So, as most anyone reading this probably knows, I write about video games for a website. There are obvious reasons that this piece is written here, on my personal blog, rather than there. It should go without saying, but for the sake of absolute clarity, the thoughts herein are entirely my own and do not reflect upon those of the site I write for, nor anyone but myself. They’re kept here, separated, to help ensure that some of the things bouncing around in my brain have an outlet so that they don’t impact my work writing about games, because – despite what much of this may sound like – I really, honestly enjoy playing and writing about games. It’s phenomenally fun, rewarding, and I’m not planning on stopping. Still, there are things that I see in the greater community that, for various reasons, I can’t simply remain silent on. So here are my thoughts about some things.
By now, nearly everyone that’s connected to the gamer community, whether fully-invested or tangentially-interested, has come across something that I see in effect on a near daily basis. It comes in small pieces, or in huge waves (as there have been recently); it comes in whispers online, and it comes in smash-hit news or rumormongering. It’s in comment sections, social media sites, and everywhere else that the gaming community lives and thrives. I’m talking about an epidemic that reaches through to the furthest corners of our collective space, lingering and festering. I’m talking about a harsh, cruel, and unnecessary mistreatment of members of the community. More specifically, as it seems to come up more, it’s a mistreatment of female members of the community.
Let’s reflect for a moment on some of the hot stories that have been on the fingertips of many gamers of late; the tales of Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. Now, I’m not here to say that I agree (or disagree) with anything that either of these two do. I won’t wade into that tinderbox, because it’s a ridiculous minefield that I’m not safe entering. Honestly, I don’t care who does or doesn’t agree with them — that’s not the point. What I know, beyond all doubt, is that the harassments hurled at them, and anyone who expresses support for them, is absolutely, positively beyond anything that they deserve. Before you cut me off — though I’m sure it’s too late for that — yes, I’m aware that some of you think they brought it on themselves. That’s great for you. It’s nice to know that you’re so secure in being wrong.
And if you think that either of these ladies brought this level of vitriol on themselves, you’re wrong. Sure, there’s misinformation or deception on either side of the story,. That’s fine to point out, to call “bullshit” when you see it. I have no problem with anyone saying that they don’t like these, or any other, member of our shared community. I draw a line, though, at specific death threats, the publishing of personal information such as, for example, home addresses — which have been “outed” recently for both of the aforementioned. I can’t even fathom the level of pure spiteful rage that must exist in someone that they decide, “This person is saying things I don’t like. I should recruit an internet mob to drive them from their home.”
I’m also not interested in hearing that the threats are “overblown”. I’ve seen the threats, ranging from vague statements to acutely specific ones. Not screenshots that may have been doctored, not shreds of hearsay taken out of context, but actual threats levied directly at these women with the intent to intimidate, scare, or bring harm to them. It’s ludicrous to me that I have to say this, but threatening the life or wellbeing of a member of our community – of my community – is not fucking okay. Disagree, sure. Refuse to buy anything from companies or developers that support them or their ideas, fine. I’ve seen a list put together of companies for exactly that purpose, and I have no problem with every angry gamer walking away forever from Double Fine, BioWare, and other entities that support the “feminist agenda” or “LGBT lifestyle”. That’s great. Put your money where your mouth is, and stop buying things from companies pushing things you don’t like.
For fuck’s sake, though, be human about it. To reiterate, I’m not encouraging anyone to “get along” or to change how they feel, just use some common decency in your actions. If you think that there’s some “feminist conspiracy” that’s somehow ruining games, I want you to take a deep breath and say aloud for me: “No they aren’t.” Because guess what? It’s actually not possible. Nobody can “ruin games” by making YouTube videos or creating their own games that aren’t like the ones you love. It’s pretty clear at this point that the ‘big studios’ that pump out the AAA hits aren’t listening particularly closely, and they’re going to keep on pumping out hit after hit for you to keep up your hobbies. That’s not in danger.
What is happening is that games are expanding. By adding new voices, perspectives, and creators, we’re getting more new games, and new types of games, than ever before. It’s a really beautiful thing to see, and many of my favorite games from my time writing reviews include some fantastic indie games, from the bizarre Aqua Kitty Milk Mine Defender to the hypermasculine gun-fest Broforce. Neither of these could exist in a world where the whole of the gaming community was a single demographic, a singular audience. They require – and are formed from within – the diversity and breadth of the present landscape.
The problem arises when these divergent, wildly different demographics meet at a point on which there’s a fundamental difference of opinion between two large, vocal groups. This friction builds up because, at our very core, most gamers take the games they love pretty seriously. They’re close to us, a part of who we are and how we identify with the world and ourselves. This attachment leads to our feeling personally attacked when the games we enjoy are attacked, or things we don’t think are true are said about them. It’s a defense mechanism because, on some level, the assault on our hobby becomes an assault on ourselves, and things boil over quickly because there’s a snap reaction to fight back, and it just keeps feeding back into itself.
I don’t think there’s any way to stop that kind of interaction from happening. I really don’t, and I’m not sure it needs to stop. In it’s own way, a healthy conflict can make both sides examine issues closer. Too often, though, things boil into outright fucking madness. Threats, “doxxing”, pulling apart the private lives of complete strangers – and that? It’s not fucking okay. That’s not how we, as adults, interact with one another. And if you’re not an adult? Fuck off, youth isn’t an excuse for treating humans like garbage. I don’t know what the hell point you think you’re making, or what change you’re thinking you’ll bring about by acting that way, but it’s simply beyond anything that anyone should be doing to anyone else, much less anyone else in the same community — even if it’s a vastly different pocket of that community.
The fact is, for whatever reason, it seems to be that lashing out in sometimes extreme ways is a portion of human nature. Some people – and there’s some on each side in any of these kinds of things — just have an inclination to push further than the rest of us. Some just literally can’t help themselves, and have to keep trying to take things to the next level in some kind of ideological arms race that eventually escalates into brutal, unacceptable territory. Again, I’m at a loss as to how this kind of behaviour could ever be stopped. I’m pretty sure that it can’t be; we can’t just tell people to act a way that’s different than how they’re wired. That’s really one of the core concepts at play in some of the recent friction, anyway. All I really know is that I wish I could dream up some social miracle-cure and somehow bring everything back to a place where actual conversation can happen between people, groups, or even entire subcultures can disagree without the looming threat of neverending, and extremely dangerous, abuse.