Category Archives: Controversy

I Talk Games and Conflict at Blogs of War

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I appeared on Blogs of War’s Covert Contact Podcast to talk about games and warfare.

Discussion topics include:

  • How games (often erroneously) portray warfare
  • Call of Duty‘s strange evolution as the premier military series
  • The merging of video game tech and military hardware
  • How VR and gamification will change how we live–and how we fight

This was a great chat, and it looks like I’ll be returning to comment on games there from time-to-time, so keep watching my Twitter feed!


Extra Credits: Where Do Consoles Come From?

Once again, I’ve collaborated with the folks at Extra Credits on a topic I’ve followed for a while: supply chain problems in console manufacturing. Proud as punch serve as a co-writer with EC, and hey, is that Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame? Damn.

This sounds like a dull issue, but it’s increasingly important. Our globalized economy provides mind-boggling manufacturing power, but it also hides the people who actually make the objects we use in our everyday lives.

Give it a watch:


A Short Statement On GamerGate

Note: I drafted this statement for publication alongside those of my colleagues, but at times the wheels of official channels turn slowly. Because I feel it’s important and already long overdue, I’ve published it here.

I can only apologize to my friends that I have not said anything sooner. Early in the controversy, my family and I made a decision not to risk hacking, doxxing and death threats by engaging the topic officially. My thought was that given the tenor of the debate, my opinion would do little good to change minds while exposing my loved ones to harassment. In other words, I was successfully intimidated.

But ultimately I’m a writer, and if I can’t use that skill to help my colleagues when they’re threatened with death, what should I use it for? I can only hope that staying quiet in official channels (I have spoken about it on Twitter) has not given the impression that I do not support or stand with the victims of these heinous attacks.

***

Priorities

He fires a shot into the classroom ceiling and orders all the men out.

“I am fighting feminism,” he tells the remaining women.

“We are not feminists,” says one. “We have never fought against men.”

He answers by executing them, left to right. Twenty minutes later, fourteen women are dead and another fourteen students wounded. The shooter’s suicide note blames his actions on “radical feminists.”

This is not a theoretical scenario, it’s the coroner’s report from the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre. This is what an anonymous terrorist meant when he threatened to conduct a “Montreal-style attack” during Anita Sarkeesian’s Utah State lecture.

It appears that, in addition to being threatened with violence for speaking out, you can now be threatened for listening.

I’m not here to debate what GamerGate is or is not about. That conversation is immaterial to the current situation. Hacking, doxxing, and death threats are criminal acts, not rhetorical devices. No discussion can occur while people flee their homes.

Our sole priority right now must be safety.

Defending GamerGate as “not about misogyny” ignores the point. For some members it clearly is about misogynist violence and always has been.

I therefore call on GamerGate’s supporters to abandon it in the interest of public safety. While these zealots may not represent you, for as long as you continue to use the hashtag, you’re representing and emboldening them. Internal policing is inadequate – you can’t block/report an unstable man with a gun.

We can talk about ethics later, right now we need to ensure no one leaves this “debate” in a body bag.

***

If you are interested, other Escapist writers have also published thoughts on the controversy:

Bob “Moviebob” Chipman

Sarah LeBoeuf

Carly Smith

I would like to thank all my colleagues for their support and strength during this time.


How to Spot A Fake Photo on Twitter

The police response in Ferguson yesterday shocked the nation. We saw video of cops shooting rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators, a journalist hassled out of McDonald’s and police gassing an Al Jazeera crew and dismantling their equipment.

Several photos stood out: One depicted a policeman spraying mace into a little girl’s eyes. Another a protester hit with a gas canister. A third showed an officer pointing his rifle into a car’s open window. In game circles, an article about how Ferguson affected videogames stoked anger at its insensitive focus.

Here’s the problem though–these last four had nothing to do with Ferguson. The photos were taken months or years earlier, over a thousand miles away. The article (from my publication, The Escapist) didn’t exist. These hoaxes are part of a growing trend in social media fakes–photoshopped or misidentified images intended to provoke outrage or fool users as a prank.

They’re not limited to Ferguson, either. I’ve detected fake photos during the World Cup, Occupy Protests and several other major news events. They’re a part of the news landscape now.

As social media like Twitter and Facebook start beating our traditional media to reporting on unfolding events, users need to start being more savvy about what they share. Not only does sharing fake images misrepresent the situation and cause confusion or anger in the public, sharing and commenting on media without fact-checking it can do lasting damage to a journalist’s reputation.

So here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to spotting a fake on social media. Generally, investigating and debunking a photo takes under two minutes, and some methods under 60 seconds.

 

1) Be Naturally Skeptical

TearGasOccupy

Photo Credit: AFP, Kimihiro Hoshino

First of all, consider the source. Does this photo come from a respected source like a journalist or a news outlet? If not, does it seem like this person is on the ground or knows what’s going on? Does it tally with other accounts?

For example, the photo above circulated a lot yesterday, claiming to show a protester hit by a gas canister in Ferguson. The photo does show a protester who’d been hit by a gas canister, but this was taken at the Occupy Oakland protests in 2011. It caused a pretty big stir at the time because the protester, Scott Olsen, was an Iraq veteran.

Anyone who’d seen footage or pictures of the Ferguson protests should’ve been immediately suspicious of this photo. Why? First of all, anyone who saw photos from Ferguson could tell you that the protesters were mostly African-American, but everyone in this picture is white. Second, there’d been no indication from reporters on the scene that there were casualties from gas canisters–something they’d have reported immediately. Third, the black hoodies were a hallmark of OWS.

Don’t assume anything’s true. If it smells even a little wrong or sensationalist to you, check it. Think before you Tweet.

 

2) If Unsure, Use Google Image Search

(Photo: O Globo, Pedro Kirilos)

Photo Credit: O Globo, Pedro Kirilos

When I was debunking Ferguson photos, a lot of people just assumed I have exceptional visual recall–but actually I was just using Google Image Search.

For example, when I saw the photo above of a cop macing a child, it didn’t read right to me. The cop’s uniform and police cruiser looked different than the ones I’d seen in photos. It was taken in daylight when the Ferguson crackdown happened after dark. And finally, the police in Ferguson flat-out weren’t getting that close to the demonstrators.

To check it, I opened up another tab to Google Image Search and typed in, “cop macing child.” There was a matching picture on the first page of results. When I clicked on the photo, it led to a page debunking the photo as a hoax–turns out this one’s a favorite and has been around for years. When I followed through on the links, I found the original news report from Brazilian outlet O Globo.

Yes, not only was this photo from 2011, but it was taken at a protest in Brazil. Finding the real source took around 60 seconds–not exactly strenuous. Trade secret: hoaxers are lazy, they take from the first page of results every time.

There’s also a shortcut for this tactic: If you install the Google Image tool in Chrome, you can search for pictures through dragging and dropping them into Google Image search or pasting a URL, which is useful for pictures that aren’t easily described, if you’re not good with search terms or you’re in a hurry.

 

3) Make Sure Any Text You Share Contains The Proper Context

Sometimes it’s not the image itself that’s wrong, it’s the comment framing it. While editorializing on a situation is one of the things social media does well, make sure the text passes muster and corresponds what the picture shows. Even a genuine photo can mislead people if it’s framed in an incorrect or biased manner.

checkpoint

Photo Credit: AP/The Sacramento Bee, Randall Benton

 

Take this photo for example. It made the rounds yesterday as an example of militarized police, and while it carried the hashtag #Ferguson it didn’t explicitly claim to be from Ferguson–an inherently misleading difference (clever girl). While this snapshot does show worrying things about police use of weapons–he shouldn’t be pointing that rifle directly at the driver–this didn’t happen during a protest, or even take place in Missouri at all. This photo shows a checkpoint the California Highway Patrol set up after a man shot four police officers in a Sacramento suburb–making the rifle a little more understandable. (If you look closely you can see the officer’s CHiP patch.) While it expresses a valid point, the way it’s framed tricks the viewer into thinking police checkpoints are happening in Ferguson as we speak.

But there are more harmful examples too. Remember the Reddit attempt to find the Boston Marathon bombers that ended up plastering an innocent man’s picture all over Twitter? Or Anonymous claiming they’d found Mike Brown’s killer yesterday? All real photos with erroneous or deceptive text. If the evidence on a claim seems thin, it’s better to wait until it’s corroborated before passing it on.

 

4) Spotting Photoshops

Most social media fakes aren’t photoshop jobs, since it’s less work for a hoaxer to find an existing photo and misrepresent it. However, since today someone decided to smear The Escapist with a photoshop, I’m including it.

Learning to spot photoshops can be difficult and should be a post in itself. I’ll instead link you to this short LifeHacker guide and add this: your best bet is to look for edges that don’t line up well (see the awful unmatched blockiness in the Escapist fake below), suspicious blending, lighting that isn’t right or shadows that should be there but aren’t. Most photoshop fakes are fast and sloppy alterations–but the best way is still to use Google Image search to find the original and see if it was doctored.

 

5) A Note On Article Screenshots

Photo Credit: Some Lying Jerkbag

Photo Credit: Some Lying Jerkbag

One recent trend has been for people to take screenshots of an article’s headline and then post it to Twitter, decrying that a site would publish an article on such an offensive topic. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but the main one is that by giving people a screenshot rather than a link, it can either misrepresent the content (i.e. spur people to judge the article without actually reading it) or in the case of the crude photoshop above, spread around a piece that the website never published.

When you see an article being flogged around the fleet like this, your first step should be to find and read that article.

“But I don’t want to give them traffic!” you say. But I would counter that until you know that the article exists and the actual content it contains, you probably shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what it says and definitely shouldn’t share it. (Indeed, hoaxers count on you sharing without reading.) Sure, you can argue that an individual headline–at least when it’s real–can be off-putting, but making that argument implicitly states that you’ve judged the material based on your preconceptions rather than what it actually says. “This article is awful,” is a different statement than, “This article is ok, but I don’t like the headline or the header picture.”

If you search for an article and don’t find it–or find a similar article under the different title–don’t automatically assume that the website retracted or altered it (as I saw several people do today on Twitter with the fraudulent Escapist piece). If you’re suspicious, contact one of the editors on Twitter and ask if the screenshot’s genuine and if the piece was removed–editors are generally fairly upfront about that sort of thing and it takes roughly five seconds.

This is particularly crucial if you’re a journalist, since you risk burning bridges by posting fake or misleading screenshots. Check your facts. Do at least the minimum amount of research to make an informed decision. Don’t take attacking a publication lightly.

 

6) What To Do If You Share a Fake

If you do share a fake–and it happens to all of us–minimizing the damage takes seconds.

  1. Delete the post or tweet.
  2. Immediately post a retraction apologizing and explaining the photo was fake.
  3. If you wrote a blog post highlighting or editorializing on the photo, take it down or–if it’s only one part of a larger blog post–edit the post and include a highly visible note at the top explaining the mistake and apologizing.
  4. Apologize to anyone you may have disparaged and say you’ll be more careful in the future. This is especially important if you’re a journalist and badmouthed another publication–this is a small industry and editors will remember.
  5. If any of your followers shared the photo with a lot of people, you may want to tell them individually that it was fake. Think of it like a virus, you want to contain the spread.

Social media is an incredible opportunity to share information without gatekeepers, but with that opportunity comes greater responsibility about what we spread across the internet. If you want to fire CNN and get your news on Twitter, you need to be your own fact-checker. Thankfully, a little skepticism, a few simple tools and a cool head will go a long way toward keeping your feeds hoax-free.


I Discuss the Leland Yee Affidavit on Game Talk Live

If you’re a Critical Intel fan you’ve probably read my narrativized breakdown of the affidavit against Senator Leland Yee. In short: Yee, a California State Senator and anti-gun, anti-violent games campaigner, has been arrested on charges of accepting campaign donations for political favors, links with Triad gangs in San Francisco’s Chinatown and brokering arms deals for Muslim separatist groups in the Philippines.

Yeah.

And that’s where the craziness starts. Let’s not forget that Yee’s closest associate and main campaign fundraising official was also allegedly caught trafficking drugs across state lines and trying to hook an undercover FBI agent up with not one, not two, but three contract killers in a murder-for-hire plot.

Given all this John Woo-style insanity, the folks at Game Talk Live invited me on the program to give an interview about the charges. You can see an edited version here:

This was my first live talk show and I didn’t do too bad considering. My biggest gripe is that my wifi signal was too weak in the original place where I planned to give the interview so at the last minute I moved somewhere with good signal but bad lighting. Lesson learned. The sound delay also threw me a bit (there was a quarter-second delay Skyping in from Hong Kong), but the end product looks pretty good all told.

And hey, they used my Indiana Jones picture from Halloween! Sweeeet.

That was fun, hope to do it again.


Miyazaki’s Controversial New WWII Movie

Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s new film debuted late last month, and it has Japan’s nationalist right wing up in arms.

Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) isn’t about sky pirates or spirits, instead it’s a meditation on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer who largely designed the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter.

The Zero went into operation in 1940 and flew missions for the Japanese Navy from Pearl Harbor to Coral Sea.  In its time was one of the most feared aircraft in the Pacific with a 12 to 1 kill ratio.  However, by 1943 American aircraft were already faster, more powerful and carried heavier armaments than the Zero, and by the end of the war the once-iconic plane was mostly used as a throwaway for kamikaze missions.

From the South China Morning Post:

“My wife and staff would ask me, ‘Why make a story about a man who made weapons of war?’” Miyazaki said in a 2011 interview with Japan’s Cutmagazine. “And I thought they were right. But one day, I heard that Horikoshi had once murmured, ‘All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.’ And then I knew I’d found my subject… Horikoshi was the most gifted man of his time in Japan. He wasn’t thinking about weapons… Really all he desired was to make exquisite planes.”

Miyazaki took this idea and ran with it, building a film around a young man’s romantic dream of flight being captured and corrupted by manufacturing interests and militarism.  The profile may or may not be strictly historically accurate – Horikoshi died in 1982 – but a memoir he published toward the end of his life seems to support that he felt heartsick that the Navy used his beautiful plane as a flying bomb.

Despite the film being a smash hit in Japan – it’s opening box office was 960 million Yen (US $10 million), the largest in Japan this year – the movie’s anti-war message isn’t playing well to the conservative fringe.  Internet commenters have bombarded articles about the film, calling it “anti-Japanese” or referring to Miyazaki as a “traitor.”  It’s a symptom of the rising tide of nationalism in the country, led by a conservative group of politicians that have taken aggressive stances on foreign policy, World War II and the Japanese military.  The most prominent figure is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, who has denied Japanese atrocities during the War, inflamed tensions with China over the contested Daioyu Islands and tried to censor NHK programming that discussed the Japanese military forcing Korean women to serve as prostitutes for its troops.  On May 30th, Abe’s party approved the draft of a full-scale rearmament, turning Japanese Self-Defense Forces into an offensive military once more (which is not to say Japan shouldn’t have a military, but it demonstrates how the conservative Lib Dems have made a 180 on Japan’s history of anti-militarism).

Though the rest of the world tends to find Abe’s stances on WWII indefensible, he does have a core base that sees any criticism of Japan’s wartime activities as unpatriotic or a result of “foreign revisionism.”  Therefore, Miyazaki’s film about a wartime icon chewed up and spit out by militarism was sure to see a fair amount of pushback.

It’ll be interesting to watch whether The Wind Rises gets more than a limited release in the West, and if so, how differently people will see it outside the lens of Japanese politics.

Source: South China Morning Post


People Doing Cool Stuff With Critical Intel

Every few weeks I run a Google search to see what people have been saying about Critical Intel.  Well, I do usually, but I’ve fallen off a bit in the past few months while I’ve been getting married and moving to another country.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I ran my usual search and found not one, but three great pieces that use CritIntel or Borders Bigotry as a launching point to discuss topics in-depth.

First of all, Wisconsin-based cartographer/graphic designer Martin Elmer made this fascinating infographic inspired by my panel Beyond Borders: Global Game Controversies.  I wish we were doing that panel again, since I would’ve loved to have had this for a visual aid.

Next, back in May the guys at EXP Podcast did an episode called Conjuring Videogame Magic that took my column I Hate Magic as a starting point to explore magic in games, and how we could come up with something more interesting than magic missiles.  They hit on some really interesting points and I enjoyed the discussion – it certainly got my attention and I’ll be listening in the future.

Last but not least, The Oracle Turret has an absolutely fantastic post called Merchants, Whores and Swineherds, that talks about racism in Dishonored, an issue I broached in Corvo is Not An Honorable Man.  I’m so happy to see this, since the I wanted to write more about Dunwall’s racist undertones but didn’t want to go off on a tangent in an already long column.  I’m glad molotovcockroach took up the banner, and I’m especially glad that the piece introduced me to his writing.  Go, click the link, read.  If this guy nice lady isn’t getting paid, she should be.

Seeing all this work inspired by or referencing Critical Intel really inspires me.  The point of the column has always been to foster discussion about how videogames can enrich our understanding of the real world, and vice-versa, and it makes me so happy to see it fulfilling that role.