The following MinerBumping post contains themes which may not be suitable for children or EVE players. Reader discretion is advised.
Editor's Note: As many of you know, I am one of the original contributors for TheMittani.com, EVE's most influential news source. Today's post is a feature that was originally submitted to TheMittani.com. I was informed by one of the site's senior editors that although she felt it was a good article, it was decided that TheMittani.com was not going to "touch" the Mintchip issue.
I have written quite a few controversial articles that were published on TheMittani.com. This is the first time I have heard of the site declaring an EVE-related news subject off-limits. At the center of the story is a thread on the official EVE forums which welcomed a new employee to CCP. It was the only thread of its kind that has ever been permanently locked; further history was made when it was deleted entirely. The thread's trip down the memory hole was completed when Chribba, the curator of Eve-Search (a website that automatically archives all EVE-O posts, even the censored ones), expunged the thread from his own website. As far as I am aware, this is the first time he has ever done so.
In my view, the value of third-party sites is that they are not subject to ISD supervision; EVE-O forum moderators make it their business to delete the few posts worth reading there. In the interest of historic preservation, I have decided to print, in full, my original article on the Mintchip controversy. It should go without saying that if you click the link to read this article, a "real talk" warning shall be in effect.
On June 4th, CCP released the "Odyssey" expansion, which was greeted by a collective yawn from the EVE playerbase. Months earlier, CCP decided to abandon the promised POS revamp, reasoning that it would have benefited only "a small portion of the community". Instead, Odyssey's centerpiece was a new scanner that no one asked for or wanted. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that on the day of the expansion's release, the most active thread on EVE-O was not about the scanner or the gratuitous new racial ship skills. Instead, EVE players focused most of their attention on Mintchip.
CCP Mintchip, the newly-hired Dust 514 "community rep", posted a thread in the EVE General Discussion subforum to announce her new position at CCP. Mintchip, one of the most well-known personalities in the EVE community, came to fame a few years ago when she began making a series of YouTube videos about EVE and other video games. Her YouTube channel boasts more than 25,000 subscribers and 3.6 million views. Most of the videos are done in the familiar "vlog" style, with Mintchip speaking into the camera. Through her videos, she shares her enthusiasm about video games and offers candid thoughts about video game culture. Mintchip is young, energetic, comfortable in front of a camera, and is a member of EVE's small community of women. Naturally, CCP welcomed her to the team. What could possibly go wrong?
If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention.
Mintchip's announcement unleashed a firestorm with an intensity rarely seen--even among the EVE playerbase. Vaju Enki, the first to reply to the EVE-O thread, set the table with his three-letter reaction: "WTF..." He received 695 likes for his trouble. The thread ballooned with negativity. Forum moderators had to call in reinforcements, and issued increasingly dire threats to the thread participants. They were ignored. In less than 12 hours, the thread received over a thousand replies, several hundred of which were individually deleted. CCP Navigator locked the thread for good, offering this delightfully apocalyptic explanation:
"For the first time in the history of any new welcome thread, this one will be closed. I will have more to say on this subject later and I seriously advise anyone trying to open a thread on Mintchip for any reason, that my actions will be swift and final. Do not test me on this."
Reading CCP Navigator's closing remark, one gets the impression that he'd much rather have been burning Carthage to the ground and putting all of its inhabitants to the sword, rather than just threatening to ban people from an internet forum about spaceships. At any rate, shortly thereafter, the thread was erased. It can still be accessed, including the censored posts, on Eve-Search at this link. (Editor's Note: The contents of the Eve-Search archived thread have also apparently been deleted.) Meanwhile, anti-Mintchip sentiment echoed across Twitter, Reddit, and other outposts of EVE conversation.
Tempers are flaring; the matter at hand is a delicate one. The controversy touches on a number of sensitive topics, including the treatment of women in video game culture, misogyny, sexual politics, and other hot-button issues. This is no time for oversimplified, black-and-white narratives. All efforts must be made to avoid finger-pointing, demagoguery, or overheated rhetoric. The subject must be explored in a thoughtful, evenhanded, and responsible manner. In considering who would be the appropriate choice for taking on this task, I immediately thought of myself.
I'm James 315, you're you, and today we're going to be talking about The Mintchip Controversy.
CCP MINTCHIP REPORTING FOR DUTY
Those who are unfamiliar with Mintchip are probably scratching their heads and wondering what she did to make so many people so upset. Before CCP deleted the thread, it was filled with EVE players who wasted no time in answering that very question. There are a number of reasons why players objected to CCP's hiring of Mintchip, and each of these will be analyzed in this post.
Just a few weeks before Mintchip became CCP's liaison to the Dust 514 community, she caused a bit of a stir with some tweets in which she voiced her displeasure with the EVE community, and declared her intention to quit the game. Mintchip's detractors quickly responded to her CCP hiring thread by asking about the tweets--which were made on the same Twitter account that she still uses. Mintchip, who declined to participate in the thread, read the posts and deleted the offending tweets--but not before they were captured in screenshots and uploaded to Imgur. Mintchip's critics posted links to the screenshots, demanding an explanation. EVE-O moderators replied by deleting these posts.
Were the tweets really so bad, though? Most long-term EVE players have taken a break from the game at some point. And people do occasionally lose their patience with other EVE players. Surely this doesn't disqualify someone from working for CCP. But the critics pointed to the way in which the criticisms of the EVE community were made, and how Mintchip reacted to players like DJ FunkyBacon, who urged her not to tarnish all EVE players with the same brush. Mintchip tweeted:
"Played with a couple #eveonline players in #dota2, and was voice abused by one of them for suggesting he buy a courier. So done with eve.... It's my opinion. I've been playing eve for 2+ years, and I've had good times, but a lot more bad than from any other medium.... I don't HANG with them, they harass me consistently. They think it's fun and cool to be mean to people. That's not my scene.... Yeah I'm done. Feel free to unsub/unfollow.... I don't even want to play the game anymore. I'm completely turned off to it at this point. Sorry. :("
(Twisting the knife, the individual who took the screenshot made sure to include an earlier tweet in which Mintchip praised World of Warcraft.)
EVE players took issue with the fact that Mintchip singled out the EVE community as a particularly bad lot. How, they asked, could she be hired as a community relations person, even if it was for Dust 514 instead of EVE? And if she disliked the community that much, why would she even want to do that job? To draw a comparison, imagine if a popular talk radio personality sparked a controversy by saying he didn't like the French people or their culture, and was suddenly announced as the new ambassador to France a few weeks later.
CCP didn't think much of this criticism. CCP Xhagen, who had been an EVE community relations guy himself, dismissed the objections, saying they were the byproduct of EVE players being afraid of girls. At this point, I'm usually accused of mischaracterizing someone's argument by constructing a straw man in its place. They assume that people wouldn't rely on such weak arguments. In fact, people often do make arguments so flimsy that they're indistinguishable from straw men. Such is the case here. CCP Xhagen wrote, verbatim:
"Unlike the majority of the guys in this thread, I'm not afraid of girls."
At a stroke, EVE players' concerns were classified as misogyny and nothing more. Needless to say, they weren't happy. To offer some idea of the level of animosity in the thread, Myelinated snapped back, "It's easier to talk to the girls once you start paying them."
As the carnage continued, another member of the CCP community relations team weighed in. After threatening to ban people if they got out of hand, CCP Dolan informed the anti-Mintchip forces that they weren't going to get what they wanted:
"Players do not have any say in who CCP does, or does not hire. If they did we would have fired the entire company long ago ;) You haven't seen anyone's CV, and you haven't sit in on any interviews; CCP cannot hire employees based on the vague opinions of 500,000 people."
The critics fired back, expressing disbelief that the opinions of the community were not considered when hiring someone to do community relations. CCP Dolan continued, defending Mintchip against attacks on her YouTube persona:
"The personality that someone has online, is not even close to who they are when it comes to their profession. I, for instance, am not sloppy drunk 24/7, but if you only knew me as a player before I joined CCP you would probably think that was true."
Amazingly, CCP Dolan--probably the most frequently-criticized new staff member prior to Mintchip's arrival--had offered himself up as a success story, an example of someone who exceeded the community's expectations. The bottom of the barrel had been scraped into splinters.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
As the backlash continued, the attacks against Mintchip began to spiral out of control, taking on a nastier and more personal color. Much of the distaste reflected in the comments had nothing to do with Mintchip's tweets about the EVE community. Since the beginning, Mintchip has been a polarizing figure. Her YouTube videos attracted mockery and criticism, but she also gained plenty of fans. After all, if someone has that many subscribers and viewers, surely they can't all be haters. As demonstrated by the EVE-O thread, though, people with negative opinions tend to drown out those with positive ones. People who disagree or dislike what they're reading or watching are more motivated to put in their two cents. This rule holds true across the internet. If one reads an opinion column on TheMittani.com, for example, one is likely to find most of the commenters disagreeing with its premises. But if a counterpoint article is posted, most of the commenters will voice disagree with it, too. When CCP Mintchip made her announcement, everyone with a grudge felt compelled to say something.
The very nature of the announcement aroused suspicion. Critics accused Mintchip of continuing in her pattern of--to their minds--excessively seeking out attention. Despite being a Dust 514 rep, she posted her thread in the EVE General Discussion subforum. (Actually, Mintchip had simultaneously posted the same thread on the equivalent Dust 514 subforum.)
Players also found fault with Mintchip's name. Whenever an EVE player takes a job at CCP, they adopt a name distinct from their former in-game name. Raivi, for example, became CCP Fozzie. Mintchip, the exception to this rule, remained CCP Mintchip. Her detractors, assuming she must have insisted on keeping her name, took this as evidence of shameless self-promotion. But CCP Eterne explained,
"Mintchip was allowed to keep her old handle because it would be obvious as soon as she appeared at a player meet, on any of our videos, or the like."
The argument didn't hold up. Alliance Tournament commentators such as Raivi, Kil2, Darius Johnson, and Michael BoltonIII all changed their names (CCP Fozzie, Rise, Screegs, and Dolan) despite being instantly recognizable to players.
Perhaps Mintchip had made a request for special dispensation, but it's equally possible that it was CCP's idea, hoping to draw Mintchip's fans to Dust 514. Regardless, many were bothered by the fact that Mintchip got to keep her name. I'm not one of them. Personally, I think the old system of name changes is outdated. It originated in a time when CCP employees' past in-game identities were more closely guarded (though not always successfully). Today, it's much more common for CCP to hire EVE players, especially players whose faces are recognized from Fanfest panels and Alliance Tournaments. In the past, the idea was that as a CCP employee, an EVE player put his old in-game identity away, breaking ties with his corp and alliance. "Mintchip" wasn't merely used as an in-game name; she used and continues to use it for her YouTube and Twitter, which are not always used for EVE-related content. She's not alone in using an EVE character name outside of EVE. Going forward, I think it would make sense to give CCP employees the option of being CCP [OldName], if they so chose.
TROLLS AND WHITE KNIGHTS
As the EVE-O thread continued to explode, the anti-Mintchip voices took it over almost entirely. Those interested in welcoming the new CCP employee tiptoed quietly out of the thread. Some defended Mintchip, attempting to explain why someone who didn't care for the EVE community could nevertheless make a great Dust 514 community rep. For the most part, however, it was up to the forum moderators to hold the line, reviewing and deleting offensive posts as quickly as they could.
In watching the action unfold, I was struck by how willing people were to post things that they must have known would get them banned from the forums, if not the game itself. People made offensive new posts faster than the old material could be deleted. The thread began to seesaw back and forth as posts were added and subtracted. Because the moderators couldn't delete posts quickly enough, readers drew their own conclusions about what was and wasn't allowed. For example, a poster would make a reference to photos on the internet which allegedly showed Mintchip in various states of undress. If the reference wasn't deleted, the next poster would think it was acceptable to expand on the subject. Order broke down entirely.
Despite the visible chaos, players were being banned left and right. On forums outside of EVE-O, players reported being banned for long periods, being permabanned, and having multiple characters banned from the forums. So many trolls were being cut down in the flower of youth, but the attacks continued. It resembled a doomed offensive in the trenches of the First World War. A phalanx of posters would be annihilated, but then instantly replaced by another wave of attackers climbing "over the top", rushing senselessly into the slaughter. With apologies to Rupert Brooke:
If I should be permabanned, think only this of me:
That there's some post in a deleted thread
That is forever Dreddit.
In response, the white knights sallied forth. Taking their cue from CCP Xhagen's "I'm not afraid of girls" remark, they accused everyone of misogyny. According to the knights, there was no merit to be found in any of the criticisms; Mintchip's chilly reception on EVE-O was solely due to her gender. Critics countered by pointing to several other female CCP employees, some of whom are quite popular and well-respected in the EVE community. None of those women had ever been treated this way, so critics argued that Mintchip was targeted on her own merits, not according to her gender.
As we shall see, plenty of avenues for misogyny were indeed exploited throughout the conflict. But counterattacks against the white knights were on point in some cases. The difference between supporting people and white-knighting them is analogous to the difference between legitimate criticism and misogynist trolling. If you rush to the defense of a woman on the internet, but do not find yourself similarly motivated to defend men, it raises the possibility that your motives are impure. White-knighting isn't only done for women, of course: It's frequently done for forum moderators and others in positions of virtual "authority". If you act as a self-appointed bodyguard for a forum moderator or CCP Dev, but not for anyone else, then you are probably trying to curry favor for your own benefit, even if unconsciously.
With anarchy breaking out across on EVE-O, the attacks in the Mintchip thread took on a darker tone. As I mentioned earlier, Mintchip was the subject of controversy even before she made her tweets about the EVE community. The Mintchip-related havoc on the forum attracted the attention of those with old scores that needed settling.
As can be seen in the archived Eve-Search version of the thread, detractors repeatedly referenced Mintchip's Amazon "Wish List". Years earlier, Mintchip sparked controversy by including on her YouTube page a link to a registry where people could anonymously buy her gifts. Driving the controversy was the fact that people actually were buying her gifts--some of which cost hundreds of dollars--for a total of a couple thousand dollars. Mintchip claimed that she had purchased some of the gifts herself, and that family members also bought some of the items. Nevertheless, some of Mintchip's fans had bought gifts for someone simply because she made YouTube videos about EVE. The idea took root that Mintchip was taking advantage of lonely nerds, enabling them to give her free stuff in a desperate bid for her attention. Some took it a step further, complaining that Mintchip was selling out, or somehow selling herself, by doing so. This complaint came up again and again in the now-deleted EVE-O thread.
It's true that some people, for reasons of their own, bought Mintchip gifts and gave her isk and/or other in-game assets in EVE. She was even invited to join Pandemic Legion, which ordinarily holds itself out as an exclusive, elite PvP alliance. Rumors notwithstanding, there's no evidence that Mintchip ever offered to give an EVE player anything in exchange for in-game or out-of-game gifts. She just didn't refuse the gifts. Is an Amazon Wish List tacky? Perhaps. On the other hand, it's not uncommon for "free" websites, including blogs, to include a PayPal donation button or "tip jar". There's an element of chutzpah involved, but at least it's less obtrusive than raising revenue via advertising. And, of course, there's part of me--the retired EVE scammer part--that's kind of curious to see how much stuff people will buy Mintchip.
Others are not so easily amused. People who attack Mintchip may be accused of misogyny, but some of her toughest critics are other women who play EVE. They feel she reinforces negative stereotypes about women who play video games, particularly MMOs. They recoil at the concept of the attention-seeking "gurl gamer" who gets free stuff from admirers. From their point of view, the Mintchips of the world make it that much more difficult for women like themselves to be accepted as normal, legitimate, equal EVE players.
Maybe so. But the argument can be made that there's room for more than one kind of gamer. There may be a place--even in a cutthroat MMO like EVE--for women who play casually, perhaps not taking the game very seriously, and let men throw good money away. Supposing that this is deemed an illegitimate play style, the burden is still on men to more readily distinguish between the "gurl gamers" and the ordinary women who play EVE. This is preferable to painting all female gamers with the same brush and trying to chase away the "illegitimate" female players, in the hopes that the uniform image of the remaining women looks better. Similarly, distinguishing between the misogynist trolls and those with legitimate critiques is a more attainable goal than getting rid of all the trolls.
In any case, all of this discussion about "gurl gamers" still begs the question of whether Mintchip's YouTube videos, and others like them, should be considered attention-seeking behavior.
MOTIVES FOR MAKING CONTENT
Anyone--male or female--who finds him or herself in any kind of EVE-related spotlight is likely, at some point, to be called an "attention whore". That label has even been thrown at me, which is amazing to me, because my motives for generating EVE-related content are so damned pure. Consider, for example, my own website, www.MinerBumping.com. It's far and away one of the most popular EVE blogs, receiving thousands of views each and every day. But my primary motive for creating such a blog couldn't have been to get attention, because surely I wouldn't have anticipated that a blog about bumping AFK miners in highsec would become so popular. In fact, I did anticipate it, because everything I write about EVE gets a lot of attention. I am a rock star, so that was a bad example. Let's consider a more typical case.
Think of any other EVE blog that you read. No matter how popular it may be today, it's very likely that the person writing it started off making posts that got little or almost no traffic. Most bloggers begin essentially writing to themselves; they have no audience. Very few blogs are successful, traffic-wise, right out of the gate. Therefore, if a blog survives long enough to get popular, the writer is almost certainly motivated by something other than attention-seeking. They may deliberately take steps to increase their traffic (provocative headlines, etc.), but at worst, their motives are mixed.
The same, I suspect, is true of Mintchip's YouTube vlog. It's unlikely that she made videos about computer games out of any deep-seated craving for attention. Her motives were probably as simple as they appear on the surface: She enjoyed making some videos about games, so she kept making them whenever she felt like it.
The argument that Mintchip's videos are a play for attention comes from people who suggest that if her videos are bad, and if they reflect a shallow understanding of EVE, then she doesn't really care what she's talking about; she just makes the videos to farm hits. In the world of video games, such skepticism is fueled by "booth babes" and TV hosts who are paid to feign an interest in games. Again, people ought to be able to tell the difference. The idea that Mintchip is pretending to like video games is pretty silly.
This brings us to the matter of the videos' quality. Without putting words into the mouth of our esteemed editor, Mintchip's videos about EVE would likely qualify as the kind of content that The Mittani was trying to move beyond when he created this website. The videos would be more welcome on a website like EveNews24, with its, well, relaxed standards. Indeed, EN24 did post links to Mintchip's videos on a regular basis. Does that mean all of EN24's contributors, producing content of similar quality, are a bunch of attention-seekers who don't care about EVE? You could say so, but I would disagree.
There's no denying that a "girl on the internet", particularly in an environment like EVE's, is going to get more traffic than her male equivalent. That may explain some of the traffic that Mintchip gets--cynics would say it explains nearly all of the traffic. But that's an explanation for traffic, not an independently-functioning criticism of the quality of the videos. Mintchip's male equivalent might get fewer hits, but in my view, higher traffic levels don't come with any heightened responsibility for producing good content. Besides, men are still perfectly capable of producing garbage that gets lots of hits. Riverini, the editor of EN24, has gotten traffic to plenty of terrible articles, and he's a man of sorts.
No matter how critical one might be of Mintchip's videos, there's a silver lining: We can all agree that they're still better than the 38-second video put out by CCP Xhagen and CCP Dolan when they were trying to increase voter turnout for the CSM8 election. So that's an improvement on day one.
If it sounds like I'm being uncharacteristically generous on this point, I am. I have a bias in favor of content creators, even if I don't personally enjoy the content they create. If the content is low quality in my eyes, I still respect and appreciate it when people who don't work for the game developer make the effort to produce something for their fellow players. Contrast that with the behavior of the highsec carebears, who demand so much and offer so little in return.
THE BLAME GAME
Putting aside all of the nuances discussed in this article, the announcement of Mintchip as the new Dust 514 "community rep" was an unmitigated disaster. Who was to blame for the debacle?
In spite of all the animosity directed her way, I can't really think of anything that Mintchip did wrong. Granted, it almost seems like an incredibly elaborate troll to condemn the EVE community and then unexpectedly pop up as a community relations person a few weeks later. But it was CCP's decision to put her into that specific job. Maybe it was provocative to get an exception to keep the "Mintchip" name, and maybe she should have posted only on the Dust 514 forums, rather than both the Dust and EVE forums. I can't fault her for either of those things, though.
The blame falls on CCP. They didn't need to hire Mintchip, nor did they need to assign her to a community relations post, given her comments about the EVE community. And if they did have their hearts set on giving her that particular job, they could have done much more to mitigate the fallout. Since Mintchip's inflammatory tweets were only a few weeks old, they must have known about them. I can't imagine CCP being ignorant of Mintchip's controversial history, either. Prior to the announcement, they should have prepared a game plan for dealing with these issues in an honest, diplomatic manner. Deleting posts, saying that everyone is afraid of girls, and declaring that the community's opinion on a community relations rep are unimportant--these were bad decisions.
Some might be maddened or mystified by CCP's amateurish attempts at public relations. To a seasoned bittervet such as myself, I almost find it charming, like an old house whose creaks and groans add to its character. Still, I would have handled things much differently. Like Mintchip, I am a somewhat polarizing figure. But I think that if I were in her position, I could rally everyone together with a passionate, inspiring speech; I've seen it done in plenty of movies. Could a CCP James315 announcement be in EVE's future? Don't answer that question yet, dear reader, I just want you to think about it.