Good Behavior: How Riot Games is Using Psychology to Stop Online Harassment 

Gentle Readers,

I don’t know if any of you play League of Legends, a game I insist on calling “lol”, much to my older brother’s chagrin. I’m sure that by now, though, you’ve at least heard of it. League is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) published by Riot Games, wherein teams composed of five people choose characters with specific abilities, called “champions”, and do battle against other teams. League of Legends is a community of millions of players, with as many as 7.5 million playing at any one time. For perspective, that’s more people than live in Massachusetts, or in all of Bulgaria.  And daily counts are in the high twenty millions. It is a truly massive collection of people interacting, often as strangers to one another. With any community of a reasonable size, some portion thereof are assholes.

The Champion Select screen.

The Champion Select screen.

While I’m not incredibly invested in the game itself—I played for a while, found it to be a lot like the WoW mod Defense of the Ancients that inspired it, and moved on—attempts to corral, quarantine, or reform these assholes are compelling object lessons in how one might manage a massive digital community. Over the past year, Riot Games has made well-publicized efforts to bring some of this behavior under control, considering their previous systems too lenient. As Jeffrey Lin, lead social systems designer for Riot, put it:

By giving the worst 2% so many chances, we’re actually letting them ruin a lot more games and players’ experiences and that’s something we want to try to reduce… we’re hoping to address with our systems is that some players understand what’s crossing the line and believe it’s ok, because other games never punished it in the past.”

Riot acknowledges that what it has is a relatively small problem, but considers that among the sheer number of games and reports of negative experiences,  even these are unacceptable. Thus, they are taking proactive steps to make their corner of the internet a little less like Lord of the Flies.

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Joss Whedon, Driven Off Twitter by “Feminazis?” Um, No.

Gentle Readers,

A couple of days ago, Joss Whedon left Twitter. Packed up his bags and went, leaving us with this final tweet:

JossLastTweetThat’s kind of a shame. Joss has long been a writer/producer/dreamer of some of my favorite ideas and I really enjoyed his little corner of my Twitter feed. But what is much more important than that is why he left. After Age of Ultron was released, Joss received a non-trivial amount of Twitter vitriol, which you can investigate here, about the portrayal of Black Widow in the film. I had some issues, but nothing I want to get into here, and certainly nothing I want to scream into Twitter about. But what’s remarkable was the assumption that these tweets were the reason that Joss left Twitter. The article I just linked above, at time of writing, assumes that to be true, it seems.

More importantly, it was lent credibility by Patton Oswalt tweeting:

Yep. There is a “Tea Party” equivalent of progressivism/liberalism. And they just chased Joss Whedon off Twitter. Good job, guys. Ugh.

—Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 4, 2015

You know, I was really bothered by Black Widow’s characterization in Age of Ultron. I thought she was simpering and her on-screen time was wasted. I thought that attempts to show a softer side of her just made her feel a little less relevant, and made me wonder if Joss Whedon really understands the word “feminism”. The prima nocta joke just wasn’t funny, much less in good taste or appropriate anywhere, really. But does it make me want Joss Whedon to rot in hell?

Does it make me want to curse him out on Twitter, to fill his feed with profanities so that he knows that he’ll never work again in this business?

Eh. Probably not. But just the same, all people who respect free speech on the Internet should be ashamed that Joss Whedon was driven off Twitter.

There is just a single solitary problem with that: he wasn’t. In Whedon’s own words: “That is horseshit.”  Continue reading

On Civility & Sexism Online

Content note: cyberbullying, abuse, sexual assault

Some interesting news in the world of electronic incivility: 1. a police officer was fired for using profanity, including racial slurs, on X-Box live, and 2. Reuters reported on the sheer depth and breadth of electronic violence against women.

First, let me say electronic abuse is a serious problem, one whose danger and breadth we are only just beginning to comprehend as a society. Its severity probably has something to do with the combination of anonymity and entitlement that encourages behaviors for which one might normally be held accountable. I think about it a lot and have written about it at least twice, maybe more. But misunderstandings about its rise and the media’s passion for reports on “cyberbullying” have led to skepticism by some, ably voiced by none other than Tyler, The Creator of American hip-hop outfit Odd Future:

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Raising the Bar: Gamergate & CrashOverrideNetwork

crashoverride

If you’re here, odds are you know what Gamergate is. If not, you can find out more about it here and here (this one is good). In brief, Gamergate has been a strange movement to target/expose/doxx/threaten people who are seen as threatening the integrity of the gaming community and its attached journalistic circles. Funnily enough, those people seem to be primarily women and those who dare suggest that the portrayal of women/LGBTQ+/PoC is a relevant concern when discussing video gaming. It’s largely already been said, but the actions taken by Gamergaters or on behalf of Gamergate have had some pretty scary results. But, if you’ll bear with me for a little bit, I’ll tell you about how some of these targets are fighting back.

If you’ve been following along these past couple months, you’ll recall that Brianna Wu had to leave her home after someone told her that “I’ve got a K-bar and I’m coming to your house so I can shove it up your ugly feminist cunt.” (I assume that this is the Ka-Bar to which they are referring.) You’ll also recall that Zoe Quinn had to leave her home after a stream of insults, rape threats, and death threats. You’ll further recall that Anita Sarkeesian was forced to leave her home after threats were made against her and her completely relevant parents. Which is obviously conducive to getting people external to gaming culture and media to view gaming as a space worthy of consideration that is characterized by integrity. Yeah.

via BBC

Quinn, via BBC.

I could detail here my myriad objections to the premise of Gamergate, but I’ve already done so. In a turn of events simultaneously troubling and predictable, Gamergaters have taken the rather large weight of media articles which decry their actions and question their motives as evidence of a “Quinnspiracy” against them, or something idiotic like that. What part of this occurred after October 14th has been dubbed MediaGate by some. That is right around when reporting about Brianna Wu, her making fun of Gamergate, and the threats made against her hit its stride. It really is truly disgusting behavior, but these women aren’t taking this lying down.

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