Sunday, November 11, 2012

Technology Sociology

Yesterday, during my work break, I learned of a cool thing, and a tragic thing. The cool thing is that a young father, wanting to share his love of the Zelda series of video games with his daughter, has been reading the text for her. As the daughter would prefer that her avatar in video games be female, he has been changing the references to the hero, Link, being a boy, to being a girl. To preserve this once she does learn to read, he hex edited the rom and re-burned it with the references all changed. Some awkwardness ensued, as all text had to remain the exact same length, lest all pointers thereafter become wrong, corrupting the entire ROM. Link is ambiguous looking enough so that this works out. At first, the comments that the father received were admiring, especially from young women who wished that they could have enjoyed media in this way. However, after the blog entry had been up for about a day, suddenly a storm of people came in infuriated that he altered the original game, feeling that he was somehow ruining it. A veritable torrent of rants, whines, and complaints that he was infringing Nintendo's copyright ensued. Perhaps these people were trolling, or perhaps they felt that any modification of their favorite thing detracted from it, even hypothetically, but it did make me wonder one thing about the world of technology. Is the world of video games and computers sexist? I do admit that there were only four people in my graduated class who were female...and none of them graduated as a computer scientist. All of them switched to math or other related majors. None of them really explained why, but when I look around, I suspect it's the culture. Computer science has been so male dominated for so long that a fraternity-esque "dudebro" culture that's as disconcerting for an average women as a knitting group consisting primarily of bitterly divorced mothers would be for an average man dominates the scene.

Some pundits posit that this doesn't really matter, but I think it does. Many of the most important pioneers in computer science have been women, such as the very first programmer ever, Ada Lovelace, or the inventor of higher level languages, Admiral Hopper. Other fields also had problems of a sexist culture, such as medicine, and they resolved it by treating sexist behavior as completely unacceptable. I see no reason why computer science can't do the same.

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