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13 Jan 2015 20:30
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

After the storm of GamerGate

Why debate on world of video games got so ugly.

Now that the hurricane has passed, it's a good time to ask:

What was GamerGate?

Too much of it was a 10-week screaming match in the video-game world, on Twitter, on the discussion site Reddit, and on many video-game-oriented blogs. Much was a hurricane of garbage: hundreds of thousands of ugly antiwoman tweets and posts.

Here's what I want to say:

In the video-game world at large, these trolls are in the minority. They don't represent gaming or what gaming's about. They're out of touch. Most video-game players don't share their views or values. It's a world changing rapidly, diversifying, with more and more women and older folks playing. There's no one "space," and nobody "owns" it.

(For a good summary of GamerGate, visit the website Know Your Meme: http://bit.ly/1u7Su5B. It's as clear as you're going to get.)

GamerGate has two parts. The first part, the respectable part, is a debate about the ties between makers of video games and the journalists who write about them. And yes, that relationship should be ethical, and not involve favors, money, sex, or cronyism.

A worthy topic. But it has been swamped by the stupid garbage hurricane.

The second part, the hurricane, was a pitiable flare-up among a minority of (almost certainly male) misogynist video-game players apparently angry about what they see as women and feminine values encroaching on their "space."

It blew up Aug. 16, when a man accused a female game designer of sleeping with journalists. More accusations flew at other women in the industry, and meanwhile, more evidence surfaced of bad ethics among designers and journalists.

The word and hashtag #GamerGate was coined in an Aug. 27 tweet by actor and gaming enthusiast Adam Baldwin. To say it went viral is like saying a tornado is inconvenient: The hashtag was used 244,000 times in its first week and has been used more than three million times since.

Tens of thousands of antiwoman tweets vomited out on Twitter, and thousands of posts on Reddit. They made death threats. They "slut-shamed" prominent women in the gamer world. They "punished" targeted women by publishing their personal information online, a practice called "doxxing."

Pathetic.

There is no one "space," no one gaming world. If there ever was, that intergalactic cruiser has sailed. I realize a lot of this is idiotic fooling: silly, dumb guys just kicking up a fake storm because Internet anonymity lets them. But the hard-core misogynist cadre is to be pitied, as the cadets rail over a gaming world changing faster than they want.

Interactive entertainment makes more than $50 billion in revenue worldwide. Millions play video games of various sorts, from the international smash World of Warcraft to silly stuff such as Angry Birds that you can play on your mobile phone.

Alas, for the troll minority (however numerous they may be, and it's hard to tell), the change is here to stay. Far from being the sole domain of couch-potato teenage boys, the video-game world is diversifying quickly - at least in terms of who plays.

A study released in August by the Entertainment Software Association surveyed the makeup of 2013 U.S. video-game players. It found that, although males are still the majority of all players, it's only by a few percentage points (52 percent). Women have gone from 40 percent in 2010 to 48 percent now, a very fast growth rate. The number of female gamers over 50 surged 32 percent between 2012 and 2013. A Wall Street Journal article by Sven Grundberg and Jens Hansegard connects the spike in female playership to the increasing popularity of mobile games.

Perhaps surprising, more women over 18 play (32 percent) than boys under 18 (17 percent). In terms of age, the under-18 crowd is 29 percent of all players. People 36 and older, however, make up 39 percent, the largest single cohort, surely including members of the first two generations of players who are still playing, sometimes next to their sons and grandsons. The ESA estimates that the average player is about 31 and has been playing for 14 years.

Are games themselves diverse? Not diverse enough. There are women in this industry, designing and manufacturing the games, but there need to be more, plus a better effort to populate them with better depictions of women, better female characters.

There aren't enough worthy women depicted in most such games. (Lara Croft is the exception that proves the rule.) Designers still tend to design games for males - which, considering the stats above, is behind the times. Many female figures in video games are pneumatic Barbies lugging blasters; others are either witches, damsels in distress, or angelic figures. This isn't universal: In the globally popular Minecraft, among several other games, you can choose to "be" a character of any skin or gender. And the SimCity and family of Sim games - some of the best-selling games in the United States - have manifold chances to include female characters.

You can't solve all issues or make everybody play nice. If you play games on public servers, you're likely to encounter every bias, prejudice, and trollery in the world. The best solution is your own personal research, to find public servers with strict rules forbidding profanity and trolling. They're out there.

This world has more growing up to do. But I think it will. It's already on its way, for all the trolls hiding beneath their mossy Internet bridges.

 


John Timpane is an Inquirer staff writer. @jtimpane jt@phillynews.com

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