After the storm of Gamergate


  • TECH
  • Monday, 15 Dec 2014

Nasty spat: The initial debate over the ethics of videogame reporting has been usurped by a misogynistic outpouring of vitriol targeted at women in the videogame world, and how their ‘feminine values’ are imposed on the presumably mostly male videogame players’ space. — Reuters

Now that the hurricane has passed, it’s a good time to ask: What was Gamergate?

Too much of it was a 10-week ­screaming match in the videogame world, on Twitter, on the discussion site Reddit, and on many videogame-oriented blogs. Much was a ­hurricane of garbage: hundreds of ­thousands of ugly antiwoman tweets and posts.

Here’s what I want to say:

In the videogame world at large, these trolls are in the minority. They don’t ­represent gaming or what gaming’s about. They’re out of touch. Most videogame ­players don’t share their views or values. It’s a world changing rapidly, diversifying, with more and more women and older folks playing. There’s no one “space”, and nobody “owns” it.

(For a good summary of Gamergate, visit the website Know Your Meme: bit.ly/1u7Su5B. It’s as clear as you’re going to get.)

Torrid saga

Gamergate has two parts. The first part, the respectable part, is a debate about the ties between makers of videogames and the journalists who write about them. And yes, that relationship should be ethical, and not involve favours, money, sex, or cronyism.

A worthy topic. But it has been swamped by the stupid garbage hurricane.

The second part, the hurricane, was a ­pitiable flare-up among a minority of (almost certainly male) misogynist ­videogame players apparently angry about what they see as women and feminine ­values encroaching on their “space”.

It blew up Aug 16, when a man accused a female game designer of sleeping with journalists. More accusations flew at other women in the industry, and meanwhile, more evidence surfaced of bad ethics among designers and journalists.

The word and hashtag “#Gamergate” was coined in an Aug 27 tweet by actor and gaming enthusiast Adam Baldwin. To say it went viral is like saying a tornado is inconvenient: The hashtag was used 244,000 times in its first week and has been used more than three million times since.

Tens of thousands of antiwoman tweets vomited out on Twitter, and thousands of posts on Reddit. They made death threats. They “slut-shamed” prominent women in the gamer world. They “punished” ­targeted women by publishing their ­personal ­information online, a practice called ­“doxxing”.

Pathetic.

There is no one “space”, no one gaming world. If there ever was, that intergalactic cruiser has sailed. I realise a lot of this is ­idiotic fooling: silly, dumb guys just kicking up a fake storm because Internet ­anonymity lets them. But the hardcore misogynist cadre is to be pitied, as the cadets rail over a gaming world changing faster than they want.

Interactive entertainment makes more than US$50bil (RM175bil) in revenue worldwide. Millions play videogames of various sorts, from the international smash World of Warcraft to silly stuff such as Angry Birds that you can play on your mobile phone.

Alas, for the troll minority (however numerous they may be, and it’s hard to tell), the change is here to stay. Far from being the sole domain of couch-potato teenage boys, the videogame world is diversifying quickly — at least in terms of who plays.

A study released in August by the Entertainment Software Association ­surveyed the makeup of 2013 US videogame players. It found that, although males are still the majority of all players, it’s only by a few percentage points (52%). Women have gone from 40% in 2010 to 48% now, a very fast growth rate.

The number of female gamers over 50 surged 32% between 2012 and 2013. A Wall Street Journal article by Sven Grundberg and Jens Hansegard connects the spike in female playership to the increasing popularity of mobile games.

Perhaps surprising, more women over 18 play (32%) than boys under 18 (17%). In terms of age, the under-18 crowd is 29% of all players. People 36 and older, however, make up 39%, the largest single cohort, surely including members of the first two generations of players who are still playing, sometimes next to their sons and grandsons. The ESA estimates that the average player is about 31 and has been playing for 14 years.

Changing landscape

Are games themselves diverse? Not diverse enough. There are women in this industry, designing and manufacturing the games, but there need to be more, plus a better effort to populate them with ­better depictions of women, better female ­characters.

There aren’t enough worthy women depicted in most such games. (Lara Croft is the exception that proves the rule.) Designers still tend to design games for males — which, considering the stats above, is behind the times. Many female figures in videogames are pneumatic Barbies lugging blasters; others are either witches, damsels in distress, or angelic figures.

This isn’t universal: in the globally ­popular Minecraft, among several other games, you can choose to “be” a character of any skin or gender. And the SimCity and family of Sim games — some of the best-­selling games in the United States — have manifold chances to include female characters.

You can’t solve all issues or make ­everybody play nice. If you play games on public servers, you’re likely to encounter every bias, prejudice, and “trollery” in the world. The best solution is your own ­personal research, to find public servers with strict rules forbidding profanity and trolling. They’re out there.

This world has more growing up to do. But I think it will. It’s already on its way, for all the trolls hiding beneath their mossy Internet bridges. — The Philadelphia Inquirer/Tribune News Service

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