I know I should have posted my first blog here weeks (months?) ago but I haven't really been able to gather my thoughts about everything that has happened in games and games studies this fall until just now. I have already written at length about Gamer Gate and the horrible events of this fall at UWaterloos weekly academic games publication First Person Scholar (FPS). Gamer Gate “happened” just as we were making a whole variety of other changes at FPS and I can't help but see the two as connected. I joined the FPS team just as editor in chief Steve Wilcox was looking to make the publication more accessible to non game studies academics as well as more timely when looking at what was happening in gaming culture. I switched roles and became the Commentaries editor as I was interested in helping people write about games without adhering to the traditional format of the academic essay.
The first thing I wanted to deal with in the commentaries was Gamer Gate. It seemed at the time (and still seems most of the time) like most of games studies is tragically avoiding engaging with gamer gate, either by writing the whole thing off as silly and not worth thinking about or by saying that these issues are outside the domain of game studies. I'm not personally on the game studies listserv but one friend told me that GG wasn't even brought up until just this week. This makes me SO incredibly angry. What good are game studies academics if we can't stand up for, defend, or at the very very least discuss the safety of those doing game studies and those making games as a profession. Anita Sarkeesian is a games scholar no different then us other than her incredible fame and tangible effect on the world that most of us could never strive to reach. So why aren’t other games scholars standing up for her? I personally know academics who have left game studies (or just steered clear of making it their primary research area myself included) if not because of Gamer Gate then because of the sexist and exclusionary behaviours that GG and Games Studies represent. I have seen these sexist and exclusionary behaviours amongst academic and non academic gamers alike. Why do some game studies professionals think they are above commenting on what gamers are saying en masse? Even in a room of progressive game scholars it took Steve and I quite some time back in September to convince everyone involved with FPS that we, as a site, and as academics, needed to comment on Gamer Gate.
We did eventually comment with a two part piece that I wrote and we edited as a team that you can read here: http://www.firstpersonscholar.com/smoky-room-communist-meetings/
and here: http://www.firstpersonscholar.com/intimate-publics/
I guess what I am getting at here with this meta blog is that no matter how confused I am by why gamers want to send death treats and bomb threats to women working in games I am even more confused why anyone studying games would not want to to comment on / rebuke what is happening. I realize that some women feared gamer gate and stayed quiet because of this which is totally understandable (Felicia Day chimed in late with a great piece on how her fear of GG kept her silent and was hacked immediately after she posted it) but most of the silent group in game studies tend to be those with enough privilege to comment on what is happening and not have to worry about being hacked or Doxxed or attacked. Yet many just either don't say anything or much much worse, they just don't care.
What is the point of understanding how games effect us, how they persuade us, how they train us, without examining the negative ramifications of games and games culture along with the positives? My primary area of research is in comics, and although many guys reading comics are mega pissed about lady Thor (and will even threaten to stop reading comics entirely as you can see in the back of the first issue of the new run) they aren't calling in rampage shooting threats to talks and they aren't making women quit comics by harassing them until they leave their homes. Comics isn't perfect of course, but there is much more of a support system there for women and there also seems to be a lot less frustration and rage from the traditional demographic in comics than there is in games. Why do so many gamers seem to have less empathy then other nerds? Why do they seem to be more sexist than other nerds? Why do I, as someone who has been gaming for as long as I have been walking fear calling myself a gamer? Why do I fear walking in and buying the Magic cards myself? Why does the guy behind the counter at EB games ask my boyfriend if he is excited to play the game that I AM BUYING to play myself? Why have countless interactions like this led me to buy games at Target and Walmart even though they are more expensive? Why do I get massive anxiety and panic when playing a game in front of or with almost any other human at all?
I think these are the questions we should be asking ourselves about gaming culture at large. If there was ever a time that questions like these were important to ask it is now when women are leaving games in droves and when the Gamer Gaters (as empty as you might perceive their threats) are specifically honing in on academics in games. They are reading our notes from our conferences, they are attending our talks, they are commenting on our websites, and they are posting our personal information online and threatening us.
In an FPS article Steve Wilcox talks about a project he did where he took five years of tags from gamestudies.org and then visualized the data to see what is most frequently talked about. You can scroll down and see this data here: http://www.firstpersonscholar.com/feed-forward-scholarship/
He notes that part of the reason that we (games scholars) need place like FPS to publish is because traditional game studies (as embodied by gamestudies.org) is so focused on certain topics (World of Warcraft, Design, gameplay, achievement) that there is little examination of how games are affecting people and the world in a huge way. Commenting on this visualized data he explains
“This image, obviously, a narrow view on the articles themselves but it is useful in identifying areas that attract the most critical attention (MMOs) and those that are marginalized (gender and ethics). Perhaps most noteworthy of all, however, are those terms not present at all, such as feminism, misogyny, ableism, and racism. In fact, these marginalized and missing terms likely indicate imminent areas of research, and it’s the task of middle-state publications to facilitate that emergence into a full-fledge discussion.”
To sum it up the New Yorker was talking about Gamer Gate but the Game studies list serve was not. The New Yorker also cited FPS! : http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/gamergate-scandal-erupts-video-ga... There was a larger discussion happening that we were very much trying to be a part of so that the distance between game studies, games development, and games journalism can be decreased and we can all become more effective.
Games and games culture have never meant more to the world then they do right now and it is our job to engage with the world as much as that may not be the way of traditional academe. Many of these gamer gaters are the faceless “players” we have been talking about all these years. They are here, they are real and now they have a cause, a name and an agenda. We have a chance as academics who study games to prove that our knowledge and our scholarship have a purpose. I think this was done incredibly well recently by Katherine Cross at FPS who wrote very eloquently about the politics of gamer gate. Our site was flooded with GGers commenting on this piece and we had to moderate the comments heavily. None the less it was the most read piece in the history of FPS within a couple of days. I edited this piece and worked with Katherine throughout its development. Working on this important article was a great experience but it did lead me to feel incredibly guilty for the harassment that Katherine then faced for writing it. The article got tons and tons of positive feedback but I was in constant fear that she would get hacked or doxxed and it would be my fault for encouraging her or exposing her in this way. I got to do what I love as an editor: highlight and amplify the voices of amazing women working in our field, but I also felt the worst parts of being an editor, like moderating swarms of comments and tweets that openly insult and harass the writer you are trying to support.
You can read Katherine’s article here: http://www.firstpersonscholar.com/we-will-force-gaming-to-be-free/
I got a small taste of the harassment myself when writing about Gamer Gate but nothing compared to most women who spoke out against it. I had one guy tweet at me about how he had a cold opaque cell for me at Guantanamo and I think that was the worst comment I got. There were a lot of tweets comments and msgs that implied that I was wrong, misinformed, or had no right to write about games, but compared to the recent horrors that many other women faced it was nothing to me. The worst part of writing about gamer gate wasn’t the harassment i did receive it was the anticipation of what was yet to come. As a woman writing about games you are constantly anticipating that today will be the day someone tried to take you down a peg, they put your name in a pastebin and try to hack your email, your bank account, they take a photo of your house or call your home. You post a tweet in a hashtag about how you wish games were more friendly to women and you wait for its quick exchange for a rape threat.
Sometimes it feels hopeless to study or even play games as a woman, which is why i can’t judge or look down on all the women who have stopped writing about games for good. But I can’t help but think about how it would feel a little bit less hopeless if everyone in game studies took the whole thing more seriously. Jokes have their place, sure, but silence has no place here. I am positive that in ten or twenty years game studies will still be talking about gamer gate and we will be reading about it in text books and discussing how it changed the face of gaming forever. I know it will be seen as a tipping point for the way journalists and academics alike talked about games, made games and wrote about games. We as literature scholars are very attuned to the transitions in literary periods and movements. In your undergrad you learn about the shift from modernism to post modernism and so on and it is those same skills that make you notice when there is a huge shift in other media as well. Gamer gate is a culture war, it is a feminist backlash, it is a tipping point for the way gamers of all kinds engage with their media. In the future when your students ask you what GG was like, will you tell them you were there in the trenches of twitter or reddit standing up for Anita or Zoe? Will you tell them that you were talking to your colleagues about how to fix these problems and writing about the state of games? Or will you tell them that instead you were simply researching your next paper about whatever topics are hot on gamestudies.org hoping to get published by the old guard and waiting for #gamergate to pass away like a nasty fad.
The cover image for this blog post is a piece by Keith Mclean "Gamer Gator" your can read his comic at www.adventuresome.ca