Weekly Syllabus: Inclusion
Welcome back to the Weekly Syllabus. This week's theme: "Inclusion."
It's probably fair to say that games have become a much less taboo and more inclusive medium in the past few decades, but undercurrents of sexism, othering and discrimination still run rampant through many of its subcultures.
This is an issue I've been concerned with for a long time, and this week I wanted to share some great articles (and a video!) that address these issues better than I could. We've got a college lecture from Gone Home's lead designer, Steve Gaynor; an open letter to Jerry Holkins about the problems with PAX from indie text-adventure developer Christine Love; and a profile on Jessica Chobot from Charlie Hall. And our featured article this week is an older one, but it deals with an issue I've been thinking a lot about lately as I spend more time coding than ever before.
I hope you enjoy this week's selection of articles. If anything catches your eye, I'd love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter.
Steve Gaynor, lead designer of Gone Home, gives a half-hour presentation on the development of the game. Stick around for the Q&A session: there’s a lot of great questions from the audience.
Christine Love: “An Open Letter to Jerry Holkins”
Like practically everyone else in the world — even The Economist — I shared some thoughts about attending PAX shortly after it concluded this fall, but I wanted to share indie developer Christine Love’s letter to one of the show’s founders. One of the highlights of the show, for me, was having the brief opportunity to walk up to her and say just how much I got out of playing Digital: A Love Story. If PAX stops being a safe space for everyone, I can’t imagine I’ll find much to justify the ticket purchase.
Charlie Hall: “Jessica Chobot: Stepping Into Daylight”
Polygon’s Charlie Hall writes a worthwhile feature on games personality Jessica Chobot and follows her personal story as she entered the limelight and survived personal attacks and undue scrutiny.
Rikki Endsley: “To my daughter’s high school programming teacher”
Disclaimer: I earned a B.A. in Journalism and probably have no authority to speak about computer science or any other skills that are, you know, actually in-demand. But still, this article made me think about my own history with coding.
Eleven years ago I finished my second semester of high school programming classes. Like the subject of this letter, we also studied Visual Basic, and even back then it was clear just how outdated the language was. In spite of that, programming was still one of my favorite classes because it gave me the rare opportunity to develop a practical skill that I felt like I “owned.” Sure, I studied calculus and American history at the same time and felt like I was learning some valuable stuff, but programming was a craft — something I could take home with me and run wild with. It’s one of those rare learning experiences that feels truly empowering.
There were maybe a half-dozen of us taking the intermediate programming class — a factor that undoubtedly led to Lakeridge High School axing the curriculum a year or two later — and we were all male.
That felt weird to me at the time. Why weren’t any girls taking the class? Yeah, computers were (and, unfortunately, probably still are to some people) stereotypically seen as the territory of socially inept adolescent boys, but it was the first and only time I’d taken a class where everybody was male. I remember feeling alienated by that in a strange way, even though I was surrounded exclusively by other boys.
So I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to be a teenage girl with a sharp aptitude for thinking in code and an eagerness to grow only to be harassed by her peers. Things seem to be getting better, but still, this can’t be an uncommon scenario.
I guess it’s kind of hopeless to think that echoing the sentiment of this author will lead to any significant change, but this article reminded me that sexism and gender bias are alive and well in education — an environment that’s supposed to be among the safest for free thinking and discovering new interests. The sooner that social stigma of all kinds is removed from programming, the better off we’ll all be.
I’ll leave you with a short anecdote:
For the entire time I was enrolled at Oregon, I had secretly always really wanted to take a poetry course. I’m not particularly passionate about poetry, but as a writer with a background almost exclusively in nonfiction it struck me that I knew next to nothing about a writing tradition that’s helped shape cultures and popular opinion for thousands of years. It was a blank slate for me; I was really curious about what I would find.
But after a few terms of debating whether or not to register, I abandoned the idea. I justified it to myself by saying, hey, this class won’t get me any closer to graduating, so what’s the point? But honestly, I was more afraid of the questions I thought I’d receive. Why study poetry? Journalism is a marketable skill, and — I hate to admit it — I think worried poetry would be seen as a feminine subject. As though studying it would’ve been tantamount to throwing my gender identity into question.
I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I definitely felt pressure to assert my “masculinity” in weird little ways. Taking a poetry class might not have jeopardized my identity, but it was a worrying prospect for an eighteen-year-old me. I’m not proud of it, but there you go.
Knowing what I know now, I was an idiot to worry about what other people might think. Even if I was harangued for it, who cares? Life’s too short to waste it questioning how other people choose to live their lives.