Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why #GamerGate Matters

Punching Glass Joe has come a long way. (Image via IGN)

A common refrain in response to discussions of #GamerGate goes something like this: “ISIS is overrunning Iraq, Russia has invaded Ukraine, there’s rioting in Ferguson, the economy still sucks, there are scandals all over the place, and you want to talk about a bunch of man-children who are angry that girls are getting to play with their toys? Who cares!?”

Firstly, human beings are fully capable of expressing interest in more than one topic at a time, and so too can the media report on more than one news event in a day. Discussing #GamerGate does not invalidate the seriousness of any of those other issues, nor does it indicate that someone lacks understanding of those other events. Frankly, there’s little that can be done about them by the average Joe anyway, so it is not as if turning our attention for a moment to discuss something over which we have slightly more direct control will result in catastrophe.

Secondly, those “toys” are a $100 billion industry that cuts across all age groups and spans most of the globe. In fact, 59% of all Americans play video games of some sort, and the average gamer has been doing so for 14 years. So what once might have been a novelty for children now functions as a central component of the cultural identity for anyone in the Western world under the age of 35. It’s also an industry on the leading edge of our technological development, so it’s highly likely that the media of the future will follow in the footsteps of today’s gaming media as this younger generation that grew up with its particular form of content delivery comes to power.

Moreover, video games have evolved as an art form to one whose stories and cinematics can rival the best Hollywood has to offer and where gamers even get paid to practice and compete in tournaments like their brethren in professional athletics. As the industry grows, so too will its influence on the culture at large, and that culture will in turn govern the politics and policies that come into play with things like ISIS, the economy, and health care. Thus what happens in this industry can very easily have a wide and lasting impact, certainly at least as much as a riot in Missouri.

Finally, that framing of #GamerGate is precisely the kind of journalistic malpractice that created the firestorm in the first place. Gamers do not think girls are taking away their toys nor are they angry about women increasingly entering the industry, but they are tired of watching people who claim to be journalists pushing their particular social agenda, smearing people with the actions of the few trolls that exist in every community, and getting into bed with the subjects they cover.

Yes, the spark that ignited this firestorm involved the personal sexual activities of a female developer, but even then gamers were hardly concerned with her sexual proclivities, only the resultant conflict of interest her choice of partners had created. Rather than investigating if the accusations of malfeasance leveled against her and her partners had any merit, the games media sought to suppress any discussion of the issue at all. Were it not for that attempted censorship, the simmering pool of discontentment that had been building for so long within the community likely would not have been set ablaze. Then, rather than squelching that fire by admitting their mistakes and addressing gamers’ concerns, the gaming media effectively soaked themselves in gasoline and took a run through the flames by turning on their readers and maligning them as hateful misogynists.

As a result, we have people of all genders, races, and political persuasions banding together to demand objectivity and transparency in journalism, while pushing efforts that promote actual equality rather than the faux equality of outcomes and quotas. And despite the vehement attacks upon them, they have already succeeded in forcing several major outlets to re-examine their policies and in funding the efforts of a group the social justice crowd attempted to destroy.

Why would we not want to celebrate that and hold it up as an example to all the other media that has long since abandoned the pursuit of objectivity to the pressures of greed and political correctness? In what way does it help us with any of those other ostensibly more important issues to look at this established beachhead against corruption in journalism and the misery that political correctness brings to simply shrug and say “meh, nerds”?

We may not have the capability to change the President’s mind on deployment of troops or ensure justice is carried out either in Washington or Ferguson, but gamers have shown us we can affect an industry poised to substantially influence the culture of the future. Right now we can help nudge it in the direction of objective journalism and free expression such that when we log on to view the regular news version of the Kotakus and IGNs that will likely be the future of the rest of our media, we might be able to rest assured they’re not hyping a shooting for ratings or skunking scandals as some racist witch hunt. Let’s not waste that opportunity.

*this post cross-posted at http://theirfinesthour.net/

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cataclysmic Clash: Gamers vs. Journalists

Glass Joe was never a match for Little Mac
(Image: Charles Williams (CC))
A ton of things have happened since my last post on what is now known as Gamer Gate. Some hours after it went live several gaming websites, who won’t be named and won’t be linked because they don’t deserve the traffic, posted articles all containing the same theme: “Gamers” are dead, they don’t have to be our audience, and this controversy is little more than the death rattle of a white male misogynistic culture. One of these articles even went so far as to decry “fun” being the primary criteria by which we determine how good a game is.

The blowback from gamers accelerated to form two hashtags, #GamerGate and #NotYourShield, as people of various colors, genders, and sexualities came out to prove gamers were not dead and that they were, in fact, a diverse audience that didn’t appreciate being spoken for by their opponents. Despite learning that Quinn had done more than simply lie and cheat on her boyfriend (she had wrecked the efforts of another group to promote women in the industry), gamers sought to push on from that initial spark of controversy to talk about the real underlying problems in the industry and its media. Their opponents continued to insist that was a lie and all these diverse voices were either fake or brainwashed. Finally, gamers found another outlet for their voices, as Adam Baldwin and Internet Aristocrat showed up on my friend Ed Morrissey's show along with several thousand viewers and chatters to hash out the issue, and now we all take a breath and wait for the next turn in the road.

Meanwhile, gamers continue to demand that they be treated as individuals and allowed to criticize others as individuals. They laugh at the notion that the “gamer” identity is dead seeing as they're all still playing games and the term never reflected some particular demographic in the first place. They proclaim unabashedly that it’s unjust and unfair for them to be tarred by the actions of the various assholes of the Internet because their inability to Care Bear Stare these trolls into good people does not signify approval of said trolls. Similarly, just because they happen to disagree with an interpretation of a particular trope (or even agree but enjoy the game despite it) that does not mean they should be declared dead to everyone and tossed out of the community. They likewise note individuality comes with the price of being responsible for one’s actions, and therefore it is not only ok but also just to criticize those persons who act in an unethical manner and expect them to rectify their behavior.

This has been fascinating to watch since for once the forces of political correctness and collectivism seem to have met their match in a group of people that simply refuses to bend to their will. Gamers will not be shamed into accepting the victimhood of the Quinns and Sarkeesians of the world, nor will they be lectured to by the journalists that happily parrot that narrative or be silenced by the forum moderators who seek to censor any opposition. Since every other aspect of Western Civilization has buckled and cowed before the various –isms that sprang forth over the last half century or so, one must wonder what it is, exactly, about this particular community that allows it to fight back with such ferocity.

No doubt one possibility is that video games have always been a great equalizer. Bosses, puzzles, finish lines, match results, and scoreboards do not care what gender, race, or sexual orientation the player is, so there’s little room for blaming oppression for failure. In multiplayer games, it’s unlikely that one player can even tell what gender, race, sexual orientation, social status, etc. another player is. Most of the time another player exists as merely stream of text and/or a digital avatar that in no way reflects their real life image such that hated rivals can end up forming bonds without even knowing it.

Thus when games do afford players the opportunity to form groups, such as squads in FPSes or guilds in MMOs, their primary concerns are a person’s skill level, their willingness to improve that skill, and their general attitude rather than their superficial characteristics or political ideology. After all, the most politically correct person in the world is of no help to the team if they can’t shoot straight, and they’ll be incredibly distracting if they won’t shut up about how a particular character model is degrading to women. They definitely won’t improve the team’s odds if every time they screw up they blame some troll for harassing them rather than reflect upon what they did wrong and try to do better next time.

Hannah Wallen argues that the resistance stems from the fact that most gamers gave up on the social ladder long ago, and so threats to cast them down it and incentives to raise them up it mean nothing to them, thereby making them immune to the favorite shaming tactics of social justice warriors. Certainly this situation resembles the high school cliques of cheerleaders and athletes staring down their noses at the gross nerds who are so weak and pathetic they have to play games on the Internet, so she may not be too far off.

Ultimately, I wonder if it’s not something much simpler. Perhaps it’s just that gamers remember what it was like before their hobby became cool, and they’ll be damned if they’ll be driven out by the very people who used to deride them for enjoying it.

*this post cross-posted at http://theirfinesthour.net