Tuesday, 26 March 2013

What's wrong with youth interest?

I wanted to write about ducking exceptions and proper coupling tonight. I really did, but I spent all afternoon (while trying to debug an issue with TeamCity) reading about the Internet Hate Parade descending on a nine-year-old’s Kickstarter.

I’m still reading analysis of the shitshow that was Adria Richards’ firing, and then my Twitter firehose starts getting flooded by reports of further asshattery inflicted upon a nine-year-old girl who wants to be a video game developer and her mother. I try not to read the comments when it’s pretty predictable where the threads will go, but I had to read them tonight. I had to find out exactly what was being said; what was being glossed over by the larger media outlets—and I found that it’s unprintable.

So here’s Mackenzie Wilson, a young girl who’s really into role-playing games, Magic: The Gathering, video games, and wants to learn more about how make them herself. Her brothers, like so many other men, have been shitting all over her abilities and intelligence (though, just to play Devil’s Advocate, I recall how much my own older brother did this to me simply because he was older than me). The Kickstarter is asking for enough money to cover her fees at a game-making camp put on by Towson University, and promises a copy of the game to anyone who kicks in more than $10. The original aim was just the $829 single-week fee (which, I might add, doesn’t include the $519 overnight fee), and as of the time I’m writing this, has already come up with $21 910, since the evening of 20 March. Six days, and she can now afford to go to camp all summer, and then some.

The Internet Hate Brigade has descended on this kid and her mother. Between calls to report the project to Kickstarter (which are going unheeded; her mother has said in a couple of updates that the project has Kickstarter’s full support), the following points are being trotted out to fuel the fire:

  • Kickstarter doesn’t permit “pay my tuition” projects.
  • Her mother is, allegedly, a multimillionaire serial entrepreneur who chills out with Warren Buffett and periodically buys $1500 pairs of shoes, and shouldn’t be asking for money to pay for her kid’s camping trip
  • Her mother has been spamming Twitter with retweet requests (this is actually verifiable)
  • There’s no explanation of what will happen with the overflow.

Of those four points, only the Twitter one is actually, specifically, against Kickstarter’s Terms of Service. The first is kind of academic, I feel—the project is clearly titled, “9 Year Old Building an RPG to Prove Her Brothers Wrong!” When you create a Kickstarter project with a given target, you’re estimating what your costs are. In this case, she knew exactly what her costs would be, and clearly declared what they were. Is it going to tuition? Yup. But if you created a Kickstarter for a project, and knew you’d need to learn some more to pull it off, surely you could use the funding to pay for textbooks, as long as there’s a finished product at the end of it… which there will be in this case.

The second point is a series of allegations that have either all been disproven (Warren Buffett photo was a photo op at a meet-and-greet thing, and the shoes were purchased with roulette winnings) or don’t really hold water against reasoned consideration—being a serial entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have a huge bank account; just that you enjoy the thrill of starting something from scratch and are comfortable taking the inherent risks. As to whether or not she should be helping her daughter create a Kickstarter project… what would her daughter learn if everything she asked for, she got? Instead, her mother is teaching her 21st-century entrepreneurship—come up with a cool idea, go to where microinvestors hang out, talk it up, and see what sticks! This is fantastic!

As to the eventual fate of the overflow money, I have two things to say: first of all, there are a collection of material items you can get for different contribution values, and these material goods have costs. So some of the money will go to this overhead. Second, when you give money to any other Kickstarter that has a given target, and it blows past the original target, do you ask for your money back? Hell no, you understand that it will go to the project runners, to be used for the project. Now this girl has the option to not only learn more about video game design, but also, maybe, pay for professional artists and musicians. Who knows? Maybe it will seed her college fund.

But none of this has been considered by the boys’ club that can’t stand that people want in. Everybody seems to be intent on shutting this girl’s dream down, to what end? I’m sure the most likely justification would be something about “honesty” and “fairness”, but Goddamn it, she has been honest, she’s really not breaking the rules, and the way that the software community treats women is anything but fair. Here’s a girl who’s really keen on a lot of traditionally geeky things, and even though $22K is a pretty cool incentive, the words that have been sent her way are by far the cruelest she’ll have to face until she gets interested in sex (at which point, of course, the full force of our misogynist culture will come to bear on her). If you want to encourage kids to get interested in technology, this isn’t the way to do it.

There’s a cynical part of me that wonders what the response would have been if, all else being equal, it had been her father’s Kickstarter account instead of her mother’s, and if Mackenzie had been a boy. I wonder if the project would have faced nearly the same kind of invective and abuse. While I’m not a psychic, somehow I doubt if there were more boys involved, the Internet wouldn’t be shitting nearly so hard on the project.

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