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Women in Gaming: A Q&A with Frank Lee on GamerGate

January 12, 2015

A controversy which bloomed on the internet, Gamergate has been accused of promoting misogyny within the industry and culture of video games.

In the latter half of 2014, a controversy surfaced that came to be known as GamerGate (specifically, #Gamergate online).

Initially revolving around what some believed were suspect positive reviews of a video game independently developed by a woman, the dispute soon became polarized and volatile.

GamerGate is viewed by its proponents as a serious critique of ethics in video game journalism while opponents point to threats of violence against prominent female voices and industry heads as overwhelming evidence of misogyny rooted in parts of the video game industry and culture.

As a professor who teaches video game design and heads the Entrepreneurial Game Studio at Drexel, Frank Lee has a unique vantage point on the video game industry and the culture surrounding it. Lee spoke with DrexelNow about GamerGate and the positives and negatives of gaming culture.  

  • In your own words, describe what you believe GamerGate to be.

 GamerGate started following the breakdown of a relationship between Eron Gjoni and his ex, an indie game developer Zoe Quinn, that became very public on the internet after he posted a long blog entry on the break-up.  The part of the dispute that some people seized on was his assertion that good reviews for Quinn’s game, “Depression Quest,” were not deserved. The #GamerGate conversation started as a discussion regarding journalism ethics or the lack thereof in gaming journalism. Depending on whom you talk to, it is either a movement trying to shed light on media bias in the gaming industry, or it has devolved into a torrent of misogyny and sexism against women in the gaming community.

 As for what I believe GamerGate to be now is this: It may have started out as (perhaps) some legitimate concerns about journalism ethics in games, but what it has become is vitriol mostly against women in gaming as game journalists, game designers, gamers and, basically, against women in general. 

  • Do you consider it a movement or is it something else, in your estimation?

 Well, it depends on your definition of movement. What I see is that whatever concerns it began with, it seems mostly now dominated by reactive misogyny, or at least that is what is mostly making it to the news: bomb/death threats to universities, individuals, etc.

  • There’ve been arguments lately that the “gamer” identifier doesn’t apply anymore, that the demographic for video games is too diverse to fall under such a tag. Do you think that’s accurate?

 Yes, but it has always been diverse. People have a narrow and mistaken view of simply equating gaming with video games. Video games are simply current instantiation of games that people have played for forever. Games also include board games, physical games (e.g. hide and seek, tag, etc.) and everything in between. In that sense, people have always played games and all types of people have always played games: young, old, men, women, etc.

  • As a person involved in teaching students about video games and their design, has the recent attention garnered by GamerGate changed the way you approach the instruction in your classes?

 No, not really, in that one of my passions as a game academic is to try to bring more women into the video game industry. It only highlighted for me how important that is. I think if we have more diversity in the video game industry, the silly stuff like GamerGate will be taken care of automatically.

  • Do you have many female students in your game design classes? Why do you think that is, either way? 

There are some, but it's not 50/50. I think game classes suffer the same way as STEM classes in general. That is, many girls seem to get turned off or lose interest in STEM, specifically technology, pretty early on, perhaps middle school or high school, and that carries through in the majors they select in college and fields they go into. I am hoping to change that.

  • What can be done to promote more women and their better reception in the gaming industry?

There’s only one true solution: Get more women in the game industry and change will follow.

  • Do you think the issues women face in gaming are similar to what people who don’t fall under the straight, white male identity face? Can these issues also be remedied with more participation in the games industry by individuals in these demographics?

I think the issues women face in the heavily male-dominated game industry is parallel to what women face in the heavily male-dominated tech industry, (e.g. lack of mentors, glass ceiling, harassment, etc.).

But why I feel so strongly about getting more women and other underrepresented groups into the industry that is perhaps unique to the game industry is that I feel like the more diverse people we have working in the game industry (women, minorities, LGBT, etc), the more we will have interesting and diverse games. Both in the tech and the game industry (a subfield of the tech industry) I think having more women and other underrepresented groups in the field will go a long way to solving a lot of these problems.

  • Indie games experienced a boon in recent years thanks to the Internet and services like Steam or Do you think having independent outlets like that help promote diversity?

I'm not sure if it helps, but it certainly doesn't hurt. I guess it can only help in allowing independent and even individual developers to distribute their work. I would include mobile platforms here as well. But, the core issue of getting more women in the game industry isn't really solved by this.

  • Is there a specific trend (game-type, character-type, story lines, mechanics) that you see out there now that is opening up video games to a wider audience than the white male population traditionally labeled as “gamers?”

If I have to pick one (or few), I think mobile and social games have done a lot to bring more diverse people to gaming. Nintendo Wii also probably did a lot to bring in older people to gaming as well.

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