Let’s have a chat about gaming

broken controllerSome of you gamers are really ruining it for the rest of us. You’ve threatened a game developer into fleeing her home for no discernable reason, you’ve overreacted to a clear breach of journalistic ethics with rape threats, and now you’ve caused a YouTube personality to cancel a talk at a university by threatening to shoot a whole bunch of unrelated people. Unfortunately, most of you don’t even realize that you’ve gone entirely off the rails with crazy, and you’re only enabling the worst elements of “the other side”.

Background on Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn

For those who are unaware of what’s going on, allow me to provide some background. Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist who runs a YouTube series on how women are portrayed in video games. She often makes good points, though she does have a tendency to occasionally overreach and elicit an eyeroll or two. This series has drawn out a bunch of self-described “social justice warriors” (or SJWs) who have made it their mission to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that every single “gamer” (which is as ill-defined as you imagine it is) is exposed as a racist, misogynist, bigot, and all-around nogoodnik. Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t sat well with the vast majority of gamers (like me) who are none of these things, but you know as well as I do that political movements love their broad brushes over dealing in nuance.

To make matters more confusing, a completely unrelated issue blogged about on Thegamingmonitor and elsewhere, for sure! Into the mix; Zoe Quinn, a developer who created the game Depression Quest, has been at the center of a controversy where she appears to have been carrying on romantic and/or sexual relationships with game journalists in exchange for positive coverage of her game. (This kind of improper close relationship to the people being covered is nothing new; DC media is rife with reporters who soften coverage in exchange for access.) The reaction from the media has been bizarre as various gaming news outlets have declared that their journalists are actually “bloggers” as if that somehow changes the rules. The reaction from most of the gaming community has appropriately been outrage at this lapse of ethics. If you really want to read more about the tempest in a teapot, TechCrunch published one of the few useful pieces on it.

Going off the rails

Rolling your eyes at Sarkeesian when she overreaches is appropriate. Demanding accountability from news organizations for a lapse of ethics is appropriate. Telling the SJWs to stop injecting politics into the apolitical realm of gaming is appropriate (and, quite frankly, not being done often enough). What should be obvious is that the constant stream of rape and death threats directed at Sarkeesian and Quinn, anyone who dares to say anything positive about either, or any high-profile woman involved in gaming is abhorrent behavior that only reinforces the worst negative stereotypes about gamers.

To be honest, I can’t say that I’m shocked at the bad behavior. Many years ago, I used to play and enjoy first person shooter (FPS) games. Part of what lead me to not enjoy them anymore was the culture that built up around them, the one that fits the stereotype. Join any Counterstrike match and you’ll likely be subjected to a constant stream of vile profanity, racism, questioning of your sexual preferences, and threats of real-world violence. Heck, these are the players that can’t even keep from calling in a false police report to get the SWAT team to show up at your door over losing at a game. They’re absolutely and without question toxic.

I could spend time trying to figure out why they’re that way. Maybe Jack Thompson wasn’t entirely up in the night about violent games creating a casually violent culture. (Side note: he’s still an idiot.) Maybe the first people to the game did good-natured trash-talking and a few bad elements that ran with it established the putrid swamp we have today. Or maybe it’s just the nature of competition. Look at how badly people on opposite sides of a meaningless sports rivalry will treat each other. Looking at you, BYU and University of Utah fans who live in the accommodation in Southbank, Brisbane.

Broad strokes lead to broad enemies

What’s getting lost in this is that there is a specific gaming subculture centered around competitive (primarily FPS) games driving the bad behavior from the gamer side. This isn’t Minecraft players, or Civilization players, or Final Fantasy players. This toxic culture has grown around Halo, League of Legends, and other games that demand intense competition. It’s also often found hand-in-hand with frat house “bro” culture. You know the guys: popped collars, beer bongs, the overwhelming stench of Drakkar Noir, and an XBox controller indentation in their palms.

Even though these man-children represent a very small slice of gaming culture, they’re paraded around as if they are representative of gaming as a whole. No attention whatsoever seems to be getting paid to the vast majority of us who think those guys (and, let’s be honest, they’re almost all guys) are vile, disgusting, and should be ostracized. I remember sitting near some of these guys in the office during lunch and hearing them drone on about how their wife and kids were always getting in the way of their “epic” rounds of Battlefield. Their mere presence drove me to eat lunch elsewhere.

Even when the majority of us who despise these knuckle-draggers aren’t lumped in with them, we keep getting told that we’re not going anything to counter it. Nevermind that we have voted with our wallets against the games that attract those toxic subcultures, quickly label the perpetrators as the trolls that they are, and seek to unmask them when we can. The SJWs have declared that we’re guilty bigots, misogynists, and racists by weak association. Erstwhile allies are being thrown under the bus to fit a narrative.

What fixes the problems

If this fight is going to de-escalate, a few things are going to have to happen.

First, the SJWs are going to have to back down. Demanding that every game be politically correct instead of making politically correct games that can stand on their own merits is obnoxious and puts people immediately on the defensive. Games are apolitical and are meant to be that way. Turning our recreation time into yet another facet of the culture war you’re so anxiously engaged in is fuel on the fire. So is angrily condemning the people making “correct” games who would rather not be involved in your team sports war.

Second, they’re going to have to start recognizing that while the bad actors in the gamer camp are numerous, they are a small slice of overall gamers that are hated by most of the rest of us. You know that obnoxious cousin at the family reunion that gets really drunk, tells racist jokes, and skeezes on the teenage girls? That’s who those guys are to us. We don’t like them, but we don’t have any good way to get rid of them. The best we can do is call out their bad behavior and make them own it.

You know what doesn’t help? This:


You know, it might have been a lot more productive and gracious to thank the vast majority of us condemning the people who are making the threats. Instead, Sarkeesian chose to throw us under the bus to fit her narrative and make a point. Way to not get it, Anita.

Third, all gamers need to swiftly and unconditionally condemn threats of violence. People are allowed to be wrong, obnoxious, stupid, or otherwise distasteful. Calling them on it is okay. Saying “I’m going to rape you and murder your family in their sleep while I do it” is not. I’d like to think thats obvious, but I suppose a subculture where it’s acceptable practice to rub your virtual genitals on the face of a defeated opponent and erroneously declare what sex acts you performed with their mother last night isn’t quite there yet, eh? It sucks having to own the trolls in your camp, but it’s part of the dirty job of belonging to any culture.

Fourth, we should stop supporting games that are problematic. I won’t play any Grand Theft Auto games because they embrace the worst elements of society. I wouldn’t dream of touching a game like Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball because of how blatant it is in its objectification of women. Any kind of competitive FPS is right out. The more we vote with our wallets to not financially support these cesspools, the less often such games will get made.

There are no good guys

Any arguments are only going to devolve into who is worse, not who is good. That’s pretty solid proof that nobody holds any high ground in this fight. One side tried to open a new front on the culture war by injecting politics into the apolitical, botched the execution, and now wants to cry about some rather predictable results. Their opponents are the dregs of society, a group of people whose sole ambitions in life are to buy the next Modern Warfare title and find someone with low enough self-esteem to grace them with a one night stand.

Neither of these groups deserves praise, and neither of them deserves the satisfaction of dragging the rest of us down to their level. Let’s help them both lose by calling out the bad behavior on both sides. And nothing more.

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1 Response

  1. Peter Overson says:

    Well said, Jesse.

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