And this is an appeal pitched to BOTH SIDES of this fruitless and pointless “crusade”…
I’ve never felt angrier.
There’s a point where someone inevitably says something so wrong, so utterly unbelievably stupid that your brain can only process it through the medium of laughing. So too was it lately when I talked about gaming representation; I said I might have more reason to feel slighted in the gaming sphere, to which the cry came, “But you can’t POSSIBLY understand prejudice!”
I’m sure I can’t understand prejudice. I mean, it’s not like there was a politician in the UK this week who proclaimed that disabled people in employment should be paid less than minimum wage because we were worth less than able-bodied people. It didn’t at all bring up the figures that for the last twenty years, half of our countries disabled population remains unemployed despite hundreds of millions of pounds going into trying to change that figure. I guess it doesn’t matter that the disabled are now three times more likely than anyone else to be the victim of violent crime, or that reports of violence on disabled people has risen year on year for over a decade, last year rising 13%. I guess those people who tipped me out of a wheelchair after an operation weren’t at all prejudiced, right? Or the cries of, “SLACKER! GET BACK TO WORK!”, of course forgetting that with laws that were snuck in years ago, employers only need give a “sensible reason” why they can’t employ a disabled person, and the sensible reason is usually, “we can’t afford to modify anything for them”, therefore disabled people finding work is really hard and we can’t even argue the prejudice card in such instances either.
No, I really can’t understand the prejudice women suffer in society today. I mean, I’m only disabled and of mixed race. There must be LOADS of representation for me out there, right? RIGHT?!
I say this before I get started because the argument is ridiculous. We all see and suffer prejudice; gamers have been prejudiced against for years, by a media and right-wing politicians who have constantly argued that video games are evil and need to be taxed out of the reach of most people. Inside our culture, we have prejudice too; the amount of times I’ve seen and heard the F-Slur used is worrying. It never gets easier to see. We also have poor racial representation on top of our gender representation; you don’t need me to tell you that yes, most gaming heroes are male – but they’re also physically perfect, built for war, have cool scars, beards or tattoos that no-one in their right mind has the talent, pain threshold, money or biological hormones (in the case of beards) to actually represent ANY of these cartoonish men. Just as women find themselves looking at role models in magazines wondering why they can’t look that good (seriously ladies, stop judging yourself against an airbrush!), young men also find themselves looking at these figures wondering why they can’t be as awesome, look as cool and such forth. Unrealistic standards? Guess what. We’re all subjected to them. Sorry ladies, you’re not special in this regard.
Basically, we should be working on this together, rather than the fighting of late.
However, both sides are wrong in their continued bullshit over #GamerGate. I still don’t really know what set the powderkeg off, and I don’t much need to know either because this has been building for some time. The gaming sphere has been under a lot of pressure to adapt to a theoretical influx of new gamers – girl gamers. After all, statistics show that half of all gamers are now women! I mean, how could you POSSIBLY argue when you have such a figure?
Scratch the surface though, and the ESRB study finds that in the console gaming sphere, or “core” gaming demographic, men outnumber women seven to one; turns out that gap has widened in recent years, not contracted. However, the mobile gaming scene is, as it turns out, predominantly biased towards women with a much larger proportion playing these smartphone games than men. Some people may see that as sexist; I don’t. You have two healthy markets, both making money (sort of), both with problems to solve. What we’re seeing is two very different markets in this “gaming” sphere, with some people forcing their heads together and leering in, going, “KIIIISSSSSSSSS!”. It’s kind of creepy. Why would you force two separate markets to merge together? And why would you not expect some resistance in the process of doing so?
Gaming is a huge, diverse thing. We have several markets; we have PC gaming, console gaming, handheld gaming and mobile gaming. Then under each of these you have a variety of sub-genres; horror gamers, FPS gamers, MMORPG players, fighting enthusiasts, speedrunners, retro enthusiasts – the list goes on. I don’t have nearly enough time or patience to rattle through the dozens and dozens of sub-genres that exist. Then you have an indie and commercial scene that separates most of these. And then you have a casual and core demographic on top of that. It’s so complicated that even Metal enthusiasts look across from their little glass house and say, “Why the hell you gotta make this so damned complicated?” AND THEY’D HAVE A POINT!
The problem we’re seeing is that a movement was begun some years ago to somehow change the “sexist” gaming culture. Rather than allow natural change and tolerance to take root however (and there has been a lot of tolerance over the years that we’re casually tossing aside because hey, it doesn’t matter, right?), the movement became a crusade; a crusade which has increasingly had “icons”, figures for which to fight for and to spread the good word. And believe me, I don’t use the term “crusade” lightly here. I mean it as a semi-religious movement that seems to have lost sight of much of what it was supposed to preach, in order to lay foundations.
For yes, some games were indeed a bit sexist. And possibly racist. Sometimes homophobic. And didn’t much treat the disabled with respect. Oddly, a little like the society that an artistic medium is supposed to reflect, right? It’s kind of sad that people have seen demons without realising that it’s a mirror and they might possibly be the very monsters they’re trying to quell.
This crusade has been vocal and pushy; it’s condemned ANY pandering to this male audience (which is still predominantly a MALE audience!) with cries of misogyny, of sexism, of a hatred against women. It’s funny when you think about it because for decades, as video games have grown in popularity, youth crime has fallen significantly. They don’t care. The crusade doesn’t want tolerance; it’s clearly shown they are capable of none of it themselves, they can only be happy when everyone has converted to their opinion, their way, their belief. Those who cannot will be burned as heretics in the fires of populist opinion, condemned for moderate views or using factual studies done in the last few years to denote that such a crusade may do more harm than good.
This has, sadly, led to another problem; they have militarised significant portions of the core console/PC gaming demographics.
By taking this crusade out there, they’ve got exactly what they wanted. A faceless enemy of which to fight; a dark entity that has no form, no legitimacy, no scruples, and they are now using those monsters of their own creation to further justify their crusade, to save us now from ourselves. Be purified in the light of Feminism. Be cured of your male tendencies towards sexism! Join our cause, and be RIGHT! It’s troubling, because so many can’t see the horrible parallels here between certain real-world problems and this one…
The cries for a truce are falling on deaf ears too. The “Feminist” side isn’t interested in appeasement of a treatise unless there is unconditional surrender. However, the militant section will not surrender; they have now been created and they will sadly always be there now, monsters created by those who sought to somehow rob an entire culture of its identity under the guise of “equality”, but sadly not being equal enough to accept that certain male tropes are perfectly acceptable and shouldn’t be condemned. Guys like girls for the most part. Guys like to look at girls. We have laws in place for when that goes wrong. Such laws don’t apply to digital representations. And developers know this, and so they create fantasies and attire them accordingly. It’s basic market logic. Seriously. Why do you think Michael Bay always has the camera linger on Megan Fox’s bottom for so long? Answers on a postcard please to Captain Obvious, P.O. Box 1W1N, Last Week…
As such, this has become a battleground. The real losers are the moderates, and those who just want to game without this politicised bullshit bringing the roof down on top of them.
We’re being tainted; yes, by the militants in our midst. But also by crusaders of equality, who are simply following an ideology of a few individuals. I personally find it somewhat troubling that certain female icons have men basically fighting their war for them. I mean, every girl wants to believe they have a bit of Helen of Troy in them. But you have to know when you’ve become too much of an icon – and when your message of tolerance and diversity is actively shrinking the diversity and tolerance in the market, in the culture, in the industry, you need to know when to back off. The same goes for the militants in the core gaming midst; you cannot fight intolerance with intolerance. Two wrongs can never make a right.
Neither side can really proclaim a moral high ground. The sad part of this is that on both ends of the extreme spectrum, we have individuals who would rather see our culture and industry be burned to the ground than accept any sort of defeat. If they can’t have it, no-one can. That’s a dangerous place to be; when we’re all collectively lumped together under the tag of “gamer”, we’re all going to be affected one way or another. We’re all going to be the victims of an ideological war that has moved into our once tolerant and varied culture, where extremists on both camps are using us all as collateral in some kind of warped game to see just how far they can push this. The general media is all too happy to ignore facts in order to reach for a reason to slam us and our identity; we’ve grown exponentially, an industry now worth almost $100 billion annually. We’ve grown up with digital media. We’ve adapted to this brave new world, and they’re more than happy in their fear and loathing of change to condemn us as a collective for the actions of a minority.
The gaming press now also finds itself in an odd predicament; a few years ago, they laughed at the likes of Jack Thompson. Now, they find themselves actively spouting the same lines that they once ridiculed. In trying to find a way to report the issue, they’ve accidentally become an ‘enemy’ in their own right. After all, when so many decided on the same day to proclaim that “Gamers are Dead”, they only further created polarisation of opinion and succeeded in many ways in turning their own users away from them, the culture and people for whom they rely on to continue in gainful employment. We’re hearing now that companies have begun to pull out of marketing and advertising over this too, meaning that the press which relies so much on this revenue to cover wages and operational costs are increasingly alienating the very companies that would have otherwise sustained them. It’s quite sad; far too much of the discussion – although that would suggest a two-way dialogue and it hasn’t been that at all – has devolved into a fait accompli – the change has happened, they say, and we’re the ones behind the times. Without realising that we’re still in a volatile position and creating tensions and cruelly dismissing people as something they may feel they are not can only ever fuel the perpetual cycle. But hey, it generates hits, right? Oh yes, the advertisers…
The industry can’t win either. Because to adapt to this is to compromise artistic integrity and interpretation; but to not adapt is to be condemned by people as something wicked and horrible.
The only way I can see it is to stop fighting; somehow, we have to stop this trend of believing that this is a battle that can be won. Representation is poor across the industry; be it suggesting gay relationships are shallow and ultimately based on a few fetch-quests (BioWare), cultural demonising (most war-themed first and third person action games like Call of Duty and Army of Two), the disabled (A couple of characters played for laughs, “Oh look at the funny crippled person” – $£?!. YOU!), racial stereotyping (Oh god, do we have enough time for this? I’m two thousand words in!)…
But people don’t want to face those issues for various reasons; it’s hard, isn’t it? Yet, female representation is easy. Why would or should we be against that, eh? So we have this extremely narrow perspective, fighting an ideological battle that ultimately can’t represent the real issues that the market is facing. And in doing so, is creating a new identity for our market and our industry that is only ever going to cause major problems down the road. Positive discrimination is still discrimination, after all. It’s just a NICER form of it, right? Tell that to your sons, who already now find the media condemning them as early as aged four for “not being as smart as girls”.
My niece may grow up to find a male demographic in whatever she chooses that resents her because of her gender. Because we’ll have shifted the goalposts for her, and women in general, without considering that men and boys have feelings too. That’s not a future I want for her. I want her to be an equal; not a special case because she was born female. She already has a fascination in taking things apart – I think that’s kind of cool, although some might shriek at the idea of a little girl taking apart a talking dolly because “I want to see what is making the sound”. She’s not much of a “core gamer” – she likes Pokémon, of course, but she gets her sucker of an uncle to do most of the breeding so she can go to school with her little blue 3DS and show off her newest shiny. And yes, blue. She’s not so much into pink, but whether that is because my sister never really used gender-identifiable colours (that might have been because she never knew the gender until the birth, therefore we had to go for gender-neutral yellows and whites) or something to do with who she thinks she’s becoming isn’t a reach I’m prepared to make. She’s seven now. I’m not prepared to stick a tag on her. She’s a little girl, growing up in an intolerant culture that is fighting battles that seem to be really silly. She already knows her uncle may not see her become an adult. It was an awkward moment when she walked in on THAT conversation… how do you tell any child of seven why you’re already planning out your ultimate end?
And why would she want to be a games developer? With the current culture, with such open hostility and with such a battle being fought, has it ever occurred to people that you might be driving potential female talent AWAY from it, because they don’t want to get involved in this? Sure, discrimination happens. But let’s talk about how we deal with that discrimination, rather than load both barrels and fight it with discrimination against a male identity. I’d suggest we’re all dealing with this very badly.
I don’t see any long-term benefits here. I see people so blinded by the cause they have taken that they wilfully ignore tolerance and acceptance in order to project their own ideology on people. I see people who are so intent on being right, so focused on winning, that they don’t care about the consequences, they don’t care that it’s all making the very culture they want to foster and grow and see flourish wither on the vine. We have a huge market with very clear segmentation. But that’s not intolerant. Some things just are. If you want things to change, in an industry where games can take two or three years at least to be made, you have to hurry up and wait sometimes to see if your message has had any actual effect. And we have thousands, millions of people all being painted by the same brush for the actions of a small portion on both sides. Not all women are out to get you, boys. But then, not all gamers are sending death threats (and seriously, WHY do people think that’s a good idea? Seriously. Stop it now. Just because the neo-feminist side is prepared to Godwin the discussion, doesn’t mean we have the right to Godwin in turn!).
If this continues, we will see the death of an identity. And an industry along with it. We’ll have tainted it so much, that no new blood will ever come near it. We’re already seeing this with the average age of gamers in general rising to their thirties; we need new blood. And that means we have to be all about the representation, the tolerance and the freedom to express yourself as long as you’re not actively hurting someone else.
This goes well beyond women too. This is a big societal issue. We have a problem. Gaming, as I said earlier, is an artistic medium holding the mirror up to society; we still seemingly have more white men, often of middle age, dominating our screens (at least in the UK). White men still seem to take the main leads in our movies. Same can sadly be said of ethnic diversity too. And representation of the disabled, not played as a victim card or as a cheap joke (and we still play fat people as jokes too). We are an intolerant society, and all this #GamerGate and Neo-Feminist arguing does is reaffirm that the future we’re leading into is one of more intolerance, more anger, more blame, more victimisation.
The only way we can change this is by not fighting. We’ve tried that and it’s clearly not working. All we’re left with on both sides is anger and resentment. Do we really want that as the legacy we leave our children?
#GamingEquality should be the real focus. We should want to leave a better future for our kids, and grandkids. If only we could get past this selfish desire to be “right”, and consider what would be in the best interests for all involved to continue to nurture talent of whatever kind, whatever gender, whatever sexuality, whatever creed – whatever faults the individual might have. If only we could get past that, and think about the bigger picture than our own little corner of it.
I know this will fall on deaf ears. But I am a gamer. I’m tolerant. I’m disabled. I’m mixed race. I’m not your shield, and I’m not going to be your victim. I’m a gamer. I won’t let go of that tag. Because it’s more important than ever that those of us who are tolerant and want actual change are not chased away from our identity. To do so would be to leave it in incapable hands; those who seek to destroy, with no good idea of what to create once the dust settles. We’ve built so much, we’ve done so much and made so much progress. Do we really want to abandon this place because some strange people who may or may not have always been here have decided that our hobby should be their new battlefield?
We have much more work yet to do. But that needs to be a societal change before we see our artistic mediums reflect it. Take a look around – it’s not hard to find serious issues in our society. We’re asking our reflective mediums to change, but that change needs to come from us first. We’re far too reliant on expecting our media to do all the legwork, because so many can’t do it themselves. When we become more tolerant, we’ll see our medium diversify once more.
It won’t happen until then, however. We all have our part to play here. Let’s rise above this, and leave those who want to fight to be exposed for who and what they are.
Our children deserve better. As do we all.