John Walker's Electronic House


Why The GMA’s So-Called “Media Academy” Prize Is So Demeaning

by on May.24, 2013, under Rants

While common sense should assume that the Games Media Awards is incapable of doing anything without making it a murky, dubious mess, I really didn’t see how they could make a new student prize something awful. But their abilities know no boundaries.

This year there are definitely some claimed improvements. They’ve stopped PRs from voting in most categories, which is something I’ve appealed for since the awards first began. And they’ve got rid of the “goodybags”, which contained hundreds of pounds worth of items and were given to every winner. It’s great that these things are gone.

What hasn’t changed is that it’s an evening funded by publishers and PRs, in which they provide the games journalists who report on them with free food and limitless free drink, and then present them with awards sponsored by themselves. It’s promoted as a piss-up, and it has, for years, been the British games industry at its most tawdry, wretched, and dubious. From the first year’s awarding of prizes to magazines owned by the sponsors of the categories, to the despicable antics of two years ago with the Grainger Games sponsorship, to last year’s disgraceful mess of journalists tweeting adverts for games to win a Playstation, it has always been a horror show. That it has cleaned up a fraction of its act is progress, but it’s certainly not anything for celebration. That most of the UK games industry will still happily trundle along for the free booze, no matter how it associates them with it all, is hugely demoralising.

Picture nicked from the Guardian, showing the dancers at the strip club in which the first GMA took place.

And this year they’ve added the ludicrously named “Games Media Academy”. This pompously grandiose title is really just a prize for a single person – an unpaid hopeful writer – of £1000 of commissions, and some unexplained (and indeed entirely unmentioned by the actual description at the bottom of the page) “mentoring” from “some of the biggest names in games media”.

The prize is to get some paid work.

In an industry that is increasingly screwing over new writers by not paying them, some might want to argue this as a positive step. I’d suggest that’s a bit like giving a trophy to husbands who don’t beat their wives. What it is, in fact, is publishers doing their damned jobs, and pretending it’s something special. It’s like telling a plumber they’ve won the lucky prize that you’ll pay them to fix your sink.

It is a part of every media outlet’s job to find and hire new writers. Submissions arrive to magazines and websites all the time, both solicited and unsolicited. When a publication is looking for new freelancers, or even new employees, they look at these, and they commission based on potential talent they spot. People who are good enough at writing get paid work, and the system continues.

The idea of doing exactly this, but pretending it’s a special prize, simultaneously demeans both the writers submitting their work, and the entire occupation itself. It reduces our job down to a special treat, given out to one lucky person, and a ruffle of their hair. And it reduces potential writers down to entrants in a competition, and then pretends that doing the work that earns the money is some manner of award! It’s outrageous. There is NO prize! They get £1000 for doing £1000 worth of work!

So what is it really? It’s IGN, Future, MCV and bloody Network-N advertising themselves, getting their names mentioned in concert with this extraordinary act of altruism of paying some writers to do a job. The people judging may not have been so cynical in their acceptance – they may simply want to be involved in a process that finds new talent. But unfortunately, as positive as their intentions may (or indeed may not, looking at some of the names) be, they’re associated with the awfulness of the GMAs, and they’re – perhaps unwittingly – part of a non-prize that demeans everyone involved. Oh, and the winning entrants get published in a supplement in trade rag MCV, owned by Intent, who own the GMAs. Will they be paid for that publication? There’s no indication that they will.

(So what should they have done instead? Accepted nominations for a category for unpaid writers, and given the best one an award in the hope of raising their profile. Editors paying attention would look at their work, and if they liked it, commission them. Instead, because this is the GMAs, it’s become about promoting publishers in a faked act of goodwill, bullshitting that paid work is a prize, and insulting everyone involved.)

There is no obligation on anyone in this industry to attend the GMAs. If free drinks mean so much to you, crash a wedding. By walking through those doors, you endorse everything the GMAs have done, and intend to do. And for what? You don’t even get the bag of bribes this year. Please people, just don’t go.

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Science Vs Faith Vs The Deluded Sociopathy Of Religion

by on May.18, 2013, under Rants

This evening I went along to a talk, part of Bristol’s Festival Of Ideas, by geneticist Steve Jones. He’s recently published a book, The Serpent’s Promise, in which he reinterprets the Bible as a science book. It’s not as spurious as it sounds, although I’ve not read the book yet – Jones is an atheist, and was interested to investigate whether there’s any science to be found in the books, and to reinterpret the pseudo-science and historical claims it makes. Which sounds tremendous, so Laura and I went along.

The talk itself, in which Jones answered questions from a host, was a good time. It was a touch lacking in depth, a little heavy on the “buy the book in the foyer after” and a little light on the meat. But an enjoyable evening nonetheless.

One particular comment really stood out to me. It was a response to a question about whether religion made people happier, in which he explained that the data he’s seen showed that no, in fact religion fails to make people happier. Those who identify as agnostic or atheist tend to identify as happier.

And I realised a part of where this debate is going so wrong. Obviously the “Science vs Religion” discussions are far too often between those who wish to “oppose science in the name of religion” and “oppose religion in the name of science”, as if either were anything less than mad. But it’s understandable! Because the religiosity that’s presenting itself is one that absolutely should be attacked by those of a rational, scientific mind.

During Jones’ talk, it became very apparent that the version of Christianity he’s experienced, and the version that others have expressed to him, absolutely merits the dismissal and refuting it receives. A Christian doctrine that proselytises on the basis of offering “happiness” is fundamentally unrelated to the faith on which they claim to be based. Christianity sold as everything from a means to escape the pits of hell to a self-help cure for the lacklustre is a heretical misinterpretation of the most serious magnitude. This is perpetuated by both the intentionally malevolent, usually with a financial and/or power-based incentive, and the ideologically naive, people who very genuinely want to help spread something they believe to be good. This “Christianity”, the one that makes people happier, entirely merits the scorn it receives from the scientific community, and absolutely deserves to be found as lacking under any scrutiny.

It’s just, that’s not Christianity.

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A Response To PAR’s Adblockers/Games Press Article

by on Apr.17, 2013, under Rants

Today Ben Kuchera, of the Penny Arcade Report, wrote an article in which he explained how games journalism works in relation to content and advertising. That gaming sites put up the galleries of cosplay babes because it’s necessary to fund the better, less popular content, all driven by a constant need for pageviews and unique hits. In his article, he writes as if he’s speaking for the whole industry, although excludes himself from the process. I’d like to add RPS to that exclusion list, thanks very much, because I don’t recognise a word of how he says my business works.

I’m not going to get into how RPS’s advertising works, because frankly I don’t know, and I prefer it that way. That’s all done by someone who works at Eurogamer, with whom we have an advertising partnership. We have laid down strict rules, they follow them, but how the charging works I’ve no idea.

Kuchera makes a few statements which I want to make clear don’t speak for me, or the business I co-own.

“People like to say that the games press is just chasing page views with certain stories, but let’s be honest: We’re chasing page views with every story.”

This is a very loaded statement. It’s both as banal as saying “Newspapers only include news stories because people want to read news,” and as sensationalist as saying, “They’ll do anything to make you click!” The truth is of course somewhere between. RPS, and I can only ever speak for RPS and no other gaming site, is a business. We make money from advertising, and we get advertising because we have people reading the site. So yes, we post things on RPS in order to run our business. But how that defines what you post is always the business’s choice, and Kuchera’s frequent inference in his piece that it automatically causes nefarious or unsightly content does not speak for me. If anything, at worst his article ends up being apologist propaganda for the sites that lazily rely on crude hit chasing, as if it were the only way.

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Those Oh-So Terribly Offensive Oscars

by on Feb.25, 2013, under Rants

Intrigued by the FURY that appeared in both the Guardian and the Telegraph this morning, over Seth MacFarlane’s hosting of the Oscars last night, I had to watch what they were so upset about. The Guardian was LIVID at one particular moment by MacFarlane, when he sang a song called “We Saw Your Boobs”. They wrote,

“Few people would imagine ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ was a good subject for a song. Turned out, Seth MacFarlane was one of them. And he belted the words out over and over again, listing a host of actors whose breasts have been seen on screen… Every refrain was more excruciating. It was a truly bad start to the ceremony, made weirder, not smarter, by William Shatner being beamed in via video link in full Star Trek costume, warning is this song might cause offense.”

Clearly no one has explained to the anonymous author what a “song” is, thus their confusion at the repeated “refrain” and the chorus of the song being sung “over and over again”. Meanwhile the Telegraph‘s film critic Tim Robey frothed,

“Within minutes of his first routine — the one that needlessly insulted Jean Dujardin for his low profile since winning last year, and threw in a dismally unfunny remark about the torture in Django Unchained resembling what Rihanna and Chris Brown would call “date night” — he was laboriously trying to bypass criticism. William Shatner, doing Captain Kirk, called in with a message from the future to help MacFarlane fix the broadcast as it went along: a bold but self-defeating gambit. He was shown a headline – “Worst Oscar host ever” – from tomorrow’s news. More feeble jokes. Two inexplicable dance routines. Somehow these got the headline modified to “Pretty Bad Oscar Host”. Eventually he reached “Mediocre”. Nothing happening on stage remotely justified the upgrade.”

Later he refers to MacFarlane has having demonstrated “the profound contemptibility of women”.

So what actually happened? Well, none of the negativity referred to.

Shatner’s role during the routine was to be broadcasting from the 22nd century, as Kirk, warning MacFarlane that his performance goes down as the worst in Oscar history, and blames a song he’s about to sing. He then shows the song, on tape, via the big screen on which he appears. On tape. Pre-recorded. As in, not in front of the audience. The song – incredibly silly and brief, but brilliantly finishing with the Gay Men’s Chorus Of Los Angeles – lists films in which we’ve seen the boobs of famous actresses. During the song, the camera cuts to some of these actresses in their seats looking horrified, while everyone around them is looking concerned or shocked. And it’s from this, presumably, that so many of the critics have drawn the conclusion that the audience didn’t find it funny, and that people were offended. Except, well, the pre-recorded bit. Because with live audio, you could hear the audience laughing, at the same time as the shots of the angry actors were shown. They were faked. They were women, named in the song, being part of the bit, having pre-recorded their angry reactions to be shown on the tape, shown to the audience.

And as if this weren’t obvious enough to those so desperate to be offended on a famous lady’s behalf, one of the women to whom MacFarlane had been so contemptible was Charlize Theron. She was shown looking angry and humiliated during the song (the bit on the video being shown to the audience, for any newspaper critics reading), and then APPEARS WITH HIM ON STAGE IN THE NEXT SONG.

The roasting gags get great laughs, almost always from the targets themselves. The “needless insult” to Dujardin saw him chuckling away heartily, looking very good-natured about the mild tease. The only person lacking a sense of humour was, shockingly enough, Ben Affleck, although the rest of the audience thought the fun poked at him deserved a big applause.

MacFarlane then went on to sing some Hollywood musical classics, his familiarly wonderful voice absolutely perfect as ever, while Theron danced extraordinarily. (And a sock puppet version of Flight, which everyone inexplicably forgot to mention.) Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt then come on and perform some exquisite dancing with the host, and the whole affair becomes extremely classy. Mixed with some naughty jokes. It was a great performance, and the audience was clearly loving it throughout. Presumably the papers were just banking on no one in the UK having stayed up to watch it.

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Male Rights Advocates, And Their Efforts To Silence Debate

by on Feb.15, 2013, under Rants

As backlashes go, the so-called MRA (Male Rights Advocates) movement is one of the more peculiar. And one of the more transparent.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has always been a site that has campaigned against what we see as inequality, misrepresentation, or outright misogyny in the games industry. The reason we do this is because we think it’s sad, and we want our chosen hobby to be an inclusive one, not an exclusive one. We don’t like injustice. There’s not really more to it than that.

Of course, this means we are accused of all manner of conspiratorial agenda. But then we are on almost anything we post. Write a positive review and we’ve been bought, write a negative review and we’re “biased” by something or other. Talk about one game and we’re ignoring another game. Write about one topic and we’re ignoring another topic. People approach, well, almost everything in life with their own agendum, and when what they encounter doesn’t reflect it, they perceive this as an attack against them. It’s a silly way of going through life, certainly, but a very common one. As a site that hosts opinions, we naturally encounter this a great deal. A lot of what we see is undisguised, unashamed hatred of women. Nasty, stupid remarks, claims that games are “for guys”, and open fear that their titillation is being taken away from them. Then there are those who have a far more insidious campaign.

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Bath MP Don Foster’s Abhorrent Voting Record, And How He Defends It

by on Jan.15, 2013, under Rants

I’m not one for regrets. I try not to dwell on mistakes made in the past, but instead focus on not making the same mistakes in future. But there’s one regret I can’t shake: I encouraged others to vote for Don Foster in Bath, and the Liberal Democrats elsewhere, at the last General Election.

At the time it felt like the right thing to do. Foster had a really fantastic voting record, and behaved like a man with integrity. He campaigned on issues he cared about, and he took a splendidly enlightened view of censorship and invasive laws. I was pleased to give him my vote, and I argued to others why I thought they should to. And now I can only see myself as complicit in the despicable results of that election, in the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats, and most of all, in the voting record of Foster since the election.

When I voted for him, my vote was carried over into every vote he’s cast since May 2010, of which all but six have been in line with the Conservatives. He’s rebelled a paltry six times, twice on matters of civil servant pay, and four times on what times Parliament should meet. He has not rebelled or abstained on a single vile policy that has gone through, endorsing the wretched cuts and evil targeting of the poor and disabled – those who Foster had purported to support before this government. His toadying has been horrendous to watch, and seen him rising the ranks of the Lib Dems over the last couple of years, as he appears to abandon all his previous principles. It’s been a miserable and humiliating sight, and one for which I hold myself responsible. Realistically, I couldn’t have known, but that doesn’t change where I put my X, and where I encouraged others to put theirs.

Last week I wrote to Foster to express my horror at his voting for the 1% cap on annual benefit rises – a real-terms cut in benefits for the poorest and most needy, as inflation rises far beyond the insulting increases. I’ve written to Foster before since the election, and in response have had the most dismissive responses imaginable, ignoring anything I’ve said, and instead listing Lib Dem “achievements” as if they mean anything in the face of their swathes of failures. The reply to my latest communication was the same, but this time so much more insidiously awful. I really can’t tell if Foster has successfully deluded himself into believing that the microscopic differences his party have made to Tory policy are really of great significance, and thus his voting in favour of the outcome is a noble act on his part, of if he is simply a cruel and terrible man who cares not at all for the poorest and most vulnerable. It’s so sad to find myself hoping for the former, hoping for a deluded quisling MP.

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Why You Shouldn’t Use Yodel For Parcel Delivery

by on Dec.18, 2012, under Rants

Warning: whinging.

For the longest time I’ve assumed that Citylink are the worst delivery company in Britain. But Yodel are looking like real contenders for the title. While almost all delivery companies are obtuse, unhelpful, and make resolving issues as difficult as possible, none compare to the heavy iron walls that surround Yodel.

I have a delivery due, it was meant to arrive some time last week. On Friday I dared to leave the house for an hour, and of course they attempted to deliver then – clearly not their fault. I received a card through the door (thus immediately giving them an advantage over Citylink, you could argue), which had been filled in to tell me it was the “1st of 3 attempts”. I should turn over the card for more details – this instruction had been hand-ticked twice.

The back of the card was completely unmarked. No offer to reattempt to deliver was ticked, nor was the suggestion that I’d need to collect it from their delivery office. So, er, great.

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The Bible On Women In Church – An Update

by on Nov.24, 2012, under Rants, The Rest

As was likely, after I wrote my piece on Paul’s thoughts on women in the church, and the twisting of those words to oppress women for millennia since, a few people have suggested some possible errors. I want nothing less than to spread any misinformation, so wanted to update with things I’ve learned since. The rather crucial thing to know is: the facts remain the case. The arguments against women in leadership in the church remain, as I said, theological rubbish.

I should also add that I’m not a scholar. I’m a games journalist. I do have a (first class!) degree in Youth, Community Work & Applied Theology, and while it taught me some basics, it wasn’t exactly hardcore theological studies. I come to this as an amateur, relying on the works of experts, and as such will of course make mistakes, or at least not have learned enough so far.

Thing is: Paul was, unequivocally, in favour of women in leadership, and those who use his words to prevent this are deliberately perverting the clear and unambiguous message that’s prevalent in all of his writing. As I said before, you don’t need to worry about any Greek interpretation, or get into any arguments about the meanings of specific words, to reach this conclusion. Paul openly and deliberately refers to women as apostles, deacons, church leaders, and heads of families running churches. What’s interesting is that from further study, it seems Paul was even more overtly criticising misogynist oppression in the church than I’d ever realised.

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Why The Argument Against Women In Church Leadership Is Theological Rubbish

by on Nov.21, 2012, under Rants

Update: After some questions and criticisms, I’ve studied more since writing the below, and have summarised it all here. However, please note that while some of the Greek interpretation has been updated in my later post, the core of what I have written here remains the case. See both posts for a better, overall picture.

The words of the bigoted and scared sing in my ears, as I listen to the arguments of those against female bishops in the Church Of England (CofE). And since writing that sentence, the vote is lost. Women will still not be recognised as equal in the church. While I’ve not been involved with a CofE church for around eight years now, instead a part of an Evangelical free church, I still feel a heavy weight when I listen to this institution toying with continuing one of its number of bigotries. This debate, ahead of the vote to see whether women were allowed to assume the role of bishoping, is a peculiar one to hear in 2012.

On one side were those arguing for equality for women, to let women hold the same roles in the church as men. On the other side were those arguing that women should be under the subjugation of men, that men are who God wants to be in charge, and that women do not hold the same rights as men within the Church Of England. It’s not too often that you get to hear an argument where such overt and proud bigotry is argued so openly and so shamelessly. But even that aside, what’s most frustrating about this discussion is that the argument made by one side – tonight’s winning side – is quite simply, and utterly demonstrably, entirely wrong. Factually wrong.

The argument is that the Bible tells us that women should not be allowed to lead a church, that men are to have authority over women. Bible quotes are given to demonstrate this, and indeed, pick up any modern English translation of the bible and there you will find those very phrases. You certainly can see why people might be wont to think it is not. The bigotry against women is not only passionately argued in our churches, but it appears to be written down in our bibles. But these translations might not be correct. This, I think, provides a reasonable understanding for why the ordinary church goer might think that this is at least what the bible says, whether or not they believe it is reasonable. But it is no excuse for the educated church leaders currently arguing against women’s equal rights.

Two verses are used most frequently in these arguments, at least by those who – thank goodness – don’t to try to wield the poetic imagery at the beginning of Genesis. They are (using the NIV version, because it’s universal, rather than preferable):

1 Timothy 2.12 – I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.

1 Conrinthians 14.34 – Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says… It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

They seem pretty cut and dry, right? But neither appears to be what is written in the original Greek text. Both, I think, have been deliberately mistranslated in an effort to oppress women.

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The BBC Is Not “In Crisis”, And The BBC Needs To Stop Saying It Is

by on Nov.10, 2012, under Rants

There was a superb moment on US network MSNBC’s news/entertainment programme, The Rachel Maddow Show, this week, where Maddow delivered a polemic disabusing the conspiratorial position of Republicans and Republican commentators. It went like this:

The point she captures is so simple, and so obvious upon hearing – that so long as one half of political representation is obsessed with conspiracies, lies and misdirection, it entirely fails to serve the reality of the country it purports to represent. And this notion reflects directly onto how so many scandals are covered in the UK press, and by the government.

The BBC is not in crisis. That Newsnight failed to broadcast an investigation into Jimmy Savile is very problematic. Revealing the systematic failure to protect the vulnerable in hospitals, care homes, and indeed BBC premises, seems an important story that merits coverage. While Savile is dead, and thus his exposure was not going to protect anyone else from him, the systems he was able to exploit remain in place until highlighted. That there are now multiple enquiries taking place into how such abuse was possible is, I think, proof enough that the report at the very least merited further investigation, and not being spiked. And if there were internal cover-ups at the BBC, then it’s important this be exposed and dealt with.

That Newsnight then broadcast an interview with an individual claiming a senior Conservative politician had sexually abused him, without identifying the former politician, is not the BBC in crisis either. It’s a mistake. In light of the Savile story, Newsnight was in an odd position. They’re being loudly castigated for failing to report the actions of a dead child abuser, and now have testimonial about a live one. They had to be considering the reaction had they not reported this one as well. However, it’s pretty bewildering that with the situation being what it was, the reporter didn’t think to load a picture of the former MP in question on their phone and show it to the interviewee. I hope, as a result of all this, Newsnight will ensure reporters do some pretty basic checks in future. But the BBC is not in crisis. Newsnight’s in a mess, and some of it may be to do with any number of the layers of management on which the bloated corporation spends far too much of its money. But the BBC remains the most extraordinary broadcaster in the world.

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