Volume 42, Number 9: November 2014
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GamerGate and Academia

GamerGate and the threats that culminated from it have a direct effect on our field and our close community of members. It was imperative that we let those affected most by it to have a voice and explain to others what exactly is going on. The events are convoluted and shocking, and they show how Communication, academia, and culture are tightly intertwined in this mediated space. Below, LGBT Studies Chair Adrienne Shaw (Temple U) et al. give an explanation on what has been going on and what can be done to curb the harassment.

In addition to this, we are opening up a dialogue regarding GamerGate and in next month’s newsletter Game Studies Interest Group Chair James Ivory (Virginia Tech) will weigh in on the controversy from the group’s perspective. If other divisions wish to contribute feel free to contact me jpgutierrez@icahdq.org.

John Paul Gutierrez, ICA Communication Director


By now, you may have heard about the current culture war in video games. Stories running in the New York Times and in major news outlets have begun a mainstream national conversation about aggressive online harassment in the game industry, in the news media, and in the subcultures of gamers. In perhaps the most public expression of this toxic behavior, video game critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University in mid-October following an e-mailed threat of a mass shooting at the venue.

What has received less popular attention is that scholars who study games - specifically as they relate to gender issues - have also been attacked and harassed online. The attacks are ongoing and have affected all of us. This is not a personal narrative of our stories, however, but instead a primer on the events surrounding GamerGate and our suggestions for how academics, including our academic organizations, universities, and departments can best face these attacks as well as work to counter them.

For those of you unfamiliar with GamerGate, a brief explanation of major events: in August Eron Gjoni publicly accused his ex-girlfriend, independent game developer Zoe Quinn, of having intimate relationships with members of the gaming press to curry favorable reviews of her (free) game Depression Quest. Harassment of Quinn exploded across the Internet, and a great deal of her private information was published online. Since August, she has been unable to return home because of the harassment and death threats.

Shortly thereafter, the gaming press published a series of articles exploring the controversy, many of which critiqued toxic elements of game culture. Calls for 'ethics' in game journalism mounted as professional ties between developers and journalists were interpreted as evidence of collusion and rampant corruption. However, the primary targets of this critique were women independent game developers and women freelance journalists, rather than well-established and professionally secure members of the industry or game press.

This harassment isn't new. For years now, women working in the video game industry and women participants in gaming culture who have been critical of the climate in game development and culture have been frequent targets of vicious attacks and, at times, outright threats. Past incidents such as the "Dickwolves" controversy, the #1reasonwhy hashtag, and public attacks on women developers point to an industry that has long kept women at the margins - both as professionals in the industry and as game players. So while this story seems new, the threats towards feminist cultural critics and women game designers are the result of a decade (or more) of culturally endorsed harassment, bullying, and abuse. An extensive number of articles (both academic and nonacademic) have illustrated this history. If you would like to read more on the topic we recommend http://fembotcollective.org/references-for-gamergate/:

ICA members need to be aware that GamerGate is about more than the videogame industry and its players -- scholars are also the target of harassment. In August, members of the 4chan IRC community who coordinated conspiracy theories about Quinn discovered a public Google document with notes from this year's Digital Games Research Association's (DiGRA) conference fishbowl event about diversity and gaming. The notes became an important node in a conspiracy theory linking journalists and academics. Several YouTube videos were created that misquote the fishbowl notes and accuse members of the DiGRA organization (and, in particular, those doing gender-related research) of plotting to overtake and destroy the current video game industry by inserting a "social justice agenda" into game design.

Some GamerGate supporters recently launched #OperationDiggingDiGRA, the goal of which was to "fact check" articles in the organization's repository (the operation has been put on hold as the organizers try to find people willing to read through the DiGRA archives). Specific game scholars have been accused of a litany of unsubstantiated infractions: being dishonest about funding, being "feminist ideologues," and engaging in unethical research practices. Humanities research was declared unscientific. Most of the conference papers targeted for scrutiny were those that discussed gender, critical cultural, humanities, and/or feminist approaches to games. Many, particularly female, academics at all stages of the academic career ladder have been subject to harassment online.

You might feel that these events do not relate to your research area, your position, or your students. You are wrong. The harassment members of our community have experienced is a problem that can have chilling effects on academia - both in and out of the communication field. Already, graduate students (and even some colleagues) have conveyed to us that they are frightened to speak up or study video games. When fear enters academia it is the research that suffers as all of our research becomes suspect and "under investigation."

The harassment of academics related to GamerGate is not unique to those of us studying gender and games, technology, or the Internet. Making research available to wider publics has long been a risky business for feminist scholars. Clinical psychologist Mary P. Koss and anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday were similarly harassed for their work on sexual violence in the 1980s and 1990s. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ scholars, indeed all scholars who are members of marginalized groups, have historically paid a disproportionately heavy price when they engage in public scholarship, social justice advocacy, and political activity. The weight of this work is compounded by anonymous publics in an era of social media. Donning the mantle of objectivity and science, anonymous and unaccountable groups made up of mostly men challenge and seek to undermine the work of members of marginalized groups through personalized attacks and criticisms unsupported by research. And when these don't work, they resort to trolling and even threats of physical violence.

These acts of harassment and discrimination are intended to silence critics and chill speech. Even when feminist scholars and their allies aren't intimidated by threats to personal and community safety, they become exhausted by having to counter the same biased challenges to their purported bias.

At this point, the problem of online harassment has been well documented. What is needed now are community and institutional frameworks that can provide a broad-spectrum response to forms of harassment that continue to grow, unchecked, in subcultures on the Internet. Both individually and organizationally, ICA and its members can help with the long-term work of culture change. Strategies and actions range from the small to the large, and include the following suggestions:

Organizational Support

*ICA and similar organizations should encourage more research that pilots and assesses prevention strategies to combat toxic cultures online.

*ICA and similar organizations should develop a conference theme or plenary sessions that focus on sexual violence and social media or more broadly about the amplification of misogyny on the Internet. Such actions encourage the field to actually think about these issues, and prioritizes papers and sessions that put this into historical context and engage with relevant issues.

*ICA and similar organizations should develop and launch Inclusivity Statements for both their associations as well as their annual conferences. Such statements reiterate that all individuals, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class or ability are welcome to participate and that abuse in any form will not be tolerated.

University and Departmental Contributions

*Declare your classrooms, labs, and clubs as 'safe spaces' where you will not tolerate harassment or abuse of anyone at any time. Students need to feel there are places they can gather without fear of being attacked for their views.

*Departments should be proactive in encouraging and supporting the work of graduate students and faculty in areas with high risk, and be able to offer reassurance that they face no recriminations for their work.

*Departments should ensure that personal information about faculty and students is kept private and not circulated to anyone without the express consent of the individual involved.

Individual Contributions

*Male communication scholars, following Jackson Katz's writings about violent masculinity and bystander interventions, could stand up to this culture in more organized and emphatic ways.

*We could do a better job of educating boys (especially though not exclusively) and monitoring their online behavior. Members of gaming culture are being socialized into behaviors that they understand as play, but are harassing and damaging to many members of the community.

*We all must be aware of what can happen when our research is made public. Our calls for open access are important, but also allow our words a far wider reach than previously possible -- and so they may meet with resistance from quarters that are unexpected.

Finally we offer these personal security tips for all of us who spend a great deal of time working, living, and playing online. Even without GamerGate, hackers stealing information from sites such as Home Depot and Target mean that our information online must be as secure as possible.

Personal Security tips for researchers

*Ensure your data and accounts online are secure. While nothing is 100% secure, you can significantly decrease your vulnerability by varying your passwords. In order to remember unique passwords for multiple sites and accounts, use a password manager like LastPass or 1password. Your passwords are controlled by one strong master password and encrypted. At the very least, make sure your central email account password is different from all others that you use, and is difficult to guess.

*Make it harder for people to post your personal information online (i.e. doxxing). You can check sites like spokeo.com to see if you are listed, and then have your information removed from their site, for free. A guide for doing so is here: http://www.abine.com/blog/2012/how-to-delete-yourself-from-spokeo/

*Use multifactor authentication on your accounts (i.e. Google, Apple, Facebook, MS Exchange and Twitter). This means that if you log into an account from a different device, for example a computer at your university's lab that you don't normally use, a code will be sent to your mobile phone that you need to enter on the site so you can gain access. This makes your accounts harder to hack. More information about multifactor authentication, see: http://lifehacker.com/5938565/heres-everywhere-you-should-enable-two-factor-authentication-right-now

*If you use a smartphone to access online accounts (email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), your data might be quite vulnerable. The default setting on most phones is to save passwords, and thus if you lose your phone, your passwords are exposed. To make your phone more secure, enable auto-lock after just a few minutes of idle use. If your phone has an "erase data" function, enable it so all data on your phone is erased after multiple failed passcode attempts. Check your smartphone settings and user manual for details on how to enable these recommendations.


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