Constricting knowledge: ‘More rigour’, tone policing and white feminism in game studies


I presented three papers at the most recent DiGRA conference in Dundee. I’m
an honours student (in Australia it’s an additional year on top of an
undergraduate degree, which can work in lieu of a Masters so as to go straight
into a PhD program) and this was my first international conference. Before
DiGRA, I had already presented at four other Australian conferences (I’ve now presented
nine papers since my first in July 2015). I know I’m young in academia, but I do work very hard and I’m
not completely inexperienced as my age and qualifications might suggest ~( ̄▽ ̄)

My work and what I care about usually revolves around looking
at identity politics in regards to gaming and gaming culture guided by an
intersectional feminist sensibility. My training is in philosophy, so I’m most
comfortable with argumentative and theoretically heavy work. But I’ve spent the
last year trying to unravel these tendencies, so as to shape a more inclusive trajectory
of research. I’ve extended myself from my arm-chair ponderings into ethnography,
and experimented with my writing to garner a more diverse reading audience.
Diversity work is not an intellectual exercise and I see academic traditions as
often inhibiting to these objectives. I don’t mean that we all should popularise
academic research, but that it’s important to note that sometimes we are limiting
ourselves in problematic ways if we only consider the white and masculine
institutionalised understandings of ‘rigour’ as the be all and end all of what
constitutes ‘good academic work’.

People often comment on my very personal style of writing
and some have described it as ‘gonzo’, honest and vulnerable, or as a sort of pilgrimage.
I’m happy to use any academic terminology as long as I can get my point across
– I guess it’s the philosophy in my blood which compels my work to exist as a
conversation which encourages engagement, rather than exist as a static historical

Every philosophy student at one point studies epistemology, and
so I’ve had the privilege of being trained to think about the limitations of ‘objectivity’
(I align with the school of thought that there are ‘degrees of truth’), but the
point I would like to draw here is the superficial dichotomy of ‘objective’ against
‘emotional’ and tensions of ‘truth’. Women (,
people of colour (
and feminists (
and their experiences of pain and mistreatment are consistently dismissed as
being ‘overly emotional’. It’s such a common reaction that there’s even a term for
people telling women and POC’s to be ‘less emotional’: ‘tone policing’ (

I am particularly tired of being told to make my work
‘more theoretical’ (trust me, the theory is always there, even if I’ve chosen
to make it unpronounced so as to focus on something more important). I realise
there’s meant to be a role of ‘guiding’ a younger academic to improve her work
– but these ‘make it more rigorous’ suggestions are extremely unhelpful and upholds
institutionalised whiteness and hegemonic masculinity. Like suggestions of ‘more
nuance’ (
< I really love this paper), ‘more rigour’ works on the cross-section of ‘connoisseur’
elitism and restrictive ideas of ‘knowledge production’. ‘More rigour’ can be
asked by anyone regardless of the quality or style of research in question – you
can always ask someone to be ‘more rigorous’. ‘More rigour’ is a positioning of
a senior to dominate a lesser scholar – it acts to serve nothing but to establish
a violent power dynamic. As women and POCs are already socially dismissed as incapable
of ‘being objective’ from being ‘overly emotional’, I observe the ‘more theory,
nuance and rigour’ criticisms as another form of discouraging and policing women
and people of colour in academia.

So, I presented a paper at DiGRA about Vivian James (Gamergate’s
avatar) co-authored with my supervisor. I had been terrified to present this, since
I am fully aware of the reaction Gamergate has had to women, feminism, and to criticisms
made against their ‘movement’. So I went into this knowing I was going to step
on some big angry toes. Furthermore, being a WOC feminist games
studies scholar meant that I would eventually pop up on Gamergate’s radar. Depressingly,
being a target was inevitable (after briefly uploading the paper, it was
dogpiled by Gamergaters:

It was the second paper I had to present at DiGRA, back-to-back, without caffeine and wicked
jet lag. During question time, a well-established feminist scholar suggested to
add ‘more theory’ so as to give the paper ‘more substance’. Exhausted (physically
and emotionally), all I could muster was a firm ‘thank you’. I’m not hostile
towards constructive criticism – I welcome it (as seen in how much I value making my work ‘engaging’). But I was a little shocked that someone who promotes feminist game
studies glossed over the fact that she was talking down to a young woman of
colour presenting a paper criticising Gamergate. I felt the months of affective
labour of preparing for a Gamergate paper reduced into merely being another ‘intellectual exercise’ of academia. 

Moreover, relying
extensively on theory is only one approach to feminism. One of my favourite scholars
once said that she was excited to see us in game studies moving beyond ‘the feminist
paper’ and how young scholars were integrating feminism as simply second nature.
Producing feminist work doesn’t always have to be reliant on feminist theory –
it boxes in the work feminism aims to do, by maintaining a singular (rather white and classist)
ideal of feminism.

We are well aware of the toxic
masculinity of gaming and the devaluing of feminist work by wider academia (
Those who want to make game studies a welcoming space for diverse voices need
to be more thoughtful and reflexive of the institutionalised racism and sexism
structuring academic practices. New and diverse voices need to be given the room
to explore what it means to be ‘new’ and ‘diverse’ – they immediately stop being ‘new’ and ‘diverse’
voices when they are required to be indoctrinated into traditional and
hegemonic styles of knowledge production.


big ups to @mahlibombing ! 👍🏾     ✌️❤️💡