Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
The New Exodus from Video Gaming, Revisited

Robert B. Marks | 3 Feb 2016 16:00
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One of my favourite television shows used to be Penn & Teller: Bullshit. I loved that show, especially the way it managed to combine critical thinking with entertainment. But, Penn and Teller never got to make their ideal final episode - the one where they called "bullshit" on themselves, talking about the things they said that were problematic or just plain wrong. They may never have had that chance in their work, but I do in mine, and this is one case where I really do need to call "bullshit" on myself.

Back in Garwulf #12, "The New Exodus from Video Gaming," I talked about the impact of harassment on the video game industry, and what having to deal with endemic harassment does to the profit vs. loss equation. I also pointed out that business decisions are not generally based on emotion, and if video game development companies find that the extra expense and attrition from protecting their talent from harassment pushes their costs to the point that the games are no longer profitable, they'll abandon that genre of game and make something else.

As a theoretical statement, it all holds water (as a small business owner, I speak from experience). But, as a practical assessment, it's very problematic - in my argument, I make the assumption that the harassment is endemic to the point that it is impacting the profit vs. loss equation in a meaningful way in the first place.

But, here's the thing: I don't actually know that. For that matter, I'm not sure anybody knows that outside of a few accounting departments, and they're not talking about it.

As I mentioned in the installment, back when I began working on Garwulf #12, I tried to research everything I could on online harassment in the video game industry. While I was able to find plenty of anecdotal evidence of game developers facing dreadful abuse and threats, and cases of developers departing for fields where their public wouldn't use them as a punching bag, I was unable to find any hard statistics. When I reached out to some industry organizations, those who responded had nothing for me. Even the recently published IGDA quality of life survey results didn't seem to include much in the way of information about online harassment.

This is not a small problem. As much as they are mocked for not telling the entire story, statistics matter. They help us develop a precise understanding of an issue in a way that anecdotes cannot, and can demonstrate the line between false perception and reality.

For example, let's say we were to compare two battlefields to figure out which one was more dangerous. Our first is the Somme in 1916. Our second is Normandy in 1944. We have more horror stories from the Somme, so we would be inclined to select it as the more hazardous...and we'd be dead wrong. As Gordon Corrigan points out in his book Mud, Blood and Poppycock, the casualty rate at Normandy was higher than the rate at the Somme. So, in reality, it was more dangerous to be on the battlefield at Normandy in 1944.

All of these questions are vital to defining the shape and scope of online harassment in the video game industry, and we have the answers to none of them.

Likewise, when it comes to online harassment, the Pew study I cited in Garwulf #12 shattered certain
perceptions created by anecdotal evidence. It discovered that the harassment rate for both men and women was shockingly high, that men received a bit more harassment than women, but that the figures were also close enough that one can't really call whether somebody gets harassed a gender issue. However, it also demonstrated that the type and severity of harassment was gender-based (and in some ways even age-based). With this information, we now have a far clearer idea of the "what" when it comes to online harassment, and with that knowledge we can begin to properly understand the "why" and start implementing effective solutions.

But while the Pew study is invaluable when it comes to online harassment in general, it tells us very little when it comes to the video game industry. Before we can formulate effective solutions to the problem, there are things we need to know. For example, what percentage of video game developers fall victim to harassment? Is that percentage higher for indie developers or AAA developers? Does this figure depend on active social media involvement (or, in other words, do developers who are more active on social media receive more harassment)? Does the genre of game make any difference to the percentage of developers being harassed? Does the format of game (console, PC, etc.) make any difference? Who is the harassment coming from (gender, age, social class, etc.)? And that's not even counting the question of how much additional cost dealing with online harassment entails for game companies.

All of these questions are vital to defining the shape and scope of online harassment in the video game industry, and we have the answers to none of them. To solve this problem we need to know the "what" and the "why," and we just don't.

The fact is that research needs to be done. Otherwise, we may never see the end of online harassment of game developers, for the simple reason that we lack the information we need to design and implement an effective solution.

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, Garwulf's Corner, and the co-author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora. His current fiction project is The Eternity Quartet, with Ed Greenwood. He is also the author of Fooling Garwulf here on The Escapist. His Livejournal can be found here, and he is on Facebook. He can be reached by email at garwulf at escapistmag.com.

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