Things got a bit heated on Twitter yesterday when, instead of listening to the not-very-valid concerns of some way-too-angry people on the #gamergate hashtag I decided to incorrectly correct their grammar instead of engaging with them. I thought it would be a good laugh for a little while, but instead it exploded. I guess bad grammar just made these games-journalism-chemtrails-conspiracy types feel vindicated in their campaign, in hindsight.
Anyway, whereas two weeks of protesting the hatred received by women for daring to make videogames got hardly a peep out of trolls, after playing with grammar I’m getting emails and comments and stuff. Most are ignorable but one was polite. It said this:
How can you lambaste people who “care too much about video games” when you made an e-book analyzing a video game.
Furthermore, what is wrong with someone being emotionally invested in a form of entertainment? Are bookworms bad people because they care so much about literature? Are movie buffs douchebags because they follow the industry very closely? What is it about being a gamer that inherently makes it bad? Lets try to ignore the bad apples of the bunch and look at what makes a gamer a gamer. In my eyes its just one that follows the gaming industry similar to how lets say… A football fan may follow the NFL via tracking stats, fantasy football, listening to sports radio, etc. etc. That, in and of itself, does not make a person bad, its when they talk down upon others that do not follow their hobby of choice as much as they do.
I was going to ignore it, but I was doing nothing else with my Sunday and he did ask nicely, so instead I wrote this answer:
So, firstly, how can I lambaste people who “care too much about videogames”? Well first we need to think about who I mean by people who care “too much”. The people who care “too much”, for me, are the people who think there must be some massive videogame journalism conspiracy, the people who pile on mountains of hate to people like Zoe Quinn who dared make a videogame about emotions and mental illness and release it for free, or to people like Anita Sarkeesian who undergo the incredibly important job of finally giving this popular medium some much needed critical attention. The people who care ‘too much’ about videogames are the type who, if Twitter allowed more characters, I would say care too much about perpetuating the current status quo of videogames. They are the people so invested in videogames being what they have been since the beginning of the 90s when the ‘gamer’ identity was first cultivated by games journalism magazines and games industry marketing alike (which I guess is ironic when you think about it) that they can’t deal with any kind of progressive change or any kind of real criticism of their medium. Woman makes a game with no graphics? It doesn’t fit our normative idea of what a ‘good’ videogame is, therefore there must be some conspiracy. Sarkeesian makes some super intro-level gender criticism of a medium that has huuuuge issues with how it deals with gender? She clearly wants to censor and ruin videogames.
These people who care too much about the normative status quo of what videogames are the ones I’ve been dealing with on Twitter a little bit, and that any women who dares speak up about this stuff is dealing with a lot. THey are sending rape threats and death threats and, those that aren’t sending threats, are still throwing their hat in with those that are by absurdly thinking terms like ‘Social Justice Warrior’ is a negative thing.
So those are the people who I will more than happily lambaste. They have a self-identity built around a consumer product, which is a sad self-identity to have. They are a target audience, carefully cultivated over the last couple of decades. ‘Gamer’ emerges in the late 80s and early 90s as a very particular audience of videogames which is seen as young, middle-class, and male. Especially male. (Which isn’t to say women making and playing videogames is a new thing, but the target and perceived audience has long been male). The gamer culture nurtured through the 90s through games journalism and marketing and the games themselves, is very deliberately a male audience. So, nowadays, you have a much more diverse range of games for a much more diverse range of perceived target audiences: mobile games, casual games, social games, indie games, AAA games, portable games etc etc etc. SO much more diverse than it’s ever been. ‘Gamer’ culture still has as many games as it always has had, but as a percentage of the total number of videogames that exist, its shrunk as more and more games for other people have risen up. A normal person who cares about videogames would think this is super exciting! Angry Birds is a great game. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is a great game. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great game. Fez is a great game. Depression Quest is a great game. Those people who care too much about the normative status quo of what videogames should be/used to be, however, only see a range of games that are not ‘good’ by their outmoded idea of what a ‘good’ videogame must be (action, realism, immersion, agency, difficulty, etc, etc). The are prescriptive, conservative. They can’t deal with change and they see those that embrace this new diverse field of what videogames can be for a whole range of people as ‘the enemy’ or sign of some absurd conspiracy.
What is wrong with being emotionally invested in a form of entertainment? Nothing, to a point. I am, obviously, emotionally invested in videogames. I guess I’ve committed my life to writing about them and studying them. Emotions are the best way to be invested in any popular art! But show me the book works sending torrents of really personal vile hate and hacking into the accounts of authors they don’t agree with, or the movie-goers who got so angry that a film was 70 minutes long instead of 120 minutes long that they started online partitions to fix the ending. Maybe you can show me those people! If you can, I’d tell you those people have as big a problems as gamers who are way too invested in videogames. Because if you care so much about videogames that you can’t deal with the existence of videogames (or videogame creators or critics) who make things you don’t like, you’ve got a problem. Most bookworms or movie-goers don’t self-identify as such as a major part of their identity. Reading books or going to the movies is just something they do. Maybe it is something they really like doing, but it’s not their entire existence. The young dudes who lives and breathe videogames to the extent they spend their entire days abusing people online or commenting on news articles or fucking uploading screengrabs to Imgur covered in red arrows to show some kind of conspiracy have failed, miserably, to be someone who has more to their life than an outmoded idea of what videogames are. They have failed to realise something really important: they are just videogames. They are pop songs. They are Michael Bay movies. They are, absolutely, worth your time and the time of critics who want to understand and write about them, but at the end of the day, they are just videogames. The bookworm can love literature and still deal with the fact they are just books. Same with the movie-goer. The gamers I will happily lambaste are the ones who are way too invested in videogames as part of their identity. But not just ‘invested in videogames’, but ‘invested in a very particular, outmoded idea of what videogames are’.
So, no, having videogames as a hobby does not make a person bad. But do you know who has a hobby in videogames? My fiance’s 60-year-old parents who play Words With Friends half an hour every night before dinner. My friend’s 4-year-old daughter who plays Minecraft on the ipad, and her 2-year-old daughter who loves Toca Band (it’s really good). My 13-year-old brothers who play a lotttt of Halo and Battlefield and not a whole lot else. All those businesspeople on the bus playing Candy Crush every single day. My friends who play Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. There is such a diverse range of people who play and enjoy videogames as a hobby who are not ‘gamers’. They are people who see videogames for what they are: just another mundane pop cultural form that (and this is the important part) has its own particular (not special, particular) forms of engagement. These people are able to see videogames in an ecology of popular cultural forms, and enjoy them as such. They are all people who, if I show them Depression Quest, I would guarantee would find something interesting about it (well, except those too young to read). They wouldn’t get caught up on its lack of graphics or who the developer did or did not sleep with. They’d be like, cool, a videogame about mental illness; that’s interesting.
So these are the people I would much rather write about videogames for. The people who are not obsessed with how videogames are special, because videogames are not special. I am so much more interested in writing for people that enjoy videogames enough to want to read a critical essay about what is interesting about those games, but not to the extent that they expect me to ‘champion’ the entire medium as some gift from an Interactivity God. Significantly, I could guarantee that with the possible exception of my 13yo brothers, none of these people above who enjoy videogames on a near-daily basis would consider themselves ‘gamers’ at all. ‘Gamer’ is an exclusionary term that is only applicable to a very small subset of people who play videogames who self-identify as such. I am not interested in talking to those people. Those people have enough people talking to them already. I am more more interested in embracing the mundanity and normality of videogames and telling people who might have always looked at gaming as some nerdy boy pasttime and telling them why both Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and P.T and Wolfenstein: The New Order are really good videogames. It has nothing to do with convincing them that ‘videogames are great’ and much more to do with ‘this is why this particular work is really interesting’.
So that is how I can lambaste people who care too much about videogames while at the same time writing books about videogames. ‘Caring about videogames’ is what people like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian do when they challenge the medium with new forms and critical attention. It is what journalists do when they write about social justice issues in relation to gaming. It is what journalists do when they write an essay about a small game a friend made which wouldn’t have gotten any attention from anywhere otherwise. That is caring about videogames: where there form is going and what it will become. Caring ‘too much’ about videogames is exactly what you say: talking down on others. Those people that see journalism conspiracies (but don’t want to talk about the relationship between AAA PR and games journalism, just critics who are friends with small, non-commercial individual creators) and who go after the above people who care about videogames explicitly because they thing they are ‘ruining’ videogames (read: moving beyond the outdated status quo that videogames is drowning in) are worthy of nothing more than lambasting. I am not writing for them, and I don’t care what they think of me. They are an insignificant little subculture unwilling to move on and to accept that they no longer own this medium. So those people, yes, I can happily lambaste while I also write books and essays about videogames.
Here is some further reading on the topic written by far more coherent writers than me, if you’re still interested:
1. Dan Golding and Leigh Alexander both wrote about how ‘gamers’ are becoming insignificant.
2. Owen Grieve wrote this great piece about how people are conflating the critical attention of Sarkeesian with ‘censorship’ (among other great insights into the terrible mess of the last week.
3. Graeme Kirkpatrick’s study of game mags through the 80s and 90s and how an audience of ‘hardcore’ young male gamers was cultivated as the norm. (You can skip the Bourdieu stuff at the start).
4. Adrienne Shaw did a survey that showed, fascinatingly, that when asked if they are a gamer, people answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on strictly gendered lines. Men who play hardly any games would say ‘yes’ while women who play a heap would say ‘no’. It’s the greatest evidence of how ‘gamer’ is such a limited, exlcusionary subset of all the people who play videogames, and should only ever be treated as such. It’s behind an academic paywall so maybe find a student friend to liberate the pdf for you.