The video game community is perhaps the most inclusive, gender neutral and colourblind on the internet. It’s also remarkably diverse, producing such offbeat pleasures as My Ex-Boyfriend The Space Tyrant and Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme. So it was a strange choice of target for feminist culture warriors, who heaved ominously into view a few years ago, like the genocidal, psychopathic aliens in Independence Day.
It was time to do away with all that “fun” people were having, said these grievance-mongering killjoy arrivistes, and start taking seriously the overwhelmingly clear moral obligation to include at least six minorities, four gay dudes and a paraplegic illegal immigrant lesbian in every major video game release.
I’m exaggerating, obviously. But not by much: these bizarre campaigners, deploying a series of disingenuous and morally questionable tactics, such as goading people into making unpleasant remarks and then using those statements to publicly beg for sympathy and cash, have made gamers’ lives a misery these last few years.
And yet, to the confusion of the troublemakers, barking orders and concocting bogus allegations of misogyny have not yielded results. Nor have the distraction tactics deployed by journalists sympathetic to the social justice warriors’ causes, designed to draw attention away from those journalists’ own moral failings — shortcomings which have been known about for a long time, but which are only now being called out by readers en masse, because industry sites such as Kotaku and Polygon have chosen rather than to defend their industries to attack their readers.
To the feminist campaigners trying to ruin video games for everyone and a press that refuses to reform itself despite clear evidence of professional failure, gamers have responded with all the heroic defiance of Will Smith delivering a nuke into the mothership — and with just as much style. Through a series of fundraisers and lobbying efforts, as well as polite but firm advocacy on Twitter, they have begun to formulate a coherent intellectual and activist response to those who mystifyingly claim that their games and their culture are both somehow ugly, bigoted and evil.
#GamerGate has raised over $5,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, blowing past a $2,000 target in just an hour. This figure easily eclipses the sub-$1,000 donation that activist developer Zoe Quinn, whose personal and professional antics kicked off #GamerGate, says she donated to iFred.org.
Remarkably, users of popular messageboard 4chan in a single evening contributed over $20,000 to The Fine Young Capitalists, a charity drive for women in gaming that Quinn’s supporters attempted and failed to sabotage, according to organisers.
Posters on 4chan’s video game messageboard, /v/, helped to create a fictional character, Vivian James, an ordinary girl who happens to hate “social justice warriors” and love playing video games — like many women in the gaming community. The Vivian James meme is slated to appear in a future Fine Young Capitalists release and serves as a reminder that not only is the gaming community welcoming and tolerant but that it deals with insurrectionists with good humour, creativity and kindness.
Perhaps more significantly, two top-tier gaming websites, Polygon and Kotaku, have grudgingly changed internal policies as a result of #GamerGate campaigners’ frustration with their ethical practices. They both now have a more grown-up attitude to donations site Patreon, which funds many of the social justice campaigners’ activities and on which many journalists were supporting people they also wrote about.
In a far-sighted move, The Escapist, a major gaming publication that seems to have survived the row, engaged with readers on the issue before publishing an editorial that committed the site to new levels of journalistic transparency. The Escapist’s refusal to censor critics, almost unique in the industry, is a sign that at least some clusters of journalists are sympathetic to the new, stricter expectations of readers.
The signs are that readers are abandoning sites which don’t raise their game, in favour of indie reviewers, some of whom are making considerable amounts of money by focusing on games reviews and eschewing long, hand-wringing op-eds about “misogyny.”
#GamerGate has exposed both the feminist campaigners and even some gaming journalists as completely out of touch with the very reasons people play games. Gamers, as dozens of readers have told me in the relatively short time I have been covering the controversy now called #GamerGate, play games to escape the frustrations and absurdities of everyday life.
That’s why they object so strongly to having those frustrations injected into their online worlds. The war in the gaming industry isn’t about right versus left, or tolerance versus bigotry: it’s between those who leverage video games to fight proxy wars about other things, introducing unwanted and unwarranted tension and misery, and those who simply want to enjoy themselves.
In any male-dominated industry, you’re going to find people who speak about women in ways you’d rather they didn’t. (That cuts both ways, of course: women when they get together aren’t shrinking violets when it comes to discussing the size of their boyfriend’s penis, and what he does with it.) And you’re going to find games catering to male sexual appetites by including explicit imagery of women. Game developers who pay heed to the conceited attention-seekers and useful idiots in the media are likely to see their creations fail in the marketplace.
There’s an assumption in these feminist critiques that this is somehow a cause for shame or outrage. It is not. There’s nothing unnatural about male gamers enjoying attractive female characters. What’s unnatural is trying to police it. Feminist campaigners such as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian won’t like this comparison, but what their mission represents is a new kind of sexually dysfunctional authority clamping down on the sexuality of the great unwashed, like politicians and some churches throughout history.
With more women playing video games, we can look forward to game studios releasing titles that cater to female sexual preferences and tastes. More big upper arms and rippling chests, that sort of thing (not that hyper-masculine and sexualized male characters don’t already exist). That’s something to look forward to. The last thing anyone wants is for everyone to be condemned to a sexless, funless misery-land that makes no one happy, in which the possibility of causing “offence” has been eradicated. That’s the real world gamers are trying to get away from in the first place!
Unhappy, egotistical people will always try to spread their misery around. So it is with Quinn and Sarkeesian. But we should resist their attempts to cover this innocent pastime in shame and opprobrium, because their criticisms are entirely without merit. If there’s one thing #GamerGate activism is proving, it’s that there is no bigotry problem in the gaming industry: it’s an illusion, cooked up by people with axes to grind.
The only group that genuinely isn’t welcome is that small but noisy battalion of social justice warriors, who bring nothing but gloom and despair, and their loyal band of incompetent, unethical bloggers, who are so desperate to advertise their upstanding moral virtue to the sisterhood that they have forgotten to check their consciences. We should resist this new tyranny.