I wrote this OP post as a critical response to Chapter 1 of “Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat”, which was written by Katherine Cross (the PDF containing this section can be found here: http://press.etc.cmu.edu/files/Diversifying-Barbie-Mortal-Kombat_Kafai-Richard-Tynes-etal-web.pdf).
And right off the bat, my intent is not to debunk the chapter or the article, but rather to provide a skeptical response to the chapter, which I contend contains many logical flaws, misleading language, and considerable bias.
So, with that said. Let’s get right down to it – Katherine Cross is no honored colleague to me. She does a lot of work, which conflicts with my sense of what proper liberal principles are, most especially manifesting in her radical feminism, which seeks to elicit special treatment for women (and minorities), stifle open speech, and infringe on basic principles of individual autonomy.
However, I will admit that I agree with the interpretation of #GamerGate’s activities as “gamification of activism” that she sets out in Chapter 1 (“Press F To Revolt”) of the document “Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat”. Nevertheless, despite this single agreement, the chapter is rife with language, claims and reasoning which I consider to be, at the very least highly suspect, and more likely deliberately misleading and deceptive.
Among the many issues I rebuke is Cross’s decisions as to what deserves citation and what doesn’t. A walk through all the way up to the conclusion finds only one citation for sources or evidence as to activities engaged in by #GamerGate, but at least 12 citations as to sociologists, game theorists, or other critics of #GamerGate (such as Anita Sarkeesian). This creates an issue where much of her criticisms of the GamerGate movement can be confirmed and verified for context. However, the claims that she makes about its actions can not only not be confirmed, but neither can the reader verify the context of her claims.
Furthermore, much of her assertions about GamerGate are extremely broad generalizations, which is what gave rise to the title for this article. As the chapter reads more like the gossipy rantings of the Simpsons’s Helen Lovejoy, than any sort of academic interpretation or commentary of a notable social or cultural counter-movement. And this gossipy theme asserts itself almost immediately in the first section of the chapter, in which Cross writes Amongst members of the online anti-feminist movement GamerGate… it was commonplace to assert that even this subtle impact was vastly overstated. No citation is provided, no data for the reader to refer to in order to judge the prevalence of such behavior, nor even any practical context for the reader to understand how exactly these so-called “members of GamerGate” meant that the given impact was overstated.
There are various examples of this gossipy theme, which continue all the way through the conclusion. Nevertheless, this is just the tip of Cross’s “academic” reasoning. As she frequently poisons the well with misleading language. Even in the above example, she refers to GamerGate as an “anti-feminist movement”. This language portrays GamerGate as etiologically anti-feminist, without any justification as to why anti-feminism is an etiological trait rather than an emergent or taxonomical trait.
Given that Cross’s target audience is primarily 3rd-wave feminists, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that using such language is designed to poison the reader against GamerGate. This sort of tactic is common in politics (“tax-and-spend liberal”, “neo-con”, “radical right-wing”). As to the analogy of “gamification of activism” Cross posits. I happen to agree. GamerGate, including myself, does treat its activism very much like a game. Repetitive action to failure until a success is met, setting forth progressively more difficult goals to accomplish, achieving some reward (usually social popularity or approval) for completing a goal, collaborative effort to achieve goals to large for individuals) – these are all activities GamerGate has engaged in, and they’re all boilerplate tropes in gaming.
Where I diverge from Cross is her apparent disdain for this method of activism. Her reasoning for this disdain is made clear in the “The Real Unreal” section of the chapter, where she posits that #GamerGate treats certain people as “bosses” or “final bosses”: Gamification deepens rather than ameliorates this problem when applied to the Internet, and GamerGate’s conception of final bosses is a clear example of this at work.
She goes on in the next paragraph:
“However, seeing someone as a final boss, almost by definition, means you do not apprehend them as a person”.
Where I see the flaw in Cross’s reasoning is that she never actually makes a connection between #GamerGate using “bosses” as a rhetorical device, and it actually treating those individuals as “non-persons”. Cross doesn’t seem to make this connection anywhere – she merely jumps from a hyperbolic comment about Leigh Alexander being “the final boss” and positing (without rational justification) that seeing someone as a final boss must mean that a gamer doesn’t consider them a person.
As a matter of fact, this trope has for a while been broken-in such games as “Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect”, which end up, very much, “humanizing” the end bosses (The Dread Wolf and the AI which controls the Reapers, respectively). Even in games such as “Deus Ex Human Revolution”, apparent antagonists (such as anti-augmentationists, or the hacker Arie van Bruggen) are immensely shown to be people, and the decisions as to how to deal with these previously-thought-demons are delivered as a plot device as a struggle (on the very grounds of them not being monsters). Cross is apparently content to ignore such gems in modern and slightly older games and plot devices in those games, presumably to make the simplistic point that “Because Leigh Alexander or AAA game publishers are bosses, we don’t see them as people, so we can morally do whatever we want to them.” (this is not an actual quote from the source article, but a side thought of mine).
As a humorous aside, I find it pertinent to point out that in that section, Cross references her own work as justification for the points she’s trying to make: What I have called the Möbius strip of reality and unreality comes into play here: though we have been socialized to see the internet as unreal, we enact meaningful social behavior there and develop strong emotional attachments in spite of the conceit of unreality (Cross, 2014). Not really a substantive retort on my part – I just thought it was humorous.
Cross goes on in the same section to write:
“For GamerGate, this has meant a contradictory approach to harassment…Harassing behaviour, such as hundreds of Twitter users piling into the mentions of a prominent target like Brianna Wu to hurl abuse at her”.
While I will point out that, unlike many detractors of #GamerGate. Cross actually gives an example of what she considers harassment. However, she fails (in my opinion) on an important point, which is the implicit assumption that a group of users tweeting at her a lot at some given time necessarily means they’re trying to “abuse her” (rather than express their own criticisms). While she derisively points out that such activity is seen by GamerGaters as “disagreement” rather than harassment. In other words, she fails to establish any rational justification to dismiss such a position. She also fails to establish rationally that all users in said “mention flood” actually mean to “abuse” [Brianna Wu]. This is a nasty composition that allows Cross to dismiss any legitimate criticisms on the grounds that they happened to occur at a time when other users might legitimately, be trying to “abuse” [Wu] (thereby “coincidentally” absolving both Cross and Wu of the tough job of actually rebutting legitimate criticisms).
Then, there is the “Win Conditions” section of the chapter, which contains a posit I actually agree with:
“GamerGate’s leaderless nature all but ensured that their goals remained nebulous and sometimes contradictory”.
Where Cross fails to deliver is shortly thereafter, where she writes:
“the win condition itself, whatever it was, mattered above all else and often implicitly justified whatever strategies were used to achieve it”.
This is yet another claim she makes without any real justification. She didn’t posit, even rhetorically, any activities that #GamerGate engaged in within the confines of “reaching its win condition” which conflicted with any of its stated principles (which, of course, she also never defined or cited). Without showing a conflicting reasoning, Cross fails to show any breech of ethics within GamerGate in its pursuit of whatever end goals it happens to have. I’ll skip over the “Lucid Loneliness” section, as it’s mostly rhetorical rewording of previous sections and limp-wristed attacks on the character of GamerGate.
As to the Conclusion section, Cross starts out with:
“As already demonstrated, gamification cannot act as a moral guide, nor does it even provide a means of learning moral discernment or judgement”.
The problem with this statement is that (even if true) it’s still 100% irrelevant. As “gamification of activism” (as Cross so calls it) isn’t used by #GamerGate as a moral guide, nor a means or judgment. It’s simply used as a tactic, at most to keep the activism interesting and personally relevant, and at least as a commonly familiar and therefore, largely accessible device.
She closes her conclusion with “There is more to life than winning, after all.”
Well, I have to agree. Even so, “gamification of activism” is merely an emergent tactic in activism, particularly online. It just happens to be more fun, and, by the sound of Cross’s impotent vitriol and back-of-the-church gossiping, also more effective at facilitating winning. After all, there is more to life than winning – but, the guy who wins is usually the one writing the history books.
And with that said, what´s your take on this matter? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section down below!
Robin Ek – Editor
This is a personal opinion of the writer, and it doesn’t necessarily represent the other writers (nor The Gaming Ground´s) opinions.
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