Update: I didn’t want to provide too much context as it’s such a big, lengthy story with lots of sides to it, so I’ll just link to this. It doesn’t necessarily represent mine or KitGuru’s take on the whole thing, but it is at least fairly comprehensive.
Original Story: I must admit, I came a little late to the whole #GamerGate controversy. Since I caught the tail end of the furore though, I’ve been reading a lot about it, because a lot of people have a lot to say. Some of what I’ve read has been opinion pieces by other journalists, some of it has been blog posts from developers and I’ve also read a lot of comments from gamers, lengthy and short. Ultimately, after all that’s been said, all that’s been done and supposedly done, you know what’s been the most shocking, the most shameful? All the name calling.
I’m not even talking about anything specific, as nearly everyone that’s dipped their fingertips into this argument is guilty of it. Whether they’re railing against the “cis males” that are prejudice against their particular group, or the “social justice warriors” (SJW) for tearing up someone’s favourite hobby, or just people being generally mean and occasionally threatening, it seems like the one constant has been that they’re right, and that everyone else is wrong and can be easily pigeon holed into a negative category, which they’ve got a great, insulting name for.
I’m going to do my best to not discuss any of the controversy surrounding this overblown argument, as it’s been covered extensively elsewhere. I’m also going to try not to interject myself into this piece, as really none of this is about me. It’s not about my opinions, or my sexuality, or my gaming history or interests or anything. It’s about all of us, because this; this name calling; this mud slinging, it’s only making it so that we can’t figure it out.
You see this sort of thing from politicians and their supporters all the time. People take what was traditionally a way of describing one’s political leanings and throw it out as if it’s an insult. Those “damn liberals,” “‘ruddy conservatives,” they’ll say. This is something that helps those people maintain their individual power base because in an us vs them scenario, it makes it much less likely for people to go over to the other side of thinking. If they can just drown out what the other party says by branding them with a disparaging nickname, no one is ever going to consider the other person’s opinion.
Just think war propaganda and you’ve got the extreme version of what we’re talking about here.
Whether it’s a journalist who’s branded all “gamers,” as misogynists, or a commenter that’s called anyone who’s voiced an opinion on women in games as a “feminazi,” by labeling all people that think differently than them, they make it nigh on impossible for their view point to change, because all this does is exacerbate confirmation bias.
It should tell us something that there are two conflicting petitions doing the rounds at the moment, one from the press and developers suggesting that gamers need to change their behaviour and are at fault for the recent furore and one from the gamers that suggests the press is actually the antagonist in this tale. Everyone is coming from a position of superiority and moral righteousness, where everyone else is it at fault. Wouldn’t it be much healthier to encourage discourse between both sides, instead of just calling on the other to change?
Think about it. Even the person who you think has been the biggest dick, is doing it because they think they’re right and you’re wrong. You may indeed be in the right, but just as you want them to give you the time of day, you need to be enough of an adult to do the same for them.
In an ideal world, everyone would be ready and willing to do a 180 degree turn on any idea they have, if presented with enough evidence to sway the argument. That’s very hard to do in reality as nobody is 100 per cent without bias, but it’s something we should aspire too, because evidence based debating is so much more fruitful than finger pointing and name calling. It allows for change and growth instead of perpetuating a status quo where people just think they’re the greatest and everyone else is a bunch of assholes.
Unfortunately it’s a trap even those that are fighting for recognition for a marginalised group have fallen into. The people that may have had honourable intentions by championing minority groups in gaming often seem to end up taking part in the very activities they decry. Terms like “cis male,” while perhaps technically correct in that of course, if one group of people has a label, surely others should have one too, are completely counter productive. The point of it all is to tar everyone with the same brush and remove the need for groups entirely. The end game here is that sexuality becomes so androgynous in our collective mindset that it doesn’t matter where on the spectrum you lie. Being entirely masculine is ok, likewise with female or anywhere in between. Insisting that everyone needs to be characterised makes this impossible.
There comes a time when you have to stop championing the rights of one group and just push for general inclusvity, without standing up and telling everyone that’s what you’re doing. That does mean calling out deliberate, malicious and intentional prejudice when you see it, but it also means listening to people you don’t agree with. Because like it not, those people deserve as much time to be right as you.
SJW, misogynist, white knight, as apt as these names may be in some situations, all they do is perpetuate the divide rather than helping us bridge it. Yes there are differences in people and it isn’t an ‘ism’ to point those out, but if you define a person by one characteristic, you alienate them from those that don’t identify with that and therefore make it very easy to just write off their argument instead of countering it with logic and intellect. That’s not how debates are solved.
This is why you see Tweets and Facebook statuses from people that have been trying to make things better – in their eyes alone perhaps – saying horrific things to people. It’s also why some of those branded as idiots, SJWs, assholes or any number of other names, have said some of the most poignant stuff during this whole debate. They get lost in the crowd, because if you don’t drink the coolaid de jour then you’re not worth listening too.
Also though, discounting what someone says by tying them to an agenda, makes it harder to discredit their ideas properly and allows them to be marginalised and martyred. A lot of the arguments put out by some of the most despicable of people in the past couple of weeks are getting buried by people calling them names. That’s not the way to deal with it. Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves, if you shout them down before they’ve even started, then it allows them to become victims and makes their position ever stronger.
Just look at the Westboro Baptist Church. Chances are you, like a lot of people, find them despicable. Their actions are truly repugnant, but thanks to freedom of speech they have the ability to say what they want. Over the years there’s been some wonderfully inventive ways to shout them down, like counter protests, aggravated love and simply making loud noises in their faces. But do you know what’s really highlighted how shoddy the church is overall? Themselves. Their awful parody songs, endlessly defecting members and showboating have made them a laughing stock.
That’s how people with horrible ideas should be treated. Not in kind with more hatred, but with openness and frank discussion, because it’s in those environments that bigotry and prejudice cannot thrive. What can, are real ideas from real people. When you talk openly and honestly without fear of being shouted down for your ideas, it gives you the chance to be humanised which are least gives your thoughts some basis and helps people to empathise with your position, even if they don’t agree with it.
The women feeling marginalised by the industry are people, with genuine complaints from their perspective. Whether those thoughts are something that just needs to be vented or can allow for industry tweaks is up for those that work in it to decide, but that can’t happen in either sense if they’re written off as feminazis or SJWs. Developers are people too, who just want to make games that make people happy and earn a bit of money while they do it. That’s why sometimes they opt to go back and change things in a game because they hurt someone’s feelings. It’s debateable whether they should do that, but for some people, the idea of hurting someone is abhorrent.
For others, that’s not the case, and those game developers that choose to ignore the minority in favour of their artistic vision shouldn’t be decried any more than the one that appeases a select group. It’s their art. Their choice. Again, don’t write them off just because you disagree with them.
Similarly, there might be some journalists that have questionable morals and are willing to let that filter into their work. There may also be some that like to grandstand a bit too much, but to brand the entire profession as such does the majority a disservice.
And the fans are allowed to be pissed too. They’re allowed to complain about games and games journalism if they feel like they’re being talked down to. They don’t deserve to be called racists just because they enjoy games with white protagonists. They aren’t automatically sexist if they don’t like Gone Home, and suggesting as such drowns any interesting points they might have had on the topic of gameplay.
Do you see? Bundling people into some schoolyard clique is what’s causing this divide. Branding all gamers as misogynists is where half of this problem stems from. There’s always going to be a minority of assholes in every group, especially online, but letting that jade you to the point where you only listen to the opinions of people that agree with you is helping the gaps between people grow ever wider.
I don’t pretend to know the answer to this situation, but I do know that it’s never going to be sorted out if we spend our time mud slinging instead of actually discussing it like adults.
We’re all fans of games, whether we play them, make them or write about them, it’s time we remembered that and stopped trying to break into separate camps so that we can validate our own position.
We’re all gamers. We’re all humans. Let’s start acting like it.
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[Thanks to Matthew Wilson for his help editing and sourcing.]