Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DiGRA board 2014 and gender scholarship

One of the popular claims by people wearing the GamerGate tag is that the DiGRA board is currently rife with feminists. Compared to the negative tone used by the #GamerGate stream when speaking about women, most places outside of the inner circle of discussion sites where #GamerGate started are feminist. So in that sense yes, the claim is correct. However, this is not a useful distinction, so let us put this differently: is the DiGRA board now taken over by gender scholars?

Today the question of gender is commonly discussed in academia. Most scholars will at some point address it, just like they will address class or race. This means that to understand if a scholar is a gender scholar with a feminist background, we have to look at their work, not just one publication, but a list of work.

Mia Consalvo, the president, lists 147 publications on her CV, which she mailed after she noticed I had used the page for this count. Out of these, 35 are somewhat gender related. I have reduced this to "somewhat" from "clearly" because when I looked closer, several of the articles mentioned are about gender related topics, such as domestic violence, but not automatically about gender theory - it depends on the discussion. This means that quantitatively, Consalvo is clearly one of the more active when it comes to talking about gender in games. We can still not call her a gender scholar, for that her main focus would have to be gender, and it is currently close to a quarter of her work. It is also unfair to call her a scholar who is only interested in the representation of women, as that means to ignore such articles as "The monster next door", which strongly criticises the way men and boys are represented as violent monsters in the media, focusing on the example of the perpetrators of the Columbine shootings; or "Looking for gender; gender roles and behaviors among online gamers", which is a study of whether the activities of male and female WoW players can be explained through traditional gender roles.

Jose Zagal is the vice president, which means he has considerable influence at the board. He has been a long-term member of DiGRA, and active in different capacities within the organisation. Let us look at his publications list.  He also has 33 articles on his list, out of which none are gender related.

Ashley Brown is the secretary. Her publications list contains 7 articles, out of which one indicates a main gender focus. Brown is however a special case here, as her focus so far in her career is eroticism in games. This means that she has to engage with issues concerning sexuality, which again means it would be a flaw if her work was not informed by gender studies. A closer reading of her articles will show that she systematically discusses gender definitions, gender roles and gendered expressions, as part of her studies of sexuality and eroticism.

Jussi Holopainen is the treasurer. His publications list is not as rich as it could be, so I will use his google scholar list. This list is not entirely to be trusted, as it lists others with the same name, and it has some patents which I am not certain are connected to Holopainen or not. Still, out of the more than 40 works which he clearly has authored or co-authored, none are on gender-related topics.

Annika Waern is the media liason, which is a function rather than a position. She has mainly coordinated with the media over press-releases and ads for a conference. Let us still look at her publications. Note that these are only her game-related work, she is a mature scholar with several accomplishments. Out of her list of 40 publications, one is clearly gender related. The one article on gender is on gendered game design, and discusses what is known as "pink games", games specifically designed for women.

Rachel Kowert's publication list holds 10 articles, out of which one is on gender gamer stereotypes (forgive the error, which came from reading with a bias for gender). It has not yet been published, but from the title: "Unpopular, Overweight, and Socially Inept: Reconsidering the Stereotype of Online Gamers", we have reason to believe that it is a criticism of the general idea that online gamers are unpopular, overweight and socially inept - as a matter of fact it is likely to contain proof that the prevalent stereotypes painting gamers in a negative light are wrong.

Hanna Wirman's publication list contains 40 publications. Of these seven are gender related. One is her Ph D: "Hanna's PhD research focused on women players and their co-creative participation in the design of The Sims 2 through game modification." Wirman's publication list shows a typical academic development from one topic over to a related one, in this case from female Sims players to the study of animal play. This exemplifies how she is mainly a game scholar rather than a gender scholar, as her focus is firmly on the play aspect of game studies.

Lindsay Grace has a publication list with 51 articles, out of which one is gender related.

Chris Paul has 66 publications on his list (download the PDF with his CV to see the list), out of which three or four are gender related. When I don't give an absolute number, it's because it is a bit unclear how to count papers that develop into articles. This is despite the fact that one of Paul's stated research interests is gender in games, but as we can see it plays a minor part in a scholarship that is mainly focused on play and rhetoric.

Consalvo is still the scholar with the most gender-related articles, and considering that she is the president, this may make it appear at a casual glance as if gender is suddenly the focus of DiGRA. Before insisting on this, please consider what DiGRA's main function is. The main event at DiGRA is the annual conference. The topic of the conference is set by the program chair. The program chairs of DiGRA 2015 are Staffan Björk, who is clearly not a gender scholar, and Jonas Linderoth, who has one gender-related article out of the 12 most recent he lists on his page (Updated to include Linderoth). On the other hand, choosing these two for program chairs is an expression of a direction which has been considered controversial within DiGRA - the move from a clear focus on digital games to a wider focus on games in general.  If there is a current change in the direction of the association, it is in this more clearly stated inclusion of LARP and table top gaming in the relevant scholarship.

There is also no evidence that there is a trend of increased study of gender in the different DiGRA conferences. There may be leaps in certain conferences, due to the call topic or current events. It is for instance quite likely that #GamerGate itself will trigger several gender-focused papers for the next conference, as the movement has brought into sharp focus the necessity to understand the anti-feminist minority in gamer culture. Up until 2013 there was no rising gender-trend in the papers accepted to the conference.

(Note: I expect that as the scholars I discuss here take note of this page, I will receive corrections. We are academics. We do like to make sure information is correct.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Misconceptions in GamerGate

Jenny Goodchild has put together a page where she  addresses the most common misconceptions (and the occasional lies) profiles tagged with #GamerGate keep spreading on Twitter. If you have proof of more in the same vein, let her know. If you make a collection of similar misconceptions spread about persons tagged with #GamerGate and related to #GamerGate, Jenni will be happy to link to it in her post.

Jenny also posts this breakdown of the "10 articles in the same day all saying gamers are dead, so it must be a conspiracy" claim.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Frequently asked questions from GamerGate

Over the last few weeks, I have engaged in a few conversations on Twitter as a gamescholar and a DiGRA member. All ask me the same questions. Here is the FAQ:

1: Are you against peer-reviewing?
No, I am not. But I think it's not the only tool to support transparency, innovation and precision in an academic debate. Particularly for conferences, peer-reviewing can be more of a problem than a help, as it can stop new ideas and thoughts from entering into arenas where they can be discussed. For journals peer-reviewing is a good tool to make certain publications maintain a minimum of quality.

2: Are your DiGRA mates against peer-reviewing?
Not that I know of. Some may have the same stance as me, that it's sometimes good, sometimes bad, but I don't think any want to get rid of peer-reviewing all together. If you however reference the famous transcripts (people who were at the fishbowl have pointed out that this is not a transcript, but two peoples' notes, and did not cover all interaction or nuances), please also note that Mia Consalvo says:
(Transcript one) Mia:  One benefit of peer review is that work can be critiqued in a way that we might not do to a person’s face in a manner that drives our work to be better.  The way the system values peer review is bullshit, as the money accrues in the hands of private corporations.  How can we do the work and have it benefit us?
(Transcript two) Consalvo: One benefit of peer review – My work can be critiqued, and you can still call my work bullshit. But people can't actually say that to my face. Peer review is bullshit when our institutions overvalue it. And we don't want to start another journal. But if we can get it so Wiley isn't getting obscenely rich on our stuff.
As you see, Consalvo speaks out in favour or peer-reviews. What she criticises is how it is being overvalued by academic institutions, in that they only accept peer-reviewed work. This is problematic for instance because of the negative influences it has on the dissemination of new and controversial ideas. (See answer 1.) Another established game scholar, T. L. Taylor, says this about peer-review in the same transcript:
(Transcript one) TL: One good thing peer review can do is that it can push people to historicize and put things into context and address to the politics of citation. In the best sense, there’s a collectiveness to the mode of review that we can lean on.

(Transcript two) Taylor: Peer review can actually help people to historicize, contextualize and engage in politics of citation. How do you figure out the way to show lineages?
As you see, if you understand the economics of academic publishing, they are really criticising how the demand for peer-reviewing feeds the corporations that keep research articles behind pay-walls, same as Harvard University is protesting. That is not the same as saying peer-reviewing is always bullshit, or wanting to get rid of it altogether.

3: Are you against #GamerGate and #OperationDiggingDigra peer-reviewing your articles?
First, peer-review means it is reviewed by peers. I have my material reviewed all the time. Whether the peers reviewing are #GamerGater or #OperationDiggingDigra followers really doesn't matter. I expect them to live up to the standards of academic reviewing. This is why peer-reviewing is mostly double-blind: neither author nor reviewer know each other. So if that's what is meant by peer-reviewing, I am fine with it.

Second, let's say it's just fact checking. A lot of the work I do includes in-depth interviews with gamers who want to be anonymous. I am not giving out their names and other information to a group of random readers in order to let them "check" those facts. If there is a university-led review challenging my results, I will submit the data, given these reviewers are also bound by confidentiality. Until then, #OperationDiggingDigra will just have to trust that I am aware of what a breach of my academic integrity it would be, if I made up and lied about my data. As for checking references and citations - please, by all means! It would be really embarassing if I made errors there (made at least one I know of, years ago), but I am human, and I strive to become better, so please check and send me the list of errors.

Third, if gamers are actually reading through the DiGRA library, looking at the research presented there, I am thrilled. We publish in order to be read.

However, if #OperationDiggingDigra is about reading a few gender-related articles in order to find keywords to use to make angry videos on youtube, yelling abuse at researchers, then no, that is not cool. I can't keep people from doing that, though, I can just ask others to look at the DiGRA library and make up their own minds.

4: Why do you study digital games?
I study games because I believe they are vital to understanding what we can do with computers. They demonstrate new ways of creating texts, organising communities, expressing identity and co-creating stories. This is fascinating, and has held my attention since the late eighties. I started systematically analysing games in 1995.

5: What do you think about the aggression research on games?
A lot of it starts out with research questions that aim at confirming a link between games and aggression. However, like most effect studies in all media, the results are inconclusive. It is likely that games have the same effects as other media, in that they confirm already held beliefs, ex: if you think violence can solve your problems, you enjoy games that confirm that belief, and use them to learn new ways of using violence.

6: But why do people become influenced by gender, and not violence in games?
This has actually been answered pretty well here. Look at around 5.50, where L0G1C B0MB points out the differences between sexism and murder. Now, look at answer 5 in this FAQ. The thing is that sexism is a lot more common than violence and murder. We disapprove of violence, and we know it isn't a good problem solver. Sexism, on the other hand, is just moderately disapproved of, and in many subcultures it's encouraged. This means that you are much more likely to have your misogyny confirmed by the media than your psychotic plans to commit murder. Also, in a lot of games the narrative disapprove of murder, and the players' avatar's murder spree is justified as protection and self-defence. Sexism, on the other hand, is rarely punished nor called out in games. There are no gender consciousness raising sprees in games, to strike back at the misogynists. In the light of this, asking for games which have a more varied and not so single-minded representation of gender is not unreasonable.
Update May 2015: A study by Breuer, Kowert, Festl and Quandt shows that they have not been able to observe any increased sexism in players as a result of sexist games. Note however that first, they are not saying it can't happen, just that they haven't observed it. They also don't say whether the players were sexist at the beginning of the period and had their opinions confirmed or cemented. The study is very limited in its claims. And for those who have been using this study to say "take that, DiGRA": I know both Kowert and Quandt have been to DiGRA conferences and presented research there, obviously without being particularly influenced by the presence of potential gender scholars at the same conference.

7: Do you want to control and change the content of games?
No, not at all. But I would love to see more diverse games, games that my gay friends, my black friends and my female friends can play without having to keep ignoring slurs against them. I would like to see games that use more inventive means to express evil than to kill a few innocent women, or express heroism in other manners than to save a helpless princess.

8: Do you want to take our games away?
No, by all means, keep your games. Just let people from different demographics with different preferences have games they like, too, and accept that diversity in games is a good thing, as it means more fun for more people.

9: Why doesn't DiGRA make a better game then?
DiGRA is an association of researchers. The aim of DiGRA isn't to make games, although some researchers in DiGRA also make games.

10: What does DiGRA want?
Support researchers who study games, gamers, and developers, write about it, and help the public understand games and game culture better. This way it may be possible to avoid further misunderstanding about what games are and what gamers are.

11: But DiGRA is funded by DARPA!
OK, that's not a question, but I keep getting it, so here goes. No, DiGRA is not funded by DARPA. DiGRA posted a job ad where the University of Santa Cruz looked for a senior technician. Some of the researchers in Santa Cruz are also DiGRA members. DiGRA does not get any money from DARPA.

12: But DiGRA has influence!
Now we are down to the "shouting statements from YouTube videos and fictional images of networks with red arrows on them" part. Perhaps DiGRA has a certain influence, in that game researchers consider it an interesting conference to attend, in order to present their material for other researchers, to have it criticised and discussed by people who understand what they are talking about. Perhaps the occasional developer or journalist thinks it's interesting to follow up on what DiGRA members are studying, to see if there's something that could be useful in order to integrate in a future game, or write about. DiGRA certainly represents a repository of relevant resarch, along with the many journals aimed at games. This is research developers and journalists can access and use for free (except for when some of it's printed in journals which are ridiculously expensive. Neither DiGRA nor the researchers writing those articles get a single penny of that money though.)

So if DiGRA has influence, it's because people see the conference papers and go "oh, that was actually a really good point." Beyond that DiGRA is just interesting to the game scholars. Over the 11 years since the first conference, game scholarship has exploded though, from the small community where everybody knew each other, to the larger community where it takes a real effort to keep somewhat updated on the development of the field, or even notice all the books. By now it's quite likely that some DiGRA member will write something that some journalist or developer reads and likes. It still doesn't mean DiGRA has changed its agenda, it just means that new aspects of its research is interesting to others.

13: Has DiGRA changed to be dominated by radical feminists instead of academics? (update)
 First thing first, it's possible to be a feminist and an academic. That is pretty common, and a lot of scholars who don't do gender research are still feminists. Also, over the years DiGRA has grown from being a group of obscure researchers who all knew each other, to a community that's big enough that we now need those name-tags. Even if the percentage of feminist papers just remained the same, there should be an increase in feminist papers. Instead, this is the ratio of feminist vs other articles in the DiGRA archive:

As you can see, there is nothing that indicates that gender is becoming more prominent up until 2014. Thanks to Petri Lankoski for doing the break-down and posting the image.

That's it for today - I'll probably update this when/if there are more questions that need to be answered. Feel free to ask your own in the comment field, but be aware that I moderate ruthlessly, and if I don't like the question, the language or your links to other sites where you want to boost traffic, I'll not publish the comments.

This just in, October 29th:
In a skype interview with the title "DARPA Now Seeks to Control Children Through Videogames", on the question from the interviewer: "this is an attempt by individuals to implant social engineering in videogames, and basically brainwashing messages, explain how that emerged" a Syrian girl claims the following:
There's collusion between media and DiGRA.
DiGRA is supported by DARPA.
DiGRA is a think-tank.
DiGRA is specialising in injecting social engineering into videogames to influence children towards social justice.
DiGRA tries to apply multiple genders, and are social justice warriors with a fake feminist stance.
DiGRA cooperates with among others Zoe Quinn to design games containing social engineering.
These are all the same, incorrect accusations which have been presented earlier. Old responses to this above.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Community channels

When I started blogging, I saw a lot of concern from journalists that blogging would ruin journalism. I wasn't too concerned, because journalism as a practice does not become ruined by diversity - but that was before I considered that while the best practice of journalism might not be changed, the general understanding of journalism might change.

Today we see a lot of "community journalists". Some are quite good and deliver an important service, reporting on topics that are overlooked, ignored or not accessible to others. The P2P net running in China to spread information off the internet about the protests is one example of this. But some are basically just spokesmen for a movement, and should rather adopt the terms "community press agents" or "community PR agents". This because they choose to represent rather than report, and they enter into the dissemination of ideas in order to convince, not to find the truth.

Often these community channels believe they are representing the truth. That is the problem with conviction, it is hard to see beyond it. Traditional journalism is aware of this problem, which is why balanced reporting is such an important concept. This basically means that in order to call something journalism, it needs to represent more than one view. The opposing side must have a chance to respond, or it isn't journalism, it's just channeling one side of an argument.

It is often difficult to get the opposing side to join in a community channel broadcast though, because the other side knows they are entering into a hostile environment. This has nothing to do with knowing they will meet disagreement, and everything to do with knowing they will be called names, ridiculed, and anger the audience of that broadcast. In present-day community activism, that includes, and is not limited to, being investigated by hostile investigators looking to grasp at anything that looks like an error, misrepresented in chat-rooms and on blogs, called names, having their emails attacked and their accounts hacked, and receiving threats starting with vague "making life unpleasant" going through phases of "we will ruin their lives and take away their careers" and up to rape- and death threats. These are very efficient silencing techniques, and journalists who work with areas where this can happen need to be very smart and very trustworthy.

This is the reason why traditional journalism contains the idea of "protecting the sources". Journalists have gone to jail in order to protect their sources, and that is why they can break open some astounding cases. The source needs to feel it is safe to offer up information.

The source also needs to believe that the information they offer up will be treated fairly. If the journalist cherrypicks the few items in the information that suits their angle, and is not ready to acknowledge when either side has a fair point, then the journalist will become a microphone stand for the loudest and most popular voices in his or her community, and not an investigative fair reporter. This (treating the opposition fairly) is rarely happening in community channels, because they are economically and socially tied to their audience. When they live directly off donations or clicks on their shows, allowing topics that will unsettle or perhaps even disperse the audience will not happen.

Quite the opposite, the community channel sees itself as defending, protecting, and fighting the good fight for their followers. The hosts of these channels may even feel that their cause loses if they have to admit that they may have been wrong, and so they will fight bitterly to the very end to support their cause. That is quite all right, as long as we agree on what that actually is. It is not journalism, it is PR, or even more frequently, propaganda, when the fact checking is flawed and they keep searching only for confirmation of their own idea.