Reading response to A Conspiracy of Fishes, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying About #GamerGate and Embrace Hegemonic Masculinity, by Shira Chess and Adrienne Shaw, which was published by the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media in 2015.

Recently, the margins between gaming and feminism have become increasingly contentious (Salter & Blodgett, 2012). This article addresses a cultural moment where masculine gaming culture became aware of and began responding to feminist game scholars by analyzing GamerGate conspiracy documents and social media discussions related to the now infamous “DiGRA fishbowl.” Worries about the opacity of academic practices and a disparaging of feminist knowledge-making practices dominate these documents. By looking at these discussions and practices through the lens of conspiracy theories (Fenster, 2008;Hofstadter, 1952) and counterknowledge (Fiske, 1994) we consider the broader meaning of GamerGate’s attention to academia.

Chess and Shaw provide an account of their experience with the GamerGate movement after a document, the DiGRA Fishbowl Google Doc, from a discussion they organized at the 2014 DiGRA conference became the subject of investigation by people associated with GamerGate (gamergaters). Not only was the document investigated, but it was used by gamergaters as evidence for what they have called a conspiracy within the gaming industry. Gamergaters say the conspiracy exists within the halls of acadamia and is funded by the government. Chess and Shaw discuss the importance of viewing this conspiracy theory as an important cultural moment that expresses how misunderstood academic research is to those outside of academia and how that is a bad thing. The practices, purposes, and framework of academia need to be more transparent. This most certainly does not mean that the actions taken by gamergaters toward women in the gaming industry are condoned in any way. Chess and Shaw suggest that work must be done to make sense of the conspiracy theory – why it exists, why it grew, what feeds the misunderstanding.

Certainly, political desire is integral to the GamerGate conspiracy. Rapid changes to a formerly more stable video game industry are bound to upset those who are emotionally and financially invested in it. Yet, mapping academia to this desire is more complicated. The desire is linked to something taken away—something that once was and that seems to link back to academic opacity. For instance, one blogger linking to one of Sargon of Akkad’s video uses Lara Croft from Tomb Raider as evidence of the problem. Showing progression images of different versions of Lara Croft posing the question, “does anyone out there know what happened to the sexy Lara Croft?” (Parriah Pottymouth, 2014). Images in the progression show the character’s transformation from less to more clothing, and from an unrealistic hourglass figure to a more normative woman’s body type. The final picture shows the action archeologist dirty and looking contextually suitable in clothing an archeologist/adventurer might wear. The implication seems to be that those of us in academia have directly influenced a character held dearly in hardcore gaming culture, making her less attractive. … while sometimes a player might feel cooperatively aligned with industry needs, other times the feel that game design might be pushed at them in undesirable ways. Perhaps, embedded in this fear is that all games will turn to the more sanguine and desexualized modes of play that have been marketed to women or gender neutral audiences, as described by Chess (2012).

I have been horrified reading about, hearing about, and seeing online what happens to the women targeted by GamerGate. Rape and death threats are no laughing matter. I cannot imagine what any justification for such actions would be. I do agree that there is an opportunity to examine how academic research is viewed to those outside of academia and it is clearly an important thing to examine. Misunderstandings can lead to fear and fear can lead to violence.

  • How to we break down barriers that lead to misunderstanding?
  • What changes in the academic research and publication process would be beneficial?
  • How do we best avoid funding bias?
  • How do we keep research going in areas that have been attacked, where authors have been recipients of violent threats? What is the effect on researchers? How much reluctance is there to publicly release research and thoughts on potentially volatile subjects?

Chess, S., & Shaw, A. (2015). A conspiracy of fishes, or, how we learned to stop worrying about #GamerGate and embrace hegemonic masculinity. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 59(1), 208-220.
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