Following Up… on Trolls

15 Jun

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.