Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Idiot Overload

It's been a truism of human society for centuries that it's easier to sound convincing than to be right - 'a lie has run around the world before the truth has got its boots on' and so on. I want to pick out one particularly egregious manifestation of this, something I've only taken conscious note of recently, though it's probably not new. There may be a 'proper' name for it, but for now I'm just going to call it idiot overload.

Idiot overload happens when there are so many errors, inaccuracies and other logical problems with a statement that it's impossible to refute succinctly. 'Succinctly' here means 'coherently and within the attention span of the relevant platform' - to use a pretty blunt example, most tweets are very difficult to refute in the space of a single reply. (Another example would be how hard it is to write a comprehensive reply to something in a blog comment before other commenters get in and move the debate along).

The sole intelligible claim to emerge from gamergate, 'Gamergate is about ethics in game journalism!' makes a pretty good example. As far as I can see there are at least five major objections to this statement:

1: gamergate more or less ignores actual serious breaches of journalistic ethics, like the review embargo on Assaassin's Creed: Unity that meant no reviews were published until 12 hours after release. Sure, maybe some gamergaters shouted about it briefly, but there's been nothing like the sustained campaign of anger directed at gamergate's preferred targets.

2: gamergate has yet to articulate a clear system of ethics of any kind. Ethics are systematic - not just a collection of arbitrary laws, but a coherent framework that allows the extension of those laws into situations unforeseen by their authors (again, unsophisticated example, but the provision of the U.S. constitution for later amendments is a version of this).

3: unethical behaviour in the promotion of an ethical system is hypocrisy, and self-invalidating. If your behaviour is unethical, you are not supporting ethics of any kind, no matter how you shout about it. The ethics of what is and isn't OK in acts of protest are complex, but without thoroughly engaging in a discourse on that topic you have to err on the side of caution - one thing gamergate certainly hasn't done.

4: game journalism is, by and large, critical journalism rather than reporting. It's not purely descriptive. In the early days of gamergate, there were attempts by various gamergaters to codify the journalism they wanted from the games press - focus on facts that could be presented honestly without or in resistance to financial/privileged incentives from the development side of the industry, the removal of opinion. The problem with this is that that's not what game journalism is or was ever for. Yes, factual journalism has always been a part of it, in reports and previews of what's coming up in the near future, and in discussions of hardware, but the majority of game journalism is reviews, and reviews are always going to be a matter of opinion. Want a broader perspective than any one person's opinion? Read a bunch of different reviews.

5: the feminism that gamergate actually spends most of its time fighting is itself ethics. What Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Leigh Alexander et al have been campaigning for is more ethical weight in gaming. I suppose in that sense one could argue that gamergate is about ethics in gaming in that it's about keeping ethics out of gaming, but I don't think that's the claim gamergaters are making.

(sidebar: no, feminism is not 'an ideology', at least not in any sense that implies it isn't ethics. People describing feminism as an ideology are generally trying to paint it as a matter of opinion, when many of the most important concerns of feminism - rape statistics, wage gaps and so on - are matters of clear, repeatedly-proven facts. Just as human rights are an ethical system, not an ideology, so it is with feminism)

So there you go. It took me 473 words to give a (very brief) sketch of the objections to a 7-word statement.  I may be missing some objections outright, I'm certainly missing key details from all of those points (to say nothing of evidence and examples, but this is one blog post and I am only human). It's just not possible to give an organised, ordered summary of the objection to 'it's about ethics in game journalism' (at least, that provides any more detail than 'NO') in a short space of time - human beings don't read fast enough.

I don't have a solution to this one, I'm afraid. Other examples include 'if global warming is real why is winter still cold?' and 'evolution must be wrong, my grandparents weren't monkeys'. When there's just too much to argue against, you have to rely on the general audience understanding enough to enumerate the problems themselves, which has never yet been a safe bet (though of course we can work towards that in the long term).

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