Brendan Keogh's tumblr for random tumbls and writing that aren't necessarily about games. Presume all writings to be in a scrappy first-draft kind of state. Writes proper essays about games at brkeogh.com and elsewhere. Tweets at @brkeogh
I was having a conversation with a fairly polite gamergater. They asked me a bunch of questions and I asked if I could reply with a tumblr post instead of a hundred tweets, so this is that post. There was an ongoing conversation before this point, which you should be able to find via the links easily enough.
A funny story is how I already wrote this post, got to about 5000 words, and tumblr crashed while I was writing my conclusion. So this version might be a bit more abridged, I’m afraid. Fun side note: the Lazarus extension that recovers text in Chrome doesn’t work on tumblr. So that’s good to know. Anyway.
I find this idea that journos don’t respect the gaming audience or their readership really interesting, and it comes up again and again. But, really, what I see haters saying as ‘not respecting’ their readership is, to me, just journos not pandering to their readership. You don’t have to look far to see sporting outlets condemning abusive fans at sporting events or film outlets condemning the spreading of nude pics by fans of celebrity actors. These writes, along with the games journos who condemn the more toxic elements of gaming’s culture, don’t do this because they don’t respect videogame players. They do it because they do respect them enough not to pander to them. Go back just a decade or so, and all games journalism is nothing but a celebration of how great videogames are. This weird insider “we’re one of you” kind of tone permeates old issues of gaming mags where those non-gamers just don’t you, but we get you, we are you. We’ll tell you what you want to hear about how great and politically incorrect this or that game is.
But now, there are so many more voices writing about videogames for so many different people. There’s still the dominant voices, but there’s also all these other voices as well. Voices that aren’t afraid to say that maybe some gamers are acting like entitled babies for starting a White House petition about the ending of Mass Effect 3 or getting way too upset about Dante’s hairstyle. But saying “gamers are acting like X” is not saying “every single gamer is an X”. You can talk about movements in a culture generally without stereotyping. And on social media like twitter where characters are more important than nuance, you have to do this. You have no choice. It’s so important for the commentators and voices around a culture to be critical of that culture, to always expect it to do better. This is tough for gamers who have for so long been pandered to by these voices that are now challenging them. But to say gamers acted abusively in this or that situation should not be countered with “Why are you attacking us?!” It should be met with, “Yeah, man. Some of us went way too far. How can we improve this culture that we all love?”
As for legit criticism towards FemFreq being labelled as misogynistic. This is a tricky one. Firstly, it has to be stressed that the overwhelming majority of criticism levelled at Sarkeesian is misogynstic. I’m sure you’ve seen the death and rape threats she often gets. The emails that insult her with her gender. The wave of sexist hatred she has been getting for so long is obscene. But even some of the not explicitly misogynistic criticisms still come from a sexist position. Like all the criticisms about how much games she plays that try to dismantle her credibility to make these criticisms in the first place. No male critic is ever forced to prove their credibility. It’s assumed because they are a dude and dudes play games all the time. To take fifty examples of a single trope and nitpick one of them and how she clearly hasn’t play that one game is still a sexist criticism that doesn’t at all counter her arguments about how wide spread and pervasive these tropes are. But for sure, there is also legitimate criticism directed at the videos because nobody is above criticism and there is no absolute right in this stuff. I often see people speak out about her reductive stance on sex workers, and more recently about her outright condemnation of Bayonetta while others see that character as a very complex and paradoxical character that both plays right into the male gaze and is a thing to be goggled at while also being a strong woman in charge of her own sexuality. It’s complex!
But what Sarkeesian’s videos do so well is work as an introduction. They are simple and reductive because they are meant to be a first step, not an absolute truth. This is Gender Studies 101. She’s just pointing out these tropes and their historical ingrainedness. That is so valuable! Ideally, people would look at that and then start to realise how deep and ingrained and unconscious this all is. Then, after that sinks in, you are able to start asking more complicated questions. But so much of the ‘legit’ criticism levelled at her is still, simply, coming from a sexist perspective and trying to destroy her credibility because she is a woman talking about gender issues. And, sure, sometimes stuff will be mislabelled. But when you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of sexist messages heading your way, your gonna misread someone innocently nitpicking one video pretty easily. I’ve blocked people before who I thought were trolls who were just being sarcastic. You gotta appreciate the wave of hatred that these bits of legit criticism often roll in with. Context matters. If anything, the waves of misogynistic hatred make it so much harder to even voice legit criticisms of her work. But one thing should be clear if you actually watch her videos: you gotta care a whole damn lot about videogames and the people who play them if you are going to dedicate that much time and energy to making these, even after all the hatred. You really must respect videogames enough to be better to do that.
(This question is a response to me insisting that games journalism has come a long way because the Depression Quests of ten years ago never would’ve even been reported on).
Nothing makes Depression Quest more deserving of coverage than any other unheard of indie game! But Depression Quest also isn’t (well, wasn’t) getting an unequal amount of coverage. It was just one of many new little weird games made on the margins of the industry by these waves of new developers that are emerging and that games journalism is, slowly, beginning to pay more attention to. Because games journalism was, for so long, primarily a consumerist ordeal (telling you what to buy and whether it was worth it), it’s only recently shifting to more ‘actual’ journalism on a cultural form, so it’s still figuring out how to write about things beyond the paradigm of whether or not you should buy this game.
But it’s getting there! Depression Quest got a bit of coverage. So did Slave of God. So did Dys4ia. So did Lim. So did Minecraft. So did Patatap. So did Desert Golfing. So did Spaceteam. So did 868-Hack. So did Candy Box. All of these games got covered because they are really exciting new things doing things with the videogame form we haven’t seen before. In Depression Quest’s case in particular, what it did interesting was demonstrate just what Twine can do so well. It showed that text-based games can communicate the interiority of emotions in a way that exterior-action-based games might not be able to. You can explore the insides of someone without abstractness. Just, this is how it feels. It’s not the most interesting or out-there Twine game in existence, but it is exemplary of what Twine can do. It’s also important, in the way it deals with these mature themes that so few games have dared to deal with! That’s exciting and as a critic, I want people to be excited about that. These small weird games are the ones I want to show non-gamers to make them excited about the medium. Not Grand Theft Auto V or Assassin’s Creed 28.
But to be sure, there is an important discussion about canon and what we consider to be part of it and what we ignore that has to be constantly happening. And it is constantly happening! It has been for so many years. Just like cinema and literature have been having these conversations forever. They don’t have answers yet and neither will we ever have a pure answer. There will always me mainstream and their will always be margins. Some styles and movements will be overlooked for others. That’s the way it is.
The best solution to this? Have a vastly diverse range of critics and journalists writing about and celebrating the games they think are important and exciting. This is what is happening right now! A decade or so ago, we mainly had one kind of games journalist writing for one kind of gamer. But now we have indie games and mobile games and these rough little zinester games and every city has its own scene of people making cool shit and you simply can’t hope to cover all of that with one ‘objective’ perspective. You need lots of journalists covering that from lots of openly subjective perspectives. I’m currently plugging Michael Brough’s latest iOS game Helix on my twitter account a lot because I think Brough’s games are incredibly important and I want more people to know about him. That’s my job as a critic: to make people excited about what I’m excited about. So you need lots of critics excited about lots of things to really encompass the diversity of games that exist. The irony of gamergate is that it wants to shut down this diversity. Its calls for ‘objective’ games journalism is a call to go back to what games journalism used to be where games were only ever measured by one stick (good graphics, dollars-per-hour, etc) instead by and for a diverse range of peoples, not all of whom were ‘gamers’.
I don’t quite understand this statement. Firstly, I would say the opposite is true: journalists have grown up (literally, from writing for mags in the 90s as teens or whatever to now many of them being adults with gaming kids of their own) while the industry is still making games for the same fifteen year old boys they were making them for a decade ago. Some caveats on this: the ‘industry’ is not a term that encompasses all game production, just those commercial, mostly triple-a studios and publishers. If you mean ‘industry’ as ‘all videogames’, then I’d ask you to think about how interesting it is we use the term ‘industry’ for a cultural form and not something like ‘art form’ or ‘medium’ as though we are primarily defined as objects that are sold for money and not as a creative, meaningful, cultural form.
So when I say the industry is making games for the same fifteen year old boys, I mean the games industry is like the Wiggles. They know there will always be an audience of people at this specific age with these specific tastes and they can just recycle the same ideas at the all the time. We see the same grim dark shooters and stuff today we saw a decade ago. They put in swear words and a little bit of satire so that teenage dudes think they are mature the way I thought Marilyn Manson was mature when I was fifteen. And, for a fifteen year old, a lot of them probably are mature! A good first step. But we rarely see industry-made games that act more mature than that for adults. Just ones that are more violent to get 18+ ratings. There are some. Last Of Us and more recently Alien: Isolation are these games more committed to evoking a certain tone or achieving a certain aesthetic than just pandering to that same base gamer audience. But the vast majority of triple-a made games are still for that one core audience of lost boys who never grow up, just get replaced.
But journalists have grown up! Gamers have grown up. They’re in their 30s and 40s with kids of their own and day jobs and they still want to play games and they still want to shoot aliens but sometimes they also just want something more mature, something that speaks to them. Just like I still listen to the Marilyn Manson albums I dug as a kid, even while I kind of laugh at them now, and then I go and listen to something a bit more… developed. So it’s unsurprising that the journalists who love this form feel frustrated by the lack of maturity and are more critical now. But that said, there’s still absolutely no shortage of articles celebrating the pixels of Assassin’s Creed 28 or Advanced Warfare or whatever. That stuff is still there.
As for this would’ve blown over with an apology, I agree insofar as staying silent after the weeks of abuse and harassment solidified into gamergate (and that is worth remembering: this was going on for weeks before it had a name) didn’t help and definitely did make things worse. But no one owes anyone an apology. In particular I assume you are talking about all the “Death of gamers” articles here, right? That concentrated attack on gamers! Man. So I guess firstly, journalists were just incredulous that the existence of these articles would even be read as a thing in the first place. There seems to be all these people who interpreted those articles as a cry to kill all gamers, to destroy them. “Death to gamers!” or something like that. Which is absurd. “Death of X” is a super old rhetorical device to talk about the end of significance of a certain term. Death of the Author. The death of adolescence. The death of childhood. The death of the library. The death of Soccer. I haven’t looked but I reckon you could find an article with each of those names in Google. The themes across all those articles around gamer culture was not that we need to weed out and destroy gamers, it was that ‘gamer’ as an identity is becoming ever less significant as videogames become more and more ubiquitous in culture. People who identify as ‘gamers’ as this one tiny sliver of all the many people who play videogames. And, in the weeks before those articles came out, that culture of gamers had utterly shamed themselves in their treatment of Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian and countless others. People were being attacked, were unable to go to their own homes. So a bunch of gaming sites wrote about this! Just like a sports site would condemn fans being abusive at a football match (and wouldn’t need to add a caveat that ‘not all fans’ were the problem), gaming outlets did the same. That kind of title, the death of gamers, was just an obvious one to choose. I wrote this piece, for instance, talking about the problems of gamergate to a broader audience, and the editor gave it the death headline, not me. The editor who probably was unaware of the controversy already emerging from the other articles. It’s just the obvious kind of title to go for on an article about how the gamer identity is starting to tear itself apart in frustration at all these games that exist that aren’t in any way for them.
So no journalist owes a gamergate an apologise for writing about how much of a mess gamer culture made of itself in those wakes (and continues to make for itself, worse and worse). It was an embarrassment. It was, clearly, this group of people so used to being the centre of attention not dealing well with being sidelined for a far greater diversity of videogame players. So people wrote about that. And why all at the same time? Well, why did everyone write about Emma Watson’s UN speech at the same time? Because it happened, and then people wrote about it. It really couldn’t be more mundane than that. The gater historians like to rewrite this history so it starts with the articles. Wrong. It went for two weeks and then articles began to emerge, then a whole bunch of gamers utterly failed to comprehend the articles and then rallied around the hashtag.
Okay, GameJournoPros first. I don’t know of anyone losing their job for being in an industry mailing list, but the idea that its existence was proof of collusion is ridiculous. A bunch of people in the same industry (the industry of games journalism in this case) talking to each other. Shocking! As others have proved, the vast majority of what happens in that thread is setting up multiplayer matches before servers are populated with the general public, or asking for helping games, again, before there is a general public playing. It sucks to have to review a game on deadline before a gameFAQ for that game exists!
And yeah, Milo ‘exposed’ (I love how hack conservative journalists talk about how they ‘expose’ things to feel like they are real powerful journalists unearthing some shattering conspiracy) a thread of people talking about how to deal with Zoe Quinn’s harassment. Shocking! No one knew how to deal with it. It was news, clearly, that all these message boards were focusing a concentrated attack on a developer’s wellbeing based on who she slept with, but a bunch of journalists were afraid of making it worse by reporting on a movement that had no credibility. Others, for sure, wanted to look out for their own back by not getting caught up in it. But across the board: no one had any idea how or if at all this should be reported. So they talked about it. Yes, almost everyone on the mailing list certainly was on the side that the abuse and allegations against her were unfounded and gross and vile. This is because they were. An abusive ex boyfriend releases a whole bunch of personal info to some denizen chat board? If that is to be reported at all, it is only to be reported about an abusive ex-boyfriend mobilising a wave of sexist, disgruntled gamers. Because that is what happened.
As for Temkin, I had to google that because I’d totally forgotten about that happening. This is a tricky area that I don’t feel right commenting on because you need to find a way to balance innocent-until-proven-guilty with the historical and explicit victim blaming in our society that always puts the pressure on rape victims to prove they weren’t raped, rather that rapists to prove they didn’t rape. So reporting on allegations of rape will always be tricky for this. I’m not going to say people were right or wrong to report on this because I simply don’t have all the answers. But it’s interesting how that’s faded away and Temkin probably isn’t getting daily death and rape threats, huh?
Right, I get you now. Eron’s claims can be dismissed but when a dude gets accused of rape it gets reported on. Again, that is a huge tricky topic wrapped up in power relations and the ways women are always sidelined and never believed in these issues. I won’t get into that, sorry, but I will say that a key difference is Eron took his stuff to the internet denizens complete with a whole lot of personal, private data and deliberately stoked the fire that lead to the doxxings and the threats and the hackings. Eron harassed and abused Quinn deliberately by going to these people that already hated her game because it was some weird touchey-feely emotions text thing and she was a woman in the games industry, and poured fuel on the fire to watch things burn. He did a vile, reprehensible thing. And so many of his accusations were provably false, like the mythical Kotaku Depression Quest review that never existed. It was ‘nothing’ in so far as the vast majority of the info he leaked, true or false, was none of our damn business. The fact he leaked it with the explicit intent of getting someone abused and harassed to those that would do the abusing and harassing is very much news, and that is what so many journalists struggled with: how to report on this vile act without making things even worse?
This is a true statement! In fact, Sarkeesian says pretty much exactly this in a bunch of her videos. Nobody actually engaged with videogames enough to provide deep cultural criticism of them has any interest in banning them or stopping you from making an offensive game. They’re just pointing out what is offensive about them.
So the flip side of this statement is also a true statement: “just because a game can be fun doesn’t make it less offensive.” You can have a whole lot of fun in GTAV or Modern Warfare 3 (I know I did), but a critic can still tell you what is grossly offensive about each of those games (I know I did). Like, this isn’t even a dichotomy. Fun/offensive. Practically all popular culture created in a paradigm where it needs to turn a profit is going to perpetuate status quo normative ideas in some way that demand critical scrutiny. That doesn’t mean don’t enjoy this game. It means think critically about what you consume! Critics like Sarkeesian or myself or the countless others out there accused of being ‘SJWs’ are not, at all, telling you what can and can’t be played. They’re not even saying what should or should not be made. They’re just pointing out the tropes and normative ideas that get perpetuated. They are just respecting videogames to an extent to assume they are an important part of culture and giving them the scrutiny that an important part of culture deserves. Like, that’s really it.
And that, in the end, is the greatest irony of gamergate. In their calls of corruption or collusion or SJWs taking over or whatever, the people they are trying hardest to push out of the medium of videogames as either creators or critics are those who celebrate the broadest diversity of games. Those who love games enough to be critical of them. Those who enjoy them enough to think they can be better. Those who think them important enough to not just be mindlessly consumed. These are the people gamergate, as a whole, has the largest issue with, because these people aren’t just telling that core gamer audience what they want to hear. They aren’t pandering. This isn’t the 90s anymore and it is no longer the job of games journalists to pat gamers on the back, to say we are gamers ourselves, and those lawyers and church groups can’t take away our Carmageddon! VIdeogames are so incredibly mainstream now. Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Dys4ia, Depression Quest, Destiny, Call of Duty, Spec Ops, FIFA, Minecraft. There are so many kinds of games and only a sliver of them are made for people who identify as gamers. That isn’t to say there are less than there used to be. There’s just a whole lot more other stuff than there used to be. Being angry about that is like being really into McDonalds and being angry that a KFC and a Taco Bell opened nearby. Maybe it’s increasingly silly to identify as someone who is a McDonalds-goer now instead of simply as a fast food eater. This isn’t an attack on people who eat McDonalds. It’s a call to appreciate the full spectrum of people who play videogames. This is what gamergate tries to shut down. And then, when people point this out, they try to shut that down to with #notyourshield. But it’s true! Gamers and the games made explicitly for gamers are good fun but they are not everything that exists, and they are not everything critics and journalists should be interested in.
You want games journalism and criticism to grow up? Then we need more diverse voices. We need more people who will say things we don’t want to hear. We need them to have paying jobs and the confidence that they can say what they need to say without receiving death threats and rape threats. We need everyone to feel like they can make any game about anything, and not be terrified that if it gets featured on a major games outlet, they’ll have to leave their home. Gamergate is never going to achieve this. Gamergate started as a reaction against a wave of articles that are a reaction against a targeted sexist hate campaign. Gamergate exists to defend gamer culture against accusations that there was a targeted seixist hate campaign, and that’s it. Those, like yourself, who actually care about games journalism ethics and all games getting the coverage they deserve need to distance yourself from this movement. It needs to die or, at the very least, be quarantined once all the decent people evacuate. Then we can have some real conversations about ethics and journalism and canons and gender. Nay, we can just continue all the conversations we had to pause two months ago when it became too dangerous to talk about this. Gamergate is a lost cause, and I hope you and all the decent people being exploited by it leave it soon
Gamers are Undead
I’ve been thinking a lot about gamergate and power and silence lately. Mostly from a desperate desire to do something about this whole mess that is seeing a roving, angry mob pick out and violently attack one great women developer/critic after another for well over a month now. Well over a month. The anti-gg crowd (what I like to call “normal human beings capable of empathy”) is pretty fairly split, I think, between those who don’t want the fuel the fire and think gg is something best ignored (certainly, it doesn’t deserve our time or effort) and those who think it need to be actively countered.
One thing I’ve seen time and time again is editors and developers (mostly dudes) expressing bewilderment and sorrow that this has gone on for as long as it has, that is hasn’t died out yet. These dudes generally (and totally well intentionally) said nothing when things broke out a month ago, because they didn’t want to give it the attention it wanted. And fair enough! But now, a month later, it is still going, more and more women are being literally driven from their homes, and it does not look like it is slowing down.
A hypothesis: Gamergate is more powerful than we are.
An elaboration: we all know that gamergate, despite what its followers might intend or even believe, is essentially a (sometimes violent) defence of the status quo. It is those most privileged in games culture (young men who like particular kinds of empowering games) defending the top of their hill against those more diverse kinds of games creators and critics who dare attack their privilege. They are seeing the games they like go from being about 90% of all videogames down to about, oh I don’t know, 75% (at best). And that feels like a real attack on them! So they are defending the status quo. Now, if they are defending the status quo, then that suggests that they are the ones with more power and that we (those more in favour of diverse and progressive games cultures that isn’t afraid of criticism or indie games or walking sims or twine or whatever) are the margins trying to effect change and make space for more people. That’s what we’ve been doing for ages, I guess, but now we’ve squeezed the pimple of game culture to its pussy head and its not very happy about this.
So gamergate then are the ones with all the power because they are the status quo. That is not to say they are majority, but I think posts like this one that point out just what a minority they are run the risk of being like those kind of posts that point out white people are a minority in America now: quantity isn’t everything. ‘Gamers’ have been the underwhelming minority of videogame players for a long time, and they are only becoming less and less significant to broader play cultures. This is totally true. But they still hold a lot of the power, because that’s where the power has always been, especially through the 80s and 90s as the gamer identity was cultivated by games journalism and marketing as I’ve already discussed. So just as white people still hold the vast majority of the power in Western countries that may now have more non-white citizens than white citizens, the core homogenous gamer culture still holds a whole heap of the power in games, even if most videogame players are not gamers. They are the ones AAA publishers care about. They are the ones most core games journalism outlets cater to.
This is why I don’t think silence is necessarily going to achieve anything, because the silence of the marginalised is what the status quo depends on to keep its power. That’s kind of how it works.
I’ve seen people say, frustrated, that the only people they’ve seen speak out against gamergate are those with the most to lose: women, indies, freelancers, bloggers, etc. This is absolutely true in the sense that it is these people who are most likely to suffer violence against their person (or their income) for expressing an interest in diversity or empathy in game cultures. But, in a way, it’s also not true in that all those craven (yes, craven) game journalists with huge core audiences who have said nothing have a whole heap to lose if they say anything: the support of the status quo. This isn’t me trying to defend those people for their silence (rather, I am fuming at them) but rather to stress a point: every games journalism outlet who has not publicly condemned gamergate is either explicitly or implicitly worried about pissing gamergate off. Not because they are worried about violences against themselves the way every woman who has bravely spoken up is, but because they don’t want to lose a readership. It is craven.
So this has been going on for a month now. Over a month. The violences are still happening. Because this isn’t some little extremist group of 4chan nerds but it is core gamer culture making a last bid to hold onto the power it greedily hogs that should be distributed equally across gamers, casual players, indies, zinesters, everything, every one. Jumping into the hashtag and yelling at people doesn’t help. It only pours fuel on the flame. I did this myself a bit before I realised (was told) that this was me abusing my own privilege as a dude who wasn’t going to get death threats just to indulge my own catharsis while achieving nothing. Just whacking a beehive where the pissed off bees would just go sting someone else. So silence isn’t the answer, but neither is a direct attack.
Gamergate is the status quo. So attacking them to drive them out isn’t going to work anymore than surrounding an army on the top of the hill is a successful way to get that army to leave the hill (military metaphors? idk).
So talking to them will achieve nothing, but they need to be talked about. If not for them then for the much larger silent majority that can easily get sucked into that whirlpool. And, more importantly, so that all those feeling more and more alienated by games culture can see they have support.
What I’ve been trying (and failing) to build up to for three paragraphs is this: every core games journalism outlet should be writing editorials and op-eds explicitly condemning and distancing themselves from gamergate. They should be saying they do not support it. They should be saying they find their tactics vile. Beyond this, they should be reporting on every vile deed of the movement. Any core games journalism outlet that actually cares about contributing to games culture in a positive way, in making this a more inclusive culture, should be doing everything in their power to actively dismantle and disempower gamergate. Especially (if not exclusively) all those male games journalists at all those male-dominated games journalism outlets who have so little to lose from doing so.
This probably isn’t going to happen.
Instead The Escapist goes out of their way to make it look like their are ‘two sides’ of the debate worthy of engagement and Pocket Gamer panders to the hashtag mob. And everywhere else says nothing. Because gamergate are the status quo. Gamergate are their audience.
Of course, not everywhere has stayed silent. New York Times, New Yorker, The Guardian, Overland, The New Statesman, Paste, Vice, The Vine, and a stack of other journalism outlets who are not solely focused on games (read: for whom gamers are not the primary target audience) have been scathing of gamergate (and,yes, a couple have posted ill-considered op-eds showing ‘both sides’, like that terrible Al Jazeera piece).
Frankly, the sheer radio silence from most core games journalism outlets staffed predominately or entirely by men in full- or part-time games journalism jobs is nothing short of embarrassing, and continues to be so.(Games On Net are one of the few commendable exceptions I know of).
So I want to see more outlets condemn and scathe and distance themselves. But I don’t think that is going to happen.
Instead, I feel actually happy when another amazing writer in games ‘leaves’ games journalism behind to go and write for outlets that are not game-centric, that talk about games-and-other-things. Because if games journalism isn’t going to stand up to gamergate, then gamergate can have its PR echos and reviews written about framerates and screen resolutions. Create a quarantine zone and those of us who are actually interest in videogames as a cultural form amidst other cultural forms can go and write and read for outlets that aren’t interested in putting videogames on some untouchable pedestal for consumers.
I guess all I’m trying to say is if you work for a games journalism outlet that has not condemned gamergate yet, you are working for a games journalism outlet that supports gamergate. And I will not read an outlet that supports gamergate.
A response to this article:
Over the last few years, I believe that the rise of progressivism and feminism has done a lot of great things for gaming.
It’s helped to bring to the forefront a lot of talented people with interesting things to say in their art and writing that were quieted before.
Ah huh. Yes, absolutely. It’s been great how the more vocal voices and strengthening support networks for different minorities in and around games has graced up with a burgeoning field of more diverse and more interesting videogames than every before. Totally!
Of course, as a white cisgender heterosexual man, I’m probably the wrong person to point all this out. Nevertheless, I have to get this all off my chest. I think that progressive gaming culture needs to take a big step forward from its current state.
It is very good at complaining and criticising – but it does a terrible job at actually improving things for the people it claims to represent.
It’s time to turn words in to action.
Oh dear. This isn’t going to be good. This is one of the easiest and most flawed criticisms of social justice movements: “Well, stop talking and do something about it!”. This is a nice sounding thing. It’s easy to feel vindicated and nod along to it! But it skips a couple of really important points:
1) Talking and writing words is an action in and of itself. Critique, investigative journalism, conversations, protests, complaints. Words are a very good way to act on social justice issues.
2) As the numerous examples you yourself list below demonstrate, social justice issues in games have been words AND actions for a long time. The words lead to actions lead to more words lead to more actions. So already you’re off to a bad start.
Everyone’s a critic
What it feels like right now is that the progressive movement that supports gender, racial, and sexual equality in gaming is very good at criticising.
Criticism is important. Allowing people affected by the actions and creations of the industry to speak out, and to have allies in the power structure who can amplify their voices, is important. I also think that if the power structures of culture and society are to become more diverse, it takes those inside those power structures to help make the change happen.
Yes, this is good! This is pretty much what I just said above: words and criticism are actions that facilitate good, progressive change.
What happens right now is that an issue comes up – usually a new issue every week – and a raging holy crusade arises from the depths. Yes, many of these issues need to be addressed, but there are two things that happen as a result.
One is that it allows people currently with power in development and gaming to merely pay lip service to diversity. Retweet a few women or LGBTQ+ folk’s angry tweets, maybe post an article about today’s gaming drama, and you can look like an ally and be generally safe from the crusaders.
There is definitely a criticism to be made of allies who really don’t use their safety and privilege well. Women in games have been complaining about this for a long time, quite validly. The number of times a dude game journalist or developer agrees with them on issues but refuses to speak out, even though their words will have more clout, is a big issue. On the other hand, you get the obligatory single RT or whatever without actual engagement, just to look like one of the ‘good guys’. This is definitely an issue and worthy of more critique.
You just have to ride an ever-higher horse to be safe yourself.
As well, there’s a real martyr complex that occurs. The Feminist Frequency Kickstarter never gets $150,000 instead of its $6,000 goal if threats and harassment against Anita Sarkeesian aren’t widely reported. With every video, it feels like she’s martyred further, and the series becomes more popular because she’s hated. As many people feel edified for what they’ve actually done as they do hated.
Okay. Wow. Did you just blame Anita Sarkeesian for all the harassment and threats and abuse she has received for daring to make some incredibly accessible, incredibly welcoming feminism 101 criticism of videogames? Are you saying it is her fault for receiving those threats? That she martyred herself? Wow, dude, that’s some straight up victim blaming. That is messed up. Anita Sarkeesian didn’t deserve any abuse that she received (and you say as much elsewhere) and she definitely, definitely deserves none of the blame for receiving that abuse. You know who does? The people that abused her. This is a really gross statement you’ve made here and, frankly, you owe Sarkeesian an apology.
Well, guess what – there’s people out there who think your martyrs aren’t so holy, and that you’re only riding the high horse to not stand on solid ground.
I’m pretty sure the death threats and constant abuse on Twitter and via email and other channels mean people know that people think this. Though, I don’t quite understand your high horse metaphor here.
I believe that GamerGate is happening because the progressive movement’s tendency to try and stand above everyone else - to preach from the mountain, if you like - has alienated a group of normal people from well-meaning folks that misuse their megaphones.
It takes a generous reading of their causes, but when I talk to pro-GamerGate folks and read what they’re discussing, I don’t think they hate women, or even feminists, as much as how the progressive culture is operating. And with that reading, I think they’re right.
Progressive gaming culture has become so toxic, so disconnected from reality that the tactic of dealing with a vocal opposition has literally been the same for two months: don’t address their claims (even if you think they’re mostly invalid) and don’t engage except to insult.
Okay, I’ll start with the last paragraph first. You definitely have a point that ‘not engaging except to insult’ hasn’t helped matters. The silence of major games outlets while Zoe Quinn and others were receiving the brunt of the abuse didn’t help stop the conspiracy theories from emerging about their complicity. Then all the ‘death of gamers’ articles appeared which Gamergate, laughably, took as insults, as though they’ve never heard of the rhetorical headline strategy of ‘death of X’ which has a long history. Like, my own piece on Overland was given that ‘death’ headline by an editor who isn’t even in games journalism. It’s hard to stress this any more: none of those articles were insulting or attacking videogame players, they were addressing the decline of a particular gaming subculture, the ‘gamer’, that had greatly embarassed itself in the previous week with its wave of harassment towards Quinn and Sarkeesian and others. Just like a sports column complaining about abusive fans isn’t, obviously, talking about every single fan in the stadium, neither is an article complaining about gamer culture about every single person who identifies as a gamer. This is almost too obvious to require a caveat. Gamer culture had a shameful week, so a bunch of writers wrote about it.
As for insults on twitter, I’ve myself gotten in trouble from gamergaters for, once telling one that gamers were shit people, and another time for telling someone trying to tone police me to fuck off. Each time was in response to a wave of gamergaters attacking me over some minor point. When they are polite, it is often full on Sealioning. Both the times I lost my cool with people were in that context. You’re totally right: insults don’t help at all! But it’s pretty easy to see why people might lose their cool when so many of the tweets they have to deal with are covered in sexism and misogyny.
As for why gamergate is happening and who they are. I’m sure there’s no shortage of people on the hashtag who don’t consider themselves sexists. But the point remains: Gamergate emerged as a concentrated effort to harass women developer and journalists out of videogames, and those who support the hashtag implicitly support that effort, whether they wish to or not. It’s damaged goods.
Gamergate is happening because it is easy to assume there is a conspiracy in games journalism, and it is easy, if you are a young dude with a stack of privilege (which I am), to feel like the increased representation of other people is, in fact, an attack on you. When it is normal for you to have 90% of the coverage and suddenly you are only getting 70%, that feels like you have lost something. So, combine these things: progressive games culture is allowing more women and queer people and all sorts of other players and creators are getting represented, which means those core gamers feel like they are being represented less, which is true, even if they are still the majority. So there is still an underlying current of sexism: others are getting represented better and that is bad for me. That is why gamergate is happening. Not because ‘social justice warriors’ dare to actually talk about and fight for social justice issues in gaming, which they rightly should do as you yourself say.
It’s time for that to change. And I think I know how.
Remember the #1reasonwhy hashtag that had women revealing much of what they perceived as sexism in the gaming industry? Well, there was a bit of an offshoot, #1reasonmentors, which served as a way for people that are part of gaming’s power structures to help mentor women to become part of the industry.
It was an evolution that helped take complaints about the industry and try to act on them in a positive way.
That’s what progressive gaming culture is lacking: a positive action to its negative reactions. Negativity is a strong emotion. Criticism is useful, and outlets like Feminist Frequency deserve to address their opinion and to receive fair criticism, not violent threats. However, what this movement for fairness, diversity, and equality needs is more positive action to make that a reality.
Okay, this doesn’t really make sense. Do you know where the #1reasonwhy and #1reasonmentors and #1reasontobe hashtags began? On Twitter. Where progressive games culture were talking about sexism and misogyny in the games industry. You say progressive games culture needs to stop talking and start acting, and your first example is how people turned talking into action on Twitter! Like, you are proving that people are doing exactly what you are saying they should do! Already! It is already happening!
One example of what can be done can be seen in the controversy surrounding The Fine Young Capitalists. This charity was criticised in its early days for not being fully inclusive of transgender women, and for only giving 8 percent of profits to its developers. Pro-GamerGate forces helped fund it, with the claim that they were helping to get women making games in the industry, unlike those against them.
Frankly, they’re right – I think the progressive movement has faltered in this instance. Why not create a similar movement to help get talented women with ideas the resources to make games that has transgender and financial policies that are largely favourable?
I bet there’s plenty of people who could make it out-perform The Fine Young Capitalists, easily. They did it with Feminist Frequency, right?
They did do it with Feminist Frequency! Like, yes. They did. Feminist Frequency is an example of this happening.
There was a lot of criticisms of Fine Young Capitalists, all of which were well documented. Despite what conspiracies might think, no one attacked or doxxed them, but a lot of people did raise concerns about them, including their transphobic slant when they first launched. But whatever, they did try to do something good, that’s true.
But so have a lot of other people! Do you even know how much work Zoe Quinn does to support young and minority game developers? Do you know how much mentoring she has done? How many people she has personally helped? She talks about a few in this interview I did with her back in March, available in Unwinnable Weekly. Do you know how much work Anita Sarkeesian does talking at events and mentoring young women? Like, there are countless examples of individuals and organisations supporting diversity in games. And, yes, plenty of them way out-perform The Fine Young Capitalists. So this isn’t just something that ‘could be done’ but has been done for years. Largely, by those very same people talking about social justice. What are the odds!
As well, let’s get more game creation software into the hands of people with ideas so that they can help bring them to life. Twine is an option, but I think that gamebooks are a niche market – software for creating with limited programming experience does exist and can be powerful.
Let’s get tools like GameMaker (used by Vlambeer), Clickteam Fusion (used to make the horror hit Five Nights at Freddy’s), and heck, even something like GameSalad, into the hands of people with an itch to learn. These companies often give their software away for free or at least for cheap – let’s get it marketed and get copies to women, non-binary people, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ people who have ideas and want to make them. Twitter campaigns, Google groups, IRC chats, whatever can help bring people together, including artists with creators!
Speaking of creators, let’s get the people in the power structure to help support diversity by getting people from marginalised groups the credits they need to help get more work. We live in a society where the best way to advance is through experience, and there are plenty of people in the indie space who could help get experience for people who deserve it.
Do like Adam Saltsman and Finji Games are trying to do: specifically target diverse hires.
Again, your idea has been happening for years. Anna Anthropy’s book Rise of the Videogame Zinester talks about exactly this, and gives a range of ways this can be done.
But like, it is the fact that this is already happening that leads to games existing like Depression Quest, Gone Home, Dys4ia, Mainichi, Lim, and countless countless others. Like, that bares stressing: this is already happening, and the new types and forms of videogames that are created by this increasing accessibility of tools are exactly the games and developers that gamergate is determined to destroy. The vilest, angriest parts of gamer culture that have emerged with an anxiety that someone wants to “destroy their videogames” have emerged precisely because game culture is becoming more diverse and more people are making more games for more people. So, ultimately, you’r suggestion a solution to a problem here when, really, the problem has emerged as a side-effect of this solution already existing.
Heck, if developers and publishers need a financial reason to do so, look at the way that casual and mobile games have taken off in the last few years, and it’s because women and other people not used to the current gaming structure have become a part of gaming.
Similar stuff happens here, with the feminisation and ‘those aren’t real games’ that always happens around casual games. The people who play casual games, are also the people who most often feel excluded by core ‘gamer’ culture. I wrote about this in relation to Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. So a similar point, then: women and others are already doing this, and they are further marginalised and trivialised by core gamer culture for that reason.
Want to target women, LGBTQ+ people, or people of colour? Hire them, they’ll probably have a better idea than if you’re not one of them!
Yes, in this we agree! We don’t need to make games for more diverse audiences; we need more diverse creators creating from their own experiences. This is happening in some areas, but a) gamer culture keeps harassing and abusing those women that succeed; and b) the mainstream triple-a industry is still incredibly unequal in this regard, with unequal pay and lack of childcare and all sorts of things. GDC, such a huge industry event, offers no childcare services at all. Like, that is terrible, and is just one of countless examples for how the games industry has a lot of improving to do before women really feel welcome as much as men do.
Call for action
Even through social media, let’s not just have #INeedDiverseGames. Let’s have #DiverseGamesWeLove or something similar to help promote great projects from people outside the mainstream to help them become part of the mainstream.
Heck, even just starting to post positive comments on blogs could help, especially controversial ones.
Sure but as a dude with all your privileges you rightly note at the start of the article (and which I share myself) telling people who are constantly dealing with this shit to ‘be more positive’ isn’t that cool. Like, they have some pretty good reasons to be angry.
Maybe we can help women who speak out about feminism, or people of colour about racial issues, or anything else from gaming’s diverse voices talking about the social issues that affect their lives, to help them feel better that they have support even among the unfortunately - inevitable anonymous hate. And even supporting their writing about topics besides just their race, gender, or sexuality, because people should be defined by more than just their labels.
Again, yes, on this we agree. Women game critics and journalists often complain about only being offered gigs to write about gender, and never just being given a game to review or whatever. So, yeah, that is something that needs to be rectified in games journalism.
I ultimately believe that if the people in the current power structures use their power and their megaphones to be kind and to show that diversity in gaming can do some great things – and hopefully make some great games too.
This is actually happening everywhere. Except, really, those who are actively fighting for social justice don’t actually have that many megaphones. The overwhelming majority are still happy to support the known, stable, gamer status quo of young dudes who like a very particular type of game. That’s easier than rocking the boat. But, yes, people are rocking the boat and they are doing it with gusto. Some are less ‘kind’ than others, but that’s okay because anger and passion and really commitment to issues is a good thing to have!
However, what I ultimately believe is that if the goals of diversity, fairness, and equality are to happen, it’s time for progressive gaming culture, one I largely support but find myself a bit ashamed of at times, to not just tear down that which they oppose, but to use its powers to build up the causes they support as well.
And this is the ultimate problem with your setup and your argument: everything you are saying should be done is already happening. There isn’t just talk with no action. There is a lot of talk and there is a lot of action. Instead, you’ve tried to write some kind of middle-of-the-road thing to appease ‘both sides’ by confirming biases on the anti-progressive side that we’re all talk and no action on this ‘side’. Which simply isn’t true. Your article does more harm than good by ignoring everything great that is emerging from progressive games culture by taking some of that culture’s victories and removing them from the credits. Videogames have a long way to go, but the ever-increasing vocality of various minorities who have never felt welcomed either in the industry or the audience cultures is a great thing and is constantly, gradually creating all the changes you say need to happen.