A still from Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramas.
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Why can’t women compete against men at video games? Sexism, that’s why

The International e-Sports Federation has reversed their men-only policy in favour of one competition for women, and one for everyone else including women. What kind of message does that send?

Most sports can trace their roots back a very, very long time. Football dates back centuries but was first codified and played in the form we know it in 1863. Chess is almost as old as the feudal system it seems to resemble. The first Olympics took place nearly three thousand years ago. Sport and competition have been central to human society for as long as we’ve had human societies. So when the opportunity appears to create entirely new sports which can grab audiences immediately, are widely accessible and have the financial backing to bankroll professional competitors, it is an almost unprecedented historical position.

This position is exactly where we find ourselves with e-sports. Without centuries of tradition and historical baggage weighing them down, plus the many advantages unique to their digital platform, e-sports are in a unique position to establish themselves as competitions of our time. Of course that is an opportunity that presents as many pitfalls as benefits.

We saw one such pitfall appear last week when a Hearthstone tournament in Finland, which was linked to a competition in Korea, announced that no women would be allowed to compete in the event. Now the immediate reaction to this was obviously anger and the situation was rapidly solved. The International e-Sports Federation reversed their position and opted for a format of one competition just for women, and one for everybody else including women. Time will tell if this is the right approach, but it is not an unprecedented format.

Perhaps the highest profile sport to operate on a “one league for women and one for everyone” plan is golf. Women are free to compete in the PGA tour against the likes of Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy, but to do so is, understandably, extremely difficult. Players such as Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam have competed against men, largely it has to be said unsuccessfully, although in a sport with many millions of players around the world to even get to that level in the first place requires a level of athletic ability only found in a tiny number of people, not to mention the sort of superhuman dedication to a sport from a young age that is more usually nurtured in boys.

Thus it is probably no surprise to anybody that e-sports, like most sports, are a predominantly male affair. However it does not have to be this way and one would hope that video games can become inclusive enough so anybody who wants to, and has the skills to do so, can compete at the highest level and earn a living at it.

The choice to maintain a women-only league as well is perhaps a trickier one. On one hand it might encourage more women into e-sports, but on the other hand what message does it send if women are only expected to compete at an inferior level?

The term E-sports covers a variety of different games that challenge the competing players in different ways, everything from the lightning reflexes and perfect muscle memory demanded by fighting games on one extreme to the thoughtful and measured strategy of Hearthstone. Hearthstone is unlike most competitive video games because it draws its inspiration more from card games such as Magic: The Gathering. The game is broken up into turns and though time is a factor the game is a world away from traditional competitive video games.

In the past the games were more limited in scope, first person shooters, fighting games and real time strategy games all played at absolutely blistering pace, but this has changed, with games like DOTA 2 and League of Legends being more reliant on teamwork and tactics than the number of actions per minute a player can perform. There really is no practical reason why women should have lower expectations in these games.

The current generation of e-sports competitors are typically young men who were born during the early phases of modern video gaming, planted in front of a console or computer from infancy and who are as skilled with a mouse and keyboard as a virtuoso musician would be with an instrument.

However, despite the apparent advantage of being raised a gamer, there is a marked difference between something like League of Legends or Hearthstone and a sport like golf – these games are very new. Give it a few more years and we’ll start to see competitors who have lived and breathed games such as DOTA 2 and Call of Duty from infancy, but right now these are games that have only existed for a few years, often in comparatively new genres. Beyond that, even if we do see players come through who were weaned on these games, who is to say these games will still be the ones that are played in five years, let alone ten? Players looking to make a career out of playing video games will have to be versatile and every new game that gains prominence will shake things up.

The last hurdle to inclusive gaming lies with the players themselves. The culture of games like League of Legends or Call of Duty has long been considered spectacularly toxic, and this might serve to deter women players, or indeed anybody who doesn’t want to deal with the occasional rancid rant from an opponent. Even the perception of a games community as being unpleasant will put players off, because even the best game in the world is no fun to play if you’re being called every name under the sun by a socially dysfunctional adolescent. This is an area where games are starting to change for the better. Hearthstone, for example, took the radical step of removing the ability for players to talk directly to their opponents completely. What seems like the most quintessentially antisocial move imaginable actually means that games are played with a sort of serene cordiality. By reducing online conversation almost to the digital equivalent of a martial artists bow, Blizzard removed the capacity to bring toxicity to the game.

Video games are ubiquitous; if you’re under a certain age you probably play them and probably won’t ever completely stop until you die, probably of deep vein thrombosis or choking on a Dorito. People already see video games as entertainment that can be watched rather than just played. The Youtube viewing figures stats for Felix Kjellberg and people like him bear this out, and it will be interesting to see if, and how, games manage to gain a mainstream foothold in the world of sport. We could be seeing the start of a brand new era.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

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Marching against climate change in the age of Donald Trump

The People’s Climate Movement is as much about politics as science. That's its strength.

Saying goodbye is never easy. But the present generation are facing an awful lot of farewells: to the melting arctic, the dying Barrier Reef, and the general resilience of ecosystems around the world. As Margaret Atwood described it in her essay of the same name: “It’s not climate change, it’s everything change”.

The problem with “everything-change” is that it can be overwhelming. How do you even decide where to start?

The People’s Climate Movement want to begin by making visible the extent of concern out there. This weekend, a coalition of organisations have planned a protest march on the American capital. Between 50,000 -100,000 people are expected to attend, including eco-celebrities Leonardo Di Caprio, Al Gore and Richard Branson.

In London, a group called Campaign Against Climate Change, are co-ordinating a UK-based solidarity event. Protestors will meet at 11.30am in Old Palace yard opposite Parliament, then move to Westminster Bridge, where they will spell out a message to Theresa May: “Trump and May: Climate Disaster”.

For UK campaigners, this is a vital opportunity to raise awareness of the many ways in which action on climate change is under threat. Claire James from CACC outlines the sense of frustration and injustice that many feel with regard to recent government policy: “There have been 12,000 jobs lost last year in the solar industry alone and installation numbers have plummeted. Meanwhile fracking, hugely unpopular, is given determined backing.”

Ahead of the June election, campaigners are using the event to call for specific, cross-party commitments. One, fast-tracking the UK’s delayed Climate Change Plan. Two, ruling out new trade deals that compromise environmental, worker or consumer rights. And three, implementing a fair deal for UK solar and wind industry. “Our action on Saturday is about saying to the government – and to anyone who wants to form the next government – do your policies measure up?” says James.

These concrete political aims are an important way in which the movement differs from last weekend’s March For Science. That protest, inspired by the popularity of the Women’s March earlier this year, kept its message intentionally wide. As one of the London event’s organisers told DeSmog, it placed its emphasis on a generalised “celebration of science”. But this lack of specificity drew criticism from some quarters – for presenting a confusing message about politics' relationship to science.

Generalisation can also risk putting people off joining marches at all. Over the last few months, numerous friends have said they feel uncomfortable joining protests where they’re not sure that the person marching next to them is doing so for the same reasons. They’d feel much happier signing a petition, with a more specific and limited aim, they tell me.

This weekend’s climate marches risk drawing some of the same concerns. “Climate-change has become a synecdoche, a surrogate, for many causes in today’s world – social justice, the protection of nature, the rights of future generations, the defence of science,” says Professor Mike Hulme from King's College London. “Marches such as this give political voice to anti-establishment protest, but they don’t stop the climate changing.”

In addition, not all who want to see climate change prioritised by governments may agree over the exact course of action – with outright opposition to fracking, for instance, or to a third runway at Heathrow.

But this weekend’s movement also appears to have taken these lessons on board. First, they are putting their political aims up front. According the US event’s website, whereas the March for Science strove to be non-political, this movement “believes strongly in the need to call out the politicians.”

The link to the Paris Climate Treaty is helpful in this respect. The People’s Climate Movement traces its birth back to September 21 2014, the eve of the UN climate summit, when 400,000 people marched through New York demanding action on the climate crisis. This gives the movement a clear piece of legislation to both celebrate and defend.

And the London-based event is also attempting to re-think and expand what street-protests can achieve. “We’re doing a smaller action rather than a big march,” explains Claire James, “but we’re trying to have a real focus with the speakers on ‘what next’”. After the protest in Westminster, attendees are invited to join an afternoon of free food, activities and music, hosted by the food waste campaign Feedback. Here there will be even further opportunity to learn about the many ways – from divestment campaigns to local renewable energy groups – in which people can help press for change.

In this respect, public action against the climate crisis promises not to end when the walking does. And while protests won't stop climate change in themselves, joining a march can be a powerful reminder that we are not in this crisis alone.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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