The Rise of New Gaming

For some reason I have yet to figure out, the abomination that is GamerGate has persisted, even going so far as to spawn an ostensibly academic offshoot that is seeking to “fact-check and peer review” the work of qualified academics under the umbrella of “saving games.” GamerGate has managed not only to ruin the lives of journalists and developers (Anita Sarkeesian, Phil Fish, Zoe Quinn, Samantha Allen, Mattie Brice, Jenn Frank, among others), but it has now caused major companies to withdraw their advertising campaigns from journalism outlets that have done nothing more heinous than refuse to bend to GGers’ demands – I’m looking at you, Intel. Mercedes temporarily pulled their ads from Gawker (who run Kotaku), but have since reinstated the campaign.

The ad focus seems to be one of the more banal things that has come out of GG at this point – no death threats, no rape threats, no one’s personal information being made available on the web. But, as The Washington Post‘s Caitlin Dewey notes,

the incident still demonstrates a worrying new trend among the Gamergate crowd: curbing the speech of reporters they don’t like by threatening their advertisers. For a media empire, such as Gawker, of course, one advertiser won’t necessarily make or break operations. But for targeted sites like Gamasutra, a smaller, gaming industry news site, or Gameranx, a five-person operation, targeting advertisers isn’t just a form of protest: It’s a threat to their very existence.

In other words, the ad campaign can be a very real, very serious problem to the very voices who area already being threatened by the oppressive ideological apparatus that makes up patriarchal society. (And yes, I am a card-carrying feminist.) Put more simply, for those in a position of non-dominance – women, minorities, LGBTQ folk – campaigns like this one cause much more damage, which is precisely the point.

I’ve talked before on this blog about what all this GG business is coming to mean for non-straight-white-male gamers, as well as responding to Leigh Alexander’s thinkpiece on “the death of the gamer,” to turn a Foucauldian phrase. But one thing that I keep coming back to is the idea that it’s time for gaming to evolve beyond the 1980s and 1990s stereotype of the white teenage boy in the basement – which, by the way, GGers are not helping, despite the fact that most of them are probably not teenagers or in basements.

What’s really happening is that those who have hitherto held the dominant position in gamer culture are losing that dominant position, and are fighting with all they’re worth to keep it, no matter how many internet death threats or metaphoric flinging of mud that requires. To quote former NFL Quarterback Chris Kluwe:

The only danger to the things “gamers” enjoy doing (i.e. playing new games), is the threat YOU YOURSELF have created, because for some reason you think sharing your toys with others is going to make the world explode.

Kluwe’s post (which has a fabulous ending) recaps a lot of the ideas already stated by Kathy Sierra‘s idea of the Koolaid Point -

the most vocal trolling and “hate” for a brand kicks in HARD once a critical mass of brand fans/users are thought to have “drunk the Koolaid”. In other words, the hate wasn’t so much about the product/brand but that other people were falling for it.

Put as simply as I can manage, the whole point of movements like GG and its sub-affiliates is the idea that someone is paying attention to something other than you, in which the “you” is the heretofore dominant demographic.

That’s it. GG is a temper-tantrum being thrown by people with so much privilege that it never occurs to them that exploiting the opportunities they have (wealth, education, access to technology) might be inappropriate in certain situations. It never occurs to them that death threats or other threats of bodily harm might not be an appropriate reaction to a delay in a game release, to the “nerfing” of a gun in Call of Duty, to one developer supporting another, or to a feminist speaking about videogames. People who have convinced themselves that feminists are a bigger threat to the world than ISIS or poverty or human trafficking or ebola-and-cholera-and-HIV-combined or institutionalized racism (which they also don’t believe exists).

All because feminists and “social justice warriors” (people who fight for social equality, which is clearly a dangerous thing) have the audacity to suggest that a medium they also love might want to take a critical look at the way it represents women, minorities, and LGBTQ people, because those people also play and love games.

How dare we.

 

AIP/TLF Shut Your Claptrap (Borderlands 2)

The first post in a new As-I-Play series has gone live over on TLF: this time, I’m playing through Borderlands 2!

This is one of those games that I kept considering every time I thought about getting a new game. I played and enjoyed Borderlands, in spite of the huge disappointment that was the Vault ending. But I liked most of the gameplay, I liked the world, and I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek atmosphere of Pandora, which reminds me quite a bit of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

But I didn’t like it enough to actually go out and buy the second game. There was always a hesitation, something that said “meh” every time I seriously considered it. In part, it was because of the fairly anticlimactic ending. In part, it was because I wanted to play it co-op, and my cohorts slowly abandoned me. And in part, it was because I got very good at wandering into places where the enemies were leveled so far above me that I kept getting annihilated.

But the husband bought it for me, so I no longer have to justify spending the money to myself. I can just sit back and play. :) And then babble about it at you.

I’m Still a Gamer

Amid the toxic fallout from August in the gaming world is an idea that’s being championed by several feminist critics, including Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra, that the term “gamer” ought to be disposed with.

On the one hand, I completely sympathize with the sentiment that’s behind the argument. “Gamers,” by which she means the trollish minority of anti-feminist vocal MRA-supporting feminist-conspiracy-theory-touting subset of gamers, have of late been behaving like spoiled toddlers who have been told that they can’t eat their entire birthday cake because other people should also get a slice.

But on the other, I think the knee-jerk impulse to excise the term from our vocabulary runs the risk of erasing a lot of what is good about being a gamer. Identifying with the rest of gamer culture – sharing common fandoms and conversations; enjoying the thrill of victory, whether in solo, co-op, or competitive play; experiencing the excitement of new game mechanics or technologies… all those things are also a part of being a gamer. I’ve found more friends by identifying as a gamer (both board games and videogames) than I have by identifying as anything else. I’d hate to lose that.

I understand, too, the argument that games are becoming an increasingly ubiquitous part of our culture. They are. More people play games – especially casual mobile games – than ever before… or do they? Solitaire has been a staple of people’s lives since they could make cards. Dice (or knuckle-bones) can be solitaire, co-op, and competitive, too. In short, whether playing a sport, a board/card game, or a videogame, human beings have been gamers of varying degrees for all eternity. Just because more people play Candy Crush and Flappy Bird than used to play Minesweeper doesn’t mean that there isn’t a distinction between those folks who are gamers, and Gamers.

Certainly, there isn’t a level of monetary commitment one can give to become a Gamer (per a current argument), nor dedicated hours to gaming, nor ownership of a particular set of machinery. Being a Gamer is about attitude and ownership of the identity (not the paraphernalia). It’s about putting games before a lot of other things, and wanting to put games before other things because of the positives that gaming represents.

Being a Gamer, to me, means being willing to take risks. It also means wanting to never let go of the impulse to play. Playfulness, and the embrasure of the fantastic that comes with it, is something our society as a whole is sorely lacking. Playfulness can manifest in many ways, not just through gaming, but gaming is, to me at least, one of the most concrete ways that adults have the opportunity to remain playful in a world that is otherwise harsh, unfair, and stressful.

Play is important – physical play, cosplay, identity play, virtual play… all kinds of play that help us to define and redefine ourselves and our beliefs, to experiment with new patterns of thought and ways of engaging with the world, to work out our frustrations in a safe way. And Gamers are (some of the) people who value play more than most.

And that’s why I want to not just hold on to the Gamer identity, but to reclaim it and encourage people to embrace it.

AIG/TLF: Hold Your Fire (XCOM)

In a (hopefully) much less controversial post – my latest As-I-Play post on XCOM: Enemy Unknown is up over at TLF.

In a side note, I’d originally titled the post “Stop, Don’t Shoot” when I started writing it the day before the Ferguson protests started. When I went back to keep updating the post I decided that would be a bit tasteless, so you get the title noted above instead.

TLF: Out of the Background: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, Women as Background II

Yesterday, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency released a new Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video – part two of “Women as Background Decoration.” As per usual, people seem to either love it or hate it (and I’m pretty sure most of them have come to their respective conclusions before ever clicking on the link or pushing play.

I did a write-up response over on TLF, also as per usual.

On a related but not-repeated-in-my-TLF-post note, I’m starting to become irritated by the people I think of as Sarkeesian cheerleaders (none of whom I know personally, by the way). Not anywhere near to the level with which I am disgusted by the trolls who attack her, mind you, but, I think, in large part because of them.

These are the people to whom Sarkessian can do or say no wrong. Every word, every clip, every tweet are sacrosanct nuggets of gold in the feminist fight against the ravening trollish hordes.

And, to be honest, I can sympathize with the impulse because she is fighting the proverbial good fight. She’s doing good work, or at least work for good (although arguably a little of each). I don’t want her to stop making her video series, nor do I want her to be subject to the harassment that characterizes (and escalates with) every release of another episode.

But I also think that to hold Sarkeesian up as the pillar of feminist criticism of videogames is problematic and does a disservice to criticism itself on a couple levels.

First – and most importantly as far as I’m concerned – it suggests that to engage with criticism (metacriticism, if you will) is to devalue it and render it meaningless. If that were the case, no academic ever would have a job. The purpose of criticism is to have a critical conversation, which includes discussion and dissent, that engages with both the primary material (here, videogames) and the other critics (Sarkeesian).

Second, the valorization of Sarkeesian as a paragon of feminist criticism creates a black-and-white template in which videogames are seen as either feminist or misogynist, with no room in the middle.

Finally, it polarizes the people surrounding the discussions. If I’m not with Sarkeesian 100%, then I must support the trolls. This is a false dichotomy that hurts feminists and intelligent criticism far more than it hurts the trolls.

Nuance is important. Critical conversations are important. If I take issue with Sarkeesian’s depiction of one game among many – Dishonored, for instance – then there should be no problem with me pointing that out. I’m not saying that her work is bad. I’m not saying that there is nothing of value in the episode. I am saying that I disagree with this one point – to criticize a single point is to engage her work in conversation, which, so long as it is done respectfully, ought to be the objective of any critic’s work.

So don’t wave your finger in my direction and say “But you only don’t like this one example” as a reason why my entire criticism is invalid. No, I don’t like that example, and that’s okay. As Sarkeesian herself says at the start of every episode, it is possible – even positive – for us to criticize the things we like. So instead of name-calling and accusations (from anyone), let’s have a conversation.

What did you like in this episode? What didn’t you like? Was there a game you thought was missing? A game you thought was misrepresented?