Categories
Games Politics/Government

Mere Hours Left for itch.io’s Racial Justice Bundle

I was surprised to learn that people I know who I consider to be the kind who spend a lot of time in game news didn’t know about this bundle, but the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality sale is about to end in a few hours.

We reached out to our community and an unprecedented number of creators donated over 740 projects to be part of what we believe is the largest bundle ever. Over $3,400 of paid works are available Pay-what-you-want with a minimum donation amount of $5.

All proceeds will be donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund split 50/50.

What’s amazing about this bundle? A few things:

  • Hundreds of creators joined in the bundle after it started, so now there are over 1,700 items available. Most are games, whether video games or table-top games, but some are tools, asset packs, engines, plugins, audio files, soundtracks, etc.
  • So far, over $7 million has been raised through this bundle. That means each of the organizations are getting at least $3.5 million by the time the sale ends.
  • They’re all DRM-free, and many are available for multiple platforms, such as GNU/Linux, Mac, Android, and Windows, and some are for the PICO-8 (which is also in the bundle), and some are for your web browser.
  • You only need to contribute a minimum of $5 to purchase over $9,000 worth (but feel free to contribute more)!

If you’re into video games, there are some prominent indie titles, such as Overland, Night in the Woods, Celeste, Wheels of Aurelia, Nuclear Throne, Minit, and Quadrilateral Cowboy, among others. There’s…a lot to sift through, and hopefully itch.io makes it easier to peruse the games in the bundle soon.

If you’re into table-top RPGs, there are multiple campaigns, rulesets, and even tools to help create maps. I’m not as informed about what is going on in this area, but I was delighted to see such a variety that wasn’t just D&D.

If you are a game developer, there are design tools such as TTRPG Design Lenses, art packs, audio packs, tilesets, and more. Oh, and PICO-8 is there, so you can make small games for a virtual game console.

It’s amazing how much of the game community came together to make a dent in injustice.

Categories
Politics/Government

Want Peace? Demand Justice

A man was murdered by a police officer who walked away free that day.

Almost everyone on my social media feeds who usually posts their concerns about a police state and tyranny? Silent.

Then people took to the streets to protest the abuse of power by the police, the police escalated, and then there was destruction of property.

Suddenly there’s clutching of pearls and tsk-tsks and smarmy comments about how wrong and counterproductive it is.

A man was murdered by a police officer, who got arrested only after people took to the streets to demand justice, and it is very clear who is actually worried about tyranny and injustice and who just wants to pretend they do.

Black Lives Matter. The lives of people matter. Buildings and consumer products should not matter nearly so much.

If you don’t want to see destruction in the streets, stop tolerating abuse and extrajudicial executions carried out by your police.

Demand accountability.

Demand justice.

Don’t demand peace from the people who are getting murdered and who have tried peacefully protesting, which has been met with vitriol and anger anyway.

If you truly want peace, then you want justice.

There is no other way.

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Books I Have Read: Tools and Weapons

A colleague at my day job lent me a copy of the book Tools and Weapons by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne.

Tools and Weapons book cover

The main premise of the book is that technology is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it has the potential to do so much good for individuals, organizations, and societies. It can ease our lives by automating drudgery, help us make and keep connections with friends and family, and assist us in solving some huge problems in healthcare, conservation, and business.

On the other hand, technology has the potential to do a lot of harm, especially in the area of human rights. It makes it easier for totalitarian governments to identify and spy on political enemies. Our privacy is at risk as organizations find ways to take disparate pieces of data and find correlations that give insights into who we are. Inequality can get exacerbated.

I found myself impressed with Smith and Browne’s ability to tie modern day conundrums back to analogous situations in the past. The late 1800s gave birth to the modern U.S. government when it started to regulate railroads, an interstate technology with a scale and scope that was unheard of in an era when states were almost exclusively the ones doing the regulating. What does our modern Internet require?

In the early 1900s, combustion engine technology put horses out of work in firehouses all over the country. The need for food to feed these horses also dropped, which had knock-on effects for other areas of the economy, from farming to packaging to shipping. What will AI do to today’s workforce, and how much can we reliably predict?

When it comes to making broadband Internet available for rural residents, what can we learn about the initiatives to spread the benefits of electricity throughout small towns and farms?

And as Smith is an executive at Microsoft, I also enjoyed getting quite a bit of insight into the company’s approach to dealing with the world and governments over the last few decades, especially when juxtaposed with newer tech companies such as Facebook.

While I don’t doubt Microsoft led some initiatives to work with governments, I did find myself rolling my eyes at reading how moral the company supposedly was and is. There was a lot of name-dropping, including U.S. presidents and major figures in technology and political science, and I appreciate that there were discussions about how a large and influential tech company such as Microsoft needed to create policies to ensure that they did as little harm as possible to society, but then again, this is the same company that for years liked to spin their monopoly as natural.

But now I also know that this is the same company that provided their technology to organizations such as ICE. I mentioned the name-dropping earlier because I wanted to emphasize how weird this one passage was:

A glimpse of what lies ahead emerged suddenly in the summer of 2018, in relation to one of the hottest political topics of the season. In June, a gentleman in Virginia, a self-described “free software tinkerer”, also clearly had a strong interest in broader political issues. He posted a series of tweets about a contract Microsoft had with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, based on a story posted on the company’s marketing blog in January. It was a post that frankly everyone at the company had forgotten. But it says that Microsoft’s technoloygy for ICE passed a high security threshold and will be deployed by the agency. It says the company is proud to support the agency’s work, and it includes a sentence about the resulting potential for ICE to use facial recognition.

The next paragraph goes on to talk about how that supposedly forgotten marketing post took on different meaning in the context of the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from parents at the US border, and it goes on to talk about employee activism, but wait…

A gentleman from Virginia? Why didn’t we name this individual like we did everyone else? Well, there was an endnote:

Taotetek (@taotetek), “It looks like Microsoft is making quite a bit of money from their cozy relationship with ICE and DHS,” Twitter, June 17, 2018, 9:20 a.m. https://twitter.com/taotetek/status/1008383982533259269.

While Smith makes it sound like the relationship between Microsoft and ICE/DHS was this forgotten quirk, here’s a thread in which this “gentleman from Virginia” gives more context to this section of the book, including pointing out that a Microsoft executive got a job at DHS and shortly after a number of contracts between Microsoft and DHS were established.

https://twitter.com/taotetek/status/1173338647673933825

All this is to say that while I found a lot of insight into how major tech companies are starting to recognize that great power requires great responsibility and how they are doing more to work together with governments and society to make it happen, I’m also taking the “we’re trying to do right by everyone because it’s the right thing to do” line with a huge grain of salt. When big companies seek out regulations, it is often to make it easier for them to compete and not out of some moral character.

Still, the book tackled privacy, the ethics of AI, inequality, cybersecurity, and modern society’s dependence on technology to live and work while discussing the repercussions of data moving across borders into data centers and the laws that regulate them.

In the end, even while Smith talks about the needs of a “Digital Geneva Convention” to protect civilians against cyberattacks by nation-states, and privacy regulations to protect people against rogue companies (it sounds like Europe is way ahead of the world in terms of pushing technology companies to respect individuals and their privacy rights), I worry about a world in which most of our technology is seemingly dependent upon Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook doing the right thing by everyone. In each case, they’ve shown that there is a priority for them, and it isn’t my or your interests.

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

How Much Do You Value Privacy and Security in the Apps You Use?

I tend to dislike relying on third parties to provide me with services I find indispensable.

If I can help it, I prefer having control over my own services, even if it means having a poorer experience than a flashier, proprietary solution might provide .

Staying in Control of my Mental Food Sources

For instance, years ago I used Google Reader quite a bit to keep up with news on the game industry, on blogs I followed, and more. It was a great service.

And then I imagine with the rise of social media my own usage dropped without me realizing it, so when they announced they were discontinuing it in 2013, I learned about it probably on Twitter.

There were plenty of tech-oriented news sites putting out articles on replacement services, such as Feedly, which I know lots of people recommend.

But I was curious about creating my own personal Google Reader-like site. It’s just collecting a bunch of RSS feeds and showing them, right?

Before I got too far wondering how to do it myself, I learned about Tiny Tiny RSS, open source web-based news feed (RSS/Atom) reader and aggregator.

Open source means I don’t have to worry about a third party disappearing or pulling the service for one reason or another. I also don’t have to worry about said third party collecting data on my reading habits.

It was years before I got around to setting it up on my own web host. In fact, I didn’t do so until last December. But now that I have, I feel like kicking my past self for not doing so sooner. It’s incredibly useful, especially as I can’t trust various algorithms (and the algorithm writers) at Twitter and Facebook to show me what I specifically wanted to see.

And the best part is that I am in control. I can backup my data and take it to another web host. I can use my own desktop computer to act as a server if I want. I can see everything without filtering or some company deciding that NOT showing me what I subscribed to is somehow better.

I just hope I never need to ask for support, unless I want to deal with the developer equivalent of the Soup Nazi. Reading through the support requests I did see when I was trying to figure out how to set up the software left a bad taste in my mouth. Yeesh.

But since Tiny Tiny RSS is open source, I technically have the ability to take my support requests elsewhere. Again, I have more control and more options.

My Any.Do Woes

More recently, I ran into a frustration with an app I depended upon to manage my todo lists. A few years back, a friend recommended the Android app Any.Do to me, and I’ve used it ever since.

It was intuitive, allowed me to setup recurring items, and showed me my items in the order I liked, separating things that are to be addressed today from the things of tomorrow or in the vague future.

I of course used it for one-off items. Maybe someone recommended a book to me in a conversation. I would pull out my phone, open up Any.Do, and add an item to remind me to look up the book later.

But the ability to set recurring tasks was a huge feature. I set reminders for mundane things like watering my plants every week or cleaning the litter boxes each morning. I used it for regular habits, such as writing a daily summary of the prior day each morning and using my evenings to plan for the next day. I even used it to remind me to write blog posts or update my finances.

At one point it started trying to get me to install their calendar companion app, but I was fine with my current situation, and I learned I could disable the reminder.

It also kept asking me to get the pro version, but as I had no interest in syncing between devices, I was fine with the free version.

And everything was fine. Well, mostly. It had a few minor bugs I got used to over the years. Every once in awhile, the UI would get glitchy. Sometimes the tasks would look like they were reloading on top of each other, and eventually I think there would be a conflict that would prevent me from swiping a task to completion or adding new tasks. Closing and reopening the app usually cleared it up, though.

The bigger, scarier one was when I would open Any.Do only to find a blank screen. My task list, the one that that I live by, was gone!

The first time, I had a moment of panic because, hey, free version, meaning no syncing, and therefore no backups existed. But then I not only closed the app but shut it down. When I launched Any.Do again, there was my list. Whew! Every critical bug with a workaround becomes a minor bug. B-)

So, I happened to see that Any.Do had an update in Google Play, and I went to check the changelog, and all it said was “Every update is a boost to the app’s stability, speed, and security…” Maybe they finally fixed the bugs?

So I update the app, and now I find out that the syncing feature of the pro version is required in the free version.

Required.

Now when I launch Any.Do, I see a screen asking me to create an account by linking the app with my Facebook, Google, or personal email account in order to keep my tasks and lists in sync across all of my devices.

And there is no way to get past this screen so I can see my list again if I want to avoid creating an account I don’t need.

I’ve learned that Any.Do is also integrating with Alexa and will have a chatbot to help you with your to-do items. I’m sure those are great features for people who like them, but I’m decidedly not an early adopter, and I think I prefer my to-do list app to be sans A.I.

TODO: Find Another To-Do List App

So the changelog lied, and now my choice is to comply and lose a bit (or a lot?) of my privacy, search for older APKs of Any.Do and worry about where they came from and whether or not it is safe to install them, or find another app.

I decided to look for another app, but I wanted to be more careful this time. I already hate it when seemingly simple apps ask for way too many permissions.

Unfortunately, almost all of the apps I could find that focus on privacy and limited permissions were too simple. Recurring tasks are almost never available as a feature.

Privacy Friendly To-Do List by the SECUSO research group would otherwise have sounded perfect in terms of limiting permissions and providing control.

I did find an app called To Do List & Widget. It had limited permissions, which boiled down to “it needs to read and write to files”, and it lets you back up your lists manually.

It’s only downside besides a UI that is somewhat less intuitive than Any.Do’s is that there’s almost no information about who made it and where it came from. It’s definitely not open source. While the permissions allow it to do only so much, I still found myself being a bit uneasy about trusting it on my device. And besides, what happens in the future? Will it continue to be updated?

So ultimately I settled on Taskwarrior, which is a GUI app wrapping the command line tool of the same name.

The underlying system is incredibly powerful, and so unfortunately I found the UI requires me to learn how to use it. Recurring tasks aren’t as easy to setup, for instance, but I can do more interesting schedules than what Any.Do restricted me to.

And if I ever do setup my own Taskwarrior server, I can get syncing on my own terms.

I was surprised that it requires a lot of permissions, but it boils down to the app needing to create and use an account on the device and needing access to the network to do the syncing. There are no in-app purchases or ads, and the source is available so I can build it myself and read through it to verify that nothing nefarious is happening under the hood. I also have the ability to continue updating it if the original maintainer disappears.

The user interface is awkward for me at the moment. Any.Do showed me my tasks for today, tomorrow, and later, and it even had a separate category for unscheduled stuff as “Someday”. A recurring daily task I completed would show up in the Tomorrow list automatically.

Taskwarrior’s default views are showing me everything, and while they are in date order, it’s not cleanly separated. Also, recurring tasks are automatically synthesized from the template task, and so I find I can have multiple instances of the task at once in my list.

Then again, these issues might be due to me not knowing how to use Taskwarrior properly.

What’s Important to You?

Some people might balk at the idea of investing time into learning how to use an app when a more intuitive one is available.

And that’s fine. I get it.

But I’ve been starting to value my privacy and my security even more these days.

And it’s not an absurd paranoia. Recently there was news about a popular makeover app with privacy red flags. Pokemon Go was a concerning app until they changed the scope of the permissions it required to run.

I already know that Google tracks where my phone goes, which means it knows where I go. I should really turn off the GPS when I’m not actively using the map functionality, in fact. It’s always disconcerting to see the notification telling me that it is using it because none of the running apps in the background should care where I’m at.

I mean, when I took a picture at my mother-in-law’s house during a party, I got a request to upload the picture and attach it to the search results of the nearby public park. Ick.

Artificial intelligence is huge these days, and with chatbots and intelligent personal assistants such as Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Alexa, we’re seeing a lot of benefits in the way of convenience.

To get that convenience, though, we’re handing over our data to the people behind our devices. And yet, security is rarely treated as a priority, which means that even if we trusted our data to those people, it might also be getting to people we don’t trust.

And so, because I value my privacy and security, often it feels like my choice is to opt-out or roll my own solution.

And since everything is getting artificial intelligence integrated in, it often means tolerating third parties getting access to data more or using alternatives. And if I am going to use alternatives anyway, they may as well be ones I have the most control over.

Thank goodness for free (as in speech) software, eh?

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Where To Donate Some Money Before the End of 2016

There’s only so much time left for your charitable contributions to count towards your 2016 taxes.

If you’re looking for recommendations, here’s two organizations I have contributed to because I believe in what they do.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

“Defending Your Rights in the Digital World” is the EFF‘s tagline, and I’m unaware of another organization focused on our rights and liberties in the context of our digitally-enhanced age.

Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.

When the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was passed in 1998, there was a lot of abuse potential.The DMCA is overly restrictive in what it allows people to do legally with their own technology, and it allows large companies to abuse the system.

Yet the DMCA has become a serious threat that jeopardizes fair use, impedes competition and innovation, and chills free expression and scientific research. If you circumvent DRM locks for noninfringing fair uses or create the tools to do so you might be on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

In one high-profile example, Dmitry Sklyarov, working for ElcomSoft, was arrested by the FBI while he was in the United States on a trip where he spoke at DEF CON about ebook security, specifically Adobe Systems’ technology. Why?

Because…well, it wasn’t clear at the time, but Adobe Systems thought that his published research and software was a violation of the DMCA’s circumvention of their copy protection systems.

The thing is, Sklyarov is from Russia. The DMCA has no jurisdiction there, so what he or his company did wasn’t illegal.

Also, while Adobe’s software didn’t allow people to exercise Fair Use, ElcomSoft’s software did.

Throughout the years, the EFF has been leading the charge against abuses such as this one.

I like my copyright law to be used to promote the useful arts and sciences, not to allow copyright owners complete control over all potential uses just because there happens to be a DMCA-covered copy protection scheme to prevent my otherwise fair use.

I also like my privacy to be protected, and I don’t like finding out that my technology is forced to have backdoors or introduced a rootkit onto my computer.

So, I support the EFF’s work, including their projects such as HTTPS Everywhere which is aimed at helping to make our web browsing more secure, and recommend you do the same.

Contribute to the EFF and become a member.

The Internet Archive

I’ve been blogging for over 10 years, and a lot of the blogs and news sites I’ve linked to in the past are no longer around. Sometimes, I want to reread an article, but the link I have is dead.

Another issue that could arise on the Internet is that someone’s stance may have silently changed. You were pretty sure that politician was pro a few years ago, and yet they insist that they are con and always have been.

So I go to Archive.org‘s Wayback Machine and find the article from around the time it was originally published and prove that the politician has flip-flopped.

The Internet Archive not only has the history of over 279 billion web pages, it also has a library of books, movies, music, and software.

Did you want to watch The Great Train Robbery, the 1903 silent film with the terrifying surprise ending? Well, it’s not really all that terrifying, but back when it was originally in theaters, it made audiences jump out of their seats to safety because no one had seen anything like it before.

It revolutionized certain film-making techniques, and you can watch it for yourself thanks for the Internet Archive:

Or maybe you miss playing certain games on your Apple II computer, such as the classic game Lemonade Stand:

Oh, wow, does that take me back!

I believe in the importance of preserving our history and ensuring free and open access to knowledge is available to millions of people for many years to come, and I’m happy to support the Internet Archive in its efforts to be the most trustworthy and important non-profit library for the world.

Contribute to the Internet Archive today, and your donation will be matched 1-to-1 to double your impact.

Those are my two recommendations. What are yours?

Categories
Politics/Government

Why Are American Police Carrying Out Executions against American Citizens? #BLM

One of the things we’re taught to believe as American citizens is that we cherish our freedoms and our rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion.

And if we’re accused of a crime, we get to face our accusers and have a fair shot at defending ourselves. It’s in the base Constitution, and in the 6th expansion pack it even says “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

We’re presumed innocent until proven guilty.

We’re taught, “Look at THOSE countries. The oppression by the government, the jack-booted thugs executing people without trial or with sham trials where the deck is stacked against the accused. We have it much better here.”

We Americans have it good, right?

But some of us don’t.

In fact, many of us look the other way when again and again and again and again the police carry out executions against people of color. We look the other way when it happens in broad daylight. We look the other way when there is video footage showing it happening.

Somehow, even when the evidence says, “You can’t look the other way”, we find a way to look the other way.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the victim is a teenager or a grown adult. It doesn’t matter if the victim was a model citizen or had a colorful past. It doesn’t matter if the victim was fleeing or standing or sitting or had his hands up.

It doesn’t matter, because if we are being accused of a crime, we as Americans expect to be able to defend ourselves before we’re found guilty of the crime. In court. With a fair trial.

To stand that trial, we expect to be alive. We should NOT have to worry that our lives are forfeit just because someone suspects we might be bad guys.

Worrying that the government will bring about my death if I breathe wrong when accosted by police is not how it is supposed to work in this country. That’s for other, lesser countries with totalitarian governments.

And yet, we live in a country where some of our fellow citizens are not being afforded the right to a trial by jury.

We live in a country where some of our fellow citizens are being told that the basic rights guaranteed by the third article of the Constitution and the 6th amendment do not apply to them if a police officer decides to act as judge, jury, and executioner.

We live in a country that has tolerated actions that we are supposed to look down upon.

So what kind of country are we living in?

Because the totalitarian-type actions happen predominantly to Black people, we ignore them. We justify it by looking for reasons why they got themselves killed by police officers, people who after all have a tough job and risk their lives to keep us safe.

As a White male, I live in a completely different America. My America looks a lot like the one I was taught about growing up.

And because of my White privilege, I can look the other way when there is too much cognitive dissonance. When what I want to believe about America and what the daily experience and death toll for Black people in that same America are at odds, I can choose to say, “No, I live in the greatest country in the world, so it must be something else that’s going on.”

I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Philando Castile.

I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Alton Sterling.

I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Eric Garner.

To Michael Brown.

To Tamir Rice.

To Eric Harris.

To Samuel DuBose.

To Freddie Gray.

To Walter Scott.

To Laquan McDonald.

I can stay silent, because it doesn’t happen to me.

After all, I live in a completely different America in which I don’t have to fear being executed by a police officer for a routine traffic stop.

I live in a completely different America where even if I was violent and a threat to the people around me, and even if I killed officers trying to detain me, I could be sure that I would be arrested, alive, and ready to stand trial.

Executions in the streets? They only happen in other countries.

Including that other America I can pretend doesn’t exist.

Because Black people are being regularly harassed, beaten, terrorized, and executed by police officers, and because those actions get covered up often enough by those same police officers, there is a movement called Black Lives Matter.

Because in this America, it’s clear that they don’t matter to the majority of Americans.

Because if Black lives really mattered in America, we wouldn’t be silent about the injustice of death sentences being metered out by police without a trial. We wouldn’t keep saying, “Keep calm. Let’s wait for all the facts,” while simultaneously reaching for tenuous justifications and defending the indefensible.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the victim was a good guy or a bad guy.

We live in America. We don’t execute people in the streets. It’s not how it is supposed to be in this country. And we shouldn’t tolerate it when it happens in our name.

Categories
Personal Development Politics/Government

Being a Real Ally for Marginalized People in the Game Industry

I’m a white, straight, cisgender man. But I didn’t used to be.

In the past, I was just me. A unique individual human being just living his life like everyone else.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a man, I live a completely different life compared to women.

I had my butt pinched once. It was by a woman passing by in a club when I was in Cancun on spring break in high school. It was such a novelty that I didn’t know how to react at the time other than with curious amazement that it happened.

All women, on the other hand, have experienced unwanted harassment from men. Some have experienced quite a bit, and some have received unwanted physical contact, and some have been physically hurt for resisting, and some have died.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a white man, I live a completely different life compared to people of color.

I got pulled over for speeding when I was in high school. I was nervous, and I got off with a warning. I had been pulled over for speeding maybe four more times, and I got a warning almost every time. One time I recall two officers on each side of my car, and another squad car appearing, and I wondered why there was so much overwhelming force. Everything was fine, though.

Black men, however, have to tell their children how to behave when, not if, they get pulled over so as not to give the officer any reason to believe they are in danger and an excuse to shoot first, ask questions later. Black drivers may drive the speed limit even if traffic is speeding around them to avoid getting into such dangerous situations in the first place. Some still get pulled over for Driving While Black. Some get harassed, some get physically hurt, and some die.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a cisgender man, I live a completely different life compared to transgender people.

One time in middle school I accidentally walked into the girls’ bathroom. It was on a different floor, and I didn’t realize I was in the wrong bathroom until I was washing my hands and noticed the lack of urinals and some strange dispensers on the wall. If I had been caught, I probably could have explained that it was an accident, and if I got in trouble anyway, it would probably have been a minor punishment.

Transgender people have entire states passing laws preventing them from peeing where they are most comfortable, which is scary because just peeing in a public bathroom has been a dangerous situation historically for them. Some have been physically beaten and some have died because other people became uncomfortable that someone different was in their bathroom.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

I used to just be a regular human being, but then I became aware of my privilege.

Privilege is about Society, not You Personally

I have a lot of privilege. I don’t have to pay attention to any of those things happening to people who aren’t white, male, and cisgender. I can continue to live my own life oblivious to it, because horrible things just generally don’t happen to me merely by virtue of me existing, and if something happens to a friend who happens to not be white or male or cisgender, well, it was probably a one-off because if it happened to me, it would be a one-off.

That’s privilege. It doesn’t mean I was given anything in life. It means societal norms are such that when I was born, I get to play the game of life on easy mode. No extra obstacles are thrown in my way due to me being me. No one is out to put me in my place, because my place by default is on top. I still have to play the game and exert effort, but I don’t have to work twice as hard to get half as much. People don’t look at me and assume I can’t possibly know what I need to know to do a job, so job interviews for software development positions don’t require nearly as much effort by me to impress as it might be for, say, a woman.

I don’t have to feel guilty about being privileged, as I didn’t specifically do anything to obtain that privilege. But I should be aware of it because how I tolerate the systems that allow that privilege means I’m basically tolerating the status quo for all of the marginalized people out there.

As uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge this, my passive tolerance does, in fact, make me part of the problem.

But being made aware of it wasn’t easy.

Privilege is Invisible

I think it’s a much more profound challenge than it seems at first blush. It’s hard to communicate with people who have a very different frame of reference in life.

People with privilege don’t recognize that they have it, and so when they come into contact with someone who isn’t in their privilege bubble, it’s a jarring shock.

Privileged people see the world as meritocratic, and the idea that anyone has a disadvantage due to systemic issues is ridiculous specifically because they don’t see the system. To them, it’s just How Things Are.

They say things like “Why don’t you do what I did and work hard to get what you want instead of whining and hoping someone will give it to you?” without realizing that they were given the opportunity to work hard to get what they wanted without having to ask for it. They don’t see themselves as privileged because they worked hard.

They don’t see how what might be a minor and temporary inconvenience for them is yet-another-blow to someone’s dignity and welfare.

There’s that saying, “He was born on third base and acts like he hit a triple.” In a way, that’s everyone who has privilege. For people without privilege, many weren’t even allowed in the lineup.

For some (many?), being told that they need to go back to the plate to swing the bat and hit the ball before they can take a base, just like everyone else, is a setback.

Oh, and by the way, now there are more people who are allowed to participate.

It doesn’t feel like equality so much as the privileged person losing something. They start looking wistfully to the past as when things were better (specifically for them), and without getting too political about it, that’s how certain politicians seem to get so much traction with passionate voters by appealing to their bigotry.

People without privilege are much more aware of it because it is a constant issue in their lives. To them, someone with privilege must seem very obtuse. “How can they possibly not see what I see?”

It’s because their privilege is invisible to them.

So you have privileged people who don’t know they are privileged who might not have a mean bone in their bodies, and they might think of themselves as genuinely good. Yet they are part of the system. Being made aware of this fact, that they have privilege and there are systemic problems for people who don’t, and they should take some responsibility for being part of that system that allows for it, is a potentially ugly process.

Many go into denial because, hey, they are genuinely good people and don’t hate anyone! Some of their best friends are [insert non-privileged group here]! They didn’t personally do anything wrong!

And they might even be right on all of those counts, but it’s uncomfortable for them to believe that they fell down on the job of being more active in terms of even acknowledging privilege exists because it sounds like they should feel personally guilty about it.

So, if they ignore their privilege, the world goes back to the way it was when everything was a matter of pure merit and hard work, and it’s not their fault that other people are less well off.

Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Confirmation bias helps. And communication and spreading awareness is an uphill battle as a result.

Ok, You Have Privilege. Now What?

I think one challenge I’m finding is what to do now that I am aware of my privilege.

And I mean do, because being aware and not changing how I behave and act feels like it is worse than being unaware and blissfully ignorant.

I’ve been doing some research, partly for my own growth, and partly as research for my church’s efforts to ensure they are a welcoming organization for transgender people. A lot of the action steps I’m finding out there for allies are along the lines of “Don’t say this, don’t assume that, do make space.” All good, but after that, I feel like there should be more to it.

Like, ok, I get it. Don’t be a jerk, and treat everyone you meet as a human being. Learning about hurtful and appropriate language and micro aggressions and existing systemic oppression are details, but there has to be more to it, right?

I’m not saying my education is complete, nor do I want to downplay the importance of those details, but it’s one thing to see and recognize privilege, and another to do something about it.

But I feel like there’s a next step that I’m responsible for figuring out because no one is talking about it.

Most articles I’ve found for allies boil down to one of either two things: a list of do’s and don’t’s to help you be aware of your privilege, or a diatribe about how allies are failing at being real allies. It seems like every ally-related article I find focuses exclusively on the “be aware” part, or it laments how allies are falling short of actually doing more than making themselves feel better about being so progressive. There’s almost nothing out there that feels like set of a tangible actions and behaviors that would make a lasting difference.

The video game industry struggles like many industries with marginalized identities. Mattie Brice is a games critic and activist I’ve followed on Twitter for a long time who has written about this topic often. Recently she tweeted a link to her article which captures why things haven’t improved substantially despite the number of marginalized voices creating games these days.

Brice argues that despite progress on a number of fronts, it seems the status quo is still pretty much what it was, and it seems to be because that’s what supposed activists actually want.

That is, people asking for more diverse representations in games expect to play the same games we’ve always played. You know, only this time Ubisoft could figure out how to budget for the production of female models.

Right now liberal games people find the values of marginalized perspectives quaint, nice flavor that could be adapted or added on to what we already have, but not the main dish. So they aren’t necessarily against radical viewpoints, and definitely encourage them to exist, but only unsupported so change is as slow as possible.

This forces people who have the most to lose and are currently in danger to take the majority of the weight of moving things along.

This idea that marginalized people shoulder the brunt of the work of rising up against the systemic problems is something I was made aware of while talking about ways transgender people could feel more welcome at my church. I didn’t want to speak for these people as I worried it wasn’t my place to do so, but it’s exhausting for them to do everything on their own because they are fighting an uphill battle.

If I had to constantly talk about being a white, straight, cisgender man, and constantly defend every action or thought as a white, straight, cisgender man, it would, in fact, be exhausting. But since society sees me as the default, I don’t have to exert that energy.

So as an ally, what I could do is amplify marginalized voices rather than merely sit back silently. They have their own voices, and I can do much more than wait for them to feel comfortable enough to speak in a hostile environment. I can make the environment more friendly. I could share what they say.

But I could also do more.

We know that these people get less resources, both from games and society as a whole, and not changing how you consume and practicing what you value continues that divide. Said liberal masses are forcing marginalized creators into critical positions by being apathetic at best about the literal support the give while contributing to entities that maintain the status quo.

Marginalized creators don’t often have access to the marketing might of major publishers, and as a person of privilege, it’s easy for me to not even be aware that these creators exist, which contributes to their marginalization without my awareness.

From this article, I’m thinking that one of the tangible things I can do as someone with privilege is to make the extra effort to find marginalized voices. So when I think about buying a new science fiction book, for instance, rather than choose from a bestsellers list or merely on Amazon’s recommendations, I could actively seek out science fiction books written by authors I might not know about.

That’s not a difficult thing to do, but until Brice’s article, it hadn’t occurred to me to do it.

And if I address this in each aspect of my life, from where I eat to what I read children before bedtime to what movies I decide to watch to what I personally create, then I’m hopefully doing more than mere awareness and actually practicing what I value.

I’m going to continue to look for more, but being more conscious about where my dollars go is one tangible, impactful thing I can do to make privilege more visible. It doesn’t sound so hard, but I’m surprised there isn’t more about it out there.

Being that I have the awareness of my privilege to ignore injustice, it’s a moral decision not to ignore it. Being in a position of privilege, I feel obligated to do more than the bare minimum of merely not being a jerk. It will probably be exhausting work, but it’s already exhausting for the people who don’t have the privilege to avoid the work. It is wrong to sit on the sidelines and think I’m still a good person while other people suffer indignity, harassment, injustice, and death.

Categories
Politics/Government

Syrian Refugees Are NOT Potentially Poisonous Grapes

In the debate, I often saw an argument along the lines of, “If I gave you 10 grapes and told you two were poisonous, would you eat any?”

It sounds clever. There’s a risk. Most intelligent people would say no, and so the idea is that taking in Syrian refugees when potential terrorists could be hiding among them is akin to consuming grapes when you know they could be poisonous.

This argument is old, as this tweet shows:

Back when the Jews were fleeing the Nazis, nations all around the world denied them access because Nazis might be hiding among them. As a result, many more were killed in the Holocaust that could have been saved.

But what bothers me about the argument is how simplistic it is. It makes it sound like the probability is known, and that the only defense against risk is to avoid it entirely. It also makes the issue about the person being posed the hypothetical and not about who the grapes are.

Saving Syrian refugees isn’t the same as benignly eating a bowl of grapes or M&Ms and “knowing” some are poisonous.

It’s like knowing that there are people in a burning building and questioning whether or not to bother trying to get them out on the chance that some of them are arsonists.

“If there were 10 people in a building, and I told you two were arsonists, would you rescue any?” is about how the grape analogy sounds. Now suddenly we KNOW that there are arsonists among them. We even have a specific number, which makes this choice seem like a balance of odds.

And yet, despite knowing we could always find non-poisonous grapes or even some other food, allowing us to pass on this specific bunch of grapes, we still feel like the non-arsonists deserve to be saved from that building, right? I hope?

Syrian refugees are people fleeing a real danger. We have an opportunity to do the right thing and save them from the people we are supposedly afraid they are.

We lock our doors to protect the people inside, but I would question what kind of person you are to leave outside someone who is literally begging for his/her life.

Categories
Politics/Government

You Are Allowing Terrorists to Win by Giving in to Fear

I had two Muslim roommates when I was in college. They were the nicest guys.

One was in computer science and the other decided to go into religious studies. We played computer games together. They threw the best party I ever went to as part of the fraternity they were pledging for during my time living with them.

I remember conducting an experiment with one of them to see if one of us was more likely to get followed in a store after watching a documentary about discrimination for a class we took together. The results were inconclusive that day, which surprised us.

I also remember watching him eat Skittles as if it was the first time, and it turned out that it might as well have been. He had this look of pleasure as he ate each one, and he explained it was because they no longer used animal-based gelatin, which prevented him from eating them before.

Days after 9/11, I remember having a conversation with another Muslim friend about how no one would sit near her on the El that day. I didn’t understand right away what she was saying until I saw the anguish on her face. People were afraid of her because she had dark skin and wore a hijab.

She was great to hang out with, too. Last I heard, she became a paralegal.

I have non-Muslim Indian friends, some of them who are Christian. We’ve played ping-pong or foosball at the day job together, we’ve danced together, we’ve attended weddings together, and we’ve even done real work together.

I am aware that the untrained eye would lump all of these people together under the category “terrorist”.

Each time I see a terrorist attack has been successfully carried out in the world, there are two groups of people I feel for.

I worry about the victims and their families. My heart goes out to them. I can’t imagine the feeling of loss, sadness, and anger they must be feeling in the aftermath.

But I also spend time worrying about my friends getting hurt or killed by idiots who feel the need to “send them back to where they came from” or otherwise treat them as if they were the enemy.

These are real people. They’re Americans. “Where they came from” is just as likely to be a suburb of Chicago as it is the Middle East.

I see a lot of fear-based posts online by friends and family arguing that you can’t tell the difference between a radical Muslim and a peaceful one and so therefore all of them should be banished from the country, or rounded up and killed, or similar rhetoric that sounds like they have no problem with domestic terrorism when they are the ones conducting it. I see similar talk coming from some prominent politicians who seem to feel that the only part of America they need to worry about is the lighter-skinned part, and so they set an example for others to follow.

They worry about our way of life being under threat but have no problem throwing out life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when it comes to those who look different. We cherish our tradition of religious liberty, just so long as it’s Christian.

They worry about Da’esh/ISIS/ISIL/IS destroying this country, but then they turn around and ensure the principles that make this country great in the first place are destroyed first. Giving in to fear, they actively participate in handing Da’esh their victory.

And people like my friends are put at risk as a result.

So while I am processing what happened in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad, I am worrying about the safety of my friends.

Please don’t give in to fear. Real people with real families and real lives are put at risk when someone with enough fear, anger, ignorance, and hate gets the wrong message.

Categories
Games Politics/Government

How to Apologize Correctly

When I was a senior in high school, I was editor of the school paper. I wanted to publish more than fluff pieces. I couldn’t count how many times the formulaic headline “[insert school event here] a Success” showed up in that paper.

Some of the articles ended up quite controversial, and I got us in trouble quite a few times. I was the reason why future issues of the paper had to be approved by the principal.

And while I can be proud that, after years of people complaining, my paper resulted in actual changes to the cafeteria food quality and pricing, I did have one article that poked fun at past administrators that got me pulled into the principal’s office. I was told that I needed to write an apology for the next issue.

I remember writing the words, “We regret any offense we may have caused.” It sounded good and official, as if it was something in a real newspaper.

And I remember being told that my statement wasn’t good enough. It’s not an apology to “regret” that someone was offended. It’s basically saying that we’d do it again and that any offense is the responsibility of the offended.

So I had to rewrite it: “We apologize for the offense we caused.” It’s a lot more direct and lot less weaselly.

An apology isn’t something you say to make bad feelings go away. “I’m sorry” isn’t a magic phrase to get people who are upset with you to disappear. And you don’t apologize with a non-apology such as “I’m sorry if you were offended” because you’re basically saying that you’re not sorry you did someone something wrong because you don’t think you actually did.

According to Ars Technica, slave-Tetris mode was removed from Playing History 2: Slade Trade by Serious Games Interactive after a public outcry when the game became more well known due to a Steam sale.

Ugh. I did just type those words, didn’t I? Slave Tetris? Really? Someone thought it was a good idea?

I have no problem with a game being used to educate players about history. And no one else who understands how games aren’t just for kids has a problem with the concept either.

But Slave Tetris isn’t the most respectful way to teach how horrible the conditions of the slave ships were. This isn’t navigating the Dalles in The Oregon Trail. You can’t reduce the real experiences of millions of people to a mini-game and not expect people to feel that those lives themselves have been minimized.

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen of Serious Games Interactive had this non-apology:

The phrase “as it was perceived to be extremely insensitive by some people” is very similar to “we regret any offense we may have caused.”

This phrase makes it sound like the Slave Tetris minigame is actually quite sensitive and perfectly fine, but because some people took offense, SGI decided to take it out to make the bad publicity and bad feelings magically go away.

I think Egenfeldt-Nielsen honestly believes that this is a good educational game that brings the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to life much better than any history book could do. And he may be right about the game as a whole, although having someone in the game talk like Mr. T seems to contradict his claims that “We are definitely not making it into a joke.”

Playing History 2: Slave Trade - Pity the Fool?

Furthermore, I have a feeling that many of the negative reactions in here are knee-jerk reactions and she eps following what other says. Please take time to look at the game before forming your opinion.

The problem with Egenfeldt-Nielsen’s commentary is that he says, “we are listening” but then in the same breath says, “I really don’t think that all the comments here are warranted.”

Oh.

People are offended, and it isn’t the Race Card or Political Correctness or people who are just looking to get offended professionally.

He made a mini-game about earning points by stacking human slaves efficiently in a slave ship. It’s offensive.

If there was a mini-game about slamming planes into the Twin Towers and scoring points for the number of people you force to jump to their deaths, people would be offended because it is offensive to take such a serious situation and try to pretend there’s a fun game out of it. There would be real lives being represented in a terrible way. The seriousness of that day would be missed, no matter how accurate or true it technically might be.

I agree with Egenfeldt-Nielsen that games have a lot of potential beyond being fun. In fact, there are plenty of serious games out there on a wide variety of topics that the casual game player might get surprised about. There are games about dealing with cancer, depression, and many other health issues. There are games about current events, war, and logistics for aid organizations, all of which treat the topic seriously and can bring awareness without making light of the situation.

But as I’m sure he has discovered, it’s not easy to work with serious subjects. You can’t separate the game from the people and events it is portraying. A game about slavery can’t just be game mechanics with a slavery backstory. To think otherwise is to betray the mindset that this serious issue is serious in the abstract but not serious enough to consider other people’s reactions to it as important.

Slavery is horrific. A game about slavery need not be, but Playing History: Slave Trade‘s Slave Tetris isn’t driving home the point that slave ships were actually like a Tetris board. In a subtle way, it’s minimizing the horror.

But I worry the lesson he learned isn’t to treat serious subjects with more respect and awareness. I worry the lesson he learned was that he needs to walk on eggshells to avoid having seemingly unreasonable people offended. His regret is that others were offended, not that he participated in the offending.