Thursday, October 16, 2014

#Gamergate Has Everything To Do With Gender

There's a lot of sexism in the industry, whether we're talking about fandom, gaming, etc.

What a lot of people don't realize is how sexism is systemic and often unconscious. Just take a look at #Gamergate and its proponents immediately shout that they're against "corruption in games journalism" (which is about as concrete as the "War on Terror") when their entire movement has revolved around perpetuating sexism and harassing women and allies.

A lot of people, understandably so, are tired of having the 101 talk. That's because doing so is exhausting, and they're not here to teach you: they expect people to be intelligent and do their own research.

But proponents of #Gamergate claim that they're not misogynists, when that's precisely the case. Let me break it down for you.

I.  The Initial Focus was on Zoe Quinn

Here is GamerGate's Know Your Meme page. You don't get more pro-#GamerGate than that. It starts out with Zoe Quinn, a female developer. Now here are the accusations:

1. She slept with journalist Nathan Grayson to gain favorable reviews for her game Depression Quest. Let's unpack that assumption.
  • First, this is what Joanna Russ (author of How to Suppress Women's Writing) describes as "The Double Standard of Content". To quote from Russ's book: "Motives for the dismissal differ: habit, laziness, reliance on history or criticism that is already corrupt, ignorance (the most excusable of all, surely), the desire not to disturb the comfort based on that ignorance (much less excusable), the dim (or not-so-dim) perception that one's self-esteem or sex-based interests are at stake, the desire to stay within an all-male, all-white club that is, whatever its drawbacks, familiar and comfortable, and sometimes the clear perception that letting outsiders into the club, economically or otherwise, will distrub the structure of quid pro quo that keeps the club going." Many of this will apply to Depression Quest, but let me put it in Lay Man's terms: Zoe Quinn, a female developer, made a game, and because female developers could not possibly make a good game, she slept with a man to get a good review. That is what #Gamergate is stating, whether implicitly or explicitly.
  • Second, such a review did not exist. But it is easier for a lot of gamers to believe it so.
  • Hypothetically speaking, let's assume that Quinn did, in fact, bribe Grayson to gain a favorable review. Gamers should have focused on Grayson, not Quinn. (They would only do so significantly later, nor did this lessen the harassment on Quinn.) If the Koch brothers bribes George W. Bush to gain a favor from the government, the burden is on Bush, not the Koch brothers. But the focus on Quinn (as the subsequent points show) betrays that this is really about women in the field instead of actual ethics in journalism.

2. That journalists were contributing to Quinn's Patreon account.
  • This is what Russ would consider a "Prohibition", which prevents women from committing art. To quote: "For example, poverty and lack of leisure are powerful deterrents to art: most nineteenth century British factory workers, enduring a fourteen-hour day, were unlikely to spend a lifetime in rigorously perfecting the sonnet." Simply put, these gamers do not want Quinn to earn a living, so she can create more games.
  • Second, Patreon is not GoFundMe. In order to get be supported at Patreon, you need to deliver a product. In that sense, it is irrelevant if journalists are contributing to a developer's Patreon account or not; they are consumers, and free to critique or review those products.
3. Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez had relationships with other game developers so she must be biased.
  • In many ways, this is a double standard. Men in other industries have friendships and relationships with people they write about or whose works they review. It's like claiming that the late film critic Roger Ebert never should have met or befriended the people he wrote about. Moreover, the focus on Hernandez (as opposed to every other male game journalist and their web of friendships and social contacts), betrays this conscious--or unconscious--sexism.
4. Robin Arnot, the chair for Night Games at Indiecade, had an affair with Quinn, which was how she received her award.
  • See #1.
  • That accusation also dismisses the integrity and decision of the rest of the jury.
II. Denial and Victim Blaming When it Comes to Harassment

During #Gamergate, several people were harassed, including the following:
1. The initial responses was to either deny the event, that they staged it, or that they deserved it. This is what's called Blaming the Victim.

2. Notice that one of the people that was harassed was Phil Fish, a male developer. There is a different form of harassment applied to him. Whereas with female developers it is enough to threaten them, show them dick pics, mail death threats, or call their house, because Fish is a male developer, a different method used to scare him: divulging his financial information. The discrepancy in tactics used shows the inequality between men and women in the industry, in the same way that a black man carrying a toy sword can get shot in America, while a drunk white man goes home safe (or another extreme, a white man can shoot another person in the face and have the injured party apologize).

3. Some proponents of #Gamergate have claimed that they get harassed too. One wrong does not eliminate another wrong, nor is that a valid excuse to dismiss the harassment others have received. (The tragedy is that when publications like Polygon writes articles like harassment in video games, the response by #Gamergate is that such articles are corrupted and biased!)

III. Using #NotYourShield as a Shield Against Criticism

#NotYourShield is simple: whenever critics of #Gamergate claim that #Gamergate is misogynistic, they use the "But my female friend said" or "I have a black friend so I can't be racist" card.

It is also a failure of proponents of #Gamergate how dialogue and Feminism works. First, Feminism represents several things, and there is room for debate. That is why there were arguments between the First Wave Feminists and the Second Wave, the Second Wave and the Third Wave, etc. There will be various interpretations of Feminism and it continues to evolve. For example:

Paste Magazine's review of Bayonetta 2.
There is nuance to that discussion and will boil down to the articulation of their respective points. (And the difference is that these critics can disagree without threatening each other with harassment or violence.)

There is this video for example from someone who describes themselves as a Feminist. This doesn't give proponents of #Gamergate a free pass when it comes to accusations of misogyny and sexism though.

IV. The Invisibility of Women and Unconscious Bias

First off, you know someone who talks about ethics in games journalism? Maddy Myers. How come you haven't heard of her? Maybe because she's not one of the Powerful Games Journalists [that are] Men?

Or look at Jenn Frank, whose disclosure that she bought Quinn's work previously and briefly met Sarkeesian was so ridiculous a disclosure that The Guardian's editorial did not deem it fit to publish the disclosure originally. Because it's ridiculous (e.g. there is no conflict of interest). But it is only in the #Gamergate community that such standards are enforced.

A lot of gamers will probably have heard of TotalBiscuit, currently one of the top Steam Curators. Kudos to him for thinking on the ethical conflicts of using his position to recommend a game from a paid sponsor. It's too bad that when it comes to the harassment of women in the industry, his explicit support of #Gamergate is implicitly condoning all the bad things associated with the movement. Those are his priorities.

That's not to say all of this is conscious. Take a look at Escapist Magazine, which ran two articles on game developers and how they perceived #Gamergate:

If I have to spell it out to you, Women are described as Female Game Developers. The men, however, are just Game Developers.
Later, when it's revealed that one of the male developers interviewed harassed Zoe Quinn, a female game developer, here was their response:
But when male journalists start complaining...

You end up with this message:

Because in the gaming industry, when a woman claims that they're being harassed, their word isn't good enough. How many proponents of #Gamergate will deny this happened?

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