#Gamergate as a response to re-engineering: BPC as a conspiracy to change computing
If you don’t know what #Gamergate is, count yourself fortunate. It gets discussed a lot in the circles I hang out in, especially in computational media. I’ve learned words like doxxing and how it can lead to people leaving their home because of death threats, and how conceal-and-carry laws in Utah can cause a feminism theorist to cancel a talk because of threats of a “massacre.”
The article below (and the comments in response) gave me new insight into the supporters of Gamergate. The violent and immature behavior makes it hard to see what (I think) is a kind of free speech argument. Gamergate supporters want their culture just the way it is, thank you very much. Even if that culture lacks positive female role models and may overflow with misogyny, it’s their culture. They see feminists, academics, and journalists as a “conspiracy” to engineer social change (see the quote below). Even the original motivation of Gamergate stance (“It’s about ethics in games journalism”) boils down to resisting forces for change — there wouldn’t be any complaints about the journalism if they agreed with what the journalists were saying. One commenter to the article I’m citing below says, “Many members of this organization, including Ms. Consalvo and Ms. Shaw are on the record discussing how to dismantle what they see as a problematic male dominated gaming culture that is beholden to industrial motives (ergo: economics) rather than artistic aspirations.” In other words, “Our games make money. Leave us alone.” They don’t want their world to be re-made or re-engineered.
I don’t approve of the Gamergate message, and I strongly reject how the message is being conveyed. Modern society values being inclusive. There is not one kind of gaming culture and gamer – it’s not all theirs to define. There are enough game developers out there so that they can have their “anti-feminism” (which I didn’t know was a thing before I read the below) while others have their feminism (as Anita Sarkeesian talked about in her interview on the Colbert Report). Threatening violence because you don’t like how things are changing is an unacceptable way of sending a message.
I can understand why Gamergate supporters want to send a message about “Leave our culture alone.” People strongly resist having culture re-engineered around them, sometimes resisting with violence. If you think about other efforts to engineer culture and the pushback in response, you might recall the Arkansas Governor using the National Guard to keep out nine black students in Little Rock (see Wikipedia article here).
I wonder about the implications for diversifying computing. Might an anti-diversity backlash happen in computing — not the threats of violence (I hope), but outrage against change? When looking up papers by Michael Kimmel (whom I wrote about here), I found the National Council for Men, which is decidedly anti-Kimmel (see example here). Read the comments on the Guardian article describing Mattel’s decision to pull their awful “Barbie: I can be a software engineer” book. There is clearly a backlash against feminism right now.
We in the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) community are aiming to achieve a similar kind of social engineering that the Gamergate supporters are complaining about. I am part of a vast, international (though maybe not particularly well-organized) conspiracy to change computing culture and to invade computing with many women and members of under-represented groups. We are “actively plotting to influence” computing. The Gamergate supporters argue that the conspiracy is about “artistic aspirations.” In BPC, we say that we’re about social justice, equity, and diversity. From the perspective of the “engineered,” the difference in purpose may not make much difference. One of the pushbacks on the call I shared to eliminate nerd culture (see here) was, “Can’t we just shape/change nerd culture?” Do the nerds want to be changed?
What might a response to BPC look like? Might well-prepared, privileged male and white/asian CS students complain about efforts to give seats in classes to women or under-represented minorities whom they may perceive as less-prepared? Or might we even see efforts arguing “We like Nerd Culture just way it is!”
I’m not predicting Gamergate-style threats against supporters of BPC, but it’s worth considering what kind of pushback we might receive. Today, the challenge to broadening participation in computing is less a pushback and more a lack of priority. There’s a general awareness that there’s a problem, but there’s less conviction that it’s an important problem or that there’s an obvious way forward to fixing it. We see that in the Microsoft CEO gaffe and the male allies panels at Grace Hopper this year (see discussion here) — they knew there was a problem, but they weren’t really thinking about it deeply or taking steps to address it. But if change really started to happen, there would likely be resistance to that change. A good strategist is thinking several steps ahead in the game, and it’s worth watching the Gamergate present to glean lessons for the BPC future.
At DiGRA’s annual conference this August, Shaw and Consalvo participated in a roundtable session on “identity and diversity in game culture.” Notes from the roundtable were discovered online, showing how participants discussed the impact of feminist game studies on the video game industry, and whether academics could influence developers. Some interpreted it as proof that members of DiGRA were actively plotting to influence game development. Sargon of Akkad, a YouTube user who regularly discusses “gaming, anti-feminism, history and fiction” on his channel, has fueled that conspiracy theory. The connections between DiGRA, Shaw, Golding and other journalists, Sargon argues, suggest “DiGRA is the poisoned spring from whence all of this evil flows” — meaning Gamergate and the argument that gamer culture is dying.
(Thanks to Shriram Krishnamurthi, Blair MacIntyre, Barbara Ericson, Briana Morrison, and Betsy DiSalvo for helpful edits and advice on drafts of this post.)