#Gamergate as a response to re-engineering: BPC as a conspiracy to change computing

November 23, 2014 at 7:34 am 9 comments

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.

via #Gamergate supporters attack Digital Games Research Association @insidehighered.

(Thanks to Shriram Krishnamurthi, Blair MacIntyre, Barbara Ericson, Briana Morrison, and Betsy DiSalvo for helpful edits and advice on drafts of this post.)

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kamille  |  November 23, 2014 at 9:19 am

    We are not fighting for our culture to stay the same nor to chase women away. We are making noise because we are pissed these game journalists stomp all over us and get away with it.

    You think the collusion is a conspiracy but this is something that has been going for years and years. Why it exploded now? Because when we made question they started censoring and banning people from many different communities like reddit, neogaf and even 4chan and that only got all of us more curious. When that didn’t work they tried to silence us with this: http://i.imgur.com/wo6oQhv.jpg Over 14 articles published the same day with the same narrative. And that didn’t work either, in fact in only made people even more angry and that’s when #gamergate exploded big time (August 28 even though the tag was older).

    Why people hate Anita so much? Because she’s dishonest and manipulative. She was the one that inserted herself in gamergate, and the same with Brianna Wu because they were friends with Zoe Quinn and wanted to “protect” her. If you ask me they were just looking for attention, just look at their patreons and much more money they are making now. Brianna, before gamergate she was no one but thanks to “free” publicity her game is now selling like hotcakes.

    And it’s true that Zoe was being harassed by some people, she made quite the entrance into the public eye when her game (more like a power point presentation) was greenlighted on Steam much faster than many other games of much higher quality thanks to the positive press she got from her friends. But Zoe is not a delicate flower nor a saint… Look into The Fine Young Capitalists and what she did to some of the members (A preview: she doxed and harassed).

    Nothing was ever reported by any game journalist about the TFYC’s incident, because of-course no one will throw a friend under the bus. This is an eye opener to the harmless sheep Zoe projected on the different news channels like MSNBC accusing gamergate of her harassment without any evidence. She already had a legion of haters from way before gamergate was even a thing and the same with Anita Sarkeesian. In fact, the Utah threat wasn’t even gamergate but a journalist from Brazil. He denies it but it’s the same IP from the same country. Anita knows who he is because he’s been harassing her for a couple of years and even harassed a female game dev from Naughty Dog a few days ago. There’s an article on Kotaku about him, although it’s funny that no one goes deeper to investigate him and instead everyone keeps blaming gamergate because it’s more convenient to everyone. His name is Mateus Prado Sousa BTW

    And there’s so much more about gamergate… How deep this rabbit hole goes? It goes deep but the only thing people care is about the misogyny side because that’s what attracts the non-gamers. English is not my first language and I’m tired of wasting my free Sunday writing so much about the other side of gamergate for you but if you want to know a bit more:

    #gamergate from the beginning:

    Some random interesting stuff:


    v=yIpw3wHn9Sk&feature=youtu.be&channel=SargonofAkkad100

    This is a good set of interviews:

    Reply
  • 2. Kamille  |  November 23, 2014 at 9:21 am

    And this one is particularly intersting but it didn’t display well on the first post:

    Reply
  • 3. alanone1  |  November 23, 2014 at 10:08 am

    As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog: these are basically rights issues in a society that dynamically tries to find a balance between rights for individual freedoms and rights that are needed for its conceptions of balance.

    I would suggest that the arguments be elevated to the level of rights, and that the tradeoffs really be discussed.

    Reply
  • 4. mezopal  |  November 23, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Mark, THANK YOU for addressing this issue. It’s been amazing how many men (particularly within the game industry) have been silent as women in games continue to take massive hits. The death and rape threats still file in, and, as your previous commenter proves, those involved with “ethics in games journalism” fail to emphatically state how wrong these threats are and implore people to stop. Instead, the “righteous” anger is defended, thereby implicitly stating that these types of threats are justified.

    We have discussed gamergate at great lengths in my critical game studies class. It’s been great to have a platform to discuss #ethicsingamesjournalism”, and the consensus among all students is that this is important. It’s important to hold all games journalists accountable, regardless if they are women or men. But like anything on the Internet, the reader needs to consider the source and be wary of the fact that the so-called journalism may be paid-for advertising. That is not unique to the games industry!!! You have to wonder why those who care about #ethicsingamesjournalism would silently stand by (at best) or engage in these threats (at worst). Anyone with a true ethical barometer would be disgusted with these acts and do all he/she could to stop them.

    Games are a fantastic medium for engaging and entertaining people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, etc. As such, it only makes sense that our classrooms reflect a broad demographic. There is no one magic bullet to achieve this, but we’re certainly not going to be deterred.

    Reply
  • 5. John P. Dougherty, a.k.a. "jd"  |  November 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Reblogged this on johnpdougherty and commented:
    Thanks, Mark, for the fine summary. Violence, even the threat of, is never the answer, and change is difficult, especially where culture and belief are involved. But I agree the goal of BPC is worth the investment.

    Reply
  • 6. Rebecca Dovi  |  November 23, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I happened across this “What if you could weaponize empathy?”

    http://blog.codinghorror.com/what-if-we-could-weaponize-empathy/

    Instantly thought of this conversation. Change brings friction, and nice always helps.

    Reply
  • 7. Raul Miller  |  November 23, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    The thing I see about the “#gamergate” stuff is something I also see in many political discussions: Each side characterizes the opposite side by the worst of those who claim adherence to that faction, and often enough caricatures of the worst rather than anything intended to be recognized by the “opposition” as valid. Also, each side characterizes their own side by the more moderate voices that they accept as representing their own side.

    Mind you, I expect that it’s hard for them to do anything different.

    Also, the people that I interact with the most tend to be on the feminist side rather than the #gamergate side. So it’s easier for me to see the positive aspects of the feminist point of view.

    That said, what I think I really want is not for either side to “win” but for the attacks to stop. Fortunately, the attacks are mostly verbal, rather than physical. Also,the attacks are not mine – so I think I need to wait for the people issuing them to gain new perspectives on what it is that they are doing.

    Reply
  • 8. Nybbler  |  November 23, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    For a subculture to stay a subculture, it cannot be all-inclusive. Hipsters wouldn’t be hipsters if they included people who liked to drag race, drive pickup trucks, and drink cheap beer. Rednecks wouldn’t be rednecks if they included people whose only experience with rural areas was flying over them. The same goes for game culture, and the same goes for nerd culture, and all the subcultures thereof.

    The only culture which can possibly be inclusive of all is the mainstream. And in practice, it is not — as both nerds and gamers know all too well. If you want to be a nerd, you can be a nerd, no matter what your gender, race, color, or creed. But that means you have to be a nerd; it does not mean nerds will accept anyone, even those who show classic mainstream disdain for nerds and nerdiness.

    Reply
  • 9. Walking Upright  |  November 24, 2014 at 5:28 am

    Whatever their other allegiances, Guzdial et al are on the side of dogs relative to actual human intelligence attempting to deal with these issues. In that sense at least most of us don’t have to worry over the knowledge that they won’t accomplish anything. The rogue billionaire types providing monetary incentives in line with their own personal ideas about education will continue to matter more in the near future.

    They’re trapped in a prison where everyone seems to believe the reason that, say, Harvard doesn’t have hundreds female computer science majors is because of which programming language is taught in introductory classes or something pretty much pointless like that. One of the most immediate real answers is they don’t admit that many students to their school in the first place. It’s not like they couldn’t, they have plenty of applicants and more than enough money to provide all the resources and teaching positions needed.

    Admit more students; or if you must keep the number the same for a sense of privilege and elitism stop admitting so many students who are not studying the fields you want (this effort needn’t be perfect, just easy to predict well enough out in this day and age, hashtag BigData). Fire deans, administration officials, sports coaches, humanities professors getting in the way as needed. Problem solved. God only knows the sports coaches and humanities departments and so on actively attempt to prevent universities from bringing in so many “nerds” and such for their own political reasons. And enough of them are aware they’re playing the game of firing or defunding rival programs to keep the status quo.

    Of course any sort of real agenda that makes sense, political or otherwise, is something these blogosphere hosts won’t have the capital or courage to attempt, probably afraid enough of administration and other departments at their own universities.

    So keep arguing about which programming language to teach, or arguing at the meta level about whether strangers on Twitter are damaging the movement by arguing about things like that.

    Reply

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