Tuesday 14 October 2014

Talking about my generation

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. If you've been around a while, you'll remember I used to make a point of always posting something to this blog on that day. I will leave it to the reader to surmise why that tradition stopped and why it is now restarting.

So. Gamergate. Ada was a woman in tech.She was a mathmetician, yes, but she worked on the very earliest example of mechanised computer, and for me that counts as a woman working in tech. In the 1800's. She was also a programmer - her Notes containing an algorithm for the first mechanised computer programme.

So. Female. Technical. Programmer.

Not a gamer though. We have to wind forward 150 years for that particular tech to finally start to come into its own. Though I'm not sure Gamergate is an  example of an entertainment form coming into its own. No. Instead I like to think of it as the point where an entertainment form realised it has a problem - and then spectacularly assured the solutions to that problem would never appear. For any one woman to consider following a career path into games making, I think, after the last few weeks would be equally brave and foolish.

Because who, exactly, would voluntarily enter a profession where it is likely at some point that this will happen to you (click for the US site - UK readers obviously aren't interested in such feminist content judging by the headlines you get if you do click through). Yes, that is an adult games developer in the US leaving her home because someone posted her address on Twitter and threatened to do horrific things to her and her husband. It's a beautiful attack in the way it manages to be sexist, racist and utterly terrifying all at the same time.

She's not the first either. Nope, this isn't a one off to be swept under the carpet. At the moment it feels like every week someone somewhere finds another female game developer who has the audacity to have a mouth and use it for something other than night time activities, provokes them, abuses them, and finally death threatens them.

So who are these someones and where have they suddenly come from?

Well. Uncomfortable truth time. They're probably your son. Or your friends son. Or your brothers or sisters son. You see the chances are quite high that if you weren't looking and you weren't paying attention, and you were focused entirely on the implications of digital at work, that you forgot something pretty scary.

Have a think about the world your son currently lives in. It contains porn on tap, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, yes, opt ins. Do you think a 16 year old boy is going to see that as an embarrassment? Nope. He's going to see it as a badge of honour. Blocks on phones can be got around - if your son has a Android phone he can just flatten the phone completely, install a ROM (a developers alternative Operating System) and merrily override any blocks or filters imposed by anyone. I haven't tried but I suspect there are similar for iPhones and Blackberries. What's the harm in that I hear you cry? Well actually plenty. Porn per se isn't the problem, necessarily, but go have a read of the kind of porn your son (or daughter; stop looking so horrified, it happens) is now watching. It's a wee bit different to the Playboy images you used to sneak out from your fathers stash isn't it? I find the section titled Slap Happy particularly interesting. Imagine someone thinking 'wouldn't it be fun/funny if' and the person on the receiving end was your daughter. Sickening thought, isn't it?

Then there's Snapchat. Send pictures of your intimate parts at will, endlessly, to anyone who's stupid enough to open an unidentified image from someone they know from school and keep lol'ing. I mean what's to stop them? In the past this behaviour would have been identified as flashing and would have resulted in a prosecution eventually had the behaviour persisted past police warnings and detentions. Now anyone can be a flasher. Anyone at all. And the police? At best oblivious, at worst walking away from a problem they have no idea how to monitor, no resources to keep up with and no one inside that culture to make judgement calls on when banter becomes abuse.

Chat Roulette, Tinder...I could go on. All of these computer delivery systems deliver something quickly and easily to anyone who is looking. A quick pic of some tits, an interaction with the person who owns the tits over text, through to a meeting to actually touch those tits in person - our young people these days are immersed in a world where you'd be forgiven for thinking sex is the only subject anyone thinks or talks about.

Except of course, it's always been the case that teenage boys have only one thing on their mind. Biologically, it's kind of inevitable. But in the past access to all of these things has not been possible. Young teenage men have had rules and edges to their fantasies, to their imaginations. Now we have made a world where anything they can possibly imagine can be made a reality on their phone - and who can blame them if they blur fantasy and reality, paid porn star with your daughter?

Their lives are invisible to you unless you ask. Unless you have difficult conversations with them about boundaries, about the difference between fantasy and reality.

So how does this relate to Gamergate?

I don't know for sure, but I reckon closely. I think Gamergate is about a lack of respect. I think it's about people who've either grown up or who are growing up in this world of instant gratification. I think it's about boys on 4chan who will type anything to get a reaction - and IRC logs relating to the recent harassment of yet another gamergate female developer strongly show this. It doesn't matter how far you're prepared to go - there will always be someone else who is prepared to go one further for the laughs and 'respect' that this gets from other teenage boys.

Yet I assume it actually is teenage boys. Perhaps it isn't. Perhaps instead it's grown men who we think should know better without ever quantifying what it was or when it was that we actually took the time to educate them so they did know better. Did we teach them at school that women should be treated equally, with respect and dignity and that if you wouldn't say it to your mother in public, you shouldn't be saying it to any other woman in public either? Did you teach your son or daughter about equality? Did you tell your daughter that she could be anything she wanted to be only to watch in horror as she decided to be a games developer? Is it okay that becoming a games developer will now be forever something which turns parents blood cold with horror instead of warm with pride?

No. It isn't. No it isn't. And no it is not.

So we've got a pretty little mess we've made for ourselves, and Gamergate is only the tip of this particularly messy iceberg. But sadly, every scandal, every firestorm has one thing in common.

Women. And the harassment and abuse thereof. So ask yourself this on Ada Lovelace day. What do video games, films, or web pages/apps/platforms look like with no women producing them? Because if you don't do something pretty sharpish, even if that is sitting your son or daughter down and having that chat, that is what you in a very small way will be responsible for.

As for Ada? Spinning in her grave.

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