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

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