The International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology, a relatively niche academic symposium in its 15th year, is embroiled in a white-hot controversy over its keynote speaker: Steve Bannon, the former White House Chief Strategist and founding member of the right-wing publication Breitbart.
According to the conference organizer, Bannon—who has no academic background in computer science or interactive design but whose policy ideas have been embraced by white nationalists—will give a speech about how he believes “economic nationalism” will allow for a higher number of minorities to get jobs in sectors like computer science and gaming.
The conference, also known as ACE, is scheduled to take place at the University of Montana in December.
Since Bannon was added to the conference’s roster last week, academics, scholarly associations, and university departments around the world have called for boycotting the conference, including the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology at Concordia University, the Canadian Game Studies Association, and the Australian Digital Games Research Association.
“Nothing of what Bannon can say represents the ACE community, or the games research community at large.
“Nothing of what Bannon can say represents the ACE community, or the games research community at large.”
ACE is run by Adrian David Cheok, the director of an independent research lab called the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia and a professor at City, University of London.
Cheok says he chose to invite Bannon to speak after seeing his talk on YouTube at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit last year, which had similar economic nationalism and anti-immigration themes.
As number of researchers pointed out, ACE is not a political, or even industry conference—it’s a scholarly venue meant to provide a place for academics to share their work.
“For a conference like this, the keynote is either a leading academic researcher, or someone from industry who does relevant work,” says Katharine Neil, a French game developer who holds a doctorate in computer science games research.
One academic pointed out the only tangentially related experience Bannon possesses is his involvement with Internet Gaming Entertainment, which made a profit by having low-wage video game players in China earn virtual credits that were then sold to wealthier players in other parts of the world.
“The business practices of that company alone ought to disqualify Bannon from being presented as anything other than a cynical operator,” says Jeff Watson, a professor of interactive media and games at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
All three members of the steering committee quit in early August, after they discovered Cheok had merged ACE with another conference he chaired, the Congress on Love and Sex With Robots, without telling anyone.
After Bannon was announced as the keynote speaker, Chisik emailed everyone listed on ACE’s website as a member of the program committee to alert them, as he wrote, to “their present association with the conference and thus however remotely with Steve Bannon and what he stands for.”
Last year, Cheok delivered a controversial keynote address titled “Sex and Love with Robots” at the Foundations of Digital Games conference, an event originally started by Microsoft in 2006.
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