News

#Gamergate—and what it means for gaming in education

By Meris Stansbury, Managing Editor for eCampus News, @eSN_Meris
November 20th, 2014

Game designers, MIT, professors weigh in on what educators need to know about the controversy, and how it applies to classroom practice

gamergate-gaming-womenGames, but especially games for education, need to allow for gender equality and freedom of expression, say gaming experts—two critical game design components needed in the fight against Gamergate’s revelation of misogyny in the gaming industry.

Gamergate originally began as a hashtag in social media after an independent game developer’s ex-boyfriend made public allegations against her regarding a close relationship between the developer and a journalist in exchange for positive press, which was later proven false.

Since then, the controversy has escalated to reveal what many in the gaming industry say is a bias against women in gaming, evidenced not only by death and other malicious threats made against female game developers and female game players, but also by the male-heavy themes in many of today’s commercial games.

Considering that more classrooms and educators are now incorporating gaming into education, never has the controversy surrounding Gamergate and the bias toward women in gaming been more relevant in education, says gaming experts.

But to understand gaming’s standing in education, the gaming researchers and developers at MIT’s Education Arcade say that educators must first understand gaming in the context of an equal right’s movement.

For example, though bias against women is not exclusive to gaming, “digital gaming, like computer science and other STEM fields, is another one of those fields that have long been unwelcoming to women and other marginalized people for a variety of historical, social, economic, and accidental reasons,” said a spokesperson for the Arcade. “However, in terms of people playing games, we do not see that sort of numerical bias. Gaming is more openly diverse than it ever has been before.”

The problem is that the diversity in players doesn’t translate to diversity in representation within most commercial games.

According to Sherry Jones—a Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Game Studies instructor at the University of Colorado, Denver, as well as game studies facilitator for the Metagame Book Club at ISTE’s Games & Simulations Network—the reason most commercial games favor one gender [male] over another is because of the misogyny prevalent in the game design industry.

“Most games heavily favor the male experience because there’s this perception by game studios that most gamers are male and that this is what sells. Most game studios then hire all-male game designers,” she said. “That’s why you see all these independent game developers—who are mostly women—go outside of the AAA game studios, since there’s no pressure to conform to the solely-male experience.”

(Next page: Biggest mistake game developers make when it comes to designing for gender.)