Yesterday was the one year anniversary of #GamerGate. So Happy Birthday, I guess!
On this very special occasion I would like to engage in a little Rogerian argument.
In 1951, the psychologist Carl Rogers gave a talk at the Centennial Conference on Communications at Northwestern University that changed the way we think about argument.
According to Rogers, the principle difficulty preventing people from settling their differences, indeed from communicating effectively in an everyday sense, was that people couldn’t stop evaluating one another. The more important a topic was to them, the more emotional the participants in a discussion became, and the more they were apt to judge what the other person was saying rather than giving it the best hearing they could. In short, Rogers noticed that when people argue, they tend to make judgments about their opponents’ positions before they really understand them.
Rogers’s goal, then, was to avoid this tendency to constantly evaluate and instead to “listen with understanding.” By this, he meant that people should not only try to understand that someone holds a particular viewpoint but also try to get a sense of what it’s like to believe that. “What does that mean? It means to see the expressed idea and attitude from the other person’s point of view, to sense how it feels to him, to achieve his frame of reference in regard to the thing he is talking about.” Rogers himself acknowledged barriers to this kind of understanding. First and foremost, you have to be willing to try it, and not many people are. Rogers’s approach seems like you’re giving ground to your opponents and, what’s worse, sometimes you actually are. “In the first place, it takes courage […] you run the risk of being changed yourself.”
It is important to note, though, that this sort of Rogerian understanding is also itself an argumentative tactic. First, people will almost always refuse to consider something if they feel threatened by it, and Rogerian understanding reduces the threat to the opposition. Second, people reciprocate; they tend to treat others as they are treated by them.
In this little philosophical exercise, I am going to take #GamerGate’s claims at face value. I will accept that, in the wake of the “Zoe Post” #GamerGate’s number one concern really was that there were ethical breaches taking place in games journalism.
With this assumption in mind I ask a couple of important questions.
- What problem do you think is the bigger ethical issue within Internet culture: that there might be some corrupt shenanigans taking place within games journalism? Or that the Internet can become such a hostile place for women that they often receive rape and death threats from mobs of anonymous users?
- Is it possible to conceive of a platform that addresses both issues?
#GamerGate supporters will say that they do not condone abuse and harassment. But if they are really invested in solving ethical problems within games journalism, I would like to see #GG proponents actively reach out to feminists and so-called “Social Justice Warriors” and say “let’s see if we can think of some ways that we can come together to work on the issues in tech culture that are important to all of us.”
And if they won’t, I would like them to reflect on why it is that so many of us believe them to be disingenuous.
What is really important to you? Is it creating reform in games journalism? Or scoring points against your ideological opponents. And if it is the latter, then how sincere can you really be about your rejection of harassment? After all, one of the best ways to “win the game” is to convince the other team to give up and go home.