Update on AmazonFail

First off, it has been noted that the de-ranking wasn’t limited to GLBT issues and erotica, but also notably affected books on disability and sexuality as well as feminist books, books on sexuality, and books on topics such as suicide prevention and rape.

In terms of the massive PR fail that has been going on, Amazon went from the vague and not very credible “glitch” explanation to this:

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

Here are some good posts that point out the flaws with Amazon’s explanation:
This Is Not A Glitch, #amazonfail
Seattle PI has new #amazonfail statement
Amazon’s censorship sparks angry protests
Amazon Rep: This was not a “glitch”
Amazon Is Embarrassed By “Ham-Fisted Cataloging Error”

There’s also the disconcerting parallel between the pattern of the feature/glitch/whatever showing up on books from smaller presses first and only after some time has passed does it start showing up on books where people are likely to notice. As Lilith Saintcrow explains:

Now. Do you remember the Amazon POD fiasco? Cliffs Notes version: Amazon tried to take over a significant chunk of the print-on-demand industry by quietly removing “buy” buttons from small-press POD publishers who didn’t use Amazon’s POD service. The buttons would come back–if you switched to Amazon’s POD service, in essence giving them a bigger cut. It was greed pure and simple, and they started it with smaller presses and only backed off when there was a bit of a hullabaloo and larger presses (who still use POD technology) banded together to tell Amazon where to stick it.

We have the same pattern with AmazonFail. First very small press/authors are targeted, probably to gauge how big of a stink they’ll raise. If Amazon is not convinced the outcry will outweigh the (perhaps perceived) profits, it slowly mounts until Amazon has captured what it wants. The fact that Amazon has shot itself in the foot with this does not mean it wasn’t a deliberate step taken with another end in mind.

We also need to examine the implications behind Amazon having paid someone money to code this feature — regardless of whether this incident was a policy, a “glitch”, a mistake or whatever. Patrick does this in his post Amazonfail & The Cost of Freedom:

Think for a second about what Amazon did here. In the world of ecommerce, the search is king. Almost everybody who shops online visits a site to find a specific product. By intentionally obscuring and manipulating the search results of your site, you are making a clear statement: We don’t want you to read these books. I can tell you from experience that if something is difficult to find through a search, it will not sell. Not only was this a suspicious action on Amazon’s part, it had the potential to be very “successful” (ie, it would’ve greatly decreased the sales of those titles).

After quoting the above, Lilith Saintcrow responds with:

Exactly. This powerful weapon was created FOR A REASON. No company spends money on a tool that powerful that they don’t intend on using. A huge squawk over it being used improperly one time will not stop it from being used improperly in the future as soon as the hubbub dies down–but greater choice in Internet suppliers might.

In terms of how I’m feeling about the issue, Amazon isn’t getting my money even if it does offer an apology. I feel pretty much the way that are pretty much summed up in Kelley Eskridge’s take on Amazonfail from a managerial perspective:

Amazon is perceived right now as everything from deeply clueless to desperately stonewalling to deliberately deceptive. And of all the errors you can make as a manager, this is the worst — to communicate in a way that distances people even further. Amazon will never fully regain credibility with many of its customers, and they have no one to blame but themselves. They gave a generic “Daddy’s working on it” answer to a deeply divisive situation; they communicated “at” stakeholders instead of directly to them, on their own online turf; and they have so far refused to engage with the notion that people aren’t just curious or concerned, they are offended.

Lilith Saintcrow’s amazonfail-related entries is probably the most comprehensive breakdown I’ve seen yet and I would highly recommend reading through all of them.

Debunking the "profits come first" myth

If you have ever criticized an ad campaign, commercial, or anything that’s even remotely related to marketing for pushing a bigoted viewpoint, you will undoubtedly have come up against the argument that of course the reason the product is being marketed that way is because it’s more profitable. A company would never do anything to compromise its profits!

Which is, of course, bullshit. Many people have demonstrated how such campaigns hurt profit margins, rather than help them. The response is, of course, “but it doesn’t make sense for companies to put bigoted agendas over profits (and therefore they must have some secret knowledge about why it’s more profitable to discriminate against non-privileged groups)”. Before now I had never really had a good response to that argument (I was too busy being shocked at the leap of faith required to continue to believe that marketing is doing the best thing in the face of pretty damning evidence). But, thankfully, BetaCandy has recently blogged about her experiences learning to be a screenwriter, which has given rise to a discussion about how a non-profitable system perpetuates itself among industries that are supposed to be driven by profit.

In her post Why discriminate if it doesn’t profit?, she takes on the mindset that explains why the “profits come first” argument is, in fact, a myth:

The question this brings to mind is: why would they discriminate against a group when there’s more profit to be made by doing the right thing? That’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer.

n comments on the above-linked entry, I explained that I think it boils down to ego. Even greed is fueled by ego – it’s the ego that wants more than enough so it feels safe or better than its neighbors. It’s the ego that wants to feel important, unique, successful. Eliminating entire clumps of humanity from the “race” your ego thinks it’s in is a quick way to get rid of competition. It’s the same question you have to ask about store owners and restaurateurs who refused to serve African-American patrons whose money was as green as everyone else’s. They sacrificed profit, and for what? Ego.

But that’s not necessarily the only answer. Laziness is also a factor.

I would highly recommend reading the full post.

For male gamers and readers, something embarrassing

The backstory: Assassin’s Creed is one of the most anticipated games of the year. When Yahoo! is talking about your game on the front-page, you know the buzz is pretty significant. The producer for this game is Jade Raymond who, like the lead-producer of every other game created in the modern age, gives a good portion of the interviews with the press. That is, if you’re a producer of a game and you’re noticeably articulate, you’re the one talking about it, you don’t tell the advertising executive or the intern to do that. As the game is being released, a comic/drawing surfaces, most infamously on the Something Awful forums depicting Jade performing fellatio on male fanboys (not to be confused with the photoshopped nude photos of Jade that are floating around). This comic is seen and shared by members of the SA forums at which point Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka of SA receives a cease and desist/threat of lawsuit letter from the legal representation of Ubisoft telling them to shut it all down and to let them know everything about where they get the image, who drew it, etc. At this point, the story becomes popular outside of SA and other blogs start picking it up, forming their own opinions (yes, just like me and just like this one). The story appears on digg and with it a rash of the most sexist comments (and some countering the sexist comments) appear.

The fact that someone felt the need to draw a pornographic comic of Jade Raymond is in itself is pretty disturbing. But what’s also mind-numbing is the consequent backlash you read from the blogosphere because Ubisoft dropped the hammer on SA. Reading some of the comments on SA, on digg and you start to see a trend. Most notably, the criticisms of Jade and Ubisoft go something like this:

1. It’s just a drawing. You made it a bigger deal than it was. By you making the lawsuit you just drew more attention to it so now more people know about it.
-Actually, no, I think it was SA who posted it on Digg saying that they were being contacted the attorney from Ubisoft so in fact they brought it to the public. It seems like Ubisoft wanted to keep this matter under wraps but Kyanka wanted to appeal to the public and get sympathy from the digg community (which, sadly enough, he actually seems to be getting). But getting back to the larger point, if someone draws something unbelievably offensive about you, you’re supposed to just ignore it? Brush it under the rug? Isn’t this what we tell women who get sexually harassed at work? “You don’t want to cause a fuss, it’s just going to take forever to fix it anyways to better to just ignore it.” If you ignore it then it implies that they don’t think it’s offensive. Ubisoft is doing what any employer should do when one of their own gets attacked like this: you stick up for your staff. Ubisoft is doing the right thing.

2. She’s just a pretty face who Ubisoft is using to “pimp” the product. She deserves what she’s getting because she’s just a show model for the game.
-Now, I didn’t think anyone would really be this stupid to actually say this publicly but alas, I am proven wrong again.

Quick history lesson. In prehistoric times, pretty cavegirls with cleavage hanging out sold rocks and sticks to horny cavemen. Sex sells. It’s always been that way and will never change. Everyone knows that. So when Ubisoft started pimping Assassin’s Creed, released this week for Xbox360 and PS3, they made pretty girl/producer Jade Raymond the poster child for the game. Whether or not she’s qualified to represent the game, or really had any involvement with its development is besides the point. To the jaded videogame nerd, she’s a set of breasts saying “Buy my game!”

It’s “besides the point”? Really? How is that besides the point? I think it very much is the point. If Ubisoft hired Jade Raymond and sold her as the “producer” and she has no experience or education whatsoever, then of course she’s there as a spokesperson, but Jesus H. Christ, look up her biography, she actually studied this shit as some people have figured out already. How are you going to dismiss the fact that this is what she does for a living? Have you seen one single interview of her talking about the game? There’s an obvious difference between a producer talking about a game and a spokesperson talking about a game and she very obviously is the former.

3. “That a surprise..Jade will act slutty to sell her game but can’t deal with the consequences of that.”
-Now, I haven’t been following this game obsessively since conception to release but since the story of this comic broke out i’ve been watching clips, interviews, reading stories, etc and i’m really struggling to see where this person gets where Jade acts “slutty.” She doesn’t pose for Playboy or Maxim, she doesn’t take “sexy” photographs (I mention these things becase they’re usually seen as indicators of one being “slutty”). I honestly think that his perception of “slutty” is Jade merely being in a stereotypically male-dominated space and simply being a woman, being attractive and having pictures of herself online where she’s smiling and looking happy and actually being confident, intelligent and articulate.

I can’t begin to imagine how something like this has to make a person feel after all the hard work they’ve put into something like this. After all the crap that she’s probably already gotten on the daily as a woman in the video game industry, to have this incredible achievement in her career marked by a select few idiots who decided to try and reduce her to a sex-object. Let’s make no mistake here, the men who do this are uncomfortable at the idea of women in power and women being in spaces where they see it being male-dominated. The men who do shit like this draw comics of women professionals performing oral sex on their “male fanbase” because it’s their literal attempt at inverting the actual reality: a woman producer is at the helm of an innovative game that is getting a lot of buzz and people are buying up in hordes. I don’t think these men can accept the fact that Jade is a success, I really don’t. I don’t think they can accept the fact that she did this without posing in Playboy or pandering to their ideas of what those Game Expos say women should look like and do to sell a product: wear practically nothing, smile, pose for pictures and just look pretty.

3 steps on how to attempt on fixing this mess:
1. If the comic is still around somewhere, delete the image of the comic, delete links to it, delete posts to it.
2. Apologize. To Jade. Whether you created the comic or spread the image or posted it on a forum.
3. Shut up about the game being some advertising ploy with Jade as the sex-tool. You’re going to make judgements about someone’s credibility as a professional when you don’t even know them? You’re going to base everything on her being a woman and you believing that she doesn’t belong in what you see as a “man’s space”? Really?

Angry Black Woman on Political Correctness

Angry Black Woman has an excellent piece on “political correctness”. In Defense of Political Correctness explores the attitudes behind disparaging PC-ness and why we shouldn’t accept them.

An excerpt:

My guess is that, since I have never been clear on what exactly “Politically Correct” is and have never fought for my particular PC label, I have not properly cemented the concept in my mind. Therefore, my opinion of it is easily, if not sneakily, swayed. I wasn’t paying enough attention. When I sat down and thought about how I really felt about Political Correctness, I decided that it really is a good thing. A thing worth fighting for. It’s not negative, it’s not a curse word, and it’s not about suppressing free speech or policing anyone’s thoughts.

I think it’s time that people started defending Political Correctness. Articulating what it is, what it isn’t, and why it’s still important. Political Correctness is about language and the power language has. I’m a writer. I believe — no, I know — that language is a powerful weapon. Changing language is one of the key ways to change society for the better. Language is one of the key ways in which people in power maintain the status quo. Changing language, by itself, won’t solve the world’s problems. No one thing will. But there are always key factors. Language is one.

Go read the whole thing.

Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities: follow-up

I just wanted to do a quick follow-up on my Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities, posting some relevant links.

First up is Lake Desire with her thoughts on my piece. My favourite part is where she says this:

I want to be able to speak up in mainstream places without being ignored, having my character attacked, or called names. But I’m not willing to grow a thicker skin, to censor myself, to have to constantly, preemptively watch my back. I’m not asking for special treatment, just to be treated with respect owed to all human beings. Until the mainstream is ready for that, I’ll continue to blog from the margins where I can call some shots.

Next is something not related to gaming, but related to the incident that spawned my post. Apparently my reference to Something Awful was closer to the truth than I knew. Richie over at Criticisms has the scoop on Lowtax’s misogynistic and downright hateful response to the Kathy Sierra incident (warning: reading through that entire thread is downright depressing).

And so as not to end on too much of a downer, I just wanted to highlight a post by m of my grown-up life, i love being a woman, to remind us why it’s so darn important to not let women’s voices be silenced:

and in the end, i am happy to be a woman. i’m happy to know women who are happy being women. i’m happy to know men who really love women. but most of all, i’m happy that there are folks out there with voices, who can teach girls and women of all ages, my little girl included, that it is a beautiful thing to be born without a y chromosome.

Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities

Sheelzebub has some information on how a tech blogger named Kathy Sierra is being stalked, harassed, and threatened. It reminds me of the time that I got a threatening letter sent to my house because I had banned someone from this blog. It frightened my dad (whose house my domain was registered to) enough that I thought he might make me stop blogging. Instead I ended up convincing Dreamhost to offer privacy protection services — apparently getting a threatening letter sent to my house was a good enough reason to overcome their reservations about the idea — and life continued on as normal.

Sheelzebub hits on another point that I have thought of before, especially when I used to get all those “you’re censoring my freedom of speech!” complaints [emphasis mine]:

This is silencing. For all of the whining about freedom! of! speech! what these morons in this case, what the sniveling twits over at AutoAdmit don’t get, is that harassing, stalking, and threatening someone silences them. When someone’s too afraid to speak at a conference thanks to some graphic and nasty threats she got, she’s been silenced. And for any jerkoff who wants to go on and on about how she’s “letting them win” (because I know the concern trolls out there folks) get it straight–you’re not the one dealing with this.

I also think that flaming someone silences them. Bringing it back to Kotaku for a second (and then I seriously don’t want to think about those wankers again for a long time) — you can add sites like Destructoid, though it’s not nearly as vicious in terms of editorial content as Kotaku is — these sites silence women. Continue reading

Is gender inclusive game design important?

Q: Is gender inclusive game design important?
A: Yes.

For anyone familiar with my blog, you’ll know already that I take the above answer as a given in most of my posts. But today I got an e-mail from my sister. She’s taking an Online Games Seminar for her law degree (you know, if they had more classes like that I might be persuaded to go to law school after all…) and gave me a link to one of her required readings: Playing with Fire: When Advergaming Backfires.

Her request? That I write a short blurb on whether or not I think it’s okay to have avatars of only one sex in a game without a darn good reason. The short answer to that is, of course, is that I think it not only ruins gameplay (for women and men who like and respect women), but it also reinforces the “no girls allowed” message that we find in so many places in society.

Since I can never just be short and leave it at that, my long answer is behind the cut. Continue reading

Male responsibility in ending the cycle of discrimination

A real life example and another reasons why men need to call other men out on their shit. This is an area that women cannot make any progress in because we’re not part of the male homosocial group.

In her post, Distinguished Schmuck Visits, Misbehaves, Zuska relates an incident of sexual discrimination that happened to a female science professor while her male colleague looked on in horror. The guy, of course, only waited until after the discriminator had left to say something about it. Zuska says that it isn’t good enough and gives an example of how it should have gone down.

She then goes onto say this:

Sadly, few men think like this. They need training. They need training to the effect that THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR INTERRUPTING THE CYCLE OF DISCRIMINATION. It’s not all on our shoulders to figure out the solutions. They have to figure out how to re-socialize each other. They are plenty good at socializing each other how to be Real Men and How To Be Macho and How Not To Be A Wimp And A Pussy. They are perfectly capable of letting each other know when one of them has Behaved Like A Faggot, You Wuss. They are good at reminding each other Not To Cry Like A Little Girl. Clearly, they do have this mechanism built in for communicating to each other expected norms for male social behavior. So I don’t think it’s asking all that much to expect the more enlightened among them to start using that mechanism to pressure the dolts, schmucks, and morons to start acting like decent human beings, even if they can’t be made to think like such.

So, to all you would-be REAL Nice Guys (TM) out there (and this can go for REAL Nice People (TM) too — whites, straights, cisgendered people, etc), take heed of this. You want to be a REAL nice person? You gotta do your part to mold socialization because if seeing discrimination makes you feel uncomfortable, think how the person being discriminated against feels.

Via She’s Such a Geek! Blog.