Following Up… on Trolls

This particular post was brought to my attention by a colleague, although I was aware of the issue in more general terms.

So the Feminist Frequency Kickstarter project has apparently garnered an… interesting response. And by “interesting,” I mean “horrific example of human cruelty and ignorance.”

One of the many things that bothers me the most about the whole thing, I think, is that there might possibly be some validity to some of the claims being made, if they weren’t so heavily laden with misogynist invectives. For instance, “Why do you need so much money to do this?” is a legitimate question (for which I’m sure Anita would have an answer, were the question worded in a polite way). Alternately, the point that men are also being objectified by games is valid… although I would point out that male objectification tends to run along slightly more physically possible lines than female objectification (usually). However, there can be no actual mature discussion of these points when they’re being made by trolls (in both the pejorative hairy monster sense and the internet flame-war sense).

The thing about trolls is that they’re there to make people angry, but also to reduce the credence of a topic by throwing the largest handfuls of feces at the issue, simian-style. Cover it with enough flung-poo, and no one will want to touch it, no matter how valid of an issue it was to begin with. Trolls are largely anonymous creatures who crawl their way out from under bridges to make people’s lives miserable by exacting a toll on dignity and patience. Troll someone enough, and people will give up on them. Maybe they’ll give up. An effective strategy, to overwhelm an enemy with endless waves of near-mindless mooks. It worked well in the middle ages, to which we apparently occasionally devolve, even in the twenty-first century.

Here’s the thing, folks. The gaming community no longer lives under bridges, or even predominantly in their mothers’ basements. The gaming community is no longer entirely made up of 18-25 SWMs. Gamers have wives, husbands, kids, are from multiple ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual. Games that cater to those other demographics are not “pandering” and they’re not being “politically correct.” They’re being “normal.” Just like books, movies, and all other popular media.

Finally, I want to address one particular trollish comment that made me want to smack something (preferably the troll) upside the head. This troll suggested that games were for fun and didn’t have anything to do with politics or society, and therefore sexism in games didn’t matter.

Dear Troll,

Games have everything to do with politics and society. Games are microcosms of politics and society, and the images and attitudes we see pervading our games are those we perpetuate in our political and social realms. Games mimic our experiences of war (all the way back to Go and Chess), conquest, conflict, and exploration, and they are specific to the cultures that gave them birth, even when their mechanics are universal.

Games tell us about ourselves as a culture, and our gameplay tells us about our social and political mores. Is nuclear war acceptable? Who are our enemies (Nazis? Russians? Zombies?)? Who are our allies? Do we value peace over war? Life over liberty? When is it unacceptable to kill? What are the values we would kill to defend? What are the values we would die to defend?

Take any game, and it has a political, social, or ethical message. Maybe all three. Maybe it’s hard to find. Maybe it’s not. Here’s my list of political/social games: Gears of War, Fallout, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Dragon Age, Fable, Braid, Limbo, Halo, Portal, Half Life, Batman, Skyrim, Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil, Shadows of the Colossus, God of War… I think you get the idea. If I’ve played it, I can tell you it’s trying to tell you something, teach you something, make you look at your society or your country and think about what is going on. Even Tomb Raider raises questions about archeological and cultural ethics behind the ample bosom.

So enjoy your game. But don’t tell me it has nothing to do with the world you live in.

Boy Problems… a Follow-Up

So Wednesday’s post on “Girl Problems” is relevant to a link recently posted by a friend that strikes me as one of the most fundamental problems not only with gaming, but with a particular majority demographic that has never been but somehow likes to think of itself as “oppressed”: the straight white male (SWM).

Although I can understand how the SWM might take the recent sociopolitical trend toward inclusivity and equality as a marginalization of their demographic simply because it has increased emphasis on other demographics, I fail to see how a group that is almost universally privileged in the Western world is being “discriminated against” in any way. Yes, reverse racism and sexism do happen, and they should be tolerated as little as any other form of bias or bigotry, but this particular complaint on the Bioware forum (although articulate) is the sort that drives me batty.

The poster takes issue with the Friendship/Rivalry and Romance mechanics in Bioware’s Dragon Age II, stating that the game is not designed for the “straight white male gamer,” but for the fringe audiences of the “gay” and “female” crowds (and also asserts that female gamers play The Sims rather than DAII, a point which I will say is both blatantly false and personally offensive… no offense to people who play The Sims).

First of all, the idea that women are a fringe demographic is becoming increasingly ridiculous as the female gamer crowd expands. Second, simply because a homosexual romance is an option in DAII does not oblige the player to engage in one – there are plenty of opportunities for a heterosexual romance, and more than one NPC (non-player-character) will refuse a same-sex relationship option. This strikes me as reminiscent of the argument that legalizing gay marriage will somehow corrupt heterosexual marriages… just because you can does not mean that you have to. If you wish to play through DAII as an SWM character, it is well within your purview to do so. If you don’t, well, you can do that, too.

But it also assumes that people play their avatars the way they are in real life. My husband – who is a straight, white, male gamer – plays many games as a female avatar. I play most of mine as a male, often as non-human when that is an option (and I can assure you that I am, in fact, both female and human). How people choose to play does not necessarily reflect their personal demographic whatsoever, and the developer should not feel under an obligation to always create an avatar and play-options that reflect only their primary demographic, something Bioware not only acknowledges in their response to the post, but does in their games (quite well).

The demand that only the majority demographic be taken into consideration in the production of any product is ridiculous; while the majority of gamers may be SWMs, the industry may wish to expand its target audience. It may realize that while the single largest demographic is SWMs, perhaps the other demographics make up a larger portion of the gaming community than the poster is aware. It may also recognize that in a global community of gamers, SWMs are actually a minority – and perhaps they are trying, in fact, to engage in cultural leadership by forcing SWMs like the poster to not only witness the expansion of their demography to include people of other genders, ethnicities, and persuasions, but to perhaps even realize that he – as an SWM – has an obligation to accept that those other genders, ethnicities, and persuasions are just as valid as his own.