays.

Read in full, or better yet, watched, the joke comes across as typical trash talk. "Hold still so I can deliver this epic ass-whooping on you." Ironically, this image that I found on the Kotaku article about this controversy makes the phrase seem even less evocative of rape and makes context even more valid.

Maybe he was referring to this controversy.

3. The full event

This video shows the full, roughly three minute presentation of Killer Instinct. After Ashton's crushing defeat, Torrence demonstrates how the match was recorded through XBox One's built-in game DVR system, edits it, and shares it with the Internet through his XBox account. Then Ashton steps in, and calls out a command to stream, which brings up a TwitchTV channel that streams the game live to the Internet. She then proceeds to trounce Torrence quickly and cleanly.

A friend responded to the Facebook post about the GAB article, making a point that it seemed as if Rare and/or Microsoft was making a show of the old stereotype that "girls suck at video games". I commented that it was pathetic and sad, and we agreed that reversing the role or having one player beat the other, and then the loser coming back and winning would have made the gender aspect relatively irrelevant.

They actually did that. It was staged, and all part of a larger marketing ploy of course, but they had at least enough cognizance to make it less one-sided. It's my fault for not watching the entire event, and I get the very strong feeling that I'm not the only one. I try to avoid hopping on a bandwagon without first knowing where it's going, so shame on me.

Let's come back to my earlier Facebook comment, the last sentence of which was quote-mined for the GAB article. Microsoft's environment, and that of far too many other, similar companies, does foster male dominance, and there's a lot that needs to be changed in that regard. A lot of people look critically at Microsoft, waiting for them to screw up. This may not even be a conscious effort, and I don't believe everyone is doing it, but when you expect to find something, you're far more likely to find it. It's called confirmation bias, and it's part of human nature; even the most practiced skeptic will do it at some point. The GAB article used what I said as an example of someone saying "you're looking for something that isn't there!", but that's not exactly what I said. Microsoft and their subsidiaries are certainly worthy of critical analysis regarding social conduct, but just because what was said seems controversial doesn't mean it is, or even controversial enough to warrant this amount of attention.

What he said.

That, I feel, is much more pertinent to the discussion everyone should be having. Debating whether or not the joke was a rape joke is irrelevant, and distracts from much more important issues. In the grand scheme of things, this is crying wolf over a minor result of a much larger problem, which should be receiving our full attention. Telling a joke about rape without any idea that it's inappropriate is only a small aspect of a rape culture, a diseased way of thinking that has permeated throughout most - if not all - aspects of society; telling someone "don't make rape jokes" is sweeping dirt under a rug when you live in a cave.

There's another consequence of focusing on the vocal minority, who may not be able to see the forest for the trees, and this applies to all sides. One of the most permanent effects that sexual abuse can have on a person manifests as a "trigger", something that suddenly brings the abuse screaming into the forefront of a victim's mind. It could be a certain location, a facial expression, or even a bad joke, but it means that a victim is unexpectedly confronted with all of the pain and memories of the trauma they experienced. Focusing on something so trivial as this joke in such a way is causing real suffering; simply look through the comments section of nearly any article on this subject and you will see someone talking about how this situation has triggered horrific memories.

We can bicker over things like a bad joke, or belittle gamers as a community and label them all mysogynists, or we can target the source of the detestable things that make our fellow human beings feel marginalized and oppressed. I may not agree with Gamers Against Bigotry in full, but I am a gamer against bigotry, and oppression. I signed the Gamers Against Bigotry pledge because I believe that things can change. I believe people are inherently good, and want to live in a positive environment founded on equality and basic human decency. And I believe that this can and will be accomplished by focusing on what's most important, and through passion, objectivity, honesty, education, open discussion, and evidence-based reason.