I’ve been writing in the professional gaming media for around 18 months now and have been dialling back my involvement more and more.
My removal from the games industry had nothing to do with #GamerGate or the state of gaming media, but was simply a life choice. The amount of work put in to gaming journalism, for the amount you get out of it, in terms of earnings, acknowledgement and even simple interaction is a bad trade-off and I can safely say I’ve put a lot more in than I’ve gotten out of it. As a small-time writer, this shouldn’t come as a surprise and I’ve shared this sentiment with many a part-time writer along the way – it’s not a career, it’s something you have to love and live, in order to take part in it.
So, as you may have noticed, my blogging on here has been reduced, my articles and editorials on my amateur site, DownRightFierce.co.uk has been cut right back, I’ve ceased writing for Hadoken and articles on mmo-play have gone down from 3 per day to 2 per day, not to mention I no longer write editorial columns for them. These things were all my choice, I wanted to play more games, focus on my main career and live my life. The rise of the #GamerGate movement has dragged me back though, as it is putting the entire gaming industry (not just gaming journalism) at risk. Like I said, I love gaming more than gaming journalism, so when journalism was getting flipped on it’s head, all I did was brace for impact and let the machine drive on. However, this week the #GamerGate movement has reached its second peak, with mainstream media sinking its filthy, tarnished teeth into the industry and taking its own stab at what’s wrong with gaming industry.
You may have noticed that every time I write #GamerGate, it’s prefixed with a hash tag. That’s because that’s all that #GamerGate is – a hashtag. Like all of the big, social-media-driven revolutions of the 21st century, from #Occupy to #Anonymous, the ultimate desire of the group falls victim to being steered by outside participants, trying to use a larger movement as a vessel for their own.
#GamerGate has been about everything at one point; from disclosure, to feminism, to the juxtaposition of the review system to all-out, ugly media collusion on both sides of the fence and the amount of subgroups flying the hashflag is staggering, with many actually holding opposing views. Due to the speed of trending news, this will only become more and more the case. Observers now need to find a trending issue, hopefully research it and then contribute in a very compressed amount of time, so the issues quickly becomes about their own needs, regardless of the initial intent of the movement.
This has turned a potentially legitimate opportunity for discussion into a perpetuating, poisonous vat of gamers and (most importantly) non-gamers arguing about what gaming and gaming journalism should or shouldn’t be about.
A large source to this problem spurs from the strength of amateur media. I put myself under this banner and I’m fortunate for my place in it, but, the fact of the matter is that anyone with an internet connection has the potential to draw a lot of people towards their own opinion of gaming and can, in some way, become a journalist, blogger or other influence on the industry. So, to appear like someone with a professional opinion on gaming these days, what qualifications do you need? I personally hold nothing relevant. Besides a couple of high school language qualifications, I have nothing that says I should be a writer, no training in corporate responsibility, literature, media…it’s a bit slanted that I can write something powerful enough to get hundreds or thousands of shares on facebook. Yet, here I am and, albeit a pittance, compared to many, I’ve already had my share.
To the same extent, I can look at the guys and girls who are qualified in this stuff and act just as exclusive on my own part – how many games do you have to play before considering yourself a gaming blogger or before someone can employ you as a gaming journalist, or before you end up on TV talking about gaming ethics. The answer is none. As many a politician has proven, since the dawn of the “video game”, you can get a game completely condemned without ever playing it.
This is where my fear begins with the current state of gaming media. There’s been a heavy push, with the rise of #GamerGate, that journalism needs to take responsibility for the political, ethical and ideological needs of its demographic. Are the people asking for this the demographic? A lot of them actually aren’t. For example, if you ask part of a feminist faction of the #GamerGate camp if they play a game like Duke Nukem or Tomb Raider they’ll say of course not, it’s disgusting. They will, however, argue to get the game taken off the shelves, revised or highlighted negatively by the media for being disgusting trash that exploits women, promotes a false set of standards for young women and casts an illusion over the eyes of young men, regarding their expectations of women. The only trash here, is those beliefs.
It takes a moment of playing these games to understand them and their purposes. Duke Nukem is clearly a parody, Tomb Raider is, in its entirety, promoting female empowerment, and struggle in a patriarchal society. If they played Tomb Raiders latest game through, experienced playing as a young girl being victimized by a dangerous, misogynistic group of wrong doers out out man and out gun her, only to see her overcome her adversity how would they justify their claims? It’s sexist because she’s hot? It’s sexist because she’s gratuitously sexualized in her short shorts and grubby tank top? Those things are a product of her position in the start of the game and, despite being a nod to a more teenage-boy-exploiting past, are far less flattering and serve to create a feeling of armorless-ness in an already hostile environment. The purpose of the game is to make the player feel unsafe and as an unprepared, ill-equipped teenage girl you should be exactly that, but despite that, as Lara Croft, you find yourself better equipped than the tank-shaped men of Gears of War, somehow. I could talk all day about the intent of gaming designers and the impression it’s supposed to cast on the consumer, but it’ll only fuel the wrong fires. Of course, I’m saying this as a male in my 20s and in #GamerGate, that’s putting me at a disadvantage that most real gamers don’t even consider. Sexism isn’t rife among gamers, good gamers vs bad gamers, pros vs scrubs, how good you are and how you behave is how gamers gauge each other and content and gameplay is how they gauge their games.
This brings me to the big issue of this week – The Sarkeesian, Colbert discussion. Like many of these discussions, it was poorly prepared on both sides and, in my opinion, a loss for both sides too. Pitting an uninvested talkshow host against a well-practiced, aggressive and equally uninvested feminist put the Gamer side of the argument at a serious disadvantage. Fortunately, despite the potential for devastation, Sarkeesian did a terrible job at even explaining her purpose, let alone answering Colberts questions (although, admittedly they were as distracting and ceremonious as her arguments were contrived and trivial). When asked for examples of sexist games, she merely treaded water stating she was looking at many games (not necessarily playing them), that it wasn’t as simple as there being sexist games out there and eventually, that Grand Theft Auto was an example of a sexist game (which, again, it isn’t). She went on to state that #GamerGate wasn’t about ethics and journalism, hitting the final nail in the coffin of #GamerGate’s original purpose and the thing that’s actually at stake.
The bottom line, however, is that it’s hit TV. Between Sarkeesian gaining coverage on Colbert and Quinn crying to the BBC, the attention seekers who are willing to sacrifice gaming for their own personal gain have gotten the coverage they wanted. A message that gaming and gaming journalism can be exploited by casual outsiders has been sent and they’ve achieved something that more powerful people before them had failed at. Others will come. Others will use gaming to complain about political differences, economics and big business and the face of gaming and gaming journalism will become less and less legitimate with each #GamerGate swarm.
Gaming is a force of worldwide entertainment rivaled only by the likes of gambling, surpassing TV and Film as a medium in terms of participants and revenue. However, it lacks the regulation of these by a long shot and this has meant that when it takes a knock, nobody is there to steady it. As gamers and as writers, if you hear an opinion about gaming it is your responsibility to question it. Is the portrayal of a goddess in a game sexist? Or is the depiction just historically accurate? Is a physically fit woman in a game any more or less damaging to a persons perception of their gender than a 7 foot tall muscle-clad male protagonist? Should journalists bring politics and ideology into their videogame reviews? Should a reviewers opinions of a game or a developer affect their score of a game? Should games even be scored in the first place? Or, should a review merely be prose, based on personal experience with the game, left up to interpretation? How should a developer and a reviewer interact? There are too many non-gamers throwing in their two cents about gaming right now and suffocating the real needs and expectations of the industry. They’re more than welcome to put their opinion into the hat, but if it isn’t questioned, if fallacies aren’t corrected, if unfair, loaded arguments aren’t called out for being unfair and loaded, then bystanders consider them as valid and that’s when gaming as a whole – genderless, raceless gaming, becomes the thing that’s being exploited.