Game Changers: From Minecraft to Misogyny

By Stephanie Griffin
Mark Bonica from Flickr
Mark Bonica image via Flickr

Game Changers: From Minecraft to Misogyny, the Fight for the Future of Videogames
Dan Golding & Leena van Deventer
Affirm Press

BOOK.Game-Changers“A few people are sending messages of support, but mostly total strangers are saying horrible, hateful, violent things to you.”

The #Gamergate movement (Gamergate), sparked on social media in August 2014, is an ugly and complicated amalgamation of misogyny, racism, online abuse and convoluted concerns over ethics in games journalism. Proponents of Gamergate reject feminist and progressive critiques of videogames. They prioritise the bolstering of a “traditional” gamer identity.

Game Changers: From Minecraft to Misogyny, the Fight for the Future of Videogames, is co-authored by games academic and critic Dan Golding, and game developer, writer and teacher, Leena van Deventer. Golding and van Deventer maintain that this is “not the Gamergate book” instead; they use the Gamergate controversy as an entry point to discuss the history of videogames and their status in contemporary society. Golding and van Deventer’s style reflects the tone of fourth-wave feminist conversations taking place online: inclusive, conversational, honest and frank.

The cruelty of militant Gamergaters has garnered much media attention, adding to a growing narrative that the gaming industry is not a safe place for women and minorities. The accepted sexism in the insular and male dominated gaming world has been exposed under an uncomfortable spotlight.

Today, the videogame community continues to be held up as an example par excellence of a modern day boys’ club.

Golding and van Deventer are game industry insiders but they put forward a feminist agenda from within that community. Because they self identify as gaming enthusiasts, their criticism of the industry carries a consistent caveat, that they share a fundamental belief in the power of games as a tool for social good. They are not criticising videogames as a medium, but rather, the industry elites who have contributed to a dangerous and exclusive gaming culture and have capitalised on the mythical gamer identity, the nerdy white guy.

Perhaps because videogame academia is in its infancy, the authors dedicate the early chapters of their book to playing a legitimisation game. Videogames are an artform. Writing about games is journalism. Not all game players are white men. Games promote empathy. And most importantly, games, like films, literature and theatre, deserve academic scrutiny.

The upshot of the authors desire to defend gaming is that the reader is privileged to a crash course in the history of videogames and their role in contemporary society. Alan Turing’s chess playing computer; the weirdly sexist story behind Pac-Man; and the unlikely 99-year-old Wii World Cup winner, Irene Kirk, all play a role in the ongoing gaming narrative.

Furthermore, as a videogame novice and cultural outsider, it was genuinely exciting to read and learn about the recent phenomenon of fringe, so called, “anti-games”. Game developers such as Zoe Quinn, Depression Quest, and Anna Anthropy, Dys4ia, have created accessible “empathy games”.

Dys4ia tells the deeply personal autobiographical story of Anna Anthropy’s experience with gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy.

A not-so subtle theme running like an undercurrent throughout the text is the idea of sisterhood. Van Deventer was recently selected to participate in the IGDA Foundation’s Next Gen Leader’s fellowship program, the first person selected from the Southern Hemisphere. Her non-for-profit, WiDGET (Women in Development (Games & Everything Tech)), supports underrepresented groups in development and technology. In fact, the book is largely a platform for women hurt by the Gamergate scandal to speak freely on their experiences.

While Golding and van Deventer are emphatically not writing “the book” on Gamergate they have successfully used the events and individuals involved in the ongoing Gamergate saga to describe a kind of cultural war taking place on the internet. Social media platforms, home to communities of videogame fans, have become ideological battlegrounds. In a way this book is as much about the failings of the Internet as it is about videogames.

The ongoing conflict over sexism and feminism in the games industry is just one of the most visible manifestations of a very broad phenomenon. It’s simply bigger than games.

Game Changers lovingly and fiercely promotes equal representation and equal opportunity in the gaming industry. It’s authors have taken a conversation happening between feminists online and presenting it to the broader community along with a reimagining of what it means to be a gamer. It is an act of rebellion and an illuminating read for the uninitiated and the uninvolved. The videogames industry is undergoing a cultural revolution online and Game Changers acts as a window in for the rest of us.

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