A new Australian book seeks to understand the evolution of gaming culture, the changing 'gamer' identity, and the rise of GamerGate.
Game Changers is a new by a pair of Australian authors, released this month in paperback, and in ebook format. It's on my reading list, not just because I know and respect the authors, but also because it aims to tackle an important cultural moment in the gaming community.
It's not about GamerGate per se, but that is a part of the story, as the pair - Dan is games critic and academic and director of Melbourne's Freeplay Independent Games Festival, and Leena is game developer, teacher, and co-founder of WiDGET - chart the rise of games as a mainstream pastime, and the impact that has had on old school gamers intent on maintaining a unique identity. As the back cover says:
The videogame scene has evolved from the hobby of boys in bedrooms to a popular pastime for anyone with a smartphone. Many of the old guard resent this mainstreaming of games culture — and they’ve been anything but welcoming. These trolls have created a climate of fear by abusing and harassing women, minorities and anyone who has dared to speak out against misogyny and other problems in the boys’ club industry.
Game Changers puts these conflicts under the microscope, in Australia and overseas. The book features exclusive interviews with many key figures working to make the videogame world a safe space, including Anita Sarkeesian and Zoë Quinn, two of the women at the centre of the Gamergate abuse. In 2015, they were asked by the United Nations to lead a panel discussion on the ‘rising tide of online violence against women and girls’.
I recently had a chat with both the authors about why they wrote the book, their own experiences with GamerGate, and initial reactions to the book.
There’s been a lot written about GamerGate in the 18-odd months since it all kicked off, by both the gaming and wider press – so why write a book about it now?
Dan: Yeah, it often feels as though we can't break out of talking about Gamergate. Depressingly, it just won't go away. This book is about more than Gamergate though - it puts it into the context of decades of videogame history and debates about who the audience for games actually is. Gamergate didn't just appear - it was the result of years of pushback about exclusion of all kinds in games, and how uncomfortable the demand for diversity and equal opportunity made some members of the industry feel.
Leena: We’re all exhausted by GamerGate. Hell, I think even a lot of the GamerGaters themselves are probably tired of it all by now, on those doubting nights when they wonder why they spend hours a week hating someone they don’t know. It’s been a really long time. Our book has a lot to do with not only what precipitated all this, but about what comes after it. A focus on women’s strength, on women collectivising, uniting, and supporting each other in the face of all this. We’ve never seen women pushing back against the pushback this hard before.
So what have been some of the initial reactions to the book’s release? The book may not be about GamerGate, but given the vocal nature of many GG supporters, has it caused you any issues?
Dan: Yeah, definitely. Gamergate deliberately make it difficult to talk about these kinds of issues - be it on national television, in a book, or just on social media; there's now a vocal response that essentially boils down to trying to get people to stop talking about diversity, to stop criticising Gamergate. Obviously it's pretty important to not let that stop the continued discussion about how to make games the best and most inclusive space it can be, but yeah, we've had some strong reactions, as you might expect.
Leena: There’s always a bit of white noise when we talk about the book on TV or radio, which is predictable. Getting piled on in your twitter mentions by people insisting that pile ons aren’t something they do is… well it helps you not take them too seriously. Getting an email from a mother of a 14 year old girl thanking me for showing her daughter that a career in games is possible and a bunch of women have her back is ten times more important than some internet rando calling me stupid, and both of those things happened after we did our last television appearance.
What have been some of your own personal interactions with the movement before the book? Dan, it was one of your pieces that was a part of the initial backlash to the ‘gamers are dead’ articles?
Dan: Yeah, I wrote against Gamergate - before it was called Gamergate - in August 2014, and that got me a lot of flack, but not nearly as much as the women who said the same things. Overall, my interactions with Gamergate have been shockingly negative, but not so much because I've received harassment but because of the way that women in essentially identical positions to me have been eviscerated. I am yet to meet a Gamergate supporter who hasn't inadvertently proven the accusations levelled at them, not necessarily through their words, but through their acts.
Leena, I’ve seen you mention Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn as being very important to you and the book – what role did they play?
Leena: They’re hugely important to me, both as women and in their professional lives too, I think they’ve done really important work. Anita’s work trying to make feminist theory as accessible as possible through analysing pop culture is really admirable and important. Gender analysis and feminist lenses of inquiry shouldn’t be locked up in the dense tomes of academia, available to only a few. Zoe’s approach to game making is exciting to me because so many people are obsessed with agency and choice in games as if it’s King, and I think Depression Quest was really interesting how it proved its point by removing options from the player. It was succinct and cutting and wonderful. They were both extremely generous in their interview time with us, and I’m so appreciative of that.
Gamergate may have slowed down a little, but it’s still very much a thing. Do you think it has a limited lifespan, or is this something that the community is stuck with now?
Dan: I would love for Gamergate to go away, if only because at the moment, it serves as a kind of misogynist boogeyman that overshadows more subtle instances of sexism in the industry. When we talk about sexism in games, the mental image we now default to is that of an abusive egg avatar on twitter, when often it's also the marketing guy presenting to a boardroom. Gamergate has at once made it harder for people in games to be openly sexist, but it's also allowed some of the most powerful sexism to go underground.
Leena: We often see pushback whenever women advance in some way, and it’s from the people who consider this advancement to be unacceptable. But the women’s response has been less the slinking off into the distance that we may have seen in the past — that a lot of people were relying on us doing — and more a bunch of women linking arms and saying “enough is enough.” If I had to pick which had the longer lifespan between women’s fortitude and people being really aggressive to strangers on the internet, I think my money is on the energy being more easily sustained by the women creating things. It’s not good for people to hold hate in their hearts for long periods of time. It’s not sustainable. There always will be misogynists around, as there always has been, but in the fall out of all this I think one of the legacies will be that women are reminded of how important it is to rally around each other.
Finally, is there a positive message from all this? Is there a silver-lining?
Dan: Absolutely. Gamergate happened as an adolescent reaction to women and men standing up and supporting each other and saying that the videogames industry has got to change. Gamergate has failed because of the same reason. This last two years - as disgusting, disheartening, and completely damaging as they have been - have also shown what power those who agitate for change in the games industry have.
Leena: We’ve been reminded of women’s strength, and we’ve been fortified, not because of GamerGate, but in spite of it. GamerGate hasn’t created anything, only destroyed, which means it’s not sustainable.
You can’t kick over sandcastles forever; the future lies with the creators.
Game Changers is out now in bookshops, and on Amazon, iBooks, and Google Play.
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