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Video games have replaced music as the most important aspect of youth culture | Sean Monahan | Opinion

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It would be incorrect to say video games went mainstream in 2020. They’ve been mainstream for decades. But their place in pop culture feels far more central – to gamers and non-gamers alike – than ever before. In part, this is due to desperate marketers hunting for eyeballs in a Covid landscape of cancelled events. Coachella wasn’t happening, but Animal Crossing was open was for business. Politicians eager to “Rock the Vote” looked to video games to reach young voters. (See: Joe and Kamala’s virtual HQ and AOC streaming herself playing Among Us.) The time-honored tradition of older politicians trying to seem young and hip at a music venue has been replaced by older politicians trying to seem young and hip playing a video game. Yes, quarantine was part of this. But, like so many trends during the pandemic, Covid didn’t spark this particular trajectory so much as intensify it. Long before the lockdowns, video games had triumphed as the most popular form of entertainment among young people.

The writing was on the wall in November 2019. When Morning Consult, a consumer intelligence firm, reported that the controversial YouTube star PewDiePie had the same name recognition as – and higher favorability than – super-athlete LeBron James among Gen-Z American men it was headline news. Who’s PewDiePie?! confused millennials wondered. (He’s a Swedish YouTuber who reviews video games. Teens like to watch videos of him playing.) The shift was corroborated last spring, when Adweek reported that the gaming industry’s revenue (at $139bn a year) had outstripped the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL combined. By this December, lockdown life further fattened the industry. The global gaming industry is set to take in $180bn for 2020 – a 20% increase in revenue, and more than sports and movies worldwide.

The most fetishized products of 2020 were gaming platforms: the Nintendo Switch in the spring and the PlayStation 5 this fall. It wasn’t the usual suspects lining up to score a console either. With bars and clubs closed, even the actor and legendary party girl Lindsay Lohan was excited to pose next to her comped PS5. There’s a familiar rhythm to the release of a must-have consumer product: days of excited internet chatter in anticipation of a launch followed by days of frustrated anguish as limited supply stymies surging demand. This once belonged to the iPhone, but now belongs to the gaming rigs.

Being in the spotlight comes with downsides, too. The highly anticipated blockbuster event of the year was Cyberpunk 2077. Starring Keanu Reeves and featuring an avant-garde soundtrack with songs by Grimes, Sophie and A$AP Rocky, the sci-fi roleplaying game cost a staggering $317m to develop. Video games now come within striking distance of the largest Hollywood production budgets. (For those wondering: the most expensive movie ever made was Avatar, in 2009, at $478m.) Despite all the hype and all the cash, the game flopped, prompting complaints about seizure-inducing graphics, poor performance on older consoles, and culturally insensitive content. As with last year’s disastrous Cats movie, oddly rendered genitalia create problems for even the best-laid marketing plan. With refunds issued and fixes promised by developer CD Projekt Red, it will be interesting to see if post-launch patches work for video games. (They clearly failed in film, with regard to Cats.) Yet despite everything, even with refunds, the game sold 13m copies.

Across music and fashion, cultural leaders have taken note and begun producing gamerbait: cultural products inspired by the aesthetic ecosystem of the gaming world. On the fashion front, Balenciaga released their Fall 2021 collection in the form of a video game. Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow allows users to explore a city as a store, with various non-player characters styled in the brand’s newest looks. Like video games themselves, the aesthetics borrow heavily from science fiction and fantasy. Plate-armor shoes and boots are now available for custom order. On the music front, Travis Scott and Lil Nas X delivered blockbuster performances on the soundtracks of the video games Fortnite and Roblox, respectively. With Scott’s Astroworld concert bringing in 12m viewers, he had nearly double the audience of the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs).

We’re in the midst of a cultural shift. As Trevor McFedries, the co-founder of Brud (the studio behind the world’s most famous CGI influencer, Lil Miquela), tweeted last month: “Gaming is replacing music as the lynchpin of emergent social scenes and it makes everyone 30+ I talk to really uncomfortable.” Where rock and hip hop were once crucibles of style, cyberpunk and fantasy gaming genres inspire a new generation. Where music venues were once the places youth movements found their most exciting form – Boomers in rock clubs, Gen Xers in grunge bars, Millennials in DIY warehouses – Gen Z meets up with friends online. It’s unclear to me if my twentysomething brother has ever been to a concert, but every night he does what most kids his age do: he goes online, games and gossips with his friends. It’s easy to forget: video games are designed as social experiences. A PlayStation is a kind of phone, too. And my brother is not alone. In a study by the entertainment brand Whistle, 68% of Gen-Z men said gaming was an important part of their identity, 91% said they played video games regularly and 74% said video games helped them stay connected with their friends.

While the gaming industry booms, the music industry struggles with multiple overlapping crises: streaming platforms pay artists disastrously low royalties, venues scrap to make rent in rapidly gentrifying cities from London to Los Angeles, and Covid bars artists from making any money whatsoever from live performances. But gaming’s wins can’t be chalked up to the difficulties in other culture industries alone. It’s difficult not to look the graphics of the latest video games like The Witcher, Call of Duty, or Control and see some of the most compelling imagery of our age. As much as it may disturb many people, if music was the most important form of youth culture in the 20th century, video games seem slated to be the most important in the 21st.

  • Sean Monahan is a writer and trend forecaster based in Los Angeles. He co-founded K-Hole, the trend forecasting group best-known for coining the term normcore. He releases a weekly trends newsletter at 8ball.substack.com



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Facebook News rolls in UK as tech giants start paying for journalism

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The logos of Facebook and Google apps displayed on a tablet.

Denis Charlet | AFP via Getty Images

LONDON — Facebook announced it will start rolling out its Facebook News product in the U.K. on Tuesday, and will pay publishers for their content.

Facebook News is a dedicated section within the Facebook app that features curated and personalized news from hundreds of national, local and lifestyle publications.

The product, which competes with Apple News, launched in the U.S. last June and the U.K. is the second country to get access to it.

Facebook claims the product delivers “informative, reliable and relevant news” to users “while also highlighting original and authoritative reporting on pressing topics.”

Jesper Doub, Facebook’s European director of news partnerships, said in a blog post on Tuesday: “This is the beginning of a series of international investments in news.”

He added: “The product is a multi-year investment that puts original journalism in front of new audiences as well as providing publishers with more advertising and subscription opportunities to build sustainable businesses for the future.”

Facebook announced the U.K. launch of Facebook News in November, saying it would feature content from media partners including Conde Nast, Hearst, The Economist, and Guardian Media Group.

On Tuesday, Facebook said it has now signed up Channel 4 News, Daily Mail Group, DC Thomson, Financial Times, Sky News and Telegraph Media Group.

Some content that is normally behind a paywall is free to view on Facebook News, which is expected to launch in more countries this year.

“We’ll continue to learn, listen and improve Facebook News as it rolls out across the U.K. and into other markets, including France and Germany, where we are in active negotiations with partners,” said Doub.

Tech giants like Facebook and Google are under increasing pressure to pay media companies for their content.

A Facebook spokesperson told CNBC that the company will pay certain U.K. publications to feature their content in Facebook News, but he was unable to reveal how much.

“We will pay some publishers to participate in Facebook News,” he said. “We’re paying for content which is not already on the platform in order to achieve a diverse set of coverage across a range of topic areas.”

He added: “Monetization for the majority of publishers appearing in Facebook News will be similar to monetization via other Facebook tabs, from referral traffic to your sites or ads in Instant Articles, pushing people to hit a paywall.”

Google’s battle

Last week, Google signed a deal to pay French publishing companies and news agencies for their content.

The agreement comes after several months of talks between Google France and the media groups, which are represented by France’s Alliance de la Presse d’Information Generale lobby.

Google said it would negotiate individual licenses with members of the alliance that cover related rights and open access to a new mobile service from the company called News Showcase.

The search giant said last year that it would pay news publishers for the first time, a change of tack from the internet giant which for years had refused to do so. The company agreed to a raft of initial deals in Germany, Australia and Brazil, and now appears to be extending that to France.

But when the Australian Government proposed a new law that would force Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for the right to link to their content, Google threatened to pull its widely used search engine from the country.

“Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Mel Silva, managing director for Google Australia and New Zealand, told a senate committee last week.

Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, told a press conference “we don’t respond to threats.”

— Additional reporting by CNBC’s Ryan Browne.


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Apple taps hardware chief to lead new mystery project

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Steve Proehl | Corbis Unreleased | Getty Images

Apple promoted its hardware chief, Dan Riccio, to a new role “focusing on a new project.” He will report to CEO Tim Cook, Apple announced on Monday.

Riccio was previously the company’s senior vice president for hardware engineering, signing off on the physical aspects and electrical engineering of Apple products, including iPhones. He’s been on Apple’s “executive team” reporting to Cook since 2012.

Apple did not mention what project Riccio would work on in its announcement.

“Next up, I’m looking forward to doing what I love most — focusing all my time and energy at Apple on creating something new and wonderful that I couldn’t be more excited about,” Riccio said in a statement.

Apple rarely discusses future products, but in recent years, the tech giant has been working on unreleased electric cars as well as virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.

John Ternus will take over for Riccio. Ternus was previously a VP at Apple and his public profile has been growing in recent years. Last year, he was a key presenter of the company’s transition from Intel processors to its own M1 processors for laptops at a livestreamed launch event.


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These Brave Corporations Did What No Social Platforms Could Do, And I’m Weeping

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There’s this cliché in crime movies where the ace FBI agent steps under the yellow caution tape surrounding the scene of a murder and tells the bumbling local police, “OK, boys, we’ll take it from here.”

For over a decade now, when it comes to content moderation, social media platforms have played the cop — accidentally shooting themselves in the dick with their own gun, letting the bad guys operate with impunity, doling out mere speeding tickets to Mafia capos, and barely bothering to dust the donut crumbs off themselves when law-abiding citizens come in to file a noise complaint.

Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have failed over and over to stamp out hate groups, disinformation, and the QAnon mass delusion, allowing them to fester and metastasize into our politics and culture. The mob that stormed the Capitol was a manifestation of this failure: organized online, bloated on disinformation smoothies gavage-fed to them via “up next” sidebars, and whipped into a frenzy by the poster in chief everyone knew the mods wouldn’t ever touch. That there were some people who were immune to the platforms’ moderation was common knowledge; the companies spent years designing contorted “community standards,” endlessly writing and rewriting their content moderation guidelines, and establishing supreme courts to review, approve, and legitimize each decision.

And then the FBI stepped under that yellow tape.

In the end, it was the big-money brands that had never dirtied themselves with the thankless and dismal task of moderating posts and banning users that stepped in. Capitalism drained the fever swamp.

The right to free speech is fundamental, but it is not absolute or — crucially — free from consequences. This is something Amazon, Apple, and Google have made definitively clear in acting the way they have. Which makes it all the more lol that the platforms whose business is content have struggled for so long. No one wants the decisions about what we see online to be made by opaque corporations. But this is what happened, and where we are right now.

The companies that run the infrastructure of social media pulled out their seldom-used banhammers and swung mightily. When it became clear that Parler, a “free speech” alternative to Twitter, had been a gathering place for some who participated in the storming of the Capitol and had continued to host discussions of violent threats against politicians and tech executives, Apple quickly removed it from the App Store, and Google removed it from its Google Play storefront. The same day, Amazon terminated Parler’s cloud hosting service, effectively knocking it offline. (Parler tried to take Amazon to court, but a judge tossed its case.) Apple and Amazon aren’t social platforms — and while they do some light content moderation in places like product reviews, this is not what they do.

It’s worth noting that these companies only seem to leap into action following high-profile violence, like a murder at the hands of a mob of violent extremists.

Other companies that are not Facebook, Google, or Twitter quickly followed suit. Fearing its rentals might be used by insurrectionists, Airbnb blocked all stays in the DC area during Joe Biden’s inauguration. It also said its political fundraising group was halting campaign donations to lawmakers who had voted against certifying the election results. Other companies did the same: AT&T, American Express, Hallmark, Nike, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and dozens more. Did you catch that? Hallmark!

Financial services firms were also quick to act after the Jan. 6 riot. Stripe, the bloodless online payment processor used by many e-commerce sites, dumped the official Donald Trump website. GoFundMe banned fundraisers for travel to Trump rallies. E-commerce platforms PayPal and Shopify booted the Trump campaign and associated sites that were promoting lies about the election. Financial services companies may not be in the moderation game, but they are beholden to stockholders and their bottom line. Because of that, they acted swiftly to deal a bigger body blow to Trump’s power than Facebook and Twitter could do in a thousand disclaimers about election results.

The Great Deplatforming of 2021 that saw removals of Trump from social sites and Parler from app stores isn’t the first time financial firms have done in days the moderation that platforms failed to do for years. In December, it was revealed that Pornhub was hosting nonconsensual pornography, some of which included child sex abuse materials. Visa and Mastercard pulled their payment processing from the site. Pornhub had *for years* done an appalling job of policing its platform for such material, complaining it was difficult to eradicate. But after the credit card companies acted, it quickly did just that, removing any content not posted by a verified account.

Tech companies that aren’t social platforms have also taken sweeping steps against extremist content in the recent past. In 2019, Cloudflare, a web hosting platform, dropped 8chan after discovering its association with a gunman who killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. In response to the violent far-right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Cloudflare stopped hosting hate sites like the Daily Stormer. Apple Pay and PayPal have terminated their services for a number of hate groups. Squarespace booted hate sites built on it, as did GoDaddy, which would later kick the social platform Gab off its service.

It’s worth noting that these companies only seem to leap into action following high-profile violence, like a killing committed by a mob of extremists. Mere public pressure or petulant, whiny news stories don’t move the dial.


That these companies have likely spent little time considering the free speech nuances of content moderation is, uh, not ideal. There are troubling implications. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have warned against allowing companies Visa or Cloudflare too much power over what is allowed to exist on the open internet.

The Great Deplatforming was a response to a singular and extreme event: Trump’s incitement of the Capitol attack. As journalist Casey Newton pointed out in his newsletter, Platformer, it was notable how quickly the full stack of the tech companies reacted. We shouldn’t assume that Amazon will just start taking down any site because it did it this time. This was truly an unprecedented event. On the other hand, do we dare think for a moment that Bad Shit won’t keep happening? Buddy, bad things are going to happen. Worse things. Things we can’t even imagine yet!

They’ve created their own wonk-filled supreme courts where the judges make six figures to do 15 hours of work per week to argue over what kind of nipples are banned.

Some of you will inevitably note that there’s a common variation on the “OK, boys, we’ll take it from here” trope:

The underappreciated but smart, highly capable, and principled town sheriff intent on solving the case on their own, FBI be damned. But that fails as a metaphor here because Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter certainly haven’t proven themselves to be highly capable when it comes to content moderation (see earlier description of shooting oneself in the dick with their own gun, repeatedly, as if they had many Hydra-like dicks that kept regrowing when shot). Twitter’s booting of various hate and misinformation peddlers this past year came after more than a decade of widespread and widely known harassment and abuse. TikTok, the newest and possibly most vital platform, hasn’t quite figured out its moderation strategy yet, and it seems to fluctuate between deleting videos that are critical of China and allowing sketchy ads. There’s something almost comical about YouTube issuing a “strike” on Trump’s account as if he’s Logan Paul in the Japanese “suicide forest.” And Facebook? Well, Facebook is Facebook.

The first six cases basically read like a greatest hits of Facebook content moderation controversies: hate speech, hate speech, hate speech, female nipples, Nazis and COVID health misinfo. https://t.co/JwByovVT1S


Twitter

Long before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were excusing their moderation failures with lines like “there’s always more work to be done” and “if you only knew about all the stuff we remove before you see it,” Something Awful, the influential message board from the early internet, managed to create a healthy community by aggressively banning bozos. As the site’s founder, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka, told the Outline in 2017, the big platforms might have had an easier time of it if they’d done the same thing, instead of chasing growth at any cost:

We can ban you if it’s too hot in the room, we can ban you if we had a bad day, we can ban you if our finger slips and hits the ban button. And that way people know that if they’re doing something and it’s not technically breaking any rules but they’re obviously trying to push shit as far as they can, we can still ban them. But, unlike Twitter, we actually have what’s called the Leper’s Colony, which says what they did and has their track record. Twitter just says, “You’re gone.”

That it took the events of Jan. 6 and five deaths to finally ban Trump from social platforms is, frankly, shameful, especially given the elaborate and endlessly tweaked justifications from these social sites for permitting posts that are unmistakably, conspicuously malignant. They’ve created their own wonk-filled supreme courts where the judges make six figures to do 15 hours of work per week to argue over what kind of nipples are banned. They have created incomprehensible bibles of moderation rules for throngs of underpaid, outsourced workers who are treated horribly. They’ve written manifestos about plans for “healthy conversations.” They flip-flop over whether to ban neo-Nazis or remonetize the channel for an anti-gay hate-monger. They respond to threats to democracy and public health with ”the more you know”–style labels and information “hubs.” They have worked their heads so far up their asses that they’ve forgotten they can just smash that “ban” button.

Is it admirable that Amazon, Apple, et al., stepped in to do the moderation work that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have failed to do for so long? Not necessarily! Big yikes!

But that’s what happened. Drano works to unclog my shower, but my landlord tells me it ruins the whole pipe system. I don’t expect the plumbing system of the internet to improve; there will always be more monster turds clogging it up. Happy flushing ●



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