I’m still a little mystified why Christina Hoff Sommers continues to endorse Gamergate. I can understand why she began to easily enough, as they’re a group of dedicated conservative followers who worship the ground she steps on, boosting her signal into a wider audience.
But then Utah State happened, Anita Sarkeesian was catapulted to wider fame, and the mainstream press started calling Gamergate a hate group on a consistent basis. This is the time you should be slowly backing away, mumbling “I was misinformed.”
Sommers, instead, has doubled-down. This time she’s taking on the Anti-Defamation League’s lesson plan for harassment and video games.
[1:03] The entire lesson plan is dedicated to the proposition that videogames are a hotbed of sexism [and] misogyny – and it gives the message that anyone who dares to suggest games be more inclusive can be terrorized by malevolent gamers.
Check out the lesson plan for yourself, and tell me if you agree with her. I don’t; for instance, here’s part of the introduction:
Women media critics have called attention to the sexism and misogyny within the gaming world and, in resulting backlash, several of them have become victims of violent threats themselves. Anita Sarkeesian, one of the more well-known media critics, was in the news recently because, when she was invited to speak at Utah State University, she received threats that there would be a shooting massacre if she came.
They’re talking quite specifically here: Anita Sarkeesian has been targeted, not anyone who speaks out. This lesson is just one part of a course aimed at current events (check the upper-right of the first page of the lesson plan), so they’re using a specific news item as a launching point for a discussion of something larger. Sommers obviously doesn’t get that, as she blasts the course for focusing just on Sarkeesian.
[1:17] The lesson plan materials include a video and an article by feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian … Now, that would be fine if it were not for the fact that she’s the only assigned author.
The third article listed, after two by Sarkeesian, is a Pew Forum study on online harassment. This is the landing point: talking about online harassment and the representation of women within games. It’s explicitly stated in the learning objectives, no less:
Students will understand the role of women in video games and the specific ways in which sexism is perpetuated in the gaming world.
There’s also some optional reading by authors other than Sarkeesian and Maeve Duggan of the Pew Forum, where students can see other viewpoints. Sommers knows about all this, because she references it in her video, yet ignores it to her convenience.
She also prattles on about this activity where students put stickers on various signs, complaining that none of them have positive messages about gamers [1:35]. That’s not the goal of the exercise, though:
Give students five minutes to walk around the room and place a post-it or round sticker on or near all of the statements that are true for them or if they agree. If you have a large class, you may want to call them up in smaller groups.
After placing their post-its on the statements, instruct students to move to the statement they are most interested in talking about with others. Give students 5–7 minutes to discuss the statements with each other.
This isn’t about the image of gamers, it’s about giving students a chance to talk to one another and compare notes. If they really want to, students are free to gather under the “I have played video games” or “I play video games on a regular basis” signs and high-five one another about how awesome their fellow gamers are. The next step in the lesson plan calls for a classroom discussion on why people chose the signs they did; the students who didn’t sign on to one of the sexism-related signs are free to push back here and promote a positive image for gamers.
Sommers’ criticisms have been answered already, in the very document she’s critiquing. One she claims is self-refuting.
[2:27] This curriculum is not only obsessively one-sided, much of it is just false, misleading, exaggerated- I mean, start with the very first sentence: “video games do not have a good track record when it comes to positively including girls and women.” But if you turn to page 3 of the curriculum, you find that students read about how women now constitute 48% of video game players
Except that’s not what the curriculum was talking about. Remember, one of the stated goals was to discuss “the role of women in video games;” in other words, the focus was on how women are portrayed within the games themselves, not the gender breakdown of who plays them. Even if we take the less charitable route, it doesn’t follow that “video game players treat women well” is a consequence of “women play video games about as much as men;” maybe women are being driven away from multi-player games into single-player ones, where they’re insulated from a toxic culture? Sommers even brings up that women and men seem to prefer different games [3:02], yet fails to connect the two possibilities.
[3:16] Now what about this idea that video games, especially those most popular with men, perpetuate sexism? Well, the lesson plan promotes this idea yet offers no evidence.
Uh, no. The lesson plan promotes the idea that harassment is common online, and provides a Pew Forum study to back that up.
[3:29] The fact is, as video games have thrived in the United States, so too have women’s freedom and opportunities.
If the United States’ economy is improving, does it follow that the mining sector is improving too? This is an embarrassing argument, coming from a former philosopher.
Sommers also pulls a “both sides” argument, bringing up the harsh treatment Milo Yiannopoulos has received [4:18]. Yes, a story told by a guy who pretends he’s never mocked video game players so he could become their advocate against feminists, and may have helped rig an awards ceremony, is trusted by Sommers without question. Meanwhile, she completely discounts all the signs this really is about ethics in game journalism online harassment.
“The people onstage, they have stakes,” one male developer said. “And they’re afraid.”
Afraid, that is, of both online political trouble and lost sales. In her talk, Fullerton said the gaming industry had cultivated and capitalized on gamers’ “sense of entitlement.”
On the other hand, another developer said the vocal minority of gamers who have participated in intimidation campaigns are not worthy of sales concerns.
“I’ve already written off murderers,” the developer said, tongue-in-cheek. “I’m okay if no murderers buy my games.”
Perhaps the most depressing explanation for the industry’s general silence, though, was that when a segment of your audience is threatening violence against your peers for speaking up, the rational response is to protect yourself and let them absorb the heat.
“If someone else is on fire and I try to go put her out, I’m just going to catch on fire myself,” one developer said.
This was a depressing show for Sommers, full of logical inconsistencies and not up to her usual standards. So why is Stephen Pinker endorsing it, and by extension GamerGate?
— Steven Pinker (@sapinker) March 10, 2015
It’s depressing when senior academics go about high-fiving paid shills of Conservative think-tanks, but I guess he enjoys all the sweet nothings that reinforce his view of society. They fit perfectly with his endorsement of Evolutionary Psychology.