Kickstarter Disaster: Social Justice Warriors Abuse Crowdfunding for Personal Gain

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 5:00 am, December 2, 2016

Social justice warriors — both in and outside of gaming — are always big on promises, but they fall short on delivery. Some, like Randi Harper, receive thousands of dollars a month for mission statements as vague as “creating online activism” while they spend most of their days on Twitter belittling gamers and arguing with video game peripheral manufacturers over innocuous tweets. Others, like Brianna Wu, set up Patreon accounts to “hire someone to […] help deal with harassment.”

Feminist Deck by Kiva Bay

Beyond Patreon, which has legitimate use and serves as a platform for content delivery by artists, writers, and filmmakers, a few of these individuals create larger projects with definite goals and promise rewards for their backers.

In general, crowdfunded projects on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Gofundme often start big, but they don’t always deliver. For every success like Elite: Dangerous and Pillars of Eternity, there are disappointments like Mighty No. 9 and Broken Age. But all that pales in comparison to some of the projects launched by social justice warriors in video games.

When fat activist and hashtag feminist Kiva Smith-Pearson (or Kiva Bay) set out to create a “Feminist Deck” Kickstarter, a playing-card game emblazoned with the illustrations of vocal, anti-GamerGate personalities on Twitter like Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and Randi Lee Harper, she managed to receive more than $30,000 in funds for a project that she promised to complete in late 2015. It was a bust.

Besides the cards, backers were promised everything from coloring books containing her line art to post cards and other assorted sketches. Like the cards, none of these items were ever delivered as Smith-Pearson missed deadline after deadline. Project backers received few updates, which were delivered sporadically in the form of apologies over the months before its official cancellation.

Brianna Wu Feminist Deck card by Kiva Bay

One update, dated October 2015, blamed the delay on a broken computer. Curiously, she also states that she managed to crowdfund a replacement computer through the goodwill of her followers on social media. Another update in January 2016 has her blaming the lack of progress on “creepy stalker followers who harass me.” The only evidence of “harassment” I could find during that period were questions about the project and her lack of progress.

In all, Kiva Smith-Pearson promised to produce 52 illustrations for the Feminist Deck, some of which had already been completed prior to the project launch (and can be seen on the Kickstarter page). From the date of its launch until its cancellation over a year later, the artist produced dozens of paid illustrations on her Patreon — completing new jobs, but not the one she had already taken money to do. During this time, she also posted dozens of marijuana reviews (now deleted) on her YouTube channel.

Smith-Pearson is far from being the only social justice warrior in the scene to game the goodwill of others. Enter Rowan Kaiser, a game critic at The AV Club and IGN, best known for his tirades against YouTube gaming personality John “TotalBiscuit” Bain, whom he calls a “serial harasser who made GamerGate mainstream.” His allegations were so out there that it provoked a stern response from Bain.

Possibility Space by Rowan Kaiser

In April 2013, Kaiser turned to GoFundMe to produce an e-book called Possibility Space, a “book-length analysis of the Mass Effect games.” In the 44 months since then, he received more than $4,200 for production. To date, four pieces have been produced and two of them were published on gaming websites Kotaku and Unwinnable. Both pieces advertised the book.

At the time of this writing, Kaiser also receives $237 from 30 supporters per article he writes from Patreon. He claims that money he receives through Medium publications help fund his production of Possibility Space. The two remaining pieces were funded through Patreon.

In terms of production, Kaiser’s updates were sporadic. There was a 20-month interval between the latest update and the one before, in which he asked for collaborators to help him finish the book. “I’m a lot faster editor than writer,” he wrote.

Rowan Kaiser claims that he plans to finish the book to coincide with the release of next year’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, using it as a deadline. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Update: The release of Mass Effect: Andromeda has come and gone, and Rowan Kaiser has not made good on his promise to release the book. So much for that. 


Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.