More Silencing

Feminist Frequency just posted a tweet about how an organization called Gamers Against Bigotry was hacked and shut down for putting together a database of people who are willing to pledge that they will not engage in bigoted behavior online and within their gaming communities.

They are not demanding money. The pledge is as follows:

As a gamer, I realize I contribute to an incredibly diverse social network of gamers around the world, and that my actions have the ability to impact others. In effort to make a positive impact, and to create a community that is welcoming to all, I pledge to not use bigoted language while gaming, online and otherwise.

Bigoted language includes, but is not limited to, slurs based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.

It is tantamount to the sorts of honor pledges that many of us made or were asked to make in high school to avoid drugs, alcohol, and smoking. There is no legal, financial, or even social repercussion to signing or not signing. It is entirely voluntary.

And apparently threatening enough that there is a concerted effort to shut down the database and erase it, which happens every time the folks at GAB think they have it up and running again.

So what, precisely, is so threatening about what GAB is doing? They’re not a legal entity and they do not have the power to enforce bans or sanctions against players in any online communities. They are, for instance, asking people to stop using the word “rape” casually, asking people not to use racial, gender, or sexual slurs against one another, and asking people to be overall respectful of the basic humanity of the other people with whom they are playing and interacting.

Perhaps the backlash against GAB comes for some of the reasons I’ve mentioned before, but there seems to be more to it than that. This isn’t just the internet equivalent of jumping up and down and waving one’s hands about in order to distract people from an issue (which is what trolls generally do). This is the active shutting down of a site dedicated to basic decency. Which is to say, there are enough people out there in the gaming community who feel strongly that they should have the right to be abusive and bigoted that they will put in a concerted effort to silence those who want nothing more than to not be abused.

This goes beyond the issue of free speech and hate speech – what is happening here isn’t “hate speech” in the same way that I’ve talked about it before. This is the spiteful censoring of non-hate speech in what appears to be preemptive retaliation for the censoring of hate speech. In short, an attempt to make sure that the only speech is hate-speech.

And I find this particularly alarming because it says to me that there is a large and active enough contingent out there who not only are willing to be abusive, but who want to actively stop others from protesting abuse. It tells me that the ideology of the gaming community is abusive and bigoted, and that such behavior is not only going to be tolerated, but even encouraged because it keeps winning. And that is why it’s important for Anita Sarkeesian to keep doing what she’s doing. Why it’s important for GAB to get itself back up and running. And why it’s vital that we keep talking and not allow ourselves to be silenced.

Update 4.58pm 23 July: Both Sam Killermann’s website and GAB’s site are completely down as a result of hacking. You can still follow them on twitter as GAB648. I’ll keep updating here as things change…

Drawing the Line

Gamasutra recently posted an article about how the next God of War game is going to curtail violence against women. As they point out, it is unclear precisely how that is going to manifest itself in the game. The quotation from Sony Santa Monica that opens the article is vague, at best, and seems (at least to me) to be pandering a bit to current events amidst the gaming community:

There are some things we’ve pulled back from. I think where this has been an issue is with violence against women — the team’s pulled back from some of that and assessed that a little more carefully.

On the one hand, I applaud the fact that the industry is showing signs of retracting content that abuses women. On the other, I can’t help but think that the vagueness is actually a sign of an attempt to ward off future criticism from someone like Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency. Gamasutra‘s Frank Cifaldi also points out that the designers are doing their best to make Kratos appear as though he isn’t enjoying the ultraviolent acts he’s committing in the game.

As someone who has played God of War, I can tell you that what Kratos’s expression may or may not be is utterly irrelevant. The ultraviolence in the series is just plain fun. The use of the blades, the drop-kicking of Cerberus puppies (which are trying to bite your feet off, in my defense), those are what make the God of War series so awesome. It doesn’t matter a whit what Kratos’s expression says about his emotional investment (or lack thereof).

But, more importantly, God of War is not the game I would consider the worst in terms of its depictions of women. Sure, it has sexualized female NPCs (and there are a couple of harlots Kratos can sleep with at the start of 2, I believe), but nothing gratuitously over-the-top in terms of genre. And this is a point made by commenters on the article, the first of whom asks, “Which women are they talking about? Do they mean the gorgons and harpies?”

This question spurs my next one: are they talking about curtailing the violence Kratos commits against women (which would be the gorgons and harpies who are usually trying to kill him), or are they talking about cut-scene depictions of violence against women, such as Kratos’s wife? And, if so, why is it that they feel they need to cut these depictions? Presumably, such scenes would serve as Kratos’s motivation – in short, these scenes would condemn violence against women by demonizing it… which, in my opinion, is not inherently misogynist because it would be criticizing misogyny.

Which brings me to the point of another commenter, who says, “Does anyone think that drawing that line is in itself sexist?” And I think he (and it is a he) is right. By focusing specifically on the fact that they are “curtailing” violence against women, the developers are trying to wave the white flag at misogyny: “We’re not misogynist! We’re cutting out violence against women!”

Here’s the key. I’m all for condemning violence against women (and men, honestly), but sometimes that means it has to be shown. As in the video of Lauren Luke putting on makeup “the morning after,” showing violence is sometimes necessary in order to effectively condemn it. (That being said, this video does bother me, although I still can’t quite ascertain what about it makes me so uncomfortable.) Ignoring the fact that violence happens can be a form of silencing – if no one sees it, then no one recognizes it as problematic.

But I can’t really condemn the God of War developers without knowing what they mean when they say they’re going to curtail violence against women in the game. What I am is skeptical about the motivations that lead them to make such a generalized, sweeping statement out of context and in a framework of recent internet hype about videogames and misogyny. So perhaps my cynicism is unwarranted, but it seems to me that they really just want someone to pat them on the head and tell them they’re being “feminist,” when what they’re really doing is giving lip-service to the issue in order to avoid having to really deal with it.