[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 2 on -empyre: GAMES AND REPRESENTATION

Brenda Laurel blaurel at soe.ucsc.edu
Wed Apr 15 15:18:46 AEST 2015

Here are some of my thoughts about the aspect of GamerGate that has to do with harassment and violence against women in online spaces and increasingly in the real world, especially for more public defenders of women's equal rights in gaming communities. Now I am going to talk straight, not as an academic but as an observer of culture and politics. 

Men have always held video games as their personal space. Since its inception, the domain of video games has been entirely vertically integrated. They were made by men who worked for men to be played by men and sold in male-only spaces like electronics shops and later by video game stores (I am talking now about the evolution of AAA gams). Women were largely not customers (except for the women who played text adventure games who just did it anyway). Contrary to market logic, the owners of these institutions did not see women as customers. Females were early on identified as people who did nor play video games (as drawn from my experiences with Atari, Sony, Activision, and Epyx).

Now I want  you to think for a moment about the men who are attempting to circumvent Roe v. Wade, for example, and to cling to such notions as "welfare queens", although today they have had to come up with different signifiers for their war against women. These men want to instantiate in law their hegemonic imperative. Are they so different from men who play video games? We live now in an incredibly polarized and divisive culture. It is no accident that some segment of men online subscribe to these views. 

There is enhanced aggression against women's rights all across the board, from support for abortion rights and people in poverty to assaults on day care and preschool education. This, I hope, is the last gasp of several generations of men who have thought this way. They are not the majority but they control the majority.

Now think about men with poor educations and a degree of poverty. They are not participating in the culture as equals. They see themselves as downtrodden. They see rights for women as yet another degradation of their masculine status - and it is the easiest one to strike out against, even if you are a congressman. So they do. The web of civility on which a healthy government and society depend is broken. It is OK to lie to the press. It is OK to lie about what your legislation actually intends (witness the various unrelated "riders" to recent legislation that specifically attack women's rights). These guys have nobody else to feel better than, except women, and to a lesser extent, minorities. They've been most successfully vitriolic against the LGBTQ community (and I am right in there with the B and the Q), but recent quick gains in popular acceptance of gays and gay marriage have put them in a conundrum. Who can we feel better than?

Women. And that they should invade the secret inner sanctum of masculinity as an active place (unlike team sports, which are an affiliative space), women are on the radar as invaders and enemies. It is easier now to hate (deny agency to) women than it is even to LGBTQ folks or brown and black people. We are the easy target for people who need to think they're better than SOMEBODY. 

So I observe that the major actors in this recent surge of violence against women online are those men who feel dispossessed of their hegemonic rights. (Religious fundamentalism comes into play as an excuse.) There is no one left to beat up except us. And the population of men involved in online games is great enough for this to matter.

I don't have a solution. We may all find ourselves living "The Handmaid's Tale" by 2030. But I think there are at least 4 possible directions for defusing this terrible moment. (1) TRUE NAMES. Regardless of screen names, multiplayer games and other environments must insist on TRUE NAMES at registration. Player names (e.g., HelloKitty42) can be separate as long as they are connected to a true name. (2) PANIC BUTTONS. We did this with Purple Moon all those years ago. If someone is harassing you, hit the panic button on your screen, which does a screen capture and can lead back to the aggressor. (3) MODEL CIVILITY. It is often said that video games influence the culture in various ways, e.g., training soldiers for battle as a gamer rather than as seeing its consequences (a loss of life). If that is true, what happens if we create interactive worlds that model civility? Is it really the case that video games can influence as well as reflect culture? (4) ENGAGE WITH THE OTHER. This is my Negotiate Button. What if, rather than running away, we engage these folks in conversation? What happens if we show compassion? There us good anecdotal evidence that this can work. It is worth a try. 

Hope is an active verb.
Brenda Laurel, PhD                                                    www.tauzero.com
Adjunct Professor, Computational Media                office +1 831 429 2417 
Research Associate, Digital Arts & New Media
UC Santa Cruz
home office   +1 408 741 5865                               mobile +1 408 656 6598

On Apr 14, 2015, at 3:51 PM, Aubrey Anable <aubrey.anable at utoronto.ca> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Shira—Thank you for putting some necessary pressure on the discourse of being maligned. I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement to the many good points made by Jen and Brenda.
> I do think it’s important to celebrate the more diverse gaming landscape that has developed over the past few years--in terms of whose playing and whose designing games. My comments here have mostly been about my frustrations with some blind spots in academic approaches to analyzing and understanding games. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I would like to suggest that the problems we have all been identifying--in the industry, the culture, and in scholarly approaches--are connected.
> For example, I think it is a problem that most game design programs in North American universities are closely affiliated with Computer Science. Computer Science departments have a big gender problem in terms of being unable—for complex reasons—to attract and retain women in the field. If these are the programs that feed into the gaming industry, we are still a long way off from increasing the numbers of women in programming jobs. At the same time, courses in “game studies” from a humanities or a social scientific approach are taught elsewhere on campus, often with little or no direct connection with what’s going on over in Computer Science. This is a problem that affects who goes to work in the industry, what kind of work they do in the industry, and deepens the divide between ways of knowing and understanding video games in the broader culture.
> And by the way, Brenda, I would love to hear your thoughts on the deeper reasons behind GamerGate, as I’m sure others would.
> Aubrey Anable
> Cinema Studies Institute 
> University of Toronto
> 2 Sussex Ave.
> Toronto, ON
> M5S 1J5
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

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