Political Flavors

Stop Talking About #GamerGate Like It’s Real.

Posted in Editorials on October 8th, 2014

Background reading in case you haven’t been paying attention:

Attacks on women in gaming are so obviously not about ethics, but about misogyny
by Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon

We must dissent: Intel bows to GamerGate campaign to silence feminist video game critics
by Katherine Cross at Feministing

All caught up? Good.

I’ve been thinking about Intel’s decision to pull ads from gaming site Gamasutra. Intel is not a cable news anchor who thinks 4chan is a person. According to Wikipedia, Intel is one of the world’s largest and highest valued semiconductor chip makers, based on revenue. People who work there understand what’s happening here. They can see the AstroTurf and false flags.

So that leaves us with a few options:

1. Intel didn’t know that it was a manufactured controversy or didn’t care and was swayed by the arguments.

2. Intel didn’t care about the arguments and was worried about bad publicity. In other words, they’re afraid of 4chan.

3. Intel knows that it’s not a real grassroots campaign, but agrees with the arguments anyway.

From the apology they issued soon after pulling their ads, all signs point to #2.

“We recognize that our action inadvertently created a perception that we are somehow taking sides in an increasingly bitter debate in the gaming community,” Intel wrote. “That was not our intent, and that is not the case. When it comes to our support of equality and women, we want to be very clear: Intel believes men and women should be treated the same.

“And, diversity is an integral part of our corporate strategy and vision with commitments to improve the diversity of our workforce,” Intel continued. “And while we respect the right of individuals to have their personal beliefs and values, Intel does not support any organization or movement that discriminates against women. We apologize and we are deeply sorry if we offended anyone.”

Oh ok, so a bunch of bullies convinced a giant corporation to drop some ads. I suppose that’s newsworthy.

But that’s not how the narrative is being told. Gaming journalists are still talking about #GamerGate like it’s a real thing and not a bullying campaign from the bowels of the internet. This is disingenuous at best, and misogynistic bullshit at worst.

The idea that corporations or journalists should need to expend any special effort to avoid “taking sides in an increasingly bitter debate” is ludicrous when you realize that there aren’t two sides here. There’s a bunch of trolls who are mad at a woman they don’t know for things that allegedly happened her private sex life as told by a vindictive ex-boyfriend so they’re throwing a temper tantrum on the internet. And there’s women who work in gaming and play video games who don’t want to be harassed. If you see these sides as at all equal, you are deficient in your logic or your morals. Or you’re just lying.

Some Musings on the Psychology of Minecraft

Posted in Editorials on July 11th, 2013

I’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft lately. It’s a fun game and it reminds me of The Legend of Zelda games I loved as a kid. Recently I started playing in multiplayer mode and something happened that made me think about they psychology of video games.

I know that one of the reasons video games are so pleasurable is that they give people rewards at quicker and more predictable rates thank other tasks. I can’t really say this is something that I think about consciously, but I do find myself having built a castle or mined some diamonds feeling like I have “accomplished something” when in reality, I haven’t. I just played a game. Leisure activities are necessary, but they aren’t a productive use of my time.

On Sunday I was exploring a cave in Minecraft and I was knocked into the very mineshaft I was looking for by some zombies. They jumped down and killed me. In Minecraft, if you aren’t playing in hardcore mode, you will “respawn” (restart) the game at a certain point, and all of the items/loot you were carrying with you will remain at the place you died for about five minutes. With literally nothing to lose, I sprinted back to the cave to find two zombies, one of which was wearing my armor! This is an often humorous aspect of the game. Zombies will pick up anything they find and try and use it against you. Previously I fought one off that was wielding a piece of rotting flesh that had been dropped by another zombie I had killed. On this occasion, I defeated them both with one of my shovels that they had not yet gotten to and retrieved my armor.

I paused for a moment, feeling kind of weird about re-equiping it. I felt grossed out because a zombie was just wearing it. Then I figured that it was now an extra special trophy of my victory over the zombies.

Then I thought about how this game has tapped into some pretty deep areas of my brain. Firstly I identify enough with my avatar that upon seeing an enemy NPC wearing “my armor” it I was startled, and amusedly indignant. There has been some research about why and how people identify with their video game avatars. It reminds me of the research about how the brain changes to think about a car one is driving. Some theorize that you start to perceive the car as a part of your body and that it changes your proprioception. There is evidence that people with bumper stickers on their car are more aggressive drivers. Similar to having a custom made avatar perhaps?

Second, I am so invested in this game that my innate mechanism for disgust was activated by the idea of my avatar wearing armor that a cartoonish zombie character was just “wearing.” I did have a brief feeling that I was the one putting on dirty clothes. Then I laughed at the idea of getting squicked out over pixels on a screen.

Our brains are more plastic than we may be comfortable admitting. And like Minecraft, almost infinitely moddable. Be careful what you do with yours.