Warning: This post is about politics, and games and social behaviors. It’s extremely off topic for this blog in general, but it’s also something I think is important. I personally don’t like to stray into politics here, but this is something I feel needs to be said and I believe this extends beyond just video games. Please feel free to skip if this sort of thing doesn’t interest you. Comments are open but keep it civil people. Just because you have a right to say it doesn’t mean I have a responsibility to give you the platform.
So, depending on your level of participation in the online video games community, you may or may not be aware of the latest kerfluffle which started as the “Quinnspiracy” and quickly transformed into #GamerGate with it’s offshoot #NotYourShield. There’s a lot to this story, but the short version is an independent game developer did some pretty horrible (but private and personal things) to the person they were in a relationship with. One of the things this developer did was engage in a sexual relationship with a member of the gaming press. That gaming press member had at various times written articles about the developer without revealing any conflict of interest or personal relationship. Depending on how charitable you are to unfounded rumors and speculation, it’s also possible that the developer used their sexual relationships with members of the gaming press to garner unfair support for their game which otherwise appeared to be panned. In short, the accusation was the developer had taken advantage of the very close relationship between the gaming press and the gaming developers, and this was another example in long history of corruption and ethical concerns in the gaming press, and rallied around the hashtag #GamerGate. If you want the full details on how this got to be where it is (and you should, knowing the truth [or at least a relatively unbiased account] about something is important to understanding it), then I very strongly suggest you read over this timeline / overview.
Let me be very clear. Harassment, name calling and insults (which is distinct from good natured ribbing), stalking, threats and violence have no place in games. Whether it’s video games, table top RPGs or board games, gaming is about having fun and no one has fun when they’re being harassed or fearing for their safety. The people that do such activities actively harm the entire community, and are no better than the targets of their ire. Fandom of any type is about people who love something coming together to share that love and to have a good time. For a fandom to grow, it must by its very nature be inclusive to all sorts of people, ideas and points of view. A fandom which is not inclusive, which does not welcome new members, even if those members have not passed the “coming of age” rituals of the current fans is a dying fandom. A fandom whose members harass, stalk and threaten new members, existing members or potential members is a fandom that dies from lack of new blood.
It turns out that gaming fandom, like comic fandom, anime fandom, TTRPG fandom, Science Fiction and Fantasy and indeed most traditionally “geeky” or “nerd” fandoms are growing. In fact, it was just announced that young adult women are overtaking teen males for the largest gaming demographic. I would argue that given my previous paragraph, these fandoms must therefore be inclusive. But if you listen to the average media report within these fandoms, you might think just the opposite. When the media deigns to report on fandom, it’s probably going to tell you about mysoginistic men trying to keep women out by calling them fake geek girls, or reporting on how the comic industry is driving away women with their sexist covers (although they might be ignoring other times when other characters are drawn ass over tea kettle). Or it could be an article about how the largest name in TTRPGs is endorsing the darkest (read sexist, mysoginistic, homo/transphobic) parts of the RPG community, or how Science Fiction needs to end it’s “binary gender” default because that’s keeping away fans, or how Gencon is racist.
Why is this what we see in the media? How is it that a fandom can be so exclusionary and yet still be growing if my assertions above are true? Well to start, these articles make the media because blood sells, and make no mistake these articles are as much blood as any murder article is. Judging the entirety of any of these individual fandoms (or geek fandom as a whole) by these articles would be the same as judging your entire local community by what gets printed in the headlines of the city new paper. And let me be clear again, there are some people in these fandoms who really are mysonginistic assholes, who really are sexist pigs and who really are racists making life worse for everyone. And because these people are often loud and obnoxious and because you easily remember the pain but easily forget the good times, it can sometimes seem like these people are everywhere. But they’re not, these people are no more everywhere in the community than the Westboro Baptist Church is everywhere in the country. They’re loud, they’re obnoxious and they’re toxic and they’re that way because they are a minority of the fandom, and being loud and obnoxious and toxic is the only way they’ll get attention. In the parlance of the internet, these people are the trolls of fandom.
Of course, the media doesn’t want to sell that, they want to sell controversy. And so as noted in the timeline linked above, the gaming press has gone full court press declaring the end of “Gamers” and declaring “Gamers” to be … well let’s use some of their own words and when I quote these words, I want you to bear in mind that I agree with the gaming press that harassment, name calling and the like have no place in fandom:
young men queuing with plush mushroom hats and backpacks and jutting promo poster rolls. Queuing passionately for hours, at events around the world, to see the things that marketers want them to see. To find out whether they should buy things or not. They don’t know how to dress or behave.
a petri dish of people who know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works
a generation of lonely basement kids
obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers
deeply bound up in assumptions and performances of gender and sexuality.
Gamer identity was simply not fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people.
what is actually going on is an attempt to retain hegemony. Make no mistake: this is the exertion of power in the name of (male) gamer orthodoxy
stereotypical gamers, who are typically vitriolic toward issues of diversity
Many of the people … bind their arguments up in bigger issues … where “social justice warriors” “cherry-pick” evidence to undermine the massive business and culture of video games, rightfully owned by a particular kind of white man.
If that isn’t enough, take a look through the links at the end of the timeline summary for “gamers” called everything from “terrorists” to “racists” to people who deserve to die.
That’s an awful lot of name calling and mudslinging about an entire group of people. But is it true? Of course not and the gamers … the real gamers, the ones out there actually playing games … know it’s not true. And the problem is, this time the media picked on the wrong community. Comics, movies, science fiction books, and even TTRPGs are not heavily “online” fandoms. Sure they have their hang outs and their forums but the vast majority of their fandom probably doesn’t spend much time in those places. But gaming is different, not only did the gaming community grow up with online, but it’s tightly interwoven with online. From the MUDs, to Quake, to Diablo, to Halo, to World of Warcraft, to Candy Crush gaming is online. It’s everywhere and gamers everywhere. And that’s the problem the media is having pushing their “angry white men basement dwellers” angle. Remember that statistic from above? 48% of “gamers” are women. At certainly many of them would call themselves “gamers”. But that wide brush the media is painting with paints them as basement dwelling white heterosexual men angry about change. Same with the multitudes of non-white gamers, and non-hetero gamers. They’re all being painted with this brush. And a lot of them looked around, and they took a mental inventory and did some noodling and realized that their reality didn’t match up at all with the image being painted.
So they spoke up. Those non-white, non-angry male, non-hetero gamers, the traditionally underrepresented, the disenfranchised in the community, the ones that this kerfluffle is supposedly about keeping out (remember, per the media version of this story, the concerns about corruption and conflicts of interest are a smoke screen, the real battle is keeping out anyone who isn’t a neck bearded white male), and the ones about whom the media says:
We listen to those who are less privileged than we are, and we don’t adopt a default stance of skepticism towards their views and claims. We support them when we have the power to, we involve them when we have the power to, and we don’t ignore it when institutions fail to do these things.
These less privileged gamers got together and decided they didn’t like having their particular struggles being used as cover against charges of corruption, and that their experiences didn’t line up with the story being told. They rallied around the hashtag #NotYourShield and told their story. And of course, the media, roundly rebuked, issued retractions and clarified their positions right? Of course not. They dug in deeper. They ignored the very people whom they claimed to be defending, or even worse, outright declared them to be liars or non existent. If you search twitter for the #NotYourShield hashtag, you’ll find plenty such examples, but here are a handful to illustrate the issue:
Remember that supposedly these people, and all the others aligning themselves with the #NotYourShield according to the media version of this story are:
1) Not gamers
2) Not anything other than angry white basement dwelling males
3) Not real
4) Tricked by the angry white basement dwelling males into supporting a cause against their own interests
5) Foolishly believing their own experiences and lying eyes rather than the truth that the gaming media has uncovered.
I leave it as an exercise to the reader to wade through the #NotYourShield hashtag and see the true (and beautiful) diversity and depth of the “gamer” community. And remember that this has truly only been possible in part because of how active online the gamer community really is. All about geek fandoms there is an amazing breadth and diversity because that’s how fandoms survive. The Gamer community may not be perfect, and they may (certainly) have their toxic elements that do far more damage than good, but the Gamer community is good, diverse and far more welcoming than the media narrative would give it credit for. And most importantly, it is perfectly capable of having legitimate criticisms of the gaming press that are not merely smoke screens for misplaces racial and sexual hate, no matter how much the gaming press might wish otherwise.
I’m a gamer. I support (true) diversity. I support ending corruption in the gaming press. I support open, reporting with clear conflict of interest disclosures. I do not support harassment. I do not support violence. I do not support making other gamers feel unwelcome. Now lets sit down, and get back to gaming because that’s really what we’re all here for. Not everything needs to be political all the time, and just as people play games escape, they don’t want to be reminded while they’re gaming of the social and political issues they may or may not face daily outside the game.