#Gamergate – Fisking Pseudo-Academia

A person I’ve been having a – mostly – productive discussion with wanted me to look over THIS article.

So I did.

I have a general rule, instituted after talking with creationists, that I give articles or videos three ‘strikes’ before I give up on them. This helps avoid issues with the Gish Gallop and with wasting time on hours and hours of video of interminable nonsense.

Still, they asked nicely, so I’ll go through the entire article properly.

PHILADELPHIA — A “persistent and very terrible problem.” An “explosive harassment campaign.” An “extremist movement.” The “tea party of gaming.” That was how some panelists at Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat: Conversations about Games, Gender and Diversity, a conference held at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday, described Gamergate, the movement purportedly surrounding ethics in gaming journalism that some have used to harass critics calling for more diversity in video games. Some of those critics are feminist scholars, a popular target among members of the Gamergate movement.

To those involved in Gamergate alarm bells will already be willing. Such assertions by panelists at a supposedly academic conference held at a university, immediately betray a total lack of understanding of Gamergate and subscription to an – admittedly prevalent – false narrative. One would think that academics would make at least the minimal effort to understand what they were talking about. Sadly, it appears not, rather they have bought into and perpetuated that false narrative. This isn’t that surprising as activist academia has been a source of concern for Gamergate itself, most especially DiGRA.

Gamergate is not ‘purportedly’ about ethics in gaming journalism, that is what it is about (admittedly it has grown and diversified since then, but to say ‘purportedly’ is to ignore the strides GG has made or inspired around this issue and to accuse thousands of people of consistently lying over the course of eight months.

Is GG a harassment campaign? Again, no. There is some disagreement over what constitutes harassment of course, with some seeming to think dissent, argument, disagreement or even retweets constitute harassment. For any reasonable person however I don’t think these qualify. There is little doubt that people on all sides have been harassed, but there has been little or nothing linking Gamergate to any harassment – though the same cannot be said for those on the other side. It is also true that various critics have indeed been harassed, but this happened before Gamergate, it has happened during – but separate – to Gamergate and it will continue even after Gamergate has faded into the past or become something else entirely.

Trolls gonna troll.

Accusing Gamergate of such actions is to ignore that GG has outed several abusers and trolls and instituted an ‘anti-harassment patrol’, though since these efforts went uncelebrated and ignored and blame continued to be assigned they fell by the wayside.

It’s also not strictly accurate to describe the ‘targets’ Gamergate as feminists, or feminists as being popular targets. Many feminist scholars or self-described feminists are fairly popular within Gamergate – most notably Christina Hoff-Sommers. What makes someone a ‘target’ is an ethical failing or an attempt to censor. Sarkeesian’s efforts are often a target because of her fraud, theft, bizarre assertions, refusal to debate and the uncritical praise she gets from the more corrupt parts of the gaming press.

A lot of problems do stem from the censorious wing of authoritarian feminism, but that’s what draws the attention.

The back-to-back afternoon panels of women in gaming, which included researchers, game developers and faculty members in fields such as education, sociology and media studies, were structured as though the controversy had passed. The first panel looked back at Gamergate, the other, forward. But while media coverage about the movement has declined since peaking last August, speakers stressed that questions about increasing diversity in gaming remain, and that critics are still facing harassment.

It’s a cheap-shot I know, but describing people in these disciplines as academics is a bit of a stretch. “It’s not even science!” as Peter Bishop might say. When people in these – let’s be generous – soft sciences and humanities make empirical assertions they need to be held to scientific standards and that scientific standard is the kind of peer review and repeat experimentation that people expect and require when these kinds of things are asserted. EG: “Games cause sexism” or “Games cause violence” (both of which have proper studies contradicting those claims).

For Gamergate, an already massively diverse crowd, the question is whether such efforts are necessary at all (especially given the alleged 50/50 gender split of the audience that already exists) and if it has to be done by destroying what already exists rather than adding to it. Even then, it’s not necessary to make seemingly spurious and often insulting claims about the art form or its audience in order to bring about change.

“We wouldn’t be having this conference if we were claiming victory,” said Justine Cassell, associate vice provost for technology strategy and impact at Carnegie Mellon University. “With each generation… we have new means, new people at the table. What are we going to do to ensure that these voices actually change the nature of the conversation, change the audience to whom we’re talking, change the people at the table and change the landscape for gamers and for critics of games?”

Quite right they shouldn’t be claiming victory, but if they truly want to understand and assess whether the change they want to bring about (activist academics, inherent bias!) really needs to come about then they have to actually talk to and understand people like me who are on the other side. There’s been little to no effort to do so as can be seen here in the assumptions and lack of understanding previously noted.

The Gamergate movement spawned from an accusation that a female game developer traded sexual favors for positive media coverage. The theory caught fire on sites such as 4chan and Reddit, causing some gamers to aggressively pursue potential conflicts of interest between the people who create games and those who write about them. For example, the Digital Games Research Association, or DiGRA, last year came under scrutiny because scholars in the same field cited each other’s work — a common occurrence in academe.

None of this is particularly accurate. ‘The Quinnspiracy’ pre-dates Gamergate and is really something entirely different. The internet – being the internet – had a bit of fun with a sex scandal but what grabbed people’s attention were the conflicts of interest and potential for abuse that was revealed. It doesn’t really matter whether the coverage was because of the sex or not, the conflict of interest in and of itself is a breach of ethics.

Then what happened?

The media closed ranks, revealed more corruption, GameJournoPros was revealed, the media turned on its own audience and a cluster of additional problems turned up under investigation. Rather than deal with these issues the existing games media doubled down, gamers got angry and away we went. The relationship of the Quinn to Gamergate is, perhaps, analogous to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to World War I. A spark, but not really, meaningfully, the cause or much of anything to do with it.

Of course she – like Wu and Sarkeesian – has self-inserted a lot and done everything she can to pervert the story into one about harassment etc and that has pissed a hell of a lot of people off, especially now she’s gone ‘Full Thompson’ and started lying to the government.

The complaints about DiGRA are largely that it is activist pseudo-academia with foregone conclusions. Its work is more like creation ‘science’ than actual science, starting from a conclusion and trying to support those conclusions with inherently biased ‘research’ and speculation which is cited as though it were fact in a rather large circle jerk. Sargon of Akkad’s videos go into much greater detail on the problems with DiGRA than I’m inclined to here.

The scrutiny has in some cases progressed to harassment, with those arguing for increasing diversity in gaming receiving threats about violence and rape and having their personal information posted online. In one example, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist writer and target of much of the harassment, was forced to cancel an appearance at Utah State University after the institution received threats about a shooting. 

Again, trolls are always going to troll and getting involved in drama (Gamergate) or advertising your ‘triggers’ (feminism) on the web is going to draw trolls. That doesn’t mean they have – or ever did have – anything to do with Gamergate. Here we see an example of Sarkeesian’s self-insertion into the story and misrepresentation, the kinds of things an academic or a journalist should have bothered to check.

EG: The threat was never considered credible, by the police, the university, the FBI or anyone else that looked it over. She chose to pull it entirely of her own accord and against advice. The threat was never linked to Gamergate and there’s some, somewhat credible, speculation that it was faked (though not by her necessarily).

Such harassment threatened Friday’s conference as well. A spokeswoman for Penn said some of the speakers had been harassed as part of Gamergate and did not wish to participate on a public panel. In the end, both panels were made open to the public, but a workshop earlier in the day took place behind closed doors.

It would be a reasonably safe bet that, like the overwhelming majority of other claims along these lines either what’s gone on is not what a reasonable person would consider harassment, or has nothing to do with Gamergate. This also raises suspicion that these people are more interested in activism than accuracy – again.

Yasmin B. Kafai, the professor of learning sciences who organized the conference, applied for funding from the National Science Foundation to host the conference months before Gamergate reached the headlines. In the end, she said, she wished the university could have held the event sooner to discuss the underlying issues. “What Gamergate has changed is not the situation for women and minorities in gaming, but it has changed the public perception,” Kafai said. “People who actually study gaming communities, who work in game design — what can we promote as possible solutions and ameliorate the situation?”

This rather begs the question what they think the ‘situation for women and minorities’ is in gaming. The members of NotYourShield certainly would beg to differ with the claims I’m sure, and resent being spoken for. Surely they represent a useful academic resource for research that goes against the accepted bias?

What can we promote as solutions? Start talking to Gamergate and about Gamergate rather than assuming, rather than fixating on personal axes to grind, rather than inserting other concerns or self-inserting. You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand and there seems no willingness to even attempt to understand on the part of most. Rather, insultingly, we get meaningless buzzwords: ‘misogyny’, ‘reactionary’, ‘conservative’. Terms as inaccurate as they are lazy and say more about the ‘critic’ than their subject.

Online harassment is not new, Kafai said, and neither is the debate about diversity in gaming. Some of those in attendance on Friday also participated in 1997, when the conference was known as From Barbie to Mortal Kombat. The most recent event was held in 2006. Reviving the conference with a focus on Gamergate gave participants a new chance to discuss their work, the issues related to the controversy and whether their role as academics requires them to participate in the debate. “If anything, Gamergate has made it so you can’t really be neutral anymore,” said Adrienne Shaw, an assistant professor in Temple University’s School of Media and Communication. “Critique has become… so threatening, and that represents something about the educational system — that people don’t understand what criticism is. That’s something we can work on. It doesn’t have to be a direct response to Gamergate. It has to be a direct response to changes in our educational system and how higher education structures people’s ability to read theoretical work.”

Finally an accurate point. Online harassment is not new and has nothing whatsoever to do with Gamergate. It’s an issue that needs discussion certainly, but to constantly override Gamergate with it is a misstep at best and deliberate misdirection at worst.

I don’t think these academics, I had to restrain myself from using scare quotes, have ever been neutral. They’re activists and have been part of the problem. What we really need is a genuinely detached, academic, scientific and neutral approach to foster discussion and bridge building.

Critique per se isn’t threatening, save when it’s incorrect and misrepresentative. Much of it is useless and much of it masquerades as reviews – which is a problem. People do indeed understand what criticism is, they also understand what it is not. Part of the problem is that there are various forms of criticism, some of which aren’t really criticism, or honest. I made a video on this issue, but in short the most problematic one is criticism in the form of ‘critical theory’ which starts from a position of bias. People understand it, but they reject it. It’s somewhat patronising to assume that because you reject a thing, you do not understand a thing. I think it’s also important to differentiate between ‘theoretical’ in the proper scientific sense and the kinds of wild speculation masquerading as academics that one finds in things like Gender Studies.

Gamergate, Shaw added, “makes us all have to decide whether or not we want to be public game scholars.”
Other panelists, such as Jen Jenson, professor of pedagogy and technology at York University in Canada, argued that Gamergate has already “taken our work into public in a way that none of us could have imagined.” She suggested academics use the protections that come with their positions to take an active role in the debate. “That we have institutions behind us means that we also have the freedom to speak up and out differently than some others might not,” Jenson said. “I think that we ought to use that power to do that.”

I would argue that the need for genuine, non-activist scholarship is even more pressing. The previous status quo has contributed to the issue and groups like DiGRA carry some of the blame via their influence on the irresponsible, also activist, wing of games media. It has been, in part, the abuse of position and resources by academics that has helped fuel Gamergate’s anger. Further abusing that position and platform will only add fuel to the fire. Responsible, properly conducted, neutral scholarship is needed more than ever.

As the discussion topic shifted from reflecting on Gamergate to looking forward, speakers continued to emphasize the importance of communication with the gaming industry, academics who don’t play games and the general public. Florence M. Chee, an assistant professor of digital communication at Loyola University Chicago, said academics who have been subj ected to harassment can teach their colleagues about doxing (having personal information published online) and how the Gamergate movement coalesced, among other topics.
“What is innovative about it is the environment in which we live and the media environment, where it is possible to galvanize around a single hashtag,” Chee said. “It is our responsibility to understand how social movements happen with the technologies we have available.”

I don’t think academic discussion into the games industry is needed. As this article – and so many others – have demonstrated they’re so woefully ill-informed that they can’t have much of a meaningful contribution given the current status quo. Activist scholarship needs to die and be replaced with a much more rigorous, meaningful and scientific approach. It is necessary to gain a genuine understanding of anon culture, trolling culture, chan culture etc to avoid misattributing blame or taking ‘shit-talking’ too seriously.

As things stand, academia such as DiGRA are a part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Hopefully that can change, but I don’t hold out much hope.



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