An MXDWN contributor talks about Gamergate. Or, alternate title: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Any article over the current big issue in gaming politics/ethics, the so-called “Gamergate” fiasco, is going to be emotionally charged. Like many socio-political issues it is a situation where removing opinion from one’s coverage of the goings-on is nigh impossible if you have any connection to the community and culture at all.
With that in mind, this article is entirely opinion, and represents the views of the writer, and should not be indicative of a stance the site of MXDWN itself takes on the issue.
Good. Now that that’s out of the way….
Gamergate is, unfortunately, a thing. For those who have been ignoring the issues for the last few months, it is a thing that started with a female indie developer receiving accusations from an ex of inappropriate conduct, and has since grown — like these issues tend to do — into a global phenomenon. It’s a culture clash between differing ideologies within the mass gaming community.
It is also patently ridiculous.
To discuss the nature of the Gamergate situation is to discuss the nature of electronic games as a whole, as well as the communities and stereotypes surrounding them. On the surface Gamergate is about little more than a few petty squabbles that have grown out of proportion due to ridiculous notions of entitlement and equality (and no, I’m not talking about the “feminist” side of the equation here.) What truly lies at the core of the entire issue, however, are the underlying shifts happening in the social and cultural place that gaming occupies for the world at large.
To think that gaming is, or ever has been, a “boys’ club” is an absolutely ludicrous notion. There have always been powerful women present in game development, as any fan of Sierra adventure games can tell you, as well as a strong female audience for games themselves. Early video game marketing campaigns show an emphasis on family enjoyment regardless of gender. It was only with the shift toward electronic games being seen as toys that a more male-oriented focus began to be a real issue in the industry at large, and with the shift in advertising and marketing came a shift in general audience.
In short, the only reason that games are often seen as male-oriented is because of a marketing shift in the 80’s that made them appear that way.
Throughout their existence games have seen multiple significant cultural shifts. From their place as a shockingly popular fad during the late 70’s, through their establishment as a children’s staple of entertainment in the mid-80’s and beyond, to their currently evolving status as an emerging platform for storytellers and artists, with each shift in expression and cultural importance has come an equal backlash as members of the “old guard” would object to the changes, while outside forces would often work to villify the medium in one way or another, whether that be proclaiming it morally corrupt or a money grab or any of the other myriad excuses that have been used to treat gaming, and the communities that have grown around it, as degenerate examples of modern culture.
With Gamergate, we are seeing many parts of the current gaming community give far more justification to these assumptions than we ever have in the past.
This is, no doubt, at least partially due to a misunderstanding of what electronic games represent in cultural terms. Many people still see electronic games as a niche or specialty market, only appealing to the stereotype of the geek living in his parents’ basement. The truth is that games are in much the same cultural location as movies occupied during the 1920s and 1930s: they are a form of entertainment the masses can enjoy that is just now coming into its own on a significant scale. Ten years ago, a person could walk down the street and find a majority of the population who had no interest in any form of electronic game. It was almost as easy to find those who had never experienced such games. Nowadays, however, with the rise of the mobile gaming market and the integration of social features into games, those numbers would be far reduced. Gaming is more than just what your kid brother does during his weekend: it is what grandma does while she is watching TV, or what men and women do while commuting to work.
It is something that most of the modern population engages in in some way.
With Gamergate you have two major competing factions: those who feel that gaming is (and, more importantly, should remain) a male-oriented niche market, and those who are trying to help gaming embrace a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, gender-neutral ground more cleanly. While the majority of the focus at the moment is on the debate raging between the conglomeration of entitled gamers who feel that the industry and all its foibles are fine as is versus those who wish to make it something more — whether that be through equality or expression of form — the debate extends to far more issues. The simple fact of the matter is, the gaming community no longer really exists, because gaming itself is so universal that such a distinction means nothing. Yes, most coverage at the moment is taking place from the viewpoint of the misogynists versus the feminists, but this is only the tip of the iceburg as far as what is really going on.
Gaming as a whole is in a state of upheaval, a revolution if you will. Gaming IS mainstream now, and to deny it that — and the cultural/ethical/gender-unbiased openness that implies — is to deny the medium room to grow, and expand, and come into its own.
I’m not providing any links in this article. Two minutes on your search engine of choice will pop up hundreds if not thousands of news stories over the subject already, and this article is going to be biased enough without providing readers with an equally biased collection of backup material. Do the search, read some articles from both sides (if you can stomach them,) and form your own opinions on what is happening.
But keep this in mind: gaming is changing. Gaming has to change, if it wants to remain culturally significant. This isn’t the first time it has happened, and it is far from the last time it will ever happen. Major parts of the gaming community developed nasty habits and opinions in the medium’s youth, but like so much else about the way games are marketed, and even made, those opinions will have to change if gaming is to remain relevant into the future.
And it will, and they will, else those who hold those opinions get rejected from the community they are supposedly protecting with their spite and poisoned words.
What so many supposed “gamers” have done in their misguided attempts to “protect” the status quo has done the exact opposite. By acting like misogynists, bigots, and in many cases psychopaths, they have instead done more harm to the public image of what a gamer is or can be than any “violence in games” campaign could ever do.
Death threats? Rape threats? Threatening to shoot up a college campus because a female game journalist is going to give a speech there? These are not the attitudes or actions of a stable, effective community, nor are they the actions of someone who has the best interests of that community in mind.
Grow up, gamers. Games, and the industry surrounding them, are not a toy you can greedily deny others the time or right to play with. It is a business, and a part of shared modern culture that is steadily growing in significance to everyone, not just some elite audience that has, in truth, never really existed. Embrace it, and more on. Or, at the very least, stop trying to destroy it for the rest of us. Black, white: male, female: gay, straight, or anything in between: it doesn’t matter. We’re all entitled to be members of the global community of game enthusiasts; to write about them, to play them, to complain about them, to make them.
The sooner everyone realizes this, the sooner gaming can take its place alongside movies, television, and popular music as a cultural staple of modern society, rather than an underappreciated offshoot of the entertainment industry that still to this day suffers under an inappropriate label as a kids’ product or being something just for guys. With that shift comes so many positives, cultural acceptability being only one of them.
But as long as people try to cling to their ideal of a game industry and culture that never was, every step we make that way will be far harder than it needs to be.
As a child, you learn not to break your toys because you might not get any more if you do so. This lesson applies to adults too.
Stop breaking games, people!