Whew. So it’s been an incredibly rough couple of weeks to be a lady in video games. Like, some of the events of this week make me want to throw my Playstation out the window and just give up on the community completely. Since my emotions have been interfering my my eloquence, I thought I’d round up some articles from some other games critics so you can get informed regarding the various situations.
This article by Chris Plante of Polygon does a great job of explaining the harassment of Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Phil Fish and even Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley that have happened in the past week (or so). He also makes a good point about where games currently stand, and closes with the following paragraph:
This week, the obstinate child threw a temper tantrum, and the industry was stuck in the metaphorical grocery store as everyone was forced to suffer through it together. But unlike a child, the people behind these temper tantrums are hurting others. It’s time to grow up. Let’s not wait until next week to start.
I would urge everyone to read the article just to get up to speed on current gaming events, but also to truly heed his call to action. Hurting people isn’t fun, and it isn’t productive, and it should be happening. If you’re contributing to the problem, please please grow up.
When Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend posted an expose of their break-up, he probably had no idea that how large the issue might become. Or maybe he did, and that’s why he told the internet that his ex-girlfriend cheated on him repeatedly. Regardless, what came of this has been some bizarre accusations of breach of ethics that have continued to rock gaming journalism.
Emma Wooley takes a hard look at these cries of “corruption” and quickly gets to the heart of the matter:
Gaming’s most pervasive issue isn’t corruption, but the people who’ve taken ownership of something that isn’t solely theirs to begin with. In trying their damnedest to limit the appeal of the medium and use online harassment to achieve their goals, this group of toxic trolls are proving themselves to be gaming’s biggest problem.
It’s great when women step up to defend themselves online, but sometimes it’s just as great to watch a key demographic of gaming (white men) take on all the trolls. Andrew Todd takes the week’s events and goes after the people perpetrating them.
But it doesn’t matter if you’re the funniest or cleverest abusive dick on a server – you’re still being an abusive dick, and you’re still perpetuating a problem that has visibly grown way past that comparatively innocent context and into actual terrorism.
The piece does a good job at picking apart various elements that have built to self-identified gamers perpetuating acts of terrorism, but the best part is watching the author’s anger shine through. I don’t usually root for people to get angry, but sometimes it’s really great to know other people are just as upset about an issue as you are.
While Tauriq Moosa is yet again looking at the threats and attacks that have been perpetuated against Anita Sarkeesian, he takes a look at the problem from a different angle. In this piece Moosa picks apart the different ways men and women are threatened online, and demonstrates how easy it is to discredit male allies with the phrase “white knighting”.
It’s the one thread directly aimed at heterosexual men, while the others are all about silencing women. It’s a machine of antagonism, a tentacled, hairy creature wanting to wind its way into dominance. Men who are not targets of rape and death threats can use this immunity to the benefit of targets who are by showing support, as Whedon and Schafer demonstrated, but bigots use terms like “white knighting” to try curb even this.
Yet again, we see an article ending with a call for men to stand with women and not silently ride out these attacks. Join the fray! We’ll give you cookies!
I love this post by Leigh Alexander for so many reasons, but this paragraph really cuts to the heart of some of gaming’s ongoing problems:
When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum. That’s what’s been happening to games.
“Gamer” isn’t just a dated demographic label that most people increasingly prefer not to use. Gamers are over. That’s why they’re so mad.
These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers — they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours. There is no ‘side’ to be on, there is no ‘debate’ to be had.
You should really just go read the article before I copy and paste it in its entirety here.
Golding’s piece is an excellent follow-up to Alexander’s, further explaining how gamer identity has formed over the years and how it’s been stretched so thin it’s finally breaking apart.
When, over the last decade, the playing of videogames moved beyond the niche, the gamer identity remained fairly uniformly stagnant and immobile. Gamer identity was simply not fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people. It could not meaningfully contain, for example, Candy Crush players, Proteus players, and Call of Duty players simultaneously. When videogames changed, the gamer identity did not stretch, and so it has been broken.
With all of these pieces about the death of “gamers” I’ve been searching for a word to call myself. Golding hits upon a new one: players.
Elizabeth Sampat’s defense of her friend, Zoe Quinn, and the grief she’s experienced during the last week brought me to tears.
I could tell you stories about the voices we’ve lost, the women we’ve scarred, the people we’ve left behind. I want to, but I’m not sure you’d get it. I tweeted earlier today, We should have a war memorial for all of the women we have lost to this. We should lay flowers and grieve and see our reflections in stone. And I meant it. I wish there were a way to honor the people our industry has wronged, and a way to visualize the enormity of what we have lost because of it— some representation of the gap between what games are and what they can be, and the pieces of the bridge between that have fallen away.
Poetic, beautiful, and fierce, this is the piece that you need to read above all others.
Those are the most important pieces to read to get caught up and informed of the situation, but here are a few more just in case you’re really into research:
- The Problem With the Casual Cruelty Against Women in Video Games
- Tropes vs. Aniat Sarkeessian: Passing Anti-feminist Nonsense as Critique
- Let’s Talk about Ethics in Games Journalism
If there are more links you think you make the list, let me know! I’ll continue rounding them up over the weekend and next week.
This is one of those weeks where I am quite content not to be reject the label of “games journalist” in favor of “academic-trained games critic”. This is due to the insane ethics tsunami that has hit the gaming community following accusations that an indie-game developer slept with a games journalist in order to receive positive reviews of her work. While this myth was busted by Stephen Totillo, the Editor-in-Chief of Kotaku, the focus on accusing games journalists of breached ethics continued, leading to a reddit thread calling out two prominent journalists.
The thread details instances in which Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku and Ben Kuchera of Polygon have published articles in which they had a conflict of interest. In the previously mentioned piece by Totillo, he affirmed Kotaku’s dedication to a standard of ethics, claiming that,
My standard has long been this: reporters who are in any way close to people they might report on should recuse themselves
Grabbing that single line of the article, reddit user F1renze accused Patricia Hernandez of publishing articles featuring her friend’s games.
Ben Kuchera’s fault, according to the same reddit user, is that he published an article on Zoe Quinn without acknowledging that he support her Patreon campaign, giving her money to develop games on a monthly basis. F1renze suggested that this was in direct opposition to the Polygon Code of Ethics which says:
Unless specifically on a writer’s profile page, Polygon staffers do not cover companies (1) in which they have a financial investment, (2) that have employed them previously or (3) employ the writer’s spouse, partner or someone else with whom the writer has a close relationship.
Both accusations have resulted in the target publications making statements. However, before we delve into the “is it ethical or not” question, let’s take a moment to look at the point of video game publications, basic journalism ethics, and the outcome these decisions might have within the gaming community.
Why Do We Have Video Games Journalists?
Have you walked into a GameStop recently? You pick up your game, go to the counter to pay for it, and at some point in this moment the cashier will probably ask you if you’re a GameStop Rewards member. If you’re not, they’ll attempt to sell you you on the membership, telling you how much money you’ll save and how you’ll also receive a 12 month subscription to Game Informer in the process.
The fact that GameStop is tries to sell all it’s customers a membership with a subscription to a game magazine illustrates the original purpose of games journalism: pushing product. How will you know which games to purchase if games journos don’t review games and tell you about upcoming fun stuff? How would you know about “exciting developments” of an up and coming game that might make you want to buy it if not for games journos?
To be fair, it’s not all about pushing products these days. It’s also about covering important news, commenting on the state of the industry, and sharing nifty things with fan communities (and click-bait articles, lists of top 10 whatever’s, and lots of fan art from Tumblr and deviantArt). Yet the fact remains that initially, a large part of games journalism was to make players aware of product, and inform them which products they might want to buy.
Application to Ethical Concerns
Since a large function of games journalism is still to aid a discerning public in games purchase, it makes sense that gamers are concerned with the ethics of games journalism. As a public we would prefer our journalists to be as non-biased as possible when advising us on the myriad of ways to spend our money.
The Society of Professional Journalism has a code of ethics which has a few things to say about acting independently:
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
- Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
The problem here is that as members of the gaming community, which is a close-knit little subculture, all games journalists face conflicts of interests. Being a member of the gaming community can be seen as a conflict of interest. Journalists in the gaming world frequently receive review copies, get to attend elaborate parties at gaming conventions, and make friends and contacts within the community itself that color all of their opinions.
Many games publications handle these problem differently, but the prevailing way to be an ethical games journalist seems to center on disclosure. Going back to the fact that gaming publications first began to sell products, this makes sense. I would often rather read a review of someone who bought and paid for a game themselves than a review from a journalist who was given a complimentary review copy.
Realistically though, most games journalists don’t make enough money to do that on a regular basis, so it helps the reader make an informed opinion when the journalist discloses information about their relationship to the product they are reviewing. For instance, whenever I review comics I typically point out that I have a huge lady-boner for the art of Phil Noto and Ross Campbell, which colors my objectivity about reviewing products they are associated with.
In this regard, I can support the argument that Patricia Hernandez should have mentioned that she was friends with Anna Anthropy when reviewing any of Anthropy’s games. If you’re reviewing a product that a friend has published, it’s wise to mention that conncetion. Since the initial reddit thread, many of Hernandez’s articles have been updated to include an update disclosing Hernandez’s relationship with Anthropy.
This discussion becomes more complicated when throwing things like Patreon and Kickstarter into the mix. Patreon is a crowd funding website that allows consumers to support artists, YouTube personalities, writers etc. directly, often paying a monthly subscription or a certain amount per object produced. Similarly, Kickstarter allows users to back a project, often receiving exclusive perks as someone who helped bring the project to fruition.When I backed the ridiculously over funded Veronica Mars movie project, I backed at a level that also netted me a hard copy of the movie, a t-shirt, and a poster. NO REGRETS!
Backing a Patreon or a Kickstarter isn’t exactly the same straightforward transaction of buying a game. It’s a weird mixture of purchase and support, that does muddy the water a bit when it comes to journalism ethics when it pertains to journalists writing reviews. Again, disclosure seems to be a key factor in dealing with these issues, yet it’s not the universal answer as Kotaku and Polygon’s responses to accusations demonstrate.
We’ve also agreed that funding any developers through services such as Patreon introduce needless potential conflicts of interest and are therefore nixing any such contributions by our writers. Some may disagree that Patreons are a conflict. That’s a debate for journalism critics.
However, Polygon’s response does not include an ultimatum to its writers to cancel all their Patreon pledges. Responding for Polygon, Christopher Grant had this to say on the matter:
While I disagree that contributing to a game developer without holding an actual financial stake in their success is a violation of the spirit of that principle, I also think that disclosure is the best medicine in these circumstances. So starting immediately, I’ve asked everyone on staff to disclose on their staff pages any outstanding Patreon contributions and, additionally, to disclose the same on any coverage related to those contributions under that staff member’s byline.
So one publication forces writers to completely shut-down any and all pledges to current Patreon projects (for further discussion check out Kirk Hamilton’s thoughts and the responses to it on twitter) while the other publication clings to the disclosure model.
Problem Solved, Right?
Not exactly. While the conversation about ethics and gaming has actually been a productive (if frustrating one) leading publications to consider how to ethically handle platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter, the motivations for the discussion are more morally ambiguous.
As mentioned earlier, the general conversation regarding games journalism began with people harassing a lady game dev Zoe Quinn after her ex-boyfriend published an expose of their relationship. So it might behoove us to think, for a moment, if there is any particular reason that Patricia Hernandez and Ben Kuchera were the journalists targeted for beach of ethics when there are most likely others that could be singled out for similar “crimes”.
Patricia Hernandez is one of the few prominent women games journalists, and her articles are frequently targeted with malicious comments when she discusses issues like sexual consent, rape, or any article dealing with women whatsoever. Some people take it to the next step and post images like this about her:
If a certain group of people who wanted to keep up momentum for harassing and discrediting women in game, Hernandez makes an excellent target. For Kuchera, whom I’ve occasionally called a misogynist (see look, disclosure!), his support of Zoe Quinn’s Patreon and subsequent articles about Quinn is potentially what damned him.
If, and it is a big if, the motivation behind singling out Patricia Hernandez and Ben Kuchera was to further discredit women in the gaming community and their supporters, then ramifications of the policies enacted by Kotaku and Polygon should be examined through the lens of how they might affect women in the gaming industry.
Patreon and the Ladies
Polygon’s policy of forcing it’s writers to disclose the Patreon’s they support doesn’t have too many negative ramifications. In fact, by including support Patreon’s on writer’s bio pages, it might make many video games related Patreons more visible to the average gamer.
Kotaku’s response to ban the site’s writers from supporting Patreons is a different kettle of fish. Many female game developers and lady journos have turned to Patreon in recent years for primarily two reasons. The first is that in a predominantly male industry (in terms of journalists and game devs) Patreon offers women a way to seek funding outside a system that can be emotionally exhausting to deal with. Secondly, as the conversation around GiantBomb’s recent hire demonstrates, women have a difficult time getting jobs in the gaming industry – particularly in journalism – due to systemic barriers related to patriarchy.
Basically, if you want regular pay as a lady in gaming, Patreon might be your best option.
Many women on Patreon barely make a liveable monthly wage – and that wage is subject to patron whimsy. For instance Lana Polansky makes $478 per article, and typically strives to write two articles per month giving her $956 a month before Patreon takes their cut. While that’s slightly better than minimum wage, it’s disconcerting to live month to month on the whims of people you might now know. As Maddy Meyers, assistant editor at Paste Games notes,
It sucks that Patreon keeps having to be a band-aid for a fucked up system but it's better than a gushing wound
— Maddy 'MIDI' Myers 🌈 (@MIDImyers) March 5, 2014
Since many Patreon professionals rely on their patrons for needed income and money is often exchanged from one writer to another, banning writers from pledging money to Paterons has the potential to take needed income away from women in gaming. If enough online publications follow suit, it could be enough to silence many diverse voices that are desperately needed in the industry.
Of course, that’s a worst-case scenario prefaced on the idea that targeting Patricia Hernandez and Ben Kuchera was a specific decision in an attempt to silence women-friendly voices in gaming. They could have been targeted for simply being big names in the industry, or just because they were the easiest targets. Still, in discussing hot issues like ethics in games journalism, it’s important to call into question who started the discussion, look for potential ulterior motives, and consider the far-reaching effects any publication decisions might further disenfranchise groups within the gaming community that are already struggling.
Over the next few days I’m going to highlight some of the amazing panels that talked about gender, race, sexuality and inclusion at GDC 2014!
This year at GDC, there entire track devoted to advocacy in gaming. The Advocacy Track presentations focused specifically on gender, disabled gaming, minority representation and other issues in the games industry. Random Panels included:
- The Pixelles Method: How to Increase Game Dev Diversity
- Attracting and Hiring Women in Games
- Sexism in the Game Industry
- How To Be a Better Ally
- Mob Rules: The Destructive Power of Opinion and Online Community
One of the better panels was “How to Subversively Queer Your Work”. With panelists including Mattie Brice, Todd Harper, Zoe Quinn and Samantah Allen, I may have sacrificed my first born to attend that panel. Tl; DR: Amazing Industry Proffesionals give you free ideas for how to be inclusive.
For those of you wondering what the point of adding queerness into gaming is, Todd Harper makes the most eloquent speech ever:
“The point is that empathy is the ability to see what matters to other people. It’s the ability to see what matters to someone who isn’t you. Empathy is a muscle, and like any muscle you have to flex and use it over and over until it becomes strong. And the important thing about that is that empathy is the muscle we use to lift everybody up.
More importantly, if you don’t want [to make inclusive games], if you feel like you shouldn’t have to care, then leave. We don’t need you. Increasingly. We don’t need you.” – Todd Harper
While I like that idea that the inclusive community has grown large enough that is doesn’t need non-inclusive gamers and developers for sustenance, this model of separation is not ideal. If we seclude ourselves into this amazing, vibrant queer game community then there’s nobody left to reach out and attempt to educate and change mainstream games. Don’t get me wrong – trying to change mainstream gaming is exhausting, and even sometimes dangerous. I still think that it is an important goal – so we all become stronger (empathy goes both ways).
Other key solutions for queering games included making blank (genderless) characters. Zoe Quinn points out
“If you just leave it blank, people still fill it in with a default.” – Zoe Quinn
Since every person’s default is different, this allows each player to enjoy a unique , subtely inclusive experience as long as their assumptions and stereotypes don’t get in the way. My own heteronormativity definitely got in the way when I played Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest. I assumed the character was male because there was a girlfriend involved, instead using my own gender as default.
A more radical solution came from Todd Harper, who suggested to take stereotypical characters and turn them on their heads.
“Did you tragically kill of a man’s wife to motivate his quest to save his daughter? … Go back and give him a husband and a kid. Keep them alive. Let him fight to protect them and keep them safe.” – Todd Harper
The idea to drop stereotypes from game narratives was echoed by the
While the pitfall of that solution might be that each game only has one queer character, Samantha Allen advocated that it would be a good start.
“Even if you [include that one character] and someone else at developer X does that, then someone else at developer Y does that. Eventually you have an entire community of queer characters that people can identify with in our medium. And I think that would be really important.” – Samantha Allen
The other encouraging aspect of this panel is that the members of it have created famous/infamous inclusive games. They’re not just putting these ideas out of their asses, these are ideas they’ve implemented and thought about for years – and have done so successfully (by my standards – which might be questionable). This panel kept on throwing ideas out there, and I’m sure each panelist would be elated to see those ideas snatched up and put to practice. A rare occasion where “borrowing” an idea is perfectly legal and encouraged!
Any ideas of your on for how to queer gaming? Think these ideas are stupid and will never work? Let me know in the commments!