The last couple of weeks have been embarrassing for anyone who calls themselves a “gamer”, so much so that I am disassociating myself from that title. Maybe I’ll call myself an “Online RPer” or something, I don’t know, but the “gamer” culture is over.
For a couple of decades now there has been this ongoing joke about the existence or non existence of the “girl gamer”. At first it was kind of funny because the gaming community was so dominated by males, that females in the community seemed elusive as bigfoot. Then over the past decade or so games that appealed to women, like “The Sims”, started matching and even surpassing sales of games that mostly cater to men. The “girl gamer” was no longer a myth, it was a demographic to cater to.
For some inexplicable reason I can’t even rationally explain, a small group of narrow minded men in the gaming community were shocked and appalled that there were women out there that liked to play games. They were offended and even felt threatened by this realization. This led to many flame wars on the topic, as well as the birth of many memes.
For a while it was recognized that these misogynistic basement dwellers were just a vocal minority to be ignored. Egged on by other social conservative anti-feminist movements, they started getting more vocal and more organized to the point that they became a blight on everything “gamer”. To quote one recent commentary:
Right, let’s say it’s a vocal minority that’s not representative of most people. Most people, from indies to industry leaders, are mortified, furious, disheartened at the direction industry conversation has taken in the past few weeks. It’s not like there are reputable outlets publishing rational articles in favor of the trolls’ ‘side’. Don’t give press to the harassers. Don’t blame an entire industry for a few bad apples.
Yet disclaiming liability is clearly no help. Game websites with huge community hubs whose fans are often associated with blunt Twitter hate mobs sort of shrug, they say things like ‘we delete the really bad stuff, what else can we do’ and ‘those people don’t represent our community’ — but actually, those people do represent your community. That’s what your community is known for, whether you like it or not.
All of this came to a head over the last two weeks. First there were vicious personal attacks against a female game developer, followed by death threats against a feminist You Tube blogger, followed by vicious personal attacks against anyone who dare says nice things about these women.
I find this kind of crap offensive, reprehensible and indefensible. Disagreeing with someone is one thing, threatening them, or exposing their personal life, is just disgusting. To their credit, the International Game Developers Association released a statement saying the same thing.
I’m not even sure I understand the disagreeing part. To quote another recent commentary:
Literally the worst possible thing that can happen here is equality. That’s the worst outcome, that’s the nightmare scenario. If, today, every AAA publisher said “We will start to include women more in our games and represent them better”, the only actual difference this would make to anybody shrieking about how feminists are destroying games is that they might have to pick their gender in the next Call of Duty game. Terrifying, isn’t it. Stuff of nightmares.
The problem here is that these squealing man-children, so desperate to keep women out of their precious games, want it both ways. They want gaming to be taken seriously as a culture and art form, while at the same time throwing an unbelievable tantrum when subjected to serious criticism. This is ludicrous and immature on so many levels. Gaming isn’t for you, anymore. Gaming is for everyone. Everyone gets to have their say, to make their criticism, and gaming doesn’t need you to defend it.
Misogyny in Gaming
I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing Anita Sarkeesian’s criticism of gaming today. I have seen her videos, and she is just saying what I already know: that there is a lot of sick and twisted scenes in video games that come off as sexist, degrading and even hateful of women. Not every example she points out are good examples. Some of the examples she says are offensive are not so much when seen in context of the game story. But, there are enough legitimate examples that the “sexist” criticism of the gaming industry is justified.
Video games are at least partially about fantasy fulfillment, and the fact that many major video game today contains sexist and misogynistic tropes means that players have sexist and misogynistic fantasies to fulfill — or at least that is what developers of these games think.
The apologists often argue that games are just a reflection of the times, cheap escapist entertainment. Lets take a look at another popular escapist art form from 60 to 80 years ago: cartoons. They too were a reflection of societal norms of the time, filled with a lot of blatant racism. Disney, Warner Brothers and MGM have been forced to censor their old catalogs of cartoon shorts refusing to release many of the old shorts and even at least one classic feature film.
Video game developers are likely to self censor themselves in the future, too. As knowledge this stuff gets more widespread, and more socially embarrassing, I can see certain scenes and missions suddenly removed in updates and in re-releases.
We should be demanding better games than this. I found this commentary to be extremely good:
You know what’s not escapism? Having to wonder if any given game (or movie, or book) you pick up is going to include women primarily as prostitutes, murdered girlfriends, vulnerable daughters, and rape victims.[...] Games with realistic stories are still built on unrealistic mechanics and stylized environments … Prostitution is real, but a game that erases all women except prostitutes wouldn’t reflect our world. Realism is as much about what you leave out as what you put in, and an unfortunate number of games pare down the feminine experience to nothing except sex, childbirth, and vulnerability. [...]
If you’re an author, writing down what you see is harder than riffing off things other people have already made, and even what we see is filtered through our preconceptions — in one of the best essays about writing I’ve ever read, author Kameron Hurley explains this idea with an extended metaphor involving llamas. If you’re playing a game, you’ll usually judge the story more by what you’ve seen in other media than by any real-life point of comparison. After a while, it becomes easy to say that something is unrealistic because you’ve seen it written differently elsewhere. Women in video games should be damsels and whores because damsels and whores are what women are in video games. There can’t be female player characters in GTA because the movies GTA is aping didn’t have female protagonists. It’s a lazy, conservative, and boring way to think, no matter how much you dress it up by saying you’re writing about “the concept of being masculine.”
And my own games?
No doubt there are those that would consider Date Ariane and Something’s In The Air as sexist, since in these games the player is a male character trying to undress and bed females, and you are free to think that, I don’t care. (Its part of my mission statement, I don’t care what other people think)
There are those that also find the games rather positive as all the female characters are strong, smart, successful, and don’t put up with any crap from the player. In fact that is the central premise: Can you be a good enough “man” to attract these kind of women? There is a reason why 30% of the “likes” on my Facebook page are from women.
My goal is to strive to do even better in the future. I will continue with my personal policy of NO prostitution plots, or female victim assault/kidnap/murder plots, or non-consensual sexual assault plots. I’m even planing a change of point of view, a Rachel story where you play as Rachel as she ventures through various fantasy scenarios. Looking forward to doing something different.
Whither the “gamer”?
The reputation of the “gamer” community has soured to the point that it is no longer anything worth bragging about. No, most people that play video games do not generally fit the the stereotype of the basement dwelling misogynistic nerd burst into flame wars whenever anyone says something negative about a game they happen to enjoy, but that is what mainstream culture imagines with growing frequency, and the “gaming community” is doing little to change that image resulting in a shrinking demographic. I’ll give the last word to this opinion piece:
The word “gamer” is regressive. It accepts the portrait of us painted by the mainstream news media, and every time I hear it or read it it actually makes me feel a little sick. I believe in this art form, and I believe in the people who make it. That’s why I am so hard on this industry, because I believe that as great as it sometimes is, it can get better.
So play games, of course, but don’t let the playing of games define you. Why would you ever really need to describe yourself as someone who plays games, anyway? Do you walk up to people and say “Yeah, I watch movies.”