Symposium explores gender, diversity in technology

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Visiting professors participated in a symposium to discuss gender in technology spaces. COURTESY PHOTO / RAVYNN STRINGFIELD

The event was made in collaboration with the Executive Committee of the program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and faculty on the Ad Hoc Committee for Engineering and Design Opportunities at William and Mary.

One of the panels included at the symposium, entitled “Gender and Gaming,” explored the ways in which female and non-binary identities are represented within the gaming community as a whole, including both game development and scholarly research regarding gaming.

The panel was moderated by Director of American Studies and Community Professor of History, American Studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Leisa Meyer. Panelists discussed more recent changes and continuities that have occurred within the gaming industry regarding how gender is portrayed and represented.

Northeastern University associate professor of game design Celia Pearce expressed an optimistic attitude regarding gender equality within game development while still recognizing the difficulty women often face when attempting to enter the industry.

“The challenge is getting people to hire them, because often game studios use a five years of experience criteria to hire, and what that does is exclude the hundreds and thousands of girls coming out as freshly minted game designers now.”

“I think it’s a good sign [that the] percentage of women in games programs, as students, are growing,” Pearce said. “The challenge is getting people to hire them, because often game studios use a five years of experience criteria to hire, and what that does is exclude the hundreds and thousands of girls coming out as freshly minted game designers now.”

The panel also highlighted the absence of women and LGBTQ gamers and games within the academic historical record of gaming and game studies. Temple University associate professor of media studies and production Adrienne Shaw’s current research helps build the LGBTQ Game Archive, an online database of all LGBTQ content in videogames known to exist since the late 20th century.

Georgetown University assistant professor of English Amanda Phillips recognized the importance of Shaw’s work, relating it to the broader lack of female and LGBTQ representation within gaming history.

“What I pick up on is partially trying to resurrect the longer history of feminist work in video games because we are in a moment in which we tend to think that feminism is just happening around video game scholarship and that’s not true,” Phillips said. “Adrienne’s work shows as well, there’s a longer history of queerness in games and so on, and I think all of us here are trying to actually push back on that narrative that we’ve finally arrived and sort of recognize that it’s a thing that’s been happening all along.”

The panel went on to draw attention to the various female voices that have been excluded from game studies and scholarship. Phillips said much of female and feminist scholars’ research on multimedia and games history has been intentionally left out of gaming’s historical record due to the prevalence of white masculine methods that have wrongly characterized it as “sloppy scholarship.”

“There is a very active, intentional process by which feminist critique in particular is ejected from the game studies canon,” Phillips said.

In response to Phillips’ comments, University of California Irvine professor of informatics Bonnie Ruberg expressed a desire to reclaim the idea of feminist research as “sloppy scholarship.”

“I want to do sloppy scholarship, because to me what sloppy brings up is it brings up the mess, which is a kind of a queer figure of messing up taxonomy, messing up meaning,” Ruberg said. “I wonder what it means to do sloppy scholarship as a feminist practice.”

The following panel, entitled “Gender and Online Community,” involved speakers from various institutions across the United States engaging in presentations and discussion regarding the relationship that gender has with technology and the internet.

Data and Society Media Manipulation Research Lead Joan Donovan began the panel with her presentation, “On the Internet, Everyone Knows You’re a Nazi,” which discussed the history of masculinity on the far right. Donovan said that although the internet allows for a degree of anonymity, people can be in tune to your personal opinions and biases based on internet tendencies and positions. According to Donovan, the Proud Boys group is one example of a radical, far right group that uses the internet as its platform.

“We’re going to chase you [Neo-Nazis] off the internet, we’re going to chase you off YouTube, we’re going to get you when you show up in games, we’re going to find you on Twitch, and we’re going to null platform all these Neo-Nazis,” Donovan said.

Following Donovan’s presentation, Brandeis University assistant professor of English Dorothy Kim addressed the weaponization of intersectionality by the alt-right against specific marginalized communities online. Kim discussed work by writer I’Nasah Crockett and noted the use of fake Twitter accounts to target marginalized groups.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assistant professor of communication Alice Marwick explored the dynamics of harassment and its relationship to technology in the presentation, “Finding Gender in the Network: Forced Publicity, Harassment, and Public Work.” Marwick discussed various types of harassment, including networked harassment and forced publicity, and how there is little being done to prevent them.

Marwick also discussed the concept of safety work, which she said women utilize to handle violence from men.

“The challenge is getting people to hire them, because often game studios use a five years of experience criteria to hire, and what that does is exclude the hundreds and thousands of girls coming out as freshly minted game designers now.”

“The challenge is getting people to hire them, because often game studios use a five years of experience criteria to hire, and what that does is exclude the hundreds and thousands of girls coming out as freshly minted game designers now.”

University of California Los Angeles assistant professor Veronica Paredes discussed the idea of network belonging in her presentation. She used examples from the film “Born in Flames” to evidence media coalition. Paredes also referenced other means of action and organizations, discussing projects that catalyze this unity such as Equality Labs.

“They’re coming together through media-based activism to catalyze this revolution, to center women to center non-binary folks, trans folks, lesbian folks,” Paredes said.