Over the past few years, there has been a cultural shift happening towards liberal, progressive ideals: same-sex marriage, better representation of underrepresented demographics in our politics and media culture, and so forth. This steady march of progress has come with the predictable backlash of people who see it as change for change’s sake, or as unnatural change; it is backlash of people who are uncomfortable with the speed in which their world is changing, in which the status quo is shifting and taking away some of their privileges (even when it does so for the better of everyone, the feeling of being ‘limited’ may seem arbitrary and, thus, unnecessary or unnatural to some).
But what hasn’t always changed is what people talk about on their blogs, Twitter, or wherever. That’s fine, of course; I’m not writing this to wag a finger at anyone. I just want to point out what that privilege leads to.
We are a reactionary species, which in itself is not a bad thing. How we react, however, sometimes leaves much to be desired, and speaks volumes about us—often more so than the thing we react to in the first place. Writing, for me and many others, is generally a safe, acceptable, and cathartic form of reacting. (Attacking people is, obviously, neither safe nor acceptable.)
Despite the many reaction pieces written in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, one of the aspects I’ve seen given relatively little attention is not how freedom of speech fits into all this and what we should do to safeguard it, but how we, ourselves, as a Western culture abuse and misuse our freedom of speech rights. Specifically, how we—again, the larger “we” of our collective Western society—use these principles as a shield to ward off criticism of our unfair, unjust and unequal bigotry.
Satire in Western culture has the upsetting tendency to punch down instead of up, making it neither comedy nor satire, but simply a form of continued oppression that serves the powerful. Charlie Hebdo is a prime example of this. The excuse that they criticize, mock and satirize others as well, like the Pope or Catholicism or Christianity altogether, is a false equivalence; punching at Christians in a Christian society is punching up, whereas punching at Muslims in a Christian society is punching down. Especially when, as we know is the case across all of Europe and North America, Muslims are a constantly oppressed and persecuted group of people as it is.
People far and wide fear Muslims as a result of these terrorist attacks, failing to realize that Muslims everywhere around the world—the vast majority of the more than 1.5 billion of them—condemn and fear these terrorist attacks with equal fervor. And not just because such terrorist attacks often lead a few non-Muslim Westerners to respond with terrorist attacks against Muslims of their own—yes, setting fire to a mosque is a terrorist attack, because your goal is to instill terror into the hearts and minds of Muslim people living in your country—but because Muslims as a people value justice, respect, peace and human decency like any other people.
White terrorism, whether reactionary or not, is something white people are (unsurprisingly) incredibly reluctant to acknowledge or discuss. And yet it is precisely the culture of white supremacy that Muslim terrorists (however counter to and conflicting with Muslim beliefs that concept is) attack when they attack a Charlie Hebdo. Inevitably, after such a heinous act of religiously-tinted terror, people call into question Islam itself.
That’s something we in our Western society fail to do in equal measure when we encounter Christianity-tinted terrorist attacks, or any form of Christianity-tinted bigotry that oppresses and harms innocent people. Perhaps it is because people who live in a Christian society are blind to the Christian influences in their society, and they simply see their (Christian) world as the default and not as a religiously informed one. Perhaps it is because they are unwilling to acknowledge that their religion is just as guilty of being (ab)used by people as an excuse to commit heinous acts as Islam was in these attacks. Most likely, some combination of the two.
When Western politicians propose legislation pushing old-fashioned, outdated or downright bigoted beliefs, whatever excuse of prosperity or austerity they use for it, we don’t collectively say “Christianity is a problem! People are using it to justify these attacks on [e.g.] women’s sexual autonomy!” But that’s precisely what that is in the vast majority of cases.
When people in our Western countries support things like banning same-sex marriage, teaching creationism in school, or creating anti-abortion policies, they do so out of fundamentalist Christian beliefs. These fundamentalist efforts contribute, to an extent, to the very real harm to or even deaths of innocent people. Women who no longer have access to safe reproductive health care, because U.S. Republicans pushed legislation that closed all abortion clinics in their area, are forced to seek out unsafe methods or simply fail to get the care they need, leading to all sorts of health risks.
When same-sex marriage is seen by the majority of people in a state as something bad (I’ll spare you the disgusting terminology these people usually reserve to describe these acts of love), it legitimizes the smaller subset of people who hold the inexcusable view that it is in any way acceptable to physically harm people for being gay or trans—and thus, state-wide same-sex marriage bans contribute to a culture that turns a blind eye to, and facilitates, anti-LGBTQ violence. They are not directly responsible—people who commit acts are responsible for those acts—but they contribute to the environment that makes it easier for people to commit harmful acts.
Where were the people who are now calling Islam into question when it is Christianity that is used by people to justify terrible acts? Where are ever the cries to make Christianity illegal to be practiced, or prohibit churches from being built? Why are we not talking about Christianity when we talk about the anti-Muslim retaliatory attacks? The argument that those aren’t “inspired by religion” is nonsense; just because a religion is the default in a culture doesn’t mean that culture is devoid of religion. An atheist growing up in Europe is constantly exposed to Christianity-informed bigotry, and sometimes, some of that sticks.
But bigotry is a human sentiment that does not always require religion; look no further than some atheists’ hatred for religion altogether, which sometimes enters the unfounded, prejudiced territory as well. Many religious people are far more compassionate, respectful and inclusive than those types of atheists are, creating as loud an argument for religion as there was one against it.
Make no mistake, I write all this not to either defend Islam or attack Christianity. I write this simply to remind us that attacking religion, or religious people, is something our society does in unequal measure, on an already unequal playing field. I write this to remind us that satire serves no defensible purpose or value to society when it punches down. I write this to remind that extremists who abuse religion to further their harmful goals are found in every religion, and that they are often such a small minority of their respective demographics (who generally reject their inclusion to the group in the first place) that condemning the religion itself is offensive, hypocritical, and futile.
In the wake of any terror attack, religious or not, showing that we can be compassionate towards one another despite our differences is how we show that terrorism is an ineffective course of action. As a society we are strengthened when we live with one another in peace and harmony, even when we feel animosity towards certain people. And we should remind ourselves that all Muslims do not represent the (very) few terrorizing extremists who self-identify as such.
Guilt by association is something many people don’t seem to understand well. It’s as wrong to condemn Muslims for the acts of Muslim extremists as it is to condemn all Christians for the acts of Christian extremists, or to condemn all people for extremists who don’t commit their acts in name of a religion. While religion is not an inalienable attribute of a person like, say, their gender or race, it is something people grow up with and are often steeped in so thoroughly that we give it similar status under the law. There are also religious sects that are cult-like and actively discourage or prohibit leaving them behind, further complicating the separation of religion and identity.
But guilt by association is a valid thing for groups that people can voluntarily subscribe to or leave behind and that are predominantly harmful, i.e. whose collective resulting actions are overwhelmingly negative, harmful or destructive. Being a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK or GamerGate is not an identity, and is something you can (and should) stop being part of at any time. These groups, unlike religion, exist primarily to do harm, even though their members see this completely differently. They see themselves as fighting to preserve something they think is noble or good, but which in all cases is no more than the status quo and, specifically, the unjust, unequal treatment of certain people within that status quo.
Our status quo is a culture that is unfair, that is unjust, that facilitates a climate of word and actions that disproportionately harm the already less powerful among us. If we do not take this attack on Charlie Hebdo as an opportunity to learn what role we might have played in making this culture one that drove certain people to believe that committing heinous acts of terror was an acceptable measure, then we, as the society driving that culture, are bound to suffer that same mistake again.
The compassion we show to those we (mistakenly) see as our opponents is the measure by which we determine how safe and just we really are.
Men are upset that feminist critiques are getting more attention than any of their positive sucking up does. “She doesn’t even like the game, why won’t you listen to meeeee?”
Men are upset that feminism is gaining mainstream traction (again), and people—not just women, far from it—are calling out sexist elements in our communities, our industries, our society as a whole.
Men are upset that feminism is getting all that attention, and women are feeling more empowered to speak out, to call out their shitty behavior, to put men in their place. These men are not used to women doing any of those things, and in their privilege-shielded lives, have come to expect that women shouldn’t be doing any of those things. These men are wrong.
Men are upset that their wishes are not being catered to exclusively anymore. They still are catered to overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, and they are so used to being catered to exclusively that they did not even recognize it as being catered to. Their view of the world, which was overwhelmingly catering to their whims and wishes (as members of a straight male demographic), was being perceived as neutral and indifferent to them (as individuals).
Men are upset that women won’t just give them the sex they feel entitled to. After all, that’s the natural state of things that they believe in their heads, from having uncritically grown up in a society that caters to their straight male desires so readily and pervasively, never examining the societal influences that tarnish their daily lives, simply because that tarnishing appears to be in their favor. And on the surface, it is—it just happens to come with the very painful cost of having to eventually confront their long-lived and ongoing unfair benefitting from these privileges, or through stubborn refusal and aggravated and noxious fighting against this revelation turn into absolute monsters of men.
Not all men are like this. In fact, most men are absolutely nothing like it. But the small minority of men that is, is very vocal, and they have found one another more easily than ever before thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet and the World Wide Web. The InterWeb, comical portmanteau of inventions, has given everyone a global voice, yet with the undesirable but inevitable side-effect being that everyone with a toxic voice has had an easy time finding others like them, and growing louder together in a noxious chorus.
These men. Small men. Some, truly sociopathic. All of them, disgruntled.
I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would bet a lot of money that most of these men don’t cry. Maybe ever.
Many men—far too many men, unfortunately—have the mistaken belief that crying is a negative emotion, that it shows weakness on behalf of the cryer, or that “real men” don’t cry. All of this is wrong.
Crying is nothing more than an outlet for one’s pain, bringing relief. Suppress that outlet, and you suppress the relief—keeping the pain trapped inside, slowly turning into anger and discontent. It poisons you internally, and the more pain you trap inside of you, the more it gets to feed your anger and taint your actions. Pain needs relief. Anger and aggression are the outlets it seeks when crying is not permitted.
Crying shows no weakness, nor strength. Perhaps, in the face of the grand cultural stigma around crying and the widespread mistaken belief that men don’t cry (or get emotional, hah) it is easy to believe that a man openly weeping is showing strength through such socio-cultural adversity. But take that flawed stereotype and stigma away, and crying is nothing more than the first thing any of us do as we enter this world on our own. It is the mammalian way to express sadness and pain. Nothing more. Strength comes from recognizing your own flaws and mistakes, and overcoming them. Weakness is when you refuse to acknowledge your flaws or mistakes.
Nothing defines a “real man” in a way that isn’t folly. A real man is a person who identifies as a man, regardless of their anatomy, and regardless of how strictly to the extreme “male” end of the gender spectrum they specify. Crying has nothing to do with it.
But when men don’t cry, that’s when we get things like #GamerGate.
GamerGate is a sordid affair where a bunch of men all got together in their disgruntled state of being, their unwillingness to have a good cry over their pains, their refusal to acknowledge their own flaws and shortcomings, and their stubborn, noxious and relentless refusal to let anyone have a place in the world that they wish so desperately to claim their own, that they coordinated a huge, targeted harassment campaign and created various cover-up topics to deflect from how openly misogynist and racist their efforts were.
Why would they do that? Mostly, because these men feel alone. They feel alone and abandoned and betrayed by the very society that created them in its own attempts to cater to their wishes. Crucially, these men don’t recognize the patriarchal systems in society that have made them feel so entitled to things; they only recognize the influences—from feminism and other movements towards equality—that are slowly but steadily chipping away at the myriad privileges they have lived their entire lives with.
These men don’t see that the root problem is their male predecessors. They only see the cure to the problem, but the cure is one that stings them. The sting is mild, really, but these men have lived such cotton-wrapped lives that even the slightest sting feels unbearable—and so they don’t see it as the cure, they see it as an attack.
But feminist game critique or female sexual autonomy is not an attack, on anything. Anything! The former is a sign of a maturing part of media, the latter is none of anyone’s business.
The only attacks taking place are the ones coordinated by these men, who are collectively complicit in a grand attack on free speech—the free speech of women in games to say and criticize whatever they want, without being threatened or harassed out of the industry for doing so.
These men will cry out over “the artistic vision of game developers!” but there is neither an attack aimed there, nor much of a vision to cry out about. Criticism of games is not “censorship”, and abusing that word so readily and frequently will diminish your credibility and our collective readiness for when actual, real (government-driven) censorship may take place. For various countries in the world today, that is actually happening — these men and their misuse of the term are making a grave insult to the people who are actually being censored. But it’s not game developers.
These men will cry out about “nepotism! Corruption! Lack of journalistic ethics!” without having a single shred of self-awareness, the irony being too thick for their dulled and narrow minds to register. If there’s anything that neatly encapsulates the GamerGate proponents and their ilk, it’s the words “nepotism, corruption, and lack of [journalistic] ethics.” Like someone raising money to “start a trustworthy games magazine” but really just attempting to funnel money to their spouse. Or like the “Tropes vs Men” crowd-funded campaign that took the money and ran, being literally the only crowd-funded video games-related campaign to truly scam people for their money. And what could be more ethical than harassing, doxxing and threatening a female game developer when you claim to care about journalistic integrity (but never acknowledge that the person you’re attacking is not a journalist)?
These men should go and take some deep breaths, turn off their computer screens, sit in the quiet dark of night, and cry.
Because the real pain that they are suppressing is the knowledge that they are wrong. That they have done terrible things, that they have hurt innocent people, and that their sense of self-worth, their self-image, and the world they perceived themselves to live in, is full of lies and deceit.
I just hope they get to that point, perhaps after realizing that the lies of their lives will stop when acceptance of this reality starts, and that, ultimately, they were not the ones who created the society they became unwitting victims of. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize that they do have the power to help shape the games industry for the better, if (and only if) they choose the path of civility, respect, and humility. It’ll be painful to do so, painful to face the people who they’ve hurt for so long and ask for forgiveness, but thankfully, there is a solution to that pain also.
Both pieces will likely discourage any individual with a desire to design and build her own apps, as they strongly suggest that the payoff won’t be sufficient. Neither, however, examine the challenge from a skills and tools perspective.
I should mention at this point that I am not an iOS developer myself, so I’m limiting my thoughts here to what I feel adequately knowledgeable about: tools and skills. Examining tools and their efficacy is a big part of my life, and being multi-disciplined myself I also have some insight into the skills aspect.
First, let’s look at the skills involved in creating and publishing a great app like Unread. You need a good understanding of interaction design, UI design, (most likely also) icon design, and having great taste and the ability to know when to say “No” to things are a boon to its positive reception by critics and users alike. Then, you need to do the programming of the application, which generally requires at least a decent understanding of database architectures, MVC principles, the main programming language and its frameworks, and generally good programming discipline. Next, you need content strategy skills: all the labels and text in your UI send messages to the user, and if they’re poorly written or unintuitive, this will cost you in significant, but difficult to measure, ways. The same applies to the marketing of your app: the website promoting it, the language used in your AppStore listing, the quotes you provide in interviews, and so on. Good selling skills overlap with this, but if you’re simply publishing it on the AppStore and not making direct sales to, say, enterprises or businesses, you probably don’t need the equivalent of a sales agent. Then, from your business end, you need all the various business management skills as well as the project management chops to keep yourself on track, issue yourself realistic deadlines, and so forth.
If all of that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is: those are at least four jobs you’re doing. Now it’s not at all uncommon for one person to be skilled at doing two or even three of those, especially where there is overlap: good developers are also interaction designers; good UI designers can often also do good icons, too; many programmers are familiar with multiple languages and/or working with databases; someone who’s entrepreneurial likely knows a thing or two about sales and project management as well. And content strategy is probably the most-overlooked discipline in today’s world of apps and services, as its importance is routinely underestimated by people.
What I’m saying is this: if you’re a (moderately) successful indie app developer, congratulations! Because that is an incredibly impressive feat. The market may be big, but the field is full of people and businesses doing (or attempting) what you’re doing, and saturation of options to choose from is but one of the many things forcing you to be ever-more-excellent to stand out in the crowd. Consumers are also ever-more discerning with their purchasing, because the more great apps they experience, the better they understand what makes an app great, even if they can’t articulate this. Then there’s the troubling economy you have to contend with. All in all, it ain’t easy, so if you’re succeeding at all, that’s worthy of praise, even if only for the successful execution of various, quite differing skills.
The skills part, however, ties back into the tools in a fairly fundamental way: we, as an industry, have been making our tools more powerful for experienced users while also trying to make them more accessible to newcomers. If you’re an iOS developer, you’re using Xcode—far from perfect in the eyes of many, but still many kilometers ahead of its general equivalents for other platforms, including the Web—but what graphics tools you use, what copywriting and project management and sales tools you use, all of these are up to you. They are, however, virtually always more powerful when wielded by an experienced user, who has spent significant amounts of time with the product. You, as lone indie dev, have only the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else does, and if you have to spend them using multiple tools and with fewer hours available for each, it puts you at a disadvantage against those who use them day in, day out.
There is an overlooked element to the saying, “a jack of all trades, master of none” which is that there is hard-to-measure value in knowing how different skills complement and offset one another. There is value in understanding database architectures even if you’re an app designer; there is value in understanding interaction design even if you’re a copywriter. But when it comes to today’s world of apps, this value of the generalist does not overcome the challenges you face when trying to compete in a market with dozens, maybe even hundreds of competitors (or hundreds of thousands, if you’re making a game). This, again, makes it difficult to succeed, as it becomes increasingly a picture of succeeding despite all the odds stacked against you.
Jared Sinclair spoke of pricing strategies, and I think Marco Arment’s latest app, Overcast (a podcast player), is a good example of a general-purpose productivity/entertainment app that does it well: give limited demos of the paid-for functionality but make the app available to try for free, and use IAP to unlock those features, not a separate “Pro” version of the app. But that’s hard to pull off as well, and Marco has a lot of experience.
Lastly, a touchy subject that I think needs to be considered more: I very often see indie devs complain about people being reluctant to pay $3.99 for their app, but they’ll frequently “pay as much or more for a cup of coffee.” While I feel and empathize with the frustration behind that, the comparison to coffee doesn’t work in their favor. Let’s be honest here: coffee is a culturally de-stigmatized addiction, and if you drink it frequently enough your body will literally give you pain when you don’t consume it. The same is not true for apps, not even remotely, and that makes it difficult to sell. This is also why games use in-app purchases that rely on the game being addictive enough that people can’t or don’t want to put it down, with the gameplay purposefully hobbled to create an opportunity for IAP-driven “relief.” But, like Brent, I’m not going to digress (further) about games, I’ve written aboutthembefore.
App making is difficult, and that’s true no matter the platform. The bar is being set increasingly high, the upfront costs are constantly rising, and the market is evermore discerning. If you have the privilege of being in a situation where you can pursue your dream of being an indie developer, I strongly encourage you to try it. But if it doesn’t pan out, I guess what I’m trying to say is this: it is by no means a failure on your part, because as Brent’s post pointed out: there is only a very small number of people who are big successes. Many of the “failed” indie devs still make quite a comfortable living doing consulting or freelancing work on the side. And if you can do that and still spend some time pursuing your dream and building your own apps, you’re doing better than most people anyway. Be happy about that. And I look forward to trying your app when it’s ready.
A couple of years ago I attempted Project 365, but didn’t quite finish it fully. For 2013 I am trying it again, because my iPhone 5 is a lot more portable than the DSLR I was limited by back then, and allows me to upload on the spot—something which was the main source of interruption last time. I’m also adding a twist: 52 themes, segmenting every week of the year. So this will be my Project 365 x 52, with each original photo uploaded to my Flickr account, and also my Instagram (as long as they behave themselves).
This post will be updated as weeks go by and more themes get decided upon. I may open it up for requests on Twitter from time to time, we’ll see.
Faruk Ateş is a designer, developer, and entreprenerd. He is the creator of Modernizr, and co-founder of Presentate. He lives in Vancouver, B.C. and writes and speaks about technology, social justice, design and business.