The Internet is toxic, but its toxicity is usually equal opportunity
One of the more annoying trends in our society has been the substitution of action with rhetoric. This has really taken off in the age of Twitter where people think hashtags are a replacement for actually doing something.
Today I read an Opinion Piece on Polygon called “No Skin thick enough: The daily harassment of women in the game industry” It’s a good piece and one I think you should read.
However, I do have some criticisms of the piece. For starters, it is a bad piece of journalism. It relies completely on sensationalistic emotionalism to back up its blanket assertion (“the daily harassment of women in the game industry”).
Such articles, even opinion pieces, are apparently not open to discussion. As soon as I expressed some criticism on Twitter the haters came out in force. All sense of reason evaporated. My criticism was: Be aware that sometimes allegations of sexual harassment are false (remember what happened to me). That, by no means, had anything to do with the anecdotes in the article. It has to do with how women sometimes choose to take criticism/teasing/abuse as being due to their sex.
Let me give you the part from the article that caused me to write my tweet in the first place:
Two things to point out about this: First, anonymous user (which is one of the sources of why Internet discussion can get so toxic) and second, while clearly abusive, this has nothing to do with the writer being female. I have gotten tweets to me very similar to this when I've made a casual tweet regarding a game console. Ask Phil Fish about internet abuse.
The point of my tweet is that we need to be careful on this because *sometimes* the allegation that it's *sexual* harassment is false. You want to reduce this kind of toxic abuse? Let's encourage services like Twitter from allowing anonymity.
The article provides 4 anecdotes, not all of which even imply *sexism* rather than general vile Internet behavior that many of us run into regularly and tries to make sweeping conclusions with it. I take issue with articles that make sweeping (and arguably sexist) charges against men using 4 anecdotes as evidence.
If we were debating any other topic and someone made a broad, far reaching claim and backed it up with nothing more than 4 anecdotal examples they’d get reamed. But because we are talking about an ism, it is taboo to raise any skepticism about the article’s agenda.
I’ve been in the game industry for over 20 years. I’ve seen its ugliness in many different forms. So let me tell you: This subject matter is delicate and should be treated as such.
The game industry, however IS rife with misogyny. But that isn't necessarily connected to the general toxicity of Internet conversation. We should do something about the general toxicity of the Internet.
But if you want to do something specifically about misogyny in the game industry, start with the working environments of game studios and the sexist reaction successful women in the game industry often receive. When a man does something impressive and gets some publicity, they get kudos and support. But if a woman does something impressive and gets the same publicity, their experience is likely to be terrible and humiliating. I’ve seen this first hand and it’s discouraging.
...But we have to be careful that this issue isn't exploited by opportunistic people to for professional or personal gain.
Now, since this is my blog I'm going to going to use the personal hell I went through when I was falsely accused of sexual harassment. But before we won, she made true on her threat to publicly post her fabricated allegations if we didn't pay her off. So while we did win and she got nothing, it was still a nightmare for me because people automatically believed her allegations which included claiming her I asked if she had ever tasted semen, discussing her "nipples" and other digusting completely made up things that were denied by her named witnesses (current and former female employees where I work).
Years later, I still regularly get attacked online for being "sexist" and having people refusing to ever buy Galactic Civilizations or Fallen Enchantress (two games where most of the code were written by women ironically -- I'll show you! I won't buy games developed by women!).
Needless to say, the ordeal has made me a lot more skeptical when I see someone cry "sexism".
So what can we do?
I’m an engineer, I’m interested in solutions and I think there is a lot we can do to address this issue:
- Punish people who harass other people. I.e. Permanently ban someone who writes the kind of disgusting invective that the article cites. XBox Live and other services allow for an immense level of abuse of all kinds. Don’t tolerate it anymore.
- Eliminate anonymous profiles on social networks like Xbox Live, Twitter, Article COMMENTS.
- Encourage / Reward those who actually DO something. The reason “white knighting” is despised is because it’s really about people making themselves feel good about themselves. Less rewarding of progressive rhetoric and more reward of progressive action.
The media could do more to cover games and studios that utilize female talent. Do you like Galactic Civilizations? The lead developer of GalCiv I and II is a woman (and by lead developer I mean the highest % of C++ code in the game was written by her). Like Falllen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes? The #1 C++ coder on that project was a woman (a different woman).
Like the Stardock websites including galciv3.com, oxidegames.com, elementalgame.com? Designed, coded, and created by women (3 women in particular). How about Start8? ModernMix? Project Manager of those two projects, a woman.
Why do I bring up these self-serving examples: To illustrate that the media has never chosen to cover any of this. Why not?
- Encourage people to talk about the transformative effects of a more diversified working environment. We hire a lot of women because it makes our products better. Not because women are “just as good” as men but rather because men and women bring unique strengths.
Running a company dominated by one sex puts them at a distinct disadvantage in the talent area. Men and women are different. Here’s a “sexist” statement: It has been my experience that women are better at UI design than men. I have no idea why. That’s 20 years of observation talking. Men tend to be better at debugging. No idea why. Don’t care. Both seem to be equally effective at writing buggy code.
- Scrutinize and punish those who make false claims on this topic. We need to be very very careful about tarring and feathering people on this issue. Don’t reward those who are trying to profit from playing the sexism card.
Choose to be part of the solution: Do your part to make the Internet a less toxic environment. Don’t just blindly support empty, feel good pap. Keep your critical thinking cap on.
Update: Slashdot comments are very interesting and in stark contrast to the empty progressive rhetoric on Twitter. http://games-beta.slashdot.org/story/14/07/22/229256/the-daily-harassment-of-women-in-the-game-industry
Update 2: Added more content, added item #2 regarding anonymity. Fixed Typos. (see edit history).