Women and Identity in Gaming Symposium explores game culture

By Mackenzie Rech & Noah Gunther

Lawrence’s third annual Women and Identity in Gaming Symposium (WIGS) was held in the Warch Campus Center last Sunday, April 26. This year’s event included a keynote speaker, a panel discussion, presentations by students and a games expo.

WIGS, while composed primarily of members of Gaming Club, is a separate organization responsible for planning the annual symposium among other campus events, including a panel held last fall.

WIGS opened with a discussion of the necessity of the symposium at 10 a.m., followed by a speech by founder of Killscreen arts and culture magazine Jazmin Warren. Chris Gore-Gammon, who helped organize WIGS, introduced Warren, explaining that WIGS hoped “to raise awareness for [marginalized groups in gaming.]”

Warren opened his speech by describing how media in general is adapting slowly to the idea of video games as an art form. “No one’s really writing about as a form of culture,” said Warren, speaking about his time as an “Arts & Culture” writer for the Wall St. Journal. When he first proposed the idea of writing about video games and game culture, his editor rejected the idea.

“Games were this incredibly commercially viable medium, but the international media weren’t that interested,” summarized Warren.

Warren also spoke about “Gamergate,” an incident in gaming culture that “started as a lover’s quarrel and ended with a Twitter movement against women in gaming, and “against women in general.”

Warren then spoke about the history of misogyny in video game culture, particularly in the game industry. He compared the culture of the more recent development of online gaming to hooliganism in soccer — how participants in competitive situations are liable to become rowdy, even violent.

Warren concluded by explaining that changing gaming culture is a bottom-up process, starting with how people who play games view themselves. “If you want to change someone’s mind, you have to change their self-identity.”

The panel discussion, held in the cinema from 1:30-2:30 p.m., included researcher and software developer at UW-Madison Caroline Hardin, WIGS faculty advisor and Reference & Web Services Librarian Angela Vanden Elzen and Warren as panelists. Topics discussed included problems related to the anonymity in gaming communities, the accuracy of representations of identity in games and how the gaming industry fits within popular culture.

While Gamergate was addressed during the panel, member of the WIGS planning committee and junior Fiona Masterson expressed a desire to steer away from this topic, given that it was covered during Warren’s presentation and during a panel discussion held last fall when the event initially occurred. Masterson instead intended to address further topics related to gaming education, and female and LGBTQ representation.

Masterson expressed hope for expanding the program and having all students interested in gaming participate in the planning process.

“This is in the Lawrence community and we really want to address the kinds of things that our gaming community is thinking about. Gaming Club […] is big and we have formal group housing. [But] there are tons of people on this campus who game and aren’t part of that club, and we want to get them involved as well and find out what they want to talk, what they want to hear about.”

Masterson additionally described an initiative to collaborate with other student organizations, specifically Black Student Union (BSU). The planning for next year’s symposium will begin next fall.