A discussion of film and video in the charity sector.
Featuring “The power of supporter-focused video to drive fundraising” – Francis Mason and Rebecca Highfield, Anthony Nolan; “Delivering for public health and fundraising? How Breakthrough Breast Cancer did it with TLC” – Matthew Jupe, Breakthrough Breast Cancer; “MyStory: Lessons learnt from delighting users through video content” – Jamie Parkins, JustGiving; and a panel discussion.
Anthony Nolan – supporter-created video and a brand storytelling video
Great examples of a supporter-created video and a slick brand video:
It’s worth reflecting on what distinguishes these two videos, and what unites them.
The formal quality of the supporter-created is lower, but it’s clearly good enough.
The second video is slicker – better film quality, better sound, transitions, and more clearly on-brand.
But the main feature of both videos is strong storytelling. The supporter-created video has an off-the-cuff charm, but it’s also clearly been carefully put together, by a funny and sweet supporter.
Much of the evening was focused on the second type of video – material produced by people working for charities – but I’m very interested in how we can help supporters to create their own content.
Touch Look Check – Direct Marketing on TV and trains
A promotional campaign asking people to request a guide for the signs to spot breast cancer, with a follow-up direct debit donation ask.
Oh, sorry, it was about £8 per lead from train panels and £3-3.50 from DRTV #NFPtweetup
Camp Digital describes itself as “an inspirational conference that brings together the digital, design and UX communities for a series of seminars and workshops exploring the latest thinking in our industry.”
The Importance of Research and Partnership in Tackling Digital Exclusion – Sarah Bridges, Go ON UK
This session was a useful reminder of the importance of accessibility and inclusion. This session focused on the needs of older users, but made it clear that unequal access to digital is not just about a user’s age: nearly half of people who lack basic digital skills are of working age:
The lean startup model stresses that you need to keep learning after you’ve launched.
Constantly validate with users. You’ll never be perfect, but keep perfecting. (I like the optimistic yet humble humanism that seems to exist at the heart of this method.)
Close cross-team working helps retain/share knowledge and gives shared ownership of solutions:
Keeping the research, ux, design & dev team together helps create sense of ownership of a solution. Measure & learn as a team. #CampDigital
Play back your results to your organisation. Show the value of what you’ve done after each sprint.
Understanding the context of use is really important:
Imran used an example of the HSE, who wanted tradespeople to be more aware of the dangers of working with asbestos. They researched the context of use before designing their asbestos-education solution.
Users didn’t actually find an alarming health app to be helpful or relevant to them.
But they did find the app helpful to communicate with their customers, and to charge them for the asbestos-related work.
Understanding this motivation helped Imran design the app so as to appeal to both sets of objectives.
That moment when you realise a practical benefit is a stronger driver for app adoption than fear of a health risk: @ImranYounis#campdigital
Similarly, a classic case study shows that you sell more milkshakes not by focusing on improving the milkshakes themselves, but by understanding why people buy milkshakes. (See Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing)
Not 'What's your favourite flavour?' but 'Why do you always buy a milkshake on way to work?'Uncovered the insight @ImranYounis#CampDigital
Garnering positive engagement from stakeholders who don’t understand UX – Fritz von Runte, NICE
A collection of tips for getting non-UX people usefully engaged with a UX process:
Always have a clear shared definition of success before you start
Simplify stakeholder requirements in their presence.
Ask why 5 times.
Turn opinions into questions.
Make it clear that business goals are not the same thing as user needs.
Bring stakeholders along to user testing, but don’t let them moderate it, as that’s a skilled task.
When stakeholders share a blog post, or journal article, or similar, be sure to follow that source in future. You’ll get an insight into their context.
Be experts on every metric that your colleagues use. They help you understand what is important to them, and how they frame their decisions.
Present UX learnings in a concise format. Use bullet points, and prioritise the list.
After doing UX research, define actions (not necessarily solutions) so that you’re proactively leading the decision-making process.
“Learnings from tests shouldn’t define new solutions, they define new problems.” (Can we do better than this? Expressing the value of testing like this might make it hard to get buy-in from internal stakeholders. Can we articulate the value of testing while also explaining that it won’t tell you what to do – it will help you understand the problem space better. Perhaps “Learning from tests won’t define solutions. It will hopefully help you better understand the problem, and hopefully will make you aware of further problems.”)
Do visual design last. This helps prevent stakeholders from focusing on little details of visual design, and keeps the focus on UX.
Even when you’re working in a team, you’re still the designer – it’s not design by committee.
Define success before you test.
Why design matters? How a design-led process delivers better digital services – Ben Holliday, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
Some evidence in favour of user testing: Jared Spool found a correlation between number of hours spent with users and the quality of the design outcome. (Of course, correlation is not causation, but the kind of team that does good design is the kind of team that takes user testing seriously.)
A brief interlude because the Mobile Apocalypse has just hit. (Google has begun penalising non-mobile optimised sites in search returns.) A few websites have been caught out – I wonder how quickly each of the below organisations will be revealing a responsive redesign? (I wasn’t in this presentation, but wanted to share the slide anyway.)
There’s gold in them there Hills! Creating ‘Hills’ to frame your releases around user-centric market outcomes, not feature requests – Daryl Walker-Smith & Richard Halford, IBM
I liked the idea of a ‘hill’ as a place you want to get to – a bit like a military goal.
You don’t know how exactly you’ll take the hill, but you know the purpose behind your work.
Once again, understanding purpose is at the heart of our work.
I thought this session struggled a bit under the weight of IBM’s history, and the terminology used. Apparently people usually have a one-week induction into this method, which makes it harder to unpack this methodology and get stakeholders using it.
IBM uses sponsor users, not personas. Personas aren’t real users, of course, they’re just fabrications. Sponsor users are real users. But it’s difficult (and presumably expensive) to have users visit you multiple times a month for testing.
An occurring theme here at #CampDigital is war strategies and the man on the moon *chuckle*
How does this belligerent (masculine?) language reflect or shape our discipline? What other metaphors could we employ to describe our processes?
Digital disruption and the challenges faced by organisations with an focus on in-person, ‘real world’ transactions – Bea Karol Burks, Citizens Advice and Matt Lindop, Premier Inn
The idea of “government as a platform” – putting service delivery before policy – is disruptive to service delivery organisations like CAB, who exist to provide services because government isn’t sufficiently service-focused.
Echoing the core message of the conference, Bea advised us to “focus on problems not products.” Start with understanding user needs. For an organisation like CAB, user needs include ‘changing the world’.
CAB have an alpha blog showing what they’ve done and learnt. It’s open to the public, and to comments. Critical feedback is really valuable.
Great quote from Bea, against commonplace sloppy use of the term ‘agile’: “Agile is a discipline; it doesn’t mean not being disciplined.”
Bea has an interesting vision for CAB’s future:
Use data on people’s problems to understand the performance of policies/services before the govt does.
Use data to connect and enable local campaigners to fight battles that CAB cannot.
Splitting the Atom – Nick Wiles & Stewart Bromley, Atom Bank
A talk about the Atom bank – a soon-to-launch bank that will be entirely online. This apparently makes it “a digital pure play.” (Second key point of jargon for the day.)
Interesting contrast to the earlier talk:
Comparing this talk about being online-only vs the digital inclusivity talk this morning, Atom seem happy being non-inclusive? #CampDigital
… but mainly this session felt like a product launch for a product that doesn’t yet exist.
This was a strong conference with good inspiration and practical points. I’ll be sharing them with my team.
Here’s what I’ll be doing next:
Learn more about the metrics that my colleagues use. (Information, Fundraising, Campaigns)
Read the milkshake marketing case study.
When developing new products, or trying to understand users and products, focus more on understanding the context of use.
Don’t ask “How can we make our events pages more attractive?” Ask “When and why do people sign up for the marathon?” “What problem are they solving by signing up for the marathon?” “Where and why do people access our information products?” “What problems do they want to solve?”
Once I’ve got some development momentum, I’m going to resume playing back the results of sprints to the organisation, but focusing more on what we’ve learnt.
I’m going to think about how to incorporate the lean UX focus on continual learning into ongoing development sprints.
Introduce my team to the lean startup model and talk about how we might use this to help us with continual improvement from a content / user journey perspective.
Start using the word ‘solutionise’ and see if I get away with it.
Think about whether we could consciously map out our hypotheses and assumptions with different teams.
There was lots of buzz about The Ethical Designer – Cennydd Bowles, Twitter, so I’m going to watch the recording when it goes live in a couple of weeks.
This is a set of quotes summarising Paulo Freire’s thoughts on the structures and methods needed for genuine revolution, taken from The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1996 Penguin Edition).
Appropriate revolutionary structures and methods
Who is a radical?
“What distinguishes revolutionary leaders from the dominant elite is not only their objectives, but their procedures.” (148)
“trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change.” (42)
“The radical… does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he her she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” (21)
“The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of liberation yet is unable to enter communion with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as totally ignorant, is grievously self-deceived.” (43) (What happened in early c20th Russia, with ‘going to the people’?)
“it is necessary to trust in the oppressed and in their ability to reason. Whoever lacks this trust will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection, and communication, and will fall into using slogans, communiqués, monologues, and instructions.” (48)
“constant, humble, and courageous witness emerging from cooperation in a shared effort – the liberation of women and men – avoids the danger of antidialogical control.” (157)
“The essential elements of witness which do not vary historically include: consistency between words and actions; boldness which urges the witnesses to confront existence as a permanent risk; radicalization (not sectarianism) leading both the witnesses and the ones receiving that witness to increasing action; courage to love (which, far from being accommodation to an unjust world, is rather the transformation of that world in behalf of the increasing liberation of humankind); and faith in the people,…” (157)
“Instead of following predetermined plans, leaders and people, mutually identified, together create the guidelines of their action.” (162)
“if at a given historical moment the basic aspiration of the people goes no further than a demand for salary increases, the leaders can commit one of two errors. They can limit their action to stimulating this one demand or they can overrule this popular aspiration and substitute something more far-reaching – but something which has not yet come to the forefront of the people’s attention. In the first case, the revolutionary leaders follow a line of adaptation to the people’s demands. In the second case, by disrespecting the aspirations of the people, they fall into cultural invasion. the solution lies in synthesis: the leaders must on the one hand identify with the people’s demand for higher salaries, while on the other they must pose the meaning of that very demand as a problem. By doing this, the leaders pose a as a problem a real, concrete, historical situation of which the salary demand is one dimension. It will thereby become clear that salary demands alone cannot comprise a definitive solution.” (163-4)
Emancipation cannot be imposed
“the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.” (26)
“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift.” (29)
“The correct method for a revolutionary leadership to employ in the task of liberation is, therefore, not ‘libertarian propaganda.’ … The correct method lies in dialogue. The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift bestowed by the revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own conscientização.” (49)
“The struggle begins with men’s recognition that they have been destroyed. Propaganda, management, manipulation – all arms of domination cannot be the instruments of their rehumanization. The only effective instrument is a humanizing pedagogy in which the revolutionary leadership establishes a permanent relationship of dialogue with the oppressed.” (50)
“The revolutionary’s role is to liberate, and be liberated, with the people – not to win them over.” (76)
“Revolutionary leaders cannot think without the people, nor for the people, but only with the people.” (112)
On charity and deference
“Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.”(26)
“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life,’ to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need to be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.” (27)
I think this is a useful observation for the UK Labour Party
“In a situation of manipulation, the Left is almost always tempted by a ‘quick return to power,’ forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and strays into an impossible ‘dialogue’ with the dominant elites. It ends up being manipulated by these elites, and not infrequently itself falls into an elitist game, which it calls ‘realism’.” (130)
This is a summary of Paulo Freire’s explanation of the banking and libertarian models of education, from The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1996 Penguin Edition).
The point of education and human action is “the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.” (37)
Two models of education
The banking model of education is about depositing information into passive students
“an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues comminiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education,…” (53)
The banking model requires students to adapt to the world, and encourages servility
“the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings.” (54)
“The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is…” (54)
“Implicit in the banking concept is the assumption of a dichotomy between human beings and the world: a person is merely in the world, not with the world or with others; the individual is spectator, not re-creator.” (56)
Education is not about integrating people into an oppressive society, but about understanding and transforming the world
“Authentic liberation – the process of humanization – is not another deposit to be made in men. Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it.” (60)
“Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming – as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality.”(65)
“Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posting education involves a constant unveiling of reality.” (62)
“Education as the practice of freedom – as opposed to education as the practice of domination – denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world.” (62)
What does libertarian education look like in practice?
“Through dialogue, the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow… Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects…” (61)
How to create a libertarian program of education
“The starting point for organizing the program content of education or political action must be the present, existential, concrete situation, reflecting the aspirations of the people.” (76)
“education… cannot present its own program but must search for this program dialogically with the people,” (105)
“the investigation of thematics involves the investigation of the people’s thinking – thinking which occurs only in and among people together seeking out reality… Even if people’s thinking is superstitious or naive, it is only as they rethink their assumptions in action that they can change. Producing and acting upon their own ideas – not consuming those of others – must constitute that process.” (89)
“the team of educators is ready to represent to the people their own thematics, in a systematized and amplified form. The themetics which have come from the people return to them – not as contents to be deposited, but as problems to be solved.” (104)
“after several days of dialogue with the culture circle participants, the educators can ask the participants directly: ‘What other themes or subjects could we discuss besides these?’ As each person replies, the answer is noted down and is immediately proposed to the group as a problem.” (104-5)
In 2013 we redesigned the Mind website, to make it easier for people to use.
Lots of people told us that the old website was hard to use, and sometimes overwhelming. We wanted to make our website easier to use, so that people can seek our help sooner, get behind our campaigns, and support us more generously.
We’ve tried to base our new site around people’s needs, so the design process was shaped by over 50 users at in-person workshops and user testing, and by over 100 people who participated online. We held workshops, surveys/tests, and user testing.
We held workshops so that we could understand what people need from the Mind website. We wanted to find out what their top tasks were, and asked people to devise a site structure and labelling system that made sense to them, using card sorting. The aim of this was to make a site structure that isn’t based on organisational language or the way that we structure our work or teams internally.
We also invited people to discuss their feelings on the Mind brand, imagery, and use of colour online, and their feelings on how Mind’s values apply to the website.
We held the workshops in Bristol, London, and online.
People’s top tasks were:
1) Finding information about mental health
2) Knowing that I’m not alone
3) Finding support/services near me
4) Getting involved (mostly with fundraising)
People told us that they want a greater focus on their most important tasks. They wanted less clutter, a calmer and more sparing visual design, with a greater focus on people. They really resonated with Mind’s values: real, personal, compassionate, courageous.
Using this information alongside other information about our web visitors – eg from Google Analytics – we were able to draw up a clear, shared understanding of what our project was trying to achieve, and what the most important tasks were. This was crucial, as design is about prioritisation, and that often means telling people that their area is less important. Being upfront about your top tasks – and getting these tasks from users – helps with these discussions.
The in-person workshops took about 4 hours; the online workshop was condensed into an hour.
Our understanding of top tasks also drew from our Analytics data, which tells us things like over 80% of our traffic is to our information pages.
At the workshops, participants devised a site structure that made sense for them. We wanted to test if it made sense to other people too, so we tested it.
We carried out an online reverse card sort exercise to do this, using a tool called Treejack.
There were some areas of disagreement between the workshops (eg “get involved” vs “support us”, and “info & support” vs “help & advice”) and this exercise helped us decide between the competing options.
The exercise took each user about 10 minutes.
Before we started building the final website, we built a sort of draft version: a prototype. It was just made with HTML and CSS. We did 1:1 user testing and online user testing of this.
By asking people to carry out a number of top tasks, and seeing what they found easy or hard, we were able to improve the prototype before building the final product.
We did this as part of following an agile methodology.
We encouraged participants to think aloud as they went so that we could better understand their thought processes. We took notes and for one of the sessions participants agreed to have their screen and faces recorded, using a tool called Silverback.
Some key learning points
– I’d start the recruitment process earlier, and plan a whole journey of engagement, rather than just inviting individuals to one-off events.
– We had more people sign up than we expected or had capacity for. (This did help us select a more diverse group for our London workshops.) I’d have liked to plan even more opportunities for wider engagement.
How did all this user involvement help us and help the people who took part?
By better understanding our visitors and their needs, we built a better website for them. By testing as we went, we could make sure that our designs were on track.
Participants gave very positive feedback, saying that they felt listened to, valued, and that their feelings and ideas were taken seriously.
What support did you offer?
– We tried to make sure everyone felt comfortable at workshops. We made sure that we had refreshments, a quiet space for people to go if they wanted a break, and we also asked people to fill in a wellbeing plan so that we could know how best to help them if they were distressed. (Most people didn’t fill in a wellbeing plan, but some did and it was very helpful in these cases.)
– We used supportive language and set an expectation of non-judgmental listening and sharing. We made sure not to ask leading questions, so that our results were useful.
– We tried to be clear in advance about what people were signing up for, and we told people that they could withdraw from activities at any time.
Tips for other people doing user involvement activities
– Be clear in your aims. For us, the value was clear: good agile digital project work relies on user engagement, so doing lots of user engagement was always a priority for achieving a good result. Mind takes user involvement seriously, and this made working in an agile, user-centred way very easy to achieve.
– Budget the time and money to carry out engagement activities. If you want the benefits, you need to plan the investment.
– Negotiate administrative support early, to help with booking venues, paying people for participation, etc.
– I pre=scripted everything non-reactionary in the online chat. i.e. all the welcome messages and pre-planned questions were written in advance so I could copy-paste. That left me free to focus on responding to the contributions of participants.
Optimizely’s Best Practices & Lessons Learned from 30,000 A/B and Multivariate Tests video is an advert for A/B testing in general, and for Optimizely Optimizely as a tool for running and creating tests.
This video features some useful examples of multivariate tests done during the Obama campaign. Here’s my summary:
Nothing is sacred. Question assumptions
Explore before you refine
Less is more
Some content experiments: – One Kings Lane: Removing 2 fields led to an 8.4% increase in signups
– Clinton Bush Haiti Fund: Removing title field and phone number field saw an 10.9% increase in the $value of each visitor’s donation
– AVG Australia: Removing links from the checkout process increased the $ value of each visitor by 16.8%
Words matter. Focus on your call to action.
– Donate Now, Please Donate, Why Donate?, Donate and Get a Gift, Contribute: which is better? The status of the individual makes a difference to which of these options is most effective: new people respond best to “Donate and Get a Gift” (+15.2% $ per pageview compared to Donate Now); people who have signed up but never donated responded best to “Please Donate” (+27.8%), and people who have previously donated responded best to “Contribute” (+18.4%)
– Clinton Bush Haiti Fund’s donate form – changing the confirmation button from “Submit” to “Support Haiti” increased $ per visitor by 15.75%.
You can get statistically significant results very quickly.
Q: How many variations should you test at once?
Tradeoff between breadth of test and speed of reaching statistical significance.
A good starting point is to test with 4 variations, then take the top 2 and test them again.
Q: What percentage of website traffic should you allocate to a test?
You can control this per experiment.
They recommend allocating as much as you can, to reach statistical significance sooner.
Q: Can you target specific types of visitors?
You can choose to target all, new, or returning visitors.
Q: How do you target paid traffic?
Do this with the targeting interface: trigger by origin location, or match certain query parameters (eg utm_source)
Q: How do you test dynamic pages?
Go to interactive mode to make the dynamic stuff happen.
Tell us when you want to activate optimizely. By default it loads on page load; but you can activate it manually through the API.
Q: Does Optimizely work for pages behind logins or paywalls?
Yes, as long as you’ve added the snippet to the page.
Q: How do you test big changes to a page, or test a new page against an old one?
If you want to test a big change to a page, or test against an old page, you can make it so that visitors selected for a specific variation are redirected to another URL. (Make sure that the snippet is on both pages)
Q: How do you test server-side changes? i.e. where the variations are reflected on the backend and not just on the front end (eg graphics). Eg price variations.
Q: How soon to pull the plug on a variation when it looks like it’s not performing well?
A: Wait until you get statistical significance. The early days of at test may not be truly representative.
On Friday 7 November, Twitter UK hosted ‘Twitter for Good’ at their London offices.
There was an initial presentation aimed at a broad group, presumably ranging from people who don’t use twitter through to charities making heavy use of the platform. This meant that there was a good range of material explaining and selling the platform as a whole. There were also some good statistics on the behaviour (and, implicitly, value) of twitter users to charities:
Propensity of twitter users to give
96% of UK twitter users have donated to charity this year. 50% follow charities. Of these, 53% have donated after a tweet #twitterforgood
We’re currently thinking about Data Protection, so I wonder how easy it would be to integrate twitter cards into our overall data capture setup.
This event signals the intent of twitter to deepen engagement with charities
Twitter’s interest is to deepen an extend use of its platform – and, implicitly, to monetise this use. To my surprise, adverts weren’t mentioned at all. I guess growing an engaged user base is the key challenge; advertising comes second.
I’m looking forward to what may happen next. Could twitter operate as a hub for charities sharing best practice, and for condensing and disseminating these practices back to the twitter-using charity community? There’s clear mutual benefit there. Hopefully we’ll see some developments in the new year.
I oppose GamerGate, and I’d like to explain why. Please be aware that much of what follows is unpleasant and NSFW.
GamerGate began on unsound foundations
GamerGate started off with Eron Gjoni posting an angry rant about his ex-girlfriend Zoe Quinn. Zoe Quinn was accused of using a sexual relationship with journalist Nathan Grayson to obtain favourable coverage for her work.
This claim isn’t convincing: Grayson never wrote a review of Quinn’s work, and the article that he did write which mentioned her work was published before they were in a relationship.
But even if these claims were convincing, GamerGaters targeted the wrong person. Grayson was the journalist, yet Quinn was the target of vitriol. If GamerGate is a movement about ethics in games journalism, I would have expected it to focus on the journalist.
I don’t think that policing the sexual conduct of one female indie game developer is the best way to make the case for ethical improvements to games journalism. If you are concerned with unethical actions of games producers or publishers, I think it’s much more useful and courageous to focus not on minor indie developers, but on big AAA publishers. These are the companies who have the power to undermine ethical games journalism, and who actually have a track record in doing so.
There are real, known ethical issues in games journalism, but GamerGate doesn’t seem to be focusing on them
GamerGate did not arise in response to the following ethical breaches:
A retail chain owning a gaming publication. (The same company owns Game Informer magazine and Game Stop games stores.)
Journalists being fired for standing up to the demands of a publisher. (Jeff Gertsmann being sacked from GameSpot after posting a negative review of Kane & Lynch)
Product placement in Youtube reviews. (Geoff Keighley being interviewed by Pixel Perfect with product placements for Halo 4, Doritos and Mountain Dew)
PR companies controlling the editorial output of reviews. (Plaid Social requiring Youtube reviewers of Middle Earth Shadows of Mordor to submit their reviews for approval before publication.)
Certain publications being granted exclusive early preview access, incentivizing them to produce positive copy. (Eg IGN First.)
Out of concern for journalistic ethics, GamerGate has challenged journalists using Patreon, which has led to Kotaku banning its journalists from using Patreon, and to Polygon requiring staff to disclose Patreon use.
But this relatively small area of attack doesn’t address the above concerns. Nor does it identify or seek to challenge the key conflict of ethics at the heart of games journalism. As this article published on Deadspin puts it: “From the top down, publishers ranging from AAA behemoths like Electronic Arts to the IndieCade crowd do in fact enjoy symbiotic relationships with gaming media outlets, and if it came down to nothing more than sex and petty corruption, that would be nice, because the problem would certainly be a lot more easily solved.” In short, games companies have a vested interest in supporting journalists to promote their games. Changing Patreon policy in a few places doesn’t challenge this core problem.
So far I haven’t seen GamerGate seriously engage with ethical questions in games journalism. But I have seen GamerGate actively working to attack journalistic ethics.
GamerGate’s main campaigning effort directly opposes journalistic ethics
Gamergaters have attempted to punish sites that they disagree with, by acting to remove their advertising revenue. As a result of Operation Disrespectful Nod, Gamasutra lost advertising from Intel; Gawker lost advertising BMW, Mercedes (later reinstated, I believe) and Adobe.
If GamerGaters are unhappy that the press is not sufficiently independent and principled, attempting to influence publications by lobbying advertisers to withdraw their adverts seems like an odd move. The aim of Operation Disrespectful Nod appears to be to make the press less independent and to intimidate journalists who hold opinions that GamerGate supporters disagree with. In other words, this course of action suggests that GamerGate is opposed to ethics in games journalism.
I want to look at sexism now, as it’s a dominant theme of GamerGate.
GamerGate is an opportunity to attack women
GamerGate coincides with a wave of threats of violence against women. Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu have recently left their homes in response to threats of violence.
Some people have dismissed these threats as publicity stunts: e.g. “Let’s be honest. We’re all used to feeling a niggling suspicion that “death threats” sent to female agitators aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And indeed there is no evidence that any violent threat against a prominent female figure in the media or technology industry has ever been credible.”
I strongly disagree with this. If someone is making something up they probably wouldn’t go to the FBI with evidence. And violence against women is a big problem, and not just something that people make up on the internet to get attention. In Britain, more than a million women experience domestic violence each year. The UK government reports that approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year, that over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year, and that 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. We need to take threats of rape and violence seriously, not as the currency or cost of online discourse.
Some people have said that the women being attacked online have brought things upon themselves.e.g. “goading people into making unpleasant remarks and then using those statements to publicly beg for sympathy and cash,” or “They’ve become professional victims.” I think this is incorrect. I haven’t seen any deliberately inflammatory material put out by Sarkeesian or Quinn prior to their being attacked. Rather, I think that their main ‘crime’ has been speaking about and analysing games. Regardless, nothing justifies rape or death threats. To say that Quinn, Sarkeesian etc have brought things on themselves is to harness a common misdirection in our culture: blaming the victim of a crime rather than the perpetrator. In GamerGate as with society more generally, it’s wrong.
Anita Sarkeesian should have nothing to do with GamerGate. Her Kickstarter-funded project Tropes vs Women in Video Games is an example of open, clean funding for independent journalism. But Sarkeesian has been under attack since before GamerGate, and things have intensified:
Women engaging with GamerGate in a cautious, neutral fashion are being attacked.Felicia Day aired her concerns about being attacked if she shared her views on GamerGate: “I realized my silence on the issue was not motivated by some grand strategy, but out of fear that the issue has created about speaking out… I am terrified to be doxxed [having your public contact details / address shared] for even typing the words “Gamer Gate”. I have had stalkers and restraining orders issued in the past, I have had people show up on my doorstep when my personal information was HARD to get.” Day’s article included passages like “Games are beautiful, they are creative, they are worlds to immerse yourself in. They are art. And they are worth fighting for, even if the atmosphere is ugly right now.” She was doxxed shortly after publishing this post.
Jennifer Allaway was working on a study to understand “the importance of diversity in game content to game players, and whether or not the game industry is able to predict this desire.” Gamergaters discovered her survey and spammed it with loads of sexist entries. “if you’re even asking about equality or diversity in games, being shouted down in a traumatizing manner is now a mandatory step that you have to sit back and endure.” “Had #Gamergate participated in my survey honestly, as a researcher, I would gladly have taken their data… But instead, #Gamergate left me with hundreds of replies consisting of bald-faced mockery and threats.”
But men are safe to participate in online discussions about GamerGate, even if totally inflammatory.
Chris Kluwe, former American Football player, wrote an article on Why #Gamergaters Piss Me The F*** Off, in which he called GamerGaters “Basement-dwelling, cheetos-huffing, poopsock-sniffing douchepistols”, and a load of other things, and did not get doxxed.
And for the record, none of you fucking #Gamergate tools tried to dox me, even after I tore you a new one. I'm not even a tough target.
I haven’t seen sexualised, violent abuse and doxxing levelled against JonTron and Adam Baldwin, prominent figures in the pro-GamerGate movement. This suggests that there is a problem with the treatment of women in GamerGate. As such, I was not convinced when Huffington Post Live asked two women who support GamerGate whether equality is important and needs talking about, and the response was that “This has nothing to do with women. It is about journalistic integrity,” and that sexism in gaming “isn’t really an issue”. From the evidence I’ve seen, I disagree. Of course, not all GamerGate supporters are sending rape and death threats. But GamerGate supporters do seem to have a women problem. Gender seems to be more of an issue than ethics here. Where’s all this gender stuff coming from?
GamerGaters feel that (feminist) critics are vilifying gamers
Lots of the complaints against Sarkeesian or ‘Social Justice Warriors’ are based on the idea that gamers are being vilified and victimized because some material in games is being called out and analysed as sexist:
e.g. “culture warriors, who thrive in an atmosphere of fear and moral condemnation … the entire gaming community is attacked as a pack of bigoted savages corrupted by gaming tropes”
e.g. “#GamerGate supporters are constantly being told they’re horrible, misogynistic, gross nerds who just want to harass women, so they’re perpetually on the defensive.”
(Around 22:40 in this Huffington Post Live video) “We just want to enjoy games without being told we’re horrendous people for doing so.”
I don’t think that this stance stands up to scrutiny. Anita Sarkeesian is not calling gamers terrible people in her criticism. (NB that criticism in this context means “intellectual analysis” not “saying something is rubbish”.) At the start of each of her Tropes vs Women in Games videos, she says that “It’s both possible, and even necessary, to simultaneously enjoy media, while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.” Sarkeesian’s criticism is calm, evidenced, and highlights some games as positive counter-examples:
Similarly, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a news site that has been attacked by GamerGate, responded with an assertion of values saying that “It is possible to criticise games and gamers, while at the same time being a gamer, loving games, loving gamers.” This is a really important point.
There is a real sense of gendered grievance in GamerGate, so let’s explore it a little more.
GamerGate is a reaction against feminism, ‘social justice warriors’ and the broadening of what is meant by games and gamers
Daniel Vávra: “The root cause of Gamer Gate [is that] people had enough of those hypocrites that started to inject their ideology everywhere… accusing millions of people of misogyny…”
Xbro: “I’ve personally been against the phenomena of ‘social justice warriors’, as well as the path certain gaming publications have taken in recent years (more and more discussions on morals, feminism, misogyny and other non-game related issues, and less talk about actual games and the industry).”
In the Huffington Post Live interview (about 9:40) one participants argues that it isn’t appropriate for a game to be criticised for being sexist in a review, that reviews should be objective and about mechanics.
I disagree here. Criticism should be, and always has been, about more than mechanics. Criticism is also about theme, dialogue, writing, art direction and pace. And if a game is sexist or racist or homophobic, I’d want to know about it because that’s a factor in how much I’d enjoy the game – and in some cases whether I’d even play the game at all.
I support criticism of games, and greater diversity and more inclusiveness in games, because it’s good and because it makes games better
I’m pleased to see games increasingly subject to intellectual and cultural analysis – it’s a sign of the medium becoming more respected. I’m also pleased to see games becoming more diverse in their subject matter, themes and mechanics, and in games being produced by a wider range of people for a wider range of purposes. The demographic of gamers has shifted so that it’s no longer male-dominated. The majority of gamers are now women (see research by the Internet Advertising Bureau and by SuperData Research).
No one’s going to stop people playing Call of Duty – particularly not as it remains massively profitable – but maybe we can consume other games that are totally different. As games become more diverse, we can play through a broader range of exciting, interesting, challenging stories and challenges. I’m pleased to see journalists respond to this change.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun stated that “We’d love gamers to mean ‘everybody’. It can mean everybody, if we let it.” I hope and expect to see games continue to develop and grow as a unique and awesome artistic medium. But to fully realise this, we need to let everyone speak, think and create. If we want gaming to flourish, let’s take ethics seriously and build an open, critical, loving community.