There are some very hostile and ugly things going on in some dark corners of video gaming. You can read about it here if you like, http://www.vox.com/2014/9/6/6111065/gamergate-explained-everybody-fighting .
If you read a lot of media focused on the industry it may seem as though there is a full scale assault on indie developers, studio developers, journalists, bloggers, critics, reviewers, and on and on. There is not. The overwhelming majority of people who play games, make games, buy games, sell games, probably have no clue that anything of note is going on. They don’t know or care that a small group of angry, distasteful people have been organising to attack and harass specific developers and writers. They don’t know that these same people spawned and bolstered multiple, apparently pro-consumer, activist movements as a smokescreen to distance themselves from borderline illegal, and actually illegal, activity. There is no reason for most people to know any of this, because it doesn’t affect them. It doesn’t affect me. Not really. Not immediately. Not in a, fear for my career or life, sort of way. Not in the way that it does Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Jenn Frank, or a long list of other devs, writers, or critics. A list composed primarily of women. Women who make, play, and love games. I lied before. It does affect me, if you play games, it affects you. It affects the entire medium, top to bottom.
Games are a cultural byproduct. We make them just by being human, by playing, by being a mammalian apex predator with some free time to think about our place in the universe. Games come from the same place as music, theatre, poetry. We have always, and will always make games.
For any medium, a broad range of voices, from a broad range of experiences, elevates. Creating an environment so toxic that some people don’t and can’t feel safe speaking their experience, sharing their stories and games, will doom “gaming” to a cultural backwater. For people like me, who have played and loved games their entire lives, and have grasped for any sign of cultural legitimacy for the form, it is heart wrenching to watch. To see a writer the caliber of Jenn Frank silenced by a hateful few made me feel hollow, angry, powerless. When hers was a voice that we could point to and say, there. look, she knows why games are important, and she explains it so much better than we ever could.
Film didn’t end with Birth of a Nation. I don’t think this is the end of games. I don’t think that this medium of expression will be denied cultural legitimacy. In fact, I think the tide has already turned. Those of us that grew up with video games respect them alongside music and novels and paintings and sculpture, as a cultural artifact. An important facet of our collective identity.
My worry isn’t for us. If young girls coming out of high school don’t feel safe sharing their voice through games, we will all be poorer for it. If people from the LGBT community don’t feel that games can tell their stories, share their experiences, due to the potential for threats, and hate, they will express themselves through other media, and games will be poorer for it. The ethics, and gamer culture that these movements purport to protect will be broken. The voices silenced will take a generation to replace.
It is very lucky for us then that teenage girls and marginalized people can be relied upon to regularly throw up a middle finger to oppression. And lets be perfectly, crystal clear here, oppression is what is going on. This isn’t about journalistic integrity or corruption. Any claim made that attempts to house games media and journalistic integrity in the same sentence, is either by someone terribly naive or someone who doesn’t understand the meaning of those words. And I’m not suggesting that this is a considered, crafted oppression. This isn’t a pogrom on uppity female developers. This is the more insidious kind. The sort of oppression that is feverishly rallied around by disenfranchised 16 year olds, afraid that one of the few things that they have in life to hang an identity on might be slipping away from them. That the video games, skate parks, metal bands, or other scenes, might be fading away. Or worse yet, you might be outgrowing the scene and are clawing back at it as hard as you possibly can. I like to think that I would have been too introspective or empathetic to engage in this sort of activity, but it’s the sort of oppression I could have seen my 16 year old self attempting to justify. And I would have been wrong. Terribly, horribly, unforgivably wrong.
If you read any of the #gamergate commentary, and think, well maybe they have a point, I would like you to remember these three rules for dealing with any commercial industry.
The customer is not always right.
You can speak, but you do not have a right to be heard.
Not all points of view are valid.
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