Aug 212013
 
bioware
by staff writer Michael Brown

Jennifer Hepler, senior writer for the Edmonton-based video-game studio BioWare, has been the victim of a series of death threats aimed at her and her family over her work on Dragon Age II, a sequel in the Dragon Age franchise.   The game was unpopular to many hard-core fans and the threats came at her via the BioWare forums as well as Twitter and in the form of emails and phone calls. The attack on Hepler stemmed from a six-year old interview in which she admitted she didn’t like combat in games. This was enough to send fans over the edge, blaming her for unpopular changes to the game, as well as describing her as a “cancer” that was destroying BioWare.

I was shown a sample of the forum posts by EA security,” says Hepler, “and it included graphic threats to kill my children on their way out of school to show them that they should have been aborted at birth rather than have to have me as a mother.

Another part of the problem for Hepler was BioWare’s sympathetic portrayal of homosexual characters, which has not only been the cause for some of the abuse but also much of the positive support from fans. ‘The outpouring of support I received — large amounts from female and gay fans — was incredibly heartening,” said Hepler. “Without the negativity, I’m not sure that I would ever have heard from all of these people confirming that there is a need for characters that tackle touchy social issues, for characters who are untraditional or even unlikeable.”

Hepler’s story is reminiscent of an incident just last month when fans threatened to murder a Call of Duty developer over minor changes to some of Black Ops II‘s weapons. A recent patch made a number of minor bug fixes and tweaks, including slightly reducing the damage caused by the AN-94 gun, and reducing the rate of fire of the DSR 50 and Ballista. All the changes are merely tenths of a second. Four days later, game developer Phil Fish got into an online argument with writer Marcus Beer, tweeting “I fucking hate this industry” (for the negativity and criticism it’s brought.) The back and forth ended with Fish tweeting, “I’m done. Fez 2 is canceled. Goodbye.” Fish later confirmed the game’s cancellation and has not responded to press requests for comment since the tweet.

Adam Orth, a creative director for Microsoft Studios, provocatively tweeted about always-online consoles in April in the thick of growing trepidation about that possible requirement for the newly announced Xbox One. The tweets spurred death threats, an apology from Microsoft and international news coverage. Orth left Microsoft about a week later.

The Jennifer Hepler situation, as well as that of the Call of Duty developer and others, casts even more light on both more general problems with cyberbullying and the targeting of women via Twitter, both of which are likely to see more strict legal sanctions in the future. Hepler has since left BioWare, but in a recent update to her story, she says the death threats weren’t a direct result to her leaving, but she also wanted to be closer to her family in the United States.

Developers who have spoken to Krypton Radio have said that harassment by gamers happens so frequently that it’s become a regularly expected element of game development. Some developers say it was among the reasons they left the industry, or that it happens so often that it distracts them from making games or that they’re considering leaving the industry altogether. Harassment has become so widespread that the International Game Developers Association executive director Kate Edwards says that the organization is looking into starting support groups and that while the harassment isn’t having a major impact on game development, “we’re at the cusp of where it could. Harassment isn’t new but we didn’t use to see the kind of vitriolic harassment that we’re seeing today. There needs to be a broader sense of how we’re going to cope with this as an industry.”

Nathan Fisk, lecturer at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and featured in Bullying in the Age of Social Media , said, “I think fans harass developers for a range of reasons, but again, it is always about power and position. Fans are invested in the stories and worlds that developers create, and certain design decisions can be seen by fans to threaten those stories and worlds. Harassment silences and repositions content creators in ways that protect the interests of certain fan groups, which again is no justification for the kinds of abusive behavior and language seen online today.”

“It’s definitely gotten worse,” said Greg Zeschuk. “The threshold for a flip out or a major scandal has dropped. The smallest thing will set people off.” Zeschuk, along with friend, partner, and fellow doctor Ray Muzyka created BioWare. They have both left the company they founded and will likely never return. These days, Zeschuk is doing something entirely different: writing about and creating videos about craft beer.

While no longer in the industry, Zeschuk says he can’t help but still watch it and he’s noticed the rise in harassment.  BioWare’s own Mass Effect 3 was the flashpoint for one of the most publicized recent gamer backlashes. At the time it seemed like a vehement, unprecedented reaction by fans who were unhappy with the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, but while most displeased fans simply expressed disappointment, a small, vocal group began threatening and harassing BioWare and its developers. Zeschuk said the studio was “without a doubt” shocked by the reaction to the game’s ending and in particular to how virulent that reaction was. In an interview with Polygon, Zeschuk stops short when asked if the harassment was the reason he and Muzyka left the company they created.

From an editorial written by Activision social media manager Dan Amrich regarding the threats to the Call of  Duty developer:

“Vahn often gets told he should die in a fire or kill himself or is a horrible person. If anybody thinks for a second that this is okay, it is not. But if the loudest voices in the Call Of Duty ‘community’ act like an angry mob instead, guess how the entire world views Call Of Duty? Now consider that these Internet Tough Guy rants and demands are not unique to COD, but exist everywhere, in many gaming communities. This is why the world often does not take gaming seriously; this is why gamers are assumed to be immature, whiny ***holes. Because the immature, whiny ***holes are louder. If you enjoy your games, have a little respect for the people who make them — and stop threatening them with bodily harm every time they do their job.”

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Jan 262013
 
Aaron_Swartz_wmc_img
Editorial By Vagabond 'Tony' Carter

Users of the Anonymous meme are at it again it seems, targeting the U.S. Sentencing Commission website in a show of support and outrage over the trial and subsequent suicide of computer scientist and hacktivist Aaron Swartz.

Commission Website1

 

The defacement claims that with Aaron’s death “a line was crossed.”,  and that they’ve infiltrated several government computer systems and copied secret information that they now threaten to make public. The Department of Justice has yet, as of this writing, to issue a statement (as of this moment the site appears also to be down).

This leads me to wonder a few things, much of which is the same thing that runs through my mind every time someone puts on a virtual anonymous mask and commits a crime of this nature, and yes, this was a criminal act.

Do you honestly think this somehow helps?

While I agree that Aaron’s being charged as a criminal for a violation of a company’s Terms of Service was a travesty of justice and that his death was and is an absolute tragedy. How does actually breaking the law in any way help the cause of an innocent man, whose trial was never completed and who may have even been acquitted had he lived?

As I’ve said many times before: I agree with the sentiment, but not the method. Acts like this do nothing to aide the cause and only drag the names of the true victims, in this case Aaron Swartz, in the mud. A line was crossed alright – by the Anonymous meme user or users responsible for this act of vandalism.

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Jan 192013
 
Internet Law

Editorial by Vagabond ‘Tony’ Carter

 

Internet LawWith the suicide of RSS creator, Reddit Co-founder, and internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz making headlines, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren(D.) has introduced a draft bill to return contract law to its civil home. Her bill which would amend 18 USC § 1030 with what she calls “Aaron’s Law,” and would limit the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and exclude terms of service violations, which are nothing more than a breach of contract.

Lofgren who is a dedicated user of the Reddit social media site, reached out to fellow users on January 15, 2013 to ask for public support of her bill. The proposed amendments however do not take away from the stiff criminal penalties for those who forcibly gain access and under false pretense, or who share/leak data for malicious purposes.

In the case of Aaron Swartz, he had full and legal access to JSTOR files, but used a program to rapidly download a large number of academic articles to his laptop. This may have been a violation of JSTORs EULA/TOS, but that’s all he did. Swartz who had been accused of hacking the JSTOR system by prosecutors, was alleged to have downloaded the files with intent to illegally distribute copyrighted material.

Although no files ever made it out to the public, nor was there proof he intended to do anything more than have a local backup for personal use. Yet under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, (originally written in 1984 and updated over the years)  Swartz was being tried in a criminal case on felony charges, which could have carried a lengthy prison term and massive financial penalties, if convicted.

The stress of this led to his eventual suicide on January 11, 2013.
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Sep 282012
 

Occasionally Krypton Radio makes a fast ninety degree turn and covers something important to everyone, not just science fiction and comic book fans.  In a way this affects the fans too, because it changes the way intellectual property is viewed and used, and that in turn will have an effect on the future of creative work on the Internet.  But here’s the amazing, important thing that just happened, as reported on creativecommons.org:

In California, Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills (SB 1052 and SB 1053) that will provide for the creation of free, openly licensed digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered by California colleges. The legislation was introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and passed by the California Senate and Assembly in late August.

A crucial component of the California legislation is that the textbooks developed will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY):

The textbooks and other materials are placed under a creative commons attribution license that allows others to use, distribute, and create derivative works based upon the digital material while still allowing the authors or creators to receive credit for their efforts.

The CC BY license allows teachers to tailor textbook content to students’ needs, permits commercial companies to take the resources and build new products with it (such as video tutorials), and opens the doors for collaboration and improvement of the materials.

Access to affordable textbooks is extremely important for students, as textbook costs continue to rise at four times the rate of inflation, sometimes surpassing the cost of tuition at some community colleges. So, in addition to making the digital textbooks available to students free of cost, the legislation requires that print copies of textbooks will cost about $20.

This is a massive win for California, and a most welcome example of open policy that aims to leverage open licensing to save money for California families and support the needs of teachers and students. You can follow additional news on this initiative and other Open Education Policies at  the  OER registry at CreativeCommons.org.

The ramifications of this are huge – we’ve been stumbling through copyright issues as a society, and the man-handling of copyright law by large corporations has left the small producers and users of intellectual property at a distinct disadvantage.  Copyright used to protect the rights of the original creator long enough for him to be able to sell it in a timely manner, giving him or her enough time to develop the next thing and sell that.  Now copyrights span generations and are bought and sold like commodities, and have a chilling effect on the creation of new ideas, since that new content may violate the copyright of somebody who died fifty years ago.  Instead of stifling creativity, the window of opportunity is now open – the tiniest crack.  But there’s a sliver of daylight coming through that crack, and perhaps new legislation that opens up the locked down intellectual property industry will eventually result, putting copyrights back where they belong – in the hands of the creators.  We can hope.

Congratulations to the California legislature for participating in this ground-breaking new law, and well done, Governor Brown.

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Jul 122012
 
Artwork by Catie Donelly, re-published with permission. http://catiemonstro.us/
by Laura Davis 

Artwork by Catie Donelly, re-published with permission. http://catiemonstro.us/

When the threats of violence – including rape and murder – began, Anita Sarkeesian got much more than she bargained for. Sarkeesian, author of the blog Feminist Frequency, recently announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise $6,000 to produce a 5-video series entitled “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” The campaign surpassed its initial goal within 24 hours. The threats and derogatory remarks against Sarkeesian and her project that began flooding the Internet, along with the “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” online game posted by a detractor, brought so much attention to the project that its Kickstarter campaign exploded to include 6,967 backers who contributed nearly $160,000.

I asked Dr. Jeff Gardere, clinical psychologist and chief contributor for Healthguru.com, about the social dynamics and the psychology behind such deplorable behavior as threatening and creating a video game depicting violence against a complete stranger.

Dr. Gardere says, “Ethically, nothing justifies that kind of mob or bullying action. From a psychological point of view, what happens is that one person may make a negative comment because they may feel emotionally threatened. Though the writer of the comment uses an Internet handle/name/identity, they are in effect anonymous and, therefore, have no psychological filter. They operate strictly from the Id (that part of the mind that is total aggression, sexuality, and primary urges). This then opens a window for other like-minded individuals to give hateful and hurtful comments.

“Now, why would certain people be so threatened by [Ms. Sarkeesian’s] efforts? Could be that these are the individuals who play these violent games (way to much and way too long) in which women, among others, are brutalized. Their threshold has already been lowered when it comes to violence against women and they make an easy transition from the video games to hateful comments towards Anita.”

Sarkeesian was unavailable for interview for this article.  She wrote on Feminist Frequency, “I am truly and sincerely honored by the outpouring of support for this project.  It gives me great hope to see that so many people of all genders are concerned about the way women are represented in gaming.  I’m also deeply moved by the fact that so many of you are standing with me against this staggering tidal wave of hate and harassment.”

Thanks to the over-funding of the project , “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” will now be produced as a 12-video series, including a classroom curriculum. The series will examine the negative roles in which women are cast in video games, such as: the Damsel in Distress, the Sexy Sidekick, Man with Boobs, Background Decoration, and Mrs. Male Character. One segment will examine positive female characters, and another will investigate the 10 most common defenses of sexism in video games. Each video will be 10-20 minutes in length, and they will be distributed free of charge.

The final score in this mad match-up? Anita: 160,000.  Trolls: 0.

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Links

Feb 062012
 
Internet Law
By Samantha Lowell
SOPA and PIPA could effectively destroy the Internet as it exists today, along with entire economies built on it around the world.

SOPA and PIPA could effectively destroy the Internet as it exists today, along with entire economies built on it. ACTA is even worse, and could enable the creation of police states around the world.

Internet activists and civil rights groups worldwide are alarmed at the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), one of the harshest crackdowns on internet piracy, which was signed by 22 nations in 2011 and awaits ratification by the European Union Parliament. Negotiated and signed in secret, ACTA was signed on October 1 2011 by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. On January 29, 2012, the European Union and 22 of its member states signed as well, bringing the total number of signatories to 31. If ACTA is ratified by six member states, the convention will become law; however, lack of ratification by the EU would effectively kill the measure.

If ratified, ACTA would criminalize sharing of copyrighted material on an unprecedented scale, and even certain signatories have begun to criticize several provisions of the treaty as being excessively broad in their scope and extreme in enforcement provisions. ACTA, as written, would criminalize such acts as sharing a newspaper article or uploading a video of a party where copyrighted music is played. Violators of any breach would be subject to criminal charges. The ACTA committee would have carte blanche to change its own rules and sanctions with no legal oversight.

Legal scholars and privacy rights advocates object that ACTA would not only allow legal authorities to monitor personal online communications in secrecy and requiring ISPs to closely monitor suspected trademark violators, without court recourse, but that those falsely or erroneously accused would be without legal recourse.

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