During the 100 year anniversary of coeducation at William & Mary, the College has repeatedly put on events to celebrate women and share their perspectives. The one-day symposium “My Mother Was a Computer: Legacies of Gender and Technology” was a prime example of school administrators, scholars, and students coming together to share their own knowledge and lingering questions. Organized by Dr. Liz Losh, Director of the GSWS department, the symposium covered a wide array of topics. The day’s agenda featured panels on gender and programming, gender and gaming, and gender and online community. In between panels Mattie Brice delivered an artist’s talk and equality lab members presented their own work. The day’s events came to a close with Keynote Speaker Dr. Wendy Chun’s delivering an impassioned presentation.
Community and Connection
Throughout the symposium, there was one specific question that seemed to be on everyone’s minds: How do we move forward together? Numerous scholars discussed the discrimination, harassment, and exclusion minority communities have faced within the technological sphere. Obviously, these historical accounts are valuable and bring context, but we need to be able to take this knowledge and share it with others outside of our fields. In order to have important discussions where we create a society in which these mistakes are not repeated, all kinds of people need to be at the same table. Scholars and non-scholars alike must build bridges to other disciplines and the general public to construct a fair, intersectional system. Community must be built across difference.
Mattie Brice began her talk by pointing out that, “If computers are mothers, I have a lot of mommy issues,” highlighting the complicated relationship many scholars and designers have with technology today. Brice is popularly known for her creation of the role-playing game Mainichi, whereby players can get a glimpse of the everyday experiences transgender people face. She believes games can and should acknowledge those in the margins. Technology is its own language and creates a vocabulary that cannot be put to words. While Brice did touch upon this ground-breaking game, her talk highlighted her own struggles within the gaming sphere. During Gamer-Gate, Brice was repeatedly targeted and told that her work was not part of the field. This ultimately led her down a nonlinear path where she began to try her hand at community organizing and gaming conferences such as the Queerness and Games Conference. It was through these efforts that Brice was able to see the importance of a platform and bringing people together. Now, after taking some time away from social media, she has reemerged and is ready to engage and make history.
After attending the Gender and Gaming panel, it was abundantly clear that representation matters for future progress. Featured panelist, Dr. Celia Pearce noted that the way game scholars depict and describe content today will impact future scholars. This is also why she believed game scholars need to be more critical of the content they consume. Pearce has previously outlined the shift in play communities from in-person sport leagues and bridge clubs to new digital worlds in her book Communities of Play. Through her research she discovered the numerous ways online games create transcendent community. However, because these communities are often difficult to research and can often be outside the norm, scholars should reach out to other disciplines for their own lens. Along this line of thinking, Dr. Amanda Phillipsnoted that feminist work in video games has been happening all along, but no one has noticed because we are not working together. Dr. Adrienne Shaw discussed their collaboration with a German museum to depict what the past and future of queer games looks like. Co-founder of QGCON, Dr. Bo Ruberg, emphasized the importance of Shaw’s work because games as an industry, culture, and academic discipline is bad at history. If people are not aware of what has happened, history is likely to repeat itself. Ruberg and Shaw’s book Imagining Queer Game Studies highlighted how after years of marginalization, sexuality and gender were finally key subjects in the study of video games. Unfortunately, it will all be for nothing if we do let other people know. This belief likely lent itself to the discussion of why conferences and symposiums matter, as well as “sloppy scholarship.” The idea of perfection has kept game scholars isolated and prevented them from moving forward. As long as something is interesting and meaningful, we should not have to worry about the gloss of it all.
The Gender and Online Community panel featured a series of heavy topics that emphasized the importance of intention. Data and Society’s Dr. Joan Donovan who is well-versed on online hate, started the panel by displaying the far right’s adoption of punk on the internet today. Dr. Dorothy Kim on a related note told symposium attendees that in order to talk about the alt-right online, we first need to talk about the connected history of women of color online. Within her presentation she noted the importance of social media when building communities. This was a clear relation to Kim’s previous work, the “Twitter Ethics Manifesto”. In this article, she critiqued Twitter and the hostility that breeds there because it prevents the public from having productive conversations. In order to disrupt the system and transform the space, Kim notes that we must be good allies. As the next presenter, Dr. Alice Marwick shifted focus towards matters of privacy. Not only has she studied the ways in which people use technology to achieve and seek status in her previous work, but she has now learned how someone can remove another’s status. Forced publicity is when someone humiliates another in front of an audience, like revenge porn. A primary issue she identified was that there is no criminal way to deal with this because laws do not adhere to the experiences of women. As the final presenter, Dr. Veronica Paredes was neatly tied all of these panelists’ works together. She said that if we are not intentional about the legacies we are creating and who we create them with, the same values and knowledge will be reproduced. Paredes then highlighted projects that are intentionally focusing on visibility, legacy, and archive making like SOLHOT.
Wendy Chun’s “My Mother was a Key-Punch Operator” lecture was the perfect way to wrap up the symposium. While the way in which she presented this information was quite different, the content related back to her book Updating to Remain the Same. Chun’s book outlines how connections and networks often make sense of the confusing and globalized world we live in. Networks allow us to cognitively map our relation to others. In order to discuss the complexity of legacies, Chun mixed the personal, political, theoretical, and historical. It was through weaving stories of her mother’s job with information about the Montreal Massacre, that she herself displayed her own connections. One takeaway I had from her discussion is that we do not understand each other when we are not connected. For this reason, we must include diverse, intersectional perspectives in order to change other people’s way of thinking, and continue forward. New scholarship, thinking, and design will inevitably inspire the next wave of innovation. More scholars need to take risks like Chun by stepping outside of the designated boundaries of their academic disciplines.