If gamers are the "educated elite," then….


Good morning. I’d like to begin this article with a short exercise. Accompanying this paragraph is a picture of Magdalen College, one of the largest and most prestigious colleges of Oxford University. It is so big and so rich that its grounds contain a deer park.

Please take a moment to say the name of Magdalen College out loud.

If you pronounced it ‘mag-dal-en’, then I’m afraid you’re quite wrong. But if you pronounced it ‘Maudlin’, congratulations – you have a familiarity with the obscure mores of Oxford that separates you from the mere proles who never heard their parents or their teacher or their older sibling pronounce those words out loud. And now we all know it, you posh twat.

This was the test that sprang to mind when I first read Jim Rossignol’s piece on games and ‘high culture’ back in October. Games, he argued, require a great deal of education to engage with, let alone appreciate; they’re packed full of obscure conventions and assume hours of practice. We shouldn’t worry about what non-gamers think of games, because “in this instance,” he wrote, “we are the highly educated elite.”

It’s a good point. It arouses in me the instant desire to defend the fruits of the traditional education I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy (a word I choose advisedly) in both games and ‘real life’. Complexity of the kind impenetrable without years of copious and counter-intuitive study is valuable and beautiful for those who want to dance with it and I will defend it forever and always on those terms. Not everyone, however, gets invited to that party – and others are denigrated simply for not wanting to go.

This article is about how if the comparison of games to education is taken seriously and to its logical extent, it gives context and clarity to some of our loudest critical debates. But it’s also about how that comparison has cultural and political cultural dimensions we can’t avoid, because if gamers are an ‘educated elite’ they also act like one: valuing some kinds of game literacy over others, and restricting the provision of the higher forms.


This begins, of course, with one of those articles. Last week, it was troll-faced Jonathan Jones at the Guardian; before that, it was Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times. Okay, says some high-falutin’ artsy-fartsy type, so Frog Factions is pretty fun – but it’s hardly Joyce (actually, it blatantly is). The genre is now so familiar that it’s usually more interesting to see how gamers respond than to read the tired original.

For example, Rossignol starts his article by (skeptically) paraphrasing the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, who wrote that there are two kinds of culture:

“High culture”, which is best appreciated with some formal education about what is going on with it (difficult literature, opera) and “Low Culture”, which is basically everything in folk, primitive, and pop culture, for which education is not required.

But Scruton is wrong. The difference between high culture and low culture is not the level of education they require (because they both require plenty). The difference is that one kind of education is available to everybody, and the other is restricted to a relatively small group; one esteemed by society as being of the highest importance, the other just a waste of time. Exercise 2: match the pairs.

Before we go on I’d like to relate two incidents occurring in the 20th century which together contain the two most important things we need to understand about education. In 1971 an English professor called Stanley Fish left a reading list from a previous class on his blackboard and told the next batch to analyse it as a poem; he found that it was mainly his students’ goals and preconceptions which determined how it was read. In the 1960s a psychologist called Robert Cole gave American intelligence tests to Liberian tribesmen regarded as intellectually deficient by local development workers and found that they were easily capable of getting the correct answers – but only when asked “how would a fool do it?”

The first incident was the springboard for Fish’s masterful, witty essay ‘How to Recognise a Poem When You See One’, which shows that even the simplest or most obvious facets of ‘common sense’ are only simple and obvious because our whole lives have been training us to see them that way.  The second is related in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker profile of the social scientist James Flynn in the New Yorker, and shows how IQ tests don’t really test intelligence but at best “modernity” and at worst merely the ability to perform an IQ test. Upshots: one, ‘ordinary knowledge’ is in fact highly educated knowledge; two, valued forms of education are not the only form of education.

So I don’t think that games average a greater complexity than rap music, or lace-making, or advertising, or fishing, or reality TV, but they do involve plenty of knowledge. This is even true of the titles dismissed by Alan Williamson in another response to Kellaway as “superficial junk food for the brain”: Call of Duty and FIFA. Despite its infantilizing compulsion loops, modern CoD requires great dexterity and special awareness, and assumes learned familiarity with trope upon complex trope. As for FIFA, what praises cannot be sung of this subtle and beautiful game? What other title more perfectly balances the cold and tactical calculation of the sporting mind with the instinctive muscular rhythm of the sporting body – or tempers them both with the daring, courage, caution and cowardice of the sporting soul? Not even fighting games punish uninformed button-mashing like FIFA does.

But, as Gladwell’s example suggests, society values some types of education very differently. The word very ‘educated’, standing alone, literally means ‘allowed access to a particular narrow and historically exclusive form of knowledge’. In America, this knowledge is valued at tens of thousands of dollars per year, its cultural capital enforced and maintained by colleges which once officially excluded women or blacks but now just charge a fucking fortune to get in (to say nothing of unofficial discrimination). They are supported by a culture which sells this bargain as desirable and denigrates those unable or unwilling to make it – which fills our conversations with Magdalen College traps designed to identify and punish the ‘uneducated’. And they are of course synergetic with a society which destroys free time and chokes people of opportunities to do anything but scramble for their immediate survival.

These are just some extreme examples. If you don’t share my anti-capitalist soapbox, I’m certain you can find your own (call it Exercise 3). But did you know that in 1989, the year I was born, the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defined “whom” (based exhaustive study of written and spoken English) as a word that has passed out of the grammar of ordinary speech? It is now part of what linguists call a prestige dialect, which means it has no functional purpose except to tell everyone else around you that you’re more educated than they are.


In this analysis, Kellaway’s article was a clash between a highy-valued kind of education and another existing lower on the scale. Indeed, it came about through a prize specifically designed to produce such a meeting. Kellaway was chosen to try and “start a national conversation about games” because she is a published author, a successful journalist and a cultural arbiter – and while she was ultimately ill-equipped to judge the games she played, she went about the task with wit and self-depreciating humour. This is one reason her article transcends the genre that Roger Ebert founded, and is readable as more than just another pompous wank.

Another is that, unlike the spectacularly oblivious Jones, Kellaway recognises the truth of Sophie Houlden’s ‘Can Art Be Games’? She realises that knowing how to enjoy games is in itself a skill and admits that she lacks key forms of game literacy like the ability to make Commander Shepherd walk in a straight line. Moreover, she explicitly understands that skill as an education and not the absence of one (she compares her failure to play with her son’s failure to learn French). Ultimately, however, she sticks to her habitual valuation, concluding that if there is any kind of value or complexity in the games she plays, her high-culture education (Oxford, as it happens) is not designed to appreciate it, and she has better things to do. Fair enough. Cartoonist Gary Larson expresses the central irony of our luderacy: the ‘work’ and education it takes for us to enjoy videogames is not valued by employers, cultural arbiters, and parents as anything except a waste of time.

Some gamers dismissed Kellaway’s importance: for Jim Rossignol, she lacked an “education in the school of games”, so who cares? To each their own. Others championed her: Mattie Brice wrote that education consisted mainly of “inbred conventions” – “superficial, unexplained, and frankly discriminatory barriers to entry.” Others, like Williamson, came down in the middle, admitting that there was a grain of truth to what she said. The crux of the argument is about how we as a medium respond to outside valuation.

Do games need to make themselves readable to a high culture education, or is it enough that nerds understand them (we see games like Dwarf Fortress as most ‘geeky’ precisely because they are the most impenetrable without a geek’s education)? When Rossignol wonders why people “get caught up on games not having anything to say,” it is a crystallisation of this conflict. They mean ‘say’ to high culture, speak in a manner intelligible to outsiders, through ‘messages’, morals, meanings, and so forth.

Like in some local war fought in the shadow of rival superpowers, this context patterns our most persistent critical disputes. Is it unfair to see Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmless as an attempt to show the disapproving dad of high culture that games really can be worth something? I think many game critics see that as their job description. On the other hand are the Keith Burguns, the Tadgh Kellies, even the Alex Kierkegaards, for whom games have sufficient value on their own terms and for whom any attempt at holding them to other value sets is an alien imposition to be fought off (back in the war, ‘ludologists’ claimed ‘narratologists’ were trying to annex games for the Humanities). Then there are those, like Liz Ryerson and J. Chastain, who reject the shared premise that videogames are already good enough, and shout at gamers: wake up! Demand better! This Stockholm Syndrome bullshit you’ve given half your life to has never loved you back! It is a struggle to claim or reclaim the soul of a medium for or from the devils that are bidding for it.

But it would be ludicrous to say that gamers are treated anywhere near as badly as the ‘uneducated’ poor, and the videogame education is by no means among the least valuable. Games are at MOMA, games are in the Library of Congress, games are getting all up in Lucy Kellaway’s face when all she wants to do is curl up with her readbooks. Hell, it’s possible the long-awaited third edition OED might have dialogue from games among its millions of usage citations (I know it’s got Dylan lyrics in there). Games academia is a burgeoning field and games writing is more common than ever – though it pays a pittance, for reasons that have more to do with the decline of print journalism and thirty years of plutocratic wage suppression. We only take umbrage at Ebert or Jones because we’ve gotten to the point where we reckon we can take them.

Perhaps more importantly, as we all know, games are a multi-billion dollar industry blah blah blah $$$$$$$$ bigger than Hollywood movies blah blah misleading PR claims uncritically repeated. The converse of that is that your videogame education makes you highly valuable as a consumer: £40 for a game, £100 for a special edition £200 for a console, £800 for a computer, and then there’s the DLC (not to mention Kickstarter). Let’s not forget real, massive time cost of a real thoroughgoing videogame habit: hour upon kilohour of harmless, healthy pastime or pathological self-abuse, depending on the time and place and person (I’ve done both).

In terms of knowledge value, that’s not quite the price of college, but the comparison is indicative. We sink a lot of ourselves into games, and maybe that’s why some people think they have the right to decide who gets to join in. Forget the rest of the world: the real problem is what kind of education we value, and who we exclude.


Spacewar! is one of the first videogames ever made, and it ran on a computer that would cost a million dollars today. That cost has come down (incidentally changing the world, nbd), but the wider point is that computer gaming is historically linked with an economically and culturally privileged form of knowledge. Yes, we nerds are often denigrated, but come on: Silicon Valley? Financial industry quants? Regular access to computers and free time to use them? Even in the 1960s, MIT university departments were not a very wide demographic pool. Besides pricing on the consumer end, there is the human cost of producing games consoles and smartphones: the child miners, the torture squads, the suicide nets, to say nothing of the power plants, the greenhouse gases and the global banking networks that surround and license them. Gamers are by definition a privileged group.

They act it, too. Exercise 4 comes with a trigger warning. Please read about or bring to memory the following three examples of gaming misogyny: Maddy Myers’ account of being mocked, belittled, and tacitly excluded on the fighting game circuit, Miranda Pakozdi’s forced forfeit in the face of sexual harassment, and Ryan Perez’ drunken attack on Felicia Day.

These are well-covered issues, but I would like to place them in their educational context. All three involved subtypes of videogame literacy which are highly specialised and take extreme devotion to achieve. The best fighting games do demand the psychological brinksmanship of poker and the motor skill of a musical instrument, no matter how foul this fact is made is in the mouths of fans who enlist it to defend their misogyny. Likewise, high-level raiding in World of Warcraft requires intricate knowledge of its fighting systems and levels of team coordination to make management trainers envious (plus, let’s face it, weeks of bullshit grinding).

But for Perez, who called Day “a glorified booth babe”, or Aris Bakhtanians, who said the fighting game community and rape threats were “one and the same”, it is not enough that these women fulfil the ostensible requirements of these advanced forms of education. Maddy Myers says repeatedly that all she wants to do is learn the game and get better, but the community will not allow her to do so on the same level as a man. Pakozdi cannot compete fairly with men but must also suffer abuse that is specific to her gender and whose direct equivalent, if any exists, is not imposed on her opponents. And what Perez is really ‘asking’ Day is whether her educational credentials are real; like Donald Trump on his quixotic quest to debunk Barrack Obama’s academic achievements, he just can’t believe that a woman, of all things, can possibly be qualified.

There are a hundred more examples, large and small, every day. This is a culture of exclusion. It functions to dismiss and deny the luderacy of women, and dissuade other women from trying to achieve it even if it interests them. Day’s experience, for example, should be seen in light of the ‘fake geek girl’ meme that recently blew up in the world of comics – another geeky subculture where prominent individuals apparently fear infiltration by man-eating shape shifters dressed as Sexy John Constantine or whatever. The discourse is all about ‘posing’, ‘really’ knowing, the true believers and the pretenders, and extra tests are introduced in order to distinguish them. Can you name every Green Lantern ever? Come on, it’s just trash talking. Hey, get on mic so we can scrutinise your voice. Hope you’re ready for a literacy test if you want to vote. Can you say ‘Magdalen College’?

As in real-world education debates, nobody is claiming that no tests and no standards are ever legitimate. In a fighting game tournament we accept that some people will have to lose and drop out, just as others must win; likewise, I wouldn’t let you join my WoW raiding guild if I didn’t think you could cut the mustard. The problem is of dishonest requirements. Whatever test gets set up, it somehow always seems to apply differently to women, or blacks, or gays, or whoever. Sometimes, as in Gladwell’s example of the Liberian IQ test, it starts as an accident; a test designed for one culture doesn’t work in another. But when people defend the test as ‘objective’, denigrate those who it excludes and wilfully blind themselves to its bias, the effect is exactly the same. Just look at the BritRuby scandal in the programming world, where some people couldn’t stand the idea that privilege might exist and play a part in their success. Or see the case of Rebecca ‘Skepchick’ Watson, whose right to speak about science was questioned (but not that of her equivalently-educated male peers) once she wrote about sexism at skeptic conferences. In his book Outliers, Gladwell compiles many striking examples of false requirements in sport, business and politics. He did so not out of pure curiosity but because he didn’t like living a culture which constantly tells itself that all its tests are fair.

One way to phrase this is that education is itself a game in which players are rewarded for learning certain skills and having certain abilities and that our culture thinks some of these games are more hardcore than others. In his book Half-Real, Jesper Juul defines games as having “negotiable consequences” and illustrates by contrasting ‘games’ with ‘elections’. But elections are negotiable too; their consequences have already been negotiated by power elites and their inherent negotiability is obscured by the respect or even pseudo-biblical reverence we give to constitutional authorities. Accordingly, some of these games are broken. Just as elections don’t always elect the best (or even the most popular), the rules of the fighting game tournament covertly slant away from their ostensible purpose of ‘finding the most skilled player’ and towards the purpose of excluding women from the definition of ‘skilled’. That is to say that videogames, along with education, NHS privatisation, always-on DRM and most of contemporary capitalism, suffers from a grand form of ludonarrative dissonance. The fiction doesn’t match the rules.

Meanwhile, the gaming world practices its own matryoshka valuation of different kinds of luderacy. Casual is bad and hardcore is good, even though nobody agrees on how those terms are defined. Games that don’t require hours of devotion and white-knuckle skill are for pussies and women (and notice that those striking examples of exclusion are from these highly valued luderacy subtypes). A woman who finds the stories of Bioware games more interesting than their gameplay is ruining everything. And hey, if you’re not a straight white dude and you still want to gain or demonstrate a videogame education, add to your list Exercise 5: endure and brush off a brand-new scandal like the monstering of Jennifer Hepler pretty much every day.

This is not to mention the persistently juvenile and frequently misogynist aesthetics of the medium (something Kellaway complains about). You must volunteer to try and learn about videogames even though sometimes it seems like their every pixel berates you for not being part of that small section of humanity. And no, this is not the result of ‘market forces’. Latinos drive videogame sales but are poorly represented in the medium. Black and hispanic people play more videogames but don’t get to make them (or be in them). Games with woman protagonists have marketing budgets 40% lower or less than man-games. The straight, white, male, young  ‘target audience’ is a fiction and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Somewhere out there, growing up quiet and nerdy is traumatic enough – and it can be tough – that some kid will deal with it by making ‘gamer’ or ‘nerd’ a big part of his identity. Maybe he goes further and buys into the myth that girls are oppressing him by invading his hobby; maybe, just maybe, there is some kind of real hurt behind that psychological shift. But if you feel persecuted you don’t get to take it out on the people that society has conveniently placed below you as a sacrificial class to divert your anger from your actual enemies. Fucked doesn’t have to mean fucked up, kid, and this is fucked up.


Everyone is right about Kellaway. Gaming is a complex field and it would be churlish to expect her to magically ‘get’ everything worth getting about it. And as far as our interaction with external valuation goes, we don’t need to bring Mohammed to the mountain; we can call the mountain right the fuck here. We are getting better at wielding our own kinds of education and complexity for a rainbow of reasons, and for every model of what games should be and do there is a polemical counterattack (although some are more prominent and powerful than others). The most vital, radiant and penetrating critics of videogames are bilingual, with one foot inside the magic circle. They have this education in their bones – even though in some cases they have had to seize it from between the teeth of the whole exclusionary arsenal.

But Kellaway’s lesson is valuable because some of the things that dissuaded her are the same things that form this arsenal. Fighting false exclusion everywhere it appears with every available fibre is an obvious step to prevent this. But perhaps we also need to make it a mythic and foundational ideal that our medium and all the forms of education it involves should be open to everyone without scruple or exception. Everybody gets to play and everybody gets to learn.

We see this kind of sustaining ideal operate in the sporting world, where the UK has a publically funded scouting body (Sport England) modelled on the Soviet Union’s and designed to find Olympic talent anywhere, while the US allows talented athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds to be offered scholarships to excel in college. This myth does not function perfectly: a high proportion of British medal-winners were privately educated, and nerds at college like to rage against sport scholarships because it devalues the exclusivity (not the utility) of their own extortionately-priced education. Meanwhile, male footballers sell on the international market while female ones are ignored. But the ideal informed every level of discussion and coverage about the 2012 Olympics, and was central to the most successful Paralympics ever. If it isn’t working, it’s valuable enough to be worth working towards.

Even where there are explicit, rigid criteria for participation or success, as in sport or fighting games tournaments (but not in ‘having fun with videogames’ or ‘being allowed to talk about videogames’), it’s bullshit to dismiss access measures. You wouldn’t object to a pop science book that distilled the work of specialists for uneducated appreciation, or to an introductory text that aimed to give aspiring specialists a first step.

In reality this is also a method of bringing the mountain to us. Invite everyone in, exclude nobody. Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters declares exactly this ideal, with its call for a demotic revolution in game production and its pixel art cover with 192 different faces given equal prominence in a hue mosaic. Posters sold at launch twinned a blow-up of that cover with the word: ‘EVERYONE’. And if the status quo should at some point co-opt that beautiful ideal as a fig leaf for ongoing exclusion, as has arguably happened in sport and blatantly happened with democracy, that just means that it is up to everyone to take back that system and, like the rebelling Haitian slaves who stood against Napoleonic soldiers by singing the French revolutionary anthem back at them, reclaim and unleash its unfinished potential.

Because I believe in the school of games, just like I believe in the education I got – but I also that it should be open and deliberately welcoming to everyone, just like I believe that everyone should have the chance to spend three years in a library learning how to look at things which are blossoming and bursting and exploding into life at this very moment, and put them all into an article as long, and ponderous, and irrelevant as this one.

Hey! Sit down! The bell doesn’t ring for another fi –



  2. Sophie Houlden

    Best article on games I’ve ever read. Thank you.

  3. I stopped reading when you wrote you were born in 1989. I just hate you.
    (Just kidding, I read everything, wonderful article. I still hate you though)

  4. Excellent article.

  5. yoggesothothe

    This article, and the preceding responses to Mr. Ruch’s piece, have caused me to realize that I, too, have unthinkingly resorted to “argument from education” in an exclusionary manner in the past, for which I am now greatly ashamed. And this post especially has very much helped me to conceptually crystallize what I was doing wrong by expanding my understanding of education, and by making me see how it applies in ways I had not previously fully internalized.

    Thank you, and the responders mentioned, for expanding my perspective and educating me to come to this realization.

  6. Absolutely fantastic article, Mr. Brindle! One extra thought that pops up: it seems a “game education” is a necessary, but not a sufficient requirement to be able to enjoy “art games”, like for instance Flower, Journey, Limbo… Do these games in fact require us to be (and I like how you’ve repurposed the word) bilingual?

  7. This is one of the most awe-inspiring pieces I’ve ever read on games. I’ll look out for more of your work.

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  9. Sam

    Great article, really crystallizes a lot of things I’ve thought about gaming and general knowledge.

    I’ve gotta say though, as a fighting game player I’ve got a few gripes about their frequent mention in this article that I think evade the educational elitism this article is about.

    Fighting game tournaments aren’t designed in any way to exclude anyone. The only thing that matters is winning. Woman, paraplegic, minority (actually most top players are minorities), as long as you win you’re in.

    The community in also generally inclusive. There is certainly an education to be built up, but all the resources are online. All you need is dial up and training mode. Furthermore, the players are usually happy to teach. Maddy decided not to write about it, but a bunch of us tried to help her and teach her the ropes (her article obviously omits this but what can you do). the proof is in the pudding, one of the best dead or alive (ironically one of the most juvenile depictions of women) is a woman. She’s even been sponsored.

    just wanted to put in my three cents, still a great article!

  10. I really dug this guy’s talk because he straight up dodged the ‘art’ question by asking another, similar, but ultimately more interesting question: http://gambit.mit.edu/updates/2011/12/video_games_as_an_aesthetic_fo.php

    He makes a really good (though he admits obvious point) that we should think about when we’re fighting wars for status rather than anything else. The difference between ‘are games culturally important’ and ‘should they be sitting in the MoMa while we sip cristal and gush about them’.

    And we shouldn’t worry about maintaining status either, whether games as a form are becoming less ‘core’ or whatever. Someone will always make the game for you, we just need more people doing that.

    Access to the technology is getting there, and I’m not gonna pretend there aren’t pretty big technical hurdles, but there’s stuff like twine and gamemaker etc. and a lot of opportunity for collaboration!

  11. TTN

    1) “You must volunteer to try and learn about videogames” 2) “chosen to try and ‘start a national conversation” Should be ‘try to.’

    • Ah, I see – considering that “try and” is a common idiomatic form with long history* whose meaning everyone understands, would this be one of those false educational standards I’ve heard so much about?

      – J.B.


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  13. Sir Ventricle

    This was going to sound horrendously academically convoluted, so in the spirit of your article, a comment that doesn’t make me sound like a pompous asshole:

    Virtually all discussions about the relation between video games and people who aren’t white men (or at least men) is about wanting to make video game culture accessible and inclusive. You mentioned the spurning of ‘fake geek girls’ as something symptomatic of the inaccessibility of the culture, which is stupid because – if I understood you correctly – why should a girl not be allowed to adopt geek culture, even if she doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of obscure parts of that culture?

    Part of it, as you and many others hinted at, is that gaming culture is like a secret club, like a place where you find affirmation that your hobby is cool. Where you can escape daily life and be someone or something else. Since gaming culture developed for the vast majority among guys, it’s hardly a surprise that the culture remains steeped in male prejudice, and that this prejudice fosters an environment that predisposes gamers to be intolerant of any minority encroaching upon their turf. So the big question is whether gamers should be allowed to cordon off their culture and call it their own.

    Why are women allowed to reclaim the word ‘slut’ from its negative connotations? Why are black people allowed to call each other ‘nigger’? It’s because society has traditionally held prejudice against these minorities, and now they are using the right to free speech to effect a change in the way society perceives them. The important thing is not that they’ve been allowed to do this; it’s also that people who aren’t part of that minority are necessarily excluded from these reclamations. I can’t call a woman ‘slut’ and get away with it, nor could I call a black person ‘nigger’. Is it purely because of ‘white male privilege’, then, that when gamers rally against ‘fake geek girls’ and ‘casual geeks’, against people who want to be part of the club but don’t have the same level of knowledge – that it suddenly is unacceptable? Surely not – as you indicated, large parts of the gaming community are in fact made up of minorities. So why, then, can’t gamers retain the word ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ and have it apply to a strict sense of ‘someone who really knows their shit when it comes to gaming/internet culture’? Aren’t we guilty of double standards when we can have feminist societies that don’t allow male membership, but we can’t have gamer culture that rejects those with only a fleeting interest in, and non-thorough knowledge of, games?

    TL;DR: why can’t other minorities be condemned for being exclusive, but gaming culture can?

    • yoggesothothe

      Forgive me if I am wrong, but this sounds like a false equivalency. “Nerd culture” is a matter of choice, not of birth. Moreover, the reason that “gaming culture developed for the vast majority among guys” is the same reason that Charles Babbage received recognition where Ada Lovelace did not–it was built within an existing, historical structure of discrimination and prejudicial gender roles. Even today, the population entering into engineering or computer science is significantly skewed towards males. That is to say, the idea that game culture originated from males is only true in the sense that it “originated” from a social group from which women have historically been entirely unjustifiably excluded. If anything, it is _that_ exclusion, and a culture that perpetuates it, which is being condemned.

      Truly, I do not mean to be snarky with this comment (if the tone comes across as so, that would be a failure on my part), please do not take it as such. But personally, I don’t understand the appeal of meaningless (in the sense that there seems to be no intrinsic meaning) exclusion–nothing about “nerd culture” is inherently gendered, or has to be.

    • Zack

      Because the exclusivity of ‘gaming culture’ reinforces already existing power structures in society that exclude people based on gender or race. If you find this dynamic contemptable in the larger society, why allow it in your hobby? Furthermore, ‘gaming culture’ is not demarcated in the same way boundaries of race and gender are. It is permeable. The term ‘geek’ doesn’t have to mean ‘white male and interested in computers’ it could easily refer to ‘anyone interested in computers’. Essentially, if you want to see ‘gaming culture’ as a kind of special interests group fighting back against social oppression (which to be honest smacks of extreme hyperbole anyway) then there is no reason for that special interests group to not also include women and ethnic minorities,for example, with the same interests.

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  16. I’m skipping down a bit to suggest that you go pick up a book on authenticity valuation since a lot of what you describe falls under determination of authenticity. It’s not enough that people are educated in games, but they must be authentically educated and the easiest way to subvert a message of a false requirement for “full” education is to dress it up in an authentic valuation. “Casual” and “hardcore” describe this most pointedly. The “casual” player is less authentically a player than the “hardcore” and women are mostly “casual” players and so on.

    The thing about authenticity is that it’s never defined when it comes up. One part or expression of the word is the “Authority” root, where authenticity is arbitrarily assigned by some authority, be it a doctoral historian or local consensus or legalized definition.

    The chapter in this book on lincoln’s “hometown” explains it better.


    The nature of authenticity is more of a sociology inquiry, though.

  17. Ender Mahe

    Yes, but you’re dancing around the issue. Let’s say I grant you all of the defensive education authentication and valuation stuff. What’s most interesting to me is the simple question of why. As you point out, this kind of thing happens all the time in other fields, from unions to universities. Everyone wants in, but once you’re in, you want to keep everyone else out. There is personal gain to be had. But the key difference is, in almost all other cases there is a monetary value attached, while in games there is only a social value. While social value should not be looked down upon, what creates social value is a lot more complicated than what creates monetary value. If your system is applied, then there really isn’t any justification for false barriers of entry to minorities and women, which you point out, but again I ask why? If there is no justification for excluding anybody, why are CERTAIN groups SPECIFICALLY saddled with extra artificial boundaries where others only get the ‘normal’ set?

    I think you need to complicate your look at it. The key outlook difference, I think, between your ideas and mine, is mostly from beginning assumptions of the in-group. If I follow you, you have them pro-actively creating this false tests in order to authenticate their own superiority, or in other words, they are promoting themselves by creating tests they can pass and others can’t. I don’t think that’s correct. The old-school community, and I’m talking generally before my time, I believe (though I am older than you – how’s that for an artificial test? 🙂 was such a small minority that it was very inclusive. If you wanted in, you were in, because they needed everyone they could get. It is only with the expansion of the gamer identity that these tests have cropped up. It is reactive, defensive, not pro-active and self-aggrandizing.

    If you’re still with me, that means that somehow women, and minorities, form a kind of threat, something to be reacted against. What is it? The threat is against the primary assumption, that games are a masculine (or white) place. Success in video-games involves being the hero, winning, and being empowered, all of which are tied up in the white masculine identity conveniently created by Hollywood. Winning, then, or more abstractly simply being good, then begins to equate to being masculine. It would be like how a master hunter would be more of a man than a novice – the field itself is identified with manhood (or at least a specific derivation of it). Already that masculine definition is on slippery ground for a variety of (generally good) reasons. Then you have the other coming in, be it women or minorities, and they’re beating you at them. Suddenly you not the hero, not empowered, and not as much of a man. To make it worse, you got outmanned by a not-man (not-white)! PLEASE don’t give up in disgust here – I’m NOT saying that having the other beat you is horrific because the other is supposedly worse than you, I’m saying it’s bad because you got out-manned by the other. It’s not that a lowly woman beat you, it’s that a non-man just outmanned you. It’s not an attack ON the other, it’s that the other just outdid you in YOUR OWN identity.

    Now comes the exclusion. You’re right that artificial barriers to entry play in here – gaming education can be a ludicrously convoluted one, and by requiring education that is not available to groups within the other, it makes it easier to marginalize them, and specifically, their success in an area you/we have called your/our own. This manifests itself in de-legitimizing the game (you hacked/cheated!), though with DRM etc., etc. that’s becoming increasingly used only in a self-reflexive ironic way, and by de-legitimizing the player. This is seen through claims that you used the “noob-tube” or a “cheap” strategy – the victory is devalued as having not used the code/education of the system, and thus eliminating the De-masculinzation of the defeat. In more palatable terms, if your opponent beat you because they used un-manly tactics, well then, you must have lost because you refused to use unmanly tactics. The threat to your manhood and position as the hero and empowered remained unthreatened, or at least salvageable.

    The reason all this garbage happens is because, and this is key, the game itself has shifted. If you can’t beat them in the system, you change the system. If you can’t beat them with button press interactions, you beat them with text/voice interaction. You lost once already, so you can’t hold back in this last ditch effort to salvage a victory, to preserve your manhood within this man-genre. And, in that sense, it’s not “real” because it’s another aspect of the “game,” just like Anita Sarkeesian talked about. And the only way to win is to make the winner into the other, to make them a not-man, so that they no longer supplant you in the hierarchy of manhood. That’s why it’s so vicious. That’s why it’s so slanted against women, particularly, and to a lesser extent (in my experience) towards minorities. This is why the majority of the misogynistic filth that gets spewed in game forums revolves around female anatomy, specifically genitalia, and the perceived gender role of women (the kitchen, making food/sandwiches/etc.). Its whole point is to reinforce that they are not women, and thus can not have out-manned you. By saying they don’t belong it de-legitimizes their victory and nullifies your loss. If they’re kicked out, you’ve still got your place on the totem poll of manhood.

    So while pretty much everything you said was true, it’s more of a symptom of underling causes. Is there exclusion? Absolutely. Is a major element of it through the artificial authentication of education? Undoubtedly. But you miss the why of it all. And, I think, you paint us 20-something white gamers too well. We’re not elitist pigs. We’re more pathetic than that. Our manhood is so fragile that it can’t withstand the presence of the other, of the woman, the black man, the polynesian, the latino, etc. without somehow BECOMING the other. If a woman shows us up at the arcade, suddenly winning at the arcade isn’t manly, and we’re terrified of that. Mostly because it starts to shine light into that dark corner of our minds that shies away from the fact that the other, the women and minorities, have belonged here as gamers with us all along.

    PS I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can reach me at Anomolousthinking@gmail.com
    PPS I love your reference to Fish – he’s one of my favorites. He served as the warm-up act, along with is “Free Speech doesn’t exist and it’s a good thing too” to my all-time favorite course, a walkthrough of the history/development of western marxism. If that doesn’t jump me some artificial barriers to entry, then nothing will 😀

    • Ender Mahe

      Oops. Lots of typos, but one critical one. 5th paragraph, third to last sentence. “Its whole point is to reinforce that they are not MEN (previously women), and thus can not have out-manned you.”

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  25. DSP

    As somebody becoming interested in gaming studies, but who has a generally small education in games, and who finds the world of “hardcore gaming” impossibly exclusionist (I don’t like Bioshock, whatever), I thank you deeply for this excellent and articulate piece. You have made some essential points and I can only hope it has bolstered the courage of some and expanded the minds of others.