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Ethics, sexism and incivility in gaming: Could 2014 be the year we implode?

September 05, 2014 By: Ladan Category: ethics, gender issues, media

I was reading a BBC article today where they mention Nicholas Boyle, a historian, who predicted that 2014 would be a year wherein a significant event could predict the outcome of the rest of the century. Apparently we’ve got a history with years ending in -14 or -15.

It’s hard not to feel like things are really wonky this year. Or maybe it’s always the year you’re in that you feel the most acutely.. either way, things like Ebola, Gaza, ISIS, 200 kidnappings of schoolgirls in Nigeria, the Ukraine, three terrible plane crashes, train crashes, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, cyberattacks, riots, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanos, the list goes on… the world’s suffering can be overwhelming sometimes.

And when looking at the online world, it’s hard not to worry about what feels like a growing and flagrant expression of misogyny and general nastiness. Sexism in gaming or online communities is not a new problem, however. It’s just been amplified in recent months by a few high profile situations. While my cynical side finds it sad that it takes photos of celebrities to get us to suddenly take notice of this heinous crime of the theft of personal digital photographs or a troll attacking a celebrity via Twitter for it to get the police’s attention, at least it draws attention and perhaps gets a debate going. Then we had the latest series of debates around ethics (or the lack thereof) in online journalism, particularly in relation to gaming Web sites/communities. This all exploded a few weeks ago when news burst on the scene about allegations of game designers being in bed (literally) with gaming journalists and the blurry lines between nepotism and big money driving what gets coverage and what does not.

I won’t say much more than that (you can read the whole ‘GamerGate’ story and its related links above [good article, btw]) about the topic, but the issues of sexism, ethics in reporting, and this upswing in nastiness online seems to be the order of the day. I don’t worry about the impact on people like myself who’ve been around the Internet long enough to know how to compartmentalise nastiness and only focus on those things I can trust and respect, but I do worry about the upcoming generations of Internet-savvy kids (12 and up) who live on social media, games, and the various other outlets that mean more to them than anything else: YouTube channels, gamer community sites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.. if they aren’t seeing good practice on these sites, are we putting them at risk of growing up without good examples of how fair debate, journalism and reporting and analysis is supposed to be done? Will they even know what ethics are like in practice? I’m not saying that the mainstream media sites are much better, not by a long shot, but at least there’s a pretence of responsibility embedded in these other industries. And at least there’s a framework we can turn to to police and monitor these behaviours.

Maybe this is because a lot of us have come to gaming from a place of personal interest. Most of the guys who livestream, cast or have huge YouTube channels are gamers themselves who happened to be in the right place at the right time (and have a Webcam) and happen to possess a good sense of humour. Most of the guys who started the big gaming sites did it as enthusiasts or bloggers who never expected such success. And the game industry is dotted with people who loved games so much that they did everything they could to get a job working on them.

I remember when I started my PhD. I thought I had little to learn as I was coming to my work from a place of knowledge–being a gamer. But while I understood the community I was going to study, the actual professional qualification of doing doctoral research required training and supervision from those far more experienced than myself: my professors and lecturers who could guide me on how to be an academic. Sure I was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about games, but I had to accept that I had a lot to learn about knowing how to conduct and write up research.

Things being borne out of enthusiasm do not mean that they are bereft of expertise or ability, of course. It’s this very passion and creativity that has made gaming the exquisite cultural artefact that it is today; but being enthusiastic, knowing your field and having an opinion will only get you so far. Perhaps this current debate around ethics, sexism and incivility is just telling us that we need to make sure that our house doesn’t just have a wickedly awesome design, but that it’s clean and well kept as well.

Right now, the mainstream world doesn’t seem to notice or care much about how infantile or disruptively we are behaving toward each other right now. If anything, they’ll just use it as confirmation of our backwardness and the negative impact that games and social media are having on the world. But I’m feeling a bit embarrassed about what’s happening as I know this is not the face of gaming I want to see or promote…

I wholeheartedly agree with Adam Thomas (his article linked above) when he writes, ‘if this issue never gets looked into, then someone isn’t doing their job. Further silence basically goes to prove the point … of the lack of skill shown by gaming journalists, if nothing else.’ This issue should be looked into and it should be looked into by competent researchers. I don’t think leaving this up to the media, games industry or gamers to resolve will be sufficient in this instance.  It’s almost like we need one of those good ol’ white papers that we love to write here in the UK. An official ‘Report’ into the state of Sexism, Ethics and Abuse in the Gaming Community (community including all of those who work in/around and play in/around the games industry).

Either which way, whatever the outcome is from this summer of general nastiness in 2014, I’m hopeful that this only indicates that the gaming industry is just in its unpleasant teenager phase and will outgrow these outbursts of selfishness, moodiness and confusion so it can finally settle down into its true golden age where any and all gamer is welcome, people act like decent human beings toward each other while online, and the way the industry and media conducts itself is ethical and reasonable. Hey, anything is possible.. we’re talking about games, after all.

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