March is Gender Equality Month, and other administrivia

(TL;DR: The vast majority, if not the entirety, of posts in March will be about sexism or gender inequality issues. Also, the contact form has been broken for quite some time but has now been fixed.)

So, here I am, looking through a whole bunch of potential posts sitting in my “drafts” section. And I notice many of them are about sexism. The vast majority are, of course, about incidents of male chauvinist sexism or misogyny, but there are some about female chauvinist sexism or misandry.

What better time to post my best pieces about sexism than Gender Equality Month? That month happens to be March. This happens to be the very last week of February. I figure with a week head start I should be able to finish writing for the entire month by no later than March 7. I might have enough material to post two posts for some days.

I will be posting, as has been the usual, in the 10:00 and 14:00 slots (10am and 2pm US Central Time, 6 hours behind UTC). In the event I decide to make posts about other topics (stuff that simply can’t wait until April), those will be posted in the 16:00 (4pm) slot, and most likely towards the end of the week (Thursday and Friday).

In other news… If anyone out there has tried to contact me via the contact form on this site, it’s been broken for some time, and not just on here. Apparently Jetpack’s comment form got enabled, which stomped all over what I had set up with Contact Form 7. I am pretty sure anything that was sent vanished into the bit bucket, and I apologize for the inconvenience. On the off chance that it was actually important and not flagrant spam or garbage like 95%+ of the email I got through that form, please feel free to resend.

The Flappy Bird saga, or: why some people shouldn’t make games

I was originally going to let all the flap about Flappy Bird sail right over my head and into wherever this stuff goes in cyberspace when it’s done being popular. I am, after all, someone who is very un-picky about exactly which games I play, leaning towards GPL software instead of the latest shrink-wrapped XBox One, PS4, or Wii titles. I thought this didn’t really concern me, but then I read Dwight Silverman’s post to TechBlog about Flappy Bird.

For some reason when I was about to read this, I had thoughts of recent articles about “rape culture” in my head. I had just finished watching a video about a human trafficking problem in Europe.

And then it all made sense.

I’m saying this as someone who never played Flappy Bird (and probably will never get a chance to thanks to Mr. Nguyen’s selfish actions).

This is why I’m leery about depending on mobile phone apps:

[Flappy Bird creator Dong] Nguyen said the main reasons for pulling the game were guilt due to its addictive quality, and the fact that the attention has made his life more complicated[…]

Games are supposed to make people happy. To Mr. Nguyen, making Flappy Bird wasn’t about making people happy. No, Flappy Bird, in the end, wasn’t really the game itself, but a piece on Mr. Nguyen’s game board. A piece due to the design of today’s mobile devices, he could choose to take off the board at his own whim. It’s about control, about the opportunity to impose his own morals on those who partook of the game for whatever reason.

Indeed, I think Mr. Nguyen is exactly the kind of person Richard Stallman is warning us about when he refers to the emotional argument in his essay “Why Software Should Be Free”:

The emotional argument goes like this: “I put my sweat, my heart, my soul into this program. It comes from me, it’s mine!”

This argument does not require serious refutation. The feeling of attachment is one that programmers can cultivate when it suits them; it is not inevitable. Consider, for example, how willingly the same programmers usually sign over all rights to a large corporation for a salary; the emotional attachment mysteriously vanishes. By contrast, consider the great artists and artisans of medieval times, who didn’t even sign their names to their work. To them, the name of the artist was not important. What mattered was that the work was done—and the purpose it would serve. This view prevailed for hundreds of years.

(Richard goes on in his essay to mention the economic argument, which I don’t think applies here, as Mr. Nguyen deleted Flappy Bird in spite of it making him a relatively obscene amount of money.)

What if Mr. Nguyen were an arcade game programmer in the late 1970s or early 1980s? It would be as if, say, Taito could have decided those who haven’t yet played one game of Space Invaders at a given point in time could never do so for their entire lives in light of a shortage of 100 yen coins in Japan. (Set aside for the moment the shortage didn’t actually happen, because it easily could have if Space Invaders was as popular in 1978 and 1979 as Flappy Bird, or even something like Angry Birds, is today.) Or if Atari decided something similar for Pong or Asteroids during those crazes. You get the idea.

And the probable result? There would be an outrage. The video game scene succeeded and became what it was, and rebounded as quickly as it did from the 1983 crash, because the companies knew their role. Once an arcade game was sold, it was sold and there was little the companies could really do regarding how many people got to play them.

So, based on what I have read, and as an electronic game player and historian with over 30 years of experience, it is my expert opinion that Mr. Nguyen has no business making games and for him to do so is a detriment to the entire gaming community. It isn’t proper in the least for any game designer to impose their own morals or value judgments over the players of their games. Nobody else has tried to get away with this, and for good reason. Mr. Nguyen clearly doesn’t give a shit about the gaming community. It is most unfortunate indeed that Apple and Google (and, I would assume should he make Windows Phone games, Microsoft as well) will keep letting him sell games in their respective online stores in spite of this, but again, they don’t have to give a shit either, they get their cut of the revenue.

The personality of Mr. Nguyen and the personality of the average rapist are one and the same. Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about control. Control over a rape victim, control over a Flappy Birds player… one and the same. If you really love a game you’ve made, set it free (GPL).

Coca-Cola’s “It’s Beautiful” Super Bowl ad

I know I have a backlog of about a dozen posts I’ve been meaning to write, but on this one I feel the need to strike while the iron is hot. It’s about this 60-second television commercial aired during the Super Bowl. In case you haven’t seen it:

Now, I know it’s primarily a right-wing crowd that’s ticked off about this commercial. I’m mostly left-wing but lean right on a few issues. It’s a no-brainer that we as a country benefit when everyone knows at least one common language. Now, the question then becomes what language should that be?

The Declaration of Independence was written in English. The Constitution was written in English. All of our laws are written in English. Our road signs are written in English. The majority of our broadcast media are in English. If instructions for anything are written in only one language, that language is English. It is technically true that English is not the official language of this country, but it really should be named as such by law.

And this is why I think Coke’s ad fails as a piece of advertising. I am fine with showing different nationalities, different colors of skin, even those of differing sexual preferences. But if we can’t even talk to random people in the same language, how much unity do we really have? I have lost count of the number of times I’ve asked a stranger something like “what time is it?” or “which bus was that that passed by?” and got “sorry no speak English” as my response. So when Coca-Cola shows “America the Beautiful” being sung in different languages, and it is hard to tell if parts of the video were even shot in America (at 0:28 Coke bottles are shown which very well could be the Mexican version not necessarily imported into the US, at 0:35 all the signage is in Chinese and there’s nothing to clearly show that this is actually the US). I hope this isn’t the case, but if in fact any portion of this commercial was actually shot outside of the US, it was inappropriate to use “America the Beautiful.”

I’m not even sure what they are trying to communicate. It’s a video montage with a song whose melody I recognize, but most of which is sung in the language NotEnglish. (I say it this way not to offend, but in the same way that John Polstra used the term “the programming language NotC” to refer to a different and less-known computer programming language.) About the only things I can recognize are the Coca-Cola logo and some obviously American landmarks like the Grand Canyon. If there’s a message of unity here, I missed it.

The advertising would have been improved by showing the singers on camera–different nationalities, skin colors, sexual preferences, what have you–singing “America The Beautiful” in English and only in English. The video as aired could remain the main video shown on screen, with the singers in an inset, or the video as aired could be replaced with the singers entirely. Now the commercial becomes a more obvious promotion of unity behind a common language–and a common soft drink.

I’m disappointed as a Coca-Cola customer that they dropped the ball this badly on such a big stage. I’m not going to boycott Coke, but I’ll definitely be drinking a lot more Dr. Pepper over the next couple of months than I otherwise would have.