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
This is a culture war. The right side is winning, at great cost. At great personal costs to people like Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Zoe Quinn and even Jennifer Lawrence, and countless others who are on the frontlines of creating new worlds for women, for girls, for everyone who believes that stories matter and there are too many still untold. We are winning. We are winning because we are more resourceful, more compassionate, more culturally aware. We’re winning because we know what it’s like to fight through adversity, through shame and pain and constant reminders of our own worthlessness, and come up punching. We know we’re winning because the terrified rage of a million mouthbreathing manchild misogynists is thick as nerve gas in the air right now.
Us Social Justice Warriors – this is me, stealing that word in order to use it against my enemies- are winning the culture war by tearing up the rulebook, and there’s nothing the sad, mad little boys who hate women and queers and people of colour can do about it. Nothing, at least, that doesn’t sabotage their strategy, because they can win their game from day to day, but they’re losing the war. They can punish me for writing this, and I’m sure they will, but that will only prove my point. I’m not afraid anymore.
Every time they make an example of one of us, ten more stand up in outrage to hold her up or take her place.
We are stronger, smarter and more numerous than anyone imagined, and we are not to be fucked with."
- Excerpt from WHY WE’RE WINNING: SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS AND THE NEW CULTURE WAR by Laurie Penny (via femfreq)
Why #gamergate is important
Fun fact: Morgan Ramsay, founder of the Entertainment Media Counsel, did an objective study of how much of gaming journalism talks about sexism or social justice.
To do this, he downloaded 130,524 articles from 37 RSS feeds of 23 outlets, including The Escapist, Rock Paper Shotgun, CVG, Edge Online, Eurogamer, Gamasutra, Game Informer, GamePolitics, GamesBeat, GamesIndustry International, GameSpot, GamesRadar, IGN, IndieGames, Joystiq, Kotaku, Massively, MCV, NowGamer, PocketGamer.biz, Polygon, Shacknews and VG24/7, published over a period of twelve months. He then did a search on how often these games articles mentioned sexism, feminism, or misogyny.
The result? Over a period of one year, 0.41% of 130,524 articles referenced feminism, feminist, sexism, sexist, misogyny, and misogynist explicitly.
That’s less than half of one percent.
So next time you hear someone whining that “feminism is taking over video games journalism”, what they’re actually whining about is that feminism exists in video games journalism.
um so lemme get this straight…tiana starts her own business in a time where black women had next to no rights….mulan pretty much saves china and becomes a top ranking military official….but the annoying sister in frozen makes a throwaway line about being gassy and gets lauded as the the first feminist princess??
“you shouldn’t be walking alone at this time of night”
people shouldn’t fucking attack other people at any time of day
People think feminism means that there’s a group of women somewhere that want to take trousers with pockets away from men and give them to women, and give men trousers with fake pockets, while in reality feminism is the general idea that everyone should have trousers with pockets, because pockets are awesome.
With all the heat Anita Sarkeesian gets for her Tropes series, you’d think it was a new topic, but Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert had a discussion on a similar theme when they were talking about the influx of slasher movies on their show in 1980.
34 years later and this is STILL relevant
hooray for the ladies
who are using their fame
to get shit done
(not intended to be a complete list)
Author John Scalzi was on a roll this morning (currently 7:14 AM, 26 Sept. 2014) with a tweet he found from some guy sending out an “ultimatum” to women to “make a choice” between feminism and, well, men like him. So Scalzi launched into a truly magnificent set of scorchers, which I’m posting here for the delectation of people everywhere.
Also: I would like to thank that guy for setting the ultimatum. It makes finding a boyfriend so much easier when the undesirable ones wear a placard identifying themselves.
Hey guess what, men have been accusing feminists of hating men before ‘misandry’ was a even word. But if your “pro-woman” values are so weak that a single blog on the internet can destroy them, than you were never useful to the feminist movement in the first place.
I think it’s a defining moment in the radicalization of young women when they realize men, as a class, absolutely and violently hate them.