As usual, I’m a little late with this. Some truly awful events have occurred over the last couple of weeks that highlight the absolute worst of so-called “gamer” culture. A culture that is based on elitism, entitlement, misogyny, and hatred, and which has never truly represented those who love and play games. The people (actually, I might as well say “straight white men”) who adhere to this have falsely proclaimed themselves the “true gamers”, an idea which would have been ridiculous had the video game industry not courted and marketed to these very people for so long. They tend to react with violent outbursts of hate (anonymously, on the internet, of course, because they’re assholes) whenever it is suggested that a woman or anyone else who is not a straight white male might like to play or make games, especially if those games are not the kind of games these so-called “gamers” like.
In the last few weeks, these outbursts were directed at two women in particular. One, a game designer who had released a text game called Depression Quest which is conspicuously different from the standard AAA action games that these “gamers” so adore, was accused of having slept with a journalist in exchange for good reviews, and was therefore subjected to a barrage of online harrassment, including death threats and a whole heap of hate speech and baseless slander. No one harassed the male journalist, of course, because he’s a man, and he doesn’t make games about depression. Oh, and it turns out he probably never wrote a review of her game anyway, and the whole thing is complete nonsense. But no, the “gamers” decided the woman was guilty of some egregious offense, and proceeded to be completely and utterly awful.
The second woman has been harassed more or less constantly for the past two years because she dared to Kickstart and create a series of educational videos about sexism and misogyny in video games, which point out correctly and undeniably that there’s a whole lot of sexism and misogyny in video games. But her latest video (part 1, part 2) sparked the worst barrage of hate yet, up to and including some disturbingly specific death threats that caused her to leave her home out of fear for her safety and that of her family.
Yes, you read that right. These online harassers drove her from her home. This is not OK. This is reprehensible. This is shameful. And these are the people that the games industry courts. It has to stop.
I started this little blog because I like games, and I wanted to write about them for fun. And to help explain why I like them so much to people who may not be as familiar. I don’t have many readers, and I’m certainly not as eloquent as others who have already written about these incidents. But I need to add my voice. Because even at the end of such wonderfully-written articles as those, there are loads of anonymous comments from readers expressing the same bigoted and close-minded opinions. The worst of these comments are more harassment, but many actually pretend to be reasonable by condemning the harassers while simultaneously dismissing these women’s “radical” feminism, and bemoaning that anyone who tries to disagree with said feminism will immediately be dismissed as a misogynist.
I’m sorry… disagree with what, exactly? These commenters seem to misunderstand what feminism is. It is, literally, the idea that women should be treated equally to men. I’m pretty sure that disagreeing with that does make you a misogynist. It’s like saying you’re not a racist while denying a certain race its rights. Do these commenters believe that a female game designer’s personal life doesn’t deserve the same privacy as a male designer’s? Did they mistakenly watch a completely different set of videos about misogyny in games that somehow portray the feminist message as an attack on men? Because those videos do nothing more than point out the obvious. The sexism and misogyny is right there in front of you. It’s right there. All you have to do is look. And if these people never noticed it — because it’s in, well, pretty much every AAA industry game, so it just seems normal — then they are exactly the people these videos need to reach. Because this stuff matters. And for those who don’t think it matters, who think it’s all in fun, or just a joke, or whatever — those people need to watch the videos too, because they explain exactly why it matters, and how it affects everyone, men and women, who play these games.
These are not obscure games, either. Grand Theft Auto. Mass Effect. Far Cry. Assassin’s Creed. These are big blockbuster games, that all feature problematic representations of women, and all assume the player to be a straight white male. These games aren’t wholly defined by this, of course — they have lots of good qualities and a whole lot of fans. Fans who get angry when someone points out the misogyny in these games, because it feels like a personal attack on the things they love. I can understand this anger. Hell, many of the games I love have similar problems. I was dismayed to find that my enjoyment of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored had blinded me to the sexualization and objectification of women that they both contain (pointed out to me in the Feminist Frequency videos). But others I’m all too aware of. The Witcher, which I’ve written a lot about recently, is especially guilty, and I’ll be writing much more about that soon. But the fact that I’ve already written five posts of praise about The Witcher shows how such games can still be enjoyable and worth playing, in spite of their problems.
In fact, this is the usual response to the typical vitriol-spewing “gamer”: no one is saying that you, yourself, are bad. You can like games and still criticize them. No one is coming to take your games away, or to mandate that only games targeting women or other non-straight-white-male people can be made from now on. There are enough games for everyone, not every game has to be specifically for you. But you know what? I’m not going to respond that way this time. I’m not going to reason with the people who launched the horrific, despicable harassment and hate that we’ve seen over the last few weeks. I am saying that you, yourselves, are bad. You are entitled brats, used to having an entire industry cater to you, and now you’re lashing out in the most awful of ways because you’re being forced to share.
Others who have written about this have argued that we are witnessing the death of the “gamer”. That this horrible abuse is the last gasp of a group being made irrelevant, as games inevitably reach broader audiences and cover more diverse topics and designs. I certainly hope so. Because I don’t think the “gamers” ever were relevant. They certainly never spoke for me, or anyone else I know who plays games. Here are some facts: fourty-eight percent of game players are women. The average game player is 31 years old and has been playing games for 14 years, which is very close to describing me, except I’ve actually been playing a little longer which makes me feel very old. You may have seen these facts reported elsewhere, because they are generally considered surprising. People are surprised to learn that most game players are not “gamers”. But they shouldn’t be. We never were.
Hopefully, people are finally starting to realize that. Hopefully the game industry will realize it doesn’t have to — and it shouldn’t — cater to a small group known for its elitism and hatred. Hopefully we can actually move forward. Because the things we’ve seen over the last few weeks have to stop.
Let’s stop them.