Category Archives: Gaming Community

The Future of Games (Kojo Nnamdi Show: Tech Tuesday recap)

Last year, I was lucky enough to be a call-in guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU out of DC, talking about diversity in games. Yesterday, I got to do it again, but since it’s summer, I was able to actually go up to DC to participate in the studio, talking with Bill Harlow and Dr. Lindsay Grace about pop culture and recent trends in gaming, including Serious Games, indie games, and where we think the market might go from here (link takes you to the show, where you can listen).

One of the highlights of the show is the final caller, a boy named Oscar, who asks us what we think is the future of games, since they will be designed by people like him, who have grown up with games like Minecraft. Not only was Oscar adorable, but he was articulate and smart, asking one of the best questions of the day. He also represents a very positive future for games and gamers; while the show kept coming back to the idea of violent games (the producer’s idea) and how new games are either complicating or moving away from violent mechanics altogether, Oscar’s question really got to the heart of what’s happening in the industry.

Videogames are growing up, and I don’t just mean in terms of content. There will always be shooters, there will always be games that cater to a juvenile demographic–and that’s not a bad thing. All popular media have that, because popular media cater to everyone. What is happening in games is that they are expanding their demographic base to include everyone; games are entering a period in which they have become aware of and are trying to involve players of all ages, genders, races, and types, and the kids who grow up now playing games that make an effort to include this diversity will no longer think of it as “changing” how games “are meant to be” (*cough*), but as what games are.

They will see the failures and successes of current games in terms of narrative, graphics, artistry, and mechanics and will improve upon them, following the trajectory we have seen in every form of popular culture from music to poetry to novels to film and television. And now videogames. And we need to remember, sometimes, that change takes time, but that there is great promise not only in the industry as it currently stands, but in its future, when people like Oscar become old enough to not only study games in school, but to pursue degrees in games, to play games, to critique them, to think critically about them. And when kids like Oscar are old enough to make games of their own, those games will be above and beyond anything we can now imagine.

And that is unbelievably exciting.

Times Are A-changin': Bringing Diversity into the Spotlight at E32015

Sometimes, after a lot of yelling, typing, hand-waving, and crying, sometimes the powers-that-be actually listen. Even more rarely, they listen and then act. And when that happens, it becomes clear that speaking out and speaking up really do matter.

That happened today at E3. (E3, for the un-game-initiated, is the biggest industry conference in gaming.) During today’s XBox presentation, Microsoft–arguably one of the whitest and most male companies out there–not only put women and people of color up on their stage to speak, but they showed off a full slate of games that included female protagonists (Rise of the Tomb Raider, Dishonored 2, and Recore are the three I’m really excited about) and characters of color (Gears 4, Tomb Raider), customizable protagonists (Fallout 4 and Mass Effect 4) and dogs (Recore and Fallout 4). And those are just the big titles.

Twitter–my feed anyway–began commenting about halfway through at the abundance of women and POC (and dogs), and getting more and more excited as the XBox presentation continued. Knowing that, in addition to Microsoft’s games, Mirror’s Edge will also have a new (still with a female protagonist) game, makes me generally optimistic–for once!–about the future state of the industry.

After a couple of years during which I was seriously beginning to reconsider whether I even wanted to continue following games media out of a mixture of exhaustion and despair, this has brought back a lot of hope. Does this mean that the industry is now a paradise of female and POC empowerment (and employment)? Of course not. Women and POC in tech still face discrimination and harassment on a daily basis. They are underrepresented in employment statistics and on screen. But at least the on-screen part is getting better.

Baby steps. But even baby steps are steps. Sometimes it’s worth being thankful for what progress we get… before getting back in the ring and continuing the fight.

TLF: “Jade for Beauty: Positive Female Characters in Video Games,” ep. 2

My TLF review of Anita Sarkeesian’s second video in the Positive Female Characters in Video Games series (on Jade from Beyond Good & Evil).

A lot of my frustrations with this episode are less to do with the specifics about what Sarkeesian says than a lot of the assumptions and implications of what she says. Overall, I actually think her video is a decent review of why she likes the game, which is actually pretty informative (and made me consider playing the game). However, there are a lot of “feminist pitfalls” to it that I find problematic (as a fairly militant feminist myself), such as the assumption that any game with violence subscribes to hegemonic male militarism (although I don’t think she uses that exact phrase).

My Game!: The Problem with Fan “Ownership”

So a recent (completely civil, polite, and even productive) exchange got me thinking about one of the problems with videogame culture, and, indeed, fan culture more broadly. This is the problem of fan “ownership”–of a game, a franchise, an entire genre…

On the one hand, creators want fans to feel a sense of ownership over the games (or whatever) they play so that they become invested in them on both the emotional and (of course) financial levels. And investment of that sort is a good thing. It’s good when audiences connect on a deep level to the things they consume because it means that those things are reaching them, engaging with them, and helping them to sort through problems. All these are good things.

This kind of investment leads fans to hold creators accountable, not only for errors in fact or continuity, but for sloppy work, lazy plotlines, rehashed tropes that no one wants to see anymore. It keeps creators pushing the edge, striving to be better, working to make sure that their product is an accurate representation of their ideas and ideologies. Also good things.

But there is, sadly, also too much of a good thing.

There are those fans (and, by the way, the exchange above did not sway into this territory) who come to feel that they really do own content by virtue of their fandom. These are the fans who say that an all-female Ghostbusters remake (which, by the way, does not erase the previous Ghostbusters films) “ruins” the franchise. These are the fans who demand that their games not contain the option to create a female protagonist, the fans who think that all content needs to cater to their–and only their–point of view.

These are the fans whose critical voices are not actually critical, but demanding and entitled. There is a difference between criticism and childish temper-tantrums. The former engages thoughtfully (and often also lovingly) with the content. The latter pitches fits with little basis and less maturity, often loudly and without consideration for the effort made. The former is about improving content and genre. The latter is about making the content into a personal fantasy.

The latter is not a good thing.

It stifles instead of expands creativity. It causes paranoia and is–by and large–a conservative force that keeps content constrained to the status quo. These are not good things.

What I’d like to see in games is a sense that fans can be invested, but that they recognize that, ultimately, they do not own the content of the games. They are participants in the sense that games are participatory, but they are consumers, not creators. They are audience, not actors. Yes, fans have the ability (and right) to respond to the content, to applaud it or boo it, to critique it, to buy it or boycott it. But they do not own it. It is not theirs. It is work–usually a lot of long, hard work–done by others, their brain-child, and fans need to remember this.

Remember, and respect. Because at the end of it all, while fans do have the right to criticize, they ought to do so with respect, recognizing that this thing about which they are posting or speaking or writing a ten-page screed is someone else’s thing, someone else’s idea, someone else’s work. And that deserves respect.

 

Edit: Reposted on TLF.

Braaaaaaains: The New “Threat” of Videogames to our Minds

So today’s example of scare-mongering “science” comes to us from Canada (via the Telegraph in the UK), where someone has apparently “proven” that “Call of Duty increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” according to the headline. When added to a recent thread on the DiGRA list about Philip Zimbardo’s current speaking tour about how the “greatest threat” to young men today is videogame playing (because it turns them violent), this has me banging my head into the wall, the desk, and any other object in close proximity. (Maybe that’s why videogame playing is linked to brain damage… because articles like this make us give ourselves cranial trauma…)

Okay, so Zimbardo first. Zimbardo is a well-known psychologist with published books, one of which–The Lucifer Effect–I have taught to my class because it is an example of what not to do in psychology. Zimbardo, for those of you at home, is the man who came up with the Stanford Prison Experiment which traumatized several young men at Stanford in the 1970s (there’s even a documentary on it) because when it started to get out of control (the “guards” were psychologically torturing the “prisoners”), Zimbardo let it continue for a few days until someone else called him out on it.

Yes, that’s the man I want to trust to evaluate the psychological impact of anything. But even assuming that he learned from his experience and became a more ethical psychologist (which, to be honest, by all accounts he has), he has done no research into videogames whatsoever and is simply capitalizing on his fame in order to state opinions which people then trust as true, because that’s ethical.

Putting Zimbardo aside in favor of today’s article about Alzheimer’s, let’s take a look at the actual article, rather than the fear-mongering title. Nowhere in the article does it say that Call of Duty causes or increases a risk of Alzheimer’s. What it says is that videogame players–not Call of Duty players, either, mind you–use a different part of their brains to manage three-dimensional spatial interactions on screen than non-videogame players. This part of the brain is called the caudate nucleus and is used for voluntary movement and goal-directed actions, which means that gamers understand gaming as a goal-completion activity (as opposed to non-gamers, who don’t think about it the same way).

Apparently people who rely heavily on the caudate nucleus “normally” “have less grey matter.” Specifically, “The Canadian team said if action gamers have less grey matter, as people who rely on the caudate nucleus normally do, then they may be more prone to mental illness.”

Let’s parse that. People with an overdeveloped caudate nucleus “normally” have less grey matter than people who don’t. Gamers rely on their caudate nucleus. There is no statement in there that says that gamers actually have less grey matter; it says “If action gamers have less grey matter.” Which they apparently do not know whether gamers have or do not have.

Okay. Next step. People with less grey matter in the hippocampus (the site of spatial memory) have a higher correlation “with neurological and psychological disorders including dementia and depression.” That means that if someone has a reduced hippocampus, they might have an increased risk of a disorder (which could include Alzheimer’s). One of the researchers, Dr. Gregory West, summarizes: “This means people who play a lot of action video games could have reduced hippocampal integrity, which is associated with increased risk for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.” Let’s repeat that–“Could have reduced hippocampal integrity.” Not “do have,” “could have.”

What the research does not show is whether or not gamers in fact do have “reduced hippocampal integrity,” which means that the study has not, in fact, suggested that gamers are at risk for anything. It has only “proven” (sort of) that gamers use the caudate nucleus when playing more than non-gamers.

West also says that “For more than a decade now, research has demonstrated action video game players display more efficient visual attention abilities. Our current study again confirms this notion.” So this means that there are benefits to gaming, as well. And yes, gamers have differently shaped brains from “normal” people:

Previous research has also shown brains of people who regularly play computer games differ from those of infrequent gamers.

A study in teenagers showed the “reward hub”, which is involved in addiction, was larger in regular players.

Brain scans showed a larger ventral striatum, which is the hub of the brain’s reward system, in regular gamers. Playing computer games has been linked to a range of effects from addiction to improved reasoning.

That’s not really all that surprising, since our brains are plastic (as in, they change, not made of petroleum-based material) and adjust to our regular behaviors. Our brains’ structure changes as our habits change, so that we adapt to what it is we do most. This is normal.

So at the end of the article, all we know is that gamers use their caudate nucleus more than non-gamers when playing a game, and that they have a larger ventral striatum. What we absolutely do not know is whether this is good, bad, or neutral information, and we absolutely do not know that gamers–Call of Duty or otherwise–are at increased risk for pretty much anything (Alzheimer’s included) except carpal tunnel.

What this all boils down to is that media reporting–and, apparently, popular psychology–needs to stop leaping to conclusions not at all based in the scientific evidence being proffered. Just like with climate change (which is real, no matter what congress says) and GMOs (which do not cause health risks, unlike pesticides and certain preservatives) and vaccines (which do not cause autism and might in fact contribute to fending off some forms of leukemia). Videogames are no more–or less–harmful than any other form of popular media, including movies, television, comic books, the internet at large, books, poetry, theater, murals, sculpture, and classical art.

Oh, and education. (Well, maybe education for standardized testing really is causing harm, so I take that one back…)

Oppression Matters: Intersectionality, Feminism, and the Importance of Diversity as a Practice

On my way to a conference the other day, I was sitting on the plane reading Estelle Freedman’s No Turning Back, a history of feminism. The young woman in the seat next to me interrupted: “Excuse me, is that a book on feminism?” (There’s a cartoon superhero akin to Wonder Woman on the cover.)

“Yes,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said. “Not to be rude, but I took a couple classes last year on gender and women’s studies, and they changed my life. I think everyone should have to take classes like that. It really changes how you think about things, you know? I didn’t used to consider myself a feminist, but I really am. It’s important.”

That is not what I expected. As a (somewhat militant) feminist, I have had people ask me if it’s rude to ask if I’m feminist, I’ve had people tell me they can’t call themselves feminists because they like men, and been called a “feminazi” and a “social justice warrior” as pejorative terms. The young woman in the seat next to me (who, by the way, was a woman of color) gave me hope, not simply because she was proud of being a feminist, but because of the half-hour conversation that ensued in which we talked about popular culture, feminism, intersectionality (when identities–like gender, sexuality, race, religion, etc.–overlap), and misunderstandings of what all these things mean. And she got it. She understood the importance not only of feminism, but of understanding it in a larger context–cultural, social, and political.

In the book, Freedman defines feminism as follows:

Feminism is a belief that women and men are inherently of equal worth. Because most societies privilege men as a group, social movements are necessary to achieve equality between women and men, with the understanding that gender always intersects with other social hierarchies…I use “equal worth” rather than equality because the latter term often assumes that men’s historical experience—whether economic, political, or sexual—is the standard to which women should aspire. (p. 7)

What’s most important about this definition is that Freedman acknowledges the significance of politics of oppression–that feminism isn’t about making women equivalent to men, but of giving them equal value. It’s also important to recognize that there is agency in oppression; women have historically been oppressed by men, as well as by other women. Feminism–as opposed to “humanism” (already a thing, by the way, that has nothing to do with gender: “humanism” is a secular system of religious non-belief)–recognizes that the purpose of eliminating oppression is elevating the oppressed (here, women, hence, “feminism”).

This is as true of other forms of oppression: against homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, pansexuals, etc.; against people of color; against religious minorities; against national minorities. It is also true that we cannot focus on just one to the exclusion of all others; feminism cannot trump any other kind of anti-oppression movement. We are all strung together; equality is equality.

But that is not to say that we can simply erase the markers of difference which have caused this oppression. We can’t turn to #alllivesmatter because ALL lives have not been threatened; it must be #Blacklivesmatter because the lives which have not heretofore mattered are black. It can’t be humanism (not just because it’s already a term), because women have not been treated as full humans. It can’t be about straight pride, because straight people have always been able to stand in the open.

Oppression matters.

And, to turn it back to games (because, after all, that’s the point of this blog), it’s important to acknowledge the lack of women, LGBTQ, and people of color in the industry as fans, content creators, and in the content itself. And it’s important to deliberately include diversity in games because it has been so long absent. The status quo is no longer acceptable, it’s oppressive.

And now that we see it, it’s even more important to make a point of changing it.

Perspective Shift: Talking Games in the Midst of Violence

Today a friend asked a very good question, and one that I think is valuable to try to answer for cultural critics and academics the world over.

He teaches in Baltimore, where, as anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows, yet another protest has been sparked by police violence resulting in the death of a person of color. Given the context – not only Baltimore and Ferguson and North Carolina… but the earthquake in Nepal, the annexation of the Crimea, and so on – how can we keep talking about games? How can we ask our students to put aside everything they see going on outside their doors (sometimes literally) to talk about games? And, perhaps most importantly, given all this, should we keep talking about games?

My answer is yes – but also no. Yes, in the sense that talking about games is talking about culture and society and politics. Yes, because in talking about games we are (hopefully) talking about the issues that have led to the problems outside our doors. No, in the sense that we should absolutely not shut out what is happening outside. No, in the sense that it is vital that we talk literally about what is happening outside.

I believe that there are issues, concerns, and events that require us to put our planned classes and lives on hold because it is imperative that we stop to take a good, long look at what kind of society we have created, what acts we permit and what acts we condemn. I believe that what is happening now in Baltimore, what happened in Madison and North Carolina and Ferguson, is one of those events. Racism is a real, institutional problem that urgently demands our attention, and we need to not only allow, but encourage our students (friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues) to talk about.

And I also believe that these issues, concerns, and events appear in our popular culture media, including games. I believe that the problem of institutionalized racism appeared in Grand Theft Auto V and BioShock Infinite and Dragon Age and Fallout 3, and that each of those games attempted to address the problems of institutionalized racism through different lenses, to force their players to consider the ramifications of permitting the status quo to continue unchecked.

I also believe that institutionalized racism is a problem in many of these games, GTAV and Infinite in particular, because those games don’t fully understand or respect the ramifications of their privileged assumptions about race, class, and gender. And it is important for us to keep talking about them in order to make those problems visible, not only in the games industry, but in the world which these games reflect.

So yes, we need to keep talking about games. We need to talk about the good games can do if they seek to encourage social change. We need to talk about the harm games can do if they perpetuate social injustices without taking a critical stance. We also need to talk about the very real, very upsetting, very harmful things happening to real people in the real world, and remember that games matter because of the real world.

TIME 101

Last night, Anita Sarkeesian celebrated being named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year. The piece in TIME was written by Wil Wheaton, an advocate of equality and diversity in geekdom in general, and gaming in specific. He calls Sarkeesian “gaming’s feminist advocate,” and explains the general narrative of what has happened to her as a consequence of her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.

She’s categorized by TIME as a “Pioneer,” someone on the forefront of a field. And – no disrespect to Sarkeesian, who I think has done a lot of good for equality and diversity in gaming – I’m just not buying it.

She’s been put alongside Scott Kelly, an astronaut who is right now aboard the ISS for six months risking his health and body in order to study the long-term effects of microgravity on the human body; Misty Copeland, an African American ballet superstar whose participation in the American Ballet breaks down presumed barriers of racial bias against black women in the fine arts, as well as showing that dance is an athletic form; Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, co-creators of a gene-modification technique that “gives scientists the power to remove or add genetic material at will”; among others, including Emma Watson, whose address to the UN on global issues of women’s oppression led to her nomination.

I want to make perfectly clear that I think what Sarkeesian is doing is important and contributes value to the games industry and to diversity in general. I’m just not certain that it’s worthy of being named one of the 100 most influential people. For one, no one outside of geekdom and gaming knows her name (even if they might find her picture similar to the actress from the Law & Order: SVU episode that I wish had never happened). For another, her selection minimizes a lot of work being done in games diversity – not because her work is bad (despite my criticisms of it, it isn’t bad), but because there is a lot of complex, nuanced, and, frankly, better work being done.

What it boils down to for me is that Sarkeesian’s work – unlike that of many of the other people listed – isn’t going to change the world. It isn’t even going to do real work in changing games, although it has done a lot of good in terms of raising awareness (how I hate that phrase) about the harassment of women in the gaming community and online more generally. And someone needs to do that awareness-raising work, and it’s important, I’m just not sure it warrants a top-100-people-of-the-year spot.

I guess my ultimate concern is that Sarkeesian’s work is done by and for people with privilege. Even though women are maligned in tech and gaming, even though games focus predominantly on the straight-white-male figure, gaming is fundamentally the purview of the privileged. People involved in games have homes, food, and disposable income. This doesn’t invalidate the work of gaming criticism (I do gaming criticism, after all), but I would feel just as awkward if it were me (ha!) being nominated.

Is Sarkeesian a leader? Yes. Is she doing good? Yes. But I bet there are a lot of people whose work makes a bigger difference in the lives of people who are starving, displaced, impoverished, or dying who deserve the accolades more than a cultural critic.

Increased Tolerance: GenCon and the State of Indiana

Last week, Indiana passed a so-called Religious Freedom Bill that permits employers and business owners to discriminate against employees and customers on the basis of their religious beliefs. In essence, what this means is that a company can refuse to employ or serve someone whose lifestyle or identity conflicts with the proprietor’s religious beliefs. Put simply, this means that businesses can refuse to serve LGBTQ persons or persons of other religions citing “religious freedom.”

Putting aside – for the sake of this post alone – the horrific implications of such a law (and its highly questionable constitutionality), this has garnered extensive resistance from a variety of places, including the entire state of Connecticut and the gaming and fan con GenCon.

When the bill was still being debated, the organizers of GenCon encouraged lawmakers to consider that they would lose GenCon’s business if the bill went forward. They passed it anyway. GenCon now says that they are seriously reconsidering ending their relationship with the state when their current contract comes up.

And that’s the key – GenCon’s contract with Indiana doesn’t expire until 2020, by which time I’m certain that the law is likely to have been overturned or repealed. I don’t say this to criticize GenCon – they made the contract long before Indiana decided to turn back the clock on tolerance and diversity. The very fact that GenCon has gone out of its way to publicly condemn the bill-turned-law suggests that they are concerned with diversity in the geek community. And the fact that they are telling attendees not to attend if the law makes them uncomfortable suggests that GenCon means what it says: “I hope that you’ll join us at Gen Con, which will be inclusive and fun. Prospective attendees, if you don’t feel comfortable attending, based upon your principals, we invite you to make the decision that feels right for you, your business, or group. We support your decision, regardless of the outcome.”

GenCon’s response gives me hope for the future of the gaming community. In a group of people who have become almost infamous for sexism and harassment in the last few years, seeing GenCon take an open stance against intolerance is a good sign, at least for the gaming community, if not for Indiana or the US as a whole.

But it’s a silver lining in a storm of intolerance and willful ignorance in which we find racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bias and bigotry.

Feminist Illuminati: Academia, Feminism, and Gaming Mix Poorly

Today an article by Shira Chess and Adrienne Shaw – “A Conspiracy of Fishes, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying about #GamerGate and Embrace Hegemonic Masculinity,” published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 59.1 (2015) – came to my attention. Sadly, it lives behind a paywall at Taylor & Francis, so unless you’re an academic or willing to cough up some money, it will remain inaccessible. (If you do have access to an academic library, you can likely find a copy, however, and I would encourage you to do so.)

In some ways, the fact that Chess and Shaw’s article is locked within the Ivory Tower is deeply ironic, given that one of their points is that “The opacity of what we do, how we do it, and the language we use is often so far removed from the publics we are discussing that academia, itself, becomes part of the problem” (209). This is not a problem exclusive to games – any field into which academia dips its proverbial big toe encounters this barrier constructed of jargon, elitism, and paternalism which we call “academe.” Sadly, what this generally means is that normal, everyday people dismiss academics as being out of touch; we are, but not typically in the ways in which people think we are. Most academics are discussing subjects that are immediately relevant and significant to the sociopolitical world, just in terms and forms which are completely impenetrable to the uninitiated.

And this leads to an inherent distrust of the very people who are likely among the most equipped in the world to deal with the problems in those fields. It isn’t a good situation. When one combines this aversion to the academy with the typical response to “feminism,” as Chess and Shaw observe, things only get worse. And when this is compounded within game studies and, more frightening yet, games more broadly (fans and industry), it turns into the stuff of nightmares.

Some months ago, DiGRA (the Digital Games Research Association), an academic organization supporting the study of all aspects of games and gaming, became the subject of inquiry for a spin-off group of GamerGaters referring to themselves as #OperationDiggingDiGRA (more on them here and here). The Twitter hashtag, with a repeated group of individuals asking questions and making comments about the “feminist conspiracy” underpinning DiGRA, spawned, apparently, by a Fishbowl panel hosted by Chess and Shaw at DiGRA’s 2014 conference.

What happened, explain Chess and Shaw, is that their open symposium-style panel (“Fishbowl”) and its attendant public Google Document designed for the audience to take notes and make comments had somehow come to the attention of GamerGate, who began to doctor and comment upon said document:

On September 1, 2014 we began getting emails that indicated someone was commenting on our Google Doc. The one that caught our eye was a comment that read: ‘‘guys, use the comments thingy, leave the thing unedited please. It won’t look credible to anyone outside of 4chan if doctored around.’’ Reviewing the edits, it had apparently been edited and commented on since late at night on August 31. One edit simply replaced ‘‘identity and diversity in game culture’’ with the word ‘‘penis.’’ Another deleted the title entirely and replaced it with ‘‘I fuck kids- op.’’ That version also altered nearly every paraphrasing of participants’ comments to include something about ‘‘sucking cock.’’ Finally, someone reverted it back to the original added a note stating: ‘‘It’s impossible for us to mess with it too much, because it can always be restored to a later version, like what I just did.’’ Another comment encouraged everyone to make a copy of the document, just in case. Being busy and uninterested in following the sophomoric edits via the log we made a copy of the original version and deleted the shared doc. We wondered, however, how anyone came upon our notes from an academic conference in the first place—or, for that matter, why anyone would find them interesting. (211-212)

The very fact that GamerGaters felt entitled to change a document in order to present it as evidence is itself evidence of a very different kind. Obviously, many of the original “edits” were simply there as trollish pranks – one assumes no one would believe that the spontaneous appearance of the word “penis” in a document was evidence of a feminist conspiracy in the academic ranks.

Naturally, this document alone was not the basis for such a claim. Instead, the document – discussing identity politics and gender-related issues – was mixed with journalists’ reports of harassment against Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, blogs and thinkpieces about women in gaming, and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games and presented as “undeniable” evidence of a conspiracy within feminism (as though “feminists” are all members of a unified secret cabal) to destroy videogames.

When mixed with the fact that many academics – including those in game studies – receive federal grants for their research, this supposed feminist conspiracy took on a new level of nefariousness. After all, federal money funding a secret feminist cabal has to be insidious, right?

On September 9 ‘‘Sargon of Akkad’’ posted a YouTube video titled, ‘‘A Conspiracy Within Gaming.’’ The video promises that ‘‘The smoky-room Communist meetings in gaming actually exist, they’re just done in the brightly lit halls of academia’’ (Sargon of Akkad, September 9, 2014). (213)

Sorry. Secret Communist feminist cabal. But what is interesting – both to me and to Chess and Shaw – is that somehow the status of ‘academic,’ typically conflated with “egg-head” and “tweed-wearing” and often dismissed by our students as pedantic and arrogant (at best) or out-of-touch and meaningless (at worst) became, to GamerGate, a legitimate threat:

In part, what appears threatening about academia is an assumed social standing: ‘‘It’s going to be impossible to fight against, because academics are viewed as intelligent people with  authority in their particular disciplines’’ (Sargon of Akkad, September 9, 2014). Evident in the IRC chat log, comments on the video, and numerous sites where the information was circulated, is that academia simply does not make sense from the outside. More than that it is perceived as threatening. (214)

Chess and Shaw go on to say that the opacity of academic discourse (a phrase in-and-of-itself that illustrates the academic tendency toward unnecessary obfuscation) is inhibiting legitimate conversations between fans and academics, and I can’t say that I disagree. What I do think is more wishful thinking than truth, however, is the idea that by becoming more accessible in our language and criticism that we, as academics, will be any less subject to being blamed for participating in feminist conspiracies.

GamerGate, as a whole, is not a movement built on or persuaded by logic or fact. Attempts by dozens if not hundreds of academics (some of them on the DiGRA listserv) to explain game studies to #OperationDiggingDiGRA participants came to a messy and mutually frustrated end, with neither side convinced whatsoever by the other, and those of us with English degrees tearing out our hair at the plethora of grammatical errors on one half of that conversation.

That isn’t to say that conversations can’t or shouldn’t happen across the Ivory Fence; they can and should. My point is more that academic transparency isn’t going to solve or inhibit movements like GamerGate.

In-and-of-itself, academic transparency is a good thing, something for which more disciplines ought to strive. It enables the transmission of knowledge, something sadly lacking these days, as not only GamerGate, but climate change denial and utter ignorance about basic female anatomy proliferates among the more conservative portions of the political population.

One of the conclusions at which Shaw and Chess hint – and one with which I can’t disagree – is the idea that academia is trying to change the status quo, except that it isn’t so much a conspiracy as it is overtly and directly advocating for change. But we don’t all agree on the direction that change ought to take, or even whether change is what is necessary. That said, academics, as a whole, tend to be liberal-minded advocates of advancing knowledge, in any and all possible forms that knowledge might take.

And yes, some of us are feminists. Some of us are advocating for more diversity, more tolerance, less objectification of women and less oppression of minorities. We are the proverbial and hated “social justice warriors,” but it isn’t a conspiracy in the sense of being at all hidden. We may use difficult language that the untrained find hard to penetrate, but we aren’t doing it in order to hide anything; we just speak a different language.