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May 08, 2007

Kotaku Commenters Prove the Necessity of a Women's Gaming Magazine

Cerise, a project of The Iris Network, recently launched with its May 2007 issue. Its goal is to be a semi-scholarly publication for articles that address the intersection of gender and gaming, encompassing video games, board games, and role playing games.

The debut issue has some articles to recommend it. There’s an interesting piece on the history of the Girls’ Games Movement of the mid-90s written by Lindsey Galloway, a more general discussion of the problems of male-centric gamer culture by Natalie Hill, and a fun piece on crafting your own tabletop miniatures using polymer clay by Robyn Fleming. It’s a bit light on content, but a big part of that is that the call for submissions only went out about a week or two ago. And, to be fair, some of the articles aren’t as strong as others. Still, it’s a very solid first effort and I look forward to seeing it develop in future months.

Today Kotaku, one of the internet’s largest video game news aggregator blogs, linked to the first issue. The post, and ensuing comments, can be found here. There’s a lot of bad blood between the folks who run Kotaku and the folks who run Iris and Cerise. Several months back Kotaku’s founder Brian Crecente wrote a post complaining about the lack of prominent women bloggers. He apparently decided that Kotaku needed a woman writer, examined the existing woman video game bloggers, and found them lacking. Feminist video game blogger Andrea Rubenstein took issue with this. The Kotaku post, and subsequent uproar in the female video game blogging community, provided the backdrop for her to launch the Iris Network, a feminist video game resource that she had been working on for several years. Which, naturally, led Brian Crecente to take credit for inspiring her and the others involved to create the project.

This history is somewhat alluded to in the post linking to Cerise’s first issue by Michael McWhertor. To his credit, the post itself isn’t particularly hostile. That’s saved for the comment section.

The comments to that post are a wonderful microcosm of the entire debate on women and video games that occurs on mainstream websites. About half of the posts are people complaining that they don’t see why women need a special, separate community and they should be integrating, not segregating. The other half are commenters remarking on the sexual desirability of the woman pictured on Cerise’s title page, or other similarly denigrating comments (My favorite, this charming contribution from Lixie: “A new mag for when they’re on the rag”). A lot of the commenters seem confused about what Cerise is; they seem to be operating under the belief that it’s a new print magazine, ala Electronics Gaming Monthly or GamePro, targeted at women, rather than a monthly on-line journal. This is probably symptomatic of the fact that the commenters in question are shooting their mouths off about what’s wrong with Cerise and why It Should Not Be based on three brief paragraphs of description by McWhertor coupled with the memory of arguments made in flame wars past, with minds uncluttered by the potential bias and dilution of their points that would result if they actually clicked the link and read the magazine.

A couple of things stood out to me. My favorite “Careful! Your bias is showing!” slip comes from the second commenter, KidNicky, when he remarks that “but in their introduction article,they rattled off a few names that are “household words” to the average gamer,and OH NOES THEY ALL MEN.” This is interesting because there is no introductory article. There’s a from the editors section, which doesn’t contain the aforementioned list. There’s a mission statement linked from the masthead, again without that list. The list can be found, though; it’s in the article “Girls Don’t Play Video Games,” the last article before the review section and the only article written by a man. It’s also the article that gets the most attention in comments (though part of that is because of people responding to and buildin off of KidNicky’s early comment). It was probably a mistake on KidNicky’s part, but I find it interesting that the single article with a male author gets elevated to Introductory, such that the one man who writes for the mag is made the de facto spokesman for the enterprise. Sort of like how women gamers wouldn’t exist had Brian Crecente not willed them into being.

There aren’t a lot of defenders for Cerise in those comments, as of this writing, which isn’t at all surprising. Kotaku’s commenting environment is utterly toxic, as demonstrated in part by this very thread. Feminists and others who don’t believe that Women Need to Shut Up are quickly shouted down when they voice an opinion not in line with that of the average Kotaku commenter. Thus, Kotaku has become a place where everyone is free to comment, provided they don’t think that women need their own space to discuss video games. The dissonance is delightful. If you express feminist opinions at Kotaku, you are told to shut up and take your arguments elsewhere. If you build your own site to have those arguments, Kotaku links to the site and commenters tell you that you don’t need your own site and if you want to stop being second-class citizens you should be commenting at Kotaku. If you are a feminist, then, Kotaku commenters are not particularly pleased with you expressing your opinion anywhere. Which, I suppose, is the whole point of the endeavor.

I also find the whole Shutupicrat philosophy that underlies most of the comments fascinating. Until I got onto the internet I had never met somebody who gets actually angry about the fact that some people care about things that he or she doesn’t. It would be sort of interesting to meet some of these people in real life:

“Excuse me, but why in the hell are we learning German? I don’t want to speak German, and I don’t see why anyone else should. Can’t we all just speak English and shut up about stupid foreign languages I don’t care about?”

“If you don’t want to take German, why are you enrolled in this class?”

“I’m not; I was just looking on a bulletin board and noticed that German was being taught, and since I don’t think German is interesting I felt I should come here and let everyone know that they’re being stupid and wasting their time.”

“Why do you serve blueberry pancakes? I hate blueberries, and I don’t really like pancakes that much, either. If people would just shut up about their blueberry pancakes I could get back to ordering waffles in peace.”

I do somewhat see the argument for the anti-segregationist build-a-better-culture-from-within perspective. The problem is that I think it’s a false choice; it isn’t either be a part of the larger gaming community or be a part of the female/feminist gaming community, it’s both be a part of the larger gaming community and be a part of the female/feminist gaming community. Moreover, I don’t think the problem of women gamers being isolated from the gaming community writ large is as big a problem as the one of women gamers being alienated from the gaming community in general as a result of overt and subrosa hostility to women in gaming.

Posted by Zach at May 8, 2007 12:43 AM


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