Emily Gera, a senior British reporter at Polygon, recently coded an interactive fiction game emulating the “mind of a Kotaku commenter” — shorthand for what she sees as some of the best lines from the internet’s most bigoted, misogynistic pigs.
There’s only one emotion at play here: disgust. And since the motivations of women-haters are about as reasonable as those of racists — that is, completely unreasonable — I’ve never really understood how anyone could feel anything else.
We’ve all been here before. And we all keep revisiting the same bloody topic, talking about the disgusting, abhorrent behaviour of lobotomised trolls. But what’s so confounding and infuriating about the entire affair is not so much that it keeps happening, but that it seems almost singularly impossible, almost as if the internet itself wills it so, to have a constructive discussion on the matter.
The world of eSports had its own distasteful exchange recently when Kim “Eve” Shee-Yoon — the first female player contracted to the Slayers professional gaming team in South Korea, announced she was closing down her Twitter account due to “sexual harassment”. It was quickly revealed that said harassment consisted of a guy showing off his — shall we say, wares, with a photo of Eve.
Sadly, this isn’t a new phenomenon. But I want to move away from the horrors of the act and focus around the events that took place afterward, because it’s important to understand just how difficult it is to engage in a mature debate even among level-head gamers.
As the various Australians I followed on Twitter began to discuss the fallout, one gamer made the unfortunate mishap of remarking that every bigoted act they’d seen inevitably traced back to the StarCraft 2 community. Stirring up the hornet’s nest, accidentally or otherwise, is never a wise move unless you have a rocket launcher or some other equally explosive device for online arguments.
The person in question was forced to walk it back and apologised for doing so. And by and large that’s how things turn out when one person makes a mistake. But in accidentally stirring up a group fervently trying to defend itself from an unreasonable allegation, the main game — getting rid of the boorish last-century behaviour that infests every nook and cranny of the online world — was completely forgotten.
People become so easily sidetracked that a great opportunity to actively debate codes of conducts, moderation policies and general standards of behaviour, was run over by a train of inconsequential bullshit that had as much relevance as a fart in the wind. And this isn’t unique to this particular situation: it happens every goddamned time.
Earlier in the week, a more important discussion kicked off surrounding the disadvantages and advantages faced by women in eSports, although the topic could have applied to gaming in general just as well. Most of the heat played out on Twitter, where Rachel Quirico, a reporter for the Cybersports Network, began arguing with Cadred editor Richard Lewis over the “leg-up” women receive in the industry. I won’t recap what was said; you can read a screenshot of the conversation here.
Some thoughtful replies did rise above the fray; Teamliquid.net administrator Hot_Bid gave the most neutral summation he possibly could, while Melbourne-based writer Sunset for pro-gamers Team ROOT penned a well-written reply of her own.
This is all well and good, but the problem was that none of it was connected to each other; it was broken apart by the tens and hundreds of posts filled with absolute rubbish, and that’s not even accounting for comments deemed too off-colour even for Reddit.
When you’re being debased as someone who “dresses like a slut for attention” or someone who is “so ignorant and feminist that it actually discomforts me” you have to respond. You’re not a human being if you don’t. And yet the mere act of defending yourself against such unqualified crap — because ignoring it will simply lead to arguments that the charges are indeed true, since you never denied them — moves the debate into a completely different arena.
It’s amazingly paradoxical that the internet’s unlimited capacity, with all its potential to facilitate discussion on any topic imaginable, is actually the worst possible place for dealing with serious issues. The constant, never-ending flow of information makes it a certainty that punters move on to another topic before coming to terms with the immediate issue.
Worthwhile points were raised in the last week. Women almost undoubtedly do receive an advantage over men when entering the industry — but almost all cases they also weather an exceedingly greater amount of flak simply for being there.
Part of it is really just supply and demand: fewer females means lesser competition for on-camera roles, hosting gigs and general opportunities, but that also means the spotlight and criticism is intensified for that smaller number.
And you could probably quantify that fairly accurately too: just think about the ratio of male to female gamers at any competitive LAN. If you were to say the anger and unwarranted rage received by women was about 1,000 times worse — take a look at the next major LAN tournament and see how many females there are.
But even this is diverting from the bottom line — that all of these points deserve thorough, intelligent discussion. But intelligent, reasoned people can’t have that discussion on the internet because they’re constantly having to dance from one extreme to another having to fan the flames from whatever controversial point was just raised.
Direct conversations like Twitter aren’t appropriate: this is something that’s really best suited for a panel, or at very least a face-to-face debate. That way, at least people are afforded the chance to slowly and properly address issues one at a time. You can’t solve the whole problem by tackling the entire beast head-on; it’s too large, too unwieldy.
Coming to a consensus is much easier to do after listening to an hour of structured reasoning: doing so after an hour of reading people pick apart and take every last line of an article out of context is not. And while reason is certainly not always a guaranteed method of combating the inherent savagery and unsubtle nature of sexism and bigotry, it’s a much better starting point than hoping for sense and sensibility to somehow stand out in the sea of the Internet.
Back in June, we spoke to some of Australia’s top female pro-gamers to get their thoughts on females in competitive gaming. Click here to see what they had to say.