Friday, September 27, 2013

GameOver Hate #6

Day 5: Friday

Today's theme was how we could take action based on everything we had talked about in the previous days. We prepared several project ideas which we could follow up with after the conference. We also had a guest speaker, Mr. Todd Harper from MIT, who discussed his views on hate speech and fielded questions from us.

In the morning we began with group presentations we had prepared the previous day. The objective was to gather a group of people from similar backgrounds and discuss what we could do to combat hate speech, then present our thoughts to the rest of the group. My group was called Dat Science Team (writers and researchers) and we concentrated on the need for pure, hard facts to combat all the harmful pseudo science widely used in the field. Our main conclusion was that it would be awesome if there was an academic website devoted to the science behind games, which collected papers, experiments, research and other things to get proper facts about the game industry in one place.

 For science!

Our guest lecturer, Mr. Todd Harper from MIT, was awesome enough to make time for us even though he had some difficulties getting to the video meet-up. He talked a little bit about his dissertation called The Art of War: Fighting Games, Performativity and Social Gameplay, in which he draws on feminist theory to study how gamers construct their gaming experiences and social play. 
He also explained how a game can frame the interactions you have with other people - depending on the game, you are in environments that cause you to behave differently than normal. Sometimes that behavior is harmful, especially if the environment encourages it. As long as we're in a framework where we play with strangers, stuff will just keep going bad - the less you know about a person, the more likely you're to view them as an object than a person. Same goes for real life too.
He spoke about the need for diversity and risk-taking in the development community. People need good, diverse examples in order to be more understanding to diversity itself. Developers need to be less defensive about their own design choices (for example, defending a female character who they've billed as "a strong, female protagonist" when she's merely eye candy) and keep being critical of their own work. Does the character have to be white for the story to work? Could it just as well be a female as a male? Might the different, unexpected choice actually make the story line more interesting? Driving our point home by boycotting companies isn't going to work. We need to get games out there that prove people want diversity, by giving consumers a wider choice about what they're going to buy.
All in all, stopping the tide of hate-speech is a full time job. It's important to realize when a battle can be won or lost - just ignore the useless comments containing nothing but swear words, and reply to those which have a little bit more content than just a couple of expletives. Freedom of speech is a great thing, but saying whatever you want means you also have to be ready to take responsibility for the consequences.

After the guest speech, we were once again split into groups to come up with concrete project ideas we could do after the conference. My group decided to concentrate on bettering the community from the gamer's point of view. We discussed about several possible approaches to this, and came up with the idea of doing a wide survey of different communities, their ways of dealing with problems in the community and the kind of hate speech gamers are faced with, and then writing an article on the results. Sure, something like this has probably been done before, but we wanted to start small and lay out some concrete facts before building something bigger.Our group is not even sure if we'll actually do this beyond creating the idea, since some of us have already formed much larger projects with other participants. 
I also volunteered for a couple of interesting projects in Finland, which will hopefully bear even bigger fruit eventually!   

In the evening, a Soul Calibur V tournament and a sauna was had. There was much rejoicing!  


GameOver Hate #5

Day 4: Thursday

On Thursday, we had only half a day of planned activities, after which we had a whole afternoon and evening free to see the sights in Budapest.

 Finally, time to draw a group picture! Go Exterminodia!

Even though we had only a few hours of activities, it was still quite intense and rewarding. We had our third guest speaker come and talk to us through video: John King of CCP Games told us about EVE Online and the community inside and outside the game. 

I had heard a lot about EVE Online before the presentation, but had never played it myself. I knew that it was a sandbox game, where players had a lot of free rein over how the world developed and that it had an intricately developed market and financial system. What I didn't know was how well the community had embraced diversity, and how the company had developed some really ingenious ways to encourage them to bond and help themselves. EVE Online has player developed corporations (equivalent of guilds in other games) that work a lot like their counterparts in real life: they have charities that help out other players by donating money or ships, they have a player-run university that teaches classes to all interested gamers, and their large corporations engage in intricate politics (including nationalism and propaganda) to run different areas of the game world. There is very little typical hate-speech ingame; instead gamers use terminology and hate-speech that is unique to EVE Online, and wouldn't really work anywhere else. Their real life meetings have a great community spirit that usually isn't dampened by people's different ingame loyalties.
One of the biggest issues in EVE is unwanted attention geared towards female players. Only about 2% of EVE's players are women, but women still make up 30% of all the group leaders ingame. Possibly because the game relies heavily on voice chat at the higher levels, many women are unable to hide their gender and get faced with a lot of overeager, unwanted attention from men. Mr. King talked about various guesses as to why this happened and how it was a really tough problem to try to fix since the company didn't want to interfere too much with the sandbox world.    
Overall, the presentation was very good and definitely made me impressed with the community spirit in EVE Online.

After the video conference we had a quick brainstorming session to prepare for a presentation on Friday. Then it was time to plan how to spend a free afternoon!

Shopping much?

I went out to buy some shoes, and then walked around the city a little before heading back to the Youth Center for an evening of gaming. After such an intense week, I was in sore need of some extra sleep and alone time. Budapest is a beautiful city, but I think I would rather come back here fully as a tourist than try to cram everything into one afternoon of sightseeing.

The local neighborhood.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

GameOver Hate #4

Day 3: Wednesday

On Wednesday we had our first guest speakers through a video setup. Jari-Pekka Kaleva talked about the European Games Developer Federation and what kind of work they do, and Brian Crecente, formerly of Kotaku and currently working at Polygon, talked about games and hate speech from a journalist's point of view. The theme of the day was academia, so we were concentrating on finding and discussing academic facts and thoughts about hate speech.

Modern academics. 

But first, before the guest speakers, we had an informal debate to warm things up. We were given a simple statement and then were told to either go into the Yes group or the No group, depending on if we thought the statement was true or false. Then each group was given a chance to present their opinions, one side and person at a time, with the rest taking notes and listening. With statements such as "Companies are responsible for all that happens within a game" and "Real trolls don't do hate speech" the debate was very, very interesting. Many people had strong opinions on the subject and I think that if we'd had more time, the debate could have gone on for hours!

Some thoughts presented during the debate:

Companies are responsible for the content they create, but can never fully control their players nor should they even attempt to do so. This means that they should mainly be responsible for creating and promoting a safe and equal community on their official channels, where gamers can discuss ideas without fear of discrimination or hate speech. Any unofficial channels, however, would be the responsibility of whoever runs them.

Upholding basic human rights and mutual respect should be an important priority for developers, both in games that have more controversial content and games that are more geared towards a larger community. This does not mean your favorite, ultra-violent shooter should be censored - instead, developers should be careful to avoid using real people or making a game based entirely around positive propaganda of a violent cause.

Real trolling is a form of art, where the troll does not use personal insults to make their point. Instead, they focus on making people think outside the box by using provocative language to incite reactions that make people think about the subject in a new way.

After the debates we had our first guest speaker, Mr. Jari-Pekka Kaleva from the European Games Developer Federation. He showed us a very interesting presentation which included some eye-opening facts about gamer demographics and developers' point of views.

Based on prevalence statistics.

We ended up discussing a lot about how hate hinders game development and is a destructive force in communities. Many, many developers end up being harassed so much that they have to withdraw from the industry because they can't take it anymore, and major studios are forced to consider support groups and therapy in order to keep their workers from falling apart. The harassment and hate stunts development processes, making game developers less willing to take creative risks in their projects from fear of inciting the hate of the masses. Even though only a minority of gamers take part in the harassment, they are a very vocal group with people willing to go dangerously far in driving their point across.
Game companies use up a large amount of their budget on moderators, GMs and other personnel who help to keep order in the community. One of the slides in the presentation had a lovely quote from Supercell community manager that sums up the benefits nicely: ROI = <3 (return of investment equals love). Investing in a strong and safe community returns that investment with love. My opinion is that in this context love also means loyalty, and the willingness of gamers to financially support a community in which they feel cared for.

After the conversation many GameOver Hate participants were of the opinion that EGDF should compile a code of ethics, or at least some ethical guidelines for developers to reference when they need to. From the conversation with Mr. Kaleva we understood that this had been worked on but had proven a difficult problem to tackle. Still, many of us felt strongly that if EGDF wished to truly function in the best interests of the developer community, it should take ethics seriously enough to devote more effort into doing this. Violence, hate-speech and questionable morals found in video games are constantly in the news, with many new games pushing the definitions of what is right and what is wrong, so having some form of ethical guidelines would help to define the moral standing of video games in general.

Our second guest speaker was Mr. Brian Crecente (a big thanks to him for taking the time and being able to arrange the video chat on such short notice!), who represented gaming journalism and gave us an insider's point of view of the industry. He talked about his work at Polygon and how they've managed to form their amazing community by taking the time to create a great discussion environment. He stressed that moderation is not expensive if you see it as a natural part of having a game site, and that it all pays off in the end by giving gamers a quality, harassment-free environment to get their news from.
He also told us some personal experiences with hate speech and being an editor of a huge, popular gaming site, along with explaining how hard it is to get developers to step up and talk about their experiences with harassment. The fear for more harassment is so strong that most developers would rather keep quiet than risk further threats of violence.

After the video conferences we were tasked with reviewing games from a hate-speech perspective, listing the positive and negative ways games handled their player base and communities, along with how much hate by design the game had in it (such as sexism, racism, etc).
We reviewed the following games: Far Cry 3, Grand Theft Auto V, Sims 3, League of Legends, Guild Wars 2, Battlefield 3, Super Columbine Massacre RPG and Papers, Please.

The Sims IRL version.

Out of these, SCMRPG was the one that caused the most heated conversation and division of opinion. We ended up doing most of the discussion on reddit as we ran out of time for the presentations, but the gist of it was this: where is the line between art and pure hate? When does a game cross the line where the content is just purely unacceptable? SCMRPG uses the photos and names of real people involved in the Columbine shooting in USA, re-creating the massacre by making the shooters playable characters and the victims targets to be killed again and again. Up to what point is freedom of speech allowed in games, and when does it start to infringe on basic human rights?  
We did not come up with clear answers to all of these questions. However, the majority felt that when games involve killing real people, then it's not just about art anymore. It's pure disrespect and hate.

And just to show that we're not taking everything too seriously here all the time:

Debate hard, think about difficult issues, and don't forget to party hard after!

Thought of the day: The ethics involved in video games. What kind of code of ethics could work in an industry that is very much about the money? Where is the fine line between human rights and freedom of speech? These are large issues that are found everywhere in the world, not just in video games, and they will probably never have a definite answer. Still, it's a benefit to humanity that people try to find answers for them.

Link of the day:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

GameOver Hate #3

Day 2 (Tuesday):

On Tuesday, we focused on the different forms of hate-speech and the labels associated with it. We examined the terminology and tried to come up with some common ground regarding our perceptions of what exactly is this thing called "hate speech".

But first, a little morning gaming.

We did a couple of exercises in the morning designed to challenge our perceptions of the labels/categories people are put into, some of the exercises being a little bit more in depth than others. I must admit that having the door to the room closed and being told I couldn't get out until we'd finished the exercise was way more harrowing for me than answering deep personal questions in front of many people. It was a good way to create a safer atmosphere though, so it worked out well in the end. I also felt that the exercises built a deeper trust between us, since we were given a chance to confront the normal humanness of everyone else and were able to face our own less-than-desirable traits in an honest environment. The fact that I was in a group that was very open and willing to share might have had something to do with it as well. 

Words connected to hate speech.

The exercises paved the way for actual case studies in the afternoon. We separated into two different groups, with each group focusing on one case. One group looked at the case of Anita Sarkeesian and the hate speech she has been receiving online for her feminist work, and the other group concentrated on the case of Carolyn Petit and the grief she has been getting as a transgender reporter who dared to give GTA5 the low score of 9/10 in her video review.
I was in the Carolyn Petit group, and I hadn't heard about her case before this. I was absolutely appalled at the pure hate and entitlement that the people harassing her displayed - don't these people have any common decency, let alone any sense in their heads? I'm glad some of the other Gamespot reviewers took her side and answered with videos of their own. Many women don't have this kind of support group, and end up retreating from the public due to intolerable harassment. 

Along with all the exercises and assignments we do face to face, we also have a very active reddit page where people post links, participate in discussion and do extra assignments. Each day, we have a one hour gaming hour where we are given an assignment, then told to go play games while keeping the assignment in mind. Afterwards we reply to the assignment on reddit according to our experiences.

Secrets (?).

Tuesday's game hour assignments had us going into our own communities, and asking about hate related experiences there. I was surprised at how difficult this felt for me to do - I chose Guild Wars 2 as my game, but I didn't dare to ask around on a public channel about people's experiences because I was afraid it would turn into a troll fest, and because I was worried that I wouldn't have time to process it all. Instead, I asked my guild about their experiences. This turned out to be a good choice, since there were some surprising revelations about different points of view towards hate (I won't go into them here, since I promised to use the material gathered from my guildies only in our private reddit board). However, it got me thinking a great deal more about doing a wider questionnaire to GW2 gamers about the hate they experience, and how they deal with it. It will be a bigger project, and I doubt I will have time to concentrate on starting it while here. 

In the evening there was a party. It was crazy, and involved foosball, drinks, dancing and many, many silly Youtube videos. I love how gamers the world over enjoy similar pursuits (and similar slightly questionable humor). I also love how in the first half of the party, the only people actually dancing were the finns who weren't even drunk yet. :P

The best thing since Playstation 3.

Revelation of the day: How surprisingly difficult it is to publicly talk about hate in games to random strangers ingame. Even just asking about it casually in a public conversation online feels scary. Is the fear of being singled out for harassment really so strong? I challenge anyone who thinks it would be easy to actually go to their game community, and take that first step to start an open conversation about hate-speech.

Link of the day:

Guild Wars franchise review

This week, we took the Guild Wars franchise under the scrutiny of our talented reviewers. The Guild Wars franchise is developed by an american company called Arenanet, which has been a part of Ncsoft for several years. We looked at the different ways hate speech is apparent in the community, and in what way the developers have helped to keep their game a safe place for everyone. The key items we looked at was player behaviour, community management and hate by design, and how these things have changed from the first game to the second.

Guild Wars 1 is a hugely succesful free-to-play MMO played by millions during it's heyday. The community consists mainly of ingame gamers and guilds, along with unofficial forums ran by major gaming sites. Guild Wars 1 doesn't have it's own official forum so it relies heavily on fans to spread information and make the community outside of the game a safe place to be.
Guild Wars 2 is quite new; it came out a year ago in August and sold over a million pre-release copies alone. The game has it's own active official forums, and a large playerbase that spends hours ingame and offgame creating community content on their own.

Player behaviour

Both games have been praised for their general matureness and safe environment. Players are free to choose whether to interact with other players, since neither game requires you to group up to play it normally. Bots are a recurring problem in both games, but they are dealt with to the point where they rarely bother anyone.

Even so, our team of reviewers found that both games had their share of hate speech and harassment. Generally it 's mainly limited to one or two major cities, where people gather to kill time just chatting or goofing off, but there is also a lot of discrimination when it comes to forming parties to do dungeons or other co-operative events. Quite often the discrimination turned to outright hate and harassment when a person, who was unable to follow other players' suggestions/demands, tried their best in the way they could and were shot down by the rest of the group.
Guild Wars 2 tried to prevent this by breaking up the traditional Holy Trinity (tank, healer, DPS), giving each class it's own heals and support skills along with damage. It hasn't completely eradicated the harassment – now people concentrate more on gear and stat number crunching, giving grief to players who don't wish to play in such an involved way.
This is one of the main reasons that PUGs (pick-up-groups of strangers doing an area together) still have such a bad reputation in the Guild Wars community. They tend to have one or two people who troll or demand impossible things from the rest of the group, often resulting in flame wars and hate speech where people insult each other as much as they can.

With Guild Wars 1, we found that it also mattered if your character was female or male. Female ingame characters received much more sexual harassment than males, with many gamers demanding for a voice chat, a lap dance from an armorless female character, and doing lewd things with ingame animations. The most glaring example of this used to be the Presear area in Tyria – lots of elementalist female characters would strip off their armor and advertise for lap dances in return for money. 

We also had experiences of needing to intervene in a hate-speech situation several times ingame. 


Community management

Guild Wars 1 community felt more personal and involved to many of our reviewers. They had their own community management person, who was called Gaile Gray, be in contact with gamers as much as possible, tirelessly answering questions and concerns both ingame and at the official wiki. Any major community concerns were visibly dealt with – for example, a huge bot problem was eventually dealt with by introducing an ingame animation where a banned person was killed by Grenth, a reaper-like ingame god. Grenth continued to drag other banned people to the Undeworld even after the large bot bans. Guild Wars 1 forums were also found to be more pleasant, since they were run by the community and had more power over who to ban and what kind of rules to enforce. 


The main gripe we had with Guild Wars 1 was the ignore function. You could only ignore a certain number of people, so if you were targeted by a larger group, you had no way of keeping yourself safe from them except to leave the game. Guild Wars 2 has a better ignore function and has the possibility to report ingame harassment. However, the harasmment button doesn't really give you the possibility to give details of your own about the situation – all you can do is include a screenshot, then find a category it fits into. There is no feedback to what is going on, and no way of knowing if that person actually gets banned.

The Guild Wars 2 forums feel less welcoming to our reviewers than the community forums of the first game. Everything seems less organized, and while there's clearly moderators who read the forums and forward news to the developer, the community doesn't seem to be as tight-knit and there are examples of threads and replies being deleted outright.

All in all, Guild Wars franchise has a strong community that features both good and bad behaviour. The good mostly outweighs the bad, and thanks to the game's structure of allowing you to play alone, the game itself gives the player lots of freedom to choose how much interaction they will have with other gamers.  

Review done for GameOver Hate conference assignment. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

GameOver Hate #2

Day 1 (Monday):

The first whole day at the conference was mainly about getting to know each other, and defining the videogame aspect of our topic. We had several discussion groups where we went over what our expectations for the conference were, what were we uncertain about, and what we could contribute to the conference itself. All the exercises were geared toward building trust and creating a feeling of community among us. Our first online forays were into Twitter (#gameoverhate), although we eventually settled on reddit as our private message platform of choice.

Welcome to Rapture.

As fun as the organized group discussions were, I found that the most interesting conversations happened over lunch and during the few breaks we had. Some was off-topic, sure, but there was also a lot of talk that helped with understanding people's backgrounds and even creating new seeds of co-operation. I actually ended up wishing for more free time during the day, since it felt like casual interaction was too limited (and not just because my brain was overwhelmed by all the new awesomeness). By the end of the day I was so exhausted, I just stared at the wall blankly and didn't hear half of the things said to me.

The Wall of Doom

The whole day culminated in the creation of Clans. First, we were tasked with making our own character sheets, where we created a game persona for ourselves (complete with class, weapons, strength and profile picture) which also reflected our real-life persona. We needed to think about how our game personas related to our real-life personas, and take our real-life strengths which we turned into the character's ingame strength. 
Then, we took those characters and randomly divided into five Clans, coming up with a Clan name and a Clan emblem/symbol. Our gaming hours and some extra activities would be related to our Clans, and we could gather points from activities to bring more fame to our Clan (kind of like the Houses in Harry Potter, complete with a winner at the end of the conference). We also get extra points for doing random awesome stuff for our Clans, such as videos, blog posts or comics.   

Internet, meet Exterminodia. +1 points.

Personally, I was a bit worried that the Clan system would make things too competitive and lessen people's free interaction with each other. Some Clans clearly seemed to work better together than others, mainly because of a few very active individuals. Still, the assignments were very much fun, even if there was some initial confusion about what needed to be done. All in all it's an interesting idea, but I've yet to see if it properly works out. 

In retrospect, it was a very busy day! I'm going to be such a zombie in the evenings for the rest of the week, if the first day is anything to go by...

The lovely views keep me sane.

Monday, September 23, 2013

GameOver Hate #1

I've decided to dust off this blog and resume writing again, at least for the time being. I've got a backlog of art and ingame screenshots to gush about, along with something a little more important. Important things first, backlog later. :)

The important reason is GameOver Hate, a conference I got accepted into which concentrates on finding ways to prevent online hate speech and building better online communities. The conference specifically concentrates on gaming and ingame behavior, as the trash talk and pure hate found in many online games has become quite notorious. It's a frequently discussed topic with lots of people clamoring for a change, but it has been nearly impossible to actually do anything about it and the hate culture still lives strong. 

GameOver Hate is held in Budapest, at the European Youth Center situated in the Buda side of the city. It's sponsored by the Council of Europe and works together with their No Hate Speech Movement. The conference lasts for an entire week, with a schedule that's packed full with stuff to do (including gaming!). There are about 30 gamers participating from all over Europe and one person from the USA, with ages ranging from 15 to around 30 years old. 

Day 0: Arrival

I arrived in Budapest on a Sunday with just a little over 4 hours of sleep the previous night. It turned out to be one of those days for me where it feels like everything goes wrong - firstly, I misplaced my sneakers and had to run to the airport wearing my high-heel feetkillers (no other shoes with me), and second, bank decided to have an indefinite service break so I couldn't withdraw any money in any form at departure and arrival. So, for the first time ever, I ended up in a strange country, in poor shoes with only 1.5 euros to my name.

 Killer shoes. In more ways than one.

I was saved by Kipinae and her friend, who happened to be on the same flight and going to the same conference. Luckily, there was no need for money besides transport - all hostel expenses and food is paid for by the conference sponsors. I remain hopeful the bank has fixed their problem by Thursday when we have the first (and only) free time.

First day was mostly about orienting to a new place, sleeping, gawking at all the ironwork and crumbling buildings, and meeting new people. I immediately felt at home with the group, since everyone was using the same terminology as me, talking about games, and I didn't feel like I had to keep back a part of me for fear of not being taken seriously. This has definitely made me even more eager to see what the week holds!

The view from the hostel balcony. The hostel is up on a hill, so that there's a
 brilliant, clear view of the entire city spread out on both sides of the river.

I also don't need to worry about getting homesick. Out of all the participants, seven people are finnish and an eighth lives in Finland even though she's not originally from there. I try to mingle with all the other participants too, but it seems that no matter what group I drift into, there is always a finn in there already...

Sidenote, Mechwart is an awesome name. Really. Totally sounds like something pseudo-English that they'd have in an anime series.