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Actually it's about ethics in games journalism

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Actually it's about ethics in games journalism

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Undergraduate lecture on the potential and limitations of the internet as a public sphere, using GamerGate as a case study.

Undergraduate lecture on the potential and limitations of the internet as a public sphere, using GamerGate as a case study.


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Actually it's about ethics in games journalism

  1. 1. “Actually, it’s about ethics in games journalism.” The potential and limitations of the Internet as a public sphere
  2. 2. The Public Sphere “The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public; they soon claimed the public sphere regulated from above against the public authorities themselves, to engage them in a debate over the general rules governing relations in the basically privatized but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labor.” (Habermas, 1989)
  3. 3. Media and the Public Sphere
  4. 4. Cyberutopia “Democracy involves democratic participation and debate as well as voting. In the Big Media Age, most people were kept out of democratic discussion and were rendered by broadcast technologies passive consumers of infotainment. (...) In the Internet Age, everyone with access to a computer, modem, and Internet service can participate in discussion and debate, empowering large numbers of individuals and groups kept out of the democratic dialogue during the Big Media Age.” (Kellner, 1998)
  5. 5. Brushed Under the Mousepad “The anonymity of the Internet can work both ways. True, no one can see what color I am, but no one has to see what color I am. Therefore, the touchy subject of race can be brushed under the mousepad.” (McLaine, 2003)
  6. 6. And yet... “The points is that, in stratified societies, subaltern counterpublics have a dual character. On the one hand, they function as spaces of withdrawal and regroupment; on the other hand, they also function as bases and training grounds for agitational activities directed toward wider publics.” (Fraser, 1990)
  7. 7. Actually...
  8. 8. A word of warning The next few slides contain material that may be distressing (misogynistic abuse). Please feel free to leave the room for a few minutes if you wish to avoid this content.
  9. 9. Ethics in Games Journalism
  10. 10. Misogynist Hate Campaign
  11. 11. Your turn... ● Get into groups of 3. ● Write a short Wikipedia article about GamerGate. ● You have 15 minutes. ● Please make sure your articles are legible. ● Bullet points or outlines are fine, as long as it’s clear what you want to say.
  12. 12. Your turn... ● Swap your articles with another group. ● Now edit the other group’s article.
  13. 13. Final thoughts... ● In your article, whose experiences did you privilege? ● Whose experiences or points of view did you marginalise? ● Were there any major points of disagreement when you got to edit the other group’s text? Why? ● Final thoughts on the potential and limitations of the internet as a public sphere?
  14. 14. Further Reading ● Fraser, N. (1990) “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy”, Social Text 26 ● Habermas, J. (1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society ● Kellner, D. (1998) “Techno-politics, new technologies, and the new public spheres”, Illuminations ● McLaine, S. (2003) “Ethnic Online Communities: Between Profit and Purpose”, Cyberactivism: Online activism in theory and practice ● Rheingold, H. (2000) The virtual community: homesteading on the electronic frontier ● Salter, L. (2003) “Democracy, New Social Movements, and the Internet: A Habermasian Analysis”, Cyberactivism: Online activism in theory and practice

Editor's Notes

  • The public sphere is about power: about how private individuals can come together to influence structures of power such as the state.
    The public sphere is a concept in a historical and geographical setting: Habermas is looking at the emergence of the bourgeoisie as a social and political class distinct from and gradually replacing the feudal system as the wealthiest and most powerful section of society. He traces the public sphere to British coffee houses, French salons and German Tischgesellschaften of the 18th century - this is a Western European concept.
    In the particular historical context Habermas is examining, the public sphere is one of the ways in which the bourgeoisie can challenge the feudal order.
    At the most basic level, individuals get together to discuss matters that are of common interest. In the particular historical context Habermas is mainly thinking of economic matters (“commodity exchange”).
    In Habermas’ original vision, the outcome of such discussions is consensus, or a “public opinion” which can then serve as a mandate to influence decisions of the state.
    Habermas describes something of a Platonic ideal of the public sphere, set out in his “institutional criteria”:
    Disregard for status: the idea that your social status didn’t matter when it came to the value of your contribution or opinion within the public sphere. The idea here is not that everyone is equal but that inequality is checked at the door.
    Domain of common concern: The public sphere discussed issues which were mutually agreed on to be of “common concern” or “of concern to everyone”. This opens up a space for discussion, for instance, of economic matters which were previously dominated by the state, but it also has a lot of potential for excluding matters which have a disproportionate impact on minorities and marginalised people.
    Inclusivity: At least in theory the public sphere had to be accessible to all.
    Habermas does admit that these three “institutional criteria” may never have been fully realised but he argues that they were an important part of the self-conception of the bourgeois public sphere and therefore had an impact on how it functioned in practice.
  • Habermas himself thought that the bourgeois public sphere we just discussed had declined and was no longer possible
    Key factors in the decline of the bourgeois public sphere:
    Capitalist economy and shift towards consumerism
    Habermas’s bourgeois public sphere was based on face-to-face interaction and talk. Media (the press) played only a limited role in disseminating news - politically relevant information which then served as the basis of discussions in the public sphere. Discussions in the public sphere itself happened face to face.
    While the press was an enabler of the bourgeois public sphere, it could no longer be so once its commercial interests shifted away from disseminating political information towards advertising
    This, along with a number of other factors, limited the access to the public sphere.
    Media became powerful in its own right - used for manipulation rather than genuine formation of public opinion
    Picture is of a recent high-profile resignation of a political commentator from the Telegraph as he felt the Telegraph wasn’t reporting major negative stories about HSBC who are a significant advertiser.
    So, is the internet the saviour of the public sphere?
  • enabled individuals to talk to each other - over great distances, pretty much instantaneously.
    At a very small scale, you no longer had to rely on mass media for your politically relevant information wrapped up in commercials and infotainment: you can find out what is happening on the other side of the world from people who are there
    If you want to get your message across, you no longer have to rely on it being picked up by mass media: you can set up a website or post to relevant newsgroups yourself
    “Disregard of status” and access/inclusivity becomes - theoretically - much easier, as you simply don’t *know* the other person’s status: they may be of a different class, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or religion to you, they may be disabled, but you only see them as text and user names such as Dhawk, Mandel, Onezie, or Maddog.
    And - similarly to the bourgeois public sphere - suddenly we’re talking person-to-person again, albeit through the medium of text rather than face to face.
  • Turns out we don’t magically check our differences at the log-on screen either. Groups who are marginalised away from the keyboard are just as marginalised in cyberspace. Barriers to access include:
    Cost: 70% of ppl who live in social housing aren’t online; 38% of people not online are also unemployed;
    Skills (often related to age): 39% of people without internet access are over 65;
    But also that online environments aren’t always terribly welcoming: chat users with female-sounding usernames get 25 times more malicious messages than those with gender-neutral or male-sounding names.
    Differences matter: we all bring our backgrounds and experiences with us into online spaces, and disregarding them is actually undesirable. There are many social issues that we can only work on by engaging with differences. These include issues around race, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, etc.
    Commercialisation of online spaces: Web 2.0 as a business model allows individuals to create and post their own content and participate in online discussions with minimal technical skills - but it also commodifies and monetises that content and people’s attention. Advertisers’ interests can and do determine whose voice gets heard, even on social media. E.g. Facebook breastfeeding issues; Facebook “real name” issues.
  • Fraser & subaltern counterpublics:
    recognises some of the shortcomings of the Habermasian public sphere, including the impossibility of bracketing differences, limits to access and inclusivity, questions over who gets to define what are “domains of common concern”
    writing very much before the internet is at all common or present in the average household
    proposes the mechanism of the subaltern counterpublic: groups marginalised by the wider public sphere due to status, difference, lack of access or lack of recognition for the publicness of their issues; can deliberate and articulate their issues in safe spaces and prepare to reach out to wider public sphere.
    There are some things that the internet is particularly good at
    Bringing people together - particularly isolated people from marginalised communities.
    Allowing concerns to be aired within safe spaces and issues to be verbalised and articulated.
    Allowing lived experiences to be shared.
    Examples: LGBT youth; disability rights campaigners; jobseekers made to jump through hoops; women experiencing street harassment.
    Effectively, despite all its shortcomings, the internet is actually quite good at hosting and nurturing (at least some) subaltern counterpublics.
    So let’s have a look at how some of this works in practice.
  • Zoe Quinn developed a game called Depression Quest which got some quite good reviews.

    Leading up to the Steam release of the game, she was harassed online, mostly through hate mail and harassing comments on online forums, including parts of Steam.

    Shortly after the Steam release in August 2014, Quinn’s ex partner wrote a blog post alleging that the reason Depression Quest got positive reviews was that Quinn had had a sexual relationship with a Kotaku games journalist.

    The harassment campaign against Quinn increased in intensity and now included doxing, hacking of several of her social media account and threats of violence made against her personally and her family. Harassment was also extended to game developer Brianna Wu and feminist games critic Anita Sarkeesian. The Twitter hashtag #GamerGate was coined.

    Supporters of GamerGate present the controversy not as one over misogyny in the games industry but over ethics in games journalism. They contend that there is an unethical conspiracy among games developers and journalists to focus on progressive social issues in games. They see this as a threat to the “Gamer identity” - which is traditionally conceptualised as straight, white, and male.

  • Felicia Day