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This will be the last time I talk about this issue. I feel, largely, that it has run its course.
Who am I to talk about this? I’ve only worked on a few games and my time in an official design capacity is far more limited than my time in, say, QA. In the grand scheme of things, I’m the absolute definition of a nobody but I hope that I can approach this honestly and make things clear as to why I don’t support GamerGate.
As I begin, I want to note that I am biased and will not pretend otherwise. Some of the people who’ve had shit tossed their way are people who I’ve met and who’ve never seemed anything other than good folk. Still, I want to say that I have had plenty of good interaction with people on the “other” side. Plenty have discussed things freely with me and while we never agreed entirely, we did agree on certain issues. The matter regarding journalism is something we all want to see addressed. A press less beholden to publishers and other influences only benefits everyone in the long run. We’ll talk about that later on. First, let me talk about the term “gamer”.
Gamer is a tricky term. It might not seem like it. It really could just be “someone who plays games” but it has heavier subcultural connotations than that. Much like cinéaste denotes an engagement with film far beyond the norm, so does gamer. A gamer plays games, yes. But they truly examine and explore them too. To be a gamer, I think, is to have a relationship with gaming that’s above average. We don’t have to grant this definition but gaming is pretty universal now because games are so ubiquitous so I don’t see the harm in suggesting that gamer is a term that connotes a more “hardcore” relationship with the medium.
Gamers are not dead. But things are changing. I believe that’s what the many controversial articles about the death of gamers really argue. In those articles gamer is used, rightly or not, as a shorthand. That shorthand presumes a few things. It presumes a younger ages than the average person playing games, likely in the 18 to 25 market. It assumes the player is male.
That demographic tends to be the target audience of marketing. Or, at least, it was. Gaming is more diverse than ever. Which rocks. But I think that there are people who do have issues dealing with those shifting demographics. Gaming ‘culture’ (if we can be bold enough to suggest it even exists) arguably has a lot of a roots in social abnegation. It’s not just a game thing. It’s a nerd thing. And it makes the space, paradoxically, both more open to outcasts but also more resistant to some change.
I think gamers are inclusive people. Walk around any convention and you’ll see how true that is. But I do think that gaming and nerd culture in general was built up as a bastion. People found solace in games that they might not have found in school or among other peers. They were outcasts and in games and gaming, many of us found a safe space. That space is shifting, however. These demographics changes, alongside strong scrutiny on the medium, makes people feel like gaming isn’t the bastion is was to them before. It makes them feel attacked.
There’s some validity to that. It sucks that some people feel that other people are painting them with a broad brush stroke as misogynistic or else dismissive of others. But at the same time, we need to understand that for all the inclusion that we do offer to people, things are not equal still. Consider the online sphere. Fat, Ugly, or Slutty exists and it’s not a ruse. It’s real. Sure, it’s not everyone but it’s still enough. And that’s just one example.
What am I getting at? First, that it is perfectly fine to be frustrated. But also that we need to acknowledge that yes, even if we’re not the ones doing it, there’s still issues to solve. As GamerGate’s moved forward, you’ve been pretty good about speaking up when people say nasty things. Keep doing it. Police the community. Not in a harsh way but if you see something toxic, just chime up and say “That’s not cool”.
But why don’t I agree with GamerGate as a thing? Well, there’s a few reasons for it:
- The catalyst for this event, the Zoe Post, is problematic as is the level of invasion on the part of some “Gaters” into people’s personal lives. I know this isn’t about Ms. Quinn anymore. Not necessarily. But this started when we took an unnecessary interest into someone’s sex life when we shouldn’t have. Since then, this scrutiny has lead to things such as questioning charitable donations and, in the case of Anita Sarkeesian, questioning if she contacted the authorities when she claimed. This sort of behavior is not okay. And it drives me away from your cause.
- Like it or not, there are people saying terrible shit to people. With my first real attempt to talk to someone about these matters I stated that I agreed with Leigh Alexander that games can have more diverse genres. That was it. In reply I was called a “stupid fucking cunt” and told “Kill yourself retard”. Fair or not, that’s going to affect how I look at the movement. I spent a lot of time on The Escapist during this mess. People were good. But my mind keeps heading back to this person and another who treated my attempts at discussion with truly awful personal aspersions.
- At the same time, I think GamerGate is elevating whatever struggle is actually occurring to levels that are far too romantic. The Internet Aristocrat called this a “reformation”. I’ve see people compare keeping silent on this matter with keeping silent as Jews were taken away in WWII. I’ve even had someone suggest that because of my gender identity, I needed to side with GamerGate because I needed to side against oppression. (On that matter, let’s just say that I invoked my own right to #NotYourShield.) But the point stands: the way in which many people in GamerGate want to treat this as equitable with a “real” struggle makes me uncomfortable. Gamers don’t face systemic, cultural oppression. That people want to elevate this issue and make comparisons to other matters does give me pause. Like, a lot.
- I think people are quick to dismiss the actual damages that this movement has caused. Jenn Frank leaving game journalism is not a victory and that she felt the need to leave is not good. Likewise for someone like Mattie Brice. It makes the sphere of discussion surrounding games weaker. I tried to explain this to someone and the response was “Bad things happen all the time. And sometimes… they deserve to happen to people.” but Frank didn’t deserve her treatment and I think people are so caught up in seeing some type of justice that they don’t care against who. I can’t be party to that.
Those are some of my reasons. I know people will disagree. That’s fine. But the thing is that GamerGate’s a movement with vague goals and very little leadership. This causes problems. I think there’s a lack of focus in the right places. The big issues aren’t when someone pays $20 on a writer or dev’s Patreon. AAA courting is a far bigger issue than anything in the indie scene. The independent scene can be clique-ish but bigger issues for journalism are going to come from Ubisoft paying for people’s hotels and drinks on a trip where they play Assassin’s Creed for thirty minutes. That angle is being largely ignored and it’s actually the more pressing threat to games journalism than anything else.
That’s not to dismiss some concerns. The IGF could stand up to a little more scrutiny, as an example. But that’s about cult of personality more than some sneaky backroom deals. Because the truth is far less complicated than the many Imgurs charts want you to believe. I think people need to keep that in mind.
I think there also needs to be an examination about some things people want or seem to want. I don’t think we’re going to see truly objective games and reviews and I believe that’s good. A review, by nature, cannot be fully objective. It is an opinion, which a consumer then decides to heed or ignore.
Similarly, all art is a reflection of the self. To some extent. Even something apolitical like Zelda was influenced by Miyamoto tromping about the forests near his home. Steve Martin once said “Comedy is a distortion of what is happening. And there is always something happening.” I think this applies to any art. Art is irrevocably informed by an individual’s personal experience. To expect it to come without persona affectations is, dare I suggest, a bit silly.
If there’s one thing I do love about GamerGate, it is the fact that it’s clear how much people care about games and how much gamers want to be present in the dialogs about games. That’s great! But the free market arguments of “we are your consumers therefore we exert control over you” are not the proper way to approach the topic. GamerGate has a lot of passion. That passion comes from a place of love for games but the language and attitudes that seem to surround GamerGate needs adjustment.
There’s nothing wrong with demanding more from the press. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be given a fair shake and not demonized. But by this point, there’s too much baggage attached to the movement and the tag. None of it is particularly good. It actually saps my desire to create and design, which I doubt was anyone’s intention. We all want games. We all want fun.
I’m confident we’ll still have that. Because Gone Home exists doesn’t mean that Battlefield is going away. Our medium is growing up. This means more criticism and that may mean hearing things you don’t agree with. Ms. Sarkeesian is doing for games what people have done for film and books. We’re going to hear all kinds of analyses of games, through all kinds of lenses.
We need to have faith that our games can stand up against these things. I have faith. I have faith that our games can be “more” while also being fun. I think we can have a post colonial analysis of Far Cry will also talking about how badass it feels to take an outpost with nothing but the bow.
People are going to disagree. That’s fine. But we need to disagree with grace. Plenty of people have failed, on either side of things. It’s hard though. It’s hard to write something like this knowing that some wannabe sleuth might want to dig up more information on me as fodder for dismissal. It’s hard to try to engage with people only to have someone tweet me and suggest that I have a personality disorder.
My advice? Don’t give up championing what you believe in but we all need to take a short reprieve. Because what’s happening right now? I don’t think it’s going to work.