Category Archives: Escapist

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.


People of the Internet: I Have Returned

MacArthur

 

It’s 2014, and as promised, I’m back in business!

After a two-month sabbatical, Critical Intel returned last week with an article about how Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, evokes a time period through game mechanics.

And in case you missed it, I also penned a humor piece for Slate a few weeks ago called, “NORAD’s Fighter Escort for Santa: Another Example of Wasteful Government Spending.” I was particularly proud of this one, since I’ve always admired Slate‘s Future Tense blog.

In other news, I just returned from 17 days in Thailand and Cambodia, where I collected writing material between exploring temple ruins and dodging riot cops–so expect to see some Southeast Asia-flavored content here and in CI soon. (If you’re wondering, Southeast Asia-flavored means spicy.)

Thanks for hanging with me through the sabbatical, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the messages of support I received during the short hiatus. Here’s to a new year and new possibilities.

2014 is going to be a good one, I can feel it.


One Year of Critical Intel

 

Order the cake and dust off your party hat, because it’s Critical Intel‘s first birthday!

Well okay, not exactly.  CritIntel’s first anniversary was actually back on October 12th, but it escaped my notice because of some stuff that’s gone down recently.  Regardless, I’m happy to see how my slick little newborn idea’s grown up over the last year.

I started Critical Intel to talk about how games and the real world are bleeding together, and I feel good about how much ground we’ve covered over the last year.  In one trip around the sun we’ve taken on the false realism of military FPS games, compared Dishonored to real-life 18th century dueling rituals and explored how Star Wars: The Old Republic became an unlikely battleground for LGBT rights.  We’ve explored politics, history and contemporary social issues without resorting to name-calling and hate mail – something people thought impossible when the column started.  The prestigious Games Journalism Prizes were even nice enough to longlist two columns for its annual prize.

You might notice that I’ve been saying “we” a lot.  Despite appearances, Critical Intel is very much a team effort.  A lot of people, from editors to artists, to the back-office folks who keep the lights on, have a hand in bringing CritIntel’s hot analytical goodness direct to your eyeballs every Thursday.  Those people have my deepest thanks, but so does everyone who’s ever passed me a news tip, shared the column or even made it a subject of your podcast or blog post.

Most of all, I’d like to thank you, the reader, for supporting the column.  There was never any guarantee that Critical Intel would find an audience or sustain itself for this long, and I appreciate you lending me your brain for ten minutes a week.

But don’t leave the theater yet –  it’s just intermission.  There’s some exciting stuff coming up, and you won’t want to miss it.

Because if you liked my last trick, I can’t wait to show you what I’ve got up my sleeve for next year.


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


My Schedule for PAX East

There’s really nothing quite like PAX East.  Prime is great — many people prefer it — but it’s too spread out for my taste, too sprawling and diluted.  East is smaller, more concentrated.  At Prime you can get lost in the crowd, but at East you’re constantly running into people you know.

Which is as good a segue as any…

If you want to run into me at PAX East, you’ve got a couple of options.

If you’re a freelancer or an aspiring freelancer, I highly encourage you to attend the Freelancer Meetup described in the last post.  Yeah, it’s early in the morning, but it’s a really great opportunity to meet fellow game writers in a no-pressure environment.

Other than that, I’ll be on two panels:

The Escapist Movie Night: Saturday, 9:00 PM, Merman Theatre — Come see the stars of the Escapist!  Check out never-before-seen videos from the Escapist’s most talented content creators, plus a live Q&A from the likes of MovieBob, Loading Ready Run, No Right Answer, Susan Arendt, Shamus Young, Johnathan Grey Carter of Critical Miss, and of course myself!  If you have any questions about Critical Intel — how I do it, where I conduct my research, or how I got started in game journalism — this is the place to ask.

Borders and Bullets: Global Game Controversies: Sunday, 10:00 AM, Naga Theatre — If you’re a political animal as well as a gamer, don’t miss out on this panel.  It’s a roundtable discussion on a host of topics from violent media, to links between the game industry and the gun industry, and even whether games can be used as a diplomatic tool.  My fellow panelists Steve Watts, Elisa Melendez, and James Portnow of Extra Credits fame will help bring the Borders trilogy to a close — it’ll be one for the record books.

And hey, aren’t coming to PAX but want to watch Borders and Bullets anyway?  Not only will I be taping the panel as normal, but Twitch TV will be streaming it live!

See you out there in the big nowhere.


My Five Favorite Critical Intel Columns of 2012

Critical Intel is off and running.  Originally, I’d thought the column would provide an interesting side note with niche appeal, but instead I’m seeing comments from regular readers and getting appreciative messages in my inbox.  (That’s always humbling, wonderful, and weird.)  It seems CritIntel‘s audience is larger than I anticipated.

Given that, I really want to thank everyone who’s read, commented, tweeted, and shared in support of the column. At the risk of sounding biased, CritIntel readers are my favorite audience on The Escapist.  You’re overwhelmingly positive and engaged, and when you disagree with me, that dissent is (with only a few exceptions) well-reasoned and polite.  Moreover, you’re all pretty kind to each other even when discussing controversial topics.  I think it says a lot that I wrote a column on the Mexican Cartel War the comments didn’t explode into xenophobic tirades. Despite writing about contentious political topics like conflict minerals, drone warfare, gay rights, and BioWare, I haven’t received a single piece of hate mail to date.  You guys are amazing.

So here’s to another year of thoughtful analysis and clean comment threads.  To celebrate, here’s my favorite columns of 2012:

1) King Washington the Wicked

This column was the essence of why I stared doing Critical Intel – I wanted to bring players smart, detailed analyses of the real-world content in games that include the perspectives of subject experts.  I’m still on pins and needles waiting to see if my predictions for The Tyranny of King Washington come to pass.

2) Desperate Housewives of Skyrim

Skyrim is one of my all-time favorite games.  That being said, Skyrim‘s stilted social relationships are an endless source of unintentional hilarity.  I love writing humor pieces, and I’d like to do more in the future.

3) Killer Robots and Collateral Damage

Articles that post on or near a holiday tend to get a lot less traffic – which is unfortunate, since this piece on the portral of drones in video games was one of the better things I’ve done this year.

4) Conflict Minerals in the Game Industry: A Two-Part Series

Yes, it’s cheating to post two as one.  Conflict minerals haven’t gotten a lot of traction in the games media, and it’s a topic I’ve wanted to address for years.  I still have a lot of unresolved feelings regarding Part II, since I’m honestly not sure where I stand on what we should do to address the problem.  Still, I’m proud that I took it on.

5) Cuddly Pokemon and the Demons That Spawned Them

Confession: I don’t like Pokemon.  I’ve never played it because I can’t stand turn-based games.  On the other hand, I love Japanese folklore, especially stories of violent spirits and creatures.  Originally, this was going to be a two part column, but it dragged so I cut it down to one.  There are lots more bizarre spirits that influenced Pokemon, and I highly suggest you check them out if you’re interested.