An Issue With Agendas

Why do gamers seem to hate journalists with an agenda?

From the point of view of the journalist, their agenda is a positive thing. They are trying to get more female protagonists in games and making games, trying to get more LGBT representation in games, and trying to get more racial diversity in games.

So when readers say that their sendup of Final Fantasy for having no playable female characters and the op-ed about heterosexual white man being life’s “easiest difficulty setting” are bad because they are agenda-driven, they react with confusion and hostility. Its easy to assume the majority of gamers are just misogynist assholes when faced with this reaction, but in my opinion the truth is not so black and white.

Gamers aren’t against progress, they’re just against your approach to progress.

In simplest terms the gamers who oppose “agenda-driven” reporting are supporters of bottom-up progress; which in this case is providing diverse people opportunities to make games that represent a diverse world. The journalists in question seem to support a top-down method; tearing down already completed works for not meeting their lofty standards. I want to examine the issues with this practice, and why it pisses so many gamers off.

The typical method of gaming critics is not to champion the good examples of diversity in game development and games themselves. You seldom hear praise from the big sites about how the new Lara Croft is a capable, non-sexualized protagonist with a better story arc than any recent shooter protagonist. But you will hear that she’s “a girl trying to escape a man’s world” that her constant injuries are fetishistic and one death scene in game could be construed as supporting rape-culture.

The journalists behind these articles know that there are more clicks in a “This game promotes misogyny!” article than there are in a “This game is a good example of a strong female character” article, so almost all of their critique trends towards the negative. We see reviews that mark a game down because it made the reviewer “feel like a bully”. We see articles telling us that this video game makes us equate kissing with killing. Their method of change is not to produce “less problematic” content or invite discussion, it is to find something they perceive as objectionable and then denounce it. When you’re told over and over that everything you like is terrible, its easy to become frustrated with those doing the telling.

My Equality is Better Than Your Equality

Another source of animosity on this matter is the issue of equality of results vs. equality of opportunity.

I believe it would be hard to find a gamer who believes that anyone should be restricted from making games, writing about games or becoming involved in the gaming industry. This is known as equality of opportunity, everyone has the right to pursue their goals, whether that goal is to write, to write about, to critique or to develop games. If there are institutional barriers preventing that, they should be removed. If everyone has the opportunity to contribute, we will have more diversity of product and the market will choose who deserves an audience. This is the kind of equality I, and I believe many other gamers believe in.

The prevailing attitude of gaming media seems to be that of equality of results. Every person (in this case ones who they perceive as marginalized or oppressed) deserves to enjoy the same level of success, unless you disagree with them of course. So when a female developer or critic produces something, it cannot be criticized lest we drive more women out of the industry. If it is not nursed on a steady diet of unreserved praise, we will lose these important voices in our industry. The media needs to understand that this attitude breeds resentment in the consumer. What would have originally been a discussion of points made or game content becomes a flame war when someone tells the public “no you cannot talk about this”.

While gaming journalists may believe they are doing this for the best, saving the delicate flowers from criticism, this attitude harms the creators too. The worst thing you can do for someone’s art is to tell them it is perfect when it isn’t. When you hear nothing but universal praise and dismiss criticism by its very nature, where then is the drive to get better? By insulating women in the gaming industry from criticism you are telling them “this is good enough, do not attempt to improve yourself”.

This is what gamers hate about the modern industry, success does not seem to be achieved through skill, but by playing by the rules. When there is a “megaphone” waiting to crush your dreams, why divert from the narrative? Gamers want a meritocracy, and above all they want good games. If people entering the industry refuse to take criticism then I am sorry to say, maybe they shouldn’t be in this industry.

Art by Committee

Games are art.

This is an argument that has been made since we were able to make sprites bigger than a few pixels. And we’ve won. The Supreme Court ruled that video games are protected under the same laws that protect other art. Games appear in museums. Game design courses exist alongside fine arts courses. Many parts of development teams are known personally and professionally as artists. Games are art.

Now, like other forms of art they are experiencing external censorship and criticism.

If someone creates a painting that you hate, a painting that you find horrible and objectionable, a painting you believe is a representation of all that is wrong in the world…

You still have no right to change it.

You can choose not to look at it or you can refuse to buy a print but the artist is under no obligation to change it based on your opinion. For better or worse, everything in that painting is the choice of the artist.

Games journalists don’t seem to grasp this idea. Games appear to be the only art form that must appeal to and represent every demographic simultaneously. They will demand playable female characters when the game was not written for a playable female character; Mighty No. 9, Assassin’s Creed Unity. They will decry freedom of choice built into a game because if framed a very particular way it can be seen as sexist; Hitman: Absolution, any GTA game. And they will claim 30 year old games are examples of modern societal issues; Dragon’s Lair, Ms. Pac Man.

The tragic part is that these were the people who led the “games are art” charge. They campaigned for legitimacy and respect for our medium and when they got it they set about burning it down. They told game developers, “Yes what you made is art, now lets start talking about how your art can appeal to me”.

What I, and I believe many gamers would love to see is less attacking of existing art and more provision of opportunity. Nobody is arguing against diversity of sex, race or sexual orientation on screen or in development, we would just like to see it come from positivity, not guilt trips. Yelling at a game for featuring primarily white men is the negative approach, providing opportunities for minority developers to get into the industry and change that is the positive. Tearing down a game because it uses a “trope” is the negative approach, trying to get girls interested in games and game development is the positive. If diversity comes as a result of shaming games and game developers at the highest levels, it will only grow to be resented as all things forced upon you are. If it comes from a grassroots movement, it will be much more likely to be embraced as a representation of how diverse we truly are at all levels of the industry.

This is why gamers loved The Fine Young Capitalists project. It wasn’t attacking video games, it wasn’t telling us that women are special by their very nature. It was a way to show the world “Women have good ideas for video games too and we’re going to prove they can make money”. The reason it got funded is not spite, it is because this is the way we want to see women succeed in the gaming industry; on the strength of their ideas, not the novelty of their gender.

It’s all about the money

And at the end of the day, thats a major issue with an agenda driven crusade. Games developers and games publishers, while they have varying degrees of passion for the art, are driven by money. For years gamers have bought what they’re currently buying, games like CoD, Assassin’s Creed and Battlefield are licenses to print money, so diverting from the formula that made these companies billions is not a smart business move. So any criticism levied at these games for not being diverse enough, not being inclusive enough is going to fall on deaf ears when they see that they made 1.3 billion dollars last November with a white man as their protagonist.

There will be token efforts of course; such as hiring “consultants” and engaging with these personalities at a superficial level, but in an industry as big as video games, none of the big companies want to be the first to take a drastic risk. To change what is produced in the industry, you cannot rely on changing the current mindsets of the people in power, you need to focus on getting people into the industry. But the current practice is the opposite of this, it breaks down into a vicious cycle of: Journalists decry video games –> game devs make token efforts –> It isn’t good enough –> Journalists decry video games.

If these game journalists are true believers and not just clickbaiters they need to see the necessity of breaking that cycle. If a particularly egregious example of sexism or racism appears in a video game, by all means report on it, but that cannot be the sum of your efforts. When you ignore efforts to get women into gaming like The Fine Young Capitalists in favour of writing articles about how gamers are dead it comes across as abhorrently self serving. You are shouting from a platform about an issue while real people are below you working to fix it.

If you truly believe the best way to fix video games is to do what you’re currently doing; then I won’t change your mind. You’re going to call me a misogynist, a bigot or a gatekeeper, that’s if you even ever see this article, otherwise you’ll just assume I’m still “dead” because I call myself a gamer. But I want to tell you that what we hate is not the message of equality but the means by which you address it. We don’t hate women in gaming; Jade Raymond, Amy Hennig and Corinne Yu are all great examples of women whose success in gaming came as a result of their skill, not their gender.

If you want to create ways for more women to enter the gaming industry, we will gladly hold the door. If you continue to tell us that we’re scum and all we do is hate women and promote misogyny, we will stand in your way.

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16 thoughts on “An Issue With Agendas

  1. Hey, thank you so much for sharing, this is a great piece – from language to your points and how you treat game journalists with some respect and give them credit and doubt.
    It is very hard to stay cool-headed when you’re shouted down with nonsense and insults that you didn’t deserve, and I believe that there is hardly anyone on the #GamerGate side left who has faith in most of the anti-GG journalists. Yet, it is important to understand their motives, and that it is possible that they, in fact, actually believe that they are doing the right thing. I had many doubts about that, and to this moment I cannot say for sure. Even people like Literally Who and Nobody might or might not be doing this out of conviction and zeal, and, truthfully, I suppose we will never really know.
    But if we at least try to understand how they think, maybe we will not waste so much time on pointless arguments.
    I don’t know if we should also stop giving them undeserved attention, however. In any other case I would do just that, but in case of this “Social Justice” mindset, I am not sure it is safe to let them be free to do whatever they want. You can’t just choke them by not paying attention, because some of them are masters at crying for it. And as they spread onto the games industry, more and more developers will crumble under their pressure and work to fit their narrative or just quit. As a gamer, as someone who has loved videogames for nearly 20 years, I do not want that to happen. As someone who is making a name in the film industry, I absolutely do not want that to happen to any medium of art.
    I want to also note that not all people who support “social justice” are this extreme. Some are very intelligent, and completely reasonable human beings – and I speak from experience of having such a friend. The problem in the SJW community is that a dissenting opinion is shut down quickly, and the person who expressed it is bullied and kicked out from their community in most cases. So those who disagree with the SJW, but support SJ just stay in the SJW community, because they believe there are no better communities for them to go to.

    Now, I am very happy that the camel’s back was finally broken. Not only because the gaming journalism will be fixed, no. There is another effect of the journalists’ charade – anyone who is against them actually overtakes the good intentions that are at the core of the journalists’ and the SJWs’ twisted methods. It is very noticeable on 8chan, reddit/r/KiA, even twitter. People exhibit a stronger wish to help the actually oppressed, the minorities and each other as well, one of the strongest reasons being that, unconsciously, everyone in pro-GG want to appeal to the neutral side in a better light. Now, I don’t mean that in a bad light. These people who support GamerGate are already accepting of any minority who wishes to get into gaming, of women who want to join them – and have been for a long time. They have pure intentions. And then comes the gaming press, and paints them as villains, claiming that the gamers are the exact opposite of what they are – and in doing that, it wants to spread this message to all the bystanders. This is offensive; it feels bad. In response, many communities have become even nicer to everyone. It’s not on a personal level and I don’t think many think about this at all. But it’s clear when you look at it from above.
    8chan consists of all the 4chan emigrants. If you have ever been to 4chan, you would know how easy it is to offend someone, and to get offended. Nobody thinks anything of it. But, on 8chan, there is much much less of it. People don’t approve of “offensive” and racist jokes as much anymore, in general. Some still do. And there are less of these jokes made, too. More support for women in games as well – not that there was too little, but there’s more now, too.
    You might often notice that while individuals remain individuals in all their complexity, the communities that these individuals make seems all too similar to real humans as well – but much simpler. It’s pretty fun to observe their behaviours, especially in events like these.
    But, I digress a lot, excuse me. Bottom line is, the community is changing for the better ever so slightly, while also combatting the a similar attempt to change it, only with extreme methods. After the dust settles, I hope that those who are intelligent but also were against GamerGate manage to see all the good that it will have done.

    Sorry for this huge comment, but I would also be very glad if you found anything interesting in it.

    PS: There were a few typos in the pre-last paragraph (“If you truly believe the best way to fix …”) – I suppose you wrote it all in one breath and got less attentive by the end? Anyway:
    […] a gatekeeper, thats if you even […] – that’s
    […] examples of women who’s success […] – whose

    I believe I’ve made a few typos myself. If you’d like me to remove this comment after you’d fixed the typos, just tell me – I’ll have no problems doing that.

    Cheers, thanks for the great post.

  2. You don’t speak on your own. I agree. I agree almost 100 percent. With this as an insight, I can imagine that, stuck in developer hell or behind deadlines, they must’ve felt serious resentment seeing monolithic phenomena like Call of Duty literally painting the landscape of the 7th generation’s popular/safe bet. Seeing all that money and where it came from, and using that and other instances (the XBox Live trolling, for example) to paint an entire base of consumers as The Enemy™.

    I can imagine and understand, somewhat, the source of their resentment. I can be empathic to it. But I cannot and will not condone it. So long as they openly regard me as that enemy, I will continue to back GamerGate.

  3. An excellent analysis of why such a thing as #gamergate even exists. And your rationale can be extended far beyond just gaming and into almost every other sphere of society where those with an agenda, seek to force it upon others through beratement, ostracization, coersion and guilt. What’s happening in gaming is simply a very clear and pronounced example of how a few seek to usurp the rights of the many, but it’s a phenomenon that’s happening everywhere in our culture today. And I won’t stand aside for any of them.

  4. I disagree with a lot of your points, but thank you for making them in such a clear and uninsulting way. I’ve been trying to figure out what this whole #GamerGate thing is about, but since the people I follow on twitter (and I) mostly fall on the SJ side of things, all I got to see was the worst of it. I think most of the people on both sides believe that they’re trying to make the world a better place. They just see the world differently and have different ideas of what would make it better.

    A tragedy of the debate is that we don’t understand how the other side can see things so differently, so we assume that they are not genuine in their expressed beliefs, that there is some insidious, sadistic ulterior motive. We turn them into monsters in our minds and then we treat them like monsters: we insult them, we harass them. They are the reason things suck, so their lives deserve to suck. Then, without noticing, we become monsters ourselves.

    Both sides (of most issues) do it. No matter how wrong we think someone is, we must treat them ethically.

    • My general belief is that in any internet argument, 99% of the noise comes from 1% of the population, so it can be hard to see past the loudest, most aggressive personalities on either side. Any chance you get to see an issue from an opposing perspective (ideally a rational one) is a good thing and I want to thank you for helping to further that. There is nothing wrong with disagreement. I don’t want a future designed only by the most extreme segments of GamerGate supporters as I am sure you don’t wish for the most extreme social justice advocates to have the only voice. I think that lines have been drawn in the sand to such a degree that neither “side” can accept any argument from the other “side” and hopefully that can be addressed. Cordial disagreement is a good first step.

      • In that spirit of cordial disagreement, here are the points you made that I disagree with 🙂

        You fault social justice oriented writers for “tearing down already completed works for not meeting their lofty standards” instead of just making their own games. Then, you say “The worst thing you can do for someone’s art is to tell them it is perfect when it isn’t. When you hear nothing but universal praise and dismiss criticism by its very nature, where then is the drive to get better?”

        So which is it? Is it okay to criticize games that other people made, or isn’t it?

        Here’s what I’d propose:
        It’s always okay to criticize the content of a game (or other work of art). It’s also okay to publicly disagree with the content of that criticism (as you’re doing here).
        What’s never okay is personally insulting the person who made the game or proffered the critique. It’s never okay to comment on their physical appearance, make sexual remarks or threaten them.

        This is basic ethics, and it’s also what most feminist articles about games that I’ve read advocate. I’ve never seen a feminist argue that no one should be allowed to criticize the work of a female game developer. What I have seen is feminist outrage that a game developer like Zoe Quinn has received such a barrage of hateful messages (including rape and death threats) that she is afraid to return to her home for the foreseeable future. If people were just writing articles about how “Depression Quest” is a bad game, no one would be mad.

        I also haven’t seen any feminist actually call for a game to be censored or for the game company to pull it off the shelves. I won’t say that such an explicit call for censorship from feminists has never happened, but I haven’t seen it, so I don’t think it’s the main thrust of the movement. What feminists and other SJ writers are doing is critiquing games, exactly what you say game developers should not be insulated from. They’re saying “hey, I didn’t enjoy this game as much as I would have if it had had more representation of minorities.” Or they might be taking it a step further and saying “This game might have harmful effects on people because of the way it portrays such and such.” This is maybe more alarming if you liked that game, but it’s still not a call for censorship. It’s giving the developers (assuming they even read the article) a chance to think about whether those harmful effects actually exist and whether they want to make their next game different in response. It’s still entirely up to developers what to do about it. As you say in your last section, the existence of critical articles is not going to stop game companies from making games that people keep buying.

        And as far as equality of opportunity, I think that’s precisely what feminists want, but their point is that it does not yet exist in the gaming industry as a whole. I’ve read multiple accounts by women in the games industry that they encounter harassment, discrimination, and the assumption that, as women, they can’t be really serious gamers. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every gamer or everyone in the games industry is sexist. But if 5% are, then any woman in the overwhelmingly male industry is going to have to deal with sexism from 1 out of 20 of their male colleagues (some of whom are potentially superiors). That is a very different work experience from what men in the industry have.

        If you agree that ad-hominem insults, harassment, sexual comments, and threats are an unacceptable way to register disagreement, then what you (and other gamers) can do, is explicitly and publicly denounce such behaviors, especially if you are present in the physical or online space where they occur. Now would be a great opportunity to do so. You need to make it clear that the behaviors that are giving GamerGaters (and by extension gamers) a bad name will not be tolerated in any space where you have social influence.

        And, as a token of good faith, I will acknowledge that I’ve seen SJers get pretty nasty too. I haven’t seen any rape or death threats, but I’ve seen some pretty cruel and juvenile insults. When you’re fighting something as huge as structural oppression, there’s a lot of frustration and anger that can too easily be targeted at well-meaning opponents. But ad-hominem insults are unethical, whether they come from SJers or from our opponents.

      • I’m having trouble replying, so I hope you see this.

        I think you’re tying two separate points together at the start. I don’t believe the work of female developers or non-white developers (I hate how that sounds, it’s just quicker) should be spared from criticism of quality because of the novelty of the creators gender or race; thats the point I was trying to address with the latter quote.

        In regards to the former, I’m saying the method of pursuing representative diversity in the industry is flawed right now. I have no issue with criticizing games. If you didn’t enjoy a game because of a lack of racial diversity thats your prerogative and your opinion, criticize away. If you believe the best way to get better representation in all games is to say this game is representative of massive overarching issues in society, thats what I have a problem with.

        I definitely agree with you that a culture of harassment towards females in game development is abhorrent and unacceptable, so I believe if the issue is representation of women, representation of minority groups, energy should be dedicated towards the industry culture, not the content of an already produced game. Because like we both said, all the articles in the world won’t stop production of the next Call of Duty with a white dude in the protagonist role as long as it makes money. It definitely won’t get as many hits, but a push for women to get involved in game development would be much more effective than say, all the AC: Unity news stories basically repeating the same thing.

        I said censorship in my article, and that was a poor choice of words. I was referring to agency of the developer to make a game they want to make, and the issue of radical people (I don’t believe its all women, all feminists, all anything) trying to get it changed to suit them. So when I said censorship, what I suppose I meant was imposition. I don’t think anyones talking about censorship of games themselves in terms of removing them from shelves, at least not since Hot Coffee.

        In regards to the threats, ad hominem attacks and insults; I deplore them. I agree with you that criticism of a game should never reach into public personal criticism of the developer. If you dislike someone that much on a personal level, don’t support them financially, which is what I do with devs/journalists who I have strong feelings about. I think 99% of each “side” wishes all the attacks/insults/harassment (god that word is overused) would go away. However, I don’t believe that should be a centrepiece of this conversation. To borrow a term from the Social Justice crowd, it seems like a derailing tactic, and a very effective one. Any one reasonable on the GamerGate side when faced with the harassment culture says “I have never harassed anyone. You should not generalize the majority with the acts of a minority” and the response is “It’s happening in your movement, this is how your movement is perceived, you should fix/denounce/disassociate/address it” neither of which are incorrect statements. But then we aren’t having a discussion about the original issue anymore, the responsibility of stopping internet trolls (an impossible task) is placed on us.

        If we (not just you and me, everyone) can agree that there are terrible people everywhere then we can resume talking, we can disown people making threats, you can disown people comparing us to terrorists. The sooner that happens the sooner this is becomes a discussion instead of a war.

        Lastly I agree that the more egregious insults and threats have been levied at feminists and Social Justice supporters from consumers. I don’t think thats a unique issue with GamerGate however, I think thats how it works between public figures and the general population. You’ll see personal attacks levied at high profile industry figures because it’s easy to focus on one person, from the public figures you’ll see sweeping dismissive statements because they are dealing with hundreds or thousands of voices.

      • It sounds like we agree on all the substantive ethical and factual points. So, that’s nice.

        I think the main difference is that I find SJ critiques of games (and other cultural productions) valuable, and you find them annoying, which is largely a difference in taste.

        To clarify, I tied two separate points together because they seem to rely on contradictory ethical principles. (1) That people shouldn’t criticize others’ works when they could make their own, and (2) that criticism is necessary for creators to grow and improve.

        I proposed a consistent ethical standard: it’s ok to criticize any work, based on any criteria (gameplay, representation of marginalized groups, or any other political, moral, or aesthetic values), as long as the criticism is addressed to the content of the work rather than the person who made it. It’s also ok to express disagreement with the criticism, again as long as it’s addressed to the content of the criticism, not the person of the critic.

        It seems like your main argument against SJ criticism of games is that it’s not the most effective tactic for reaching the goal of social justice. I agree with you. But I don’t think that means it shouldn’t be employed. I do think, as you say, that broader representation among game developers is far more important.

        It’s much more important to me to have your support in expanding the culture in gaming and the games industry that is welcoming to women and condemns harassment than to have you want to read feminist criticism of games.

        And, I will happily disown whoever compared #GamerGate to ISIS. That kind of hyperbole gets no one anywhere.

    • Also, please try to understand that much of the noise is from people who are not gamers, who don’t even know what a gamer is or what gaming is. They just know the stereotype and their opinions are based off those stereotypes. It doesn’t help because they get their info from these authority websites, their 1 sided viewpoint of it & they perpetrate these stereotypes.

      We went through this back in the D&D days where the media was casting gamers back then as evil devil worshippers and that framed the general viewpoint in public about RPGs as a gateway to hell for people. Heck, I remember we had a session in school telling us the dangers of D&D/RPG gaming. It’s 1-sided and had no basis in reality but that’s how the media framed it and that’s how people saw it as a result. Back if you tried to tell people otherwise, you’d just get shunned, shut down and avoided. It took many years before it became publically accepted.

      You may not recall, but when the internet first started, it likewise had a very bad rap. It was known to the general public as a cesspool of perverts and predators. That was how the news outlets framed it hence how the public saw it.

      To most people, gaming is this shadowy, unknown world. Hard to understand by the public, made especially difficult when people have no idea why anyone would like sitting in front of a screen and find it fun as a hobby/past-time (while simultaneously be glued to their own smartphone screens). Like the RPG of old, people stereotype it as a dangerous, evil hobby for and by white men. And like before, this bears no truth in reality.

      My hobby and my community is caught in a political crossfire. All that noise is not at all about gaming. It’s about 1 side trying to protect their revenue source by playing on those same fears/stereotypes from my D&D days. This is not the first time this has happened. What is shocking to me is that the sites that are supposed to be writing about gaming are using it as a political weapon and political tool against their own community. Make no mistake, this is not about gaming, or sexism, or racism. This is about protection of profits. This would also not be the first time the media has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. I would have expected this from the more general news sites, but not from tech & gaming websites.

      I can’t speak for gamergate but I am for #notyourshield. I just want the politicising to stop. I want these media sites to actually not shit on us every chance they get and I most certainly do not like it when people use MY race to further their ends. If it’s to be used, then *I* must make that decision. I don’t like people speaking for me; especially people who are the wealthy elites in our society telling me what MY social & political stance should be.

      I would rather someone straight up call me a “Chink” than have someone else speak FOR me. That’s how much I do not like wealthy, privileged people using my identity for their own causes.

  5. I think what it mainly boils down to is this. Gaming “journalists” should criticize games on their game related components, because this is what everyone has come to the site to read about. On socio cultural/political issue however you should build things up rather than tear down as this is a side issue (in my opinion most gamers probably don’t want to hear about it at all, but don’t really mind a positive take on things). Just like if if you were to go to a social justice oriented site and they were to do whole articles centered around the gun recoil mechanics of dudebro shooter #57 the audience would be annoyed, its not what they’ve come to the site to be informed about/discuss.

  6. Thank you for your time,
    Would you be averse to this being linked/mirrored/summarized or reblogged on MindlessZombiestudios.com?
    We’re currently doing a number of pieces pro GamerGate and either critical of, or promoting the cause. We’d like to have you amongst our gamer voices.

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