The Crushing Banality of Everyday Life

I should probably be reading a book or spending time with my kid.

Month: October, 2014

When Women Stopped Coding

There was an interesting story on NPR’s Planet Money this week exploring why women’s participation in computer science dropped dramatically in 1984.  The story argues that it had to do with the way that personal computers were marketed as toys for boys. Thus girls didn’t buy them and didn’t have the background in programming that the boys in CS classes did. And thus programming was seen as a male industry, and those few women who dared enter it were either made to feel unwelcome or got tired of being the only female, and tended to drop out.

I liked the article because it suggests that it is socialization vs. genetics that is to explain for the dearth of female programmers. It’s not that women’s brains just don’t work that way, it’s that they are actively discouraged from participating. Second, it points to how problematic highly gendered marketing to children can be. I went to Target recently to buy a farm playset for my daughter, and I was disgusted by how totally gendered the toy section was. The girls section was all pink and purple, and mostly centered around dolls, kitchen sets, and ponies. The boys section was all greens and blues and based on trucks, cars, and action figures. It was crazy. I mean, I get that in general little girls tend to be more into dolls and little boys tend to be more into trucks and action figures. I’ve seen this preference start with my daughter and her friends as early as a year old. My daughter has been playing with dolls since she was a year old, and her friend (who is a boy) has been obsessed with trucks and cars for as long. Neither my wife and I or our friends are encouraging our children to be interested in a certain thing, and none of us are either the most manly men or girly girls. I try to give my daughter non-gendered toys to play with along with her dolls, and she is pretty into Hot Wheels. But not nearly as much as she likes dolls.

The comments predictably included several men saying that NPR should spend as much time worrying about the dearth of men in the teaching and nursing professions.  I hate this line of reasoning. It’s like complaining to the Rotarians who were trying (and succeeded in) eradicating Polio that they should also eradicate measles at the same time, or that groups working on fighting malaria in sub-saharan Africa should also be working to cure hunger. Just because a group is focusing attention on one issue doesn’t mean that no other issues are important, or that they are also responsible for solving other issues before they can tackle the issue they are interested in. It’s not either/or. There’s also some that good old “you are selfish because you aren’t talking about ME” logic that you see in MRA’s.

I was thinking about the heat you see in articles about women’s rights, and here’s the analogy I came up with. The MRAs and their ilk are assuming that by advocating for healthier eating and getting more exercise, you a)hate fat people and b) are advocating anorexia. They assume that the extremes represent the movement as a whole, and that the fringe making nutty statements in blogs with a readership of four are indicative of all feminists. You can be concerned about how unhealthy the American diet is without hating America, hating fat people, being pro-anorexia, or trying to ban doughnuts.

 

The Shitshow that is #GamerGate

I’ve been a gamer for thirty-five years, since I first played Space Invaders at a convenience store in Kauai. I’ve been a feminist for twenty-five years, since I first became aware of how unequally women were treated in our society. That’s why the whole GamerGate debacle is particularly disheartening and depressing to me.

For those who don’t know, #GamerGate bills itself as a reaction against corruption in video games journalism. What people mean by that is generally that they are tired of reviewers bringing treatment of women into reviews of games like Grand Theft Auto V, they are tired of critics like Anita Sarkeesian complaining about sexism in games when she isn’t even a gamer, they are tired of women like indie dev Zoe Quinn getting rave reviews of her game Depression Quest after sleeping around with people in the industry (none of whom reviewed her game, but why let actual facts interfere with your rage?), and they are tired of writers like Leigh Alexander saying “gamers are over” and saying that women now make up the majority of gamers. And not just women, women like your mom. You know, hella old.

In the GamerGate opinion, feminists, progressives, and other so-called “social justice warriors” are ruining everything, and if you dare disagree with them you are labeled a misogynist and shunned by polite society. Men and male spaces are ridiculed, and you can’t even have a game with women in bikinis in it without some dumb SJW labelling you a sexist pig. In other words, it’s hard out there for a pimp.

The whole shitshow started when an ex of developer Zoe Quinn published several blog posts outlining her sex life and how she cheated on him. Which, really, is a punk-ass thing to do. This is one of the big ironies about men who get really angry at feminists: they complain that feminists are all whiney victims while acting like the whiniest, victimiest people on earth. Their entire argument is basically BUT WHAT ABOUT ME!?!?!?!?!?!?

Around the same time, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian released the fourth installment of her Tropes vs. Women series on her Feminist Frequency blog, pointing out some of the misogyny in games. Her previous installments had received a fair amount of hate, but this one earned her genuine death threats with her IRL address and shit. In other words, she said there was violent misogyny in some games, and to refute her some guys said they’d kill her. Which proves her point. Then Leigh Alexander writes her infamous “Gamers are Dead” article in Gamasutra, which was a bit unskillful and inflammatory, as a Buddhist might say.

And then the conservative screaming heads got in on the action. The #Gamergate tag was created by admitted non-gamer Stephen Baldwin, and Brietbart.com picked up the story as well.

Let’s pause for a second to examine the irony. The beef GamerGate has is that non-gaming social justice warriors are putting their political bullshit on videogames. And the movement was started by a non-gaming conservative putting his political bullshit on videogames. The only sites covering GamerGate sympathetically were non-gaming sites to whom the movement fit in with their “progressives and feminists are ruining everything” narrative. They didn’t and don’t give a shit about games. Unlike the writers at Kotaku and Polygon and Feminist Frequency and Gamasutra, who do give a shit about games, which is why they want more diversity in the games they play. Then shit got ugly. It was mostly played out in twitter and on various forums and comment boards. Anti-GamerGaters claim that the majority of pro-gamergate posters are actually sock puppets (ie fake accounts created by activists). I don’t know if that is true but the movement definitely gained a “slobs vs. snobs” vibe to it, with a lot of young people feeling like the tag was a way to fight back against a system that no longer represented them. In that way, it is a little like the Tea Party. Society no longer represents them, so it is up to them to make themselves heard and represented. To the GamerGaters, there is a vast conspiracy to silence or misrepresent their viewpoint. The fact that most rational, educated people find the GamerGate viewpoint to be wrong just fuels the populist fervor of the movement.

GamerGaters will swear up and down that this is not about misogyny and it is solely about ethics in games, but they are frankly full of shit. The main targets of GamerGate ire have been women or writers sympathetic to women. Keep in mind that Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu are not journalists, and no one that Zoe Quinn had a personal relationship with reviewed her game. Hell, her game only got a handful of reviews, so her conspiracy to sleep her way to the top evidently failed miserably. In the meantime, several women in the industry have gotten serious threats since GamerGate started – Game Designer Brianna Wu got death threats, and Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech at a university in Utah after someone threatened the worst school shooting in history (Fox News headline? “Feminist Critic Won’t Speak at Utah School Until Guns Prohibited.” I am not making this shit up.)

What GamerGate has exposed is how deeply threatening feminism is to a lot of people, especially young men. The GamerGaters feel that there are no more safe spaces for them. Their last refuge, videogames, is being invaded by SJWs who want to label them as bigots and make all video games about enthusiastic consent or something.

Here’s the thing: I understand some of the concerns that the anti-feminist crowd has. I think groupthink is dangerous and should be avoided. I would agree that the feminist viewpoint is often one-sided, and I that sometimes feminists minimize, trivialize, and/or misunderstand the male perspective. I think young men are sometimes demonized in our culture as being just the worst (and especially if you are black or brown). I think all men get lumped together just because we share genitals even though we have a wealth of different experiences and perspectives and attitudes. And I think that there is no clear answer for how a man is supposed to behave in the new millenium. Feminism has given the women the right to expect that they can pretty much be whatever they want to be, whether that means being president or being a stay-at-home mom. That is admirable and great and as it should be, but at the same time it is less clear for men what they are supposed to be, and we have not adapted as gracefully to the changing times. There is an emphasis on women the media. Women in tech, women in sciences, sexual assault against women in universities, leaning in at your company. Thor is now a woman, for Chrissakes. Women, women, women. It’s all anyone seems to talk about. In the meantime, men get made to feel like they are all abusive rapists and liking to look at boobs is basically equal to murder.

Here’s the thing, though. The reason why there is so much talk about women these days is because they still, in aggregate, have it way worse than most men. They get paid less. They get raped and abused more. They get listened to less. They have less career options, and the careers dominated by women tend not to pay very well. They get called sluts if they like sex, they get called prudes if they don’t sleep around. Most religions tell them they are subservient to men. This shit goes on every day, and it is twenty-fucking-fourteen. That’s some crazy bullshit. Women are being loud because if they aren’t they will continue to be stepped on.

So what can or should men do? We can stop stepping on them. We can listen to their concerns, even if they make us uncomfortable. If we disagree with them, we can decide if we need to voice that disagreement at all, and if so voice it in a constructive versus silencing way. We can treat women like human beings. We can redefine what being a man means, so that it is true to our experience and doesn’t involve putting anyone down. And we can try really hard not to be such whiny little babies anytime anyone calls us out on our shit.

My biggest issue with GamerGate, besides the fact that it is founded on bullshit, is that even in the face of women getting death threats for expressing their opinion, the GamerGaters won’t back down. They won’t say, you know what, this has gotten out of hand because corruption in games journalism < actual, IRL death threats. And if they can’t do that, I have no fucking time for them.

The Problem with Video Game Journalism

I wrote this over a year ago but never published it. In the wake of Gamer Gate and questions about ethics in games journalism, I think it makes sense to publish it now.

 

I read a lot of video game blogs and news/review sites. I regularly read Kotaku, Gamesradar, the Gameological Society, Joystiq, and the Escapist, and I have a “video games” category on my Flipboard account that collects articles from a bunch of other sites as well. I think there is some great video game journalism and commentary out there. I like what Jeremy Parish did with 1up during it’s dying days, and I like his stuff at Usgamer.net. I like Tom Chick’s writing, and I’m happy that the Gameological Society exists as an antidote to much of contemporary games journalism. Because frankly, a lot of games journalism is terrible. It’s suffering from the same challenges that plague journalism as a whole: trying to actually make money with writing online. What follows is a list of things that drives me nuts about video games journalism.

1. It’s all about what’s coming next and building hype. Last year was all about Assassins Creed III. Preview articles, trailers, endless articles detailing the few new gameplay details that Ubisoft fed to the press. Then the game comes out, a few reviews get written, and…zOMG! Assassins Creed IV!!!!!!!!! So much of it is focused on what is coming out versus actually appreciating what is out. There’s very little time to reflect on current games or look back at recently reviewed titles. The same issue is present in movies and music, but games is also very prone to it, which leads me to point #2

2. So much of “games journalism” is just publishing press releases. In an effort to ramp up posts, websites have taken to basically just posting press releases. Most website’s “news” is basically taken whole cloth from emails they get from PR people.

3. The need to fill the air leads to a whole lot of jibber jabber about nothing. Much in the way that Fox and CNN will grind a story into a fine pulp in an effort to fill air time, websites will run endless articles and opinion pieces about a story even when they have little new information or anything to say. You end up with 7,000 posts about what it means that SimCity had a rough launch, or lots of pontificating and punditry about the XBox One without anything to back it up.

4. Fanboy Culture. I love sci-fi movies and comic books and video games. I am much less into the fanboy culture that surrounds these things. At its best, fanboyism is full of juvenile over-enthusiasm and a tendency to overuse the word “awesome,” both of which make for shitty journalism. The darker side of fanboyism is a sense of extreme entitlement about the properties that the fans love.

5. Geek Snark. I’m a music geek, so I know how fun it is to dismiss things people love as lame or trite, and about championing the obscure over the popular. I also know how easy it is to get jaded when you spend a lot of time reviewing things. So I sympathize with the tendency towards snark, but it is still an ugly tendency. Games journalism has a fair amount of snark. “Broken” is a favorite adjective of game critics, as if an underpolished or tricky game mechanic is a sign of failure.