Monday, October 13, 2014

Frequently asked questions from GamerGate

Over the last few weeks, I have engaged in a few conversations on Twitter as a gamescholar and a DiGRA member. All ask me the same questions. Here is the FAQ:

1: Are you against peer-reviewing?
No, I am not. But I think it's not the only tool to support transparency, innovation and precision in an academic debate. Particularly for conferences, peer-reviewing can be more of a problem than a help, as it can stop new ideas and thoughts from entering into arenas where they can be discussed. For journals peer-reviewing is a good tool to make certain publications maintain a minimum of quality.

2: Are your DiGRA mates against peer-reviewing?
Not that I know of. Some may have the same stance as me, that it's sometimes good, sometimes bad, but I don't think any want to get rid of peer-reviewing all together. If you however reference the famous transcripts (people who were at the fishbowl have pointed out that this is not a transcript, but two peoples' notes, and did not cover all interaction or nuances), please also note that Mia Consalvo says:
(Transcript one) Mia:  One benefit of peer review is that work can be critiqued in a way that we might not do to a person’s face in a manner that drives our work to be better.  The way the system values peer review is bullshit, as the money accrues in the hands of private corporations.  How can we do the work and have it benefit us?
(Transcript two) Consalvo: One benefit of peer review – My work can be critiqued, and you can still call my work bullshit. But people can't actually say that to my face. Peer review is bullshit when our institutions overvalue it. And we don't want to start another journal. But if we can get it so Wiley isn't getting obscenely rich on our stuff.
As you see, Consalvo speaks out in favour or peer-reviews. What she criticises is how it is being overvalued by academic institutions, in that they only accept peer-reviewed work. This is problematic for instance because of the negative influences it has on the dissemination of new and controversial ideas. (See answer 1.) Another established game scholar, T. L. Taylor, says this about peer-review in the same transcript:
(Transcript one) TL: One good thing peer review can do is that it can push people to historicize and put things into context and address to the politics of citation. In the best sense, there’s a collectiveness to the mode of review that we can lean on.

(Transcript two) Taylor: Peer review can actually help people to historicize, contextualize and engage in politics of citation. How do you figure out the way to show lineages?
As you see, if you understand the economics of academic publishing, they are really criticising how the demand for peer-reviewing feeds the corporations that keep research articles behind pay-walls, same as Harvard University is protesting. That is not the same as saying peer-reviewing is always bullshit, or wanting to get rid of it altogether.

3: Are you against #GamerGate and #OperationDiggingDigra peer-reviewing your articles?
First, peer-review means it is reviewed by peers. I have my material reviewed all the time. Whether the peers reviewing are #GamerGater or #OperationDiggingDigra followers really doesn't matter. I expect them to live up to the standards of academic reviewing. This is why peer-reviewing is mostly double-blind: neither author nor reviewer know each other. So if that's what is meant by peer-reviewing, I am fine with it.

Second, let's say it's just fact checking. A lot of the work I do includes in-depth interviews with gamers who want to be anonymous. I am not giving out their names and other information to a group of random readers in order to let them "check" those facts. If there is a university-led review challenging my results, I will submit the data, given these reviewers are also bound by confidentiality. Until then, #OperationDiggingDigra will just have to trust that I am aware of what a breach of my academic integrity it would be, if I made up and lied about my data. As for checking references and citations - please, by all means! It would be really embarassing if I made errors there (made at least one I know of, years ago), but I am human, and I strive to become better, so please check and send me the list of errors.

Third, if gamers are actually reading through the DiGRA library, looking at the research presented there, I am thrilled. We publish in order to be read.

However, if #OperationDiggingDigra is about reading a few gender-related articles in order to find keywords to use to make angry videos on youtube, yelling abuse at researchers, then no, that is not cool. I can't keep people from doing that, though, I can just ask others to look at the DiGRA library and make up their own minds.

4: Why do you study digital games?
I study games because I believe they are vital to understanding what we can do with computers. They demonstrate new ways of creating texts, organising communities, expressing identity and co-creating stories. This is fascinating, and has held my attention since the late eighties. I started systematically analysing games in 1995.

5: What do you think about the aggression research on games?
A lot of it starts out with research questions that aim at confirming a link between games and aggression. However, like most effect studies in all media, the results are inconclusive. It is likely that games have the same effects as other media, in that they confirm already held beliefs, ex: if you think violence can solve your problems, you enjoy games that confirm that belief, and use them to learn new ways of using violence.

6: But why do people become influenced by gender, and not violence in games?
This has actually been answered pretty well here. Look at around 5.50, where L0G1C B0MB points out the differences between sexism and murder. Now, look at answer 5 in this FAQ. The thing is that sexism is a lot more common than violence and murder. We disapprove of violence, and we know it isn't a good problem solver. Sexism, on the other hand, is just moderately disapproved of, and in many subcultures it's encouraged. This means that you are much more likely to have your misogyny confirmed by the media than your psychotic plans to commit murder. Also, in a lot of games the narrative disapprove of murder, and the players' avatar's murder spree is justified as protection and self-defence. Sexism, on the other hand, is rarely punished nor called out in games. There are no gender consciousness raising sprees in games, to strike back at the misogynists. In the light of this, asking for games which have a more varied and not so single-minded representation of gender is not unreasonable.
Update May 2015: A study by Breuer, Kowert, Festl and Quandt shows that they have not been able to observe any increased sexism in players as a result of sexist games. Note however that first, they are not saying it can't happen, just that they haven't observed it. They also don't say whether the players were sexist at the beginning of the period and had their opinions confirmed or cemented. The study is very limited in its claims. And for those who have been using this study to say "take that, DiGRA": I know both Kowert and Quandt have been to DiGRA conferences and presented research there, obviously without being particularly influenced by the presence of potential gender scholars at the same conference.

7: Do you want to control and change the content of games?
No, not at all. But I would love to see more diverse games, games that my gay friends, my black friends and my female friends can play without having to keep ignoring slurs against them. I would like to see games that use more inventive means to express evil than to kill a few innocent women, or express heroism in other manners than to save a helpless princess.

8: Do you want to take our games away?
No, by all means, keep your games. Just let people from different demographics with different preferences have games they like, too, and accept that diversity in games is a good thing, as it means more fun for more people.

9: Why doesn't DiGRA make a better game then?
DiGRA is an association of researchers. The aim of DiGRA isn't to make games, although some researchers in DiGRA also make games.

10: What does DiGRA want?
Support researchers who study games, gamers, and developers, write about it, and help the public understand games and game culture better. This way it may be possible to avoid further misunderstanding about what games are and what gamers are.

11: But DiGRA is funded by DARPA!
OK, that's not a question, but I keep getting it, so here goes. No, DiGRA is not funded by DARPA. DiGRA posted a job ad where the University of Santa Cruz looked for a senior technician. Some of the researchers in Santa Cruz are also DiGRA members. DiGRA does not get any money from DARPA.

12: But DiGRA has influence!
Now we are down to the "shouting statements from YouTube videos and fictional images of networks with red arrows on them" part. Perhaps DiGRA has a certain influence, in that game researchers consider it an interesting conference to attend, in order to present their material for other researchers, to have it criticised and discussed by people who understand what they are talking about. Perhaps the occasional developer or journalist thinks it's interesting to follow up on what DiGRA members are studying, to see if there's something that could be useful in order to integrate in a future game, or write about. DiGRA certainly represents a repository of relevant resarch, along with the many journals aimed at games. This is research developers and journalists can access and use for free (except for when some of it's printed in journals which are ridiculously expensive. Neither DiGRA nor the researchers writing those articles get a single penny of that money though.)

So if DiGRA has influence, it's because people see the conference papers and go "oh, that was actually a really good point." Beyond that DiGRA is just interesting to the game scholars. Over the 11 years since the first conference, game scholarship has exploded though, from the small community where everybody knew each other, to the larger community where it takes a real effort to keep somewhat updated on the development of the field, or even notice all the books. By now it's quite likely that some DiGRA member will write something that some journalist or developer reads and likes. It still doesn't mean DiGRA has changed its agenda, it just means that new aspects of its research is interesting to others.

13: Has DiGRA changed to be dominated by radical feminists instead of academics? (update)
 First thing first, it's possible to be a feminist and an academic. That is pretty common, and a lot of scholars who don't do gender research are still feminists. Also, over the years DiGRA has grown from being a group of obscure researchers who all knew each other, to a community that's big enough that we now need those name-tags. Even if the percentage of feminist papers just remained the same, there should be an increase in feminist papers. Instead, this is the ratio of feminist vs other articles in the DiGRA archive:

As you can see, there is nothing that indicates that gender is becoming more prominent up until 2014. Thanks to Petri Lankoski for doing the break-down and posting the image.

That's it for today - I'll probably update this when/if there are more questions that need to be answered. Feel free to ask your own in the comment field, but be aware that I moderate ruthlessly, and if I don't like the question, the language or your links to other sites where you want to boost traffic, I'll not publish the comments.

This just in, October 29th:
In a skype interview with the title "DARPA Now Seeks to Control Children Through Videogames", on the question from the interviewer: "this is an attempt by individuals to implant social engineering in videogames, and basically brainwashing messages, explain how that emerged" a Syrian girl claims the following:
There's collusion between media and DiGRA.
DiGRA is supported by DARPA.
DiGRA is a think-tank.
DiGRA is specialising in injecting social engineering into videogames to influence children towards social justice.
DiGRA tries to apply multiple genders, and are social justice warriors with a fake feminist stance.
DiGRA cooperates with among others Zoe Quinn to design games containing social engineering.
These are all the same, incorrect accusations which have been presented earlier. Old responses to this above.


Kelly said...

As I teach my first semester of game studies (critical approaches), I have been telling my students that they are free to make the games they want - but the least they can do is be aware of the decisions they make, the impact such decisions may (or may not) have and to have the vocabulary and intelligence to articulately stand by any choice they make.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your interjection with the dramatic theater of gender politics going on. It is nice to see the people being criticized come out and discuss their points of view on the matter.

One question I do have though:
Do you consider DiGRA somewhat of an organization equal to that of the FSF and GNU/Linux community?

Torill said...

Robert, you are welcome. I don't really know either of those communities well enough to say anything about similaries, but I would guess no. DiGRA is a research association like ICA, IAMCR, ECREA - only for those who do research or are interested in research into games, mainly digital, but also analogue. ICA, IAMCR and ECREA have game tracks or game papers, so it is relevant to compare DiGRA to these associations. DiGRA is just smaller, as it has a much more narrow focus.

Troll san said...

Sorry in advanced for my language as I am a troll and it is central to my culture.

There is one particular asspie whos' wife was "brainwashed" by evil feminists in the name counseling. I have watched his streams and I believe that some of his points have merit and there was some serious impropriety with the counseling she received as reported by him.

Anyhow he is behind most of this digra stuff (self censored for you). Most of us see this as rather tinfoily but we are a big group (between 20,000 and 80,000 active in the ranks) so just a handful of other tinfoil seem to be really rocking your boat. I actually read some of the digra papers because I hate sheep and refise to be one. Anyhow I totally agree that the academic paper situation is bullshit putting goverment funded research behind pay-walls is total shit. Allot of GG only because activated when we saw free speech being eliminated and I think if you pushed that message better you would get allot sympathy. I will never forget Aaron Swartz or how he lost his life fighting that battle and the bullshit politicization of the justice system.

Anyhow I read maybe 6 or so digra papers, gotta say it seems like academic pseudo intellectual fluff that probably doesn't deserve public funding. But that's just me and I don't really matter.

BTW the asspie thinks papers with the conclusion that more research is needed is racketeering (the act of creating a problem which you gain financially by solving) he thinks this will kill digra and send several of you to prison too. He has gone to politicians and presented his 'evidence' keep an eye on him, he doesn't seem to be the most stable individual. One of you was trolling him pritty hard on 8chan, that's not too wise. If you want to engage him do so in a moderated impartial youtube setting. And I think you could see that the publicity would not be bad for digra.

Also your name sounds like troll. :3

If you want a troll consistent I'm available.

Torill said...

Dear troll san
Thanks for your comment, and yes, I am aware that DiGRA is a minor issue in the larger context. Still GG is a wonderfully interesting event, I have examples and material for lectures and articles to keep me busy for a long time now.

As for my troll likeness - Torill is a very common name for Norwegian women my age, and it comes from the old norse names Tor and Hild.

Thank you for your offer to help me trolling when I need for it though. If you could keep pointing out that the real problem with publicly funded academic publishing is how much of it ends up behind pay-walls and remains unaccessible to the general public, that would be fantastic.

On that note: In many countries, if you visit a university library and use their wifi, you can often download a lot of research articles for free. Just don't do what Aaron Swartz did, unless you have a small army of lawyers in your pocket.