On Wednesday we had our first guest speakers through a video setup. Jari-Pekka Kaleva talked about the European Games Developer Federation and what kind of work they do, and Brian Crecente, formerly of Kotaku and currently working at Polygon, talked about games and hate speech from a journalist's point of view. The theme of the day was academia, so we were concentrating on finding and discussing academic facts and thoughts about hate speech.
But first, before the guest speakers, we had an informal debate to warm things up. We were given a simple statement and then were told to either go into the Yes group or the No group, depending on if we thought the statement was true or false. Then each group was given a chance to present their opinions, one side and person at a time, with the rest taking notes and listening. With statements such as "Companies are responsible for all that happens within a game" and "Real trolls don't do hate speech" the debate was very, very interesting. Many people had strong opinions on the subject and I think that if we'd had more time, the debate could have gone on for hours!
Some thoughts presented during the debate:
Companies are responsible for the content they create, but can never fully control their players nor should they even attempt to do so. This means that they should mainly be responsible for creating and promoting a safe and equal community on their official channels, where gamers can discuss ideas without fear of discrimination or hate speech. Any unofficial channels, however, would be the responsibility of whoever runs them.
Upholding basic human rights and mutual respect should be an important priority for developers, both in games that have more controversial content and games that are more geared towards a larger community. This does not mean your favorite, ultra-violent shooter should be censored - instead, developers should be careful to avoid using real people or making a game based entirely around positive propaganda of a violent cause.
Real trolling is a form of art, where the troll does not use personal insults to make their point. Instead, they focus on making people think outside the box by using provocative language to incite reactions that make people think about the subject in a new way.
After the debates we had our first guest speaker, Mr. Jari-Pekka Kaleva from the European Games Developer Federation. He showed us a very interesting presentation which included some eye-opening facts about gamer demographics and developers' point of views.
Based on prevalence statistics.
We ended up discussing a lot about how hate hinders game development and is a destructive force in communities. Many, many developers end up being harassed so much that they have to withdraw from the industry because they can't take it anymore, and major studios are forced to consider support groups and therapy in order to keep their workers from falling apart. The harassment and hate stunts development processes, making game developers less willing to take creative risks in their projects from fear of inciting the hate of the masses. Even though only a minority of gamers take part in the harassment, they are a very vocal group with people willing to go dangerously far in driving their point across.
Game companies use up a large amount of their budget on moderators, GMs and other personnel who help to keep order in the community. One of the slides in the presentation had a lovely quote from Supercell community manager that sums up the benefits nicely: ROI = <3 (return of investment equals love). Investing in a strong and safe community returns that investment with love. My opinion is that in this context love also means loyalty, and the willingness of gamers to financially support a community in which they feel cared for.
After the conversation many GameOver Hate participants were of the opinion that EGDF should compile a code of ethics, or at least some ethical guidelines for developers to reference when they need to. From the conversation with Mr. Kaleva we understood that this had been worked on but had proven a difficult problem to tackle. Still, many of us felt strongly that if EGDF wished to truly function in the best interests of the developer community, it should take ethics seriously enough to devote more effort into doing this. Violence, hate-speech and questionable morals found in video games are constantly in the news, with many new games pushing the definitions of what is right and what is wrong, so having some form of ethical guidelines would help to define the moral standing of video games in general.
Our second guest speaker was Mr. Brian Crecente (a big thanks to him for taking the time and being able to arrange the video chat on such short notice!), who represented gaming journalism and gave us an insider's point of view of the industry. He talked about his work at Polygon and how they've managed to form their amazing community by taking the time to create a great discussion environment. He stressed that moderation is not expensive if you see it as a natural part of having a game site, and that it all pays off in the end by giving gamers a quality, harassment-free environment to get their news from.
He also told us some personal experiences with hate speech and being an editor of a huge, popular gaming site, along with explaining how hard it is to get developers to step up and talk about their experiences with harassment. The fear for more harassment is so strong that most developers would rather keep quiet than risk further threats of violence.
After the video conferences we were tasked with reviewing games from a hate-speech perspective, listing the positive and negative ways games handled their player base and communities, along with how much hate by design the game had in it (such as sexism, racism, etc).
We reviewed the following games: Far Cry 3, Grand Theft Auto V, Sims 3, League of Legends, Guild Wars 2, Battlefield 3, Super Columbine Massacre RPG and Papers, Please.
The Sims IRL version.
Out of these, SCMRPG was the one that caused the most heated conversation and division of opinion. We ended up doing most of the discussion on reddit as we ran out of time for the presentations, but the gist of it was this: where is the line between art and pure hate? When does a game cross the line where the content is just purely unacceptable? SCMRPG uses the photos and names of real people involved in the Columbine shooting in USA, re-creating the massacre by making the shooters playable characters and the victims targets to be killed again and again. Up to what point is freedom of speech allowed in games, and when does it start to infringe on basic human rights?
We did not come up with clear answers to all of these questions. However, the majority felt that when games involve killing real people, then it's not just about art anymore. It's pure disrespect and hate.
And just to show that we're not taking everything too seriously here all the time:
Debate hard, think about difficult issues, and don't forget to party hard after!
Thought of the day: The ethics involved in video games. What kind of code of ethics could work in an industry that is very much about the money? Where is the fine line between human rights and freedom of speech? These are large issues that are found everywhere in the world, not just in video games, and they will probably never have a definite answer. Still, it's a benefit to humanity that people try to find answers for them.
Link of the day: