Blog 5

Blog assignment posts

Sarkeesian Fears Nothing

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“The video game industry caters to a straight, white, male demographic,” said Anita Sarkeesian, the keynote speaker of the 2014 Digital Ethics and Policy Symposium. Ms Sarkeesian touched on the topic of what it means to be a gamer and what the demographic of gamers looks like; however, the portion that most stuck me was the amount of abuse and lash back she has received through her commentary on the video gaming industry. Gaming has changed over time. What started out as a way to detox for the male testosterone has turned into a universal way to release stress and relax. Anita has noticed that game makers and certain people within the original demographic do not appreciate her YouTube channel dedicated to changing this perceived view point on what gaming is and the view of women players, as well as, female game characters.

Anita speaks through her YouTube channel Feminist Frequency on the issues of women inside and outside of gaming. However she has received more than just hate emails as a response. Vandalism to her Wikipedia page, threats of car bombing, rape, and death, hateful tweets and YouTube videos, and subscriptions to porn sites are just a few of the types of abuse she has suffered from. She has been named the “villain” of the gaming world. And why? Because she feels that women should be perceived appropriately in video games and as gamers, along with trying to help people accept that gaming is for everyone. She went on to talk about how there are conspiracy theories of her bleaching her skin, she has mind controlling powers, and that she makes up all these threats to get attention. Her response to the threats and conspiracies was a shaking of her head and a long laugh. She blows off the thought of being hurt or abused and seems to fear nothing. How? If I was placed in her shoes I would request a security guard to walk me everywhere I go.

Anita fears nothing. She sees these hateful people as whimsical children. Sitting there listening to her make fun and laugh at these hateful, menacing people was intimidating but empowering. She is so passionate and dedicated to what she is talking about that she doesn’t care who tries to hurt or stop her. Her belief in the equality for not just women but everyone to be included and treated fairly by the video gaming industry is so inspiring.   However as someone that agrees with her my fear to stand up and support her frightens me. I could not handle the amount of abuse she goes through daily. Death, rape, and car bomb threats would make me want to go into hiding, not broadcast myself further. Anita’s speech was fantastic, but what truly stuck with me was the fact that this woman seeks equality so much she has no fear when it comes to spreading her message. She is an icon for the future development of video games and opinions that surround them. I can only hope that her work helps equalize the place women have inside and outside of the gaming world.

Defining Digital Ethics

Sara Perry, an anthropologist at York University specializing in prehistoric and visual archeology, talked at the Center for Digital Ethics Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics about the relationship between gender and digital culture. She has had personal experience with online harassment, especially sexual online harassment, and discussed her research on harassment in the professional academic sector. Many times people associate online harassment as being anonymous, where online strangers contact victims and act behind a digital mask. Perry’s experience, and her research on online harassment in the academic sector, contradicted this generalization. Stereotypical faceless perpetrators were replaced by coworkers and colleagues, people Perry saw every day and interacted with frequently. Worse yet, Perry and other victims were at a loss on how to solve these problems due to a lack of tools in stopping/preventing the harassment from continuing as well as absent or aloof institutional support/intervention. Perry’s situation, and the situations of so many others, is extremely relevant due to the increased participation of professional academics in using new media, as encouraged by their respective institutions. This “exposure of their professional identity”, as Perry describes it, leads to greater risks.

The utopian ideal of new media continues to be broken down by cases such as Perry’s. The Internet is an “unruly and wild” place, Perry quoted. This can take away from the element of productivity the Internet has, as much as it encourages it. Where this becomes the most evident to me is in the lack of action taken to stop online harassment, by the victims and by institutions. Perry resolved her online harassment problem by ignoring it, but is this a truly resolved solution for this situation? The world of new media is complex and not completely explored. We are all still learning the ropes, navigating the waters of digital spaces with blind instincts. While we are sailing around, the waters are only expanding. This unbalanced-ness leads organizations to respond to problems, such as online harassment, with an aloofness that can be misinterpreted as apathy. Just as Susan Etlinger, an Industry Analyst with Altimeter Group, recommended to do with big data and Burcu S. Bakioglu, a postdoctorate fellow in New Media at Lawrence University, recommended to do with virtual worlds, a code of ethics needs to be drawn out and defined. Institutions need to make a decision on how to respond to these types of situations rather than drown in their complications. For as much as they encourage the use of new media, institutions need to be responsible and regulate their employees’ misuse.

As much as new media gives power to strangers and the faceless, it also gives power to the familiar and those in close proximity. I used to think the Internet was dangerous because of the walls between the communicators and the under-exposure a user can have. After Perry’s talk, though, I realized the Internet is a dangerous place because of the hyper-exposure it gives users. New media requires a certain amount of trust among users, as you publically post your identity into a digital space accessible to many. This trust can be broken just as easily as it can in the non-virtual world.

 

Dara Byrne, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Theater Arts at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, discussed her research on digital vigilantism. Specifically she discussed the Nigerian email, 419 scam, and the 419 Eater‘s response to such Internet scams. Byrne relates this community to other digilante communities like Anonymous and Perverted Justice. Born from the online fraud that scammed millions of dollars from its victims and rallied together by the lack of swift legal action from the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IC3) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the 419 Eaters created a website promoting the ideas of punishment and justice against Internet scammers. Inside of this community, Byrne found “The Trophy Room”. Designed to display the scammers in positions of punishment, the Trophy Room was littered with compromising photos. The 419 Eaters validated their work as “scamming the scammer”, using the body as a vessel for justice and punishment. Within this community, Byrne also found a social element. Community members can earn points based on the trophies they receive, measured by the level of punishment inflicted on the scammer. Byrne described this as the 419 Eaters taking control over the definition of what is right and wrong in pursuing criminals.

Tapping into the ideas of surveillance and control, the idea of a digilante is a controversial one. The federal government has its own deficiencies in responding quickly and delivering swift justice to criminals, but when is it okay for a third party to step in? For something like the 419 Eaters, their response came from a legitimate need by the victims of the Nigerian email scams. Their message of justice, though, conflicts with a true idea of retribution and melds more along the lines of revenge.

Run by pleasure, the 419 Eaters encourage a selfish idea of justice. In a pornographic sense, the community members get back at scammers by using the same techniques the scammers used against the scam’s victims. They force the scammer to manipulate their physical body or pose in compromising position with photographic evidence of their legitimate identity. They spread fraud further through the online communities, only this time using it for their own personal benefits. Essentially, no one is gaining any ground in stopping the scams from happening. They continue the idea of a scam rather than eradicate it. It is as if they don’t see scamming as the problem, but the fact that they were the ones to get scammed as the issue. This does not prevent any other people from falling victim to the 419 scam or even decrease the spread of the 419 scam. Their intention for justice seems skewed if the ultimate result is not a prevention of the 419 scam. The fire fueling the 419 Eaters community will keep on burning and the trophies will keep stacking higher.

 

John Thomas, the director of editorial content at Groupon and former editor of Playboy.com, spoke on his experiences working as a journalist in the online community. Focusing on what it means to be an editor in the digital world, he discussed online correctional policies, or lack thereof, in major websites. He admitted to witnessing websites post articles without going through the required processes of vetting and fact checking as they would for print articles. He discovered major news sources did not have online correctional policies for their online posts, which reach international audiences. He recognized the access people have in being able to personally review products, whether it’s the latest beauty product or highly regarded literature. He summarizes this by commenting on the existence of a new standard in journalism, where the individual determines the guidelines of online ethics. He brought up the example of the Chicago Tribune’s special section of their website titled “Mugs in the News”, dedicated to posting all mug shots in the news, regardless of conviction status. The Tribune is given free access to these photos, meaning they are posting these shots on their website purely for the commercial reasons of gaining more traffic.

Since when did posting something online make it not worth as much as print? Some people get their news purely from online sources. Others spend a majority of their day flipping through articles in order to pass time. I am one of them, using major news apps like CNN in order to update myself on current events. Twitter feeds provide real time updates to news stories and I can take articles anywhere with me on my mobile device. People from around the world read online articles. The idea that the articles posted online are scrutinized less than print articles and deemed as purely commercial endeavors goes against the basic principle of journalism as a system of education for the masses. News already steers towards emotional responses when they can, favoring the heartstrings stories over factual updates. Something like the Tribune’s “Mugs in the News”, though, incites people to stereotype and maybe even take matters into their own hands like Dara Byrne’s digilantes. News no longer can be a source of trust. Without news, the world goes fairly blind.

The Internet has been there to give people a voice, but when does it start taking others’ away? From something as simple as a young elementary-schooler’s review of War and Peace on Amazon to the complicated mess of GamerGate, the Internet is one large forum and opinion sharer. A person has to weed through fact and opinion, because the Internet is full of both, but the line is often blurred. Opinions are heard more than fact, due to their sting or ridiculous content. Thomas draws attention to the shift of online information, once regarded as factual, towards a more emotion inducing, opinionated posts. The digital world is still a legitimate world and should be treated as such. As it seems with most of the talks given at the Symposium, online correctional policies should be defined, created, and enforced. New media cannot be ignored, but it can be improved.

Anita Sarkeesian at Loyola

8504146027_b575806d52_nBefore attending Anita Sarkeesian’s talk, I felt that it was necessary to fully understand the different ways she has approached the gaming community and how this community has responded to her ideals. The majority of the content she posts deals with the breakdown of female characters for both their appearances and roles in a particular game. She often pulls quotes from the male counterpart that contributed to the creation of a stereotypical female character. The reactions to her voiced observations often have a more negative connotation. For example, she has received numerous death threats despite the fact that she is simply advocating for gender equality among the entertainment realm. Anita approaches the issues critically and it would appear as though people, who frequently play video games, feel like she is “attacking” them. More often than not, the video game consumer’s feel personally criticized by Anita for their participation in the community, thus, creating an element of hate.

It is unsettling to think about how Anita must endure such traumatic threats in order to voice her opinions regarding an issue in gender. After listening to Anita speak, I remembered the HeForShe campaign, which is currently being advocated by Emma Watson. Thus far, it would appear that the campaign has received a lot of positive feedback globally. It is interesting how such similar ideals are receiving polar opposite responses. Does it matter who speaks on the topic of gender inequality or is it just about motivating the awareness of the inequalities present in today’s society?Screen shot 2014-11-10 at 9.53.37 PM

As previously stated, Anita’s methods involve singling out the gaming community. On the other hand, the HeForShe campaign calls upon all men and boys to take a pledge motivating the elimination of issues in gender. Do the methods of bringing about awareness regarding a particular issue matter, even if the ultimate goals of each party are the same? Regardless of the fact that Anita targets the world of video games, it is clear that she understands that gender inequalities go beyond just virtual entertainment. At one point in Anita’s talk on Friday, she stated that the problem in the gaming community has “snowballed” as a result of the belief that, “women do not deserve power in male-dominated areas”. Anita also states that it is, “easier to disagree with new ideas than make a change.” I can relate to the fact that it is easier to disagree with something when the current set of norms appears to be working properly; this idea can be applied to several aspects of life. However, the main goal of equality cannot be attained unless everyone is on board with adjusting the way certain things are currently being done.

The conclusion to Anita’s speech was my favorite portion of the talk for her analogy of sexism to air pollution. “We all have a responsibility to eliminate gender inequalities, just like we all have the responsibility to greatly decrease air pollution.” This analogy made it clear that Anita does not simply believe that this issue was created, or can be solved, solely by the portion of the world that is male. From what I’ve gathered from Anita’s work in the field of gender issues, I would say that it is necessary for the majority of people to eliminate the preconceived notion that society has attained equality; only then can we work towards making positive changes in the world. Realizing the problem is the first step to finding a solution.

Anita Sarkeesian: One Brave & Controversial Woman

The CDEP Symposium certainly was very interesting and quite informative. I came out liking and also gaining more knowledge on Anita Sarkeesian and what she goes through because of her “controversial” statements. Being a person that loves to play games, not a gamer, I came out with a different perspective on games that I played previously. I played them to have fun, not really paying any mind to the hidden controversies that they may hide. I also came out with a perspective of just how vulgar and disgusting some individuals can be on one woman who expresses her opinion and yet at the same time plays those very same games she talks about; she doesn’t judge or criticize the people that play but rather the game itself and how women are portrayed in them.

Anita started her talk by talking about a game that was in development, Dinosaur Planet, for the Nintendo 64 (one of my favorite consoles!). One of the main protagonists was a female, named Krystal- she was a strong hero that was capable of fighting even the strongest of foes. The game was in development, but unfortunately never got released on the market. The game designers joked about making Krystal a damsel in distress rather than a hero and soon enough the Star Fox game came along and Fox ended up being the hero and saving the would have been heroin. Fox had now gotten all of her attributes and even her own weapon while the only thing that Krystal was given was more provocative clothing.

Anita was able to shed some light on just how the female protagonist would have been given the lead but was canned and was made into a character that needed all the saving from the villains and the man would be there to help aid her in escaping. She was rather the prize for the male for being able to beat all of the enemies rather than being her own brave self. Back then, the white male was the main audience for game designers and they had to modify things that would be pleasing to that audience no matter what.

Nowadays, however, there has been a major shift in the gaming industry, but it has certainly been a slow shift. The concept of female characters still being portrayed just  like Krystal was is an issue and many women do voice there opinion on that. They voice out that the female character should not be subjected or portrayed liked that but rather with an equal role. Anita still plays video games and does not bash the players who play them but rather the games way of showing the female. Many of those gamers and those involved in Gamergate, though, see her as a threat- as she said they made me into a folk demon or rather “a Disney villain”. People attack her and threaten her by the things she says; they defame her by putting her face on porn pictures and by making fake accounts with her name to bring this negative light.

These people are relentless and do these harsh acts because of what she says. Rather than listen to what she has to say, they go in for the attack. Going back to the whole talk about Krystal and her portrayal, Anita does not say that the game is wrong and that all who play it think the same way about women but rather that women in video games seem to be belittles- they are given a certain role to fulfill. Those cowardly males that don’t bother to even acknowledge her voice simply think that the way to get rid of her is to frustrate her, give her a bad reputation, and to send negative information to everyone. Anita, however, does not let this get to her; yes it is brutal but she learns that even though this all goes on, she is still able to say what she would like about the gaming industry. She is not defaming the gamers or those who play video games, but rather critiquing the industry itself.

Questions:

In class, we spoke about what if that person that is behind that computer screen was brought out to a street corner. Personally, what do you think they would do? Would they still rant and use vulgar language to talk about Anita?

What is your personal view on how women are portrayed within the gaming industry? If Krystal had stayed the main protagonist in that would-be game, would people have received her with open arms or with hostility?

Digital Harassment

I went to see the talk by Sara Perry from the University of York about how we must be wary about what we post online. I thought it was very interesting that she brought up the topic of how, just because we are allowed to voice our opinions at all times, doesn’t mean we necessarily should. Unfortunately, she learned this lesson through personal experience. Anonymous sources are usually at the hub of online harassment, but Sara’s case proved that this is not always what happens.

Sara received online abuse not in the form of anonymous comments, but through her own professional space, and by people who gave their names freely. This definitely indicates how the Internet is slowly evolving. Things are becoming less anonymous with the introduction of popular social media and easy to use search engines. The fact that people feel more inclined to speak their mind through the web, because there is no real face behind the words, isn’t going away despite us slowly losing our anonymity. Many people still continue to be more ruthless online, even when their real name is now associated with those words. Communicating through text feels very different from face to face communication because you can’t see or hear whom you’re communicating with, and they can’t hear or see you either. All personalization is lost, and people tend to forget there’s a real human with real emotions on the other end of the screen. As shown in Sara Perry’s research, women tend to receive a large portion of this harassment.

The threats that women receive online are primarily of a sexual nature, while men often are victims of attacks on their professional lives. When this kind of harassment takes place in a professional setting, it’s often found that the workplace has no policies protecting their employees against online abuse. As our world evolves, we must evolve with it and realize that just because the web isn’t causing physical harm or discomfort, doesn’t mean it cannot affect someone mentally and emotionally. Workplaces must amend their policies to include written abuse and threats to be just as serious as threats that are made in person.

The fact that threats to women, even in the workplace, are primarily of a sexual nature is very bothersome. Online or simply walking down the street, women can’t ever seem to get away from being sexually harassed. My hope is that one day we can end all harassment, especially that of a sexual nature, by educating those who commit these wrongdoings. Sara Perry, Anita Sarkeesian, and many others are doing a wonderful job of spreading the word and educating the public about how awful online harassment really is, and if I had it my way, I’d make it mandatory of everyone in the world to sit and listen to these women talk about their experiences.

Gender Socialization in Regards to Video Games

Anita Sarkeesian’s started her website “Feminist Frequency” in an attempt to create feminist media criticism. She later went on to create a YouTube video series “Tropes Vs. Women” that focuses on stereotypes concerning women. She actually began her talk at the Digital Ethics Symposium this past weekend by showing one of these clips, “Damsel in Distress” which emphasized stereotypes on women in video games. This Damsel in Distress that Sarkeesian talked about centered on the idea that women are unable to be heroes and are instead dependent on males to be their heroes. On video games, women are so often placed as simply just sexual beings. Sarkeesian actually stated in her talk that the video game industry makes millions of dollars each year and is surprisingly bigger than Hollywood. All in all, placing women in these roles on video games indicates a larger social problem. While video games are portrayed virtually, they represent a very ‘real’ world. They indicate that our society views women as sex objects and ignores the fact that there is so much more depth behind just our image.

Sarkeesian also points out that many people often have the mindset that if a woman does happen to make it in a male dominated field, like business or engineering, she must have cheated to get there. This typically known stereotype is similar to the relations between video games and women. Video games are not typically seen as ‘for women’. In fact, society basically tells us that games are just not for us. Sarkeesian’s parents did not allow her to have a Gameboy in that Gameboys were for boys. I can definitely relate to this in that I grew up around two brothers, where a large part of their childhood and teenage years involved playing video games that I was never invited to play. I was a girl so I just wasn’t skilled at video games, according to them. Instead I was given Barbie’s and EASY-BAKE ovens to play with, because those are what girls are supposed to play with. But in reality, there is a large community of female gamers who the video game industry fails to take into account.

However with every opinion especially those regarding controversial topics like feminism, there is an opposite opinion. Because of Sarkeesian’s strong opinions and all the ways in which she made/ continues to make these opinions public have resulted in her receiving death threats. In fact, an actual group of gamers who use the hashtag #gamergate has formed in response. This group of hashtagers hold the idea that the world of gaming should be exclusively men. Basically, it is a group of sexist men who are the very reason women are portrayed as sexual roles in video games in the first place. These men believe that games are only for guys, which is the reason that Gameboys have the word boy in it rather than girl.

In my opinion, everything that Sarkeesian touched on directly related to the concept of gender socialization or in other words, the process by which society tells us how females and males ‘should be’. Society tells us how we should ‘do’ gender, and in turn, certain things are assumed to be primarily for girls while others are primarily meant for boys. Video games is one of those things that seems to always be targeted to men, however, I was extremely shocked to the fact that there are men out there who felt the need to send her death threats just because she expressed her opinion on a situation. I think these death threats and groups of gamers who have formed against her are the reason in which security is such a significant part of Sarkeesian’s everyday life. It’s a horrible thing to feel unsafe, and something that nobody deserves to feel, especially as a response to trying to encourage gender equality through a simple online video.

Anita Sarkeesian – A Different Perspective

When upon entering the hall to hear Anita Sarkeesian speak, I can honestly say that I entered with hesitation. I have never been the type of person to become passionate about such a controversial issue as she has with the way that women have been portrayed in media, primarily videogames and I was worried about how my opinion would be swayed as a result of seeing her.

She began her talk about discussing the logistics behind the actual gaming industry and filled my brain with facts that I otherwise would not have known. Her passion towards the industry as a whole was shocking because despite her anger with it, she still seemed to respect it as a form of media that others would generally look over.

Her personal story with the harassment that she has gotten really took me by surprise because she was being harassed in the exact way that she was preaching against, only furthering her point of view on the industry. This caused me to think about other ways that certain groups of people might be getting harassed on other forms of mass communication that I use more actively than the video game culture.

Her discussion about how women are being portrayed within video games can be applied to how women, for example, are being portrayed in just about any form of media, whether it’s television or even your average magazine and that is something that has been prominent for years before the video game culture even came into the light.

Having a younger brother who plays video games almost 24/7 in his bedroom, I was forced to think about his opinion on women and whether or not it has been altered since he’s began to play his games more often. Because I went home this Saturday, I thought to ask him and see how he would respond. He didn’t seem to have a change of view because of it, completely contradicting what Sarkeesian had been preaching the day before to me.

 

I wonder if it depends on the type of person using the media and their behavior instead of just the video game industry?

I wonder if she would be just as passionate about other forms of media and women or if it’s just the industry of video games? 


Should we be concerned about this pattern now with new forms of media, such as the growing power of social media?