Recently, Liana K wrote an article on GamerGate which you can find here. It includes a section on autism, and since its publication there’s been an uptick in people saying that critics of GamerGate are ableist, or bullying people with autism. This argument is false and, if anything, it’s the original article that mischaracterises people with autism! I spoke to a range of people – from those on the spectrum to those who work with children on the spectrum, and here’s the response.
The original quote:
“If the anti-GamerGate side thinks itself superior, it should act it. GamerGate members have confirmed to me that there are quite a few participants with autism spectrum disorders. I’m not saying that everyone involved with GamerGate has autism. What I’m saying is that it’s a major factor in how many Gaters express themselves. If they want to engage in ritualistic behaviours to calm themselves down, including posting on 8chan, let them. I don’t care, as long as they’re not planning to raid me again. When an opportunist riles them up, things get bad, but that’s not their fault.
So if we’re supposed to be these fantastic, sensitive people, we have to adjust our thinking now that we know that autism is a factor in this debate. Autistic people are often socially awkward and can seem rude. They can have very strong reactions to triggers. They don’t always understand why another person is hurt.
We need to stop complaining that “gamers are dead” was a metaphor that wasn’t grasped. Autistic people tend to take things literally.”
Anon1: (Person with an autistic spectrum disorder who’s, for lack of a better way to phrase it, on the “Anti-GG side”)
A major issue with this opening is that it assumes prevalence of ASD’s is only a factor on the GG side of the equation. With VG acting as a huge safe space environment for AS people to cope with social interaction in a way with set boundaries, ASD’s are super common among all gaming communities compared to the average population. Lots of people with ASD’s in fact end up as gaming critics as their intense focus on an area of interest is a really valuable asset when it comes to being a critic or someone covering the field. This opening paints autism and related disorders and being unique to GG, which is incorrect.
When it comes to the section on ritualistic behaviour, this is classic writing off people with ASDs as unable to control their actions for the purposes of defence rhetoric, usually used by people with Aspergers to excuse actions they simply do not want to change. For the most part here whether directly said or not this article is referring to high functioning autism and aspergers syndrome rather than the classic term autism (as verbal communication skills with classic autism would be a huge barrier to GG interaction). Clarifying that we’re talking Aspergers primarily here, ritualistic behaviours like stimming are fine, but using that defence to blanket defend any actions they take is putting too much lack of control on them. Ritualistic use of 8chan as a social space for example is one thing, ritualistic use of that space to enact personally held beliefs against a specific group of people is using a condition to excuse their own changeable personal beliefs and related actions. Yay smokescreening!
As for the not understanding why another is hurt – the key here is yes, people with ASD’s may not get that they have hurt someone initially in very specific situations, but they are not incapable of understanding in general! While they may not get non verbal cues to someone’s emotional state from a set of actions, what they can understand is someone clearly saying “Hey, you doing this upset me because this, stop doing that”. To excuse someone’s actions as lack of understanding of harm caused after the harm has been explained is furthering this whole stupid thing where people with ASD’s use their condition to excuse things they simply do not want to chance, as it’s a really convenient excuse most people do not want to been seen to argue. Also, once again, why is none of this sensitivity afforded to Aspies on the other side of the debate?
Finally, regarding the literalism: this is a poor argument. If ASD GG-ers had taken this statement literally they would have taken it to mean gamers had all stopped breathing, a mass epidemic of physically dead people playing games etc. The articles themselves all very quickly explained their own internal metaphor, explaining in what sense they were refering to gamers being dead. Had ASD GG-ers taken this literally from a headline, a read of any of the articles would have explained the metaphor, clearing up the issue. Not a valid complaint, but it sure as hell sounds like one.
Anon2 (Person with an autistic spectrum disorder who is outside of the whole GG thing)
I mean, the thing about “don’t blame them, they’re autistic” is that people with autism still have agency and still know the difference between right and wrong. They may have problems regarding taking things literally but that doesn’t make them unthinking or incapable of reflection. I’ve also never heard of ritualistic behavior of autistic people including propagating particular views on the internet, ritualistic behavior is often more simple (stimming, eating particular foods, watching particular films), it’s unclear that participating in GamerGate can be described as a ritual given most rituals are deep seated.
I have Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, or in layman’s terms “You’ve got a variant of autism we don’t really have a name for. It’s just ‘autism’ now that DSM V deals properly with spectrum disorders, but I digress. I am very open about my autism and have met a lot of people who are autistic. I am living and have lived in houses being inhabited exlusivily with autists. I have went on holdiays with groups consisting conclusivily of autis. Men and women.
All of them were geeks in one way or the other. Every. Single. One.
It’s either an audiophile, a furry, an LARPer, just about all of them played video games or read lots of sci-fi or fantasy, and often both – Three Rock Paper Shotgun readers in a room of six people. It makes a lot of sense to me, lots of aspects of geek culture appeal to austistic people: A logical world with logical rules? That’s video games! The ability to retreat within someone’s own space? That’s the whole SFF culture! So off course a reactonairy movement attacking ‘outside influences’ on geek culture is going to have autistic people amongst their ranks. It’s part of the geek demographic.
But since this is, in the end, a ‘geek culture problem’, there’s going to be a lot of autistic people among the side that GG considers to be anti-GG too. Again, part of the demographic (I’d love to hear if there are any diagnosed game devs or game journos out there, come to think of it). Do these people specificically target and harass women over trivial issues? Has this mysterious anti-GG side ensured that a dev had to leave her house due to the retaliation of retweeting some memes parodying GG?
In very abstract terms, high functioning autism means you are not a natural at what lots of people are a natural at, at the advantage that you are often a natural at tech or maths – the more logical, abstract things. Detail focus is both a blessing and a curse. But these are not problems that one is dealing with the rest of their lives – it’s just that society as a whole is not wholly adapted to it. I actually do have standards of basic human decency, thank you. My autism did not prevent me from learning those things. It doesn’t prevent me from having empathy. Discounting the persistent harassment of women in the industry, or even more simple things like only reading the headline of an article and discounting the general body as ‘just something that autistic people do’ is an insult to autis everywhere.
@MadamPlumpette: (an indie developer, who has a form of autism)
Do not treat adult autistic people like children. The majority of people playing games are not children; we are adults. And this ”taking-things-literally” thing. It is sort of true, a lot of times sarcasm, irony and other subtle cues escapes us. But here is the deal:
1. Autistic people taking things literally sometimes can be an issue, but that lies with individual autistic people. Not gamers. Gamer now includes everyone. Meaning that game journalism/games should cater to as many people as possible.
2. The reason GamerGate didn’t grasp the ”gamers are dead” metaphor was not because they were all autistic. It is because the majority never bothered to read the article.
3. Even if the majority were autistic (which is incredibly unlikely), the issue with the ”Gamers Are Dead” reactions is not that it was taken literally. The problem is that when it was pointed out to be a metaphor, GamerGaters kept going with it.
4. We are not idiots. Do not dumb things down for us.
Bonus section (with sources!) – by @MadamPlumpette
Autism does not make you violent. And we are not incapable of empathy (sources): http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/health/fearing-a-stigma-for-people-with-autism.html
Here is an article explaning taking things literal: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-gift-aging/201304/people-autism-spectrum-disorder-take-things-literally