Feminist Frequency’s 2015 Annual Report

Feminist Frequency has done some homework for us so go show your appreciation!

Feminist Frequency

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The Feminist Frequency team is pleased to present our annual report for 2015. The report features a list of our accomplishments throughout the year, highlights from media coverage, our financial information, some fun data about who watches our videos and how, and our plans for the new year, which we’re very excited about.

We hope you’ll take a moment to join us in looking back at 2015 and looking ahead to 2016; we think you’re gonna love some of what we have in the works.

Download the Feminist Frequency 2015 Annual Report [PDF].

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Couch Podtatoes Episode 29: Gender Identity

Me Vs. Myself and I

CP4

As I said last week, we did a longer recording session, so here’s the latter half of that, which is Doone’s Digital Frontier in its entirety. It’s a fun discussion based on his post that you can read over here. Basically we talk about how we identify ourselves in games, how gender effects people’s viewpoints of others while playing together, and a bunch of other subtopics that meld into the complete package. Did that sound official enough? Okay, good. I’m done here. Enjoy the show!

Download this EpisodeSubscribe via RSSDownload on iTunesListen on Stitcher

Couch Podtatoes Epsiode 29: Gender Identity (runtime: 48:22)

Doone’s Digital Frontier: Gender Identity (starts at 0:00)

Host Contact information:

Izlain
Blog: Me vs. Myself and I
Twitter:@mevsmyselfandi

J3w3l
Blog: Healing The Masses
Twitter: @ausj3w3l

Doone
Blog: XP Chronicles
Twitter: @trredskies

Music Credits:
“Level Up” by Cookie Monsta (from the Riot! EP)
“When They Drop” by Datsik (from the album Down 4 My Ninjas)

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Transistor – Part 1: Democracy’s Mediocrity & Elitism’s Dangers

Exceptional review and analysis of Transistor’s story. If you loved the game, check this out.

▶║ Play/Paws

Two main threads run through Transistor: the personal, private, intimate storyline centred on Red, and the socio-political focus of the arc involving the Camerata and the city of Cloudbank, almost a character itself. While separate, these two themes are intertwined and meet, as we’ll see, most notably in the character of Sybil Reisz, and then of course during the action of the game itself. I’d like to start from Cloudbank, and the Camerata.

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Mega Server Tech and Player Communities

Belghast has sparked a discussion in light of the fiasco that is the Archeage (AA) launch. Everyone who’s tried to play it the past week have met the day-long queues. I think it’s a travesty. It seems clear they didn’t build a server system suited to the task.

AA is using a traditional MMO set-up (multiple, disconnected servers). It has features that makes server modifications extremely difficult and inflexible. AA has fewer servers than it needs for launch and because of the rigid server infrastructure, they can’t just add new ones. They’ve literally developed the game on a server platform that cannot possibly meet the game’s needs. Talk about painting oneself into a corner, XL and Trion have done just that. So what exactly is the problem? There’s two key issues making the game lame and unplayable.

Labor Points and Land

Labor points are the lynchpin in the game. They are the pivot that everything hinges on. This system CANNOT be altered without sending tsunami waves rampaging through every aspect of gameplay. LP are a kind of currency that players earn and which we spend on things like quests, crafting, and opening loot. Yes, you read that correctly: in order to open the loot on the enemies you’ve killed you have to pay a fee. You’ve also got to pay to report bots, abuse and other violations to game rules. LPs are crucial to the gameplay experience. You can’t play the game without them.

To earn LP all you have to do is be online. For Free-to-play (F2P) customers, online presence is the primary way to earn LP. You get them automatically every 5 minutes that you’re logged in. This means that optimizing your character requires that you never logout. Obviously this encourages AFK’ing and botting. Bots and AFK’ers are currently dictating the server schedule. They decide if the servers will be restarted. They decide if Trion must add new servers. Trion makes decisions based almost solely on their behavior right now. This gives new meaning to the phrase “the patients are running the asylum”.

There are other ways to earn LP, like buying things from the item shop with gold and/or real money. LP is also capped for non-paying customers at 2000. The goal of players is to make our time spent efficient. This means we prefer to earn it than to spend any kind of money on it, even in-game currency.

Due to the incentive to never logout and the dedication of AFK’ers to advancing their character, server queues are massive. It’s a problem that’s gorging on itself. As players try to stay online to earn LP, they’re even more likely to AFK for fear of not getting back online due to queues. It’s a problem that gets bigger the longer it persists. This is magnified during weekend periods, but those queues are still there as of this Wednesday morning. I suspect queues will be massive this coming weekend despite the updates Trion have been making.

The current implementation of LP is killing the game. Because of the way LP works, it’s causing self-perpetuating queues. But because of the way land and housing works, it’s preventing Trion and XL from alleviating those queues.

Players can own land in the game. In a game where land-ownership in the main world is available, the game economy depends greatly on stable populations. This means Trion can’t just add new servers to address the queues, because if they launch too many, those servers won’t have a strong population. This also means they can’t merge servers without instancing land, thus destroying the economy along with a dozen gameplay incentives (land value, land conquest, castle sieges, etc).

That’s 2 critical game features that are preventing players from playing the game in a normal way. So how should they have handled this? And how will this impact the game and population in the future?

Megaservers

First, I’ll acknowledge that megaservers aren’t a silver bullet. There’s no silver bullet. Optimal server tech that any given MMO requires will depend on the features of that game. For sandbox games, we have models all around us, showing us their strengths and weaknesses. The core and most important thing to keep in mind for sandbox games is that players are the primary content. This is true for MMOs in general, but the life and death of a game hinges on this principle for sandboxes. Players create the content. And when your primary content is something as dynamic as a human player, megaservers will always be a better solution because they allow the game to dynamically expand and contract based on player activity.

The fewer pre-made landmarks in the world, the more of a sandbox the game is and the more it will require a server solution that’s flexible. EVE Online is a great example of an MMO that strikes a great balance.

New Eden has dozens of pre-made stations (cities) and regions (continents) with NPCs who have their own lives, institutions and property. The player can be friends or enemies with them, but they can’t remove them from the world. Those are permanent features. But then New Eden offers the players a vast sandbox to modify the topography of the game. Player institutions hold immense power and importance. Locations become strategically valuable. Alliances with certain NPCs reinforce power. In this sandbox the devs give players an infrastructure, a skeleton, that we then modify to create the kind of game we have today. EVE also uses megaserver technology. Every player is on the same shard. This means the game scales extremely well. When the playerbase gets smaller, nothing changes and when it grows, nothing changes. The game accommodates small populations and large ones equally well, generally speaking (small hardware adjustments can be handled in hours, if not minutes most of the time). EVE has it’s own technical issues and I’m not sure how well their set-up scales with a game with a much more sizable population (say WoW’s population). But one thing’s for sure: they have the right set-up to make a playable sandbox for their game.

AA scales extremely poorly. Any drop in player population brings the prospect of server mergers, which would kill the game. Any expansion of the population causes server instability. For AA, their sandbox is far too small but it can’t be made larger without significant downtime, delays, and big changes to the servers. Sandboxes require a dynamic and vast game space, an environment that creates the illusion of an infinite frontier along with the quantity of land to make it real. Archeage is shaping up to be a gimmick. There’s no infinite frontier (the land is extremely finite, there are definite good locations and bad locations which can’t be made better/worse through player actions unlike EVE Online). They’ve advertised something and delivered only a shadow of what was promised.

The traditional server set-up comes with traditional problems.

  • The only way to respond to sudden over-population is new servers.
  • The only way to respond to low-population is server mergers.
  • The only way to merge servers in a game where players own the land is by instancing that land.
  • If AA instances the land, it will break the game.

AA is in a really bad spot.

Trion’s current solution is attrition: wait it out. Let the players who get fed up with queues quit and soon enough the playerbase will shrink to a size they can manage. Wait until the population hits whatever magic number they’ve written down as “the playerbase we expect to have in 3 months”. That’s one way to handle it, sure. But in the long term they have to make some really hard decisions which will definitely change the game.

  • Remove LP earnings while online and implement a different method to earn them.
  • Develop new server technology so that it scales well with population increases/decreases.
  • Develop smart queueing systems
  • Create more specialized servers

As long as players stand to lose progress by logging out, AFK’ing and botting will continue. The two are never going away anyway, but the game shouldn’t make it profitable.

There’s many examples of server technology which scales better than what they have. Star Wars Galaxies did it 10 years ago. The Secret World has a system, Elder Scrolls Online, and of course EVE. This isn’t new stuff. There are solutions to their server problem and only god knows why they chose the current set-up.

An MMO needs a smart queuing system. It needs to be able to handle disconnects in a smart way, and also needs to tell the player exactly what’s going on so that we can plan our play time accordingly. For example, logging in should give you a report on the status of any given server. Perhaps Kyrios is over-crowded. A smart queue would make recommendations, tell the player when peak hours are for any given server. Inform the player of when maintenance and restarts are before they queue. Make it impossible to lose your position in a queue.

Specialized servers would probably have a big impact on server stability. Create Patron servers if necessary, but there’s other kinds of servers too. Create “flood” servers that allow players a grace period to freely transfer to a different server when there’s room. Flood servers can safely be shutdown because no one can buy land or houses on them. It just gives players a way to get into the game, start earning LP and leveling while they wait for the server of their choice to expand.

There are solutions to Trions problem. The only question is whether they’ll take advantage of them or stick with their guns. Right now, they have no intention doing anything except wait for players to quit. That’s bad for business and really bad for a game that requires a strong population.

Digital Frontier: Net Neutrality

There’s many fires on the digital frontier, but one of the fiercest and most important battles is net neutrality. I tease a couple of you about the possibility of our lives becoming a few chapters out of Shadowrun. I standby it! If moneyed companies continue to have more influence over our lives than us, then we should just start decking or go to shamanism. Because that’ll be all they’ll give us.

For those out of loop, there’s basically been a sustained attack on the freedom of the internet for a few years now. Broadband companies want to charge customers extra for fast internet performance. One could argue that we’ve been losing this battle over the years. In the United States, cable companies commonly offer packages to customers which increase their internet speed. The difference this time is that those same companies want to get their hands in the pockets of the services which offer the content. Those Saturday night binges on Netflix would come to a screeching halt if Netflix suddenly had to charge you $50 per month for the service. Downloading music from Amazon would become a lot less appealing if the MP3s began to cost $3 a pop. These are the kinds of impacts we can expect if the companies win. That’s in addition to the real show-stopper for us content generators: I get relegated to the internet slow lanes along with every other independent writer and broadcaster. Some free services may no longer be free.

I don’t know how this works out for other countries. I’d love to know more so if you’re in a different part of the world, chime in.

For Americans, the end of net neutrality would really change the way we use the internet. We can take for granted our unfettered access to sites like XP Chronicles, but under the new laws this blog would have lower class status, my page loads would go up unless I pay up. No one is arguing for free services. We’re asking for neutrality. Comcast’s site shouldn’t operate at higher speeds because they’re rich. My site shouldn’t be slowed to a crawl because I can’t pay more than $10 a month.

I’d be wrong if I didn’t mention that this battle is part of a larger war for equality. Protests are still blowing up all over the USA about minimum wage. Middle class jobs are still dwindling and most of us are under paid. It’s gotten so bad that there’s actually college graduates arguing that if they can’t get $15 an hour, people who serve them food for a living shouldn’t either. I guess that just goes to show the quality of our current education system itself. Graduates should know better.

Layoffs in the games industry are steady as well, as usual. Game developers are still working job to job with insane hours. Indies are finding themselves barely staying afloat in the sea of games competing for a finite number of gamer dollars. Those of us at the bottom are being squeezed more and more each year to buy ever increasing goods (like internet access) with ever decreasing salaries. Something’s got to give.

I think the big internet push to get everyone to contact their politicians has been really great. I’m not convinced we’ll win this battle in the end, because winning this battle won’t necessarily win the war. Companies will find other ways to get what they want. I think we’ll hold out for as long as we can. Money tends to win in the USA. But I’ll gladly eat my foot if I’m wrong. With glee. While surfing the free internet.

Leading in the Gaming Community

Gamer culture is rich with bright, intelligent, creative, energetic, passionate people. We love our games, love to analyze them, make them, mod them, love to praise them and love creating the forums, wikis, guilds and leagues around them. It is, without a doubt, a culture we want to continue to cultivate, a culture with value and potential. But the amount of bigotry, especially the casual homophobia and hyper-masculinity in the gaming community is a threat to this culture I love. Every time a gamer says “that’s gay”, every time guys get unusually excited over voice chat when they hear a woman, every time we call a woman a stupid bitch, cunt or fake gamer, the community dies a little. If we want to preserve gamer culture, we’ve got to do something about this. We have to change. All of us.

Since the greater part of the problem isn’t these vicious, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, able-ist attacks committed by a hateful few, I want to focus on those of us who are paralyzed by the displays of violence, or those of us fence-sitting, waiting for incidents to blow over, waving them off as insignificant, passively observing, watching as the community is made less. It’s not hard to see that something is wrong with this, but it’s very hard to know what to do, much easier to grow apathetic. Hearing about these violent events can get annoying, if only because they sometimes remind us of our feelings of powerlessness. But we’re far from powerless. To act though, we have to understand the problems. And unfortunately, not enough of us do or even want to. We have tons of excuses to continue with our own points of view, to stay within the confines of our warm and fuzzy ideas, despite any evidence that’s contrary to them – even if we know there’s evidence contrary to them. We’ve got to grow up.

If we really love this community, we’ve got to be willing to change.

Men

For relevance, let’s talk about recent events, though they’re far from the only problems threatening our beloved culture. The hatefulness and bigotry of those who violently attack people for having strong opinions is nuts. The fight to prove who does or doesn’t belong in gaming is positively destroying the culture, preventing progressive game development and killing our communities. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of this destruction. Attackers commonly claim to be male in identity and commonly defend their violent acts. Keep in mind violence is much more than physical. Attacking people through insults and threats is possibly more harmful than outright slapping them in the face. While this behavior by men is definitely a by-product of the wider culture, that doesn’t mean we can’t deal with it within the gamer community. I’d argue that’s where most of us need to deal with it, because it’s the community we live in the most. This aggressive behavior is just a symptom of the way those men were taught to perform masculinity, and since group behavior is magnified the larger the group, it rapidly becomes heinous and out of control.

One can never be enough man that one can stop proving their masculinity. Unlike with women gaining the status of woman, manhood is something men believe we can lose. It’s not something we are, it’s something we do. And because we don’t focus on who we actually are, because we’re so hell bent on demonstrating what a man is, the blind and mindless anger and hatred is a really easy thing for us to reach for. It’s so bad men don’t even blame themselves for their bad acts (the nexus of victim blaming). Masculinity is literally a relentless, daily effort that men put into a performance:

Women are only tangentially necessary to prove male heterosexuality, a checkbox on the list of Masculinity. The less like people they are, the better because it’s not about demonstrating our love of women, but our solidarity with other men. Remember: men don’t get points with other men by being loving. We get the respect of other men by being emotionless, hard, tough, and, most of all, heterosexual. Sexualization of women in games is primarily about homosociality among men. Masculinity is a performance men do for other men and in which women are only a prop.

This brings us to the concept of the Man Box. The Man Box, a concept that sociologists and experts on gender studies have coined to describe the construction of masculinity, is at the root of our community problems because many of those lashing out right now are of the mind that gaming is a man’s domain. One of my readers linked me a really great article in the comments of a recent post. The article is by Charlie Glickman and he does a nice job of explaining, in a really light and clear way, the complexities of the Man Box. I highly recommend reading it for anyone more interested in exploring what it is and what it means for men in our culture. But how does this relate to the behavior we see amongst men in the gaming community?

The rabid defenses of sexualization of women, the vitriolic response to Tropes vs. Women, the hatefulness being thrown at Zoe Quinn for her sexual habits (if it were about journalistic integrity, there would have been more attacks on the journalist), are all performances. To be inside the box is to vehemently deny the validity of anything outside of it. This is partly why the issue of sexism in the gaming community is usually so black and white. Masculinity is an either/or proposition. I see this kind of thinking all the time with men. We see this extremism everytime someone suggests sexualization of female characters is out of control (“but censorship is wrong!” and it’s ilk). You’re in or you’re out with these guys.

Here’s an illustration of the box, though if it were a physical thing, it’d be more like a mask or a body suit. It’s something we wear, not something we are.

the-manbox

This isn’t all encompassing, of course. There’s lots more we can put inside this box and outside. Can you think of any?

Charlie explained that men have to be all of these things to be masculine, and while I’m willing to yield to his expertise, I must say this isn’t how it seems. Men try to be all of these things, that’s very true. But you only need to be as many of these things as possible and make sure that you’re not anything outside the box – that’s the trick. Whatever we lack (such as height), we just over compensate with what we have. Masculinity is more like a critical mass of manliness. Either you’re a real man or you’re not, and there’s no in between.

One of the studies Charlie mentioned asked men to braid hair or rope. As a reward for completing the task they could chose either a puzzle or to punch a punching bag. The men who braided hair always chose the punching bag, and they always tried to punch harder. The men who braided rope didn’t try to punch so hard. This is that over compensation.

Another example he gave was that men acting in groups are far more aggressive than they would be individually, and he mentioned cat-calling is one activity where we see this. The more men doing the calling, the more likely the situation is to escalate out of control. This he attributed to one-up manship. Each man in the group is striving to prove that they’re more inside the box than the other men, and none of them wants to be the guy in the group who’s at the bottom of this competition. I think most men can relate to this experience.

This competitiveness against other men is equal parts performing masculinity and homophobia. Fear of not being seen as a man is also a fear of being seen as gay. All the taunting using fag, homo, gay, etc reveals that fear. We’ve all probably seen men flare up at the mere suggestion that they might like men or act like a woman. Some of us have seen the reaction of men who, after learning that woman was a “man”, wanted to confront that person about being “tricked” – as if his attraction to that woman were based on her chromosome arrangement. This is the flimsy, fragile nature of our model of masculinity.

A strange thing happens to us psychologically because of this mask, this performance. We know there’s a difference between the demands of masculinity and who we are, and I think this is why men are less likely to take responsibility for their own terrible acts. We’re more likely to deny that responsibility and to blame external factors for our behavior. The attacks on Anita Sarkeesian are seen by certain groups of men as her own fault. She provoked this response, she’s responsible for what’s happening. We see this in cases of rape, assaults on transgendered people and other cases where men get violent. It’s always provoked. In a sense, it’s a way of looking at our behavior and saying “I wouldn’t do something like that”, but the man we wear would do that and then some. If men in our community want this hostile behavior to stop, we must re-examine why believe that being provoked is sufficient grounds for it.

A study in the previous article made me consider this connection between masculinity and the fierce denials of responsibility that are so common. Bigots and other hateful mobs who condone this toxic behavior see people like me as the problem, me as someone who provokes the demons out of them. They don’t believe their behavior is a problem. Their behavior, in their eyes, is perfectly sane, normal, and righteous. It’s a proper response to people who are demanding a better community.

There’s no nuance to masculinity. Recognizing the root causes of this behavior is kinda important if we want to be able to do something about it. We can’t be reactionary, waiting to respond only after the fact. We have to accept that these people are among us all the time and all they need is some event to provoke them. So why not think about why we see this behavior and talk about how we can foster better models of masculinity? This is a problem only mean can solve, because we are the problem.

Solutions

Let’s whip out the ole spellbook on this one.

spellbookOf particular relevance to recent events are Counterspell, Awareness, and Reinforcement. Show your support to people being targeted. There’s always the risk that those same people may retaliate on you, but how is that different than any other day? Those of us demanding a better community have to expect a certain amount of flack for standing up. All the same, know your own limits and give self-care as much priority as taking a stand. Only you know where that line lies and only you, in any given moment, can determine if it’s the best time and place to put yourself at risk.

I’ve been asked to help build an activist group for gamers. The basic idea is that gamers need a place to turn to, a refuge against the hate. We also desperately need a gamer friendly place to get useful information about social issues and pool our contributions to social justice. More on that another time, but if you’re interested in organizing and doing more for this community let me know.

Advice for men in particular:

  • Listen. This is the single most important thing for you to do in the sexism debate. Yes we have feelings. Yes we have things we want to say. But we have to first understand and we can’t do that if we’re too eager to speak.
  • Follow. Read up the issues to give yourself greater context. It’s really not enough to pay attention to the singular incident. The more you know about the wider issue, the better you can respond to any specific one. Follow people who usually have that information or who can help you access it.
  • Care. Give a damn. Never let the fact that REAL people’s lives are literally being devastated by this hateful behavior, whether you believe it or not. Let compassion be your first response to people who feel attacked.

The Replacements

Blaugust 20th

“I’m here to replace you,” says the youth to the elder. This, I think, is how a lot of people view the generations as we grow older. Sometimes this turns into arrogance, but there’s some truth to the statement. The younger generations will eventually be the older ones.

How the statement’s interpreted is really important. In video games we see developers trying very hard to maintain the same thinking that they held as youth. It begins to feel as though they prize their youth more than they prize maturity, and so games have this pretty strong reputation as toys for kids. Some have chalked this up to the “nature” of video games. They’re fun, they’re inspired by childlike awe and curiously, they’re non-serious, non-political, pure. This is as much a failure of our developers to mature their craft, see it as emerging from the culture and as a source of culture in it’s own right, as it is a failure of the industry to allow games to mature. The industry is all about copying models that have already worked in the past, not improve on them. I think this prevents our games from being more versatile and keeps them narrowly focused on entertaining us. That’s why indie development continues to be one of the most important products of the popularity of the internet.

I don’t know when I started to realize this. Probably around 2007, the height of my MMO gaming. I started wanting more from my games, but I didn’t really know why I was becoming so much more demanding. Was I growing up or outgrowing games? Was I playing the wrong games? Was I just so immersed in gaming culture that I became a snob? The answer was probably a combination of all that and then some. I’m still pretty critical of games, but I’m also more accepting because I think somewhere along the line I realized I had matured. Some things would no longer hold my interest by virtue of just getting older. That leads to greater tolerance in all of us as we mature.

I encounter younger people all the time who see their place in the world as the new leaders. Some believe they have a duty to overturn everything the last generation believed in. Worse, some veterans of my generation see their place as squashing the hopes of the younger, to tell them “how it is” and in doing so discourage them from trying to imagine how it can be. To deter innovation because they worked really hard to get what they have and they see change as destroying that work. The relationship doesn’t mature. If you play as many games as I do, you know that it’s obvious in many game communities. Somewhere in there we’re all failing as stewards and students.

I wonder what can happen if we view each generation not as replacements, but as successors. Will games become more than entertainment? More recognizable as an asset to culture instead of a liability? I think we’re already finding out the answers and to me it looks promising. On most days. On some days it’s down right terrifying.