The dynamics of #GamerGate are disturbing when considered in the light of entrepreneurship generally.
When your idea or new approach slams up against the wall of resistance in an existing industry, does that create a moment of disruption opportunity? Or does it create a backlash that slows the entire industry down? When you come up against the emotional attachment people have to things being a certain way – dogma with all of its compelling temptations of purity and truth – what happens to your efforts at disruption?
In the case of GamerGate, it’s not a particular idea or new game that’s created the huge uproar. Instead it’s two dynamics going on at once – and they’ve been collapsed into one issue. My contention is that the common thread between these two issues is that gaming is moving into the mainstream and that comes with all kinds of scrutiny that it didn’t have when it was at the margin and focused on a single, well-defined segment of the population.
The two major issues:
- The potential for bias that game reviewers bring to their work.
- The questioning of the reflection of cultural values inside of the gaming culture. Specifically the one-sided depiction of women as victims of violence and sexual toys primarily, with little additional human elements.
Why is this important to entrepreneurship and startups in general?
The most desirable type of startup to create is one that will both: 1) change the world; and 2) make a lot of money. Changing the world generally implies a disruption of the status quo in one way or another. And changing the status quo is how we’ve arrived at GamerGate.
Games are moving into the mainstream with a tremendous potential to disrupt: entertainment generally, online interactions in all kinds of ways, training (games are already being used to build skills in a variety of industries), and education. The disruptive power of games comes from their ability to simulate a real environment that engages the player, exposes them to new experiences, presents the next most interesting challenge, and creates an immersive experience. The attraction of playing games trumps most of the ways training, education, entertainment, and other online interactions currently happen.
When a new way of doing things finally gets enough of a hold on the culture, then all the other entrenched viewpoints, players, and stakeholders start to react – badly. And that risks progress.
Moving an industry forward (or an idea, or a set of values, or even a single value) creates chaos and then a new order. People are uncomfortable with the chaos and they fear where they may fall in the new order. Especially people who have had positions of power or comfort in the old order.
Also, to move forward into a new way of doing things, some of the dogma must be let go of to win mainstream adoption and potentially huge rewards. Giving up the dogma is where the problem is.
One of the questions entrepreneurs might want to be asking themselves during the GamerGate controversy is: what is your plan if you create a domino effect that causes a disruption that wakes up the sleeping giants invested in the status quo and then they try to shut you down? What will you do?
Apple pay is an example of this. So is Netflix. So is iTunes. And there are more. This happens with large companies disrupting old industries and startups creeping up on the old industries. At some point in the process you are no longer in the shadows and you may face some social and emotional reactions as companies, and in the case of GamerGate, individuals grip tightly to what they perceive as their domain with their values, lifestyles, and profits.
Here are two wakeup calls to the GamerGate supporters:
- Women play games, women don’t think of themselves as things, and games are mainstream. That means games are now viewed as contributing and reflecting perception of the mainstream culture and values.
- The other part of GamerGate: reviewers having a bias. Yes, everyone has an agenda. EVERYONE. There is no free lunch. No one is altruistic. People may have the best of intentions, and still reflect a bias; they may not even realize they are reflecting a bias. And especially reviewers – they have a careful balancing act: neutrality but appeal, relevance but attractive to publishers.
This is not much different that expecting that the news be objective. No, the news (newspaper, TV, radio, or the web) is NOT objective. In fact, history is NOT the truth. We are all human, we all have our own personal experience of every situation. That’s both a plus and minus. Our personal view provides color, interpretation, analysis, and on the ground experience. It also reflects our prior experience, our opinions, our personal understanding of the facts, and an agenda – no matter how hard we try.
So get over the victim-y bias claim. Welcome to the real world – a world EVERY other industry lives in and works through. Deal with it by getting different opinions from experienced people whose track record you understand because it gives you information about their own biases and you can adjust.
As entrepreneurs, what can we learn from this?
- Understand who has something foundational to lose if you succeed.
- What power do they have to stop you or the disruption you’re creating?
- How will you work that to your favor?
- Are you ready to move through that upheaval? Are you willing to do what it takes?
- Are there partnerships you can build now before that happens?
- When you understand #1 above, can you identify a win-win for them and you?
- If the disruption will topple the status quo in large numbers or large sizes, are you ready for the backlash?