Why would you care about video games?
I don’t! Unless you count flash games and a brief Mob Wars habit, I have not played a video game made in the 21st century, though I played them a fair amount in the past,mostly sports games. It is even a bit hard for me to understand how someone past their early twenties could have a serious interest in video games. This is all alien to me and most of the time I was wading through Gamergate, I felt like Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon. Nonetheless, every few months, one of these public shitstorms catches my eye and sucks me into its vortex of clicks, wasted time and pointless information. I guess that is my video game.
The Gamergate culture war is full of hidden facts and motives, which call to my inner Columbo. There are also clashes of different personality types, from different segments of society, which calls to my inner Starling. There are even some elements of conspiracy for my inner Mulder.
It involves political divisions and alliances, mainly along authoritarian/libertarian lines, which are the ones I care about the most. Especially as liberalism, in the broad sense, is in the same phase of its career as Muhammad Ali circa 1982. This is quite interesting in itself, because culture wars are usually fought along conservative vs. liberal grounds. In this one, the majorities on both sides are liberal or leftist.
Gamergate is a story with incredible subtext. No, most Gamergaters are not just angry that there are some dishonest reviews. As with Watergate and every other gate worthy of the suffix, the violation of the letter of the law, while critical, is thought to be symptomatic of more pervasive problems.
However, if you think a broad confederacy of journalists and other insiders responded to an attack on the credibility of journalists and other insiders by calling their critics racists and misogynists and comparing them to the KKK and ISIS because “actually, it really is about the relatively low grade harassment of a handful of women,” well, I would like to have you at my poker game.
This story caters to some of my pet issues and because of that, I found that I was prejudiced to the Gamergate side. Really, the whole story and controversy boils down to the question of “what the fuck is Gamergate?” So, I think a sympathetic look at these people is the best way to answer that question anyway, unless you believe that thousands of people just woke up one day and decided to be evil.
My prejudices upfront: 1) I am a straight, white, male who constantly makes sports analogies, and yes I really know that this tilts the field a bit. 2) I hate authoritarianism and this is easily my strongest political tendency. 3) I do not like journalists. I do not like the mainstream political press who cheerlead unjust wars so they can hobnob with the powerful and have big houses. I do not like the journalists who cover my niche interests, like sports, movies and poker, because they are crooked too. There are some good ones, and there are a few great ones, but they pop up with the same frequency as good congressmen, CEOs or divorce lawyers. One thing l hope for Gamergate is that a great number of people become cynical assholes like me and regard journalism as a sleazy profession and always regard prevailing narratives with skepticism. It comes as no surprise to me that journalism and media (TV/radio) both rank in the ten most common professions for psychopaths.
Having said that, I have no real dog in this fight and was fascinated by the story itself. The threats, the double agents, collusion, corruption, grandstanding, the demagogues and the flow of several social and political currents. All because of Ms. Pacman.
I read an article sympathetic to Gamergate in Forbes and another by certified woman, Liana Kerzner, who I found to be the smartest and most reflective person in this room. This is an interesting blog by a gamergater who is a former games journalist and current black guy, Oliver Campbell.
I read some other stuff that I can’t remember. I watched a bunch of videos, which are sprinkled throughout. The one above is a few journalist types who are sympathetic to Gamergate. Most of the videos are Gamergaters or neutrals, since the main subject of debate is what motivates such people. I read hundreds of comments and tweets. And, of course, I read the articles by our own Gamergater, George. I think he even helped start this shit. His screed against games journalists, which preceded any sex story, was one of our most popular articles of the year, garnering 1.4k Facebook likes, which is like a million by our standards. One of the guys he made fun of even threatened to sue us for directly quoting him. So, yes, people genuinely care about ethics in games journalism. If that sounds kind of goofy, let’s phrase it this way: people hate hypocritical, dishonest coverage of their favorite hobbies.
Public Figures vs. The Mob (there were atrocities on both sides but nobody was hurt.)
This is where some of the touchiest subjects come up. Off the bat, I gotta say that public figures get death threats and such all the time. Even the most marginal and insignificant ones. Reading about this subject, I remembered that I was doxed before it was cool, during a run in with readers of Something Awful like 10 years ago. I had completely forgotten about it. Mike received scores of, mostly hilarious, though relatively earnest death threats for his black metal pics. We were hacked just a few months ago. In our case, few people have any real conception of who we are. We’re just internet writers, not public personalities. So I can imagine what happens when people really feel like they know and hate you. But it happens to everybody.
It will happen to you much more if you are a woman. Is this because trolls see women as more vulnerable and go after them harder to get more of a reaction? I think so and anti-Gamergaters unwittingly lend credence to this explanation, as we will see later. Is it also because there are guys who have problems with women and lash out at them when given the chance to do so without consequence? Of course. Is this phenomenon any more prevalent than usual amongst those in support of Gamergate? Well…. maybe and maybe not. There is no evidence of it, except that some members of 4chan and other sites have been screencapped while discussing carrying out harrassment. But we are talking about roughly ten people.
The harassment of several women and men prominent in the world of video games has seemingly increased during Gamergate. This is likely the work of a relatively small number of people. If evidence to the contrary exists, nobody has made it public. There have only been assertions, often from people outside of the situation, that Gamergate is a facade for the widespread harassment of women.
There are ugly comments floating around in twitter feeds and comment sections. As others have observed, read an article about the San Gennaro Feast on the website of your local newspaper and see how long it takes to get racist, sexist, violent and generally ugly in the comments section. I can’t say that I, personally, have seen anything worse than usual from either GG or Anti-GG. Gamergaters seem pretty cordial on the whole, and have made a concerted effort to self police against harassers. However, both sides tend to take obvious jokes or trolling literally and hold them up as examples of the other side’s evil.
It seems to be the case that the nasty activities are attributable to extremely small minorities of groups (pro and anti) consisting of thousands of people. People ostensibly from Gamergate have harassed, doxed and hacked both men and women on the other side. People ostensibly from anti-Gamersgate have doxed and harrassed Gamergaters and those who support them. Anti-Gamergaters (maybe) have sent threats, including separate cases in which a knife and syringe were sent through the mail and swatted a female Gamergater. (Swatting is when you falsely report a violent emergency at someone’s home in the hope that the police charge in with guns drawn and something bad happens.) A Gamergater (maybe) sent Anita Sarkeesian child porn with her face photoshopped into it. People on both sides sometimes believe that the other side manufactures threats. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true in some cases. I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone on side X sent threats to prominent figures on their own team, believing they were providing their hero with extra ammo. I love stuff like that, so here’s hoping.
Are the threats such a big deal?
I’m not aware of an instance in which anonymous internet threats have been realized. I can think of many reasons for this, but here are two. 1) If you really were going to harm someone, you probably wouldn’t give them a heads up about it and create evidence against yourself. 2) The primary reason people engage in this behaviour is that they are weak and this is the only way they can feel power over someone. Statistically, you’re probably better off worrying about your diet or driving habits. But, it only takes one. And people like Ted Kaczynski have made and carried out public threats. If some guy did show up at your house naked but for a Mario hat, hurling mail order ninja stars at you, and if he had told you exactly what he planned and you took no precautions, you’d feel pretty dumb.
I watched this interview with Brianna Wu, one of those harassed, ostensibly by Gamergaters. She says that she made her harassment public, against the advice of authorities, so that outside observers would understand that it really happens, especially to women. I buy that. Though it must be acknowledged that giving threats that level of attention will inspire copycats who want the same attention for themselves, which is why authorities advise against it. If you want to call attention to the problem, I don’t see why you shouldn’t. But an increase in harassment is almost inevitable, regardless of the issue or who you are. I’m sure if Noam Chomsky or whoever talked about all the threats he receives he would get even more of them too. The threateners would still be the assholes in this scenario, of course. But the assholes will swarm when they know they can get a reaction and this has nothing to do with ideology.
Both sides accuse the other side exploiting their harassment to grandstand and score points. I think there probably is truth to that in some instances. Because this shit is sadly normal for anybody who puts their name out there, in a dispute like this, people might suddenly chose to promote their harassment to prove how bad the other side is.
Might there also be some sort of profit motive? For someone like game critiquer, Anita Sarkeesian, there has to be. It is funny how Gamergaters act like this is the height of villainy and anti-Gamergaters act like pointing it out is insidious slander. Only a fool would fail to realize that such threats, especially against a women, can generate sympathy, publicity and money. So, how could it not be a factor in deciding how to handle threats? If someone threatened me, or hacked my site or my e-mail, and I had a way to turn that into a big paycheck (I don’t, so don’t do me any favors), I would do so in a heartbeat. What could be a bigger “fuck you” than that? If you did threaten Anita Sarkeesian, rest well in the knowledge that you bought her a new car.
A majority of Gamergaters say that they do not really care about any of this stuff, apart from their opposition to all harassment. I also believe them, since anybody who isn’t a worm opposes such things. It should be noted that one of the harassers of Anita Sarkeesian was identified by Gamergaters themselves and turned out to be a tabloid journalist (I told you!) from Brazil. However, harassment is a major part of the story and, unfortunately, at least one woman who has been harassed must be discussed in order to grasp it.
It’s uncomfortable to talk about this stuff, especially when there are a ton of people saying that if you do, you are a misogynist engaged in hate crimes. But on the other hand, when such allegations (you’re a racist, you don’t support the troops, you’re an anti-semite) are made against an entire group or viewpoint, it is worth checking to see if those allegations are accurate (yep, Nazis are racist) or just an effort at intimidation (nope, people who criticize Israel aren’t all anti-semites).
The notion that Quinn was chosen more at less at random, as a woman in gaming, and harassed because of her gender, is dubious if we are charitable. Here is why people were already fed up with her before her personal life ever became an issue and why they flipped out when they learned about it.
1) A prior, heavily disputed claim of harassment. This centered around a message board called Wizard Chan which is for adult, male virgins. Quinn claimed that they harassed her and publicized the harassment. Her evidence was three very mean, crude comments about her and her game that were posted in that forum. Almost as bad as the stuff I’ve said about Michael Bay. Quinn says the forum posts preceded phone calls where some guy pounded off into the receiver. The Wizards claimed she made it all up, or that it was staged by a third party and offered some reasonably convincing arguments (how was she even aware of three posts on a forum for male virgins?) and some arguments I don’t really buy (we would all be too shy to call a woman.) A former administrator of the site says that IP checks prove the original posts were not from regular members. Some believed the Wizard Chan guys, some believed Quinn. I have no idea. Maybe it was all just some outsider messing with everybody. But I do not think you have to hate all women to have doubts. The other aspect of this is that Quinn allegedly exploited all of this to promote her game. So, if the harassment was fabricated that’s pretty sleazy. But if it was legit, I say again, why wouldn’t you turn it into a net positive for yourself?
2) Quinn claimed that she was mugged, while carrying all of her documents, including a passport, and her rent money, which she evidently had in cash. A fundraiser was held and she wound up making more than she lost. Anyone who has been a quarter of the way around the block should be hearing from their spidey senses. But, sometimes dogs do eat homework. I’m serious. My golden lab, Malibu, really did eat my homework once. Shit happens. But…
3) Quinn attacked a contest intended to discover a new female game developer and fund her debut. The organizers, known as the Fine Young Capitalists, say that Quinn, and her PR manager made an extensive and public effort to thwart the project. The reasons for attacking the project were 1) they thought the contest winner was being exploited, being paid only 8% of the profits, with all other profits going to charity. 2)Quinn took issue with the fact that, while transgender people were permitted to enter, they were required to have identified themselves as female before the start of the contest. According to the organizers, her campaign tarnished them with the label of ‘transphobic’ appearing prominently alongside their project all over the internet, funding became impossible. Also noteworthy, this project, according to some, is the direct competition to a similar project run by Quinn, with all deposits going to her personal Paypal. Later, the FYC project was spite funded by some combination of 4Chan and Gamergate.
There are more stories, but those jumped out at me and I think that’s enough to give us a more complete picture. Now, all of this could have been completely innocent, except for number 3, which I could not find an alternative account of. But even everything in number 3 is legal and was done in the open. After that, Quinn was involved with a sex scandal involving journalists and other people who could help her career.
The piece Quinn wrote for Cracked makes me feel bad for her. Obviously, personal harassment through the internet is for invertebrates. But, when you attack another project that has nothing to do with you, that is set up to help women, with 92% of the profits going to charity, and when those attacks are based on rather extreme/insane ethical standards… you are going to get some blow back when you step out of line yourself. If you lecture other people on how to live their lives, to the point of interfering in their businesses, you had better be the Dali Fucking Lama in your own affairs. See, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Larry Craig and so on.
As I become old and soft, I feel a bit for even the Ted Haggards of the world. What a tortured life. But, you can’t say that the only reason people jumped on him was a firebreathing hatred for all Christians, even if such a description applied to some of his detractors. When some dude has been telling you that you are morally inferior and will righteously burn in hell because your beliefs differ from his, and then he gets caught with a tinfoil pipe in one hand and a meat pipe in the other, schadenfreude happens. And yes, such cases will be used by those who have been saying all along that televangelists are bunch of crooks to lend credibility to their story.
It is unfair in some ways, and definitely ugly, but that is what goes down. Especially when the press covering the issue tries to black out the story, which is what happened with the Quinn story. There are different accounts of why the Quinn sex scandal was ignored, but it was swept under the rug and those who had been lectured to by Quinn and others like her were not happy about it. That is perhaps why “the internet” felt compelled to publicize and investigate the story on its own. This story was pointed to as the culmination of unethical and generally crappy practices in games journalism, a years long source of frustration for some fans. The press responded by asserting that those criticizing the press were a bunch of embittered, misogynistic nerds et, voila: gamergate as we know it.
The idea that Quinn was just chosen out of a hat for the crime of being a woman does not hold water. If the story, told by many journalists, that gamergate is really about harassing all women out of gaming, hinges upon this assertion, then it is unhinged. And those journalists , at best, neglected to spend an hour Ask Jeevesing this stuff. Which is normal. The vast majority of journalists covering the run up to the Iraq war either neglected to do basic research on the subject or chose to ignore their findings. Why would journalists to bother with doing their job on any other subject?
Hipsters vs. Nerds
Not all gamergaters are nerds and not all anti-Gamergaters are hipsters. Probably, these factions are minorities within each side. Also, who knows who counts as a nerd or a hipster? However, those with nerdish leanings tend to be GG and those with hipster leanings tend to be anti-GG. They hate each other.
This goes back to high school which is like yesterday for half these people. Were you gorgeous, confident and socially skilled as a teen? Me either. A fairly small minority of us were. I began to use the “starting quarterback” cliche here but then I remember that the starting quarterback of my high school’s team was a forgettable guy who I never saw with any girls.
A lot of us get through those times by redefining what is cool so that we can meet that adjusted criteria. We become metal heads, hippies, stoners, punk rockers or drama class people. According to any such group, they are the real cool kids. Another facet of such behavior is the assertion of an alternative status quo that allows for one’s own tendencies. For example, for the brooding introvert to be deep and maybe a bit scary/powerful, as opposed to just being a weirdo.
For some, even that social end around is too demanding. Such posturing requires a rather elaborate social performance. Those who cannot muster that become nerds. Rather than jumping into a narrative in which they are a rocker who doesn’t care for rules, or a deep soul, nerds like to find existing narratives and let them do most of the work: video games, movies, comic books, fantasy novels and so on. Nerds too will come up with their own criteria for what is cool, but generally have less room to deny that they arrived at their station involuntarily.
Hipsters are, generally, people who have run with the “redefining what is cool” strategy well into adulthood. They have other traits too, some of which I like, such as finding the aesthetic appeal in things that are normally considered ordinary or dated.
What is the goal of the hipster, or someone who tries to be cool? It is to be included in circles and positions that are desirable without too much visible effort. To understand social currents well and consistently make superior choices about what you consume and with whom you associate. You are of the vanguard of conformity, currently doing what everybody else will be doing in a few years. You define yourself by being at the other end of the spectrum from nerds.
These are the kinds of concerns most begin shedding in early adulthood. My freshman year of college, everyone just seemed relieved to have left their old designations behind, allowing them to interact as regular human beings. Though my college had a strain of pot named after it, so maybe that was just us. In any case, by our mid-twenties and certainly our thirties, our interest in things like popular music begins to diminish. We might still like the occasional “jam”or “rap,” but they play a much reduced role in how we define ourselves.
The two main exceptions to this are people who become hipsters–still trying to win at high school–and people who remain nerds, perhaps still isolated and perhaps having found some kind of niche. Both remain passionate about popular culture and its role in their lives and the larger social sphere.
Some hipsters are still trying to obliterate the nerd inside them or in their pasts. Others inherently care that deeply about defining themselves as better. And, of course, many are just people trying to find a niche and make friends, or just happen to like fake eye glasses and drinking out of mason jars. I am drinking out of a mason jar now, as it happens, and I love it.
But facets of the hipster disposition lead to an ugly and strange phenomenon in which we see adults, many of them professional journalists, bullying and belittling nerds, who might be still be teens or even younger. This is because they feel compelled to define themselves as DEFINITELY NOT NERDS!
This is obviously poor behavior, but even more than that, it’s kind of remarkable. Where does your head have to be for you to still be concerned with shitting on nerdy teenagers and adults when you are in your thirties? I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question or a moral condemnation. It is interesting to think about.
Morality aside, it is interesting to observe models of hypocrisy. “Sure, ___s are excluded from a lot of positive things in society. Sure their lives are unhappier. But if they don’t like it, they should just stop doing stuff like ____ and ____ and stop acting like such ____s.” According to certain worldviews, the way you fill in the mad lib determines if you are a Klansman or a champion of compassion and equality.
Cyberbullying/just being a dick.
When people get angry at each other, especially online, they try to identify anything about their foe that sticks out, targeting any point of vulnerability. If your foe is fat, you make fun of their weight. If you are Sam Bindle, of Gawker, that means celebrating bullying, knowing perfectly well that many Gamergaters are minors and even adults who are presently being bullied, sometimes to the point of suicide. If you are Mother Jones editor, Ben Dreyfus, that means saying anyone who plays games as an adult is a “loser virg” and that you want to play pinata with their corpses after they hang themselves. The wave of anti-Gamergate articles published almost simultaneously had more subtle variations, demeaning neckbearded basement dwellers who were, of course, misogynists and bigots. Gamers read these articles as a declaration that they were socially irrelevant and should be excluded from their own hobby and discarded.
My point is not that these are all horrible people,they simply got out of line. And when they did so, they followed the same patterns they condemned. Does Ben Dreyfus want depressed, lonely people to hang themselves? I very much doubt it. He was angry and targeted what he perceived as a point of vulnerability. I would argue that this is exactly what happens when someone says to a woman, “I’m gonna rape you,” or to a Jew, “Hitler should have finished you off,” or to a black, “we need to bring back the KKK,” or makes similar remarks to Christians, Muslims, short people, ugly people, people with checkered pasts and whatever you like. In the overwhelming majority of such cases, people are just taking cheap shots, not representing their deeply held beliefs. There’s often an element of sarcasm or “I’m just trolling” baked into the comments. They are almost never expressing an ideology or worldview. If journalists using their real names on behalf of their employers can’t restrain themselves, it’s unrealistic to expect that anonymous teenagers will. This overall behavior might be a problem. I don’t know how significant the problem is, or what could possibly be done to mitigate it, but we can be honest about the nature of the problem instead of distorting it to score points.
Social Justice Warriors vs People Who Want To Be Left Alone
The question I’ve seen Gamergaters, like those in the interview above, frequently stumble on goes like this: other media are subject to review and examination through various ideological lenses, why should games be exempt? They answer by pointing to social justice warriors and radical feminism, but don’t often explain the distinction they are making very well, which makes sense because it is not easy to articulate off the top of your head.
Part of the answer is that many gamergaters believe/understand that they are dealing largely with an escapist hobby revolving around toys. They don’t necessarily believe that games are high art. To them, talking about the politics of games is like talking about the politics of the slinky, or maybe some games invite political discussion while others are just mindless fun.
But the real key here is that “social justice warrior,” in this context, refers to browbeating, moralistic behavior, much more than any coherent or credible ideology. It is a largely American phenomenon in which those with a Puritanical disposition, but a secular viewpoint, use vague social and political stances as a platform for moralizing and witch hunting. Basically, imagine if Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell had been born into a family of coastal liberals in 1990, and you should get the idea.
There is the further implication that the SJW does nothing to help real people. “Social justice warrior” is meant in the same vein as “keyboard warrior.” It is not a precise term and it is kind of a stupid one, but that is the term we have. You can agree with the characterization or disagree, but this what people from gamergate and elsewhere have in mind when they make reference to social justice warriors.
Social justice warriors are drawn to causes involving race, gender and sexual orientation. But only some people who are drawn to those issues are SJWs. For the SJW, the appeal of these issues draws from the fact that one of the greatest stigmas one can carry in contemporary culture is to be labeled a bigot. Compare where Donald Sterling or Michael Richards wound up in the public eye to the outcomes for other celebrities who have, say, been involved in killing someone, like Matthew Broderick, Ray Lewis or Vince Neil.
By declaring themselves the authorities on these subjects, social justice warriors are able to claim the right to administer the scarlet letters associated with them: racist,
sexist misogynist, homophobe and so on. This power, to declare their moral superiority over others, is what motivates them. The stereotypical SJW has little to no interest in the suffering of classes that are not linked to scarlet letters. Victims of unjust wars, for example, or the homeless, or nerds.
We can see the overlap with the hipster easily. Both types are driven by a desire to feel more enlightened, intelligent and generally superior than those around them. “I eat better food than you do, I dress better than you do, I listen to better music than you do and you are a racist who approves of rape, while I am not.” It fits together quite nicely.
Gamers claim that SJWs are particularly prevalent in the coverage of their hobby, which is plausible. Since the hobbies of console and PC gaming, and especially particular subsets, are enjoyed mostly by men, the SJW is likely to see them as being in need of correction.
Really, SJWs are a step behind. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter figured out this act from an infotainment angle long ago. Tell your core audience how wonderful and enlightened they are for doing nothing but sitting on their asses and agreeing with you that they are great. Demonize anyone who disagrees with you (instead of being a racist, for Rush and Ann you are a traitor or a baby killer or whatever). Make ridiculous and inflammatory claims. Then watch the attention and possibly money roll in, as your audience feeds off your flattery and the people you declared evil respond with outrage, generating enough publicity to make you a household name. This is one reason for the prevalence of SJW viewpoints online. Absurd and antagonistic articles generate clicks. It definitely works for us.
Gamers are particularly sensitive to this because they’ve already been demonized by the Rush Limbaughs and televangelists and the mainstream media. First they were devil worshipers back in the D&D days. Then they were responsible for Columbine and similar violence and now they endorse rape, racism, oppression and even, according to people like Sarkesian, necrophilia. When you are talking about nerds in gaming, you are talking about people who have been shit on almost every day since elementary school, and who have chosen games as a sanctuary from being shit on. When you come along to shit on them for the types of games they like, especially if you are an outsider who’s only interest in games is critiquing them, you are Jackie Chan touching Chris Tucker’s radio.
SJW Criticism Illustrated.
Since I know nothing about games and, perhaps you don’t either, maybe this example will illustrate what I am describing and how it is creeping into journalism. We’re starting to see more of it on subjects like movies, anyway, so it’s time you broke your cherry. This is one reason Gamergate might have implications beyond video games.
When the cast for the new Star War Movies was announced, a number of widely read outlets pounced on the news and condemned the casting. Why? Because the actors were mostly male.
Now, in case you are not familiar with Star Wars, the characters are mostly soldiers, criminals, military and political leaders, martial artists/philosophers, robots and princesses. Most of these occupations are presently dominated by men and always have been across almost every culture in history. Also, the existing format for the films, with the existing approach to casting, is part of the structure of the most profitable movies ever made. So, you can’t really blame the people betting their professional standing, years of their lives and/or hundreds of millions of dollars on the project for sticking with what has worked in the past.
Why are these roles usually filled by men, both in life and in movies? It might be that men oppress women and exclude them from the fun stuff, like… wars. Perhaps, because men are unable to be mothers, they have to do all kinds of risky and difficult stuff to make themselves as important and valuable as women. Certainly, male directors and producers will be more likely to tell male stories. Maybe it is all of those things, and dozens of others.
Once the movie comes out, a feminist review that explored these questions as they related to the film could be interesting. I would much rather read such a review than an opinion about acting and computer graphics. A feminist review that asked why we were more interested in traditionally male activities, and more often told stories of them, could also be interesting. I guess it’s because the promise of being remembered in stories of glory is a good way to lure a young man into getting slaughtered on behalf of a rich guy, but I could be wrong. These would be genuine feminist examinations of the film. In fact, a proponent of a pluralistic society would want the movie to be produced organically. That way, we can dissect and examine to learn what it tells us about our culture as a whole. That’s much more interesting than a story made to conform to the dictates of an outside ideology.
This is entirely different from asserting that there is only one valid viewpoint on these issues (men oppress women, end of story) and all other viewpoints are bigoted. And, because there is only one valid viewpoint, every creative work must be heavily didactic in representing that viewpoint and in projecting those ideals. So, though it might be counterintuitive and feel forced and unrealistic to the audience, every action/adventure movie must have a cast that is at least half female. Once we know that women are underrepresented by not being overrepresented, we can criticize a film years before it is released because the proper function of culture is to actively promote our ideals and to combat those ideals we dislike.
Another way to view all of these topics, especially if you are a liberal, is to imagine a Christian ideologue making similar demands. Why is The Force a vague, Eastern feeling spirituality? Everybody should worship Jesus Christ. OK, it’s a fictional world, but why isn’t there at least some kind of monotheistic reality? What kind of message does this send? Shame on the morally bankrupt makers of this movie.
So there is a difference between reviewing or critiquing a work through an ideological lense and trying to impose your views on everyone. It is the difference between a Christian reviewer and someone who wants to ban Harry Potter. It is the difference between a feminist, or an advocate for social justice, and a social justice warrior. And, this is the kind of thing gamergaters, including many women, say they are sick of hearing.
Authorianism vs. Libertarianism
In case you need it, here is a quick refresher on the standard points on the political spectrum. Keeping this in mind helps to make sense of the strange bedfellows of Gamergate.
Reactionary = Change things to back to how they were.
Conservative = Keep things how they are.
Liberal = Let’s make some changes.
Radical = Let’s make deep, fundamental changes. Now!
Libertarian = Fewer rules.
Authoritarian = More rules.
Left = More equality, less hierarchy.
Right = More hierarchy, less equality.
Authoritarianism is almost always built upon an inflexible variant of idealism. I refer to idealism in a very loose sense. You have some structure, or story in your head. Maybe you got it from reading Marx. Maybe you got it from reading Hitler. Maybe you got it from talking with your friends. “A-ha!” you think, “this is the way things should be. It’s so obvious! Anyone who disagrees with me is either in need of re-education, or simply evil.” People who think this way tend to throw around terms like, “enemy of the people,”or “traitor” or “misogynist,” very freely. They tend to portray those who disagree with them as evil. They don’t have a conversation with you, they educate you. They tend to believe in guilt by association or even guilt by neutrality. Often, they get caught up in the power of judging who is good and who is bad.
Libertarianism (not just the political party, anyone who wants less rules) and the libertarian component of liberalism (in the sense that Western democracies are all liberal) is pluralistic. It is pluralistic because of the understanding that people are idiots who get things wrong all the time. We cannot be trusted with authoritarianism because we don’t understand the world enough to create perfect societies out of the half baked bullshit floating around in our heads. If you’ve ever tried something as simple as writing an article like this, or composing music, you’ve seen how difficult it is to transform a notion in your head into even a small, insignificant artifact. How could anyone use the same process to fabricate and entire culture for millions of people? Plus, things change over time and… well, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you, might not be right for some.
Gamergaters most often say they are left/liberal libertarians. Some of them are right wing libertarians and some of them are conservatives. Conservative and right wing journalists and celebrities have supported Gamergate because they have libertarian leanings and it is a chance to make the left look bad. Perhaps some saw enemies, like third wave feminists, on one side and signed up for the other.
Anti-gamergaters tend to be left-authoritarians and run of the mill liberals who are put off by the misogyny allegations against Gamergate. By default, they will go to the side of an issue that is sold as feminist. Some saw conservative pundits on the side of Gamergate and were sure they wanted to be on the opposite side.
4 hours of Liana K, in case you need something cool to fall asleep to.
It seems to me that the biggest dividing line is authoritarian/libertarian. Video games journalists, at least according to Gamergaters, have been moving in the direction of authoritarianism in their reviews and writing because of social justice warrior tendencies. Suppressing the Zoe Quinn story, regardless of the reasons for doing so, was perceived as more authoritarianism. Not on the part of the government, but on the part of the press and the social currents they represented. Gamergaters heard, “WE decide what is news. WE decide what you need to know.” It fit with the SJW criticisms: “WE know what games should be made. WE know what your choices should be.”
After attacking the journalists on these subjects, Gamergaters were subjected to what they perceived as a counterattack. Fourteen articles with essentially the same message were published in the space of two days across different sites, some in the mainstream (by internet standards) press. The message was interpreted as “gamers are white, nerdy, angry misogynist losers and it is time we left them behind.” Other journalists and public figures used their social media clout to pile on and spread the message. We had the aforementioned cheap shots, which were blown up into ideologically driven hatred. Big surprise, nerds and non-nerds alike don’t like being told they hate women and are on the same moral level as the Klan, and they reacted accordingly.
Regardless of the individual merits of the articles, the idea of such a coordinated smear campaign in the press, targeting a specific group of people and trying to label them as low and insignificant and more importantly, evil, made my skin crawl. It was intended to isolate and bury the Gamergaters, but this was the part of the story where my sympathies really swung in their direction. It wasn’t the government acting, but it didn’t have to be. The mindset is McCarthyist and clearly to the authoritarian part of the spectrum. We’ve seen it happen before to people like The Dixie Chix, but usually from clearly marked ideologues like Rush. I can’t remember such a campaign against a broad segment of civilians. Some people make credible defenses of some content in the articles. I read a few and found much to agree with. But the timing of their release: immediately after a wave of challenge to journalistic authority, and the undercurrent of demonization in the articles is indisputable to my mind.
My pet theory on this sort of thing is that we are moving towards an authoritarian age and many minds are simply going with the flow. A recent Princeton study confirmed that democratic input to our political system has little influence. Our political apparatus answers to oligarchs. We have been at war for over a decade, for no real reason (again, thanks partially to journalists), and will continue to be at war for the foreseeable future. The police are becoming more militarized and oppositional to the general public. The corporate media toes the line on issues like foreign and economic policy. We take it for granted that we are under total surveillance. We torture and public support for torture is growing. There are almost no viable political candidates who oppose any of this.
Certainly, one reason we increasingly focus on these culture war issues is that they are they are among the few areas where our opinion seems to matter. For example, it is obvious that we will never have single payer health care in the US, no matter how many people want it. Even if you oppose single payer yourself, you should be able to see this has nothing to do with the merits of the idea and everything to do with political corruption. But a great number of people have been persuaded to be more accepting of gays via public debate.
I wonder if the rise of the authoritarian left, the junior anti-sex league in the scenario, is just a matter of adaptation. When you grow up in an authoritarian culture, perhaps you internalize it. Is it such a surprise that, 13 years after 9/11, young people use the playbook of “evil ones”and “on our side or on the side of the terrorists/rape advocating racists” to talk about subjects like race and gender? In video games. When you have no power in the voting booth, perhaps you react by trying to claim your own piece of the authoritarian pizza pie, so that at least you can garnish it with the toppings of your choosing.
Why SJW Criticism is Authoritarian.
The short answer is that it usually has the purpose of demanding that media be altered to conform to ideological demands that purport to be based on a comprehensive understanding of culture, as opposed to analyzing media to increase our limited understanding of the broader culture. But why break up a good ramble with a short answer?
Years ago, back when I had a Playstation 2 and Madden crippled my GPA (my lawsuit against EA was unsuccessful), I used to subject myself to books by people like Ann Coulter and Michael Savage so that I could make fun of them on this site. I was reading Savage Nation and Savage was explaining the liberal bias in the media. He mentioned an interview, I think on CNN, with a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan. He decided the interview spoke for itself, so he included a transcript of the interview and dropped the mic.
This legitimately confused the shit out of me. The guy in the interview said what you would expect. It was similar to what you would expect from a boxer before a fight. “We’re right and we’re gonna kick your asses. The Taliban rules and America drools!” I couldn’t figure out what the bias was supposed to be. They interviewed the guy and he gave his opinion.
Finally, the gerbil wheel inside my skull spun enough times and I figured it out. To Savage, or perhaps the character he plays, there was only one, objectively correct perspective and to give voice to any other perspective was bias. Imagine that a child’s version of Christianity was true and that God was our creator and protector and the source of all good. And some reporter decided to go to the source of all evil, the prince of lies and get his side of the story. Well, he would have no side. He’s just evil. This is how Savage saw things. There was no “other side” of the story. There is truth and there are lies. The interviewer was just giving a platform to evil. After I pieced that together, I felt I understood the authoritarian outlook much better and elevated my opinion of those who claim that there is a liberal bias in the media on maters like foreign policy from “crazy idiots” to just “crazy.”
This is also a window into why outsiders believe that authoritarians are often anti-intellectual. Authoritarians engage in intellectual pursuits, but they are aimed at verifying a pre-determined, “good” outcome: The earth is 6,000 years old. Gender roles are inflexible, determined by God. Gender roles are completely flexible, and shaped by the malevolent patriarchy.
The most controversial critic, or really critiquer, of video games is clearly Anita Sarkeesian. She’s not really a journalist, but who is? Gamergaters hate her and she is on the Mount Rushmore of harassment targets. Each side blames the other for dragging her back into the discussion, but she is a fixture there. I watched a couple of her videos. One was about “damsels in distress” and one was about “women as background decoration.” Initially, the videos raise some interesting points and valid concerns, just like Michael Savage and Ann Coulter do when they talk about government waste or corruption and dishonesty in one party. Then, the videos do all the other things that Savage and Coulter do.
The key to all of this is the idealism I spoke of earlier. Sarkesian, with her college degrees and her twenty plus years of experience on her little corner of the planet, understands everything about our culture and how it works and how it should work. She understands comic books that she confesses to never reading. She understands video games in spite of the fact that she is “not a fan of video games.” Critiquing culture you are not familiar with and not interested in is a dead giveaway of authoritarianism. Though, I’m not sure how many people on the authoritarian left would deny that they are on the authoritarian left. It sounds bad to my ears, but maybe it sounds good to theirs. They feel authoritarianism is necessary to achieve equality.
In any case, book burners, record banners and movie protesters are rarely invested in the culture they target. And, apart from academics, you pretty much never see someone take an extensive interest in culture they do not consume unless they have authoritarian aims. Who talks extensively about, say, heavy metal or rap, but doesn’t listen to it? People who want to clamp down on it.
Sarkesian and her contemporaries fall short of advocating government censorship. I’m pretty sure Savage and Coulter don’t advocate it either. To our credit, Americans rarely go in for stuff like jailing people for writing books. But we are increasingly intolerant of narratives and world views that differ from our own. We usually resort to boycotts (gamergaters too, have successfully gotten several advertisers to drop outlets like Gawker), smear campaigns, intimidation and so forth, rather than calling in big brother. Even without the government, this is still intolerance and anti-pluralism. The goal is to erase different perspectives and replace them with your own.
So I’ll run through a couple things. The damsel in distress trope is, of course, genuine. Sarkisian acknowledges that it is thousands of years old. I agree with her that, particularly in an interactive medium like games, over reliance on the trope might deprive female consumers of the chance to play female characters. We can say, “just don’t buy the games,” but one issue might not make or break that decision. It’s reasonable to ask for more representation when you like every other aspect of the product.
But is this sexim, or even mysoginy? According to Sarkesian the purpose of the trope is to oppress women, by depicting them as helpless. We could just as easily point out that the trope suggests that female life is worth more than male life. If not, the male character would say, “sucks to be her!” rather than jeopardizing his own life for a chance at saving the woman’s. That’s one reason the story doesn’t work as well if it’s some guy rescuing his buddy from work.
Since, through most of human history, women have been kidnapped by rival tribes, maybe the origin of the trope is simply imagining what an unnaturally powerful hero, like a great hunter or warrior, could do to right that wrong. Maybe it is a subject of multifaceted complexity. Of course, it’s sort of funny that the narrative of anti-gamergate is mainly a damsel in distress story, though the rescuers are of both sexes. The story would have no legs whatsoever if only men were being harassed. Are anti-gamergaters trying to rob these women of their power, or is it natural to defend women when they might be vulnerable? In any case, you have to make a lot of leaps to arrive at the conclusion that this is all about oppressing women and nothing more. Those who don’t care to take those leaps of faith are not particularly likely to be motivated by bigotry or hatred.
In her piece about women as background decoration, Sarkisian criticizes games for being male fantasies in which women are objectified. According to her, the ability of a male character to manipulate the bodies of dead strippers in one scene suggests that the gamers get off on the idea of playing with female corpses.
It seems like a major stretch to me, but maybe some players do get off on pretending to drag dead women around. Afterall, these are games largely built around pretending to kill people. But this is where we run into that quasi-religious idealism again. There seems to be some idea that people should think and behave like saints at all times. In reality, we all have dark, violent thoughts. It’s normal to have shades of rape and incest in our bedroom talk and role play, for example. It’s normal to imagine committing horrible violence against people you don’t like. If we didn’t venture onto the dark side, life would be boring. If we don’t hurt anyone, who cares?
If we agree with Sarkesian that the games are fantasies, which I do… well here’s an enormous conversation. What is fantasy on a basic level? What is happening biologically and psychologically? What role does it play in our lives? How does it relate to the material world? Why is there something wrong with a male fantasy world? How do people react when we suppress or control their fantasies? What gives one the right to police people’s fantasy lives?
Why is sexually objectifying people so wrong, particularly in the context of a fantasy? I understand that the pervasive objectification of women might be… sigh, problematic. I don’t like the idea of constantly being confronted with images of men with washboard abs wearing bulging bicycle shorts (that’s why I don’t have many mirrors in the house), so I can see why women don’t like the equivalent. But, most men like pretty faces, boobs, asses and sexy voices. If we cannot indulge in these things in a fantasy world made for a primarily male audience, then where?
Sarkisian briefly alludes bunch of studies mentioned in a Psychology Today post. Having looked at the accounts of each study, I don’t doubt their accuracy. In fact, they confirm my long held, though highly controversial, suspicions about men, and people in general. I’ll share my theory in a moment, but here is what the studies show.
The studies use MRIs, and ask questions of test subjects in various scenarios where they are looking at erotic images. It turns out that, when men look at erotic material, they start thinking with their dicks. When they are thinking with their dicks, and are presented with women who are strangers to them, they will pay more attention to the sexuality of the women and pay less attention to, and place less value on, their other characteristics. They also may be more likely to think of the women in animalistic terms.
My theory is that this is because we are, in fact, animals that sexually reproduce. I know that’s a bit “out there,” but that’s what I’m going with. Now, if this theory is true, and I know that is a big “if,” that would suggest that this is all part of normal functioning for men. They see something sexually stimulating and become sexually stimulated and start focusing on sex. There is every reason to believe that this would be a normal part of their fantasy lives. Nothing in the study suggests that, once the stimulation is over, the men will be less likely to vote for a woman to be president than they were before, or to more likely to harm a woman. We could infer that the constant sexual objectification of women could possibly have undesirable effects, which would be a question warranting more research. But the only conclusion relevant to this subject, which is encountering eroticim in the context of fantasy, is that when men see something erotic they elevate the importance of sex and place less value on everything that is not sex. Mind blown.
Sarkisian goes on to identify non-white women who play prostitutes and other sexualized women in lurid, violent, fantasy worlds. The women in the games speak more or less as they would in real life, which means they have black, latino or Asian accents or dialects. This, according to Sarkisian, is racist. The scarlet ‘R.’ The women are just exotic spices to be sampled by men, she says. By implication (an important tool of the trade) those who make the games and those who enjoy these scenarios are racists.
It takes a series of impressive leaps to reach Sarkisian’s conclusions but let’s cut to the end. Why is it racist to be turned on by people of a different race or background? English speaking men and women love a sexy accent, from, say, a French person. But most French people are white. We might even like an accent and manner of behavior from another part of our own country. When you look at a potential mate, especially a very short term mate, should you somehow not notice or be totally indifferent to their most salient characteristics, like race? Is a White, Latino or Asian being turned on by a sassy Black girl all that much different than being turned on by a Southern belle? What about a sexy librarian or a man in uniform or a bear? What if the person playing the game is Black and likes sassy Black girls? Maybe some people have racist things going on their heads and others do not. Who knows?
Yes, I’m well aware of the “intent doesn’t matter” school of thought and even largely agree with the “racism consists of systematic oppression for the benefit of whites” school of thought. But what is really achieved by smearing people as racists, as opposed to asking questions and maybe finding evidence that sexy, Black cartoon characters in a fantasy world do, in fact, contribute to said oppression? The only advantage I can see is that you get to hand out scarlet letters as a means to intimidate people into going along with what you want. I would submit the possibility, however remote, that racial sensitivity is best increased by interacting with different groups and honest,self-scrutiny and reflection, rather than unquestioning adherence to an ever expanding lists of rules.
Sarkesian makes leap after leap with little to no substantiation, to reach predetermined conclusions. She claims to understand what is going on in the minds of the game makers and the game players, and uses these conclusions to demonize them as racists and misogynists. This woman explains all this and more, quite well.
Do our media express our culture, or dictate it?
Another critical component of authoritarian criticism: it claims that culture determines behavior. People who saw Elvis’ hips were supposedly going to become sex crazed animals. People who listened to Judas Priest were supposedly going to commit suicide. People who listened to NWA were supposedly going to become violent criminals. You play games, you’ll supposedly become a mass murder and/or misogynist. This is also why it is so important to authoritarians that culture promotes their own agenda. They believe it can program us, so they want it to be used to program the population in accordance with their beliefs and values. Or maybe they say it can program us as a way to get rid of stuff they don’t like. Or maybe it’s a combination.
Problem is, there’s not much evidence for this sort of thing. Video games are an extremely violent medium, and that violence can be offputting to an outsider. But in cultures and time periods where playing video games is most prevalent, we see no increase in violence. I skimmed some research. Violent or aggressive feelings have been proven to increase after playing certain games, but no link to a general change in behavior has been shown. I’m sure the same thing happens when we listen to aggressive music. You see it at shows, with moshing and even fist fights. But there’s no proof these things make you a more violent person on the whole. Perhaps they provide you with a fixed, controlled outlet to release pent up aggression. People who play violent games are more likely to hold aggressive attitudes but we don’t know if that’s caused by the games, or if it is the reason they are drawn to the games. That leaves open the possibility that the games provide a safe, socially acceptable way for people to act on those attitudes.
Sarkesian claims that, because video games are a heavily interactive medium, they shape behavior more than do other media. But again, there’s no evidence for this, or if there is, she neglects to provide it. One could just as easily say that games have less influence on behavior because they are so clearly demarcated into the world of fantasy. A young person listening to rap or rock music often hears first person accounts of antisocial behavior from a real person they admire. Sometimes the lyrics are meant to be taken as true, sometimes not, sometimes it’s a grey area. Even in movies and TV, the stories are often meant to convey some sort of reality about, say, being a gangster. But, unless a person suffers from some serious mental illness, there is no real connection between video games and reality. You play a cartoon who can be killed and come back to life an infinite number of times as you roam through a maze or fantasy world that has, at best, only a loose resemblance to the one we live in. So there is a big causal gap to fill in here. Why would a depiction of worlds so far removed from reality shape the way you view or behave in reality? If you went to Disneyland every day, would you start to believe that animals can talk?
Of course girls should have more options and representations in certain media, provided they are sufficiently interested. One thing that gets glossed right over here is the reality of opportunity cost. I’m not saying that women should be more or less interested in first person shooters or more or less interested in fashion. I will say that very few women are sitting around with so much free time and extra money that they just don’t know what to do with it all. We have limited money and limited time and most of us use all of it. Therefore, if women start playing RPGs or first person shooters more, they have to invest less in other things, like fashion. So it’s not as simple as, “if you build it, they will come.” “They,” would have to give up some of the stuff they do already in order to be able to come. It’s possible that they just don’t want to.
I get a girl wanting to play a girl on an adventure and for the character to not look like a bikini model. Gamergaters will point to examples of such games while anti-gamergaters will say there aren’t enough of them. OK. That’s a reasonable discussion. Maybe someone can get rich making more adventure games starring characters like Marge Gunderson. Who would oppose that? Who opposed the Coen Brothers doing it with Fargo?
But then comes the Limbaugh leap. The people who don’t conform to and actively promote your agenda are either woefully ignorant or evil. You understand everything and everyone. The role of culture is to promote the one, true set of values: yours. Sarkesian calls for media to be altered to conform to her viewpoint. She masterfully trolls Twitter, for example, blaming school shootings which are “always” done by men due to their ”toxic masculinity.” She blames the world’s problems on her targets, then reaps the publicity of their indignation.
Here is Joseph Campbell, near the end of a lifetime of scholarship at the highest level. He speaks of damsels in distress and much more. He is generally pretty sure of his interpretations, but he is not really squeezing all of these things into an ideology. Rather, he is attempting to perceive an enormous and beautiful tapestry in our mythology, and how it connects all people to each other and people to animals and tribal life to modern life and our conscious to our subconscious on and on. He sees culture as an opportunity to learn about ourselves, rather than an means to impose his favored perspective on everyone. I can watch two minutes and be confident that a liberal, inquisitive, pro-intellectual approach to these matters is right for me.
CIS White Males vs. Everyone Else
I tried. Honestly. There just isn’t very much here. You have some harassment of some women, alongside similar harassment of some men, almost all from unknown sources. Atrocities on both sides.
You have some angry young men who say some nasty things. Yes, on the internet! Right alongside those professional journalist who said similar things when they got angry on the internet. I remember a while ago, some comic book nerds were peeved that a Thor character was played by a black actor. While I disagree with the complaint, I don’t find it to be racist. I’m clutching at straws here. I really can’t find much evidence that evil white guys want to force gays, non-whites and women out of gaming and nerd culture altogether. I read a lot of assertions to that effect. I did not see a ton of evidence for it, besides the examples I’ve already laid out, like some people on 4chan being assholes.
Here is a video in which a gamergater critiques an anti-Gamergate video. I don’t agree with everything the critiquer says, but the total smackdown in the beginning is both entertaining and demonstrates the perils of idealist thought, vs. more pragmatic thought. The original video maker professes a complete understanding of all human history and culture and explains to us how we should go about correcting things to meet his specifications. That author begins with the example of stoplights to demonstrate his points. Stoplights and the colors they use are an arbitrary construct, like so many things in our culture, according to this guy. However the author of the critique video quickly shows that the original guy has no understanding, whatsoever, of where stoplights came from and why they are as they are. Their colors are not arbitrary at all. This is just stoplights. A drop of water in the ocean of our culture and history. But I will lay you 20-1 that the original guy still believes he has a comprehensive understanding of culture and subjects as immense as gender roles. This is a gem.
The point is, the primary author here, the critiquer, is a white man, seemingly a conservative, who also makes popular anti-feminist videos and who yells and curses at his adversaries. He seems like a fairly angry guy. This is exactly the point on the Gamergate spectrum where we are supposed to find people who want women, gays and minorities out of their hobby. But he repeatedly and credibly explains that he has no problem with all kinds of people playing and making games. He is a proponent of other types of games being made for different audiences. In movie terms, he likes The Godfather but would be quite happy for there to be more Steel Magnolias made. All he objects to is an ideologically driven attack on the games he enjoys.
There are some other issues. Those who abuse people while playing against each other online do it more to women, by most accounts and often cross lines. This seems to be in the same bin as female writers and other public figures receiving more threats and harassment. Clearly it is a bad thing, but I can’t see how the blame for it can be placed on Gamergate. It probably has a lot to do with people taking cheap shots at those who seem vulnerable, more than anything. But I’m sure some guys who are intimidated by women take that opportunity to be rude to them.
I watched a few videos by Gamergaters and that general camp that had a bit of anti-woman bite to them. The infamous “five guys” video about Zoe Quinn keeps saying that her sex life is not an issue, but also keeps implying that she is a slut. One guy who made an anti-Sarkesian video talked about how most women these days are “unmarriageable sluts,” in an offhand comment. In my mind, that’s a long way from misogyny. It could just be taking a shot at someone you don’t like, trolling, or venting some frustration. It could be that both guys are frustrated with their love lives. Maybe they simply oppose sexual promiscuity. I don’t know, but they aren’t going on and on about how rape victims often deserve it or how domestic violence is often justified, which is what a misogynist would do. And I’m desperately trying to make mountains out of molehills here. To leap from a nasty comment to supposing the hatred of all women is to get swept up in the idealist and puritanical thinking I described earlier. People aren’t perfect. They get angry and say mean things. Acrimony between the genders is normal. Men are pigs. Women are gold diggers. Men are liars. Women are sluts. You say tomater, I say tomata.
I couldn’t find anyone complaining about too many Blacks, gays or women as characters in games, though I am sure it exists somewhere. Nobody said that there were too many such people working behind the scenes. I am certain that some people who work in those fields run into difficulties as minorities. But, to the extent that Gamergaters care at all if their game makers have a lot of melanin and/or a vagina, they don’t seem to have a problem with it. Yes, certain people will pick on a member of a minority group with whom they are upset for the same reasons they always do. But there really seems to be no pervasive belief that only straight, white men should work in gaming. And, it would be kind of crazy if there was. Have you ever heard someone complain about a record producer being female or a film editor being Latino? Even people who are dyed in the wool racists and sexists don’t care about that stuff. Some of the beliefs being attributed to gamergaters are from outer space.
I could find people in gamergate who were sick of being lectured to on these subjects and attempts to impose agendas on them. People who were sick of shoot em ups being evaluated on gender roles instead of how fun they were. And such lecturing can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. What do you think would happen if sports outlets or public figures began accusing hockey fans of pervasive racism because most fans and players are white? A tsunami of backlash, much of it angry and ugly, which the accusers could distort into verification.
I thought of my own nerdish background and when I played games. Would we have objected to more Asian characters, or more Agent Skullys? Hardly. We loved Skully. It just doesn’t make sense. The story the press tried to sell isn’t plausible. Every white guy who doesn’t get laid and over invests in popular entertainment transforms into David Duke? How? Why?
Every camp has its share of racists, sexists, idiots and tolls. If your camp has more socially rejected people in it, maybe you see a little bump. But then, maybe the majority of your camp would be much more tolerant and inclusive as a group, having experienced so much rejection themselves and desiring a culture of camaraderie and acceptance. Anti-gamergaters emphasize the former, gamergaters emphasize the latter. But they offer no plausible explanation for why people who play games would be inherently bigoted.
On the other hand, it is a nice selling point for the anti-gamergate side. That, over there, is a sausage fest for pasty, pimply, sweaty dweebs who are angry because they can’t be cool like us. But, hey, it’s up to you. You can go hang out with them if you want, or come over to our side, where we hang out with girls and party and are normal. Anti-gamergate is definitely the place to be seen.
I found this video bellow. It’s pretty obscure. You’ve probably never heard of it. I was a substitute teacher not too long ago. I watched the kids. The nerds, the cool kids and everyone else. They were just regular kids, like when I was one of them. All this talk of “misogynerds” and racists reminds me of advocates for the prison industrial complex talking about young “super-predators” who were coming to destroy civilization unless we made the criminal justice system more authoritarian. It’s the same old divisive bullshit. Toxic, if you like.
When I think of these kids, having seen hundreds of examples, this guy is the sort of person I imagine. An awkward kid is told by his teacher that he hates women. He is startled by the accusation and thinks it over. As he aimlessly blows people away in a fantasy world, he concludes without anger, that his teacher was mistaken in labeling him as evil.
Diversity in gamergate
There are accusations that the #notyourshield backlash to this narrative was phony, but it doesn’t take long to see that there are all sorts of people in gamergate. I looked at some of vocal twitter accounts run by women and found that they had been opened long before gamergate and seemed to hold a legitimately female perspective. I included a lot of videos of women here and there are many more to be found. I talked about this stuff with my wife, a feminist and Marxist who agrees with much criticism of male dominance in popular culture, but disdains the authoritarian and “hysterical” (her word!!!) positions of the Sarkisians and shirt shamers of the world.
Yes, there are a lot of people who like games and comic books and movies just the way they are. They don’t want outsiders to come in and change “their” games. “Their” including significant numbers of women and non-whites. Those games make a lot of money from a lot of satisfied customers. In that sense, gamergaters are conservative. But they really don’t seem to care if games catering heavily to other groups are made. They just don’t like people telling them that the games they like should not be made.
The authoritarian mind might genuinely see that as sexism or racism. Since you and the culture you enjoy are racist and misogynist, by wanting that culture to continue, you are advocating racism and misogyny. Of course white men will be conservative. They want to conserve their place at the top of the hierarchy. All that is worth factoring in, but the scarlet letters don’t tell the whole story. If all these guys are supposed to be losers, virgins and shut ins, they can’t also be ultra-privileged, at least compared to other people who are fortunate enough to live peacefully in wealthy countries. And not every existing norm or behavior in a society where racism and sexism are problems is an important contributor to those problems. Before we tear the whole thing down, maybe we could try getting minorities a fair shake in the criminal justice system.
Such thinking reminds me of people who honestly seem to believe we must present a unified front against terrorism, slash The Bill of Rights and dump trillions of dollars into the desert. And if you don’t agree to go along with what is needed to stop the terrorists, you are supporting them.
I don’t know if the authoritarian motives are ever really that pure. We all know that even in 2001 terrorism was not a leading cause of death for Americans. We have clung to our rights in the face of far greater threats and, even if another 9/11 happened that could have been prevented, those trillions of dollars could save more lives elsewhere. We all know that nobody has proven that games cause rape, violence or even that they damage the self-esteem of girls or alter the sexual attitudes of boys. You need only a passing familiarity with these subjects to know these things. Yet authoritarians insist that there are great dangers, which can only be solved under their thumbs. I tend to think they’re not as concerned about the dangers as they are their thumb power.
I don’t care about video games in themselves. But if male fantasies and male dominated stories and any slightly questionable depiction of race is to be cleansed away, what does that mean for Martin Scorsese movies, heavy metal or uninhibited intellectual discourse? First they came for a bunch of dumb bullshit that you like and I said nothing.Then, when they came for the dumb bullshit I like… An open, liberal discussion of these subjects and increasing the voice of women is one thing. “Agree that subversive elements must be eradicated, or you are evil” is another. And a coordinated, McCarthyist smear campaign with enthusiastic participation from the press represents the latter and portends more of it.
There is no doubt that we are moving to a more authoritarian society. It won’t be stopped anytime soon. But maybe we can push back here and there on little issues that matter to us and preserve some of the liberal spirit of tolerance, freedom and diversity of opinion and expression. For example, the fourth amendment is a dead duck, but perhaps we can push back on the student loan schemes meant to make indentured servants of younger generations. A movement to do just that grew out of Occupy, even though they predictably failed to end Wall Street rule.
Maybe gamersgate will increase cynicism about journalism, as gamergaters realize that the tactics that drove them crazy are normal. That journalists are mainly interested in promoting their names and making money as part of the machine, not in advocating for consumers or citizens in opposition to it. As the dust settles, those labels of misogyny and racism are slipping off. Maybe they won’t stick at all the next time. The next time they want to drum up some bullshit war or raise our world-leading incarceration rate, maybe more people will see through it right away.
There’s no point in comparing gamergate to a perfect ideal and identifying how it falls short. For something so ungainly and disorganized, it comes off OK once you remove the lenses fashioned by the same yellow journalists and authoritarian culture warriors it attacks. There were some creeps in the masses, but that’s kind of good. Because it proves that it doesn’t prove anything. A huge movement with some loud voices but no leaders is bound to have creeps. One of the loudest voices could turn out to be a serial killing Nazi child molester. Who cares? It would still be one guy from a vast rabble. Very few people in authority–the press, politicians, corporations–represent much beyond their own lust for more authority. So that leaves only the rabble to stand up for themselves. Whenever they do, they will be portrayed as monsters or kooks. Next time, more of us should doubt those portrayals out of the gate.