For Science!
5 Things You Didn't Know about the Gamergate Controversy

CJ Miozzi | 18 Sep 2014 16:30
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GamerGate has been a heated topic these past few weeks. Mud has been slung, arrows fired into knees, and here at The Escapist, we've done our best to affirm our stance that gamers are not dead and that we wish to hold ourselves to a higher standard in gaming journalism.

Now that the dust has been settling, I'd like to take the opportunity to raise public awareness of another controversy that has flown under the radar for years: the gamergate controversy. Here are five things that most people don't know about this topic.

1. Gamergates are ants

In the world of entomology, a gamergate is a female worker ant that is able to reproduce with males in the absence of a queen. Some gamergate societies include just two castes - worker ants and gamergates - while some also include actual queens as well, like in regular ant colonies. Gamergates are more common in primitive ant species, which tend to also exhibit elongated mandibles and other adaptations for handling large prey.

2. The term "gamergate" has an origin you'd never guess

Ah, the etymology of entomology. The word "gamergate" actually has nothing to do with gamers or a tired comparison to the Watergate scandal - it's just an unfortunate coincidence. From the Greek words gámos and ergátēs, gamergate means "married worker." The term was first coined in 1983, and its typical definition - "mated, egg-laying worker" - has been officially in use since 1990.

3. Gamergates are rare

Only between one and two hundred species of queenless ants exist - about one percent of all ants. Even in colonies in which gamergates exist, they are rare - only either a single worker ant or small cadre of dominant workers have active ovaries at any given time. Gamergates also have much shorter life spans relative to normal queens, but this isn't a danger to the colony, which can easily replace a gamergate.

4. Gamergate society is vicious

Every female born in a gamergate colony is a potential gamergate. Whether they actually rise to the title and reproduce depends on their behavior. It's an ugly struggle - to give themselves the edge, these females need to cut their competition down to size. I almost mean that literally - one thing they do is violently mutilate their sisters, slicing off appendages to make them less desirable as mates. What follows next is a persistent pattern of aggressive, dominating behavior towards female workers to ensure they don't reproduce.

Thankfully, once a gamergate mates, the violence ends. Pheromones or chemical signals are then released that ensure the female workers remain nonreproductive - at least, until the gamergate queen grows old and dies. Even as she ages, the chemical signal becomes weaker, and that reproduction inhibition effect begins to diminish. When the gamergate queen finally kicks the bucket, a new dominant worker rises to take the throne in what is sometimes a bloody struggle.

In some cases, if the dominant gamergate shows weakness - that is to say, she is challenged by a female that is more reproductively fit - the workers may simply ignore the chemical signal and mutiny. They'll bite the gamergate's limbs, holding her immobile, so that the challenger can usurp her role.

5. Classification has been controversial

What is the great gamergate controversy? Among those who study ants, there is some dispute over whether caste (eg. worker, queen) should be primarily defined either by an ant's reproductive role or by its physical characteristics (morphology). One argument suggests that the term "queen" should be applied to any reproductively viable female ant, regardless of morphology, but the "gamergate" designation has been defined as a morphological one. Others say this is all just a matter of semantics and want to brush the issue aside - but dammit, the voices of dissent shall be heard! You cannot sweep us under the rug!

Make your voices heard - leave a comment letting us know what side of this controversial issue you fall on! The fate of myrmecology (the study of ants) may depend on it.

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