I have a love-hate relationship. I’m impressed by the power of video games to seduce us, but disturbed by recent events in the gaming community. It’s called Gamergate.
Living in a Parallel Universe
Electronic games are everywhere. The Nielsen report says that in 57 percent of U.S. households, there is a dedicated gaming console. That’s a pretty big market, and it grows more every year. As for me, I don’t own a gaming console. You may wonder why we should care about video games or the debate in the gaming community. You may or may not be a player, but you may have children, grandchildren, students, patients, clients, neighbors, other relatives or friends who are gamers. Chances are good at 57%. A few years ago at my school, I was walking 4 fifth-grade students to the bus at dismissal time before a long weekend. “So,” I asked, “what are you guys going to do this weekend?” “We’re playing ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops.’ ” “Oh, are you getting together?” “No, it’s a multi-player. We’re playing it from home.” Hmm, I thought, we’re living in parallel universes.
Video Games and Neuroscience
As a teacher looking to make connections with students’ interests, I was intrigued. I eagerly attended a talk by Dr. Judy Willis, a well-known neuroscientist specializing in the brain, learning and video games. The great pull, she said, is of small, achievable challenges that match the players’ abilities. When those challenges are met by very frequent and timely feedback, there is a release of the neurochemical dopamine-pleasure into the brain. Wow, it’s like drugs! As you go up a level and the screen changes, your motivation increases and more dopamine is released. While this may sound like a prescription for addictive behavior, it is also a recipe for great teaching. What if this technique could be fully harnessed for academic learning? There are, in fact, a few very positive games in the market. The potential for good seems unlimited. But what are most players currently learning from games? Felix Adler once said, “Never teach our children anything they’ll need to unlearn.”
Thoughts of unlearning bring us to the front page of the New York Times on October 16, 2014. This is from the article, Feminist Critics of Video Games Facing Threats:
“Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist cultural critic, has for months received death and rape threats from opponents of her recent work challenging the stereotypes of women in video games. Bomb threats for her public talks are now routine. One detractor created a game in which players can click their mouse to punch an image of her face.”
It turns out that Ms. Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a talk at Utah State in May, but she cancelled because the University could not guarantee her safety. She was going to talk about how, in many popular games, men were cast as heroes relegating women to the roles of damsels, victims or hyper-sexualized playthings. Several other female game developers have had to move out of their homes or otherwise go into hiding. A practice called “doxing” has been levelled at women in the gaming field. Doxing is slang for the practice of publishing private information about an individual online: pictures, messages, documents, legal notices or anything the “trolls” can find. Much of this activity has been anonymous and, so far, nobody has been prosecuted.
What is the focus of the attacks from the #Gamergate side? They want to reject what they see as the intrusion of a liberal agenda and to defend against any “forced” diversification of gaming culture. Out of this controversy came the invective: “Social Justice Warrior.” This a term that is reviled in the discussion threads around Gamergate and is the subject of much hateful speech against the “SJW.” Perhaps if they knew that the Bergen Ethical Culture Platform Meeting Program that we use every week says on the back “…to create a more humane society,” we might be subject to attacks from them, as well. We often do sound like social justice warriors, and we sometimes are.
Why Ethical Culture
While these attacks may be happening far from our daily lives, Gamergate is not a tiny movement. Newsweek reported a few weeks ago that two million tweets were posted about this with at least 10,000 in support of the hate speech. I find it unimaginable that any of our members could be one of those 10,000. At Ethical Culture’s heart is acting with the dignity of others in mind and with reasonable discourse. The Society provides us with a forum to pass this on to our children and to reinforce this in one another. Our value of inclusion is an antidote to the vicious talk at #Gamergate.
In the end, Anita Sarkeesian was going to say this, if she had had the chance in Utah.
“… the ones who try to shame and threaten women like me into silence have already lost. The new reality is that video games are maturing, evolving and becoming more diverse.”
That’s great news for the video game culture as many have become disgusted by Gamergate. There is now a real thirst for decency. In that, Ethical Culture has much to offer. Bringing the neuroscience of gaming and the humanist values of Ethical Culture together might be unexpectedly fruitful for both.