On Weaponizing Charity

I haven’t written anything on #GamerGate recently.

Everyone involved in this movement is doing what they’re best at to try to be the change they want to see in the world. For some it’s tweeting; maintaining a presence online for something you believe in. For some its livestreaming, making videos or engaging in citizen journalism to try and gather information that isn’t being seen elsewhere. For me, it’s writing. I’ve started writing more and more about video games, trying to be calm and cogent, to provide a sincere voice. I to want to help heal this industry by providing good writing about the games industry, then the market can decide who they want the voices to be. For this reason I haven’t used this blog as much over the last couple weeks. But I feel compelled to say something today.

An accusation was levied at #GamerGate supporters that we have weaponized charity.

The belief is that 70,000 dollars raised for The Fine Young Capitalists to get a game made by an all female team is spite money. 5,000 dollars raised for a suicide prevention charity, that doesn’t count. 17,000 dollars raised for bullying prevention is tainted because of who’s wallet it came out of.

What this man sees as “weaponization” I see as sincerity. Every time someone donates money to a worthy cause they are saying “I care about this enough to make a sacrifice for it” no matter how small that sacrifice is, it demonstrates compassion and a desire to see change. To say that we don’t care about the causes we’ve donated to, that it was to spite someone, that it was complicit in harassment is a slap in the face to everyone who decided that these causes were worth their time and their money.

Detractors like the man pictured above say that charity pushes like the PACER anti-bullying campaign are just for PR. They believe that we are so toxic, so abhorrently evil that we need to donate 17,000 dollars for bullying prevention just to make us look better. Two that I say two things. First,

What is wrong with that? People looked at how we were being perceived, as misogynists, as harassers, as obtuse shit-slingers and we said, “Instead of arguing with these people about how terrible we are, how about we put our time and money towards a good cause” If it helps people see that we are not all assholes, then great, but the important thing is; THE CHARITY STILL GETS THE MONEY. We raised 17,000 dollars for bullying prevention. Someone said that Nerds deserve bullying, we agreed that was abhorrent, and that we could demonstrate our feeling on the matter of bullying, on harassment by donating thousands of dollars to charity. We weren’t just trying to look better, we are proving that we are better than you say we are. We are people same as you, and we realize that one of the most powerful things we can do as people is speak with our wallets. So we gathered together and said “This is what we are about”.

Secondly, you seem to have an impressive idea of what we are. There is not a cabal, a darkened boardroom where Milo Yiannopoulos, Internet Aristocrat, Jayd3Fox, Christina Sommers and Total Biscuit decide what we are going to do. This came about because we saw someone who was mocking us, calling for us to be bullied and we all said individually “Thats pretty terrible”. So a few people decided we could help by donating money. Other people thought it was a good idea and they donated too. It wasn’t a calculated move, it wasn’t our position as an organization, it was a nice thing to do that got popular because a large group of people all agree bullying is wrong, same goes for suicide prevention being important and wanting women to develop video games. We don’t have PR agencies on retainer, nobody is crafting a script for us, this was a good thing that just happened and your seeming hatred of it makes us think we we were on the right track.

Finally, I want to say something directly to you Alex, and by extension everyone who believes the raising of money for charity is something that needs to be examined, analyzed and broken down for motivations.

What the hell is wrong with you?

Are you so set in your warfare mentality that you cannot admit a good thing happened? Are gamers so ingrained in your psyche as the enemy that you cannot admit that some of them are good people? Are you so selfish that you believe thousands of dollars given to prevent bullying of children, hundreds of dollars given to alleviate hunger, thousands given to prevent suicide should have gone to a cause that you can approve of?

Its fine to hate us, its fine to call us scum but don’t you dare say that money that came from the hands of people who were bullied is tainted. Don’t say that money from depressed people to prevent suicide is a just a ploy. Don’t say that money donated by women can’t help women succeed in this industry because those aren’t the women you approve of.

I sincerely hope you grow up.

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.

Nerds, and the Bullying Thereof

It seems gaming culture has come full circle.

It wasn’t that long ago that video games were a niche activity, popular with computer enthusiasts, young boys etc. After the crash of 1983, nobody was putting a ton of faith in games as an industry. So like comics, fantasy, sci fi and tabletop gaming it was easy to see video games as “for nerds”, an activity that could be safely mocked by the cool kids. Gamers were nerds, dweebs, pathetic, losers, dumb, morons and fat … I could go on but I’m getting sad.

That was what you had to deal with if you liked video games, and clearly a lot of us did. Gaming grew from a curiosity to a bigger industry than movies. The insults became less and less common as more and more people became interested in video games. More people were earning their living in the industry; promoting, producing or commenting on video games. It stopped being a part of your life you would hide and became one you could celebrate. Bottom line, the achievement of mainstream attention for video games was a good thing.

Which is what makes what’s happening in the gaming media right now so depressing.

With the growth of gaming as an industry came growth in the gaming media and journalism industry, gaming journalists (if thats the right word to use) became less homogenous. They bucked the “straight white male” stereotype and they helped demonstrate that the gaming world was for everyone.

The issue arose, as we have seen in recent years and especially in the last month, when these members of the gaming media dispensed with true journalism and began to push an agenda upon the gamers who they ostensibly write for.

They decided that there weren’t enough female protagonists and that the women who did appear in games were too token, too sexual, too useless. They decided that gamers were largely sexist and that the actions of gamers in-game reflected that.

Gamers are homophobic, gamers are racist, gamers hate women, gay people and non-white people; the thesis was that games need to change dramatically to meet their approval.

Personally I don’t believe either gender is represented perfectly in video games. If you have a problem with the stereotypical femme fatale or damsel in distress, you should also take issue with the testosterone fuelled psychopath role that men so often take on in games. But that doesn’t make as good a headline so I understand why you won’t see it. (Youtuber ScannerBarkly made a great video on this topic and I recommend you watch it)

Now I’m not saying that women are perfectly represented in video games, I’m not saying that video games should not contain depictions of gay people and I’m not saying that games should only feature white people. I’m saying that instead of creating games that met their standard or advocating positively for representation of X group in the medium; these “journalists” vilified games that didn’t pass muster in their eyes and did it repeatedly.

These were the people who crusaded endlessly for games to be considered art and as soon as they began to reach that point, they turned to the artists and said

“your art is bad, here are the things you need to do to make your art suit us”

Understandably there was hesitance, but as this was carried out under the banner of equality and justice it was hard for game developers or media personalities to disagree without being painted with the brush of the bigot. When the gaming media is the one leading the push, the best thing for game makers to do is capitulate, lest the media decide not to cover their projects.

To give companies a choice of “agree with us or be doomed to irrelevancy” is not a different viewpoint, it is not progress, it is bullying. For a group with major concerns about oppression and silencing they are incredibly quick to push an agenda without concern for disagreement or dissent.

This shouldn’t be the method by which progress (however loosely you define progress) is made. If this is your method for getting a message into the world, it does not mean everyone agrees with you, it means they’re scared of you

#GamerGate however provided more pushback against an increasingly agenda driven gaming media. The proponents of #GamerGate (myself included) have demanded the gaming media be accountable and transparent to its readers about conflict of interest, nepotism and cronyism. The dissidents claim that we are all misogynists who hate that women are becoming involved in video games.

I don’t have a problem with dissident opinion, not at all. The only way progress is made is through discourse; #GamerGate supporters shouldn’t unilaterally dictate the future and neither should the social justice advocates of the gaming world. There are people who use the #GamerGate movement as an excuse to be toxic and misogynist, just like there are people who abuse social justice to further their own career. NOBODY is 100% correct, but instead of reporting on the issues fairly the gaming media committed what I believe is their greatest betrayal.

They burned their base.

They turned on the gamers. The people who provide the ad revenue that keeps them employed, the ones who turned them from basement bloggers to respectable journalists, the people who created their career via their support of a fledgling industry; these people weren’t good enough anymore. “Gamers” don’t have to be your audience anymore. “Gamers” are over, they said. Once these “journalists” received enough attention from the social justice crowd, from mainstream media and any number of other sources they announced to the world that gamers don’t matter anymore; thanks for the money, now piss off.

As a lifelong gamer, that hurt, but it was nothing compared to what happened next. Gaming “journalists” and #GamerGate dissidents started getting creative with their criticism of #GamerGate supporters. We weren’t just “over” or “dead” we were;

Terrorists (http://gamesnosh.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/devin.jpg)

Pathetic (http://gamesnosh.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/freelance-dev.jpg)

Racist (http://gamergateharrassment.tumblr.com/image/96832821253)

Nerds (http://gamergateharrassment.tumblr.com/image/96824882816)

Parasites (http://i.imgur.com/YYx4VM3.png)

Worthless (http://38.media.tumblr.com/3f7e5d258c3590d92e21a91c941cfc48/tumblr_nbel0pMV3y1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Deserving death (http://31.media.tumblr.com/05ce05fa39964870e51b029b76eb4453/tumblr_nbdot0XTYQ1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Confederates, Neo-NAZIs (https://twitter.com/devincf/status/509120907000823808)

Misogynists (http://33.media.tumblr.com/33f424d2dca74196a76641c295295c24/tumblr_nbgypnmym01tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Drug users (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BwYnLcPCcAExa7T.png:large)

Dweebs (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bwjyo6TIgAM-3xN.jpg:large)

NAZIs (http://gamergateharrassment.tumblr.com/image/96981951159)

Subhuman (http://i.gyazo.com/af9f579b915579b16382885ee071a8a6.png)

Sociopaths (http://31.media.tumblr.com/6b838763c2a04c7356eb12aac086d2d4/tumblr_nbdfr6ZW3f1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Scum (http://i.imgur.com/rLT5hMG.png)

Morons (http://33.media.tumblr.com/839ef95775ce258ea9b69e3092b74c13/tumblr_nbaq6t5l8a1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Fat (http://38.media.tumblr.com/c006886fc38d780246bb0541e2158026/tumblr_nbaprdoOzq1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Nonexistent (http://38.media.tumblr.com/4f6b44d2d02dcf5637449c43f59081f0/tumblr_nbaraiM5CK1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Hateful (http://38.media.tumblr.com/04d047edde4912a0ae1d08d5d34eb073/tumblr_nbavqcjInC1tkhroeo1_1280.jpg)

Autistic (http://38.media.tumblr.com/070bec77b1eb20d7127eeb53e24cd739/tumblr_nb9o4uaZLh1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Deserving violence (http://media.tumblr.com/5fcf2906cbd6a4f0a2d0d118938a6647/tumblr_inline_nb9hwmg56l1t04v2j.png)

Bullies (http://i0.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/000/821/909/564.png)

Enablers of child pornography/Pedophiles: (http://38.media.tumblr.com/60d8774d77925c6c2b33da61a320fcc9/tumblr_nbgx6jSebG1tkhroeo2_1280.png)

Peddlers of child porn: (http://i.imgur.com/KJiOEB4.jpg)

Threatened with violence (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BwYqklLIQAAJRrt.jpg:large)

Shit (http://t.co/ts4PPb3tl3)

Manbabies (http://31.media.tumblr.com/7300d99c72d76c2a2b3b90d4c3f9d222/tumblr_nb4nduL6ik1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

Terrible people (http://38.media.tumblr.com/6f9fb624582e4d5a09ceb2174da96c18/tumblr_nb4rxxXlrK1tkhroeo1_1280.png)

And best of all — Trash: http://i.imgur.com/E4kRwKN.png

(Thanks to JW at medium.com for this handy list)

I don’t want to portray #GamerGate supporters as thin-skinned babies who can’t handle criticism but it isn’t pleasant to hear these sort of insults directed at you. Especially when the reason for this abuse is a desire to have more clarity in video game journalism.

Anyone with a pulse would bristle at being called these things, it’s not fun to be called a fat, basement dwelling manbaby child-porn peddler, but here it feels worse. It feels worse because these people were supposed to represent us. They grew up with games, they were called nerds, losers and shut-ins and they understood what it meant to love a hobby that could get you labelled uncool. We thought that with those people in positions of influence and respect then those labels would no longer be applied to video gamers. Instead it meant that the gaming media just has an intimate knowledge of fun insults to use against us.

They were supposed to understand, but as soon as we disagreed with them they did not hesitate to twist the knife where they knew it hurt. Those terms; nerd, dweeb, basement dweller, neckbeard, loser etc. they aren’t the worst thing you can be called, far from it. But they were supposed to be things of the past, relics from an age when games weren’t important, they were a hobby for losers. To hear the people you used to respect speak to you in that way tells us that not only do they not care about us, they used us. They built their career, their success on your attention but now that you aren’t toeing the line they’ll tell you what they really think.

That is the behaviour of a manipulator, of a two-face, that is the behaviour of a bully. The attitude of these bullies is best demonstrated by a tweet responding to a #GamerGate supporter; “Get on the right side of history or fuck off”. Essentially saying, if you don’t agree with us then your opinion no longer matters.

Whether it comes from pushing agenda into games and news media or from dismissing criticism with insults; its clear that the bullies here aren’t the ones holding the controller, they’re the ones holding the pen.