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.

Destiny: A Job You Pay For!

Destiny is among the weirdest games I’ve ever played.

I’ll get the obvious and repetitive stuff out of the way first.

The minute-to-minute gameplay is excellent. Bungie clearly knows how to craft a tight first person shooter. The abilities of the player character and smart use of level geometry provides a welcome departure from the pop up shooting galleries that are the default in the FPS genre. It’s enormously satisfying to fly around a room tossing grenades/meleeing and swapping between weapons. The guns themselves are far less interesting though, besides increasing or decreasing the numbers popping out of enemies when you shoot them, after a few hours they all feel the same. You’ll quickly stop caring about what a gun does and simply look at the numbers and colour; the game borrows the coloured gear system from WoW so Yellow > Purple > Blue > Green >White.

The missions themselves are very by the numbers unfortunately, typically consisting of “Go here, shoot the bad guys around this computer, deploy your robot buddy at the computer, your robot buddy will say something sounding like Tyrion Lannister on Ambien, mission complete, now wait 30 seconds for no reason”. And because the missions will take you through the same environments several times, the issue of repetition becomes even more egregious.

The story is abysmal. It is among the worst stories I’ve ever experienced in a video game. It introduces concepts, characters and races strangely casually as if you should already understand everything and they’re just filling in details. Nearly all of the exposition comes from your robot companion voiced by Peter Dinklage which sounded great on paper. Unfortunately, the game can’t seem to decide if your “Ghost” is supposed to be witty and sarcastic or simply an emotionless robot. The result is that Dinklage sounds so disinterested its a wonder he was able to stay awake to read his lines. Combined with the barely there story, cutscenes are an exercise in endurance.

With regards to setting, the promise of an epic adventure through the solar system is never really fulfilled. The worlds feel more like palette swaps than anything; Brown for Earth (of course), White and Black on the moon, Red for Mars and Green for Venus. And while I’m not asking for an entire planet to explore, it feels strange to be told “we’re going to a new world” and then being placed a relatively sparse environment. Destiny attempts to make the world seem big by giving you your own spaceship and providing long glamour shots of light-speed travel, but those are merely their method of hiding loading screens; which are among the longest I’ve seen in recent memory.

The enemies reflect this barely there story, you’ll fight the Fallen: 4 armed aliens with several eyes, the Hive: a kind of insectoid species, the Vex: requisite generic robots and the Cabal: who are essentially humanoid but bigger. The races do fight slightly differently but I found it impossible to care who I was fighting because I had no idea who they were or why I don’t like them. The most you’re ever given is that they are “creatures of the darkness” and “the darkness” is bad. If they had decided to make one species the enemy, maybe they could have had more time to develop the story; instead of telling you; “you like this big white orb thing, its good. Out there is the darkness, its bad. Now shoot some aliens”.

The game does look beautiful, but rightly so. In the past when next generation took us from papercraft figures in Goldeneye to characters who could actually make facial expressions it was important to mention graphics. Now with increasingly minute improvement, graphics only really matter when the game looks sub-par based on current technology. So yes, Destiny looks great but when the production budget was roughly the GDP of a small country, it better.

Now that I’ve got the boring “regular review” stuff out of the way I want to talk about what makes Destiny so strange for a console shooter.

If you ask Bungie. Destiny is not an MMO. It’s a shooter with an online component, its an FPS with large RPG elements, it’s a new kind of game that defies genre, etc. Those are lies, it’s an MMO.

Sure it doesn’t play like WoW, you don’t need to learn a circumscribed “rotation” to properly play the game but it has all the features of an MMO. There is a hub town with vendors, you match up with other players randomly to do missions independent of where you are in the game that are only tangentially related to the plot, in WoW it’s dungeons, here it’s strike missions and your primary means of communicating with players you meet is dancing. However, the most MMO-like feature is the end game content.

In Destiny, to buy the best gear you need to earn currency via cooperative Strike Missions or online multiplayer. These “Vanguard Marks” and “Crucible Marks” are capped, so you can only earn 100 per week. Obviously this system greatly resembles the currency system in WoW.

(By the way, sorry to keep referencing WoW, its the only MMO I ever played long enough to know what the hell I’m talking about.)

Similarly again, you need to grind reputation with in-game factions to have access to their best gear as well. None of this happens quickly, so getting the best/coolest stuff will take a long, long time.

This is no accident. MMOs are designed to be played to the exclusion of almost every other game. This is what Bungie wants from Destiny, to have you coming back every week to grind for gear, reputation and currency. They want the player to feel obligated to reach these caps every week, because that is what makes players ignore other games in favour of theirs.

This is why I find Destiny so incredibly strange. It is the first console release to attempt to control the market in this way. We’ve heard about Bungie’s 10 year plan for the game; I like many was skeptical of how the hell that would work, especially considering console generations average about 7-8 years. After seeing how the game operates though, I can see how that plan would shape out. By creating obligation in the player, its not unfeasible that through expansions and patches players will stick around for years at a time.

That is my major issue with Destiny. I played it for a few weeks, but it got to the point that when I sat down to play it I wasn’t excited for anything that was happening. I would dismantle all the green and blue loot I had accumulated, decode any engrams I had lying around and go back to what I was doing the night before. It wasn’t an escape, it wasn’t fun, it felt like a job. I was doing things, PvP, strike missions because that was how you get new gear, not because I was having a good time. This sense of obligation is best demonstrated by the Loot Cave; a way of getting gear quicker by shooting enemies at a conveniently placed spawn point.

When addressing the exploit Bungie stated that “shooting at a black hole for hours on end isn’t our dream for how Destiny is played” But they failed to realize that by using this exploit their players were telling the developers “shooting at this cave for 2 hours straight is preferable to actually playing your game.”

That is the issue with the MMO style emphasis on gearing up. People are more concerned with  having the best stuff than they are with the fun of the game. It’s great if your game has these sort of RPG elements that can enhance an already fun experience, but when the RPG gearing and stat building are the reason you are still playing, something is definitely wrong.

To conclude,

I’m possessed of a radical notion that games are supposed to be fun. But while there were fun moments, exciting firefights, I wouldn’t have described the overall experience of Destiny as fun. I was told the game came alive at level 20, so I grinded until level 20. I was told that I could get better, cooler gear if I kept playing; so I kept playing. I was told that if I spent 3 weeks playing the multiplayer, I’d be able to buy the best gear, so I played multiplayer for 3 weeks. All the while I was thinking about going back to play the original Mass Effect again or looking forward to Shadow of Mordor or Dragon Age Inquisition. So I figured, if this game isn’t fun and it isn’t holding my attention, why am I still playing it? There’s no question it’s addictive, but addictive and fun aren’t the same thing.

It’s a shame too, Bungie obviously had the tools to make a great game. The gameplay is tight, the graphics are excellent but their desire to keep the gamers glued to their game seemed to supersede everything that makes a game fun. It’s an excellent move from a business perspective, but as a gamer, I can’t help but feel let down.

The Thing About Hitman

For better or worse the recent issues in the gaming world have reinvigorated a discussion of Anita Sarkeesian’s work. We’ve resumed a debate that most believed we were done with as the Tropes Vs. Women series dropped from millions of views to a hundred thousand. The question being should Anita Sarkeesian have any influence in the future of gaming?

I say no for a number of reasons, other people say yes for a number of reasons. In these discussions, whether cordial or vitriolic, one subject appears frequently; Anita’s analysis of Hitman Absolution.

This has been a fixture of the Anti-Sarkeesian crowd for a long while and in a recent tumblr argument (I know, I go for the hard-hitting sources) I saw someone say “You always bring up Hitman! Don’t you have any other points you can make!?” And they were right, a ton of attention is paid to a small part of her over 2 hours of content. So why is the Hitman point so prevalent? Thats what I’m here to answer.

The following might seem like a patronizing over-examination of a small part of Sarkeesian’s work but to understand why everyone uses this as their go-to point against Anita, fine examination is necessary.

The first issue is what Anita does in-game. She shows a small section of gameplay where the player character (in this case controlled by Anita) kills two exotic dancers and proceeds to drag their dead bodies across the room. The two dancers are not the target of the mission, there is no goal/indicator/objective that says “kill these women”. They are NPCs which are meant to be avoided, lest they see the player character and cause an alert/failure in the mission. The killing of such NPCs (male and female alike) is discouraged by the game’s scoring mechanics; which rewards stealth and non-lethal tactics. Yes these characters can be killed by the player, as can hundreds of male NPCs; Anita chooses to zero in on this and kill them. I contend that Anita going out of her way to kill two female “sex objects” (as she calls them) that she is under no obligation to kill says much more about Anita as a person than the game says about the gamers who play it. To see the treatment of women as equal to men, who can be killed in droves in this and countless other games, as an issue seems counterintuitive to a movement which champions equality

Secondly Anita uses small fraction of a relatively long game as her example in this instance. The game has 20 missions in total. Of those 20 missions, Anita looks at one mission. Of that one mission, 2 parts take place in the strip club. Of those 2 parts, Anita looks at an approximately 30 second snippet of gameplay. Which as stated above, only exists because of choices Anita made in-game. To use this tiny section of a particularly long game as damning evidence for the game itself would be a stretch, to use it to draw a conclusion about all video games is simply absurd.

The final issue is the conclusion she draws, using Hitman as her touchstone. She states that, though the harm of women is not always mandatory, by having it as an option in games (multiple, Hitman included and highlighted) it is implicitly encouraged behaviour for the player. She then continues that the player “cannot help but treat these female bodies as things, to be acted upon. Because they were designed, constructed and placed in the environment for that singular purpose. Players are meant to derive a perverse pleasure from desecrating the bodies of unsuspecting virtual female characters.” Her ultimate conclusion is that gamers internalize violence against women as acceptable and encouraged and if a gamer professes that they are able to divorce themselves from a perceived negative message that means they are all the more likely to internalize it.

“The more you think you cannot be affected, the more likely you are to be affected”

-Anita Sarkeesian

Her belief that the option to treat women in a video game the way the player has the option to treat men in a video game is misogyny is woefully misguided. Using this Hitman footage as one of her centrepieces for this conclusion demonstrates just how absurd her arguments ultimately are.

Why this game?

But Anita’s detractors, myself included, don’t just have a problem with her opinions on Hitman; they disagree with the majority of the conclusions drawn from Tropes Vs. Women series. So why does Hitman appear so frequently in the responses?

Because the Hitman example is the quickest, most effective way to demonstrate the most glaring flaws in Anita Sarkeesian’s crusade.

It is widely believed by dissidents, myself included, that Anita has no interest in games as a hobby or artistic medium and she is using them as a platform for an agenda. She chose to murder the dancers when SHE played it, contrary to the actions of dozens of other players‘ choices and the intention of the designers. This demonstrates a willful ignorance of how this game and essentially all games work. This treatment of the freedom of modern games as an endorsement of a certain type of real life behaviour is a position commonly seen in outsider critics. For example, Jack Thompson’s crusade against game violence or mainstream news’ Mass Effect “Sex-Box” controversy. At best she is misunderstanding how the game functions, at worst she is playing the game just to make choices that benefit her argument.

Cherry-picking has also been a consistent complaint about Sarkeesian’s work. Taking a small snippet of a 10, 20, 40 or 100 hour experience can hardly be called representative, of either the game or the medium itself. Hitman forms the best example as the small snatch that is displayed in the video is the only part that could be construed as endorsing violence against women for its own sake. Even that is a stretch, as the section displayed only occurs if extremely abnormal choices are made. If something is to be used as support or proof of an argued position, choosing to show only the smallest part of it is disingenuous and harmful to the argument as a whole. This is a large part of what the Tropes Vs. Women series does in its analysis of video games, and Hitman: Absolution is the most telling example.

The last issue is the conclusion she draws. If Anita chooses to believe that video games are imparting deeply misogynistic sentiments in gamers, that is her right. If Anita wants to try to convince the world that games are sexist by their very nature, that too is her right. But using incorrect, cherrypicked information to come to a weak conclusion that is then held up as fact in the gaming world is deeply troubling.

Really the only Hitman is mentioned so much in rebuttals of Anita Sarkeesian’s position on the sexist nature is that it is shorthand. It is easier than writing a diatribe like this one. It is easier than trying to explain in paragraphs that freedom in games is not endorsement of the least common behaviour. It is easier than explaining how out of context snippets cannot and should not be used as a representation of “gaming”. These arguments have been made and made and made so instead of making them for the umpteenth time, people who disagree with Anita’s conclusions on video gaming just say;

“Look what she said about Hitman”

And that really says it all.

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.

The Untouchables of the Video Game Industry

I’m scared guys.

The Zoe Quinn story broke last week and divided the gaming industry quite effectively. The majority of developers, journalists and industry personalities supported Quinn and chastised the toxic public; while a large portion of gamers see her actions as an offence to the industry that she represents for better or worse.

First I want to say; I don’t support the public disclosure of everyone’s indiscretions. Your life should not be an open book for the world to read. That said, we would be idiots to ignore a situation like this because it’s part of someone’s private life. Donald Sterling made racist comments in private, he was fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from the NBA for life. Bill Clinton had an extramarital affair and was nearly impeached. It does not matter where information comes from, you cannot un ring that bell. We can’t give you a pass on abhorrent behaviour because we technically should not have found out about it.

I’m not here to write a scathing indictment of Quinn’s affairs, better writers than I have already done that. I’m here to talk about what this controversy has revealed about the industry we love.

I’m scared.

Not of the Feminist Gaming Illuminati as one media critic put it, but of what we are doing to certain figures in the industry.

Major personalities in the gaming industry; Totilo, Sessler, Phil Fish and others have been vocal in their support of Zoe Quinn. Thats fine, and expected in a controversial event such as this one. Whats missing is the other side of the discussion.

Quinn abused the Youtube DMCA to get a video critical of her pulled. The only gaming news outlet that covered the Quinn story impartially (a site called GamesNosh) reported their host wanted the story pulled and shortly after the site began displaying a 403 error. It was also reported that Quinn sexually harassed someone at a recent wedding, a claim summarily and tactlessly dismissed by Phil Fish. Finally a redditor; SillySlader reported that when Zoe found an issue with a project designed to promote women in games development she marshalled her troops to destroy it.

(Sidebar, this project has been revived and is thriving. Donate here)

Any coverage by significant gaming media outlets has been universally sympathetic of Zoe Quinn. All the dissenting opinions have been limited to user comments on sites like Reddit; a large portion of which were censored by moderators or personalities with an interest in supporting Quinn.

In my last post I spoke about body armour that angry gamers built for Anita Sarkeesian. This is the evolution of that idea. We have created an environment of untouchables; personalities that will not be criticized regardless of their actions.

This frightens me.

Anita Sarkeesian was the first example, and frankly her case would be preferable to what we’re currently experiencing. Her videos are bad, nowhere near worth 20,000 dollars each, she steals content and she admitted in 2012 that she does not like video games; she is in fact using them selfishly. None of that matters, we can make all the youtube videos and blog posts we want but Anita is untouchable. It is suicide for a gaming journalist, developer or publisher to oppose her so whatever we do or say, we’re not going to make a dent.

The Quinn situation is worse. She achieved an unprecedented level of immunity to criticism. Quinn is so ingrained in this industry that her supporters, friends, coworkers etc. actively and for a time effectively censored any negative mention of her to protect her image as “one of gaming’s only strong voices for equality” (Her words). Coverups of this scale are not seen outside government administrations, but an indie game developer somehow made it happen.

Her army of censors were ultimately not successful, but if you believe that anything besides Zoe Quinn’s ego has been damaged, you are dreaming. A large portion of the gaming public hate her, but the people who matter still love all things Quinn. Game devs, games journalists, trade shows and panels all support Zoe. Whether they are true believers in her as a person or they know they can make money by pandering to her crowd is irrelevant, she is not losing support from them.

To Conclude

We should be worried about how this is playing out. This is the only case I can think of where the major players in an industry have decided that certain people are above criticism. Whatever reason you want to give that the industry has not turned on these two personalities; harassment, under-representation of women, or genuine universal praise for Sarkeesian and Quinn. The fact of the matter is that gaming is an industry where it has been decided that some people are above reproach.

Doesn’t that scare you?

It scares me.