The Reality of Mass Shootings in America

There’s been 173 mass shootings in the past 164 days.

Before we begin, let’s just reflect on the sentence above, and truly take in what it means. In the past 164 days there has been 173 reported mass shooting in the United States. 173 mass shootings in 164 days. In just the last five months alone, there has been more mass shootings than the number of days past. Just dwell on that. The severity. The ridiculousness. The reality.

Mass shootings in America are no longer met with surprise, certainly not whenever I see them reported on the news here in Australia. Perhaps the death toll comes at a shock, certainly the latest to take place in Orlando, Florida did, but the very occurrence of said event doesn’t. Instead it’s met with the (now same) reaction of, “oh look, it’s happened again”, but this isn’t what I wanted to talk about today. It’s not our reaction to the event of a mass shooting, but instead the reaction once the dust settles and we begin to ask questions about the “why”.

Keeping in mind the news is extremely specific in which events it chooses to publicise and which details it chooses to focus attention on, I shall look at some of the recent cases for the purposes of this discussion, but in no means is it comprehensive.

If we look at just some recent examples, the most recent of which being the mass murder in Orlando, Florida earlier this week (where the death toll of at least 50 has now made it the worst gun-related massacre in recent times), the San Bernardino massacre in 2015 and the shooting at Colorado Springs in the same year, what is common within each? In response to each, the community is quick to consider it a mental health issue, quick to downplay religious involvement, and quick to suggest there isn’t a gun problem. As far as I’m concerned, there are legitimate concerns with all three statements.

“This isn’t a gun issue, it’s a mental health issue.” While the former section of the statement is offensively false, let’s begin with the latter. While true, where you wouldn’t suspect that someone of sound mental health could be responsible for the senseless murder of innocent individuals, let alone another person in general, it’s a gross singular conclusion to come to as to why these mass shootings are taking place in America, and with such frequency. Too often we hear these comments coming from guns advocates as a way to shift blame and attention from the very objects that result in these senseless killings, and while there’s truth in their statements, it’s the irresponsibility to consider multiple factors in-light of tragedies like this that sees America sitting in the position it currently is.

What I mean is, to simply put down the occurrence of these mass murders to mental health is to apportion blame to, quite frankly, and quite unfortunately, an unresolvable problem. At least in the near future. When it comes to our understanding of mental health, we have a long way to go. When it comes to our acceptance and treating of mental health in society, we have a long way to go. What I’m suggesting is that to simply say that we need to “fix how we deal with mental health” as if it is the sole reason why someone would take a firearm and use it to kill innocent lives, is sadly too large a problem, and sadly, not one which can resolve issues like this from occurring.

So what’s next? “This isn’t a gun issue …”

Never has a statement, certainly in the context of mass shootings in America, been so inappropriately incorrect and inexcusably offensive. To suggest that firearms, the very items, no, weapons, which are being used (on average, daily) to conduct these mass shootings (highlight: shootings) could not be further from the truth. As I will explain below, I do not understand the necessity for a weapon, but I have never and will never accept this seemingly wide-spread view that an American should have the right to own a weapon, nor that said weapons are not responsible for this devastation.

The Second Amendment states in relation to the right to own a firearm, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Militia, meaning a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.

For the second time in this article, let’s take that part in. What the paragraph above is telling us, is that in the state of an emergency, every citizen in America has the right to own a firearm, should they need to come together to create a military force to keep their country free. As noble as its original intentions might have been, and perhaps excuse me while I be a little blunt here, but never have I read such a more absurd collection of words strung into a sentence of utter and irrelevant bullshit.

The entire notion that every American requires a gun, in the event the government somehow becomes equivalent to a dictatorship where the people are utterly oppressed, that they can somehow overthrow said government and regain peace, is perhaps the most laughable concept I’ve ever heard. When society can’t get its collective shit together to tackle even the simplest of issues, this idea that there’ll be some coming together of the minds to defeat a corrupt government is comical.  Well-regulated militia? It would be akin to a scene from Mad Max if anything. Regardless, the point I’m trying to make is, the very reason why Americans have the ‘right’ to own guns is absurd, let alone the very fact that Americans stand by this idea that they should, just because.

This however is the mere tip of the iceberg, because it is this view that guns are a ‘right’ that poses the biggest problem to the issue of mass shooting in America. Putting aside hunters for the purpose of this article (for the record, hunting, which I don’t agree with as a recreational activity), there is no logical reason for any regular citizen to own a firearm, not for protection, not for any reason. The idea that you require a gun in-case someone comes into your property who has a gun, to protect yourself, is like a circle of nonsense that continues upon itself. To remove the accessibility of weapons in the first place would ultimately prevent the need to own said weapon as a means of protection. It is here that I reference the decision by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, where he initiated a governmental buy-back of all firearms from the Australian public in the 1990s after the Port Arthur massacre, that there has been no mass shooting in the country since. Just something to dwell on.

In the situation above I refer mostly to pistols, let alone semi-automatic weapons which have, and I cannot stand by this enough, absolutely no relevance in being owned by the general public, whatsoever. The mere fact a fool was able to purchase a weapon capable of killing 50 people in Orlando, should beggar belief and utter disgust in anyone who comes across the news of the mass shooting.

So the excuse of blaming the issue of mass shootings on mental health and suggesting that guns aren’t the problem are mentioned above, however there is one last piece of the puzzle, one last problem that does not get discussed well enough, and it’s perhaps the most controversial of them all.

Religion.

Now before we continue we need to stop treating religion as a topic that is free from criticism and free from deconstruction. Religion is archaic, and mass shootings like Orlando and Colorado Springs are examples of this.

Too often when a mass shooting is conducted by a follower of Islam, we are quick to announce that the actions of once are not representative of many. Alternatively, when a mass shooting is conducted by a follower of Christianity, we are quick to announce that the actions are due to mental health issues, but the fact is, the actions from both are due to underlying teachings from what are quite frankly, outdated and redundant beliefs. It’s all good and well to say that a Christian who shoots an abortion clinic is an extremist, or a Muslim who shoots a gay bar is a terrorist, but there’s no denying, their abhorrent behaviour extends from teachings of their religion. It mightn’t be shared by all followers of the religion, but it stems from the same source, and we can’t ignore that this is the case.

We shouldn’t tip-toe around picking apart Islam for its poor teachings for the fear of backlash, in the same way that we shouldn’t tip-toe around picking apart Christianity for its poor teachings simply because it’s a major religion in Western societies. The fact we place these historic (and out-dated) belief structures on pedestals to avoid ridicule is no different to suggesting guns aren’t the problem. The very real fact is that they both contribute towards this problem, and we need to have a dialogue that discusses that and asks how we can truly go about turning those kind of views around – whether it be how we view abortion, homosexuality or just non-believers in general.

So what’s the solution to finally putting an end to these mass murders? Well, it’s a difficult one to answer, but we need to stop assuming mental health is the sole contributing factor, stop assuming that guns aren’t the problem, and stop thinking that religion isn’t playing a role. Unless we do this, tomorrow there’ll be another mass shooting, and soon enough, someone will break the Orlando record, because at this stage they’ve become just that, numbers.

An eye for an eye makes the world go blind, and we’ve almost lost our vision

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from the internet, it’s that people love to do one thing online, well, two things. I’ll let your imaginations guess what #1 is, but I’d like to spend some time today discussing the close runner-up.

Naming and shaming.

It comes in a lot of forms, whether it’s someone putting a period before a response on Twitter or someone sharing a post on Facebook with a multi-paragraph explanation on how they’ve just dealt with the devil’s incarnate, but regardless of its form, there’s something that needs to be said about it all – it’s immature and incredibly pathetic.

In addition to giving people the world over a platform to distribute their own pornography, the internet’s also done a bang-up job of giving people the world over a platform distribute their own opinions. Now we’ve all heard the term “opinions are like arseholes, everyone’s got one”, and it’s ironic as I use this article to do just that, but perhaps one of the most frustrating things that’s come out of the rise of social media, is the creation and explosion of social circles for individuals to give their opinions, crave the approval of those who support them, and destroy anyone who thinks otherwise.

Now the above isn’t going to necessarily surprising to anyone because we’re naturally going to gravitate towards people who share our own personal views, but it’s the last part of the sentence above that needs to be highlighted and dissected for the absolute joke that it is.

It said that death and taxes are the two things which are certain in life, but with the internet we can add a third – trolls. Now I’m not suggesting that the behaviour of trolls isn’t unacceptable nor does it should it be tolerated, but we do need to recognise that as long as animosity is a thing, that trolls will continue to exist. At the same time, we need to recognise that whenever we put ourselves out there to the world that we’re bound to come across a few idiots along the way.

So what’s the solution? First and foremost, the block and report features of all social media sites exist for a reason, but I do understand that moderators are sometimes slow to respond and it doesn’t take much for someone to make a second account when their first is removed. That said, this recent culture of naming and shaming isn’t the answer, and it’s for the main point that it’s a complete load of rubbish.

Publically naming and shaming deals with the issues of trolls online in much the same way that convicting a drug dealer deals with the issue of drugs. Sure, perhaps you’ll silence one voice, but they’ll instantly be replaced by ten more. What’s frustrating though is the fact that naming and shaming is disguised as a method of dealing with trolls, when in reality it stands as little more than a method of boosting your own online popularity and ego. What’s more, it’s completely hypocritical.

Let me provide some context though.

In the last two months I’ve witnessed two examples of public naming and shaming by a well-known internet personality. The reason behind these posts, one person was making bigoted remarks in a private conversation and the other, a troll posted a tasteless comment to an article. Now I’m not condoning the comments of either individuals, but what I certainly won’t condone is someone taking pictures of these individuals without their consent and then posting these publically on Facebook along with their names and any other details that were available.

Herein lies the issue, and herein lies my frustration.

It’s a matter of personal opinion as far as what side you wish to sit on with the “the internet has become too politically correct” fence, but it’s hard to find fault with the uproar that often comes when someone is publically doxed. My question is though, is it not hypocritical that we find it outrageous when the details of individuals like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian are published without their consent, but if someone shares an unpopular opinion or is acting like a bit of a fool, that we can do the same thing without batting an eyelid? Is it not hypocritical that just because we seem like we’re “fighting the good fight” that we’re excused from acting in the very way of those that we’re trying to stamp out?

Let me remind you, that in both of these examples, neither individual physically harassed someone nor did they made death or rape threats either, but because one was considered bigoted and the other distastefully offensive, that it was somehow excusable that their pictures were shared online without their permission

It’s what happens afterwards too that is completely unacceptable. Their pictures are shared by hundreds if not thousands of individuals. Their details shared to hundreds if not thousands of individuals. They’re then on the receiving end of abuse and vitriol by the original poster’s legion of mindless followers, telling them how horrible they are. And all for the purpose of what? So they’re on the end of abuse? So they need to flee from the internet? So they lose their job and the respect of those around them?

It’s these last questions that I can’t answer and is what bothers me most. Once the heroes of the internet have done their damage, what’s been the point? In both cases above the posts were inevitably deleted, but not until they’ve been shared by hundreds, liked by thousands, and garnished hundreds of comments below. By that stage whether the post exists or not is irrelevant.

It goes further though. There have been other personalities who have gone as far as taking screenshots of offensive comments, stalking (because let’s not hide what it is, Facebook stalking) their friends lists to find their parents, and then posted those pictures to their parents with the hope of inciting some (marketable) response. What beggars belief though is when these individuals decide to then share the response from these parents on their own personal/business Facebook profiles – and for what? The post gets shared a few hundred times, gets ‘liked’ a few thousand times, articles get written and then the individuals’ on television discussing the plight of being on social media and how they’re, once again, fighting the good fight, one troll at a time. But at the end of the day, what is it if not a method to boost their own popularity, further positioning themselves as a figure within the online community? Trolls are childish, sure, but dare I say it’s horribly childish to tattle on a troll to their parents, and even more childish to then repost the fallout on your own page for views and attention.

It’s hard not to look at these examples and not being completely gobsmacked by how incredibly ridiculous it’s all become. We’re developing into a culture that wants to stand against doxing, but will happily do it back if it serves their own purpose. Are we not just as bad as each other if this is the case? If not doxing, it’s bragging about our behaviour like it deserves a medal or a round of applause for ridding the internet of its darkness and evil.

Never argue with an idiot, for they’ll bring you down to their level and beat you with experience. Well as far as I’m concerned, what we’re becoming now, is a community of idiots.

Comedy is No Joke

Lately I’ve been thinking about people who get ‘offended’. In a world where there are over seven billion individuals, it seems a little ridiculous that we should take notice when one of them find something ‘offensive’. I even asked the question on Facebook whether most people who claim to be ‘offended’ have nothing more constructive to focus their energy and anger towards.

Yet despite this, at this very moment, I’m sitting in-front of my laptop telling myself that I’m borderline offended at something. Well, perhaps not offended, but certainly peeved enough to write a little more substantial than a Facebook post about it.

This afternoon I read an article that was shared by comedian Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross with the line, “Comedian Ray Badran tells audience member to “die” for objecting to rape joke”. The article talks about an audience member of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival who decided to “stage a silent protest” by sitting under her table during Badran’s set after he had made a joke mentioning rape. It wasn’t the first joke of the night regarding (domestic) violence, but this particular audience member took it upon herself to make an example out of it.

TWE-RayBadran

After attempting to confront the audience member, the article mentions that Badran eventually gave up and decided to leave the stage, saying “Good on you taking a stand, but you’re a piece of shit and I hope you die”. The article then proceeds to show quotes of support for Badran from other comedians, but also includes the following – “Comedy Festival director Susan Provan said organisers did not support racist or misogynistic material”.

This was where I started to feel … ‘offended’.

There’s a dangerous line that is walked when people decide to call out content from a comedian’s set, especially when it comes to topics like sexual assault and violence. In response to the article that was shared by Rosso, one individual on Facebook wrote, “You would rather that [rape jokes are funny] than apparently have any sort of empathy and understanding that this isn’t a funny subject”. She then continues to say “I wish you well in your future interactions with women and hope that whoever you have or do hook up with is much more open to this sort of ‘comedy’ than I must be”.

Now it is here that we start to cross that line.

It’s one thing to say that sexual assault (and rape) is a serious issue. It’s one thing to say that both men and women should stand up against sexual violence. To both these statements I don’t doubt that most people agree. It’s however another thing entirely to link the real world issue of rape and the seriousness of the crime with a comedic act that might reference this topic and somehow suggest they are the same.

In instances like this, we need to remind ourselves of the context. A group of people – whether it be ten, a hundred or over a thousand, have paid money to see a comedian perform their set of jokes. These jokes have been developed and perfected by the comedian over a series of weeks, months or possibly a year. The jokes are meant to be humorous and entertaining to those individuals who pay to view it. While some comedians like to dissect and provide commentary on real-world topics and issues (see anything from Wil Anderson for an example), others do not.

When a comedian like Badran makes the comment, “So you know how gay people can make jokes about being gay, and black people can make jokes about being black, well I can make jokes about rape” then you know this falls into the latter. In these instances the audience should know (and as the majority often does) that the comedian isn’t being serious and should take the comment for what it is – a joke. Those who don’t though – who suggest that comedy isn’t about jokes but rather serious statements – are failing to recognize what comedy is all about.

Ron-Swanson-4

When the Festival director suggested that organisers don’t support racist or misogynistic material, not only is she suggesting that rape applies just to women (which is a very negligent assumption to make) but she’s also suggesting that these jokes are legitimate statements about comedian’s stance on sexual violence outside his act. This is much the same with the Facebook comment suggesting that just because I don’t oppose ‘rape jokes’ that I must therefore have no empathy towards actual victims of rape. May I re-iterate, topics in comedy and in real-life are completely separate and should be handled accordingly. Just because you can joke about a topic in a comedy show doesn’t suggest you can’t handle it with the appropriate level of tact and maturity when the situation requires it.

As I mentioned above, a comedy set is a series of jokes and commentary that a comedian makes for his audience. They’re created to be ridiculous, over-the-top and entertaining, but most importantly, funny. When performing to a group of people however, you’re bound to have individual senses of humor. So a comedian will come up with jokes that will make most of their audience laugh, but if one person doesn’t find the joke entertaining does that mean it’s a bad joke? Does it mean it shouldn’t be performed?

If one joke might offend one or a few people – does that mean the comedian should not perform it? Does that mean the topic should not be approached at all? The terrorist attack on the Charlie Hedbo offices were tragic, but does that mean we refrain from making religious jokes? Murder and death are horrible, but do we refrain from making jokes around those two themes? There are an infinite number of ways that an audience member might find certain topics offensive due to their personal experiences, but is that then on the comedian to only create a ‘clean’ set? Does the responsibility of censorship fall on the majority due to the sensitivity of a few? Surely such a suggestion is absurd?

A comedian’s profession (read: their actual job) is to perform comedy. They develop their set, organise the tour and then people pay money to attend. Focus on that last bit there – people pay money to see the comedian perform his/her set.

When people pay money to enter a museum, do they have the right to tell the artist or the curator what exhibits should or should not be on display? When people pay money to see a concert, do they have the right to tell the musician what songs to play? If the answer to both questions is no, then why do we feel a person has the right to attend a comedy show and then dictate what jokes the comedian can or can’t make? In all three examples the artists should have the complete freedom to produce what art they desire. It is the responsibility of the consumers whether they then chose to consume it.

La La La

So of course, an individual has the right to not like a piece of art, a particular song or a joke in a set. Similarly, an individual has the right to be offended by sexually suggestive art, ‘adult’ lyrics or a ‘dark’ joke. That said, none of this is the concern of the artist or of those people who choose not to find fault. In all three examples (and in all other examples) the individual has the right not to attend the show or to leave throughout, but to stage a “silent protest” that disrupts not just the artist but the other attending audience members who paid to be there? That’s not just disrespectful, it’s completely selfish too.

The audience member in question requested an apology from Badran, but as far as I’m concerned, she’s got it the wrong way around. It isn’t her who requires an apology from Badran. Rather, it is her that owes an apology not just to Badran for disrupting his set but the other guests of the show who paid money to be there. The same people who had no issues with the material of his performance, but due to the actions of one individual, had their experience spoilt.

Like I mentioned before, it’s a very dangerous line we often walk in these situations, but like with the case of Tracy Morgan, Daniel Tosh and now Ray Badran, it’s been well and truly crossed. People should be intelligent enough to distinguish between scenarios where comments are made in jest and when they are made to make a deliberate point. We should also be mature enough to take responsibility of ourselves rather than censor others simply because we do not agree. Requesting an apology because we don’t agree with a comedian’s joke or suggesting that this is an example of actual misogyny … now that’s really something to be offended about.

– Nicholas Simonovski

Why I Hate ‘Feminism’

Preface: I’ve debated for some time now whether I would write and share an article like this, but given the chatter happening online I figured it was an appropriate time to do so. I recognise this goes against popular opinion, but the intent is to share a side to a discussion that I feel is not nearly represented or expressed enough. Reason being, the sheer fact that those who choose to disagree with feminism publically are automatically labelled by the masses as being sexist, ignorant or misogynists. Hopefully this will break that trend.

There was a lot of controversy a number of months ago when #WomenAgainstFeminism became a thing. There were news articles covering the trend on social media and it occupied both my Facebook and Twitter feeds for the few days it remained a talking point.

For those who are unaware, #WomenAgainstFeminism was a trend on Twitter and Tumblr that saw women posting photos of themselves holding pieces of paper that listed reasons why they didn’t need feminism or affiliate with calling themselves ‘feminists’. As most discussions regarding feminism, sexism and misogyny turn out, the movement was met with opposition from a lot of vocal individuals about how these people simply didn’t understand what feminism is.

At the time I decided against involving myself in the discussions, but I could see where these women were coming from, and I could understand why this hashtag blew up as it did. Below I’d like to discuss exactly why that is.

For starters, I don’t consider myself a feminist. I don’t affiliate with the feminist movement. As a matter of fact, the mere mention of the word ‘feminism’ makes me roll my eyes. That said, I should clarify that I’m 100% for equality across all genders. I’m 100% for equality across people of all nationalities and races. Like I’ve expressed in countless posts and articles in the past, only a horrible human being would be against everyone in this world having the same opportunities to make the most of their lives or to have the same chances of success as the next person. My gripe however is that I’m constantly being told that this makes me feminist for believing so.

The reason why I decide to not affiliate myself with feminism is that too often is it associated with either an over-reaction to what is quite frankly a non-issue, or the fact that any attempts to discuss against the popular/socially right opinion are met with connotations that those individuals are scumbags. There was no better example of this than just 48 hours ago when the shirt of a scientist working on the Rosetta project seemed to overshadow the amazing feat of a space probe landing on a comet.

Let’s not acknowledge the fact this project took 10 years of planning and 10 years of travelling (in space) to get to what happened yesterday. Let’s also not acknowledge the $1.59 billion it’s taken or the ingenuity and hard work of all those involved either. It may be the first time we’ve ever (as a collective – the human race) have managed to land a probe on a comet, but all this is irrelevant compared to what one scientist wore during an interview. This is the problem. This is the reason feminism receives the wrap it currently does.

Rather than singing praise for all those involved, we’re speaking about this ‘casual misogyny’ that supposedly stops women from entering scientific fields, reminding ourselves that this is not because of someone’s actions but because of the print on his XL cotton shirt. Despite the writers of this article acknowledging that the shirt was designed by a woman for this man, all was made irrelevant as they discussed what an offensive sexist he was. The article questions how no-one stopped him from wearing the shirt on the broadcast. Perhaps it was because they were more focused on not completely urinating themselves from the unimaginable excitement that over 10 years of planning and monitoring has led to? Perhaps it’s also because it’s the furthest thing from misogyny and sexism that we’ve seen in recent times? I’m not sure, I’m just taking a guess here.

It’s reasons like this that some women decided to band together for causes like #WomenAgainstFeminism. It’s not due to the fact they want to be seen as second-class to men or that they don’t want equality, but because they’re sick and tired of seeing people represent an entire gender on their behalf and give the impression that every feminist is ill-tempered and with some sort of vendetta against the world. We recognise that not every feminist has the same mentality, but the squeaky wheel gets the most oil, and unfortunately this has tarnished a lot of opinions on what feminism now represents. For this reason, can we blame them?

I hate ‘feminism’ but I don’t hate equality. I understand that being able to rally under a united banner can sometimes assist with reaching a goal, but when that banner is so often associated with negative connotations and anger I question how successful it is in gaining further acceptance and increasing momentum to achieving success. There have been some incredible advancements in improving equality amongst both men and women and there’s certainly much work to go, but I ask myself if maintaining a label is going to necessarily help get us there. If #WomenAgainstFeminism has shown anything, it’s that the perception of feminism has changed since its origins. Perhaps it’s time we stop shunning others because they don’t wish to go by the same title, and recognise that most of us are fighting for the same outcome already?

– Nicholas Simonovski

The Problem with ‘Gamer Gate’

Preface: The following article was written a few weeks ago with ‘gamer gate’ in mind, but in this time I recognise that gamer gate has died off as a topic amongst the gaming and general online community. Regardless, the following article is still applicable to whenever the topic of sexism and misogyny within the gaming community arises, so while gamer gate has seemingly passed, the underlying message will certainly resurface again. This article addresses that underlying topic.

I have a problem with gamer gate. I’ve had a problem with it ever since it began. Now before the internet gets into a fit and smashes their collective keyboards about what a misogynistic piece of shit I am, let me explain. There’s always been something about it, and about all other claims that the gaming community is plagued with sexist scumbags, that seems, dare I say, excessive?

Let’s get this clear before I continue any further – ‘gamer gate’ has never been about ethics within the video game media. Whether or not Zoe Quinn exchanged sex for positive reviews about her game Depression does as much to prove issues with integrity in the industry as an extremist goes to prove that an entire religion is centered around hatred. It should be absurd to think that the actions of one individual (or a handful of individuals) should tarnish an entire community or industry, so why is this all we’re seeing from gamers?

As much as this might infuriate some people to read, all gamer gate does is stand as just another example in a long list of cases where misogyny has proven to be seemingly rampant within the gaming community. Recent examples of abuse online, doxing and death threats have once again suggested that gamers are despicable human beings and the community is not a place that is welcoming to women or non-white males, but I’m inclined to suggest that we’re taking this a bit too far. I’m inclined to suggest that we are, and have been, looking at this entire situation in completely the wrong way.

A friend recently suggested the following: “Many people are cunts. All gamers are people. Many gamers are cunts.” Now excuse the language but it raises a valid point, and it’s one that I think most of us are choosing to overlook, either deliberately or unintentionally. What I’d like to put forward here, and where I think gamer gate (and every other ‘discussion’ on sexism and misogyny) fails, is that we shouldn’t be restricting ourselves to assuming that this is a gamer issue, but rather a people issue.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that death threats or any of the other deplorable behavior being highlighted by gamer gate are excusable – only a fool would, but we need to start thinking that this isn’t just an issue with gamers or confined to the gaming community. For example, a friend of mine has been posting pictures of her fitness and healthy eating regime. There was one photo I clicked on where the first comment was an insult from what seemed to be a random Instagram user. Was this individual a gamer? Take a look at any YouTube video and you’ll see insensitive posts all throughout the comments section. Are all these people gamers? Only yesterday was I at the receiving end of an offensive comment within a thread on the AusRotary Facebook page. Are these people gamers too? Sure, there are some scumbags within the gaming industry, but they certainly aren’t confined just to gaming. I’d wager that we’re looking at something a little broader perhaps?

Just last week I was in Melbourne for the PAX Australia convention. It was 72 hours of hanging out with like-minded gamers and friends over drinks, lunches and a plethora of video and tabletop games. It undoubtedly stands as one of the best experiences of 2014 and from what I’ve been reading on Facebook and Twitter, I’m not alone in that opinion. Here we have gamers – actual gamers – coming together and enjoying themselves. There are no talks about harassment. No death threats. No issues. So if gamers are getting together, having fun and being respectful, what does this mean for gamer gate and the claims that sexism is rife in the community?

What are we looking at here if it’s not just a gaming issue? I could tell you that it’s an internet problem, that the fact people can hide behind an anonymous profile has resulted in a torrent of douchebags just being as offensive as they possibly can wherever they can, but while this is true it doesn’t account for all the hate online. Hell, even people with their photos and names against their profiles are jerks. So if not for the fact that some people are just jerks, what is it? What other explanation do we have for this on-going issue of misogyny and sexism in this community of ours?

One of the biggest problems with discussions like gamer gate and like all the ones before it, is that we’ve failed to progress at all in what is being spoken about. Yes, we know making death threats is wrong. We know doxing is inappropriate. ‘Slut shaming’ and other forms of harassment are inexcusable too – but what now? We’ve so hell-bent on merely calling out examples of sexism that we’ve done nothing to actually address it. There’s a marathon ahead of us and we’re still tying our shoes!

It’s all nice and well for this ‘issue’ to be discussed on a popular news outlet and be circulated around the world, but what good has it actually done? Have those individuals who threatened to kill Anita Sarkeesian been brought to justice? Has anything been done to prevent it from happening again? It’s great that we’ve got what appears to be a global circle-jerk of reviewers, journalists and gamers telling one another how appalled they all are, but what has this or is this doing? Nothing?

For all the commotion that has been caused thus far, has anyone actually been attacked or physically assaulted? In real-life if someone is being a bother we ignore them and distance ourselves. Has anyone just tried blocking and reporting these trolls? Is all we’re doing merely feeding those people who get a buzz out of another person’s misery, and is the solution just a button click away?

Everyone knows what behavior we don’t want to see, so how about we start being proactive in figuring out how to actually stop it?

– Nicholas Simonovski

That Time I Thought I Was Going to Die

Usually I’m not one to be a hypochondriac, well, not for a few years now anyway, but two weeks ago I legitimately thought I was going to die. From meningococcal disease no less.

To give some background to this story, in 2006 a student of the same high school I attended passed away after contracting the disease from a family member. There was a lot of attention surrounding the illness at the time and since then I’ve always remembered two of the telltale symptoms – purple spots on your skin and being overly sensitive to lights.

So three weeks ago I started to noticed one or two purple pimples on my arms. Initially I dismissed them as just a random breakout, but having not eaten ‘dirty’ in the days prior it did seem out of the ordinary. No problem though.

For some further context, I’ve suffered with hayfever for quite a long time now, and it was a few days later that my allergies started to play up. It was a Sunday morning and it seemed I was now starting to feel a little sick. With a few more pimples on my skin, it was at this point that the fear started to creep in. I looked up at the lights of my bedroom and made sure it wasn’t difficult to look into, although the blemishes on my arms kept me worried.

Trying to get back into my regular fitness routine, I decided to head off to the gym and sweat the sickness out, but in the back of my mind I was starting to think whether I should visit a doctor and get it checked out.

Fast-forward an hour and I’d finished my cardio session, but I was feeling worse now than when I started. I hadn’t looked at the symptoms online, but with the headache and blemishes on my arms I figured it was starting to become serious. The only thing I could think was that if I didn’t go to the doctor’s today (out of sheer laziness I should add), there’s a chance I could die this week. At this point I honestly started to contemplate that the end was days away.

Still not wanting to sit in a waiting room though for over an hour while surrounded by other sick people, I decided to Google what meningococcal and the purple spots actually looked like, in one of those desperate attempts to self-diagnose myself using the internet (dangerous, I know).

So I Googled ‘meningococcal’ and was relieved to see the purple spots I had on my arms were nothing like the actual rashes suffers would receive. It was at this point as I was sitting in my car, feeling mildly unwell and wet from the exercise that I had just finished, that I started to feel a little better, and much more relieved than I had felt for the past two weeks.

Fast forward two weeks and I haven’t died yet. Awesome.

Forza Motorsport 5 Review

For me, I’ve never been one of those day-one console adopters. I remember when the Xbox 360 launched eight years ago, and how much I wanted to get one when it was first released. Problem was, when you’re a 14 year old with no income asking your parents to spend their hard-earned cash on a $800 toy, you don’t exactly have a lot of pull.

With the Xbox One though, things were a little different. With the entry price being significantly lower than the amount consoles were initially selling for last generation, with Forza Motorsport 5 being a launch title, and with an income of my own to buy it with, I thought “why not”. The question is, now that I’ve spent the last few days with it, was the Xbox One and FM5 worth the purchase?

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To begin, I guess I should discuss the one feature that everyone’s been talking about since Forza 5 was unveiled at E3 this year – yes, it looks amazing – beautiful even. I’ve been following the franchise since Forza Motorsport 2, and it’s great to see each subsequent release improving significantly as far as graphics are concerned. For some time, I was just playing around in the Forzavista mode, checking out my 2011 Mazda RX8 R3, and just sitting in awe as to how great it looked in the game. The devil is certainly in the details though, and it’s the smaller and finer touches like the stitching in the steering wheel, the glare from the sun as you drive around the track, the reflection of your dashboard on your windshield, and the fact that you can see debris on the track outside the racing lines, which truly shows how far Forza has come, and how Turn10 have really embraced the processing power of the new Xbox.

Of course though, graphics isn’t just about how pretty the cars look, but also how great they look beaten up – and it’s also here that Turn10 have out-done themselves. The first (and for me, most important) improvement I noticed was that no longer do you get the impression that you’re racing without a windshield or windows. Crash into an opponent or barrier hard enough, and you’ll notice cracks in the glass. Scrapes look more realistic than ever too, and seeing bumpers dislodged from the body of the car as you watch the post-race video sequence never ceases to impress me. I should note though, despite all these graphical improvements, some bumpers still won’t crack but merely bend from damage – which, if I’m brutally honest, looks kind of ridiculous. Turn10 really should take a look at how damage is handled in Need For Speed Rivals, which, as far as I’m concerned, has been the industry leader for damage in the last few years.

Moving on from graphics, another solid feature of this game (as you’d expect) is the physics. Now I’ve played my fair share of racing games, and as I said earlier, I’ve followed the franchise ever since FM2, but there certainly feels to be a significant improvement in the overall feel to these cars in Forza 5. No two cars feel the same, and I’ve never played a racing game where I felt I was getting such an authentic racing experience. Racing with my RX8 R3, I’d have to constantly worry about throttle control, braking, and careful steering to ensure I navigated my way around the track without losing control – and believe me, I lost control a LOT! Contrast this to the Mitsubishi Evolution VIII I jumped into afterwards, with its AWD, and the feeling was completely different. The car felt planted, I had more confidence going into corners, and it was really obvious the differences between RWD and AWD – something which I really haven’t noticed as much in other titles.

MX5

Another major feature which Turn10 have been promoting, and which needs to be discussed, is the new ‘drivatar’ feature. Essentially, your drivatar is your virtual driver, whose driving style is based off how you drive when you’re playing the game. Drive aggressively and your drivatar will be designed to do the same. Brake later into corners, so will it, etc. etc. There are some pretty neat changes as a result of this – whenever you’re not playing Forza 5, your drivatar races for you in the cloud. This in turn earns you money while you’re not at your Xbox One. Neato! But there are a lot of disadvantages too.

When you load up the first race of the game, you’re told that there are no AI – that all your opponents in the game are other players’ drivatars. Now this sounds like a cool feature … until you realize how horrible they all are. It literally only took only a few races to see just how had the AI are in this game. Now I know that Turn10 are telling us that there are no AI, but when the other drivers in your race aren’t actually being controlled by human people – that qualifies as AI to me. Now AI has never really been a strong-point in this franchise, but it seems that they are particularly horrid this time around. In almost every race you’ll fall victim to dirty racing – where your opponents crash into you from behind, force you off the track, and are just ignorant of your racing line or position on the course. To be honest, it’s perhaps some of the worst example of driving I’ve ever seen in a game, and I just refuse to accept that it’s because my friends are or aren’t good drivers. I had to resort to dialing down the difficulty of the opponents before I started to enjoy the races a lot more.

While we’re on the topic of disappointing features, I have to discuss Forza 5’s track listing. Playing through the first two championships in career mode, I thought everything was going well. Of the tracks I’ve raced on, they were varied and fun – but it wasn’t until I was told by a mate that there were only 14 tracks, where I realized that I had already driven on them all, that my disappointment sank in … and believe me, in sank in quick. Fourteen tracks, as much as that might sound to be a lot, really isn’t. When there are so many leagues I’ve not even played yet, each with so many championships within, I’m kind of dreading the fact that I’m going to have to play through them all, with the same bunch of tracks that I’m already over. This is the next generation of gaming, this is the Xbox One, this is Forza Motorsport 5 – and Turn10 have included less tracks than their last few games, with only a handful being new tracks! I believe in quality over quality, but no developer should ever be excused for giving less! I can only hope that future DLC introduces a whole lot more tracks (which replace the existing ones in career) otherwise this game will fall victim to becoming extremely repetitive, extremely soon.

Ariel

Make no mistake, as far as launch titles go, Forza Motorsport 5 really does well to showcase exactly what the future of gaming holds, and what the Xbox One is capable of. The game looks amazing, and for the greater part plays great too. The sheer number of driver assists and options that Turn10 have made available really means that both racing fans and newcomers can enjoy Forza 5, and I absolutely love Top Gears involvement  too (I’m so glad that all three presenters lend their voices to the game)! Make no mistake, FM5 isn’t without its faults, but it’s still a solid game nonetheless.

You can also check out Stevivor.com’s review of Forza Motorsport 5 here!

Make No Mistake, I Am Legitimately An Idiot

Let me start off by saying – I don’t try to hide the fact that I’m stupid. I mean yes, I’ve gone through high school and university, and I managed to complete my degree with a distinction average, but the truth is, I’m pretty retarded. Recently I had an situation that confirmed this for me.

As people will know, for the last few months I’ve been making a conscious effort to live a healthier lifestyle – I do my best to eat right and exercise often.  In addition, I’ve also been taking much better care of myself, and part of this involves brushing my teeth regularly too (which, ashamedly, isn’t something I used to do before).

To get to the point though, I was sitting at my desk at last week and I saw that I had a pack of gum in my drawer. I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t mind some gum right now” but because it’s sweet I figured that it was made of sugar, and to avoid throwing my healthy eating out the window I decided to leave it alone.

Now that was the end of that … until I was sitting in the chair at my dentist on Saturday. It was there that it dawned on me. I realised that it would seem pretty ridiculous if chewing gum (which is marketed as something to make your teeth clean and healthy) was made of sugar. My realization was confirmed when I stopped by the newsagents later that day and saw that ‘sugar free’ was clearly marked on the packets too.

As I said folks, I’m an idiot.

–          Nicholas Simonovski

I Review Games And I’m Now a Terrorist Target

I’m not sure if this is an example of strong willpower, or whether I’m just an idiot. I’m sort of leaning towards the latter, but let me explain. For a while now, I’ve been able to successfully put off things that I’ve really wanted to do. For example, when I was in Year 12, I held off watching the latest season of Scrubs (which was season five at the time) until I finished my final exams. That was in 2008. It’s now 2013 and I’ve still not watched past the third disc in the season five box set. I didn’t get back into Scrubs after I finished my exams, and eventually I sort of just got over the show. I should mention though, I have all nine seasons – four of which are still in their shrink-wrap (despite not actually watching the show, I still cared enough to complete the collection).

The reason I’ve mentioned this though, is because I’m potentially on the brink of a serious (well, as serious as first world problems get) problem. Last week, two of this year’s most anticipated titles were released in Australia – Grand Theft Auto V and Saints Row 4. Now, given how much I’ve enjoyed past installments in their respective franchises, and given that I wanted to truly experience everything that each game had to offer, I decided that, rather than rush through one to get to the other, that I would take my time with both. I also decided that I would start with GTA V.

That was last week. Fast-forward to today and I’m still only around 25% of the way through the story in GTA V, and I’ve only really scrapped the surface of what the game has to offer. Now this normally wouldn’t be a problem, but yesterday I received a special package in the mail. Specifically, F1 2013. This normally wouldn’t be a problem either, but this is a game that I’ve asked to review for Stevivor.com. This means that I now need to put in enough hours into the game to form a solid enough opinion, to write a decent review … all of which needs to happen in as short of a timeframe as possible. As a result, GTA V has now been placed on the back-burner.

Shark Selfie

But you’re probably asking, “Nicholas, what’s the big deal?”. You’re probably thinking that I should just get the review over and done with, and then get back to playing GTA V. But here’s the thing. October isn’t a quiet month for games. No, it’s fucking busy. Pokemon X&Y is released in just under two weeks (which I’ve also asked to review), then Batman: Arkham Origins the week after, and then Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag a few days after that!

So the question begs to be asked, when am I going to get back into GTA V? Or even any of those other games? More importantly, when am I going to get around to even opening Saints Row 4?! Combined with the fact that I get very little time to play games outside of work and gym, it’ll probably take a few months to really finish any of these games! I’m thinking that maybe I should just rush through the games instead? I’ve still yet to finish Assassin’s Creed 3 and now I’m wondering if I should finish it before I start on ACIV.

AND LET’S NOT FORGET THAT THE NEXT GENERATION OF GAMING COMES IN NOVEMBER … AND I NEED TO REVIEW FORZA 5 TOO!

Deciding to pursue a hobby as a video game reviewer was a great decision, but you really have no idea how few games I’ve been able to finish since I started doing so. To be frank, my pile of shame is so high, it’s now a possible target for a terrorist attack!

– Nicholas Simonovski

Dear Internet, You’re a Buzzkill

A little under a month ago I wrote an article called ‘The Day I Stopped Being a Gamer’, where I wrote about wanting to stop identifying myself a one. To summarise it quickly, I had simply had enough of the gamer stereotype, and I was frustrated at repeatedly seeing the combination of childish and offensive behaviour, and entitled attitudes from gamers online.

I’ve been thinking though – what if I was wrong with how I approached the situation that day? Maybe, instead of ‘stepping-down’ as a ‘gamer’, I should have done something else? Specifically, perhaps I should have just stopped caring?

Every day I see comments and posts on social media from people talking about racism, sexism, and other forms of abhorrent rudeness and ignorance online. Every day I see friends complain about the sort of remarks they’ve read on the videos they upload to YouTube, the articles they write, or even just posts made on their Facebook fan pages. Reading comments like this used to rile me up. It would frustrate me that people were being absolute assholes online all because they could hide behind an avatar or anonymous screen name. I would often come to their support, leaving messages on their posts, sometimes even attacking the people they were talking about. As a matter of fact, it was only recently that I was writing an article called, “Can We Stop Being Dicks”, talking about the comments section of YouTube videos and online articles.

The key words though, are “used to rile me up” and “was writing an article”. Eventually, the passion to continue fighting had disappeared.

Ever since I started living a healthier and more active lifestyle, it’s not just my weight that has changed, but my perspective on life too. Lately I’ve been doing more things just for myself, things that I enjoy, things that make me a better person, and part of this involves not caring about how I’m perceived by others. For example, if I’m listening to a song and some people might find it lame (think *NSYNC), but I’m having a good time, dancing even – who cares if onlookers think I’m weird – I’m feeling great and that’s all that I’m concerned about.  It is here where this is where the whole passion to continue fighting that ‘good fight’ comes into play. It just no-longer fits-in with what I’m trying to get out of life right now.

If I can be frank, I’m tired of the negativity that comes with being concerned about misogyny in the gaming industry. I’m tired of the “I decided to not read the comments on a Kotaku article today” or “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore” posts on Facebook and Twitter. But this isn’t just specific to the gaming community. For the past two weeks, I’ve grown tired of people complaining about politics, when those same people couldn’t care less about what happens in Parliament in the times before/after the election. I’m tired of people talking about how Australia is now doomed that Tony Abbott is in power, that women’s rights are suddenly going back 60 years, and that people continue to make ‘budgie-smuggler’ jokes about our Prime Minister.  I’m sorry Internet, but it needs to be said – you’re all so fucking depressing.

And I know that people reading this article will say that I’m being a hypocrite, because I was once that same cynical and negative bastard that I’m speaking against not even a year ago, but I’ve moved on from that. I now realize how annoying it can be when you’re just looking for what’s wrong with the world all the time.

Now, I’ve always been someone who has typically gone against the grain, where my opinions on different topics don’t necessarily line-up with those of my friends, and I’ve generally been fine with that. What I haven’t been fine with though, is the difficulty in discussing these differences of opinions with others. Something which has always frustrated me, is the notion that my opinion is seemingly invalid because I’m just a “straight white male”, or my favourite (which I have been called in the past) – a “privileged white male”. I’m over the fact that I’m made to feel like I should be embarrassed and ashamed to be the person I am (which, I should add, was due to no real choice of my own – blame my parents maybe?) just because some jerk-offs on the internet make sexist or offensive comments, and suddenly all males are branded with this notion that we’re just savage animals.

La La La

When I’ve spoken to (female) friends and family who aren’t part of the same online circles as you and I reading this article right now, they often don’t share the same views on the importance of modern-day feminism, or the issue of sexism as I know a lot of my friends online have. They make comments that feminism today isn’t the same as feminism when it first began, and that they don’t agree with the movement as it is now. Are they wrong? Do they not “get it”? Or do they just not see it because sexism and feminism isn’t something they concern themselves with? They don’t go online to read articles on IGN or Kotaku or they don’t watch Anita Sarkeesian’s videos and check the comments section (well, if she actually allowed for comments on her videos).

Is it that I’ve just been over-exposed to the issue of sexism within gaming simply because of the number of gamer friends I interact with online? Is it that the problem of sexism is very much real, but for my non-gamer friends, it just isn’t something they often come across in their daily lives? Is the issue of sexism merely exacerbated by those online simply because of that problem that the Internet is full of trolls and idiots?

All I know, is that if I compare the Facebook posts from the two different groups, one seems to be a lot more positive and carefree than the other – and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be more like that group who choose to just enjoy themselves and stop worrying about every problem or wanker out there.

As I wrap this piece up though, I wanted to touch on what prompted me to write this article to begin with. If I’m brutally honest, it was just seeing the same type of posts online, time and time again, for the very same issues, time and time again. Constantly seeing people discussing how misogynistic the internet is, how sexist the gaming world is, how completely inept the government (which was only sworn in two days ago) is – there’s just far too much negativity on the internet – and this is from both the trolls and ‘good guys’ alike! In a conversation with Mark Ankucic recently, he said, “It’s like watching a five year old say their times-table. We’ve moved on from simply declaring things – we’ve got physics, but we’ve actually gone back and shown why the times table works and exists.” The problem is that the internet seems so concerned with constantly telling everyone that these problems exist, but that’s really about as far as anyone ever goes. It’s just posts about “eugh, the comments section” or “that character’s design is overly sexualized/offensive”, but no-one really DOES anything about it, there’s no real action being taken.

I’ve realised that I no longer wish to be a part of this vocal group anymore, I don’t want to continue being bothered by every single instance of someone being offensive or something being inappropriate. Rather than dealing with negativity and then becoming frustrated by it, I’m far more keen on focusing on the positive – the things that bring me happiness. I mentioned earlier that I wanted to focus on doing the things I enjoy, and continuing to be this ‘social warrior’ that so many people online appear to be, just doesn’t fit within that new goal. I’ll continue to be passionate about the topics I’ve always had a personal interest in, but as far as worrying myself when a game character is unveiled with clothing that is far too revealing, or when a developer makes a passing comment that one group online consider inappropriate – I’m sorry, it’s just no longer worth the time or effort. I understand that there are still issues out there which need to be addressed, but I don’t think being one of those people fighting the ‘cause’ is my place to be anymore.

– Nicholas Simonovski

As always, I’d love to hear people’s answers to the questions I’ve posed above too – please note, I ask them with no ignorance or offense intended.