Alternate History

Alternate history:

That sometime in 1970: The Beatles fired Allen Klein and somehow came upon an agreement of how to run Apple Records, allowing the band members to separate the music from the business, the chief destruction of the band being averted; with the success of “Here Comes The Sun” and “Something” and an amazing back-catalog of unused and new songs, George successfully campaigns for an equal share of his own songs to be featured alongside the Lennon/McCartney originals (with the compromise that Linda and Yoko are allowed in the Beatles’ inner circle if need be); pleased with Phil Spector’s work remixing Let It Be, The Beatles opt to have him produce the bulk of their recordings throughout the 1970s (despite McCartney’s reluctance); John agrees but wants to elaborate on the stripped-down and live-band-sounding arrangements, as revisited in the Get Back sessions from the previous year, but at least for his own compositions written from his Primal Scream therapy sessions; Ringo was, as always, just happy to be there.

One of the things that distinguishes the serious music nerd from the serious music nerd is that the former spends a lot of time and energy not just imagining what if the Beatles hadn’t split up, or what if Syd Barrett hadn’t had his breakdown, but actually create imaginary albums from timelines in which these things did happen. I’ve only discovered this blog the other week, thanks to MeFi, but I’m seriously considering whether it would be eligible for a fan Hugo, because does seems to be the purest form of fannish alternate history making.

GamerGate will get somebody killed someday soon

This is horrifying:

Game developer Brianna Wu has been stalked, tormented, and harassed by GamerGate—the amorphous reactionary movement centered around video game journalism—for months now. But it’s never been as frightening as it was this weekend—when she watched a terrifying video made by a deranged fanatic who claims he crashed his car on the way to her home. “I’m worried my husband and I are going to die,” she tells me.

On the one hand it’s tempting to laugh at a wanker like “Jace Connors”, who embody all the stereotypes of the Internet Hard Man, up to and including saying was in the navy SEALS but still has to drive his mom’s car, but it becomes less funny if you’re the intended victim of this wackadoodle. A bit like ISIS has done in the Middle East, GamerGate is providing angry losers with an “ideal” to harass, threaten and possibly kill for, a direction for their rage. Most of it is sound and fury signifying nothing, but there only needs to be one loon who’s slightly better organised than “Connors” to create a tragedy.

And judging from this incident, it is not an idle worry. These people are tapping out of the same reservoir of rightwing anger that e.g. anti-abortion activists are drawing from. There are a lot of angry, confused young men who’ve latched on to GamerGate or similar causes in other parts of nerddom *cough* Sad Puppies *cough*, who are clearly comfortable with harassing women on Twitter in the worst possible ways and who are only one step away from continuing that harassment offline.

Romance ALL the things!

Richard Cobett talks about Bioware’s continuing evolution of sex ‘n romance in their games:

With each game though, Bioware has gone out of its way to Do Better, and not always by heading down the obvious path. Dragon Age 2 for instance infamously made all of its romanceable characters (the entire party save for Varric and Aveline) bisexual so that any player would be able to get with anyone they wanted. Dragon Age Inquisition and Mass Effect 3 reverses that approach, deciding that sexuality is an important part of the characters and that it can be as jarring for everyone you meet to be an option as to be politely refused. Some characters are still bisexual. Most now have their preferences, with Dragon Age expanding on gender to factor in species as well. Qunari especially seem limited in who they can give the horn.

From a Watsonian, in-game point of view I can understand this, but from a Doylian, gamer point of view I’d rather the gaming world did reshape itself around my romance preferences. One of the greatest disappointments coming to the Mass Effect series years after everybody else and hearing so much about the incredible romance options –some of which may have been sarcasm, in hindsight– was finding out that actually, my options as Femshep were either Kaidan, the Dullness that Walks Like A Man, or Liara, with no options to woo Garrus, let alone Ashley. From a game playing point of view, for games like this, I’d like the option to romance everybody, even if this doesn’t make that much sense from within the game world. I don’t want the game to decide for me who is and isn’t romanceable, just like I don’t want the game to do decide what I look like.

Ashley and Femshep on Horizon. By FraeuleinWunderlich

That’s the whole point of open world RPGs like the Dragon Ages, Mass Effects and Elder Scrolls after all, that freedom to create your own character within the larger storyline. Freedom of romance fits in with that.

And no, the idea that everybody you romance has to be bisexual if you can romance them in both your female and male persona is wrong, though an understandable error. It’s just that in one leg of the trousers of time Ashley happened to be gay, in another straight…

Actual black nerd problems

Privilege is also, not having to worry about shit like this when going to conventions:

How the fuck is it that my Friday night Comic Con experience is hijacked by me doing the math on if I could get to my car with a giant, cartoonish sword strapped across my back? Why is this something that concerns me at all? It sure as hell didn’t concern the cool white dude who showed me his Levi-blade earlier. If I ran into him again and if he asked me if I picked one up myself, I wouldn’t know how to tell him about my reluctance to open myself up to possible harm. I wouldn’t know how to engage him on a level that says, “I’m glad we met and share an affinity for this same piece of art, but because I’m black and aware of the world around me, I don’t feel comfortable indulging myself at the same level you do.” It’s a tough conversation to have. It’s a tougher situation to articulate. It’s toughest though, just trying to live with that doubt in your head.

GamersGate: Intel lets spoiled manchildren think they’re important

So GamersGate. A bunch of petulant man children from the open sewer of the internet got roped into some creep’s crusade against his ex-girlfriend under the banner of “objective gaming journalism”, spewed the usual mix of rape and death threats against her, but Zoe Quinn, their intended victim, turned out to be smarter than the lot of them and had infiltrated their main planning channel for weeks. These losers are still sputtering on, the 101st chairborne brigade fighting a losing war against the forces of social justice on blogs and Twitter, a tweet too far.

What kind of lame company would let themselves be roped into their campaign and feel pressured to withdraw advertising from a gaming site just because they say so? Intell, that’s who:

GamerGate’s ballyhooed success with Intel reveals them to be a movement for “journalistic integrity” that is willing to use major corporate sponsors to dictate the editorial content of a website for no reason other than the fact that they disagree with it. As a “consumer revolt,” it has shown itself to be a neoliberal nightmare wherein large corporations are the heroes and plucky independent journalists are the “elite” villains who need to be toppled.

(Incidently, the habit of Feministing here to blank out the Twitter accounts sending death threats in their screenshots but not those of the victims of said threats is mildly annoying.)

By giving in to blackmail, Intel has enabled the most whining, dumbest and aggressive part of videogaming “culture” to terrorise more women and the websites that publish them, in exchange for much more negative p.r. than it would’ve had, had it refused to play ball. The LoserGaters are a noisy and obnoxious part of gaming, but they’re only a minority. Normal people, sane people, want nothing to do with them.

Internet dialects

I find this guy fascinating, those dead eyes in that handsomely bland face, slightly nasal voice and the overcompensating with the hands and the bobbing and moving from side to side. It can distract somewhat from his point, which is of the well, duh, variety but argued quickly. Sort of a refresher course for internet culture.

How google screws over websites

Metafilter’s founder Matt Haughey has written an article going into greater detail about the site’s troubles with Google and its ad programmes. One thing struck me:

Over the course of 2013, a series of messages from the Adsense team hit me with varying degrees of severity. We were temporarily banned from the system due to some text questions talking about sexual health (questions from users that include terms for body parts etc., but Google interprets that as the site being “adult”) and had to greatly beef up our ad display blocking by subject matter.

This seems typical American to me, that obsession with making sure something isn’t porn. It doesn’t usually hurt actual porn sites because these use more specialised ad services, but does hurt sites like MeFi that can talk honestly about sex (among others) or worse, actual sex education sites. (These sort of shenanigans can hit actual sex workers even worse; e.g. Eden Alexander and her troubles with Wepay.

In general this sort of problem is caused because Google’s algorithms for which are a proper site and which an evil SEO farm are not good enough to actually do so with any degree of accuracy, hence long existing sites like Mefi (and, it wouldn’t surprise me, this site too) are caught in the crossfire. Google doesn’t care enough for this sort of collatoral damage to let actual humans judge, so the only thing Metafilter can do is either try and adapt to Google’s abritary rules, or find ways to lessen it dependence on Google.vMefi is now trying the latter.

My own blog is luckily only a hobby, not a business, but it does worry me how much Google is screwing around with my visibility; few enough people visit as it is…

If the internet can’t even support Metafilter…

Goddammit this is not good news:

Today I need to share some unfortunate news: because of serious financial downturn, MetaFilter will be losing three of its moderators to layoffs at the end of this month. What that means for the site and the site’s future are described below.

While MetaFilter approaches 15 years of being alive and kicking, the overall website saw steady growth for the first 13 of those years. A year and a half ago, we woke up one day to see a 40% decrease in revenue and traffic to Ask MetaFilter, likely the result of ongoing Google index updates. We scoured the web and took advice of reducing ads in the hopes traffic would improve but it never really did, staying steady for several months and then periodically decreasing by smaller amounts over time.

The long-story-short is that the site’s revenue peaked in 2012, back when we hired additional moderators and brought our total staff up to eight people. Revenue has dropped considerably over the past 18 months, down to levels we last saw in 2007, back when there were only three staffers.

Basically, Metafilter depends on Google referalls for ad revenue, Google changed their algorithms and hence MeFi and many other small websites fell off the pagerankings. The upshot is that three of the moderators have to leave their jobs and people are worried about the future of the site, myself included. On the positive side, the news has released a flood of donations to MeFi, but the worries about the long term viability remain.

It’s depressing. Metafilter came into my life at the time Sandra was dying, a welcome distraction and in it I found a community of smart, sane, amazingly friendly people; to see it in peril hits me where I live, almost literally. But more than that, Metafilter is the best of what the internet was intended to be, more than just a place to buy stuff or click like on, where the users are a community, not just the assets in some venture capitalist’s portfolio. It needs to survive.