Thursday, February 17, 2022

Nora Reed (Goons on Trial pt 3)

 Part one here - Part two here


Day three of explaining about the goons. If you want the more detailed version--go to that link and vote.


For the last three years, the atmosphere over here has been a lot like a bad '70s outlaw country song: Risk, gambles, waiting for The Judge, going down to the courthouse, goddamn this town, known pornographers, long trips in cars (to avoid the plague), strangers in masks buying you shots because they see the look in your eye, tarot card readings from strippers who are also witnesses, heartfelt letters from dead friends' parents, testifying. This is mostly what I do now.


There is a lot of the physical world. Reality. It is a constant reminder of how much of the physical world is not visible anywhere in the goon's universe.


We come now to Nora Reed.


I am unaware of ever having interacted directly with Nora Reed. I don't know what Nora Reed thinks I did to deserve Nora Reed, I don't know which of Nora Reed's standard-issue hard-left political positions Nora Reed fantasizes I would disagree with (none I can find), I don't know what Nora Reed has to do with games, I don't know who the man Nora Reed imagines when they imagines me or what, in Nora's mind, that Zak cares about or what his motives could be.


I do know what Nora Reed thinks of Nora Reed as Nora does tend to tweet about it a lot. I also know:

  • Nora began smearing me in the 20teens, parroting the same shit all the other goons say.
  • Nora also harasses: Joe Biden, fashion designer and Project Runway judge Isaac Mizrahi, the twitter support staff, author/journalist Sarah Kendzior, Steven Colbert, game designer Luke Crane, several mayors and public officials, and dozens of other seemingly random targets.
  • Nora builds twitter bots that also harass people by calling them names. Nobody can explain why.
  • Nora has been thrown off twitter for harassment multiple times.
  • Nora brands themself as an anti-harassment activist.
  • I cannot find any conversation where Nora begins by disagreeing with a fellow human being that doesn't end with Nora attacking them.
  • Nora admits to being a troll.
  • Nothing ever seems to happen offline to Nora.
  • Nora has over 10,000 followers anyway and some of them are reading this.

Like with the other goons, I got the therapist to take a look at Nora's tweets and try to figure out why Nora is doing all this. 


The shrink, based on Nora's online communications, said:

Nora says they have anxiety and depression and the meds they say they're taking support that (although it is a strange mix) but there are also strong indications of something like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.


Compulsions and anxiety are often related, you're doing something in order to reduce anxiety--often around specific obsessive worries.

In the DSM OCD is marked by...
"Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive, unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress."

Nora describes that kind of thinking in tweets. The DSM then describes compulsions themselves this way:

"The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation. However, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent or are clearly excessive."

Repeatedly writing "eat shit" to targets who will just see you as one more troll and block you or creating bots which you admit don't do anything useful as a way of expressing anger at those targets could fit the bill of a compulsion.


Ironically, a high degree of social anxiety can lead to this kind of depersonalized aggression against strangers. The anxious person can only want to have conversations with people they've already decided are "Ok" so they can't talk to someone they want to attack and learn they might have been wrong.

This could be what's happening: Nora's constant online aggression looks like it could be a loop which starts when Nora feels anxiety about something, then Nora lashes out at a target they feel is associated with it to try to feel better, the target often doesn't realize that Nora's speech act isn't really communication and responds by communicating back. But in this scenario, they're really just interacting with a symptom. Nora started the "conversation" to vent and never intended to voice a constructive criticism the target can address, and this response from the target makes Nora more anxious (anxious people don't like confrontation) and aggressive and the cycle starts again.

Although Nora refers to having a therapist, the fact that they haven't taken any steps to stop or mitigate the harm they've done suggests that Nora hasn't framed this online behavior to the therapist as something to work on and the therapist likely doesn't even know about it.

As for why they'd believe or pretend to believe the things they say about you in particular, it may be that the loop is part of a distraction from thinking too hard about it or they may just be one more person with cluster personality disorders like with the examples you showed me earlier.  Or they're just gullible.

So that's Nora. Next time I think: Freyja Erlings.




Monday, February 14, 2022

Nickoten and Erika Muse (Goons on Trial Pt 2)

Part One Here

Today we'll start with a pair of Something Awful goons that have somehow ended up in the same community they started their online careers helping to harass: Erika Muse and Nickoten.

This is the simple version of what I found out about them over the last three years, if you want more details: vote here.

Doctors Not Lawyers

Since February 2019, I will take any opportunity to talk to any lawyer, especially in person--former judge, current DA, public defender, divorce lawyer, patent lawyer, someone on the side of a bus, whatever. I buy them lunch and ask them questions.

Lawyers--to a one--have never seen anything quite like gamers online. They are confused by this behavior. They are mystified in a near-literal sense: as if they are in the presence of a phenomenon not explicable to mortal reason, to ideas not native to the sublunary plane. Why would anyone do these things? 

To put it bluntly, lawyers are used to a world where people:

  • do bad things
  • and then pretend they didn't

Not one where they:

  • do bad things
  • then brag about it on the internet to an audience of thousands while also bragging about how much damage the bad thing caused the victim and how many other bad things they did, too, to the same victim, and also how they had no genuine reason for doing it
This happens in movies, a lawyer will tell you, not real life. 

In Australia, I had to explain Ettin to the lawyers over and over. They would be about to file the paperwork, get it wrong, I would have to correct them, then they'd have to re-edit it, and there would be another mistake. 

What they didn't get was how little work they needed to do--how little they had to argue or conjecture--the dude had left a paper trail of admitting he did it a mile wide.

"Wait, are you saying...?"

"Yes."

"I mean this is a conclusion you've drawn? He didn't say that..."

"No, check it, here's the tweet"

"Holy motherc(inappropriate and highly Australian language)!"

Goons exhaust the understanding of lawyers, to grasp this shit, you need doctors.


"I don't agree with me but you have to"

Here is one that's really hard to explain:

All of this harassment started because of my opposition to a pair of conservative positions that the majority of people harassing us no longer hold or defend.


The first position I opposed was:

Sexy things in RPGs are either the result of-, or the cause of-, men being bad.

Almost nobody now publicly holds this position because a lot of LGBTQ activists got sick of pretending they don't fuck or don't want to look hot a few years ago. We'll talk more about why later maybe but it's not important today.


The second position I opposed was:

The only reason to play or be interested in an old edition of Dungeons and Dragons was nostalgia or because you have serious personality flaws (racism, sexism, homophobia etc).

Almost nobody now publicly holds this position because a bunch of loud, creative aggressive and aggressively diverse Old School fans and creators repeatedly finally got recognized for existing.

At some point the indie gamers developed enough sense of shame to grasp that it was embarrassing to try to tell Scrap Princess or Fiona Geist that homebrewed old-school D&D games were inherently transphobic or to try to tell Zedeck Siew or Ramanan Sivanjaran that playing D&D was inherently colonialist.




Erika Muse aka Icequeenerika aka Arivia

  • As of about a decade ago the denizens of Something Awful's RPG forum--also known as goons--still embraced both of the above positions.
  • The goons aggressively harassed OSR creators in the name of these positions.
  • I asked them to stop--they claimed it was abuse to ask them to stop.
  • One of these goons was someone named Erika Muse aka Icequeenerika on twitter aka Arivia on Something Awful.
  • Erika definitely no longer holds at least the second position since she spends a tremendous amount of time on the OSR discord talking about all the things she knows about playing and enjoying OSR games and interacting with the diverse OSR community there.
  • Erika has never acknowledged that this means that her goon friends were, objectively, lying for years and harassing creators for no reason.

Here are some interactions with Erika from the early years of the harassment campaign:


I asked her why she'd believe I abused anyone online despite there being no proof, she said she believed anyone who is "less privileged" in any dispute.


There are lots of obvious flaws in this system. For example, my ex- Michelle, a major witness in the current cases who says the claims against me are bullshit, is a black woman, and so less privileged than Erika's Something Awful friends. So that's a checkmate.




And some more recent reality problems from Erika:


And one last example which is like wow...


So let's review what we just saw:
  • Erika has a bunch of friends who spent all their time lying about a game scene and she knows they were lying because she hangs out in that scene all the time.
  • Despite knowing they lied about that she still believes other claims they made about alleged online abuse, sans proof. (Again: she admits to not having proof.)
  • Her faith is based on the principle that you have to believe the least privileged person in any argument, which principle she then ignores when it proves her friends are lying.
  • She also admits to being illogical.
  • She fabricates imaginary scenarios out of thin air, against easily-acquirable hard proof:
  • 1 Claims that I'm forcing women out of games literally "as much as I can" despite hours of videotape proving I ran an all-female game group.
  • 2 Claims I'm banned from a random website I'm obviously not banned from.
  • 3 Imagines a bizarre violent necrophiliac scenario exists out of nowhere in one of my games. A published game that people can check.

And there's way more than this. Erika's not well.

A therapist took a look at Erika's recorded online behavior, here is what that therapist said, verbatim:

Erika's interactions are concerning—there are behaviors here consistent with Cluster A personality disorder symptoms in the DSM*, including (and these are direct quotes):

-suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving her;

-reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events;

-quick to react angrily or to counterattack;

and

 -suspiciousness or paranoid ideation.

If she doesn't actually believe the things she's saying that's also concerning and suggests Cluster B traits, like Antisocial PD**.


Nickoten


  • Nickoten's story is very much like Erika's: hung out on Something Awful while the goons were claiming OSR games weren't fun for anyone but nostalgic bigots yet hangs out now on the OSR discord among living proof that none of that was ever true.
  • Nickoten was a teenager back while Erika was harassing victims in 2014 and all his knowledge of that stuff seems to be second-hand.
  • Nickoten says he's a lawyer.
  • Like Erika, Nickoten just makes shit up:

Obviously nowhere in my court documents does it say I think anyone wrote their smear posts about me out of jealousy about awards or anything else--especially not a guy like former D&D head Mike Mearls who has won more game awards than I ever will. Again, the papers are real easy to check.

So this means, either:

  • Nickoten is lying about being a lawyer and that's why he can't read a legal document.
  • Nickoten is not lying about being a lawyer but can't read a simple legal document (the kind laymen clients are expected to read and check for mistakes all the time).
  • Nickoten is not lying about being a lawyer but just consciously made this up out of nowhere.

Again, Nickoten is not well and not responsible, and admits it:


This is the therapist again, talking about Nickoten's online activity, verbatim:

Again these are also concerning, and we are in the realm of Cluster B traits and Antisocial PD--its characterized by consistent disregard for the rights of others and an apparent willingness to engage in untruthful, deceitful and manipulative actions. 


Community Responsibility


Despite all of this, no one in control of the OSR discord has done anything about the goons' harassment--neither the founder Chris McDowall, his ousted-after-abuse-revelations successor Aura, nor the current owner of the OSR discord, Vayra, have asked Erika and Nickoten to stop posting or at least to stop posting bizare accusations.


Now you might be thinking that this OSR discord place sounds like a glorified 4chan if they're letting goons post there so it's no surprise that they haven't done anything but, no, actually, the OSR discord purports to be a friendly, hugboxy space that is concerned for its users' mental health--it has a mutual aid channel, the rules reference personal boundaries and cultural differences, and, at least during the founder, Chris McDowall's reign, the community wrote out explicit principles about being "a kind place" and about mutual respect and taking care of people.


This is why it's extra disturbing to see this. Nickoten and Erika (and other users on the site who emulate them) need help. But instead of moderators or their friends on the site talking to them and trying to get them off the site and into therapy--or at least to access some kind of other mental health resource--until they can address their problems, the other people just amplify their claims.


I don't have any illusions that the people on the site care enough about them to do that, but it would at least be nice if they admitted they don't, so that people that do know goons might start to realize they themselves have to step in, because the online communities won't.


Obviously neither of these two trust me, but with any luck they might trust someone who read this.


Nickoten and Erika are goons that the community can directly and relatively easily do something to help (though they probably won't), next time we'll look at some tougher nuts to crack.

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*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders--the standard handbook shrink's use to diagnose patients.


**PD=Personality Disorder

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Thursday, February 10, 2022

Do Games Make You Bad?

Note: if you missed yesterday's post there's a thing to vote on at the bottom.


Today we have an old chestnut on the disagree-a-thon, games making people bad...

Zak:

Ok so you're completely untenable claim is: 

"Because a PC is an extension of the player, doing unethical things in character is unethical, chiefly because those actions change the imagined world directly. 

Authors and actors do not face the same problems." 

This makes no sense because the imagined world has no ethical status. Like, kicking a puppy irl hurts a puppy, you can make a right/wrong decision about that. Kicking an imaginary puppy hurts no puppy, therefore there is no right/wrong decision about it.


Ben:

How is the imagined world not an extension of our own? 

It is less impactful, but doing bad things in a collectively imagined world has negative impact


Zak:

That's circular argument. 

Morality and ethics are about avoiding harm. 

Harm requires an entity that is harmed. 

A puppy is an entity. 

An imaginary puppy is not.


Ben:

Ethics are not always about avoiding harm in the same ways, like Mayan religion required sacrifice in order to appease gods. 

That was harm to avoid larger suffering.


Zak:

1. Mayan religion is religion not a real thing. 

2. "can harm and affect people who are participating in it's creation " 

Don't just repeat your thesis. Say how. Outside of triggering someone, how can it negatively affect them? 

Ben:


1. The effects or religious devotion affect the real world

2. By normalizing bad things, inducing fear in other players, enacting racism, and other actions that reflect the person that enacts them


Zak:


1. Yes but it doesn't mean their reasoning was sound so its a bad example

2. Do you have any science backing up that having a bad thing happen in an RPG makes it seem "more normal" to players? D&D has fireballs. I have never seen a player say a fireball was "normal". 


Ben:


1. Yes, but their reasoning i.e. their rationale was a form of ethics. Ethics just means right and wrong, and our right and wrong wasn't theirs

2. Bad things happen, but players doing those bad things knowingly is the problem

Learning by doing is much stronger when people enact vs just read or understand in the abstract, and doing things in RPGs is much closer-and could normalize things


Zak:


1. Yes and theirs was wrong so not relevant unless you are ALSO claiming that there are supernatural forces influencing our destiny. It's not relevant. 

2. I asked if you had any science to back up this claim. Please answer.


Ben:


1. Agreed to a point, I will let it lie for now, I think we can agree that religion is not the core of this

Gimme a sec, will give some examples of learning by doing

Like how it affects learning


Zak:


NOT "learn by doing"

I asked for science about this preposterous claim:

"By normalizing bad things, inducing fear in other players, enacting racism, and other actions that reflect the person that enacts them"

That doing bad things in an RPG leads to normalizing them in real life.

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If you provide examples that people "learn by doing" you are not answering the question at all in any way.


Ben:


So acting things out isn't considered a form of doing?


Zak:


If I want to learn to ski, then of course I can learn to ski by skiing. 

That's totally unrelated to if I don'' want to be a murderer, I can become one against my will by having a PC be a murderer in a pantomime imaginary world of an RPG. 

Those are not connected concepts. 

"Learning by doing" requires someone wants to acquire a skill and so does by actually doing it. 

Your thesis is that someone doesn't want to acquire something that's not even a skill it's a personality trait and somehow acquires it by pretending to have it.


Ben:

Well, that applies heavily to a physical skill. 

Like skiing does not translate to racism, the actions associated are very different, one can be learned and reinforced in the abstract or without physical reinforcement.


Zak:


Yeah they're unrelated that's why your argument makes no sense.

Learning a skill and aacquiring a negative personality trait are not related.

"Learning by doing" is about acquiring a skill. 

So:

Do you have any science showing that someone doing bad things in RPGs leads them to do them in real life? Because without it you are literally repeating the Satanic Panic reasoning all over again. 



Ben:

The satanic panic was not just about rpg, or even at it's core about rpg

Rpg was just a affected thing.


Zak:

Please answer the question you were asked.


Ben:

Trying, but in doing that I have to isolate some things

Yoon, Gunwoo

Vargas, Patrick 

Know Thy Avatar: The Unintended Effect of Virtual-Self Representation on Behavior


Mostly it has to do with the persona involvement or identifying with what they are playing as.


Zak:


Link?


Ben:


https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260117599_Know_Thy_Avatar_The_Unintended_Effect_of_Virtual-Self_Representation_on_Behavior


Zak:


I will read it if necessary, but first: can you summarize the claim the paper makes?


Ben:


Essentially, the participants were more likely to exaggerate or react differently to tasks depending on how long they roleplayed, what they roleplayed as, or how involved or how strongly they identified with their persona given


Zak:


(reads paper--people play either Voldemort or Superman and then are given a test about whether to give a stranger chocolate or chili sauce)

They played for 5 minutes. 

I wouldn't call this a conclusive test especially in the face of the overwhelming research showing (for example) violence in video games does not translate to real-world violence. 

Also, the test of "Good vs evil" was whether they'd give someone chocolate (rated "good" BUT has sugar in it) or chili sauce (rated "bad" but it's not crossing any ethical lines to give someone chili sauce).


Ben:

Of course

Trials like this are very short.


So the effect from roleplaying for a extended period would potentially affect things much more.


And with video games, you have much less agency

It wasn't just the chocolate or chili, but also the amounts.


Zak:

So do you have science which backs up your causual claim not some other causal claim?


Also fwiw, Voldemort is a stupid character invented by a transphobe and if a scientist made me play them in a game I'd be in a bad mood, so this test might not be testing whether I am playing  a good or bad charatcer but whether I am having fun or not and so put in a generous mood or not.


In an RPG, players are generally doing what they want and games where you're Superman are far more common than Voldemort, so it may be just rediscovering that people would rather play Superman than Voldemort.


Ben:

Well, closely related is the use of roleplaying in psychotherapy

Which is well documented

It stands to reason that if used to induce or allow behaviors that are not therapeutic, or reinforcement of behaviors. it could be bad


Zak:

No "it stands to reason". I asked for proof.

So do you have science which backs up your causual claim not some other causal claim?


Ben:

Also, Superman is patriotic and white and male lots of other things, both are very polarizing characters

So I agree that their choice of character could affect things


Zak:

All bad ideas AND good ideas start with someone saying "it stands to reason". What we need is proof of your claim. 

So do you have science which backs up your causual claim not some other causal claim?


Ben:

https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C44&q=roleplaying+in+psychotherapy&oq=roleplaying+

(this is just the results of a google search calling up lots of papers with titles) 

These in aggregate point to roleplaying having an effect on behavior

Zak: 

No. 

You're trying to prove a specific point:

Roleplaying by doing bad things can cause people to do bad things irl/ 

Not a much easier, simpler point that everyone knows: 

Acting out skills you want to have, that you accept are ethically fine to do and that everyone involved thinks you should learn to have can help you learn them. 

I said this already: you are not being asked to prove the obvious, well-known, uncontroversial idea that games can help people learn.  

You are being asked to prove the controversial pseudoscientific claim that games can measurably change your personality for the worse by having your avatar perform bad actions.  

Please address that, not some unrelated thing.


Ben:


That idea has a reverse, the concept that you can learn through roleplaying means that it is obvious people could learn or adopt poor behavior if it is accepted and not challenged  

Which can happen


Zak:


A skill is not personality trait nor is it the "opposite" of a personality trait. 

Those are different things.


Ben:


Agreed.


Zak:


So you're not making any sense


You are being asked to prove the controversial pseudoscientific claim that games can measurably change your personality for the worse by having your avatar perform bad actions. 


Please address that, not some unrelated thing.


Ben:


I think it is possible I am biased on this front. 

I have had many experiences where people perceived no moral limits in an RPG, and did things they would never do in real life in the guise of a RPG. 

The better I have grown to know these people, the more I have grown to think that their actions, however unhinged, seem to be a reflection of them, and not just a little


So maybe I should say that people's underlying personality or nature comes out when roleplaying. 

I think I have it wrong that roleplaying causes it, it makes it evident

Zak:


Ok, sounds like we're done.


I'm sorry you went through that, btw.


Anything to add?


Ben:


No, just thanks for not relenting. 

I get very Oppositional defiant disorder. 

So do we agree that people's nature comes out when roleplaying? 

If we do, I think that is much more interesting anyways.


Zak:


I think that's true, but often not in an easily reducible way. 

Like, eaxmple: I know a lot of gamers in the OSR (Patrick, Scrap, etc) who would kind of let other people take over in the game and wouldn't voice their opinion about the overall direction of what the party got up to. If they had fun--great! If they didn't--they would blame the people they let make their decisions for them. They would rather do something they didn't like then complain than risk being the leader and thus being seen as being as responsible as they actually are. 

Their play revealed something about themselves but not in a way you'd be able to predict at the time.


Ben:


Hmm

I have seen this too


Anyways, I agree that we are done

My original statement holds no water


Thanks for your time!


Zak:


A pleasure, Ben.