A Star And Her Craft

Ben McGrath has a long and fascinating profile of Sasha Hostyn, aka Scarlett, “the most accomplished woman in the young history of electronic sports,” namely Starcraft II:

Some context from McGrath:

“It’s not a sport,” John Skipper, the president of ESPN and, by extension, the emperor of contemporary sports, has declared, referring to gaming in general. “It’s a competition.” He added, “Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”

That “mostly” was an acknowledgment that the network has nonetheless begun hedging its bet against a cyber-athlete insurgency. In July, ESPN2 aired a half-hour program previewing an annual tournament for a game called Defense of the Ancients 2, or Dota 2, thereby enraging football and basketball fans who would have preferred round-the-clock speculation about off-season roster moves, and who vented on Twitter: “None of these people are anywhere near athletic,” “Wtf man. This is our society now,” “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING ON ESPN2?,” and so on. Meanwhile, the winners of the Dota 2 tournament took home a total of five million dollars.

Back to Scarlet, and how her story touches on the themes of gamergate:

[A]s an academic Rob [Scarlet’s father] had been a longtime observer of online communities, with their anonymous sniping and trolling. He was one of the first few hundred people to create an account on the social-networking site Reddit, and still recalled the coarsening of the site’s tone as its user base expanded beyond programmer geeks. “I knew that small communities are pretty good, and big ones get toxic,” he said. … The toxicity of gaming culture, with its adolescent sexuality and its tendency toward misogyny, was of particular relevance in Scarlett’s case. Shortly after she turned pro, word got out on the Internet that she was a transgender woman.

(She won’t discuss the subject with journalists, as she feels that it has no bearing on her role in gaming.) That was in early April of 2012, about a year after she began playing the game casually, and about a month after a controversy arose in a coarser corner of the e-sports world, when a prominent Street Fighter personality named Aris Bakhtanians was asked by a Twitch employee, Jared Rea, whether the fighting-game community’s habits of using vulgar and, in some cases, hostile language toward women could be tamped down. As Rea put it, “Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?”

Bakhtanians replied, “You can’t, because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, fifteen or twenty years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting-game community it’s not the fighting-game community—it’s StarCraft.” …

In the rush to discover more about this new sensation, a few people noticed that the previous fall she’d entered—and won, easily—a couple of Iron Lady events, women-only tournaments organized online by the Electronic Sports League. No fair, some argued, apparently believing that StarCraft players, like sprinters, should be segregated by degrees of testosterone. The tournaments’ director, pHaRSiDE, wasn’t buying it. “Transgender girls have been competing in Iron Lady since the start of the tournament series,” he wrote. “No one seemed to care until Scarlett started winning. So it’s kinda funny how people only want to ban transgender girls who are incredibly good.”

The Best Of The Dish Today

Tough Mudder London South 2014

Another note on the swift descent of ethical journalism. One concern I’ve repeatedly voiced is that at some point, corporations will simply dispense with “sponsored content” on existing publications and create newspapers and magazines for themselves. Since the Fourth Estate has already abandoned any pretense of being independent of advertizers for their content, it’s a small jump. And here comes Verizon with a new website:

The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called SugarString.com. The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game.

There’s just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today.

It gets worse, doesn’t it?

Today, we revisited the plight of the Yazidis still facing the terror of ISIS; that “chickenshit” Netanyahu; and the broad definition of “sexual assault” that Ivy League higher-ups have signed onto, even if their students don’t quite agree. Plus: the campaign to shut down and even criminalize “toxic male culture”. I also re-engaged Ross Douthat on the issue of pastoral treatment of divorced and re-married Catholics.

Plus: a gorgeous video celebrating New York City and Paris.

The most popular post of the day was A Declaration Of War Against Francis; followed by Does The Self Exist? Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here.  You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 24 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here. Dish t-shirts are for sale here, including the new “Know Dope” shirts, which are detailed here. Below are images for the general design and the DC-specific one (also available are ones for Oregon and Alaska – the two other states voting on legalization Tuesday):

know-dope-shirts

 

The final email for the day comes from a veteran programmer. I’m going to give her the last word on the gamergate furore:

This is regarding your post about gamergate.  I have been a very loyal reader of your blog for more than 10 years now and have been a subscriber for two.  I have always dearly admired and respected you.  I know this email is long and harshly worded in places, but please take the time to read it.  It would mean a lot to me.

Your readers were right to warn you about not writing about that debate.  At the very least, you should have researched the industry you were covering before making comments about it.  Perhaps you did by reading some extremely lazy leftist writing on the subject (of which there is unfortunately much) or because you’ve been hanging out with Breitbart, who seems to be your ideological bedfellow in this – I don’t know.

[Ed. note: Professional details written here are being left out “because my identity will be easy to determine and it may put my life and that of my family in danger (this happened to other women for much less).] Whom I know is not especially important – the industry is so small that anyone who has been there for as long as I have knows all these same people.  (Gamergate doesn’t quite see things that way and continues to weave conspiracy theories about it.)  What I mean to convey is how personal all this is to me.

I don’t actually want to bring up the ludicrous “both sides have been bullied” quote, considering that only “one side” has received credible death threats that are being investigated by the FBI. [Ed. note: that “both sides” line was clarified in a follow-up post the reader may have missed.] I don’t mean to complain, because much like all of the mature nerdy adults I know, I’m over it, but I have to ask: do you honestly believe that only nerdy white males exist, that nerdy girls don’t get bullied?  (I know I was!)  I also had to then deal with not being taken seriously as a “fellow gamer” by the “gamer culture” whose end you’re lamenting for some reason (worry not, it will continue to thrive as is).

And you compare it to gay culture, as if there has ever been any actual or remotely comparable discrimination of gamers! Recall all the gamers who were murdered when they were caught holding hands in public while arranging for DS Download Play on their DSes!

Let’s take a moment of silence for the gamers who bought the latest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare only to be brutally beaten the next day for talking fondly about it in school!  Let’s remember that time the arch-conservative Jack Thompson was preaching about the harm people who buy games do to society – wait wait, my bad … that was the game industry he was blaming for school shootings and the like.  Andrew, forgive me, but you are off your rocker.

On the contrary, the multi-billion industry that is video games have catered to gamers to such a degree that it’s had some regrettable side effects.  For instance, it is not uncommon for game creators to receive death threats for changing a game mechanic (in an effort to improve the experience for their audience)!  It’s been happening for some time!  Writers have been harassed to the point of quitting the games industry for including an optional homosexual romance in a popular game (Dragon Age 2). The anxiety and the terror I feel that the other shoe could drop at any minute, and that my life or that of my family could be in danger, is very real and has caused me a lot of anguish and stress.

The truth is, this is an audience that is so used to being treated with velvet gloves and getting their way, that manipulating the creators via threats is actually seen by some as a perfectly reasonable way to register a complaint. Short of the awful harassment that George Lucas must have suffered for “ruining childhoods” (not that I disagree he made some poor films), can you imagine any other creative medium with this kind of audience?

The developer who has been the real subject of gamergate for some time created a game about depression that was more an “interactive experience” (not unlike the old text adventure games of the early video games, ironically) and was not seen as a “real game” by those now in the gamergate movement.  She was harassed well before her ex-boyfriend tried to ruin her life and career on the internet by airing their dirty laundry with that callous post. Why? Because there are people who don’t want developers to make games they don’t want to play and for them, simply ignoring these developers and their games won’t do.  It’s as if Britney Spears fans went on a hateful rampage because they could not live in a world where Mary Timony was producing records, simply because Pitchfork chose to write about Mary’s releases every once in a while.

Let’s talk for a moment about Anita Sarkeesian.  I support her work in spite of disagreeing with much of it, because I believe that if video games are ever to be a respected medium, acknowledged for meaningful cultural commentary (which I believe it very much deserves), it needs to have a rich tradition of critique and criticism – whether the critique is something everyone agrees with or not. However, no reasonable discussion can take place when Sarkeesian is being harassed and threatened with sexually violent murder.  It so happens that the only video I ever found compelling of the many she has made is this one:

Analysis like yours strokes the hateful mob’s egos and reduces it entirely to what both the far left and Breitbart find intriguing: “a culture war”.  Imagine how much progress could have been made about our environment or global warming if it hadn’t become part of the culture war.  All this kind of politicizing does is force people to take sides that have no nuance, and I want no part in it.  I happen to be a woman developer (already suspect for gamergate) who happens to make quirky games that people in that movement would hate but may refuse to ignore by harassing me (something I’m extremely worried about).  Much as I have little respect for the left’s handling of this garbage, they actually stand up for my personal safety!  They denounce these jerks when they see them, even if it’s with ridiculous academic language.

From everything I’ve seen, gamergate is an angry mob bent on bullying game creators into making something other than what they want to make.  It is an angry mob bent on bullying journalists into voicing opinions other than those they have.  They bully not by name-calling, rude words, or insults, but with threats of murder, rape, and school shootings.  If your heart was in the right place, as it usually is, you should be condemning these asshole reactionaries.  For the first time in my life, you’re talking about an issue that DIRECTLY affects me and my livelihood, and you’ve taken the bullies’ side, Andrew.  It absolutely breaks my heart.  Why, why, why can’t you call them on their shit?

For the record, this was the second paragraph of my post:

The tactics of harassment, threats of violence, foul misogyny, and stalking have absolutely no legitimate place in any discourse. Having read about what has happened to several women, who have merely dared to exercise their First Amendment rights, I can only say it’s been one of those rare stories that still has the capacity to shock me. I know it isn’t fair to tarnish an entire tendency with this kind of extremism, but the fact that this tactic seemed to be the first thing that some gamergate advocates deployed should send off some red flashing lights as to the culture it is defending.

See you in the morning.

(Photo: Competitors take part in the Tough Mudder London South in Winchester, England on October 25, 2014. The world-famous Tough Mudder is a military-style endurance event over 10-12 mile obstacle course designed to test all-around strength, stamina, teamwork, and mental grit. By Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

New Feminism; Old Moralism

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Anita Sarkeesian had a lovely piece in the NYT yesterday, explaining why she is happy that “gamer culture” as it once was is a much diluted phenomenon. Its points are as valid as the foul attacks on her (and so many others) are indefensible in any shape or form. Money quote:

The time for invisible boundaries that guard the “purity” of gaming as a niche subculture is over. The violent macho power fantasy will no longer define what gaming is all about. Those who police the borders of our hobby, the ones who try to shame and threaten women like me into silence, have already lost. The new reality is that video games are maturing, evolving and becoming more diverse.

Those of us who critique the industry are simply saying that games matter. We know games can tell different, broader stories, be quirky and emotional, and give us more ways to win and have fun. As others have recently suggested, the term “gamer” is no longer useful as an identity because games are for everyone.

This is basically an echo of my “let a thousand nerds bloom”. But then you come across some recent tweets of hers:

Reading right along, you realize she’s actually not that interested in letting a thousand nerds bloom. She’s interested in suppressing a certain subculture because of her contention that it leads to violence, rape and murder. That subculture is what she regards as “toxic masculinity”:

This agenda leads her to see a school shooting thus:

Her op-ed is, I’d say, in this broader context, a little disingenuous. In one version of her argument, gamer culture is simply dying out as it is supplanted and complemented by a new diversity. On the other hand:

Women are being driven out, they’re being driven offline; this isn’t just in gaming, this is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries.

So which is it: women are being drummed out of games and male-dominated industries (on Democracy Now)? Or are they so triumphant that even her mom is playing games now? In the NYT, she’s proclaiming a great, diverse future for games and gamers; in her Twitter feed, she clearly wants to see this very male subculture “addressed” as a matter of urgency.

I’m not pointing this out to defend the gamergaters. After reading all your emails, and diving further into the virtual vortex of madness that has come to define this eruption, I’ve been convinced I’ve been a little too even-handed in sympathizing with the plight of the angry white nerd. I can’t see a world in which their version of gamer culture is truly under threat. But Sarkeesian clearly wishes it were:

Underlying this belief in the importance of changing other people’s subculture is an argument. For Sarkeesian, it seems that all differences between men and women, or between masculine or feminine identities, are entirely a function of culture, and can only be understood within a paradigm of patriarchy. All I can say is that I disagree. Of course culture matters a lot – but it doesn’t go all the way down. To deny the power of testosterone, or the stark difference it makes in all species on planet earth, can therefore lead you to misread what can and cannot be changed. My view is that there are certain aspects of testosterone that will always make men and male culture different: it’s gonna be inherently more aggressive, more physical, and more sexual in an objectifying way, and more promiscuous. The task of a mature society is not to abolish this difference (which is impossible), but to harness it to more constructive ends.

And so , in advanced Western cultures, we divert male physical aggression and in-group loyalty away from militias and gang warfare toward the spectacle of the NFL or professional wrestling or recreational hunting; we create a culture of sports that can channel a lot of what men want to do in peaceful and socially integrative ways; we allow safe spaces for this kind of culture to exist – and that includes things like violent video games and objectifying porn. And we attempt to offer a model of masculinity that can coopt the pride and ego of a testosteroned will to power into something more gentle. We praise good fathers and diligent husbands.

What a mature society does not seek to do is expunge human nature itself. All such projects backfire, or result in new forms of oppression. And there is a tendency – certainly in Sarkeesian’s work – to problematize maleness itself, to seek to expunge it, to remove all differences between the sexes for the sake of justice and fairness. Her defense will be that she is not attacking men as such – just a “toxic culture of masculinity.” And yet her prose often slips into generalizations that would never be tolerated if used against another group; and it’s hard to see what characteristics of maleness she believes are innate or at least unchangeable.

What worries me in this new era of “checking your privilege” is that men may be punished merely for being men. When liberals actually defend the conviction of the innocent in a murky world of “affirmative consent” pour décourager les autres, you see exactly where this can lead. And my concern is not just that it will not work, but that it may well provoke a backlash that compounds the problem. And that backlash, in turn, will only encourage well-intentioned people to double down on the project.

A little moderation can go a long way. And a little realism even further. Leave Kenny McCormick alone.

The Best Of The Dish This Weekend

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani

And you thought I was exaggerating about the rise and rise of sponsored content:

As The Times’ readership goes mobile, the publication will phase out display ads in favor of native advertising. “Display has real value, but it feels transitional, specifically when you’re talking about a smartphone-centric world. Advertisements are going to have to be in-stream and intrinsically attractive enough to engage readers,” New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said.

It’s worth comparing that to an interview former NYT executive editor Jill Abramson gave only a year or so ago:

In a Q&A with Wired editor in chief Scott Dadich, Abramson expressed reservations about sponsored content. “What I worry about is … leaving confusion in readers’ minds about where the content comes from, and purposefully making advertising look like a news story,” she said. “I think that some of what is being done with native advertising does confuse a little too much.”

Thompson’s euphemism for deceiving readers? Advertising has to be “in-stream.”

Seven picks from the weekend Dish: why women belong on Mars – because they’re much more cost-effective as astronauts; the extremely low cost-effectiveness of art school, if you want to be a working artist; vice-presidents being mauled by octopi; the poignant beauty of shelter dogs minutes before they are euthanized; and Walker Percy on why depression makes sense.

Three videos: when environmentalists shit in the woods; a great yo mama sketch; and the sublime beauty of Matisse’s chapel.

Plus: John Gray on evil;  and Isaiah Berlin on the problem with idealism.

The most popular post of the weekend was The End Of Gamer Culture?, followed by The Right’s Lingering Palin Problem. One reader adds to the discussion about gamer culture, feminism, and the culture of the straight white male:

As a white straight guy, let me just say: Thank you. And not because “my people” deserve anybody’s pity — as Louis CK points out, it’s a damn good stroke of luck to be born a white straight male, as it spares us from the scourge of racism, homophobia and sexism. And let’s acknowledge that if someone is committing racism, homophobia and sexism, it’s usually a white straight male. Along with most mass shootings, school shootings and acts of domestic terrorism. Most of the Gamergate dudes are straight white males, too.

But here’s a theory I can offer from the safety of anonymity: The gains of social progressivism generally and feminism specifically have had a polarizing effect on straight white male culture.

Some of us — myself included — have adopted extreme caution where it concerns expressing sexuality. Because we want to be polite and respectful and most definitely NOT creepy. Long before Yes Means Yes, social mores guided conscientious straight guys to only reveal sexual attraction when the green light was unambiguous — not easy, considering straight women are masters of subtlety. In the meantime, what we’ve been asked to police is a primordial impulse that lies at the very core of our nature. Our conscious mind knows it’s rude to check out a girl’s butt. Our unconscious mind says, “What is ‘rude?'”

Now listen, this isn’t the History’s Greatest Injustice. I’m just saying that repressing one’s natural impulses is tough. So we’re trying, and we’re not always succeeding. Still it’s a helluva lot better to be a woman now than it was 15 years ago, much less 50 years ago, and at least some of the credit goes to straight guys who are willing themselves to be less aggressive and less lecherous than their father’s generation. But in doing so, we are necessarily changing part of our culture; nobody even says “metrosexual” anymore because it describes most every straight guy in a city of more than 100,000.

Then there’s the straight guys at the other end of the spectrum. They’ve reacted not with introspection but with fear and rage. For them, feminism is an adult form of bullying, and there are all sorts of vocabulary rules… and they’ve retreated to a kind of online cultural ghetto, where none of the rules apply. These guys begin to feel so alienated by society, they can justify not just misogyny but acts of extreme violence against the women  they’re attracted to — and all women, for that matter.

Obviously, I’m not saying feminism is at fault. Certainly, the positive effects of the movement far outweigh the negative. But I think we have to acknowledge some areas where it can overreach and call on feminists to communicate to straight men in a more nuanced way, not because we deserve their consideration, necessarily, but because being more inclusive will make their movement less intimidating, less polarizing and much more effective when it comes to achieving their goals of empowerment.

See you in the morning.

(Photo: A Kurdish refugee boy from the Syrian town of Kobani hugs his brother in a camp in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province on October 25, 2014. The Syrian town of Kobani has again seen fierce fighting between Islamic State and Syrian Kurdish forces. Since mid-September, more than 200,000 people from Kobani have fled into Turkey. By Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images.)

The End Of Gamer Culture? Ctd

Just a short note because the last sentence in the post is being misunderstood, which is my fault, because I wrote it. Here’s the context:

That piece was not so much “covering the phenomenon” as viciously skewing it. And yes, its tone smacked of bullying and dismissal. When you’re telling people they don’t even deserve to be in a debate, and associate them with segregationists and every other entity good liberals have been taught to despise, “dismissive” is the least of it.

Look: whatever case the gamergate peeps have, they have botched it with their tactics. Those tactics have been repellent in every sense of the word. But bullying has occurred on both sides, and only one side was bullied before.

The two sides I am describing are the journalists whose work I was just criticizing and the gamergate supporters. Not the whole two sides of gamer culture; not men and women; just the journalists I’ve been citing, and the people they’ve been lambasting.

The End Of Gamer Culture?

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Many readers have warned me not to dip a toe into the gamergate debate, which, so far, we’ve been covering through aggregation and reader-input. And I’m not going to dive headlong into an extremely complex series of events, which have generated huge amounts of intense emotion on all sides, in a gamer culture which Dish readers know far, far better than I. But part of my job is to write and think about burning current web discussions – and add maybe two cents, even as an outsider.

So let me make a few limited points. The tactics of harassment, threats of violence, foul misogyny, and stalking have absolutely no legitimate place in any discourse. Having read about what has happened to several women, who have merely dared to exercise their First Amendment rights, I can only say it’s been one of those rare stories that still has the capacity to shock me. I know it isn’t fair to tarnish an entire tendency with this kind of extremism, but the fact that this tactic seemed to be the first thing that some gamergate advocates deployed should send off some red flashing lights as to the culture it is defending.

Second, there’s a missing piece of logic, so far as I have managed to discern, in the gamergate campaign. The argument seems to be that some feminists are attempting to police or control a hyper-male culture of violence, speed, competition and boobage. And in so far as that might be the case, my sympathies do indeed lie with the gamers. The creeping misandry in a lot of current debates – see “Affirmative Consent” and “Check Your Privilege” – and the easy prejudices that define white and male and young as suspect identities (because sexism!) rightly offend many men (and women).

There’s an atmosphere in which it has somehow become problematic to have a classic white, straight male identity, and a lot that goes with it. I’m not really a part of that general culture – indifferent to boobage, as I am, and bored by violence. But I don’t see why it cannot have a place in the world. I believe in the flourishing of all sorts of cultures and subcultures and have long been repulsed by the nannies and busybodies who want to police them – whether from the social right or the feminist left.

But – and here’s where the logic escapes me – if the core gamers really do dominate the market for these games, why do they think the market will stop catering to them? The great (and not-so-great) thing about markets is that they are indifferent to content as such. If “hardcore gamers” skew 7 -1 male, and if corporations want to make lots of money, then this strain of the culture is hardly under threat. It may be supplemented by lots of other, newer varieties, but it won’t die. Will it be diluted? Almost certainly. Does that feel like an assault for a group of people whose identity is deeply bound up in this culture? Absolutely. Is it something anyone should really do anything about? Nah. Let a thousand variety of nerds and post-nerds bloom. And leave Kenny McCormick alone. This doesn’t have to be zero-sum.

The analogy a reader made this morning between the end of gamer culture and the end of gay culture was really helpful to me. I’ve written and blogged a lot about the end of gay culture; and I’ve always tried to present both sides of the argument. Yes, I wouldn’t trade our freedom for the closeted, marginalized past; at the same time, it’s impossible not to feel some regret at the close-knit, marginalized, very distinctive solidarity gays have lost as a group, and some affection for a world, built defiantly to defend itself against outsiders, that is dissipating before our eyes and on our apps. I’m for integration and against identity politics. But do I miss what, say, leather bars once were – and feel very conflicted now that bachelorette parties come and go as they please in some of them? Do I harbor some traces of resentment at those who treat gay culture as some kind of straight playground, or at the mob of straight folks who will swamp any gay presence at next week’s once-very gay high heel race in Dupont Circle? Guilty as charged.

And look, many gamers were the bullied in high school; this was their safe space; it was a place they could call home. They now feel it slipping away, and it has unhinged some and disconcerted many, as a lot of mainstream culture has heaped scorn and ridicule on them at the same time. And I’m sorry, but I feel some sympathy here. That sympathy has, alas, been swamped by revulsion at the rhetoric and tactics that have come to define this amorphous movement. I haven’t, to continue the analogy, gone stalking bachelorettes or yelling obscenities at them. I just sigh and move on. But these people do have a point; they have long been ostracized and marginalized; their defensiveness exists for a reason; and, in the last couple of months, they have also been the target of truly out-there dismissals and vitriolic abuse – often from other men, and often from those who were not bullied in high school at all.

Am I wrong to detect in this pile-on another round of bullying of these people, of treating them as scum, of dismissing anything they might have to say? Here are Gawker’s Sam Biddle’s tweets last week:

Just to make sure his point wasn’t lost, he then facetiously tweeted:

This was meant ironically, of course – a debating flourish. But the joke only works when you’re re-visiting those high school wars, only to dismiss the losers of them. It was a piece of condescending ridicule, designed to rub the losers’ faces in their own demise, from a prominent perch. Biddle is not alone. Here’s a now-infamous piece by Leigh Alexander:

‘Game culture’ as we know it is kind of embarrassing — it’s not even culture. It’s buying things, spackling over memes and in-jokes repeatedly, and it’s getting mad on the internet.

It’s young men queuing with plush mushroom hats and backpacks and jutting promo poster rolls. Queuing passionately for hours, at events around the world, to see the things that marketers want them to see. To find out whether they should buy things or not. They don’t know how to dress or behave… “Gamer” isn’t just a dated demographic label that most people increasingly prefer not to use. Gamers are over. That’s why they’re so mad.

These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers — they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours. There is no ‘side’ to be on, there is no ‘debate’ to be had.

This last meme – that these people are not even worthy of a hearing – is pretty endemic among the college-educated cool kids running online media operations. Here’s one Kyle Wagner:

What’s made [gamergate] effective, though, is that it’s exploited the same basic loophole in the system that generations of social reactionaries have: the press’s genuine and deep-seated belief that you gotta hear both sides…. Tomorrow’s Lee Atwater will work through sock puppets on IRC. Tomorrow’s Sister Souljah will get shouted down with rape threats. Tomorrow’s Tipper Gore will make an inexplicably popular YouTube video. Tomorrow’s Willie Horton ad will be an image macro, tomorrow’s Borking a doxing, tomorrow’s Moral Majority a loose coalition of DoSers and robo-petitioners and scat-GIF trolls—all of them working feverishly in service of the old idea that nothing should ever really change.

This is Deadspin’s spin on this. It’s pure vitriol, resting on an unspoken, hard left view of culture that is more disturbing because it presents itself as snark and analysis, rather than tired, easy agit-prop. It’s a classic piece that asks all the cool kids today to smear and dismiss all the bullied of yesterday – and give them one last shove into the locker. Gawker’s Joel Johnson actually cites the piece thus:

Gawker Media has been covering the often-confounding phenomenon of Gamergate in detail, and will keep on covering it.

That piece was not so much “covering the phenomenon” as viciously skewing it. And yes, its tone smacked of bullying and dismissal. When you’re telling people they don’t even deserve to be in a debate, and associate them with segregationists and every other entity good liberals have been taught to despise, “dismissive” is the least of it.

Look: whatever case the gamergate peeps have, they have botched it with their tactics. Those tactics have been repellent in every sense of the word. But bullying has occurred on both sides, and only one side was bullied before.

From my update, regarding that last sentence:

The two sides I am describing are the journalists whose work I was just criticizing and the gamergate supporters. Not the whole two sides of gamer culture; not men and women; just the journalists I’ve been citing, and the people they’ve been lambasting.

“Being A Nerd Is Not Supposed To Be A Good Thing” Ctd

The owner of the above title-quote follows up:

Hey, I’m the guy who wrote the thing that pissed a bunch of women off. In my defense, I didn’t mean to suggest that women CAN’T be nerds, and when I said I tend to be skeptical of the idea, I actually meant it as a compliment. I understand the over-reaction, as the misogynistic argument many people seem to think I’m making (that only men can be nerds and women must be faking) is far too common, and largely a translation of male nerd insecurity. Then again, if they weren’t insecure, they probably wouldn’t be nerds. I tend to assume women are more confident, well adjusted, and psychologically centered – all things nerds lack in the real world, and only claim when we create our own insular ones.

Again, the point is that being a nerd isn’t just about what one likes or even being ostracized for liking it, but about how one reacts to that ostracism. There are many healthy ways of doing this, either by attempting to acclimate to the group or attempting to forge one’s own identity independent of it. Recoiling into your own obsession until it consumes you to the point where you can’t fit into normal society even if you wanted to (i.e. devolving from an enthusiast into a nerd) isn’t one of them. Most of the women I’ve known in my life, even the avid D&D players and Whovians, were better than that. They can divorce their identity from their passions when the need arises. Being a nerd means you can’t.

A few others defend that reader:

It’s a shame to see people so adamantly reject an opportunity to practice some empathy. Not that there should be empathy for people making death threats, but they (the threateners) are enabled by people who might actually have some lived experience that is worth listening to. There is a market for what Gamergate is selling and we should be asking why.

Look, girl nerds didn’t have it great. But I’m going to venture a guess that they weren’t physically abused over it to the extent that boy nerds were.

The stereotypical jokes – pantsings, wedgies, being chased home by the jocks, getting your stuff stolen, all because you didn’t ascribe to a specific identify type – these things were real, Andrew. Boy nerds actually got the shit kicked out of them for what they liked and watched. I remember it decades later.

Does that mean it’s ok to treat Sarkesian the way she’s being treated? It’s a fucking insult to feminism to suggest your reader said it was, not to mention an insult to intellectual honesty and honest discussion.

Here you have a reader who says, “Hey, you know what? Gender roles were a problem for me too. And they really messed up a lot of people like me, and this Gamergate business is an outgrowth of how we were marginalized, and some people see it as a harmful extension – but an extension nonetheless – of the community that formed out of getting beat the fuck up for liking Star Trek.” And how do people respond? By saying that experience isn’t legitimate.

Please. Haven’t we told enough people that their experiences aren’t worthy of being listened to already? I mean, for fuck’s sake.

Another is roughly on the same page:

I think that boy nerdiness vs girl nerdiness comes down to the differences between systemic male and female bullying.  Boy bullying starts younger because policing gender roles is so critical to male identity.  Many boys, once they identify as nerds, seek to claim the label for their own acceptance and delayed revenge of being ‘smarter’ than the other boys. Looking around they don’t see girls with the same outlook, instead seeing girls who mostly run with groups of other girls and who wouldn’t risk their social capital on an outcast.  Boys suffer much cruelty from both genders and physical abuse from other boys at this age.

Girls, meanwhile, act nasty toward each other later.  Middle school becomes a grapple for power for girls that simply doesn’t exist in the same way for boys whose roles are much the same as earlier.  Girls will take lifelong friends and make them into enemies in middle high.  It is at this point that girl nerds become an identity (not that they weren’t nerds before, just that they begin to identify that way).  Meanwhile, boy nerds who have put up with this ostracism for long enough, see these girls as trying to invade and claim the identity they have had and have had to live with for years.  Plus, constant peer rejection especially from girls has led them to be suspicious of all outsiders as possible turncoats.

Personally, I think the girls have it harder because their rejection is sudden and senseless.  But from the boys’ perspective, the girls have always been complicit in their ongoing rejection and, since cold revenge was always their only solace, they take sick delight in the rejections that they can issue.

I say all of this as a man who thought this way many times growing up and who still must stifle his superiority impulses, especially over women.  It seems to me, though, that the solution is to remove the bullying of all stripes and at all levels of childhood.  Hard work, but if there had not been complicit adults in my childhood persecution, I wonder if it would have been so damaging.

Read the whole discussion on Gamergate and nerdom more generally here.

“Being A Nerd Is Not Supposed To Be A Good Thing” Ctd

A reader writes, “I’m surprised no one has recommended the film Zero Charisma to the discussion – here’s the trailer”:

Yet another reader responds to this nerd’s cri de coeur:

I am nerdy, but not a nerd. Let me explain. I am nerdy because I have a Joker bobble heads on my desk, I have Final Fantasy VI on my phone and a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man keychain. But I’m also an attorney, a theater major, a lover of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a Dish Subscriber. I am nerdy because I am fluent in Batman and love video games. But I am not a nerd, because if you are not interested in those things, I am capable (nay, enjoy) discussing other things. Current events, dramas, poetry, even baseball. In short, I am more than the things I love. nerdy things does not make one a nerd. A nerd is a person who can only view life through the things they are obsessed over. It doesn’t matter how they got there, what matters is their inability to see their own tunnel-vision.  Therefore, yes, there are sports nerds, political junkie nerds, historical accuracy nerds. They’re everywhere, and they want what they want on their own terms. Alas. Here’s a guy who said it better – Robert Ebert on Revenge of the Nerds II:

These aren’t nerds. They’re a bunch of interesting guys, and that’s the problem with “Revenge of the Nerds II.” The movie doesn’t have the nerve to be about real nerds. It unnamed (11)hedges its bets. A nerd is not a nerd because he understands computers and wears a plastic pen protector in his shirt pocket. A nerd is a nerd because he brings a special lack of elegance to life. An absence of style. An inability to notice the feelings of other people. A nerd is a nerd from the inside out, which is something the nerds who made this movie will never understand.

Another reader:

Holy shit. As problematic as the actual content of what this reader wrote is, I find it absolutely spot on as an explanation for why I drifted away from all those stereotypical subcultural things that nerds are into: comic books, video games, sci-fi/fantasy, etc. Loved them as a shy and awkward kid. Learned how to deal with others, be sociable, talk to girls, and get laid when I was about 16. And it wasn’t like I didn’t still enjoy those things. No, it was that it seemed everyone else who enjoyed them was, as your reader writes, in some various stage of arrested development, and pretty insufferable to be around (e.g. “because we’re smarter than the idiots who wouldn’t let us in”). This was two decades ago: I kind of wish the mainstreaming of the things I like had happened back then, because then I could have continued to enjoy them without having to deal with the basement dwellers.

Several, less churlish readers sound off:

Hi Chris, Andrew, and team! I’ve been reading the Dish on and off for more than 10 years, and this is the first topic I’ve ever felt inspired to write in about. Forgive me if this is long, but I feel that a lot of people have been led astray by Gamergate.

First, thank you for posting Jesse Singal’s Reddit letter. It clarified a lot of things for me.  Another truly excellent article that clarifies the fog that is GamerGate is by Katherine Cross. Second, I have a response to your reader who wrote:

I went home and played videogames because I couldn’t play sports and didn’t have the competitive instinct, but eventually the jocks followed me home, demanding sports games and fighting games and soon the market shifted to cater to them, leaving me to find another thing. Then it was comics, and then the dopes followed me home again and demanded lowest common denominator action nonsense with the names of the things I liked slapped onto them. This is the plight of the nerds; we have to listen to media morons talk about how mainstream being a nerd is as what we love, what we devote our lives to, is co-opted by the very people who we sought escape from through our eclectic obsessions.

I’ve liked “nerdy things” since I was a kid who collected comics, played D&D, read fantasy and sci-fi, had encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Trek and Star Wars universes.  I don’t know if that makes me a nerd.  I know I definitely had my moments of feeling socially outcast when I was a kid who liked to make manga drawings in class. Regardless, I disagree with your reader’s chronology of the special worlds that belonged to nerds only. Some of these things have never been nerd only.  I’m definitely not a hardcore gamer. But even what little I know of games shows your previous letter-writer is wrong about jocks forcing the industry to cater to them by producing “sports and fighting games”. Wikipedia clearly shows that video games have been featured sports in some form or other since the very beginning.  (Um, what is Pong?? or Atari Olympics (1977)?)  American football was all the rage on NES starting in 1989 with Tecmo BowlStreet Fighter II is one of the most popular games of all time (fighting or otherwise). It came out in 1991.  Did the jock takeover happen then? No. The majority of nerds I knew loved Street Fighter.  And the ones who didn’t were partisans of other fighting games like Mortal Kombat. Now let’s talk comics.  I’ve been buying comics for decades. I can tell you from both personal experience and some reading about the history of the industry, comics have always been a mass medium.  For a long time, it was decidedly not a niche for nerds only.  From the 1930s to the 1960s, they were read by boys and girls, nerds, jocks, and everyone in-between.  That’s just in the US.  Obviously, comics are still popular across all demographics today in Japan. Sure, comics became less of a universal medium in the US as other forms of popular entertainment became important (esp. TV and rock music in the 1950s and 60s), but it’s wrong to think that somehow the jocks decided to only invade comics sometime in the ’80s or ’90s or 2000s.  It was the adult and teenage male nerds in the 1980s who celebrated the rise of the grim, dark, revisionist comics of the 80s (exemplified by The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and almost everything by Frank Miller in this period). Jocks didn’t do this.  Nerds did. And we loved it (except when we are arguing about it ;) ).  And we kept collecting – before, during, and after the comics bubble burst in the early ’90s. This desire to keep the world of comics, games, or other nerd-dom free of politics shows no sense of history and a lack of self-awareness.

Another points to more history:

Here is a very interesting factoid that should enliven the debate: while in the late ’60s role-playing games and D&D were the province of males, Star Trek fandom was essentially a female endeavor. All the early fanzines, the fan fiction, the early conventions and the devotion to the universe were driven by female fans. It is well known in the world of fandom that ladies are those who make their own gear and costumes. Very few guys do (except Adam Savage, of course). Guys buy stuff. That is also why most of the advertising is directed at boys – it is well known that “girls don’t buy the fuckin’ toys” and therefore nerd programming for women is of little use to the entertainment industry. A recent Star Trek fan survey done by an anthropologist showed that 57% of fans are female. On the role of female fans, I recommend reading Prof. Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers. If you set aside the usual comp-lit/de Certeau/post-structuralist blah blah, it’s a fascinating book that destroys the myth of the nerd as a young man (with Spock ears). Early fandom was female and queer.

Speaking of the gays, another reader:

Like nerd culture, gay culture has recently seen a great deal of upheaval, going from an ostracized and marginalized fringe to a wide acceptance from the mainstream that happened in a relatively short period of time.  I’ve long felt these two groups shared some similarities in their shunting from normal society, and now they are in similar positions in their cultural evolution.  There are some parallels beyond the sudden co-opting by the masses. Take the comic-book/gaming shop as an analog for a gay bar.  Pre-internet, the back rooms of comic shops were the first place that many nerds first found their like-minded compatriots after a lifetime of ridicule and ostracism from the mainstream.  Also, the importance of these places are being diminished by both the Internet becoming the de facto hangout for these groups, their acceptance in less specialized areas of society, and less persecution in general, which made the need for strength-in-numbers support less of an issue. The “self-identified” nerd you posted rings just the same as the “gay kids today have no idea how hard it was” types.  I also self-identify as a nerd, and have done so for 30-plus years, so I know all about the dark days.  However, I choose to embrace this influx of interest rather than try to maintain an air of purity that is as artificial as calling someone a “fake” geek.  Genuinity of someone’s “Geek Cred” is an arbitrary and pointless exercise that will differ radically from person to person based on whatever they consider to be a “real nerd” and is a fallacy both old and well known to many as “No True Scotsman”. Young, old; man, woman; newbie, vet. Everyone brings something to the nerd table.  Those who are constantly trying to keep the gates closed are having trouble adapting.  They aren’t trying to contribute or preserve the culture, they are trying to devolve it.  The environment just isn’t the same, and it is not going to go back.  Thank God.

Follow the whole discussion on Gamergate and nerdom more generally here.

The Best Of The Dish Today

For late-breaking Dish coverage of the first confirmed case of Ebola in New York, follow the updates compiled by Bodenner below. For continued coverage of Gamergate, here’s some perspective from Christina Hoff Sommers:

God, I love Christina. More on why I find myself increasingly on the side of the much-despised gamers tomorrow.

Meanwhile, more absurdity from Amanda Taub over yesterday’s shooting spree in Ottawa:

Reports imply that because Zehaf-Bibeau was Muslim, jihad is the likely motivation for his attack. But at this stage, without any actual evidence, it makes no more sense to come to that conclusion than it would to assume that he was motivated by Quebecois separatism, just because he was from Quebec. At this point, our focus on the Ottawa shooter’s religion says more about our own fears than it does about anything to do with Islamist terrorism.

A Canadian reader spat out his coffee:

Taub repeatedly refers to him as an (alleged) Muslim even though Canada’s Globe and Mail confirmed his conversion with his Imam, his best friend, his mother and the RCMP within 5 hours of the shooting. Then she implies that there is no real reason to believe in a connection between Islam and the attack even though Canada’s parliament just voted to attack ISIS and two other soldiers were run down by a separate Islamic extremist last week

But the best part, the part that makes this one of the worst articles of the year coming from a credible news source, is when she writes the following about the 1979 shooting at Quebec’s national assembly: “If we applied the same logic to people from Quebec that we apply to Muslims, then today we would see media reports suggesting that their shared Quebecois heritage likely explains this attack.”

Actually, if we applied the same logic to Muslims that we applied to people from Quebec, our prime minister would invoke the War Powers Act, immediately declare martial law in the affected province and round up and arrest any and all suspected sympathizers with the attackers.

Look: it may well turn out Zehaf-Bibeau was mentally ill and Islam got into his muddled head. But he was already on a list as a possible flight risk to ISIS. And the reflexive denial of the salience of a warped version of Islam in countless recent shootings strikes me as pure p.c. posturing. Along with Ezra’s recent capitulation to the “affirmative consent” machine – a few hangings of a few men will suffice for them all to get the message! – the dreary Vox tropes against “Islamophobia” depress the hell out of me. For a saner review of the facts, check out our post here.

Today was Palin day on the Dish! Feels like old times. My response to the right’s jerking knee in defense of the indefensible is here; my fisking of Bristol’s latest self-serving victimology is here. Our Face of the Day was the Canadian Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms – don’t miss the video of him getting a standing ovation entering the House of Commons here. It gave me a lump in my throat. And then some.

Plus: our book club discussion of Sam Harris’ negation of the “self” is here (and your collective mind never disappoints) and an exploration of the changing face of nerdom is here (ditto).

dish-beerMany of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here.  You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 26 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here. Dish t-shirts are for sale here, including the new “Know Dope” shirts, which are detailed here.

See you in the morning.

(Photo from a Dish reader at Oktoberfest in Stuttgart)

Chart Of The Day

Pew finds that men and women experience different sorts of online harassment:

Online Harassment

Jake Swearingen sees how “men, on the whole, report higher rates of less severe types of harassment (with the exception of physical threats), while women are more likely to be the focus of the two most frightening forms of it: sexual harassment and stalking.” Elise Hu connects the Pew survey to Gamergate:

The Pew research supports the notion that women are less welcome in the world of online gaming. Survey respondents, who were both men and women, were asked about a series of online platforms — social networks and online commenting forums, for example — and whether they thought those platforms were more welcoming to women, equally welcome to both sexes or more welcoming toward men. The findings show that while most online environments are viewed as equally welcoming, gaming is not. “The starkest results were for online gaming,” the researchers write, where 44 percent of respondents said the platform was more welcoming to men.

But Amanda Hess acknowledges the limits of Pew’s survey:

Pew asked respondents to elaborate on their experiences with harassment, and the resulting collection of anonymous accounts speaks to the difficulty of arriving at a shared definition of what “harassment” even is.

One respondent said that they were “told that someone should rape me which was horrific since it’s one of the things I fear most”; another “was called a racist on a blog for criticizing administration lies.” One said that a “man I went to high school with was sending me inappropriate photos and comments of a sexual nature”; another experienced “Chiding … for their likes and dislikes in things such as sports, cars, athletes, colleges football teams, things of that nature.” One was “told that if I stopped communicating with this man he would find me and rape me”; another reported that “any feminist who doesn’t already know me has been quick to characterize me as a privileged, misogynistic rape apologist.”

Is being called a rape apologist the same as being threated with rape? No, but it’s all harassment here. Whatever it is, it affects women and men differently; the study found that 38 percent of harassed women said their most recent experience with harassment was “extremely or very upsetting,” compared with 17 percent of harassed men. …

This is not to say that we know that women have it worse on the Internet. It’s to say that, so far, we just don’t know. What the Pew study does show is that the Internet is producing a lot of garbage, and men and women are served different flavors. Understanding exactly how that works will require better definitions and more dedicated study.

Timothy B. Lee recently interviewed legal scholar Danielle Citron, who suggests that things have gotten better:

TBL: You’ve been writing about this issue [of online harassment] since 2009. How do you see public attitudes shifting on this issue since you started?

DC: It’s been amazing, I have to say. I’m still not totally sold on the idea that we all agree this stuff is bad. But social attitudes have really shifted in the last two years. I gave a presentation at Yale in early 2008 about the problem of cybermobs and online harassment, and at the time the pushback to do anything about this was so profound. It was like “look, don’t touch the internet, you’re going to break it. Regulating it is going to cause more problems than good.” In the last couple of years, this phenomenon of revenge porn has brought alive the harm — maybe just because people can envision people they care about experiencing it.