Thursday, September 11, 2014

I am still a gamer

Being a game scholar who also plays, who studies gamers and play from the inside and the outside at the same time (one of these days I promise to write a methodology paper), I am not going to give up the "gamer" label. Neither, I hope, are my many gamer friends and gamer research subjects. But the last few weeks have definitely made me rethink the culture a couple of times.

The consistent attacks on Anita Sarkeesian for her Tropes VS Women series at Youtube is really horrifying in a "can't look away from the disaster" kind of way. While I might have gone a little easier on the moral preaching at the end of her otherwise really good latest installment, Women as Background Decoration: part II, in general I am impressed with the thorough work and solid research she has done for each movie. The attacks on her, resuming as regularly as her publishing, is like what happens when you drop a stone in an ant's nest - a thousand agressive little bastards swarming blindly to attack as venomously as they can.

Then another stone drops - as Zoe Quinn - a game designer - is attacked by her ex boyfriend. Now ex boyfriends are not the most reliable sources for information about anybody's love lives, but it was gobbled up and then used to attack Quinn for having an active sex life. Now, there are a lot of stories online about this. If you try to figure the story out, you will find one camp that is busy claiming that it's not about sex, but about ethics in game journalism, (or if it is about sex, it's for a good reason) while another camp claims the whole sex angle is a cover-up from the games press.Then somebody launches a twitter campaign with the hastag not your shield. Having spent years as a meat-shield (a bad one, though), I tried to figure that one out, but never managed to understand what it was about. OK, I did get that there were a lot of different people saying they were not shields in this discussion but - not what shields? Whose? Not the misogonysts' shield? Not Quinn's shield? Sarkeesian's? The game journalists' shield? The tweets under this label were as confusing as the rest of this disussion. Which may not be surprising, as it may be coming out of 4chan - at least according to Reddit.

For a while there, I was really annoyed. Why throw your voice in with either party there? Yes, journalism should always be read critically. It's my job to teach people to do so. But if you read the attacks and how they kept twisting back and forth and also reeling under the attacks on 4chan and reddit coming with the Celebgate or the Fappening, I have surprisingly little trust left. After having seen girls and women being treated as not real gamers for so many years - why would anybody worry about what happened to the gamer tag?

That's when a student walks into my office, and wants to study gamers. He hasn't read about any of this, he has a serious question about a fun and interesting activity, and he wants to have a female supervisor because he expects me to know what I am talking about. And he's a gamer.

That's why it matters. To be a gamer isn't to be one or the other. To be a gamer is to be a person who enjoys playing games. Some of these gamers will be jerks, just like some men beat their wives, and some women beat their husbands. Being a woman doesn't make me an abusive wife, just because some women are. Being a gamer doesn't make me neither a fake last-minute addition to a fading fad, nor a ranting maniac who gets a hard-on from abusing women online. (For those who speak German, a special little treat about trolls here.) Being a gamer is about wanting to play. The attackers who spend more time planning how to ruin Anita Sarkeesian's day than playing games are not gamers. They are trollers. So are the ones who really worry about Zoe Quinn's sex life. Just add voyeurs to that.

As for the boob-plate - I don't think we need to worry that it will ever be extinct. Feminist criticism of film has not made the Bond-girls dress up - it has just given some of them more interesting, and hotter, roles. Feminist criticism of games will not make babes, boobs or naked waists disappear, but it may lead to more alternatives for those players who don't play mainly to sit around being sexually tittilated. It may also double the market for games, by including women. And with a doubled market there will be more production, and so more variety and more competition. We could get back innovation, and see whole new fields of game production open up. But like with films - the boob-heavy (literally) segment will survive.

And hopefully, the gamers will remain. Because I love them, I love the spontaneous rants about impossible bossfights, the detailed descriptions of gaming systems, the light in their eyes as they talk about the latest achievement, the desire for new adventures.


And as a special mention - I find myself surrounded by Frankfurter school followers, radical scholars all, in the very suspicious DiGRA. (Note, reddit thread has been linked in reddit to r/conspiratard.) Feminist professors and bloggers are out to get their games. And they are fighting oppressive systems, criticising the structure of peer-reviewing. Yep, that will really hurt the gaming industry... *facepalm*

I guess I should study trolls next.


Adam said...

I agree that the last two months in the gaming scene has been rather horrible, with both sides hurling abuse at each other, and anyone else within reach. Unfortunately this is pretty much expected from things happening on the internet. Trying to find out what is going on is coincidentally how I find myself here.

The #notyourshield tag exploded on twitter as a reaction to a seemingly concerted effort to paint the whole gamergate thing as a battle between the good gaming journalists and evil misogynerd [sic] gamers. There was about a dozen articles published within a day from the same game pages that are under the spotlight in the gamergate-thing. These painted the entire gamer subculture as comprised of white homophobic, racist and misogynistic basement dwelling nerds. Writers on these sites, who really should know better, also went full scorched earth, flaming people on twitter. Gamers who were persons of color, women or LGBTQ started posting their pictures to show that this as a fallacious idea. The sentiment seemingly being that the game sites were using their ethnicities, sexualities or gender as a shield to hide behind. Hence the specific hashtag.

The counter-reaction is a rather great example of how toxic this entire thing has been, as these young individuals were ridiculed as being sockpuppets, uncle Toms or suffering from internalized misogyny.

DiGRA is the latest focus in this affair, apparently. I don't really understand any of it. What makes them suspicious, and what is it that they think is wrong with peer review?


Torill said...

Thanks, Adam. I was looking at the tag and wondering if it really was a tag to point out the diversity of gamer culture or another strike in the weird kind of battle of half-truths being fought.

As for the DiGRA involvement, what makes them suspicious is that quite a few gamescholars have written gender articles, and also several of us refer to non-American scholarship and ideas. So if you are afraid of new ideas andthoughts then yes, I guess DiGRA - and all of academia - is a very scary place.

What I don't get is the connection they claim is between DiGRA and DARPA. I'll ask around and see if they might have sponsored a reception at a conference or something, because DiGRA is really - like it has for ever - running on fumes of weak coffee and the members' enthusiasm.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Torill said...

Dear Unknown - I responded to your request, but as my very long and carefully considered reply did not appear on your blog, I deleted your link here. It may have been a technical error, but I don't want to leave a link that makes it look like I don't care and just ignore deeply felt questions. And yes, I do moderate the comment field here quite strictly, I have always done so.